Weekends in SA

Hey all!

I’ve been pretty bad about blogging weekly, so I’ll wrap up quite a few weekends in this post. Over the course of the last month or so, we’ve been doing a lot of traveling and such on the weekends…everything from a road trip getaway to a quick evening event in Kayamandi. I’ll start with the most recent and work backwards…

Today we went into Cape Town with the whole AIFS group to go to Robben Island, but unfortunately the weather was terrible and we couldn’t take the ferry over to it. So instead, we went to the aquarium (I’m not a huge aquarium fan but this one was actually super cool) and we went out for lunch by the waterfront. Overall, we made a good day out of a not so great situation, which is another reason I absolutely love this place 🙂

Last Sunday, a group of my friends went to Mzoli’s in Gugulethu – Gugulethu is a township in Cape Town and Mzoli’s is a super popular “restaurant”/butchery in the township…they serve a massive pile of meat (which was delicious) on a large platter and everyone just picks what they want from it (which was also super messy but I managed…) and there is music playing & people dancing – such a cool environment.

We went on a holiday (Freedom Day) so it was insanely crowded…we could barely even walk around inside. BUT regardless, it was an amazing and completely different experience from what I’ve already done here in South Africa. I didn’t really get any photos inside because of the space issue and whatnot, but check out the really short video of the crowd that I posted on my Instagram…

Also, here’s a photo that my friend Colleen took of me eating the meat at Mzoli’s…which is how everyone was eating, for the record…


Last Friday night, a group of us attended a poetry slam in Kayamandi (the township right next to Stellenbosch). I’ve never been to a poetry slam to begin with, and this was actually my first time going to a township to do something other than volunteering – I’m so glad I decided to tag along. The competitors where absolutely incredible – people from Stellies, from the township, even one of my AIFS friends read her poetry…

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Brittany competing at the slam poetry event in Kayamandi!

The previous weekend was a long weekend, so a few of us took a 3 night trip to Hermanus, an oceanside town about 2 hours away. We rented a car for this trip and it was awesome to actually be in control of where we could go for once! (The train is super useful but definitely more limited). Over the weekend we shopped around town, checked out the beach, went out for a dinner & gelato, I got my third tattoo (Ubuntu – see here) and really just had a relaxing getaway.

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More to come soon!



long overdue post on spring (fall) break!

Hey all!

I’m just getting around to blogging about my fabulous spring break (a week and a half later…oops)

We started our journey from Stellies with a long-ish car ride up the coast to Wilderness (yes, the town is actually called Wilderness).

We stayed at the beach backpackers (right on the Indian Ocean!) for 2 nights – ate lots of great food, celebrated Anna’s 20th birthday (& went to a party on top of the mountain) and went kloofing! (Kloofing = walking/swimming through the river & jumping off cliffs)

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Next, we moved onto Antler’s Lodge, where we would be staying for 3 nights. This place was stunning – and we basically had it all to ourselves! During our time there, we explored the Cango Caves, went to Monkeyland, saw leopards/cheetahs/big cats and whatnot, went bungee jumping off the highest bungee bridge in the world (!!!) and FINALLY got to play with the elephants at Knysna elephant park. It was all absolutely incredible…especially the ellies. My god they were SO wonderful…

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dream come true.


Next, we traveled up to Tsitsikamma National Park to walk along the coast before heading to the Avoca River Cabins where we would spend one night. Here, some of our group swam and canoed in the river before we had a delicious homemade South African stew for dinner (seriously, there was SO MUCH great food on this trip). 


