Skip to content

By rbhargava

On Thursday Nov 13, Hunter, Jannis, Rita, and I left the Happy 2B Backpackers in Joburg for Polokwane. The bus ride took about 4 hours, and we arrived in Polokwane in the early afternoon. Not entirely sure how to get from the Polokwane train station to the airport (where we had rented a car from Hertz), we spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to get there before a random guy who appeared to be a taxi driver offered us to take us there. The man – Siyanda – turned out to be a very kind guy, although we were all skeptical whether or not he was actually a licensed taxi driver. His car had a “For Sale” sign in the back and seemed to be falling apart.

As the Hertz office in the airport, we came across the most incompetent employees I have ever seen, and spent an absurd amount of time trying to get our rental car at the price we had booked it at online. An hour or so later though, we were off on our way to Sabie – a small town close to the Blyde River Canyon (and also Kruger National Park). The drive, as every drive is in South Africa, was a beautiful one…and we enjoyed driving a large chunk of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Driving through very small rural towns, we were surprised to find a massive mall halfway along the route at a town called Burgersfort. We stopped to eat there, and found the mall to be crowded and identical to any mall you would find in the states. It was quite a weird scene, although a few conversations and google searches later -we realized that platinum mining had made this previously tiny village into a well developed town of much wealth. It was a strange town to drive through in the midst of rural South Africa, but one that really captured the importance and influence of mining in the country.

As usual, the drive took much longer than we had anticipated, and we arrived in Sabie in the dark. After checking into our hostel, Sabie Backpackers, we searched for some food in town and soon realized that it was a very dead place to be. Almost everything was closed or empty, and none of had much of an appetite in this eery town. The next day we drove to Graskop, a town about 30 minutes away, checked into our next backpackers – Valley View Backpackers – and set out to see the beautiful Blyde River Canyon. The canyon is known to be the largest “green” canyon in the world – as no other canyon of its size has green vegetation within it. Unfortunately, when we got to the most famous viewpoint above the canyon – God’s Window – we were in the clouds and visibility was close to nothing. We saw none of the canyon…just never-ending whiteness. We spent the rest of the day driving around the area – seeing a few waterfalls, swimming in a natural pool, and walking around the small town. Hunter and I also went on a giant swing in the canyon, in which we jumped off backward from a platform and had a 3 second free fall before the swing caught us and swayed us back and forth. This was by far the highlight of the day, and the fact that the canyon was full of clouds made the fall into an abyss of whiteness extremely cool.

That night I became quite sick and vomited a few times…but thankfully I was fine in the morning! This turned out to be the only time the entire time I was in South Africa that I was “sick.” Quite an impressive feat!

The next morning, after a great breakfast in Graskop, we drove along the length of the canyon and finally got a view of parts of the canyon. It was beautiful, and through the canyon one could see Kruger National Park, and behind that Mozambique. From the canyon we drove back to Polokwane, stopping at the Echo caves for a tour of expansive caves that were inhabited thousands of years ago.

After dropping off the car at the airport in Polokwane, we struggled to find a taxi and ended up calling our friend Siyanda for a ride to the bus stop. We were in for quite the night as we had booked an overnight bus to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The last leg of traveling was about to begin!

Continuing on, on Saturday the 15th we took an overnight bus to Zimbabwe. The bus we took from Polokwane to Bulawayo – Eagle Liner – was full of Zimbabweans returning home…and was far from luxurious. At around 12:30am we arrived at the South African side of the border, where we all had to disembark the bus and get an exit stamp on our visa. The line was long, and we spent about half an hour there. Once on the Zimbabwean side, our bus waited in a long line of trucks and other buses until we were asked again to disembark. As foreigners – we had to wait in line to buy a Zimbabweans visa for 300 rand/$30, and then get our customs forms approved by a separate station. Thankfully, the bus operator helped us fill out the forms and get our visas. We thought we were all set to go, but then we were asked to take all our luggage off the bus for “inspection.” Three hours after arriving at the border, we were finally in Zimbabwe and on our way. The border crossing was quite an experience, and later in the early hours of the morning we came across a few roadblocks by what seemed like police officers. Every roadblock we passed seemed to be literally in the middle of no where – and our bus driver appeared to be bribing the officers at each roadblock to get through. It was quite strange…and I felt quite thankful we were in a bus and not driving our own car.

