Posts Tagged ‘hiking’


April 2011

Pictures from my late April trip to Kenya are finally up!

Since April 28th, I have been traveling more than I have been home in DC—I’ve been traipsing around Nairobi, Istanbul, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Savannah (Home sweet home…), Sweden, and now Prague for the past two months, which is insane—even for me. So needless to say I am a little behind on editing and uploading pictures from these trips. But I’ve just finished Kenya and those are up now, so enjoy!

[See the complete album here!]

Kenya was an absolutely brilliant, if short (just three days!), trip and completely different than anything I’ve done before. It was the first time I got a look at “real” Africa. One of my favorite moments was walking out into the fields at Hell’s Gate to get closer to the giraffes. It reminded me of the scene from Jurassic Park when Dr. Grant sees the brontosaurs for the first time—such a surreal experience. We also visited a tea farm, Kiambethu, about forty-five minutes out of the city, and did some impromptu camping in the Rift Valley at Fisherman’s Camp on Lake Naivasha. Stay tuned for more about this in my article about my Kenya trip to be up later this month!

[Images by Kelly Overvold and Scott Zaban.]

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Table Mountain

Cape Town, South Africa

March 2011

The native Khoi San called the mountain “Hoerikwaggo”—meaning “sea mountain”. I like to think the earthly-wise natives even knew the drama of the mountain’s geological history: its formation in the Ediacaran sea over six million years ago, how it was carved flat by glaciers, and how the granite foundation gave strength to the upper layers of sandstone when continental shifting caused it to be pushed up towards the sky where the sun asserts itself as an indomitable force on a clear day in Cape Town. Girdled lizards scurry and disappear into glacier pockets left in the sandstone. Ghost frogs dip in and out of the shadows of plants making up the smallest and yet the most diverse of the seven floristic kingdoms on Earth.

[See the complete album here!]

[See the complete album here!]

[Images by Kelly Overvold and Scott Zaban.]

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Three Days on the Western Cape

I had not followed any of the FIFA Soccer World Cup held in South Africa in 2010, had studied Nelson Mandela in School, and seen a documentary about the flying sharks in False Bay off of the Western Cape. That was all I knew about South Africa before I stepped on the Airbus 340 to Frankfurt to catch my connecting flight to Cape Town.

§Take United flight 932 from Washington DC to Frankfurt and connect to Lufthansa flight 576 to Cape Town.

My boyfriend—Scott—and I had booked the trip back in December when a low fare from Washington DC—about $1050 on a non-upgradeable, economy-class ticket—popped up for Lufthansa Airlines. Before we found the fare, we hadn’t thought much about visiting South Africa. “Well, what’s it like?” I had asked Scott. “Kind of like Australia, actually.” He had said. I was skeptical. “I mean any place is a lot like another,” he elaborated. “The world is settled, civilized, occupied. The difference is in language, geography—and even there you can whittle out the similarities.” He flipped through my passport to make sure I had enough empty pages left. “I mean, you can’t really ask questions like that,” he said, sliding the little blue book back into my travel wallet, “even when you’re there and can answer them yourself. A place is a place. People are people. You just have to go see for yourself.” So that’s what we did.

We arrive at Cape Town International Airport on a Monday afternoon in March. Leaving the airport, we drive by a township on our way in to the city. The colorful, square, tin and plywood houses pixilate the rolling countryside. I peek down each sandy alleyway as we fly by on the N1 into a kaleidoscope world of soccer balls, skinny dogs, and rusted water barrels. A young man, possibly in his early twenties, sits on the roof of one of the houses, with his feet pressed to the top of the surrounding fence. He looks off towards the city. He is dressed in black suit pants, and a crisp, white-collared shirt creates a sharp border between his charcoal sweater and the smooth darkness of his handsome face. A large field stretches beyond the last row of houses. It is clear of debris. Half a dozen groups of uniformed, youth soccer teams are gathered in huddles around their coaches, juggling, or running sprints across the parched and dusty grass.

I lean back into the car, surprised at the feeling of nostalgia, persistent in the back of my throat. How can a foreigner, who, by the very definition, is alien to place and culture, find something with which to identify so deeply after barely an hour in a new country? Why is my first experience of Cape Town not one of an encounter with the exotic, but a scene that evokes memories of my own childhood on a soccer field back home in the United States? People are people, Scott had said. Is that what he meant?

After dropping our things off at The Big Blue hostel by the waterfront, Scott and I head to the beach to relax and plan out the rest of our stay. The surf at Camps Bay is violent and chaotic, constantly crashing over the deposits of eroded granite that have scattered themselves less than half a kilometer out from the sandy beaches. The first geyser-like burst into the air in the middle of the sea sends my heart racing, and I am convinced I’ve just seen a whale. After a few minutes I realize my mistake as another swell meets one of these submerged granite boulders and sends its spray a dozen feet into the air. Disappointed, I plop back down onto the towel we’ve spread out beside a placid tidal pool. Scott and I begin to flip through the handful of brochures we took from the check-in desk and talk about how we want to structure our trip.

