Monday, April 28, 2014

Motherlands: Celebrating 70 in South Africa - Cape Town Edition

I feel bad for making my mom take this picture. She said she was freaking out as I stood out there.


Ten years ago, my mom, sister and I traveled to my motherland, China, for my mother's 60th birthday. For my mom's 70th, we went to the motherland of humankind - Africa. We planned a week-long trip through smarTours (I'm not a tour group fan but had some great deals) to Cape Town and Kruger National Park in South Africa. Having been to Cape Town before, my sister decided to forgo this jaunt, but not before describing Cape Town to me as San Diego mixed with San Francisco; one of the best combinations since pumpkin and cheesecake.

The view of the western part of Cape Town from Table Mountain.
It's around a 15-hour flight from NYC to Johannesburg. We had a 3-hour layover in J-burg where I ordered a breakfast sandwich and was asked if I wanted a soft, medium, or hard egg (WTF?). I digress. We had four nights and three days in Cape Town, and there were four main things I planned on doing: cage diving with great white sharks, surfing, sandboarding (like snowboarding on sand dunes), and visiting Robben Island, where of course Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for the vast majority of his 27-year sentence.

The view of the eastern part of Cape Town.


Immediately after we checked into our hotel, the Protea President on the border of Sea Point and Bantry Bay, roughly a 10-minute drive from the City Centre (downtown), I rushed my mom into a taxi so we could catch one of the last cable rides to the top of Table Mountain, which overlooks the entire city. 

View from the hotel. The hotel is not as nice as the view.

The cable car to the top.
They really like American Express here.

At the risk of sounding like a tool, Table Mountain reminded me of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. Both are located centrally within city limits, and feature gorgeous views that overlook large coastal cities. The biggest difference is that Table Mountain has far more room to roam at the top. Apparently you can hike up there for days, quite literally. Table Mountain's highest point is around 1,085 meters, whatever that is! The cable car ride to the top rotates 360 degrees, so everyone can get a good look of what Cape Town has to offer. The mountains to the east look like the cliffs of Great Britain, or so I imagine from watching "Robin Hood" movies, I've actually never been to GB.

You telling me this doesn't look like something from "Robin Hood"? "Braveheart"? "Give me "Rob Roy" at least!
Sunset selfie with mom.

That's Lion's Head. Sounded cool but didn't have enough time to visit.


The main tourist spot in Cape Town is the V&A Waterfront (V and A stands for Victoria and Alfred), which is a working harbor that features shops, restaurants, bars, ferris wheel, and the ferry to Robben Island. We got dinner at Karibu, which advertised traditional South African cuisine.
Those trees make me think of Africa. I blame "The Lion King." Or "Ace Ventura 2."

Table Mountain from the waterfront.
V&A Waterfront. Shades of Miami's waterfront. And Sydney's. And...

Here's the deal when I travel, and I may have written this before, but I'm such a gullible fool when it comes to dining. If a restaurant advertises it has fantastic, local [insert country here] food - I'll eat there and order the most traditional of dishes (as long as it doesn't have any sharp cheeses). Then when it's served, I discover it tastes the same as Swanson's salisbury steak. Happens to me at least once a trip where I'll bypass something I would normally order in favor of some rare traditional find. And it happened at Karibu. As an appetizer, I ordered some ostrich carpaccio, which actually is more specialized to the area, but it tasted kind of spoiled. Or maybe that's what ostrich tastes like. I don't know. 

Ostrich carpaccio. The veggies in the middle were good.
We then ordered crayfish and "weskus snoek" - I don't know if that's supposed to be capitalized, in fact, I still don't know what the hell it is. I do know it has a ton of bones that make for a miserable eating experience. The menu described it as: "a famous Cape delicacy. Basted with apricot mayonnaise and grilled over hot coals - the ultimate Cape Town experience." The ultimate Cape Town experience? Well, I have to do that! Evidently Karibu's idea of the ultimate Cape Town experience involves spitting out tiny bones every 5 seconds and cursing yourself for ordering such a sadistic meal. Imagine eating that skeletal fish with a light on his head that chased around Dory and Marlin in "Finding Nemo." 42 Wallaby Way gone done us wrong.

Crayfish. This was legit.