When we finally arrived in Bulawayo, it was Sunday morning and the city was completely dead. We took a taxi to the train station, where we planned on taking a train that night to Victoria Falls. The station was closed until the afternoon, so we decided to walk around the city. In the middle of the city is a massive power plant with cooling towers that dominate the skyline, and it made the city feel very eery as we walked around the relatively empty streets. Realizing there was little to do there the entire day, we decided to take a local bus all the way through to Victoria Falls. The bus ride was about 7 hours long and gave us a great opportunity to see much of the country. I was surprised by how undeveloped and empty it seemed, as there was very little to see besides small villages and huts here and there.

We finally arrived at Victoria Falls in the evening, checked into Victoria Falls Backpackers, and had a nice dinner at a completely empty Asian restaurant. It truly seemed like off-peak season. On Monday, we spent most of the day at the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls. We came at the driest time of the year, so although it was beautiful, they were underwhelming compared to what they are earlier in the year. The day itself was quite uneventful, and the next morning we took a taxi to the border crossing and walked over the bridge into Zambia. After checking into our backpackers in the nearby city of Livingstone, we booked a trip to the famous Devil’s Pool, where one can swim in a natural pool on the edge of the fall. The experience was absolutely surreal, and one of the highlights of my entire time in South Africa. A guide took us through a very marshy area to Livingstone Island, right on the edge of the waterful. Normally, one has to take a boat to the island, but because it was the dry season we could walk. From the island, we had to swim across the river, with the falls roaring down several meters to the left of us, to the natural pool. At the pool, there was little time to think and we were all swimming on the edge within a few seconds. The view was magnificent and to watch the water we were swimming in crash down beneath us was incredible.

That night we had a fantastic meal at a local restaurant called Cafe Zambezi, and celebrated the end of our trip. Late the next morning, Hunter and I had to say goodbye to Jannis and Rita (who were continuing on through Zambia and to Malawi), and left for the airport to return back to Stellenbosch. It was another sad goodbye, and I was quite jealous that they were to continue traveling. Nonetheless though, Victoria Falls was a perfect place to end my travels. I could not have imagined swimming in Devil’s Pool months earlier when I arrived in southern Africa, but what an experience it was! Already looking forward to coming back for another round.

By rbhargava

Continuing from my last post….after a full day and two nights at Port Shepstone, we drove 2 hours north to Durban in the morning. As typical of our entire trip thus far, the weather was cloudy and a bit chilly…so the beautiful beaches of Durban were a bit underwhelming. We spent the day walking up the main coastline in the city from our backpackers in the south of the city center to the Moses Mabida stadium (where several World Cup games were held) on the north side of the city center. Ever since seeing the stadium during World Cup games in 2010, I’ve always wanted to see the Mabida stadium up close…so I insisted we all take a tour of it in the afternoon. Following the tour we returned back to our backpackers, rested up for a bit, and then headed to a popular restaurant that served Durban’s most famous Indian dish – Bunny Chow…which is hollowed out bread filled with curry. I had been looking forward to eating Indian food in Durban since arriving in South Africa, but unfortunately the food was a disappointment. South Africa is said to have the largest diaspora of Indians in the world, and Durban is at the epicenter of that. More so than the Western Cape, Durban really represents South Africa’s reputation as the “rainbow nation.”

On our second day in Durban, we visited the famous Victoria Street Market. This indoor market caters specifically to tourists and reminded me much of what many markets I have seen in India look like. After wandering around the market for a bit, we drove to the King Shaka airport to return our two rental cars and drop of Jonas at the airport as he had a flight back to Stellenbosch (he still had exams to take!). When we returned to Durban the remaining five of us decided to take an city bus tour…which also was more of a disappointment than anything else. At the end of the day, Durban was a very interesting city that we all enjoyed…but I came to appreciate what everyone back in Stellenbosch kept telling me – besides beautiful beaches – there’s not much to do or see in Durban. As the next morning, our group was splitting for good…we enjoyed a nice homemade meal at our backpackers and reminisced about our great trip.

