Lesotho and the Drakensberg

One of the best parts of getting to study abroad is that it opens you up to exploring completely new terrains and trying new things. When you stay in one place its easy enough to fall into a basic routine and rarely venture out. Sometimes it even seems difficult to find new things to try. In Toronto, I definitely sometimes felt myself slide easily enough into the basic study-work-workout (I’m in Phys. Ed. after all)- sleep kind of days. I’d go out to bars or movies or to coffee with friends occasionally, and sometimes we’d try a new bar, but rarely was there that feeling of ‘newness’ or any sense of adventure.

While I can’t say I ever felt quite like that in Cape Town — the city is constantly moving and changing, and being there such a short time, it was impossible to run out of things to do —
I’ve been very lucky to get a chance to leave Cape Town and explore a bit. After researching South Africa, I finally settled on the place I wanted to spend the brief period of time I had before my flight home.
The Drakensbergs. 
The Drakensbergs are a range of mountains that include the world’s second highest waterfall, and some of what must be the most beautiful hiking areas in the world. For those of you not familiar with South African geography, the Drakensbergs are located between Johannesburg and Durban in the state of Kwa-zul Natal. They make up the dividing border between Lesotho and South Africa. And I was lucky enough to get to visit Lesotho as well (more on that later).
The Drakensbergs are split into three regions; Northern, Central, and Southern. Each region has a slightly different feel to it and there are various hikes in each area with a range of difficulties and lengths. And the space between the areas is large. It takes approximately 3-4 hours to drive from one end to the other (if not longer). The highest mountain in the range is actually located in Lesotho in the Southern Drakensberg. It stands at over 3,100 meters.
The Northern
Brooke standing in the middle of the Tugela Gorge. The hike went to the base of the Tugela falls.

Brooke standing in the middle of the Tugela Gorge. The hike went to the base of the Tugela falls.


The Central
This picture was taken in the middle of the Blind Man's Corner hike which started at the base of Monk's Cowl and Champagne mountain. The end of this hike is approximately 2,100 meters above sea level.

This picture was taken in the middle of the Blind Man’s Corner hike which started at the base of Monk’s Cowl and Champagne mountain. The end of this hike is approximately 2,100 meters above sea level.


The Southern
This picture was taken on a day hike around the southern drakensberg. The days we were there the majority of the mountain was hidden in the clouds and it was really hard to get an idea of how high they actually went.

This picture was taken on a day hike around the Southern Drakensberg. The days we were there the majority of the mountain was hidden in the clouds and it was really hard to get an idea of how high they actually went.

Lesotho.
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Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world, and as such it has some of the worst roads I’ve ever seen and is really only accessible by a four wheel vehicle, and frankly that seemed very unlikely to work at several points, so personally I’d suggest going in by pony which is what you frequently see people ride in on. Apparently there’s even a type of horse that has adapted to the area and you’ll see people riding or leading them around throughout the country. They have adapted to the altitude and to eating the scrubby grasses in the area.
Some cool things to know:
beer flagIf you see a white or yellow flag it means that they’ve brewed some beer and you can go to the house to have some. Since most of the towns don’t have pubs and the people are very poor, its really common for them to brew beer alcohol in their house and then sell it to others. A yellow flag is for pineapple beer, and a white flag is for sorghum beer. maluti If you’d like to try some ‘better’ beer, there is a brewery in Lesotho! And their beer was a really nice surprise.
Lesotho is known for a many things–one of them is their weaving. The people of Lesotho walk around wearing blankets which is a tradition based on one of their past kings who was gifted a blanket by the British and wore it as a status symbol. Blankets are still a symbol of wealth in the country. loom
The blankets and the tapestries can come in all kinds of colours and they often have symbols or stories on them. Common pictures are of women cooking, or carrying things on their heads, patterns involving corn or other plants to indicate wealth or fertility.
lesotho hut
Lesotho is also considered the highest country in the world because it has the highest low point of any other country.

Unicycling Championships

Dear friends!

It’s been a while since our last post, but the news of Hanna’s engagement was a hard act to follow news-wise. Nevertheless, our lives have been rolling forward since then, with each adventure crazier than the previous one.  The biggest adventure for me (Lea) since my last post, took place in a little sleepy Swiss city (by our measurements, village) not far from Zurich. One of our good childhood friends, Gergo Wettstein, was competing at the European Unicycling Competitions, and we were going to cheer him on. It was a whole 3 day competition with over 800 competitors throughout the days.

