American Vacation


This blog entry about the events of Friday, March 05, 2004 was originally posted on March 07, 2004.

DAY 139:  Adam and Brett, the two Americans I met the night before in the hostel’s living room had pretty much the same plans that I had for the day:  to trek up Table Mountain and to see the big rugby match.  The two guys were in a five-way car rental share with three other Americans and so I became the sixth one to pack in.  Although it was a tight squeeze, I appreciated the fact that with a carful of Americans, I could freely say I was “on vacation” instead of saying “on holiday” — as every non-American English-speaker calls it.

The other three in the little Toyota were Mae, Gaylon and Vicky who were all in their last year of medical school, with the exception of Vicky who was already a practicing pediatrician.  Adam drove in the unfamiliar side of the car on the unfamiliar side of the road and brought all the doctors, doctors-to-be and the one guy who went to art school to the trail head of Table Mountain, the towering rock formation that dominated the city to the north, just about fifteen minutes from the hostel.

THE TRAIL WE DECIDED TO DO was the Platteklip Gorge trail, which I found out too late was “the hard way,” as opposed to the longer, but easier trails that brought one gradually up the mountain.  I didn’t know this at the time and just trekked up with my fellow Americans up the the steep steps made from boulders that brought hikers up about 1,200 ft in altitude. 

At first we pretty much trekked together as a group until I became one of the out-of-shape stragglers in the back with Mae.  The two of us were out of breath going up, so much that a dog hiking up with his owner was always ahead of us.  Both Mae and I foolishly didn’t bring enough water and had to ration it out with little sips.  We thought that since the trail would only take “a little over an hour” we had brought enough, not knowing that the “hour” would actually feel like the time needed for the entire Lewis and Clark Expedition.

During a “shade break” in the gorge’s shadows, away from the intense heat of the sun, we befriended a solo traveler from Bristol, U.K. named Charlie (short for Charlotte) who mistook us for being Indonesian.  (Mae is Taiwanese-American.)  British Charlie offered us Americans “biscuits,” which we gladly accepted and thanked her for, despite the fact that in America we call them “cookies.”  This resurged a recurring question in my head:  If the Brits call what Americans call “cookies” “biscuits,” what do they call the pieces of bread that come with an order of KFC?

As the three of us trekked up the exhausting, but final leg of the trail, I asked people on the way down, “How much longer to the top?”

Person #1:  “About twenty minutes.”
Person #2 (10 minutes later):  “Half an hour.”
Person #3 (5 minutes later):  “A quarter hour.”
Person #4 (10 minutes later):  “You’re almost there.”
Dog Hiking Up With His Owner:  “Woof!”

After the trek in the Inconsistent Time Zone, we finally made it to the top of the “table.”  With the the satisfaction of having climbed up the gorge, we felt good enough to say, “Oh, that was nothing; I could do it again!” but figured fuck that, no one cares if we did the trail again, up or down — a cable car would do fine.

The top of the “table” wasn’t so much of a view from the end of the trail, but walking laterally along a pathway, I finally saw what all the fuss was about: the beautiful view of Cape Town below on one side, and on the other, the view of the Atlantic ocean.  It was great to have earned the privilege to see such sights with hard work and determination, as opposed to the obvious people who came up in the cable car with their untarnished fancy shoes and purses.

Reaching the top of Table Mountain called for a celebration — and rehydration — so Mae and I went to the bar in the cable car station for some drinks.

“What do you recommend for someone who’s just hiked up the mountain?” I asked the bartender.

“Sex on the mountain.”

I slammed my palm on the bar.  “I’ll have some of that.”

Sex On The Mountain, which didn’t involve the protection of condoms or carabiners, was just one of the several corny drink names that a teenage kid might have rolled his/her eyes at if his/her father said them at a party.  Other cocktails included the Long Mountain Iced Tea and the Table Mountain Dew.  Having been dehydrated, the schnapps and Southern Comfort concoction went straight to my head for a quick buzz — I thought the cable car was spinning on its way down until the conductor announced that it was in fact spinning so that everyone got a fair chance to see the view.

DOCTORS VICKY AND GAYLON STAYED UP AT THE TOP, leaving me with doctors Adam, Brett and Mae — I was allowed to call the med students “doctors” because, having circumnavigated red tape at the University of Pittsburgh, they had self-volunteered to work as actual doctors in Lesotho for some extra credit.  The hospital they worked in welcomed them in with open arms as they could have used all the help they could get.  Having finished their “residency,” the doctors were on holiday — ugh, I mean, vacation — before heading back for their final semester.

