Let’s go through it day by day:
Day 1: Take off (6th of January)
I have a 11 hour flight in front of me. I am very lucky having got a seat in premium economy. I also accidentally used the business class toilet which is right in front. I was surprised there were so many freebies, so I took all of them, one each. When I got out, the business people started at me angrily when I walked back to my seat. It’s a good start to an 11 hour flight.
I met a very nice lady sat next to me. She has been travelling to South Africa for almost 30 years and I could not ask for a better introduction to a country I did not do much research on at all. We even end up going on a Sunday trip down towards the Cape of Good Hope!
Day 2: The First Real Day
I just woke up and had some breakfast. The view outside is nice. I only got 3 hours of sleep I think, so I am already looking forward to my bed tonight. I still don’t know where I will be staying! Also, last night I passed Yaoundé, my brother in law’s hometown.
We are going to land very soon and then I will rush to the first lecture. The lady sitting next to me wants to share a taxi there which is great! I am landing at 7.50am so 10 minutes before the introduction. I end up being a bit late, but at least I maximised my time with family back in Munich!
The day went by rather slowly, because I was so tired. At 3pm I had a serious low, almost falling asleep thrice, so I just bought a coffee. It works wonders when you are not used to it!
The last event was the panel on causality, so I had some questions prepared. I had my hand raised from the first minute to the last but being seated so far to the off-side the microphone people just did not see me. The panel itself was interesting and gave me a lot of confidence in the direction of my reserach, because they were all quite open about how they also themselves do not have a clear direction for many of their research endeavours.
Academia is a very weird place. Many people here are slightly socially awkward, but there also some show offs dressed in brand clothing, leather shoes and literally swinging their rental car keys around to make sure everyone knows they make lots of grant money. It seems all a bit of a circus at the moment and I am missing genuine interaction, but I am sure I’ll eventually filter through the noise! I will also definitely skip some sessions. I can’t do two weeks of sitting in a windowless room from 8:30 to 6. No one can.
Day 3, 8th Jan: Getting into the rhythm
We got picked up in the morning at 8am from our temporary hostel stay for the sponsored attendants. I had a burger the night before at a small restaurant that which was quite nice. It was the second day of lesson and it was my favourite set of lessons! I also got seats in the middle which gave me a better view of things and did not have to break my neck!
Water resources here are super low. The government has started measures to reduce water usage and apparently it has halved over the last year which is impressive because it seems like it did not have any big impact on daily life. They have water faucets that spray instead of run like a waterfall which doesn’t make much difference for washing hands but saves so much water! To take a bath you also have to get the plug from the reception and explain to them why you need a bath. Really nice to see that societies can adapt if they want to.
Eventually I also meet my new roommate who, probably not by chance, is German. We got dinner at the restaurant, which is really nice! It is also quite cheap, like 4£ for a burger! Finally, I went to bed early to have enough sleep for gym in the morning.
Day 4, 9th
I got up 6ish o clock and went to the gym, rowing 30 minutes. I had breakfast on the way back and the fruit selection is amazing. Then quickly into the shower and get ready for the next lectures. There are about three fish lectures on causality and people seem to get really excited about. I was going to go swimming but I still felt quite ill all day. A Capitec Bank employee, one of the sponsors, was nice enough to drive me to a mall to buy a SIM card which is great! So I finally could properly use the internet, yay!
In the evening, I ordered a pizza, eating it some other attendants at the evening restaurant.
Day 5, 10th
I had not enough sleep to do early gym so I moved it to lunch time. I did get gym into my schedule before lunch and met a student from Cameroonian at lunch! I spend all afternoon writing my ACM essay, submitted it and then went straight to dinner with another attendant I met who I will go with on a safari next weekend most likely!
Dinner was delicious. Now I am back in the room and probably will do some life admin. It never stops.
Day 6, 11th Jan
Today was Friday and everyone was looking forward to the weekend. Friday. Friday. Gotta catch my friends, we are going to Cape Town tomorrow!
I went to the first lecture but my cold still got me down quite a bit. I went back to my room after late morning coffee snacks and submitted some stuff and had a call. I came back for the two causal inference sessions at 3pm, but everyone was already so sleepy.
Right when it had ended it started raining so I waited a bit with some people then walked back to my room. No gym or swimming today.