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The next day we were up and out early for a safari in ADDO – the day started out really rainy but cleared up just in time to see SO many ellies and quite a few lions as well (among other animals, of course)…

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From there, we were in Jeffrey’s Bay for one day/night (the well-known surfing destination) – we did a little shopping in town and enjoyed a bit of the beach…

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I’m fairly sure we all wished we could’ve stayed in Jeffrey’s Bay for an extra night, but next we were off to stay in this super secluded/stunning “farm” (?) with camping-style cabins. I don’t remember the name of it but the views were unbeatable – we could look down and see the river where we would be rafting the next day (only 2 people per boat, which was totally unexpected but so fun!) DSC_0982 DSC_0989 DSC_0999 DSC_1018 DSC_102210172819_678860138845143_731643528955375959_n

Our last day was spent visiting the southern-most tip of Africa (how cool is that?) and grabbing lunch in Hermanus (which is actually the town I’ll be visiting this weekend with some of my friends)…

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10 days in one short blog post…but I think the photos tell most of the story. This spring break was probably the most incredible I’ll ever go on…from elephants, jumping off the bridge, spending so much time with these wonderful people and just exploring parts of this beautiful country…every day was exciting and unlike any other.

Seriously though, there’s no place like South Africa!


cafes, Cape Town, kiddos…

Hello all!

I’ve been pretty preoccupied with classes these past two weeks, but as always, there’s time in between to explore this beautiful place. I’ll do this post in list form because another 2 weeks gone by is a lot to catch up on…

What’s been going on lately:

1. Lunches with friends. My goodness does Stellenbosch have a wide variety of cafes and restaurants to enjoy. I often call this town “fake Africa” because it looks very European. Wonderful (real!) iced coffee in wine glasses, art-inspired menus, chalk board wine bar tables…

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2. Markets, fresh goods and all things beautiful – last weekend I went to a local fresh goods market with my friend Colleen. We got a bit of food and I drooled over all of the sweet treats, trying not to give in…there was also handmade jewelry and fresh flowers, which in retrospect I totally should have bought. I’m sure I’ll go to another at some point, though!


3. Outings and evenings – this weekend there was a pool party at one of the private (international students) residences,  which was super fun – meeting more people from all over the world.

4. Cape Town. On Sunday a few of my friends and I took the train to Cape Town at 7:30am to spend the day trying delicious food (lots of sushi!), window shopping and grabbing drinks at this absolutely stunning raised-deck/lounge restaurant thing at the waterfront.

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5. And of course, Kayamandi. The past two Fridays there have been extraordinary – I can absolutely feel the kids opening up to us a lot more – and the smiles on their faces always make me melt. This week’s theme was “summer” so we had them make sunshine masks, and last week’s theme was “healthy living,” so we bought all of the kids toothbrushes and had them brush their teeth outside (which, of course, was VERY messy with all preschoolers). We also had them make fruit kabobs to learn about healthy eating – they LOVED the fruit, which barely even made it onto the sticks!

I still don’t actually know if I’m allowed to post Kayamandi photos to my blog but I’m going to anyways…

(and that’s my teaching partner – Kaeli – in the back! She’s from the UK, I’m super jealous of her accent)


That’s about it for now. The next post should hold some really fun stuff – stay tuned 🙂


oh the places we go

It’s been 2 weeks since my last post and there’s so much to tell you all…ahhh!

Let’s start with 2 weeks ago, per usual I had classes every day (my Afrikaans class is definitely my favorite, it’s a classroom with just couches and we listen to songs and do activities to learn the language)…but in addition to that, it was my first week in which I would be going to Kayamandi on Friday to volunteer with the preschool children at Ikhaya primary school.

These children live in the primarily black township which suffers from a lot of post-apartheid issues, like a lack of adequate toilets, water, etc. It was such an interesting and different experience to start working with these children, especially since we don’t have a common language (they speak isiXhosa and are just starting to learn english). The following Friday was even better, but I’ll discuss that later.

There was also the first home rugby game of the season that week, which we all attended in our matching Maties shirts! (Their school spirit is INSANE!)

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Then, that weekend we traveled (only about an hour, or less) to the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens for the Freshly Ground concert! This was the most beautiful setting for a concert, and the band actually played the back-up music for Shakira’s Waka Waka at the world cup! How cool is that?