There were a plethora of different competitions such as speed, high jump (the world record was broken by Martin Sjönneby, now it’s 132 cm high) flat, street, hockey, etc. Gergo’s specialty is flat, which is perhaps one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring competitions. Each competitor has a set amount of time and a flat gymnasium floor in which they must impress the judges. Here is a video of Gergo on YouTube with a sample of some of the tricks he did (here’s one from a few years ago). Absolutely incredible!

Martin Sjönneby breaking his own world record in high jump
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European Champion!

We held our breath as he kept making it past each elimination round until it was time for the final 2 to fight it out for the title of European Champion. After a spectacular performance by both contenders, which must have been very hard for the judges to judge, Gergo was declared the winner, European champion!

After celebrating, we heard that the Street competition was just about to start. Now the Street category is one where contestants are designated an area of the street, with preferably a variety of “obstacles”, such as steps, statues, walls, sculptures, etc., and they are given time in each area to impress the judges. Watching everybody warming up, an idea came to me. What if I borrowed Gergo’s unicycle and competed? I asked the race director, and after a second of thought, to my surprise, he agreed! So I had half an hour before the race, to brush up on my dormant unicycle knowledge, and learn as many new tricks as I could. I tucked a couple new tricks under my belt, and borrowing Gergo’s unicycle and helmet, I headed into the race in the women and juniors category. We had time for around 6 tricks in each area of the street, which was my biggest challenge, as I didn’t even know 6 tricks in total. But nonetheless it was an absolutely thrilling experience to have the all the champions cheering you on from the sidelines!

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In competition

Then came the senior boy’s category, and wow, was there a difference! Most of the tricks they performed did not seem humanly possible in my eyes. They jumped down and up onto garbage bins, pedaled along precariously thin rails, and twisted, spun in the air, completely defying gravity.

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Gergo competing in Street

The race finished and we headed back to the party tent in attendance of the results ceremony. After listening to a number of speeches by the mayor of the town, president of the organization, etc. the time came to announce the winners of the street competition. 6th place, 5th, and 4th were announced, and we stopped paying attention. Then came 3rd place, and to our surprise, Gergo was announced as bronze medalist! I ran up behind him to take photos of him on the podium, and was positioning myself to capture the best shots, when they announced: “And in second place, representing Hungary, we have Lea Janossy!” It turned out that they had put the females and the males in different categories, and since there were only two girls, I was in last place as the silver medalist! It was an incredible moment to share the European Championship podium for a minute with Gergo!

A photo shoot in a car that had been destroyed by and for the competition followed suite, in celebration of these two wins: one very well-deserved, and one completely by a fluke chance. Enjoy!

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Gold and Bronze

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Last and Silver

Bis nachste mal!

Lea

Fiordland National Park: kayaking, hiking, and cruising

Hello!

Since we arrived in Dunedin, we have taken several big trips out of town to explore the South Island. I’ve already told you all about our trip to the Catlins when we swam with Hector’s dolphins. I actually went to the Catlins the first time with my class for an ecology field course, and since swimming with the dolphins, Andrew and I went back with a friend. So all in all I’ve been there three times.

Today, however, I will not be telling you about the Catlins. Instead, prepare yourself for Fiordland National Park. Luckily for you, my descriptions will be supplemented with pictures, because I really don’t think words alone could do it justice.

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Our first stop on the trip was Te Anau for a sunset cruise on lake Te Anau. We were expecting a large boat with about 20 people on board, but we ended up getting a private tour because no one else booked. Anyways, it was all very romantic, but I’m sure you don’t want to hear about that. Gag, I know.

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Even if you haven’t heard of the park, many of you will probably recognize the name “Milford Sound.” Milford Sound is a fiord (not a sound) within the park, and it is one of the most famous and easily accessible. We decided to do the tourist thing and go kayaking there. It was stunning. There is something called the dwarfing effect when you are in a fiord where you really can’t tell how far things are, or how tall mountains are. Everything looks smaller than it is. While we were there, we saw a pod of bottlenose dolphins. Unfortunately, because of the dwarfing effect, they were actually much farther than I thought, and it turns out they swim faster than I paddle. They decided to go out to sea, and we had to head home, but we saw them from a distance, jumping and spouting.

