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South Africa, January 2016

Well, it’s been a bit over a year since my trip to South Africa, and I still haven’t written about it.  It’s time, isn’t it?

Back in fall of 2015, at our mutual birthday party, my sister brought up that she was going to South Africa and was looking for a companion.  Turns out that her South African boyfriend Francois had run out of a US work visa and was back home, and she was planning on visiting him and his family in January 2016.  They said she could bring a guest, and I lucked out, because her best friend couldn’t go.  I was next in line!

I put the whole trip on my credit card, having just been to Greece a few months before.  But nearly $2000 in debt later, I still consider it the best trip of my life!

She got there a few days before I did.  I wanted to give her and Francois some privacy (in his parents’ house…) and also, honestly, I was scared about flying with my only sibling, for my parents’ sake.  I got a flight on Lufthansa, which is the best airline I’ve ever taken.  They gave me so much wine I couldn’t have stood if I wanted to, and when I woke up, I was in Munich with a long layover!  I immediately took the train out to Marienplatz.

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New Town Hall

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Streets of Marienplatz, Munich

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From my research, it sounded like Marienplatz was pretty hipster, or kind of the Logan Square of Munich, so that’s where I went because I figured it’d feel like home.  I got a sandwich and fries and a beer at a local pub.  Then I got back on the eternal flight.

From the airport in Johannesburg, I immediately pulled out onto the freeway in a rental car, from the right side of the car but on the left side of the four-lane freeway.  It was the most terrifying drive of my life.  I’m not sure how I made it to Francois’ family’s house in Eloff, but after many a pot-hole-ridden dirt road, I saw my sister again.  We had a nice evening in Francois’ sister’s hot tub, and we spent the night there.

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Driving on the wrong side

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South African countryside

The next morning I had a long drive out to Hazyview, outside Kruger National Park.  I was staying at a hostel in Hazyview and then going on a safari in the park the next day.  It was a four-hour drive (again, on the left) over winding roads through the mountains of South Africa.  I was cruising and playing glam rock on my phone and enjoying the scenery.  Eventually I got to the town of Nelspruit as it was getting dark, and my phone had just died, so I decided to pull over and look for the charger.

And it was gone.  I was in a grocery store parking lot, digging under the seats anxiously, as people started to move closer and closer, circling my car.  I was an easy target.  I couldn’t stay there, so I kept driving as best I could based on the map I’d printed out.  It took me into the woods, and I ended up in a vacant lot.  By this point it was pitch black, and I was certain I was going to die.  I was about to get murdered in the woods of the South African countryside.  I drove in aimless circles through the woods, crying like a maniac, trying to come up with any idea to save myself.

Then I remembered: I drove past a tiny hospital in Nelspruit.  If I could remember how to get back there, that was my best option for a safe place to find the charger and charge my phone.

Even luckier, though, was that along the way I saw a light in the distance and found a restaurant.  The parking lot was lit up brightly, so I felt safe enough to get out of my car and keep digging for the charger.  And I found it!  But this was Francois’ South African charger, and it turned out it wasn’t very compatible with my American phone.  It zapped about 1% battery life into my phone, and then it wouldn’t charge anymore.  That 1% had to get me directions to my hostel in a hurry.

By some miracle I got there.  The room was full of bugs and geckos, and I was afraid to even pull the sheets down on the bed because I was sure there were snakes in it.  But I got drunk at the hostel bar and got a few hours of sleep before my safari.

The safari was excellent.  I booked a group safari because it was more affordable, but it turned out nobody else was scheduled for that day with my chosen tour company, so it was just me in a giant Jeep with a very sweet and incredibly well-informed guide.  Of the Big Five, I saw all but a leopard, as they’re notoriously elusive.  But elephants, lions, zebras, buffalo, hippos, giraffes, various monkeys, warthogs, rhinos, and more all made an appearance!  Kruger National Park was gorgeous and I hope to go back there someday.

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On a safari

That night after the safari, my mom did the sweetest thing.  Because I’d texted her the day before about all the bugs and geckos at the hostel, she booked me a swanky hotel room nearby.  My parents don’t have tons of money, but for a splurge of $100 USD, she was able to get me a really nice, fancy room.  I was so grateful!  The hotel was surrounded by streams, and signs warned of alligators and hippos coming onto the property.  I had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant ($20 USD for a three-course meal and a bottle of wine), and a hippo emerged in the yard!

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I got back to Francois’ family’s house outside Johannesburg the next evening, and the following morning, we got a flight on Mango Airlines to Durban.

Let’s talk for a minute about domestic travel in South Africa.  You don’t have to take off your shoes.  You can bring liquids of any kind and size.  You can fly without your fucking passport if you have a photo of it on your phone.  So yeah.  This is in stark contrast from the time I flew from Greece to Canada to the US, and had to go through an extra security checkpoint in Canada just because I was flying to the States.  Okay.