Doctor Mae was to continue her vacation in Mozambique for a while and left me to travel with just Doctor Adam and Doctor Brett.  She had a final lunch with the three of us at a wrap place that recommended their Thai Chicken Wrap and then went on her way.

And then there were three.

RUGBY, THE ENGLISH-BORN SPORT where men knock each other into near unconsciousness for the sake of getting an oblong-shaped ball to the other end of a big field, is a popular sport in many countries around the world — except for the U.S.A. of course, which prefers American football, the sport where men knock each other into near unconsciousness for the sake of getting an oblong-shaped ball to the other end of a big field so that one can — this is the major difference — do a funky robotic chicken dance.  Whereas American football has protective padding, helmets and spectacular halftime shows were Janet Jackson can get her boob flashed on national television, rugby has nothing but shirts, shorts and corny-looking knee-high socks that make players permanent fashion victims of the 1980s.

I am an American and therefore I don’t know the first thing about the rules of rugby, nor did Adam or Brett.  We drove to the Newlands Stadium outside the city anyway, and paid the 65 rand (about 11 American bucks) for seats, instead of the 250 rand (about 45 bucks) charged by a hostel associate that prefaced the match with a tailgating braai (Afrikaans for “barbecue”).  Passing by the fans in body paint, we made our way to the stands and I was impressed with our seats — conveniently under shade — until I found out that beer wasn’t allowed to be consumed in the stands.  The pub downstairs was the only place drinking was allowed, and so Adam and I went down for a couple of rounds before game time. 

It might be pertinent to mention that the teams playing were both Super 12 Rugby teams:  the Stormers, South Africa’s home team with two guys with the last name Rossouw that seemed to do all the scoring; and the Wellington Hurricanes from New Zealand, with their powerhouse center Ma’a Nonu.  These bits of sports trivia I looked up on the internet just as I was typing up this Blog entry — during the actual game, we just referred to the teams as “The Black Team” and “The Yellow Team.” 

Like American football, the two teams powered their way to get their ball to the opposite side of the field, but unlike American football, the game was very fast-paced with barely any timeouts or substitutions.  In fact, the only time players had a chance to do some quick stretches were in the short moments in between a ball going offsides and when the ball went back into play shortly thereafter.  Like American football, players jumped up to catch a pass, but unlike American football, players were allowed to lift their teammates to jump higher to receive the pass, giving the jumper a slow-motion hang time longer than Michael Jordan.  And speaking of Air Jordan, like American basketball, the half-time contest involved a member of the audience with a chance to win something if he/she performed a goal.  Unlike American basketball, where some of these bumpkins from the audience try to win by shooting the ball “grandma style,” people in the rugby audience actually make the goal and win.

FOR THE ENTIRE GAME of two 40-minute halves, Adam, Brett and I tried to figure out the rules, but never really got it.  We didn’t know why sometimes, one team suddenly had five more points.  Brett, being a med student, couldn’t help but comment on the physical strength and endurance needed to play. 

“There must be a lot of injuries in this game,” he said.

The abundance of brutality balanced out the lack of enthusiasm from the crowd.  Well, there was cheering and flag-waving, but it wasn’t nearly as crazy as a soccer match in Brazil.  In fact, it took four times for some guy to get the crowds to do The Wave continuously down the stands.  Perhaps the lack of audience craziness could be blamed on the lack of motivation from the players; after a fast break, Stormer Rossouw merely put the ball politely on the gournd in the end zone and quietly walked away.

In the end, the Hurricanes beat the Stormers 25-19, leaving the home crowd leave without anything to celebrate about.  Adam, Brett and I left the Newlands exhilarated anyway, but still clueless as to what we had actually seen.

THE SUN WAS SETTING about the time we were on our way back to the city, and taking advantage of the last day of the car rental — and the last day in Cape Town for that matter — Adam drove up to the other massive rock formation other than Table Mountain that overlooked the city:  Lion’s Head.  Racing the fast setting sun in the little Toyota, we made it to a lookout point near the base of Lion’s Head — an area that was located about where the lion’s ass would be.  From this secluded spot, we watched (picture above) the sunset turning the sky into amazing colors.  When Nature’s show was over, we made our way out, only to find out that just across the road on the other side of the peninsula, another Nature show had started shortly thereafter: the spectacular rising of the full moon over the city (of which my photograph does no justice).  It was a perfect ending for Adam and Brett’s vacation in Cape Town.

AFTER MY NUTRITIOUS “SHRIMP” PACKET-FLAVORED DINNER of ramen noodles, I met up with my two fellow Americans at the hostel bar.  Adam told me stories of his time in the Lesotho hospital: for every a hundred patients or so admitted (most for malnutrition), twenty would die, sometimes in his arms — a first for the young doctor.  He probably got used to all that since he told me this story while casually eating his pizza.