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We were able to take over a week to travel around that area, because I was on my mid-semester break. We stopped at many viewing areas and we went on lots of hikes. One of the best hikes, called Gertrude Saddle, was halfway up a mountain to a small glacier. The track had many warning signs that were rather funny in retrospect. “Are you prepared? Do you have an ice pick? If not, turn back!” “Are you avalanche aware? You are entering a high risk area.” Andrew and I decided that we would just do part of the hike in (the flat part in the valley), and if things started to look sketchy we would turn back.

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Well we ended up doing almost a 4-hour hike to about 1000m elevation. Since we weren’t planning on hiking for long we didn’t bring the camera up, but it really was spectacular looking back on mountains from half their height. Just so you know, the safety warning were geared at people doing the hike in the winter and spring. Although we touched snow (a glacier). There was almost no snow in the area we were hiking in.

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We climbed up the mountain in the background

On our way home, we stopped in Queenstown, and an adorable old gold town called Arrowtown. There were many picturesque areas around there that reminded me of Lord of the Rings, and for good reason. It turns out that there was a lot of on-site filming around there. It was neat to recognize places and find out what scenes were filmed there.

While we were in Queenstown,  we went up the very high gondola and went luging! I was very hestitant at first, but in the end it was amazing! Don’t laugh at the dorky photos. That’s just mean.

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The luge track! There were actually two interweaving tracks of varying difficulty

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Anywho, that is all for now. You will hear from me at least once more before the end of the month. Take care! Some more photos just for the fun of it:

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A pretty nice place to camp!

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Looking down on Queenstown from the top of the “hill”

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For Sale! I wish! Oh, and I guess there was another house on the property, but this was the selling point for sure

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Masada, the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi Nature Reserve

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I found myself rising out of bed at 4:00 am a couple weekends ago. I was filled with excitement, nonetheless moving ever so slowly, gradually dragging myself from my room to the kitchen for some coffee. Why was I doing this?!? And why of all days did my single sized foam bed ever feel so deliciously embracing! I had agreed to head over to the south of Israel to see the sunrise out of Masada and climb its famous Snake Path with a friend. We would follow this with some relaxing and reinvigorating floating time in the Dead Sea (Yam Hamelach in Hebrew)…maybe throw a little rejuvenating mud into our mix and then head over to Ein Gedi Nature reserve for another hike.

View From Masada

View From Masada

Masada is one of Israel’s top historical sites, and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Back in 30 BCE King Herod ordered this fortress to be built at the top of a cliff facing the Dead Sea. Architecturally, I can only imagine the problems that may have been posed in constructing this palace, which in itself makes it impressive enough. Add to the fact that Masada is built in the middle of the Judean Desert, and was able to maintain a logistics network comprehensive enough to sustain the lavish lifestyle of the King (there was a swimming pool in one of the palaces) and this place, along with its panoramic views really leaves you breathless!

What Masada originally looked like!

What Masada originally looked like!

Getting there was fairly simple although we misjudged the time and ended up seeing the sunrise just before we got to Masada. In the clarity of daylight though, I now also saw the famous Masada Snake Path. I understood then, why all tours bring people here in the dark: Tourists can’t really see what they’re about to embark on…I am sure the temperature is the secondary consideration! Forty five minutes of steep leg-toning-and- muscle-burning-hiking along the side of the mountain was the start to our day. Once at the top though, we were well rewarded as we saw the incredible views which the inhabitants of Masada had the privilege to enjoy and the amazing architectural feats that were achieved in constructing this palace. The climb is a must to really understand the feats

Floating in the Dead Sea. You cant sink!

Floating in the Dead Sea. You can’t sink!

which were made with the finalization of this palace. Soon enough I would be reminded of the popular saying, “what goes up (in this case who), must come down” as we began our descent back down the Snake Path.  Although gravity was on our side my legs felt that they were about to crumble with every step… I couldn’t wait to get to the Dead Sea!

Throw on a little Dead Sea mud for some fun...and baby smooth skin afterwards!