It was 100 degrees the day of the concert, but regardless, it was an awesome experience…

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This past week, more classes as usual…nothing too crazy there. One night (I think it was Tuesday?) some of us went out to dinner at Cape Town Fish Market for our one month “friendiversary”…I still can’t believe I’ve been here that long!

…I ordered a platter with grilled hake, fried calamari strips and mussels in a garlic/basil/parmesan-ish sauce. SO so good. If you like seafood, this is definitely the place to go in Stellenbosch!


Then once again on Friday, we drove the 5 minutes to the Kayamandi township with the rest of the 10 or so student volunteers to help out at the primary school. This time, I could recognize the different children in the class and could pick up on their personalities a bit better, which was so incredibly satisfying. The majority of these children don’t come from a stable environment, so school to them is really a safe haven. We sang songs, played some games and had them draw pictures of their bodies because that week’s theme was about learning body parts. It’s so easy to see how happy they are when you give them the direct attention and praise that they deserve..whether they’ve done something successfully in the activity we’re working on or just in general. Going to Kayamandi has become the best part of my week, by far. Not because it gives you that typical satisfied feeling after doing a good thing, but because every second I’m working with the children, I can sense a mutual learning going on. It’s not even something I can put into words.


Pretty sure we’re not allowed to put pics of the kids on social media, but this one doesn’t really show faces…

About an hour after finishing up at Kayamandi, it was time to leave for Cederberg with our AIFS group. This was one of our “big trips” of the semester…a 4 hour drive to the SandDrif holiday cottages in the heart of Cederberg.

Friday afternoon we got settled in/cooked over the braai, took a short walk, laid out under the bright & beautiful stars, and then got ready for what would be one of the most amazing experiences ever…

Saturday morning, bright at early at 7:30ish, we left our “houses” to begin the 3ish hour climb up Cederberg mtn. We hiked, climbed, scaled the side of the rocky cliffs, wriggled under boulder piles, squeezed through narrow cave passageways, and so so much more. It was breathtakingly beautiful…the view spanned for miles and you could see all of the rock formations scattered below, which looked like burnt orange rock candy chunks bursting from the ground below.

After we climbed back down the mountain (…a couple hours later) we all went straight to the river beside the cottages and jumped in fully clothed! It was the perfect way to cool down and relax after a super long day of hiking.

We then cleaned up, I took a nap under the weeping willow tree right outside our cottage, we went to a wine tasting, braaied chicken and lots of other delicious food for dinner, and then went for a short presentation at the local observatory (the stars appeared brighter than ever in the open Cederberg sky!)

Sunday morning, just an hour or so before departing, I decided to take another quick dip in the river (at 8:30am) while it was still calm and quiet. It was probably the most peaceful experience ever. We then left to go check out the nearby cave/rock paintings which date back 2,000+ years. Mountains, rivers, caves, etc…this was truly an unforgettable weekend.

I absolutely love South Africa.

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so Stoked & Muizenberg beach

This weekend, we were backpackers.

Ok, maybe not legitimate backpackers, but we did only pack a backpack of stuff each, and we did stay in a backpackers hostel…

So, we had a backpackers beach weekend.

For a short beach getaway, 11 of us from AIFS took off at 7:45am on Saturday morning to catch a train to Muizenberg.

We had been told a couple of negative stories about the train – people getting mugged, etc. But in all honesty, that can happen anywhere in the world, so we decided to go for it. Turns out, it was the best decision we could have made.

We walked from our flats to the train station – about 15 minutes away – and paid only R18 (~ $1.80) for a first class train ticket to Muizenberg.

The train came about 2 minutes after we all purchased our tickets – perfect timing. First class was very quiet and empty – somewhat nerve-wracking at first because we were told to sit in a car with other people rather than all traveling alone. After a few stops, more people piled in and our nerves were settled.