From Durban, Francois took us to his family friend’s cute little hut near the beach in Hibberdene.

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Passed out on the way to Hibberdene

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We spent the next four days swimming in the ocean, feeding the ducks and other birds, eating veggie pot pies, and drinking from the time we woke up until we went to bed.  I wish I could provide more info than that, but we stayed consistently drunk and in the sun.  It was one of the best times in my life.

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Beach community

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Bridge to the ocean

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My bedroom in the loft of the round hut

On our last day, Francois took us back to Durban, where we went to the combination aquarium/water park, Ushaka Marine World.  It was my first time at a water park in years, and on top of that, you could drink!  We spent the day shotgunning beers between water slides, and then we toured the aquarium.

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We finished off with dinner and drinks on the pier, and the next morning we flew back to Johannesburg.  Then it was back to the US for Laura and me.

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This time we flew together, and again, I was scared for my parents because no one should ever have their only children on the same flight together.  Then again, maybe most people aren’t as terrified of flying as I am.  I have to say, it was nice to have a travel companion for the 21-hour flight.

Needless to say I drank a lot, and Laura imbibed quite a bit herself.  We had a short layover in Frankfurt, where I accidentally left the book Colin had bought me for Christmas.  If anyone has a copy of The Plague, I need to read the last couple depressing chapters.

All in all, my trip to South Africa was amazing.  It was all fun, but my time in Hibberdene by the beach was best of all.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Endless thanks to Francois and his family for their hospitality and welcoming.  I hope to visit again someday.

Next up: Amsterdam and Berlin with my work-friend Julia!

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My transformation for the Bowie Ball

My dear friend Amelia and I are attending the Bowie Ball at Berlin in Chicago tonight, and naturally, I’m going as Cyrinda Foxe.  She’s the girl from “The Jean Genie” video and poster (among many other fascinating accomplishments).  My goal is to emulate the poster look, below.

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I’m basically live-blogging my day or whatever.  This is turning out to be even more complicated than I ever would’ve imagined.  Of course, no one is able to help me do my hair, so I have to somehow figure out how to make it look shorter and somewhat curled.

First of all, how in the name of everloving fuck do curlers even work?  I’ve written research expositions that were simpler and more intuitive than this shit.

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I had a feeling curlers would be a disaster, so I was really just planning on using them as a first step and then busting out the curling iron.  As it happens, the curling iron has apparently been missing for months.  This begs the question: Why am I just being informed of this now, instead of sometime during the past the three weeks that I’ve been talking about needing to curl my hair for the Bowie Ball?  A mystery.

It’s starting to look like the best option here will be to forget about curls, just backcomb my entire head, and clip it back.  A rat’s nest, basically.  Like so:

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Not sure why that photo’s so bright, but ‘kay.

I’ve also just received the news that Amelia is sick and will not be attending the ball tonight.  This is pretty devastating, because I’ve been incredibly pumped up for this for a long time.  It was to be one of the highlights of my winter, dressing up as my idol and going to a fabulous dance party.  Anyone else I can even think to invite either dislikes Bowie or me or driving downtown on a winter’s night.  It looks like I’m going alone, which means I’ll stand around the gay bar awkwardly, watch people dance for a few minutes, start crying out of loneliness, and drive the 2+ hours back home in the blizzard in my rental car.

(If you missed out on that story, I crashed my car into a stoplight pole in yesterday’s blizzard, and it’s totaled.)

As much as I pat myself on the back for failing at stereotypically feminine things like domesticity, I do wish I had the hair and makeup skillz.  That would be so convenient.

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Since I don’t, I’m just powdering my upper lids darkly like I always do.  Then I’ll take the tiny bit of shimmery silver I have left to color my brow bone.  Her eyeshadow looks blue, but I don’t have blue, so silver will have to work.  I obvs have red lipstick though.  Necessary.

Let’s talk about the wardrobe.  My budget for this was about $15, and all 15 of those $ went to the jean capris, which I ordered off eBay.  Then, they never came.  Luckily I made a backup plan and asked around among my friends for any old jeans they didn’t need, since I started getting worried when I didn’t get the package before New Year’s.  Jenny had jeans that fit me that she didn’t need anymore, so I simply cut them a little below the knee.  I don’t have a leopard print halter top, but my little bustier does fine.  The fishnet tights I borrowed from my sister, and I do not even want to know why there’s a giant, perfectly circular hole in the crotch.  As for the shoes, well, I don’t have any gold, glittery platforms, nor do I want any.  So I’m just wearing some platform sandals I bought back in middle school.

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It’s not perfect, but I gotta say, it’s turning out pretty damn well.  This is the first time I’ve dressed up as anyone in…wow, probably almost 15 years.  It’s fun!