When you travel the way Scott and I do, by taking vacations to new and vastly complex places once a month, spending only a couple of days in each place, planning becomes not only difficult but ultimately pointless—who really knows what to expect when visiting a new city? After browsing through the options—Kreuger Park safari, wine-tours, whale-watching, Cape Point, Table Mountain, Kirstenbosche botanical gardens—we crossed out the pricey ones—whale-watching and Kreuger Park safari—and decided to split up the rest into our three full days in Cape Town.

§Day 1: Take the N1 out of Cape Town towards Paarl. Turn left onto Suid-Agter Paarl Rd. Stop at Fairview winery (25 Rand for wine and cheese tasting). Buy the Chevin cheese of your choice (14 Rand) and have a picnic on the lawn. Get back on the N1 heading towards Cape Town. Turn left onto Klapmuts Road (R44). Stop at Le Bonheur Winery (15 Rand to taste 5 wines). Buy a bottle of the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (50 Rand).

There is a place behind the estate’s manor house at Le Bonheur where a narrow flight of packed earth steps leads up through the overgrown edges of a terraced garden. I close my eyes and am led up the stairs and in to a daydream. At the top there would be a mature pomegranate tree casting a perimeter of dappled shade around a set of iron-worked chairs and a lazy, weathervane breeze slipping between the long blades of grass at my feet. The moment steps outside of time. I lose the sense of being in South Africa, of being in the twenty-first century. I have seen this moment before, on the hillside of my uncle’s estate in Virginia, or in the De Villiers portrait in the foyer of the house behind me. But then one of the grape pickers appears in my imagination from behind a vineyard row and smiles at me. I am reminded where I am when he sets the crate he’s carrying on his left hip and points behind him at the herd of springbok beyond the vineyards.  I wave, grateful to him for allowing me to make this moment my own.

I had fallen in love with delving into the leisure and rustic luxury of wine countries after taking my first wine-tasting tour in Victoria, Australia, in the Yarra Valley outside of Melbourne. So when a brochure at our hostel touted the pleasures of the vineyards outside of Cape Town, my boyfriend and I did not hesitate to go exploring. I’m no sommelier, but I am a fan of wines, cheeses, old houses, vineyards, farm dogs, picnics, and private gardens. The sun finds a particular complement when reflected off the bubbling water of white stone fountains or the soft ruby petals of vigorous roses. To spend a leisurely day in search of the perfect new wine to add to your cellar, while passively enjoying the sites and scenery of the country you’re visiting, seems to me to be the perfect essence of vacation.

Originally called Oude Weltevreden (“Well Satisfied”), the estate of Le Bonheur was established in the late sixteen-hundreds by the De Villiers family from Holland who built the house in the classic H-shape of the Cape Dutch style. It is remarkable to feel the juxtaposition of elegance and comfort the house’s interior suggests. I find myself among moments of arresting familiarity—when a ceramic dish clatters against the surface of one of the wood tables in the tasting room or when the sound of the wind in the trees outside drifts in with a dragonfly through an open window. It is strange how potently an old house at the foot of the Simonsberg Mountain in South Africa has reminded me of my uncle’s home in Virginia.

§Day 2: Drive down the M4, along Simons Bay, towards Cape Point. Stop in Simon’s Town to see the penguins, and buy a malachite bead necklace (60 Rand) from one of the art tables by the tourist office. Look out for baboons and bonteboks.

There is a beach near Simon’s Town where titanic boulders lie half-buried in the sand as though they had been washed in by the tide. Warming themselves on the surface of the rocks or swimming in the calm waters of the sun-drenched cove are dozens of black-footed penguins. Boulder’s Beach is home to one of two mainland colonies of penguins near Cape Town. I walk down to the shore and climb up onto one of the smaller boulders, an arm’s reach from the nearest penguin who lazily swings his head towards me before lying down on his stomach and closing his eyes. On the other side of the tide pool at my feet, a penguin carefully inches his way down the slope of one of the larger rocks, heading towards the water. With a final, charming little leap he splashes into the shallows before enthusiastically waddling away and diving into the waves.

On the walk up from the beach we pass tables of “souvenirs” set up along the road. I am reminded abruptly of a book I had read in my socio-cultural anthropology class by Sally Price called Primitive Art in Civilized Places. Price discusses the longstanding confusion surrounding what the Western disciplines of art and anthropology have often referred to as “primitive” art (when they mean African art) and the desire of Westerners to own the works and display them in their homes as testament to their cultural magnanimity and open-mindedness.