In the morning, Rita and I left Maren, Clara, and Daniela for a full day bus ride from Durban to Johannesburg…to meet up with two other friends – Hunter and Jannis. It was only fitting that it rained the entire day as I was quite sad that the first leg of my journey had come to an end. Not only that, although I was to see Maren and Jonas again in Stellenbosch before heading home…this was my final goodbye to Clara and Daniela! By far the most amazing part of my study abroad experience was the friends I was able to make, so I was very sad to say goodbye to two of my closest that morning. I’m keeping my fingers crossed I’ll be able to visit both of them in Germany soon though!

Luckily though, having learned from our mistake the first time, Rita and I booked a comfortable Greyhound bus for our journey to Joburg, and were able to relax before beginning another epic trip the next day.

When we arrived at our backpackers in Joburg, we were happily greeted by Jannis…who had been in Joburg for a few days waiting for our arrival. Having just said goodbye to two of my favorite Germans in the morning…it was great to be able to say hi to another after a long bus ride in the evening. As we shared our travel stories, we patiently waited for Hunter to arrive. He had been traveling with his parents and sister…but with no cell phone…we were worried we might never be able to find him. But no worries…he arrived later in the night and we all got ready to leave early in the morning the next day. Funny enough, this was the second of four times I would be in Joburg (although the other three were just in the airport) during my time abroad…but I would see none of the city…besides the drive back and forth from the bus terminal to our backpackers. Although I wish I had time to spend in the country’s largest city – since arriving in July I had been bombarded and brainwashed by students at Stellies about the fact that there was nothing to do there. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the city, but in the words of many of my South African friends…”Why would you ever want to go to Joburg? The only thing to do there is go to the mall. They have lots of malls.”

Anyway, our plans for the next few days would take us north to Polokwane, south to the beautiful Blyde River Canyon, back north to Polokwane again, further north into Zimbabwe, and then up to our final destination (or at least where Hunter and I would leave to return back to Stellies from) – the majestic Victoria Falls. We were in for quite an adventure!

By rbhargava

Continuing on from my last post… after a memorable night in Chintsa, the six of us left for Coffee Bay – much further up the East coast of the country. The several hour-long drive was possibly one of the most memorable as we left the “developed” part of South Africa and entered into the Transkei, which was a Xhosa homeland during the apartheid era – and thus was left out and neglected from the western development of much of the rest of the country. It was an interesting scene to cross from one side to the other – and we were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the Transkei and the circular huts that were seen across the landscape as far as the eye could see. During our drive, we stopped in a town to eat lunch and buy groceries, and found ourselves the only non-black people in the entire town. It was an experience like no other – as for the first time – all of us really felt out of place and in the minority.

Moving on, after a flat tire in Qunu (Nelson Mandela’s hometown) and a mostly cloudy day on the road – we arrived in the evening in Coffee Bay at the Coffee Shack backpackers. The next day we went on a beautiful hike along the coast to the underwhelming “Hole in the Wall” – which is a small island just off the coast with a hole in it in which water crashes through. Although our 3 hour hike to the Hole in the Wall was not the most exhausting, we decided that the overcast weather was a little too much and we were able to ride on the back of a pick-up truck back to our backpackers. That evening was a full moon, and the backpackers arranged a nice little party for all the backpackers there. Talking to people at backpackers, one will find the most interesting people – and I was treated with great conversations with a French man traveling around the world for 2 years, a British consultant working in Joburg, Danish high school graduates traveling before university, and many more people.

After Coffee Bay, we drove almost all day to get to Port Shepstone, a town 2 hours south of Durban. Here, we stayed a the Spot Backpackers where the Britisch couple managing the hostel told us about how they traveled across the world on motorcycle. Starting in the UK, they had motorbiked all the way down to South Africa, shipped their bikes to Southeast Asia, biked there, then did the same in Australia and South America. Fascinating!

The next day we all woke up for the sunrise at 5am – but were greeted with a cloudy horizon on the beach. Nonetheless, the sunrise was beautiful and it was quite the treat to be able to walk out of our backpackers directly onto the beach to watch it. Later on we went to the nearby Oribi gorge where three of us went zip-lining across the gorge on 15 or so different lines. It was quite the experience and we were lucky enough that the weather kept sunny the whole day. In the afternoon we enjoyed the beach and went kayaking up a stream near the beach. As another fun day came to an end, we prepared to head to Durban the next day – our last stop on the trip before all of us would go on our different ways.