Clifton Beach #4. View of Table Mountain.

View of Clifton Beaches


Clifton Beach #3

Clifton Beaches, Bantry Bay. Apparently Sean Penn and Charlize Theron  hang out around here.

Bantry Bay sunset.

Colorful Malay Quarter. #CrayolaPastelsLikeWhoa

Cape Town Stadium, site of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Soccer in front of the stadium. Messi not present.
Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.


Karibu: As mentioned above, the food left much to be desired, but the atmosphere is great and you can enjoy a nice outdoor experience near the water. 

Brewers & Union - tasty microbrew in City Centre; ordered the Steph Weiss - the baby of Steph Curry and Walt Weiss (NorCal representation) - it's a craft wheat beer with hints of vanilla and stuff. Solid beer. Solid chorizo burger to accommodate. This was my mom's first venture into a microbrew. Outdoor stage and shared park-style benches for viewing/eating. Yuppies and hipsters dominated the scene.

There's a glass of bitong there. It's identical to jerky.

Cafe Alfredo - quaint little restaurant with outdoor seating at the V&A Waterfront; enjoyed bee sting cake, which is apparently German. I don't really know if this was cake or pie, but there's a custard pudding filling and its topped with almonds and caramel. Delicious.

View from Cafe Alfredo.

Sgt. Pepper - pizza bar and lounge on Long Street, the young party area in CT and which seems like a tamer mini-version of Bourbon Street. This place turns into a straight-up club late night, didn't realize that was where I was taking mom! Nice 2nd story balcony eating. Surprisingly good food for a place that turns into a club. Started off with grilled prawns, then ordered a tasty pizza with bacon, rocket (like arugula), avocado, tomato, and mushrooms. Mom ordered a pizza with fried egg, bacon, and mushrooms. I topped it off with a Carling Black Label beer, which I thought was South African as that's what the waitress told me, but I just googled it and Wiki says it's Canadian! There's actually a cool story behind Black Label's popularity in South Africa. The beer became known as an anti-apartheid beer because it had "black" in the title and became a drink of pride for native Africans. Cool, huh?! Well I read that on Wikipedia so it might be full of shit. Lame. I'm going to choose to believe it's true and no one's going to call me out on it, so whatever.

Fancy pizzas and not so fancy pint.

Prawns. At least I think. It's pretty f'n dark!

View of Long Street from Sgt. Pepper. Not crazy yet. Beggars not pictured. #IAssureYouTheyAreThere

The sun has set on this long ass blog.

NEXT: Cage diving with great white sharks, sandboarding, and transforming into the worst surfer ever. 

Here's my trip video:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The LAP File: The Great Barrier Reef

LAP = Lazy Ass Procrastinator Files

This long procrastinated blog is the conclusion of my Australia trip, which ended in Cairns at the Great Barrier Reef. The LAP Files are just captioned photoblogs. This was from February 2012.

Warning: If you chose to read captions, you will eventually learn about kangaroo and butterfly sex. Not interspecies. That's disgusting, weirdo. 

View from the Holiday Inn. Immediate impressions of Cairns - very similar to many beach locales - Caribbean, Hawaii. Very temperamental weather.
McDonalds in Australia makes you feel like a fatty. Australia in general, is a very expensive country. So in an effort to save some cash, my sister and I went to McDonalds for dinner. I ordered the McOz meal, which is like the Big N' Tasty (do they still have those?) with beet. I also got a chicken sandwich because I was famished. It cost $12. Yes, I spent $12 on myself at McDonalds. Then I cried grease tears until I feel asleep.

This was a sign at the international market, which is very much like the one in Honolulu, except there are more cheap massages being offered by Asian folks. That does not include the dude in the koala cartoon.

Oh sweet. His name is Max. And he's Australian made. Unless that's a rogue sticker. Then I've been duped.