Many of these tables were piled with beautiful examples of African arts and crafts: humanoid figurines, animal figurines, gorgeous trinket boxes, goblets, jewelry, colorful paintings, and beadwork. As I wander between tables, and make jokes with the vendors about the suspicious-looking ostriches who appear to be creeping closer and closer to the lovely shades thrown up over the tables, I can’t find anything that strikes me as primitive about the artwork I’m admiring. If anything, the artists seem to have achieved an aesthetic that is simultaneously confident, powerful, and light-hearted. I recognize something familiar in the philosophy and inspiration behind their creation. I want to be a part of the dancing scenes in the painting; I want to wear the beautiful beaded jewelry on display.

I pick out a string of green malachite beads and pay less than $10 for them. The woman who has sold them to me tells me that green is a good color for my heart as she points to her eyes. I’m struck by the warmth and informality of the moment as she casts another playful glance over her shoulder at the ostrich. Her face brightens suddenly as she catches sight of a little boy running up the street in his school uniform. I watch as he flings himself into her outstretched arms, waving a pencil drawing he’s made of what looks like a swimming bear. As I walk back to our car I decide that the Africa anyone might want to call “primitive” must be a different Africa from the one in which these people are living.

§ Day 3: Take Kloof Nek Road up to Tafelberg and park. Ride the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain (one way, 90 Rand). Buy a painting from the Italian artist working by the first spectator’s point (60 Rand). Hike back down Platteklip Gorge.

The native Khoi San called the mountain “Hoerikwaggo”—meaning “sea mountain”. I like to think the earthly-wise natives even knew the drama of the mountain’s geological history: its formation in the Ediacaran sea over six million years ago, how it was carved flat by glaciers, and how the granite foundation gave strength to the upper layers of sandstone when continental shifting caused it to be pushed up towards the sky where the sun asserts itself as an indomitable force on a clear day in Cape Town. Girdled lizards scurry and disappear into glacier pockets left in the sandstone. Ghost frogs dip in and out of the shadows of plants making up the smallest and yet the most diverse of the seven floristic kingdoms on Earth.

I’ve donned my double-strap Chacos and packed two liters of water in anticipation of the hike. Scott and I decide to take the path towards Maclears Beacon. It is a Thursday morning and there aren’t many other people on the mountain. We follow the path to the edge of the southeast face and settle into a grooved rock outcrop shaded by a reaching Fynbos plant. Overhead swallows dip and spiral like rogue propellers. One zips by barely a meter in front of my face with a sound like a knife slicing through canvas. Across the gorge a family of dassies emerges from a fissure to drink from a trickle of water over iron-stained rock. The weather is warm; the wind is unusually gentle for all of the open space and altitude. I fit comfortably atop my chosen perch, feeling effortlessly at home in the heart of the most diverse flora kingdom on earth, on top of a mountain older than the Himalayas.

Far to my left the web of highway systems and pockets of neighborhoods stretches away towards the airport. I remember suddenly how, upon leaving the airport in our rental car on the first day, I had leaned forward for my first glimpse of Table Mountain. Overhead, a billboard for Heineken, announcing the Dutch beer as “clearly superior”, had blocked my view. But after a few seconds it was behind us, and the mountain in all its ancient and individual glory stretched across the horizon. I smiled as I recalled that throughout our time on the Western Cape, whenever we drove through town, walked down the beaches in Clifton, or explored the botanical gardens of Kirstenbosche, the grandfather mountain stood sentry just beneath the sky. The gated homes of the Camps Bay area and the colorful tin townships alike were spread across the geography extending from the mountain’s base, nestled against its form as against the back of a sleeping parent. The diverse geo- and bionetworks of the Western Cape not only mirror the many different cultural groups who call South Africa their home, but act as a unifying force, combining all of its parts into a singular yet dynamic whole.

On our last morning in Cape Town, I checked the weather in Washington DC on the computer in the lobby of the hostel. I cringed: forty-five degrees and rainy, compared to the seventy-nine and breezy I had enjoyed all week. As I rolled my suitcase down the path to our rental car and glanced up towards one of the small foothills of Table Mountain, I saw two zebras in the shade of an iconic acacia tree. I started, not expecting to see the wild and exotic creatures so close to the city. I vaguely remembered having heard about the small herds that roamed the lower foothills of the mountain, but still I was struck by the strong sense of an encounter with the exotic as I stood watching them graze, with the sounds of the city in the background. A place is a place, I thought, swinging my suitcase into the trunk of the car, until you see zebras. As we drove away, I turned around for one more look at the zebras on the hillside. It occurred to me that the beautiful weather was not the only thing about South Africa that I would miss.

§Take Lufthansa flight 577 from Cape Town to Frankfurt and connect to United flight 917, going home.

[Photographs by Kelly Overvold.]

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Appalachia: Linville Falls, North Carolina

& Roan Mountain, Tennessee

October 2009

[See the complete Album here.]

I picked up a leaf
today from the sidewalk.
This seems childish.

Leaf! you are so big!
How can you change your
color, then just fall!

As if there were no
such thing as integrity!

You are too relaxed
to answer me. I am too
frightened to insist.

Leaf! don’t be neurotic
like the small chameleon.

—Frank O’Hara

[See the complete Album here.]

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