By rbhargava

This past Friday, Nov 21st, I arrived back home to New Jersey after my 17 day  trip backpacking through South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. As you may of noticed, I was not able to post anything during the trip due to a complete lack of access to computers! So through this post and the next few I hope to share some of my memories during a very enjoyable trip traveling through southern Africa with some amazing friends.

On the evening Nov 2nd, 6 of us left Stellenbosch by bus to travel to Port Elizabeth. Although only six of us were leaving, a group of 10-16 people came to send us off at the bus stop - as some close friends wanted to give us one last goodbye! Our group was composed of 4 Germans, one girl from Hong Kong, and of course me. The overnight bus to PE was quite the experience, as we later found out we had taken the cheapest "budget" option bus available. Sitting next to my friend Maren, we tried to keep ourselves entertained while cockroaches  crawled up and down the window and South African Christian gospel music played overhead the entire night. We survived the journey though - and arrived in Port Elizabeth around 5am in the morning.

On our first day of the trip, we rented two tiny Polo cars to drive all the way up to coast to Durban with over the next several days. We went to the beautiful Sardinia Bay just outside PE before relaxing a bit at our cozy backpackers - Lungile Backpackers. In the evening we met a friend of a friend in downtown PE, who gave us a nice walking tour of the city as well as the Casino and joined us for dinner on the beachfront.

The second day of our trip was an obvious highlight for all of us as we took our two Polos to the famous Addo Elephant Park and were treated close encounters with countless elephants as well as buffalo, warthogs, eland, kudu, and several other animals. At more times than we would have liked we found ourselves stuck with elephants blocking the road. There was once when a very territorial elephant event drew a line in the road with his front foot, placed a large stick along the line, and waved its ears at us - clearly indicating that we should not come any closer. Driving through the park and encountering wild animals the entire day was a true joy, and we all enjoyed some adrenaline pumping moments.

On the 3rd day we left Port Elizabeth for Chintsa - a small town on the Wild Coast. Stopping in Port Alfred and East London, we spent the majority of the day on the road. Unfortunately the weather was overcast and rainy - something that would define the majority of our rip along the coastline that is world famous for beautiful sunny days year round. At Chintsa we stayed at the gorgeous Buccaneers Backpackers where we were treated with a well deserved homemade meal by the kitchen staff there. In the evening one of the managers of the backpackers took some of us to a dam to enjoy the sounds of wildlife in the approaching full moon night. Sitting along the dam with a small group of backpackers from all around the world and listening to the sounds of frogs burping in the middle of the forest was an experience I won't forget. Just like many moments during my Spring Break, I felt quite apart from the rest of the world and thoroughly enjoyed the company of the random other backpackers who were with us. And with that, I knew my trip was off to a success!

By rbhargava

I've got about 10 minutes left in Stellenbosch before I head out on a 19 day trip through South Africa and Zimbabwe, ending at Victoria Falls on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. The past few days have been extremely hectic between saying bye to friends, planning my trip, packing, and trying to fit in last minute hikes/trips/activities that I haven't had the chance to do before. Even though I've been done with all my classes for over a week now, I've probably felt busier the past few days than ever before. In a few minutes I'll be taking an overnight bus to Port Elizabeth, from where I'll be traveling with various groups of friends through the Wild Coast to Durban. From Durban I'll be taking a bus to Joburg and meeting with another group of friends. From Joburg, I'll be taking a stop in Polokwane in the northeastern part of South Africa before quickly traveling through Zimbabwe, crossing over the border into Zambia and then flying back to Cape Town for one final night at Stellenbosch. On the 20th I'll finally be heading back home. Quite the itinerary!! I'm not sure how much internet connect I'll have, and more importantly computer access (I'm not bringing my laptop), but I hope to have at least one blog post along the way. Looking forward to sharing some absolutely amazing stories in my next blog! Until then, although it is extremely bittersweet to be leaving Stellenbosch, I'm excited for the last leg of my memorable time studying abroad!

