Week 7: Just another week in Cape Town

Hello everybody! I have sailed past the half-way point of my time here in Cape Town but do not have much new to share. It was a pretty typical week. Nothing out of the ordinary at work this week. I spent the second half of the week working from home so that I could use my personal computer to tag photos. The computer at work is fairly old and the most photos I have been able to process in one day has been 7,000. By staying home and using my personal computer I was able to process 23,000 photos in one day and I even got to sleep in a bit. I have a little under 30,000 more photos to process so I will probably stay home a day or two this next week to get those completed and off my plate for the rest of my time here. After I complete the photo processing I will clean up the excel sheets and most likely be done with that project. Other than photos, I helped the monitors clean out the boma on Tuesday (which is literally just raking and shoveling eland feces) and helped with some more trailer training. That was all that happened at work.

On the activities side, I hiked Table Mountain, went to a market, casino, and a movie. On Friday the VAC activity was a hike to an area called Cecilia Forest, as this did not interest me and some of the other interns we decided to hike Table Mountain instead. This meant two hours straight up the side of the mountain. It was definitely the most difficult hike that I have encountered here in South Africa but good news, we were able to take the cable car back down. What took two hours to climb, took only about three minutes to go down. It was an exhausting trek but we all felt very accomplished to reach the top, especially after seeing all the people who took the cable car to the top rather than hiking. On Saturday we went to Mojo Market in Sea Point. It was a very stormy day so it was nice to find an indoor market with heaters. It was just a small food market with a few trinket and clothes shops. I had a Korean chicken dish that was pretty tasty. Later Saturday evening a group of us went to the GrandWest Casino. We did not go there to gamble however. The casino is a complex that has a food court, ice skating rink, the casino (obviously), and a movie theater. The theater is the reason we went, although we did try our hand at some gambling. It did not go well. We couldn’t even get the slot machines to take our money, so we left without gaining, or losing. The movie we went to was Crazy Rich Asians. I enjoyed it and it was nice to sit down and veg out for a couple of hours instead of always trying to find something to do. On Sunday I took a lazy day, did my laundry, went to the store, read (I am currently reading Trevor Noah’s book titled Born a Crime) and watched some Netflix (currently into Black Mirror). It was a pretty mellow week.

We will see what this next week holds.

Week 6: Halfway There

I am now exactly halfway through my time here in Cape Town. 6 weeks done, 6 weeks to go. It is bittersweet. On the one hand I am that much closer to going home and seeing everyone that I miss. On the other, I have 6 more weeks to explore. There is nothing out of the ordinary to write about this week. Work was work. For our Friday activity we went to Muizenberg beach and enjoyed a sunny afternoon there. Saturday went to the Old Biscuit Mill for some food and then a soccer match in the evening. Sunday was occupied with some Netflix with friends, grocery shopping, and relaxing. So instead of writing about the details of those activities I thought I would share with you a transcript of some questions I have answered as part of my OSU internship requirements.

Describe a day in your life:

  • What is your work schedule like?
  • Describe your work. What activities and tasks are you doing day-to-day? Please be specific.
  • What do you do after work?
  • How do you balance your time between work and exploring life outside of work?

Work takes place Monday through Thursday from 07:30 to anytime from 15:30-16:30. There are also times that I do work outside of those hours from home as it is work that can be done on my personal computer. I do not work on Fridays because this is the day that VAC hosts their weekly activities, which are paid for as part of the host site fees, therefore I attend every activity that is offered to me. My day-to-day work activities completely vary depending on what my supervisor has going on in any particular day. I do have a specific project that I work on, which is using a computer program to write data onto camera trap photos in an effort to be able to run some sort of statistical analysis when I finish. If there is nothing else going on during the day I am working on this project. However, every day can be different. We have started trailer training the eland in the mornings, so now my mornings start off by going to the boma and helping with this activity. Some days I have helped build fencing, repair the deck, and other maintenance activities. Other days I have gone with my supervisor to visit other reserves and go to a feed store to pick up food pellets and luserne for the eland. We have conducted several bird call surveys, which consist of going out into the reserve with a sound recorder and visiting ten different locations in each the control and experiment sections. Then recording two minutes in four different directions (north, east, south, and west) at each location. Some days we host school groups that come to learn about the eland and the project. Each day can be something different so there is no typical day.