After an hour (or so?) we had a connecting train in Salt-something-or-other (near Cape Town) – where we caught another train that would bring us to Muizenberg. We accidentally hopped into a normal passenger car and didn’t realize – but it was actually a good mistake to have made – we were able to watch a group of young girls dance and sing in the train car. They danced better than I could ever dream of dancing, and their voices seemed to carry throughout the whole train. It was such a special glimpse into the culture of this beautiful and also challenged country. During some of the performance, one dancer girl would walk around with a bucket to collect money – a reminder to me that there are people around us struggling every day, and I don’t want to be ignorant of that.

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This first train ride went smoothly and quickly – but we’ll get to the return train ride later.

When we arrived in Muizenberg, our hostel was right next to the station – so easy. The Stoked Backpackers hostel was our first real idea of the chill, surfer atmosphere that we would be submerging ourselves into over the next 24+ hours. The building was painted with surfer images and earthy quotes, and the cafe within the hostel itself had such a calm, beachy vibe that just made you want to sip a quick iced tea, go grab a surf board and hit the waves.

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We couldn’t head to our rooms until later (around 2:00), so after checking into the hostel, we all went to grab a bite to eat before hitting the beach. Some of us, including myself, went to a restaurant called Knead, which sat right across from the beach. As soon as we entered the restaurant, a wafting scent of freshly baked bread permeated the air – definitely a good sign. I got fresh mango juice and a chicken pesto sandwich for lunch – so so good, so fresh, so perfect.


Then it was finally time to hit the beach. It was probably around 12 at this point, so we would have a few hours to lay out in the sun. The first thing I noticed was the colorful changing rooms which lined a couple of sections of the glowing white-sand beach. The colors popped so vividly that pictures can’t even do it justice…

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I fell asleep for a little while on the beach, only to wake up to a sunburned back (ouch – forgot to apply sunscreen to both sides of me). Then we were told that there was a shark sighting! Apparently there are tons of sharks in this area – and it was obvious, because as soon as the word was out, the water was cleared of the tons and tons of surfers and swimmers within seconds.

After lots of sun, sand and touristy pictures (of course), we left to go grab a snack and a couple of drinks. We decided on this little mexican-ish restaurant right across from the beach, where we devoured some nachos and sipped on long island iced teas/daiquiris/mojitos while listening to live music.

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At this point I still had my sandy beach cover-up clothes on, like many of the others, so we went back to the hostel to freshen up/chill for a bit before that night. We (my 3 flatmates and me) were in a room of 7 people, which means we had some stranger roomies – so backpacker-ish! I didn’t shower (really none of us did that weekend, actually. True backpackers?) – but changed, rinsed my super sandy beach hair, and walked down to the hostel’s cafe for an actual bite to eat for dinner and an American iced coffee, which I had to teach the guy how to make (and he was happy to do it – so nice).

After it started to get dark, most of us piled out onto the second floor deck of the hostel which overlooks the beach and ocean. We had some wine, chatted for a while and actually started to shiver from the cool ocean breezes. Cold in Africa? I never thought that would happen.

When we moved inside into the communal kitchen/living room area, we ended up meeting a few other people who were staying in the hostel – a guy (our age?) from London who was hopping around the coast after visiting family, a guy from Austria who talked with us about the bungee jumping/sky diving opportunities here, and a couple guys from Northern Ireland/Long Island/elsewhere who were volunteering as surfing instructors for a few weeks. Such an interesting mix of people, and we were all brought together for conversation just because of the community feel of the backpackers hostel. It is really such an amazing concept – strangers who are all traveling for different reasons all brought together to live in one common place for however long, and somehow we all enjoyed a conversation and some time together.

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Some of the girls decided to wake up around 5:50/6:00 the next morning to watch the sunrise, which was so so worth it. The sun peeked over the mountains casting an orange glow over the blue twinkling water. But the mountains themselves even appeared as if they were floating over the water’s horizon – an absolutely stunning view. I’m so glad I forced myself out of bed so early!

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We went to bed again for an hour or so, and then got dressed and packed up. Check out was at 10:00, so we ate a delicious breakfast in the cafe (I got french toast with honey and fried bananas) before leaving to explore the area for a few hours before our train.