By rbhargava

Last week was my last week of classes, and my last week of the semester. Normally I would be preparing for exams now, but my three courses had their final exams/final classes last week. The first round of exams goes on until November 19th, so I could have hypothetically been taking exams until then. I got lucky! Last Wednesday was my final exam for Transitional Justice as well as my last CIEE class, and last Friday was our “Celebration of Work” for the community engagement course I am in. At the celebration of work we presented a 20 minute documentary on our time as part of the LSCE course. Although I helped with the editing, I think the documentary is a complete exaggeration of the “transformation” that it advertises, and romanticizes the idea of working with “African” kids. Nonetheless, it offers a great taste of what part of my life has been like the past few months. If you have the free time here is the link to watch it:

For the next week I’ll be hanging around Stellenbosch trying to fit in one last trip to my favorite restaurants and places, new trips to places I have yet to go to, and lots and lots of goodbyes to friends from around the world. Next Sunday I’ll begin a 3 week journey through parts of South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia and then head back home. Having finished all my classes last week, I’ve had some time to reflect and many of my activities nowadays are unfortunately labeled as the last time I’ll do XYX.

Last Thursday, CIEE organized a farewell dinner at Bistro13, a top restaurant in the area. Eating our last meal together as a group (the group is the program director Joe, our course convener Ruenda, and then the three students on the program), I realized how much time we had all spent together and the journey we went on. It is very strange to think the program is essentially over at this point and I won’t be seeing Joe and Ruenda regularly now. Over the past few months we have had countless meals and classes together, and at times felt more like a family than a program. We’ve spent time with the Joe and Ruenda’s spouses, traveled around the area with them, and even gone to a Heritage Dinner with them at one of their friends’ homes. Having only three people on the program has allowed for a very unique experience that I am extremely lucky to have been part of. I’ve referenced this many times before in this blog, and I’ll say it again – the experience that CIEE offers at Stellenbosch is like no other – because you quickly forget you are an exchange student and become deeply entrenched into regular day life here.

Speaking of regular day life, almost all of my weekends have been abnormal since I’ve tried to see and do as much as possible. But this past weekend was an exception as I stayed in the Stellenbosch area for both Saturday and Sunday for the first time in a long time. Both days I ended up going to the Jonkershoek Valley and spending time with two of my closest friends here. On Saturday I went with my friend Callee to the Jonkershoek Nature Valley with the intention of swimming in the dam, but that failed and turned into us walking through a stream in the valley and finding nice little pools along the way to relax in. The next morning I returned to the valley by bike with Nadine (a Dutch friend!) and we biked through the valley – stopping at a beautiful bikers cafe to enjoy the valley one last time. In total, I’ve now gone through the valley/hiked in the nature reserve 5 times. It’s returning to your favorite places again and again that make you really appreciate the place you are in, and I am definitely going to miss all the great memories I’ve made biking and hiking in Jonkershoek.

Just this evening a South African friend living in Metanoia – Natali – invited 6 of us internationals living in Metanoia to her house in Durbanville for a braai. It was a fantastic time eating some great food and meeting some of her family and friends. It was a fantastic way to end my last full weekend in Stellenbosch. Only after dinner when Natali was dropping us all off back at Metanoia did we realize we may leave Stellenbosch before she would come back for her exams. It was a sad wake-up call to the ever-nearing end of my time here! I think it might already be time to start planning another trip here.

By rbhargava

As of tomorrow, I'll only have one more month in South Africa. Although that is still quite a long time, everything already seems to be in terms of how little time is left. In fact, this week will be my last in class, as my last day is this Friday...after that I'm free! Of course, I have mixed feelings about that, and would not mind a few more weeks of classes since I've thoroughly enjoyed every week I've been here.