After work I take the train home. This activity can range from 30 minutes to an hour and half depending on when I get to the station and how the trains are running that day. Once I get home it depends on what I feel up to that day. Some days I just want to relax so I cook dinner and hang out either in the living area with my roommates or I go to my room for the evening. Other work days I have a bit more energy, so I may go out with friends and hang out, hike, or do some other activity. On Monday’s there is ultimate frisbee at the University of Cape Town sports fields, Tuesday are a culture series hosted through VAC, Thursday nights we typically go out to the local bar or to city center to hang out as most of us do not have to be to work in the morning. There is always something going on and it just depends on how active I want to be on any given day.

My work life balance is pretty straight forward. I go to work at the times specified above and the rest of the time I do things that I want to in order to make the most out of this experience. This experience is whatever anyone wants to make out of it. Most supervisors that are associated with VAC understand that we as interns are here to learn about the work and gain experience, but even more importantly, we are here to learn about another part of the world and the people that live here. My supervisor is very understanding if there is something going on outside of work that I am really interested in or if there is a time that I need to take a day off because I am ill or something. I was sick for the better part of two weeks with a head cold and a sore throat and my supervisor completely understood. I took a day off work to rest and was able to work from home a couple other days in order to get better.


  • What is your living situation like? What are the pros/cons?
  • Do you have any related advice for future interns?

I live at 49 Milton Rd. This is a ten-bedroom house with a large kitchen, washer and dryer, large living area to hang out, and a large front yard where we have a braai every Sunday with the housemates and other friends we have made. The main part of the house has one and a half baths. My bedroom is in a second detached building behind the main house. There are four bedrooms in this building. My bedroom shares a bathroom with one other room and the other two bedrooms out back have their own bathrooms. My bedroom has a single bed, a desk, a shelving unit, a bedside table, and a wardrobe. There are not really any pros or cons for me to speak of, it is a place for me to stay while I am here in Cape Town. The room is decent, and the house is fine. We had a few issues in the house the first couple weeks I was here, but I emailed Rent-a-Room with our concerns and they came within the next couple of days to take care of them. The only con I can really say is how cold the house is. It is winter here in Cape Town and although it is not as cold as back home, the house stays cold all the time and my room is also cold all time. I have two blankets that I sleep with every night and occasionally with sleep in a sweater if it is particularly chilly. The only advice that I would give for a future intern is to do your research on which house you want to stay in before you come and once you are here enjoy that you are in another country and realize that the house is just a place to stay.

Travel and Transportation:

  • How do you typically get around town and to work? Are you satisfied with that choice?
  • Would you recommend other options?
  • Do you have time to explore the surrounding area on time off? How do you manage that?
  • Where do you recommend exploring?

On a typical work day, I take the train from Observatory to Retreat, from Observatory Station to Retreat Station is 14 stops. A month train pass for the MetroPlus is about $20. In order to make it to work by 07:30 I have to leave my house at 06:30. The train usually comes anytime between 06:40 to 06:50 and if I miss this train it could be up to an hour wait for the next one to come. From the Retreat Station I take an Uber. It usually takes anywhere from three to ten minutes to call an Uber. The price varies between about $3.25 to $5 from the station to CTEET. This depends on the availability of Uber in the area and how many riders are out there. One particularly expensive trip cost about $11 from the station to work. This was due to the minibus taxi strike that was occurring that day in Cape Town. Although, the minibuses in the Retreat neighborhood were not on strike, it was an opportunity for Uber to raise their rates and take advantage of a situation. My trip from work to home is the same in reverse. A few dollars for Uber to the train station, 14 stops on the train, and a short walk from the Observatory Station to my house. I try to catch the train home by 15:40. If I do not catch this train it is about an hour wait and the next train is always packed. If there is a day that I really just want to get home I take Uber straight from work the 49 Milton, which is about a $10 ride. Outside of traveling to work I almost solely rely on Uber to get around Cape Town. As I am usually hanging out with a least a couple other people, if not more, we all split the cost of the Uber. This has been an efficient and safe way to get around Cape Town and is not particularly expensive. A ride back home in Corvallis from my apartment to downtown would cost around $10, the same trip from my house in Cape Town to the city center is about a third of the price. As I have no other choice to get to and from work that would be any more cost efficient I am neither satisfied or dissatisfied. I am a bit frustrated with how much money I will end up spending on Uber to and from the train station for work. I spend the same amount of money on a monthly train pass as I do on one week of Uber for work. Before I arrived in Cape Town I was connected with several other interns that were working in the same neighborhood as I was and one other that was working at the same internship site. I was under the impression that at the very least there would be one other person I could split Uber from the train station to work, which would of saved me quite a bit of money. Turned out the other person at my site only went into work 2 or 3 times in the 5 weeks our internships overlapped and the others working in the same area did not want to take the train and instead simply Ubered the whole commute. I think that many interns here are discourage from using the train and other public transportation due to the perception the host organization puts on this mode of transportation.