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Wait.  Everybody stop what you’re doing.  I have just discovered this while googling “The Jean Genie” for more photos.  Oh sweet darling!

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Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to put it all together.  Here I am, in all my Cyrinda Foxe glory!

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Off to the ball, where I’ll awkwardly await an invitation elsewhere, I guess.  Goodnight!

Road Trip from Chicago to Long Beach

In March, I moved from Chicago to Long Beach.  My boyfriend Keith and I drove out here with our pet duck.  Here are some photos from our favorite stops on the road trip.

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In Adair, Iowa, in front of the smily face water tower.  There’s not much else to see in Iowa, but I remembered this from trips to Colorado as a kid.

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Sunset Crater Volcano.

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Navajo National Monument.

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A closer view of the ruins inside the cave.

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Traditional Najavo frybread.

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Navajo Nation.

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A Navajo trading post.

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Being goofy at Four Corners.

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Wakoki ruins, which you’re allowed to explore!

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Waputki ruins.

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The Grand Canyon.

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A wild horse in Grand Canyon National Park.

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The London Bridge, rebuilt in Lake Havasu City.

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And we made it all the way there!

Climbing Eagle Cliff Mountain

When I was growing up, my family had three alternating vacation spots, one of which was Rocky Mountain National Park, in Estes Park, Colorado.  Each trip, we stayed at Machin’s Cottages in the Pines, a comfy little resort at the bottom of Eagle Cliff Mountain.  Not being an athletic family, we didn’t do intense mountain climbing, but Eagle Cliff was perfect because it was a beginner’s mountain with a great view of the surrounding, snow-capped peaks and cozy valleys.

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(Random photos I stole from Google.)

My family hasn’t been there in more than ten years, since my grandparents died and the rest of us went there to spread their ashes.  Amazingly, while Keith and I were in Denver visiting his newlywed friends, we also had the opportunity to drive out there for a few hours on our last day of the trip.  Since we had such little time, I had to choose one favorite activity to do, to showcase my childhood fun.  Of course, I decided that we would climb Eagle Cliff.

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(Okay, these are my photos now.)

There’s no parking lot for climbers, so we drove up the little resort road, anxious to discover if Machin’s was still in business.  The road winds through the trees up the base of the mountain, and I beamed when we rounded a corner and saw the cluster of brown cottages with green roofs.  It was still there.

We parked and walked into the office, where Lee Machin himself was still working behind the counter.  We talked to him a bit, and he remembered my grandparents fondly.

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A dirt path leads for a short way before veering back down, at which point we had to pick our spot to hop off the path and start climbing.  The mountain is small, but for a beginner such as myself, it’s a major challenge.  I went from sedentary to mountain climber right then and there.  The ascent is quite steep, and the thin air makes it especially hard to breathe.  There were a handful of moments when I seriously considered stopping, turning around and heading back down.  But I remembered that I had climbed that mountain many times before, even as a little kid, so it had to still be possible for me.  I was motivated, and I needed every last bit of that motivation to make it up there.  The high altitude gave me aches in my head and face, my lungs were sore, and my legs were tired.

But somehow, I made it to the top, where I obviously needed to pose for some cheesy zen photos.

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Heading back down, we got caught in a downpour.  As it is, going down is tricky enough because the gravel is slippery, and the rain increased that.  It was cold now, too, having gotten cooler when the clouds came over, and our clothes were quickly soaked.  Surefooted Keith jogged his way down, while I cautiously stumbled along, trailing far behind him.

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From there, once we reached the bottom and were completely drenched and shivering, we went into downtown Estes Park and visited my family’s favorite shop, Laura’s Fudge Shop.  I bought some candy and mailed it home to them.

Then we headed back to our friends’ house, they dropped us off at the airport, and we were back in Long Beach before bedtime.

Water Tower Home

This rental vacation home in a converted water tower in Sunset Beach is now for sale for $4.5 million.  I’d love to live there, but it’s a little out of my price range…

Sunset Beach is a safe and clean little beach community.

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Obviously it needs a bit of updating.

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Retile that shower and think of how baller it could be.

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See the complete listing here.

Beaches

There were a lot of things I was able to do in Chicago that I can’t do here, like, for example, socialize.  Back home, I had close female friends to go barhopping with and I knew really cool bands whose shows I could go to.  None of that happens now.  But what I can do here is go to the beach.

Don’t try to argue that Chicago has beaches.  I used to argue that too.  I know, the whole lakefront is a beach.  I know about the rule of no construction east of Lake Shore Drive.  That shit doesn’t matter, because Chicago beaches are a joke.  Dirty, grimy Lake Michigan cannot compare on any level at all to the Pacific Ocean.  The beaches here are beautiful and pristine and endless.  Chicago beaches just don’t even count.

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