This past weekend, my program took us on a weekend camping retreat to Silvermine, an area just south of Table Mountain on the Cape Peninsula. Our campsite was situated right in the middle of the cape, with quite a high elevation. Just to the west was Hout Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, and to the east was the Cape Flats and False Bay. The area was beautiful and quite strange in that it was very isolated from the city but yet surrounded by Cape Town and the suburbs at the same time (if you google Silvermine on a map you would understand what I'm saying). We arrived on Friday afternoon and spent much of the afternoon relaxing, trying to climb across a rock wall there, and exploring the area. We had a braai (South African barbecue) for dinner and then enjoyed star gazing for quite a while. The sky was surprisingly clear considering all the light pollution nearby, and I was able to see 3 shooting stars in a short period. Growing up near NYC and now studying in DC, seeing 3 shooting stars was a mind boggling event for me. On Saturday morning, we left for a long hike around the area, hiking to the Elephant's Eye Cave high up on the peninsula from where one could see much of the Cape Flats, False Bay, and far out towards Stellenbosch. From there we hiked even further to one of the highest points on the peninsula - Constantiaberg and ate lunch overlooking the beautiful Hout Bay. We hiked back to our campsite afterwards, with a brief stop at the Silvermine Dam to cool off. Arriving back at our campsite, we rested a bit before the three students on our program (Hunter, Dave, and I) made 15 minute presentations on our themes for the semester - mine being sustainable transport systems. The rest of the evening was quite uneventful, besides some more great stargazing and a few more shooting stars! We left our campsite early the next morning to head back to Stellenbosch. The weekend retreat was an excellent way to escape Stellenbosch one last time and appreciate our time abroad thus far. I calculated that Friday and Saturday night were my 10th and 11th nights sleeping in the great outdoors here in South Africa, and I certainly will miss all my great camping nights here (although almost all of them were great struggles between me and my sleeping bag in an attempt to stay warm).

By rbhargava

Earlier this week I realized all my classes will be complete by October 24th, which is unfortunately in only 12 days. Two more weeks of class and I’ll be done with my studies here at Stellenbosch. I’ll still be in the area traveling around until November 20th, but the close proximity of the end of classes means many goodbyes are soon to come, which deeply saddens me. I’m hoping the next two weeks of class will be the best yet, although they will probably be the busiest too.
Besides coming to terms that my time here is almost over, I had another excellent week highlighted by a Saturday drive around the Cape Peninsula, which included my third time going to Cape Point and my fourth time going through Simonstown. I’ve now visited Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope more than most local students here, but I’ve enjoyed every trip there. This time, I went there with the same friends I went with on my spring break trip (with one person swapped). Thus the day trip reminded me much of our trip in early September, which feels like it was only yesterday. As the navigator for the day, I was pleasantly surprised by how well I have come to know the roads and regions in the area. More than ever before I feel comfortable here in Stellenbosch and have realized I’ve become more knowledgeable of many of the big attractions in the area than many South Africans who take these places for granted…just like any local would. I’ve been so lucky to have had such an opportunity to get to know the Western Cape so well, and am really hoping now to come back some day…possibly for a Masters degree or even a job.
Speaking of feeling at home, I’ve been lucky enough to make some amazing friends here, including an English South African who lives just outside Cape Town in a suburb called Claremont. After going around the peninsula, I went to her house along with another American friend for her 21st birthday party. The party was Under the Sea themed, and her house was beautifully decorated to fit the theme. I went with a pirate hat and an eye-patch, and over the course of the night got to meet many of her friends from both high school and Stellenbosch, as well as many of her relatives. It was a fantastic party, and in the end I really felt like I was a part of the community and everyday life here. From hearing stories and following along with friends who have been and are currently abroad, it seems like many never really go past being long-term tourists and connect with their host country at a deeper level. I’ve been very fortunate to have made such amazing friends who are from South Africa and have connected with South Africa so much so that I often forget that I’m only here for a small period of time. Study abroad by definition is a very temporary experience, but my goal is to come away with new perspectives as well as long-lasting friendships a relationships. As my trip comes to an end, I am starting to anticipate the challenges of going back home and retaining those perspectives and friendships while life moves on.

By rbhargava

This past week was another memorable one, with the highlight being my weekend at Rocking the Daisies. As the largest music festival in the Western Cape, and Rocking the Daisies is an event many students in the area eagerly await for every year. Located on a large wine estate in Darling (about an hour north of Cape Town), the venue is absolutely beautiful and attracts crowds from all over South Africa. Between the seven stages and three days I was there, I was able to listen to countless South African artists as well as a few internationally famous bands such as Crystal Fighters and MGMT. Listening to great music out in the hot sun was definitely a great way to start my last month as a student at Stellenbosch. Although several thousand people attended the festival, I felt very much at home as I ran into familiar faces and friends from Stellenbosch every few minutes.