I have plenty of time to explore the surrounding area in my time off. One of the main ways to make sure this happens is by attending all the weekly activities hosted by VAC. As I am paying a fee to VAC to be here I am absolutely taking advantage of the activities they host on Fridays. I also try to do something different on the weekends. This can be hiking, exploring a new market, going to a soccer match, or taking a trip over the weekend to explore areas further away. The amount exploring that one does is completely dependent on what that person wants to do. Everyone’s experience is different, and it is what you make of it. I would recommend exploring everywhere possible. From hiking on Table Mountain, museums in the city center, the waterfront mall, to the beach at Muizenberg. There is something here for everyone and it is a matter of going out and finding what you like.

Week 5: Getting out of Town

This week started with a short work week. Thursday was National Woman’s Day here in South Africa, which meant only a three day work week. Since it was a short week there is really nothing new to report. I spent the three days uploading and organizing the rest of the photos that I have to tag. I have completed 30,000 so far, apparently I have 70,000 more to go. Hopefully I can make quick progress and be done with them shortly.

Enough about work. Over the four day weekend I went on a guided trip through the Klein Karoo and the Garden Route. This has been one of the highlights of my time so far here in South Africa. First of all the tour guide was by far one of my favorite people I have met in this country. His name was Maudi. Maudi was quite the character. By lunch time on the first day he was already cracking jokes about the different people on the trip and absolutely made the trip as good as it possibly could have been. On the first day we did a wine tasting (at 9:30 AM) en route to our first hostel. Obviously a wonderful way to start the day. After this we stopped for lunch at a roadside stop. We continued on to the Cango Caves. This was an interesting stop as we had to climb through some very tight places. At one point we were crawling through a space that was only 23 cm tall. A bit small for my liking. That night we had an ostrich braai at out hostel, hung out by the fire and played with the three cats. The second day there was a bit of rain. We started the day with a zip lining trip over a waterfall followed by a trip to the world’s tallest commercial bridge bungee jump. Of course I participated in this activity and yes it was the most primal adrenaline feeling that I think I will ever experience. 216 meters to the ground and you fall upwards of 195 meters with two secondary falls. Check out Instagram for a video. The hostel this night was out a forest, quite a bit off the beaten track. We had a ramen for dinner and hung out around another fire while having good conversation with some South Africans from Cape Town that were also at the hostel. Saturday included a 2 hour hike up to an amazing view of the Indian Ocean followed by canoeing down a river to the beach. The hostel was a bit more urban than the others but situated right next to the ocean. Fish and chips were on the menu for dinner. There were eight of us from VAC that went on this trip and Saturday night we all just hung out in out hostel and had a few drinks. Sunday did not disappoint either. We went for a safari at a game reserve along the Garden Route. They had 4 of the Big 5 (kinda hard to keep leopards in a fenced area I suppose) along with many other animals. It was very nice to see how much space and well kept the game reserve was. When I first thought of doing a safari on a private game reserve I just thought it would be like a zoo, this was not the case and was quite nice to be proven wrong about my perceptions. After the safari we had a 5 hour drive back to Cape Town.

This ends another week in Cape Town. Stay tuned for more adventures to come.