Throw on a little Dead Sea mud for some fun…and baby smooth skin afterwards!

Three hours plus of hiking were decently rewarded with a nice relaxing session at the Dead Sea and the effortless feeling of floating in the water without even trying! It truly is a cool experience, and what’s more, supposedly

since it’s the lowest point on earth at -417 metres below sea level there’s more oxygen in the air… which in turns makes you feel happier! I don’t know if that’s true but I was feeling pretty good, and I wasn’t missing my bed now!

What came next must be one of my favourite destinations yet! Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is a must see for all! Come prepared for Masada like hiking here if you want to get the full experience. This place is out of a movie!

Wadi in Ein Gedi

Wadi in Ein Gedi

You’re hiking in the desert, and all of the sudden you encounter clear blue pools of water, streams and waterfalls called wadis. For a second you think it’s the heat getting to you but then you kneel to refresh your face with this clear water and you realize it’s not an illusion.

Having a drink at Wadi David

Having a drink at Wadi David

The most famous wadi here is called Wadi David and it’s a short hike from the entrance. Although, for the true experience climbing all the way up to Dodim’s Cave is both extremely exhausting and wholly gratifying!

After a one and a half hour climb in the heat you are rewarded with a secluded- and thankfully shaded- small cave which houses a pool of fresh water ready to refresh your hot sweaty body!

The best way to refresh! Cooling off at the Hidden Waterfall, another 2 hour hike from Dodim's Cave.

The best way to refresh! Cooling off at the Hidden Waterfall, another 2 hour hike from Dodim’s Cave.

Relaxing by the natural pool at Dodim’s Cave and remembering my lazy self in the morning I knew that at night, back home, my single sized bed would surely feel like a queen sized cloud filled mattress ready to completely envelope my body into its sponginess!

Thank you for reading!

David

 

The South Island: first impressions

New Zealand just seems packed with national parks, and we decided to start our adventures through the South Island at one of the most famous: Abel Tasman National Park. Although New Zealand suffered a pretty severe drought this summer, when we were there there had just been a week or so of non-stop rain. On the steep roads leading up to the park, there were about 4 or 5 places where the left lane (our lane) was just, you know, missing. It seems that these parts of the road had fallen off the mountain. But, as you can tell, we lived! Hurray! New Zealand roads are just so much more hardcore than Canadian roads: yet again, I am ever so glad that I don’t drive.

While we were at Abel Tasman, we did one day of the “great walk” around the coast. We taught two German trampers and an Israeli traveller how to build a campfire. Apparently campfires are not a necessity everywhere.

Since this post is lacking on the photo front, I am just going to add lots of food pictures. Like these ones!

Half the homemade dough waiting to be made into perogies

Half the homemade dough waiting to be made into perogies

Yum!!

Yum!!

On our way down the east coast, we stopped at Ohau for our first encounter with fur seals! It’s hard to keep in mind that they are wild and potentially dangerous when they look at you over their shoulders with those big watery eyes. They are “take-me-home” adorable.

Andrew's birthday perogies all lines up in rows. Happy happy perogies

Andrew’s birthday perogies all lines up in rows. Happy happy perogies

I know you get the point. Perogies. But really, when you can't get something you love in another country it's nice to be able to make it yourself

I know you get the point. Perogies.

Continuing down the coast, we passed through Christchurch. Now, don’t judge too harshly (I’d been travelling for weeks, and I was a bit dull of mind), but I had a total mind blank as we were entering the city. I noticed a fallen building. Then another. “Wow,” I said, “there must have been a bad fire or something around here.” Andrew did not correct me immediately (he gave me too much credit and thought I was joking). Ten minutes later, after even more fallen buildings and strangely no burn marks on the buildings, it dawned on me: the earthquake. You would swear, walking through the city, that the earthquake was a few months ago. The whole of the downtown was in ruins. For those who don’t remember, the earthquake was in February 2011, two years before we were there. We even went back last weekend, and not much has changed. It’s hard to see any progress being made, and it’s very easy to understand the frustration of people living there.

We went out on Banks peninsula, an ancient volcano. It was beautiful up on the volcano mouth looking down at the harbour. Since you can look out over the whole peninsula from the top, it is very easy to imagine it as it once was, before the volcano mouth gave way to the ocean.