Eventually the pair of Americans left to pack their backs since they were leaving early the next morning to continue their vacation in Johannesburg, leaving me to chat with non-Americans:  Dave, the Botswanan-born bartender and aspiring travel writer who, like me, had taken a travel writing course and was disgusted that most of his classmates were Conde Nast wannabes that thought enough “travel” was a package holiday at a fancy hotel or resort; Peter, an elderly Irishman who to me looked like a vintage surfer dude although he never set foot on a surfboard in his life; Ari, a Bahamian-born artist looking for fulfillment and inspiration in Africa; and Conrad, a German mechanical engineer from Stuttgart who, hearing about my long global trip, was so envious of me that he tried to figure a way to go on a similar trip — and keep his girlfriend at the same time.  (He was stumped.)

Surrounded by Botswanan, Irish, Bahamian and German — instead of American — it was time for me to finally end my “vacation,” and continue my “holiday” around the world again.

Next entry: Just Relax

Previous entry: Price Hike

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Comments for “American Vacation”

  • BRITISH READERS:  Seriously, what DO you call the pieces of bread that come with an order of KFC?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/06  at  04:50 PM

  • wow. africa!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/06  at  07:31 PM

  • that’s def. more challenging than the hike to the dogpond at ramapo reservation….uhm.. she bangs, she bangs!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/06  at  08:15 PM

  • wow, that trail looks like the grand canyon. that is even better than the trail at Mt. Krizevec in medugorje.  It was probably the heat, a little dehydration & the altitude that made you feel sluggish. 
    when & where are you moving on?
    Don’t fret about food, it’s lent, fasting is alright once in a while.  you got too spoiled in South america.
    Take care & God love you.  we miss you.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/06  at  08:27 PM

  • Yeah, but what about the mountain that looks like a giant boob?  (in the Cape Town pic from the top of Table Mountain)  What’s that called?

    Posted by Liz  on  03/06  at  09:07 PM

  • Q: What did the Atlantic Ocean say to the Indian Ocean?


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/06  at  09:47 PM

  • Hey Erik,

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now (I must admit I’m addicted).  Just wanted to say hi and let you know that I truly enjoy seeing the world through your eyes.  Take care and happy travels.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  02:04 AM

  • LAUREN:  Thanks!  Glad you enjoy and welcome to The Fellowship of The Blog…  pass the word around!  It’s always great when Silent Blog Readers break their silence!

    I can see from your email address that you are from Canada, but bound for London, eh?  Good luck and happy travels to you too then!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  10:32 AM

  • MOM:  If I were to reveal my next destination, that would spoil the surprise for the audience now, wouldn’t it?  wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  10:44 AM

  • MARKYT/WHEAT:  I don’t get the joke… who the hell is William Hung?

    MARKYT:  My bad…  I was only on the Atlantic side—it’s the been corrected above… I’ll be where the Atlantic and Indian meet possibly tomorrow and well let you know afterwards…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  10:47 AM

  • ERIK: William Hung is a reject from this season’s FOX TV show, American Idol, who actually has not become an “American Idol”. 

    Check out:

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  11:00 AM

  • great pics!

    You DON’T know William “She Bangs” Hung??? Where have you been?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  11:11 AM

  • erik: Brits call the bread that comes with KFC buns if I remember correctly…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  03:28 PM

  • hmm, why do they call that oriental flavor? does it have little bits of orientals in it? and what does an oriental taste like? if there is anything like william hung in it, i think i’ll stick to spaghetti-o’s. oh, and lovepenny is in love with william hung. it’s all over his wallpaper on his pc at work. =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  03:42 PM

  • wow i never thought i would see anyone ask “who is william hung?” !!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  03:53 PM

  • LIZ:  That giant boob looking thing is Lion’s Head.  I’ve just looked at a map and lo and behold, the area I called the lion’s ass is actually called “Lion’s Rump.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  04:22 PM

  • ALICE:  The MSG makes it “oriental”—I LOVE that stuff!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  04:27 PM

  • I was more surprised that no one asked HOW was William hung!

    with this crowd, that joke ought to be okay wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/07  at  07:27 PM

  • eh, if msg makes it oriental, then all the ramen flavors should be oriental. take that, beef flavor noodle. you are oriental too! man, they had a curry flavored one before that i can’t find any more. that was goood. look for it on your global trip. you might end up finding it in asia. if so, send 1000 packs back to the u.s. for me. =P

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/08  at  11:05 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Just Relax

Previous entry:
Price Hike


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