In this week's blog post I want to focus specifically on an issue that I have been meaning to cover for weeks now - violence and crime in South Africa. South Africa is consistently ranked as one of the most violent societies in the world, and this culture can be clearly seen in everyday life here. Anywhere you go, buildings are surrounded by tall electric fences and security precautions can be seen everywhere. Here in Stellenbosch, stories of muggings and robberies are very common. Earlier in the year, there was an attempted kidnapping of a student, which has since prompted the university to bulk up its security and create a Green Route that is heavily patrolled by security officers. When I first arrived here, the general recommendation was to never walk alone during when it is dark outside, and to avoid carrying or displaying valuables in plain sight. Public transportation specifically is often seen as a very dangerous space and most white South Africans will either have never taken the trains here, or will highly recommend finding alternatives. Thus far, I have become quite comfortable here and have thankfully had no incidents. However, for most South Africans - violence and crime is inevitable.

To elaborate on that, I've come across many stories and first-hand experiences that can help paint a picture of what crime is like here. When I first arrived, one of my South African friends told me about a time where she was robbed at gunpoint directly outside of her house in Cape Town. Robbery at gunpoint is quite common here, but I can't imagine what it would be like if that occurred right outside my house. About a month and a half ago, this same friend was a few blocks away from the center of campus when a man assaulted her and tried to rape her. Fortunately, she was able to force her way out of the situation and run to safety. The fact that something like this could happen so close to campus makes one acutely aware of how bad the situation here is. One exchange student friend who lives off-campus in a student accommodation with high electric fences has told me that people have broken into her complex multiple times since she moved there in July. Another group of exchange students were held up with knives during a hike just outside of the town and were robbed. The incidences continue to grow, but it seems that this kind of pervasive crime will take generations to push out. From my conversations with students here, it seems like the situation has gotten worse in the previous several months. I truly hope the trend reverses, as South Africa and more specifically Stellenbosch continue to be held back because of this "culture" of crime that keeps people paranoid, separated, and in the end suspicious of their fellow South Africans.

By rbhargava

With only a few more weeks left in Stellenbosch, I’m quickly becoming aware of my limited time here. Having passed the midway point two weeks ago, time is flying faster than ever before. Nonetheless, I continue to try to do as much as possible. This weekend was no exception as I went to the famous Newlands Rugby Stadium in Cape Town for a rubgy game between South Africa and Australia. A definite highlight of my time here, I’ll make sure to discuss it in this blog post as well as what I did during National Heritage Day on Wednesday.

This past Wednesday was a national holiday – Heritage Day, which was established in the mid 1990s to celebrate the many heritages that exist in South Africa. However, in the past few years, Heritage Day has informally become known as Braai Day. For those of you who have never heard of braaing, it is the South African equivalent of a barbeque. Anyway, for Heritage Day, our program director and his wife took us to the River Festival in Stellenbosch, where we were able to listen to some live music, check out some very cool local vendors, eat great food, and even make our own bread over a braai. Following this, we headed to Cape Town and enjoyed some great food at the Eastern Bazaar – a popular area with many vendors selling all kinds of Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern food. We then went to the National Gallery to see some amazing exhibits of South African art. After that, we went to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, my second time there now, and enjoyed the beautiful gardens there. I was reminded of how much I like Kirstenbosch, and I hope I’ll have a chance to go again before leaving. The highlight of the day was in the evening, when we went to a friend of the program director’s house in a suburb of Cape Town and had a traditional meal with our course convener and her husband, our program director and his wife, and the couple that invited us over. It was a very enjoyable evening, and one that we got to truly feel home and welcome in South Africa.

Moving on, on Saturday after a great hike in the rain with our program director at the Joenkershook Nature Reseve (my second time there as well), I joined 9 other friends to go to Cape Town for the Springbocks Wallabies game. The stadium was packed for the game, as both teams are very competitive and two of the best in the world. We had bought standing tickets, and were lucky enough to find standing room only 3 rows back from one corner of the field. The packed stadium had an electric feel to it and after one intense half the Springbocks were down 10-5. The second half was another story though, and in the last 5 minutes the Springbocks scored several times – two tries were actually directly in front of us in our corner. The Springbocks ended up winning with an impressive 28-10 score, and we all left with an appreciation for the sport and now a longing to watch more. Although I regularly follow the NFL back at home, I think I find rugby now more interesting and fun to watch!