Week 4: Sometimes it’s the Little Things

As I round out my first month here in Cape Town I reflect and appreciate on the things I have done and seen here in such a short time but I also yearn for the little things back home that are a part of my everyday life. I have been feeling a bit under the weather this last week. Just a common cold that I will get through just fine but has made me a bit irritable this week. For example, today I was going grocery shopping, to a store (Pick n Pay) that is a little farther away than the closest grocery store (Spar) but has a bit larger selection. As I am walking through the store an announcement comes on that the debit and credit card machines are not operating and if there is anything that I have learned so far in South Africa, it is that when you are waiting on something there is never going to be an accurate estimate of how long it will be. Frustrating but not a big deal. There is another grocery store a little farther away that I had not yet been to so I gave it a go. It is the same company as the one that is close to me, but maybe they have a little larger selection. Well this was not the case. Same selection as the closest store to me. Once again not a big deal, I will get what I need and go home. As I am checking out I ask for cash back, this way I do not have to have the extra fee associated with the ATM.  At my usual Spar and the Pick n Pay,getting cash back has not been an issue, but they have to use a different card machine for cash back transactions. So I ask for enough back so that I can purchase electricity (electricity is bought at shops and then loaded to a meter in the house, actually kinda nice as it counts down the kilowatts instead of counting up and you only buy as much as you need, can be inconvenient though if you run out when the shops are closed) and the cashier says okay but does not get the other card reader. I ask her if she added my cash back to the transaction and she says yes, asks me if I am using a debit card, I say yes, and she has me use the normal card machine. I thought, okay this Spar is a bit more upgraded and I would get my cash. But as I suspected the transaction ran as a credit transaction, she tells me I have a credit card, as if I would not know what card I was using, and I don’t get cash back. I relent and get cash out of an ATM to get electricity. I walk to the place I have gotten electricity from before and it is closed. So with all that hassle I have to go to the Spar that I usually go to and could have gone there the whole time to get groceries and electricity. And since I am sick and irritable, this was about the most frustrating time I have had since I arrived. The only time I have really thought about being home-sick. Of course I miss my family and am excited to see them when I get back, however, missing the people (and pets) that I love is much different than being home-sick. It has been all the little frustrating things this week, while being sick, that made me home-sick for all of 15 minutes this morning while just trying to run a normal errand. I am actually feeling quite a bit better today as far as my cold goes and will hopefully be fully recovered by Thursday as I am going on a 4-day trip along to Garden Route.

As far as work goes this week, it was a pretty quite week. I went home early Monday because we were having power issues and I was sick. Tuesday I stayed home and slept most of the day while intermittently watching the Crown on Netflix. Wednesday I worked from home as my supervisor was out of the office and I could accomplish the days work from my own computer. Thursday was a fun day. My supervisor took me on a drive to the Helderberg Nature Reserve, which is 44 km away and after that we drove to a animal feed store that stocks pellets for antelope and then drove back to our reserve. In total it took almost 4 hours and I got to see a lot of the surrounding area around the city that I would otherwise not have had the opportunity to see. I am still working on the photo tagging and imagine that is what this next week will mostly consist of.

This weeks vactivity was a trip to Cape Point. This is the southwestern most tip of Africa (not the southern most tip which is Cape Agulhas about 3 hours drive southeast along the coast). It was super windy but very pretty views. There are baboons that are native to this park which were really fun to see but also a reminder of how stupid people can be. Baboons are very wild and quite frankly dangerous animals and it is so frustrating to see people try to get as close as they can to them to take pictures or whatever else they are trying to do. There was one woman in our group that crouched down right next to one for a selfie and later her and another intern put down their bags to dance and had baboons attempt to steal them. It is this ignorance that leads to so much of the human-baboon conflict. I saw in the news this week that a man was arrested for taunting a bison at Yellowstone. It is the same ignorance and stupidity that I witnessed with these baboons. The baboons seemed to keep to themselves mostly and there was a good chance one would run right by you or you would have to walk right next to one, but it is the purposeful acts of trying to get so close to wild animals that cause so many problems and most of the time it is the animal that suffers greatest. Other than that it was a wonderful trip. I also saw a Rock hyrax that was about a foot away from me, Cape fur seals, wild eland, and ostriches. It was fun to get out and see some different wildlife and not just from camera traps. On next weekend’s Garden Route trip I should have the opportunity to see most if not all of the Big 5. On Saturday we went to a local food market at the waterfront. There was so much food! I have a bowl of pho, which really made me feel better and cleared out my sinuses. Later Saturday night a group of us went to the opening match of Cape Town City F.C. which plays at Cape Town Stadium. This was one of the stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup and it was a magnificent place to watch soccer. Unfortunately, there were only about 5,000 people in the stands, which if you look at my pictures on Instagram can see that it is a small fraction of the capacity. But fun none the less. Sunday was a day to rest, mostly. As you read I had a frustrating trip to the grocery store, but other than that it was peaceful.

Another week in South Africa, another week closer to the end of my trip. This week should bring some fun and exciting endeavors and be sure to keep posted by following my South African adventure on Twitter and Instagram.