We skipped far too many places on the way south to Dunedin simply because the start of school was coming up fast, but luckily we’ve been able to go back to those places since then.

Think Atlas. I think I pulled it off.

Think Atlas. I think I pulled it off.

One of the last places we visited before Dunedin was the Moeraki boulders. By some quirk of nature, there are perfectly round boulders (concretions) that form in this area with much softer rock around them. As the tide washes away the surrounding rock, the boulders are left on the beach. The perfect roundness of the boulders makes them look unnatural, but I guess nature is surprising, isn’t it?

He looks peaceful now, but you should have seen him when the tide came in!

He looks peaceful now, but you should have seen him when the tide came in!

Dunedin, my home of three months so far, is surprisingly similar to home. It is a small university town on the water. There are many shops and restaurants (mostly all on one main street) that mostly close by 8pm on weekdays. There is an active bar scene among the students, and sunny days are filled with students lounging on the grass around campus. It sounds more like Kingston every minute doesn’t it? But despite the similarities, there are some cultural differences. Kiwis take everything at a slower pace. Not much of anything is a really big deal. If I had to choose a word to describe the culture or people, it would probably be relaxed. That aspect is very different from the “mad rush, super competitive, never-sit-still, high achieving, a million possible activities, jump-on-the-subway-before-the-doors-close” feeling of Toronto. Now that description of Toronto may sound hectic, and it is, but to be honest I sometimes miss the rush. Ask me again in October, and I will be missing the slow pace of Otago University! It’s always a struggle to appreciate where you are for what it is.

Infusing milk with fresh herbs so I can make bechamel sauce (this later became harvest/root vegetable lasagne)

Infusing milk with fresh herbs so I can make bechamel sauce (this later became harvest/root vegetable lasagne)

Also of note, now that I have so much extra time, I cook lots (see pictures throughout). It seems that I bake more cakes than anything (note: usually healthy versions), but I also make lots of home comfort foods like perogies (you can’t buy them here), chili, curry, lasagne, homemade macaroni and cheese, and pumpkin pie. The foods here seem to have many more chemical additives than at home, so homemade is probably healthier. It is also pretty hard to find vegetarian food here, so cooking is just easier.

Homemade chili in the works! It turned out very spicy and delicious!

Homemade chili in the works! It turned out very spicy and delicious!

Since we’ve been here, almost every weekend has taken us out of town, and those stories are coming, but I have also just enjoyed being a student and the day-to-day stuff. When the competitive element of university is taken away, it feels like you have more time and energy to just learn.

Check in soon for more stories from the south. We don’t have very many posts left to cover everything!

Cheap Eats

At my home university in Toronto finding a decently priced meal that is both substantial and healthy on or around campus has always been a bit of a challenge and it seems that this sentiment is felt by other North American students that I’ve met here. I’ve always found this both strange and counterproductive as students are both well known to have little money and also to be constantly working hard at their studies and would likely benefit from a healthy meal. Yet it often ends up that the food on campus is largely made up of fried fast foods that, while tasty, leave much to be desired health wise. What’s worse is these often end up costing more than they would at a restaurant off campus!

 

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This may seem like a fairly meager lunch, but then again it only costs $2.

Well here in Korea they seem to have the right idea as the student cafeteria provides a number of food options from healthy Korean food, to pasta, to less healthy more indulgent choices all for nominal prices that are actually significantly cheaper than they would cost off campus! What a notion! Yonsei boasts 4 cafeterias in the student union building alone, all with varying menus that change daily with prices ranging from around $2.50 – $7.00, with most dishes priced around $4. What’s more is that the servings are often quite generous and one can even get partial refills for free! The cafeterias are also open from morning till night with different foods available throughout the day and beyond the initial 4 in the student union building there are also numerous other student restaurants spread throughout the campus offering even more options at similar prices.

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This Pasta dish complete with mussels and shrimp and side dishes was $3.50 from the Yonsei cafeteria!

As a student in North America I’ve sometimes felt exploited when I would have to drop $10 on a sandwich and beverage because I didn’t have time to make my lunch that day and time constraints kept me from venturing off campus for supplies – but in Korea it’s actually cheaper to eat on campus than it is to buy groceries and make your own food! Now that makes sense to a busy and penniless student like me!