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Right outside of our hostel was a trail that lead down a section of the coastline. It was kind of like a boardwalk but more like a pathway along the side of the water’s edge. We walked along it until you hit another section of sandy beach, this one with a stone-edged “wave pool” set right in the ocean. It was very interesting and hard to explain, especially with a lack of pictures, but I did take pictures of the walk…(again, they don’t do it justice)…

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Right after the walk we boarded the train that would bring us back to our connecting stop. That ride was pretty much on time and not very long at all, maybe 45 minutes? It was at this connecting stop that the “troubles” started…

We waited for our second train….and waited…..and waited. An hour later, no train.

Luckily, we met a nice guy who is coming back to Stellenbosch to get his masters after taking some time off to work in Jo-burg…he basically guided us from there all the way home to Stellenbosch. We waited a bit more at this stop and then hopped on a train heading in the right direction, but it was only going past the Stellenbosch stop, so we overshot and got off at another train stop – this one literally in the middle of nowhere. We waited at that stop for another 30ish? minutes, maybe longer, and then caught a train to our “home” stop….


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5 hours later, we made it home. But I’m more than ok with that – it’s all about the adventure.

Honestly, without this guy’s help, we might still be stuck at the connecting stop. In the dark. Alone. Thank goodness many South Africans are so nice and he was more than willing to help us. Along the train ride many of us listened and discussed with him some interesting stuff about South Africa and politics/the economy/the rich and poor areas/etc. It’s incredible to hear about all of these topics from a South African, especially since he was obviously very passionate about it.

But in reality, even just talking about it doesn’t mean that the inequality issues really sink in. It’s not until you see it. When you see it, you understand that we can be walking in Stellenbosch past cafes and boutiques one minute, but turn a corner and see a group of young barefoot boys digging in the trash cans for scraps of food/anything useful they can find. This isn’t even a hypothetical, this happened just after stepping off the train earlier today.

But still, we had an amazingly beautiful beach weekend getaway. It went smoothly (for almost all of it, besides the 2nd train) and was so much fun getting to chill with some of the AIFS girls as well as meeting other people/travelers/backpackers. I feel beyond grateful and I’m almost lost for words at how lucky I feel to be able to explore this country, make memories in it’s towns and it’s beaches, and devour the sweet, and not so sweet, elements of it’s culture and the lifestyle of the people.

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Here are a few things I discovered over this weekend:

– I’m ok with the fact that we almost always need to be very cautious as a group of American girls traveling in towns that we don’t really know – just be smart about it.

– I actually do love a slow-paced, disconnected, surfer-vibe way of life. And that is exciting, but also scary – because what does that mean for where I want to live? No more dreams of NYC?

– I realized that I DO feel safe enough to keep my money in my purse rather than in my shirt on the train ride home, despite some horror stories.

– I’m ok with the fact that it took 5 hours to get home when it should’ve only taken 2 at most – that’s the adventure!

-I’m ok with not having showered all weekend and taking grasp of that whole carefree backpacker’s lifestyle.

– I’m ok with seeing difficult situations, because that means I’m learning rather than staying ignorant.

– I want to be more involved – with volunteering, with South African communities, with different lifestyles and different kinds of people. This place as made such an impression on me already – I can’t wait to see what’s to come…



a little illness, a lot of iced coffee

What a week. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster – many ups, and one definite low point. I’ll explain the low first…

Yesterday I was terribly sick, and even that’s an understatement. I woke up relatively early in order to make it to my 10:00 class (leaving plenty of time for the longish walk)…

On the way there I felt pretty dizzy and hot, but I figured it was dehydration since that’s understandable here with the intense heat. But when I got to class, I began feeling weak…and when we stood up for an activity I nearly crumpled to the floor. My vision went black and I sprinted out of the room, leaving all of my stuff behind.