If you knew me in high school and college, or saw the giant 27 on my 4Runner, you would understand the significance of this seemingly random photo. #Mighty27

Heading to the Great Barrier Reef. And the weather is awesome! By that I mean no. #StillGiddy #MadAir
There are several reef tour options. I chose Reef Magic, and I'm not sure I'd suggest that's the best one.  It costs $185 US dollars and the tour takes you to the farthest and largest reefs, or so it advertised. It took about 90 minutes to ride out to Moore Reef in the Outer Reef, which is apparently where you want to go. Instead of being able to snorkel the entire large reef, we were only allowed to explore a small buoyed area roughly 1/8 of the reef. There's an optional $45 safari tour for snorkelers that took us around the larger reef area, which are most of the photos you'll see below. I snorkel because I went scuba diving once and panicked like Daniel-san before he met Mr. Miyagi. That story coming in future Caribbean blogs.

This is Wally. Is that his name because he's a walleye fish? Nope! He's apparently a Napoleon fish around 5-feet long. What a fatty! He looks cool, though. This photo cost $15. Screw you, Wally.

Here's your education: there are more than 500 different type of coral and 2000 different animals in the Great Barrier Reef. The Latin name of this is Grape Vines without Grapes. Pretty sure.
This is a gigantic clam. And the inspiration for Lombard Street in San Francisco. Pic taken from a glass bottom boat tour that was super boring. Weather plays a huge role in how much you can see snorkeling or diving, and much of the day it was overcast.
I followed this white tipped reef shark like he owed me money. Like I was Walter White and he was Jesse Pinkman. That's not a very good reference, but I've been binge watching "Breaking Bad." Whatevs.

I told you I followed these sharks. There's like 80 more of these stupid pics. I'm like Urkel chasing Laura. "Just go out with me! Stop running!" That's a better reference. #Pleased
Speaking of following... Leave me alone, fatty!
I was bringing this thing around for my sister - taking ridiculous pics kind of like the Travelocity gnome. The fish were baffled. I dug this one 'cuz a bubble is coming from his mouth. He's breathing!
School's out like Alice Cooper. #IGotNothing
This neon dude is cool. Pretty sure he's called "Lebron James shoe color prototype 6." Or "Trapped in Miami Vice Decor."
This fish is called "Baylor Rejected Uniform." Let me air my grievance about never finding nemo. I was on a mission to find a clown fish and those lil fellas weren't feeling it. I was Albert Brooks without Ellen. #MuchSadderFilm
Pretty neat pubic park in Cairns. It's got stuff.

Welcome to Captain Matty's Barefoot Tours. He's sitting shotgun here. Not a very good pic. Capt. Matty's got huge dreads and a solid TripAdvisor score. He's an ex-rugby player that drives around in a VW bus that had a luau explode in it. The tour took us to the Atherton Tablelands. It's a solid deal and the Captain keeps it rolling.

This tree is poised for climbing...
I hope the Avatar tribe doesn't take offense to me climbing all up in this ish.
I like climbing and jumping off stuff. Apparently I'm 5. You know this already.

I believe we slid down these rocks, but I don't remember anymore. So let's just say it happened.
The sun popped out here, but it didn't last long. 

Beneath a fall. Daniel Day-Lewis was on the other side looking for Madeleine Stowe. If y'all get that reference, you're as big a cinephile as Michael Bolton.

We stopped for lunch at this tiny town called Milla Milla. It's where Crocodile Dundee's mates all hung out and drank Fosters, which as we all know, no Australian actually drinks. Milla Milla had 5 stores, plenty of VB beer, and tequila shots. Didn't expect this trip to turn into UCSB, but Capt. Matty certainly tried.

As you can see, the weather did not improve. Here's the Captain's bus. Matty is well informed about a lot of weird things, like butterfly and kangaroo mating (not together). Butterfly mating involves males following females and shooting pheromones at them, eventually the females give in. That sounds like roofies. Super uncool dude butterflies! Jerks. Meanwhile, female kangaroos have incredible sexual control and can have sex with numerous males, then hold up to five different sperms and decide which sperm to reproduce with. They can also stop and resume pregnancy at any time. This is all according to Captain Matty and has not been checked by other sources. But honestly, would Matty lie?
That's Matty. Does he look like a guy that would lie?  

This is Josephine waterfall, which is used in Herbal Essence commercials. Apparently, every woman who uses Herbal Essence shampoo and bathes in this water has a really enjoyable experience. I did not witness any such thing, however.

I slid down some of these rocks, too. #CuzImCoolLikeThat

The beach in Cairns. Leaves a little to be desired on this day. #Muddy

Adieu from the hotel.