Thank goodness Hestea’s office was in that building (aka MamaH – our AIFS go-to person/”mama”/all of the above)…after pacing in the bathroom for probably 5-10 minutes and breaking into a pouring sweat, I remembered she was in the building and ran to her office – immediately she put a fan on me and helped me to the doctors, where I got everything taken care of for only $1.50 (crazy!)

Turns out it was a stomach bug, but I can honestly say I haven’t felt that bad in a very very long time. I’m SO so incredibly grateful that we have Hestea here for us AIFS students – she takes care of everything, and I don’t know how I would’ve made it through yesterday successfully without her help. THANK YOU MamaH! 🙂

But that’s it for the bad, so let’s move onto the great parts of this week…

#1 – We completed our first week of classes! Today I dropped off my registration form for my final class selections (this week was essentially a trial run for all international student classes)…which means that next week we “officially” begin our studies here. It feels weird to sit in a classroom again after so much time off, but I’m glad that after classes are over for the day I can sit outside in the sun to do my homework…

#2 – I forget what day it was, but Colleen, Brittany and I went for a nature walk this week where we did some mini hiking, saw some horses, and explored a bit of the mountainside on the far side of campus. This made me super excited for the actual hiking we’ll be doing here: Cederberg, Table Mtn, Lion’s Head full moon hike, etc.


#3 – I got my gym membership! The gym is HUGE, except there are no treadmills which is kind of odd – but other than that, it’s pretty awesome. I can’t wait to take advantage of some of the classes they offer there, which are all free with your membership!

#4 – Today I FINALLY got an American iced coffee. BEST DAY EVER. It’s been 3 weeks since I had a real iced coffee and I nearly died, it was wonderful. There’s a little breakfast/coffee place in the student center where some of the girls in my program taught them how to make American iced coffee – so they are going to make it a legitimate menu item. There are no words for how excited I am about this. No words. I have a feeling I’ll be going there A LOT from now on.

#5 – Some of us have a trip planned for this weekend to Muizenberg – we’re staying at a backpacker’s hostel right on the beach from Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon. A little weekend beach getaway? Yes, please!


(Above) The beach in Muizenberg! Photo credit: Filmapia


(Above) The backpacker’s hostel we’ll be staying at! SO excited! Photo credit: TripAdvisor

Wine Slushies & Sunshine

We’re going on week 3 here in South Africa, which means classes are finally getting started…that’s what we came here for, right? 🙂

BUT this past week we had a lot of time to just hang out and explore…Monday and Tuesday were relatively uneventful, I wasn’t feeling that great (forgot to keep drinking water in this crazy heat, whoops). We did get a chance to check out the botanical gardens briefly, which was stunning, of course. There was even an outdoor restaurant located in the heart of the gardens – we’re definitely going to have to check it out!


On Wednesday we went with just our AIFS group to a beach about an hour away. It was incredible…the mountains surrounding it just dropped straight off into this bay where the sand spread across the jagged coastline and we were able to lay under cliffs and explore some caves. There were no houses around, barely any people, and it felt like we were in our own private paradise. Here are a few pictures, but obviously it doesn’t do it justice…

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On Thursday we went out to dinner at 5 Ryneveld – about a 20 minute walk away from our flat – and I got a grilled chicken burger with a long island iced tea…hands down the best meal I’ve had so far. The restaurant itself was really cool too! (Forgot to take pictures, so I’ll just have to go back!)

Saturday was another wine festival in Stellenbosch – but much bigger this time with 69 wineries. I can’t even count how many I tasted, at least 20 or 25…but I think L’Avenir’s sparkling rose and Spier’s wine slushie were my favorite of the afternoon. There was also braai at the festival..it was some sort of sausage on a bun with grilled peppers and onions? Whatever it was, it was fantastic.

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wine festival - saturday

Today I finally got around to doing laundry, and later I want to check out a used bookstore that one of my flatmates said she saw in town. Then I’m pretty sure we’re all going to see a movie around 15:00. I also should probably drag myself over to the gym at some point today…

Also, take note: South Africans do not understand the concept of American iced coffee. It is not real. I might need to teach them.