Day 7, 12th Jan
Today was excursion day! We got a bus to Waterfront in Cape Town and people there could decide to do whatever they wanted. The bus drivers that got us to cape Town and also were going to bring us back were nice enough to drive some people to Table Mountain. So my friend Ayush and I then said we wanted to go to the city centre. So they offered to drive us there as well, after dropping off the others at the Cableway to Table Mountain. Ergo, we got a free ride around Cape Town! The view as stunning, but because I actually went to Table Mountain the next week, I will skip this part.
Inside Cape Town we walked through a park there which also has a statue with Cecil Rhodes who is a very controversial figure in the history of Africa. He also set up a scholarship at Oxford. Lots of explosive material! I also introduced Ayush to geocaching and we fortunately also did find the first geocache we headed for. We then went into a museum on a district which was declared “all white” sometime in the 1960s. Apparently, there was a time when the government used to do that. They lady giving the tour was apparently a real life survivor of that part of history. Her mother died of “heartbreak” the moment she had lost a 20 year fight to keep her home. She also has 11 siblings which is unimaginable for Europeans. We had some overpriced snacks across the street and then just went exploring, no GPS whatsoever.
Straight away, we stumbled upon an alley which had all cuisine of the world — crossed with Indian food: Indian-Chinese, Indian-Turkish. It was hilarious and Ayush, a native Indian himself, had to taste a lot of it. He got so much we packed it up for the homeless, but the first guy we meet took both boxes and did not share with the guy next to him. That was quite an experience. So we kept walking. The city centre is quite run down and they have “city policy” everywhere, because of all the crazies around there.
We eventually ended up in the business district where it was just skyscrapers and empty streets. We headed back to the Castle to meet the others via the train stations which was surprisingly new. There was not a single white person using the trains which is what we had been told before about already. So we moved on, past the makeshift bus station and eventually ended up a the Castle of Good Hope, an hour early. The tour there was very well done and interactive.
While others had their dinner at 7ish, I took an Uber to see a friend my father. She was really nice and had her University friends for a BBQ over. There were about 25 people and apparently most of them were involved in a nature protection society back then. I had good chats about bioinformatics, machine learning and philosophy of science. A friend of her then drove me home, where we witnessed the tour bus take off the fence in front of the hotel as a last act of the evening!
Day 8, 13th Jan
I was going to go on a hike, but I had to rest my foot and I was also still a bit ill. I had had a call from the lady that sat next to me on the plane, and she offered a small tour. I called her back and so I was on for a drive-around for the afternoon. First, we went to a bi-weekly antiquity garage sale, where I got Irene something nice and then we went on to Kalk Bay where we had some fish-and-chips style food: I obviously ordered calamari! I learned a lot about the 30 years of visits they have done to South Africa. Quite impressive.
Day 9, 14th Jan
Just lectures really
Day 10, 15th Jan
Also just lectures I think
Day 11, 16th Jan
Impromptu Table Mountain Trip!
Some people decided to get an Uber to table mountain which is 1 whole hour away! A taxi for an hour! But because there was 6 of us, we were able to cut the costs to 10€ per head for a return trip which is very impressive. The cableway itself was twice as expensive, but very worth it. On top, we talked around a very well maintained set of paths and saw magnificent views!
We found two geocaches, also the most visited geocache of Africa which is super cool. So I have both the most visited in Canada and Africa now.
We then watched the sunset and went back. Nothing big from then onwards …
Day 11, 17th Jan
Dinner in the evening at Super Expensive Golf Club
Day 12, 18th Jan
People left fairly fast after the last lecture. It got very empty on the hotel grounds. I went to the gym and has some dinner eventually! I also gave my new friends one of the little torches I got, and they loved it. But I feel like it only leaves a mark when you know the people. Torches for stranger apparently does not work that well.
Day 13, 19th Jan
Rafael, who I meet at the conference, and I started our Trip to the safari place. We stopped first in Stellenbosch to buy some present. I got some slingshots and then went on to a jewellery place where the founder is apparently a very distance cousin of my mother. The lady at the counter did seem to know the story I told her my father had send me so that was good fun to surprise people that way!
We then drove 2 hours east to the reserve which is basically just a resort in the middle of nowhere with a massive walk or rather drive in zoo. The food was good! We then relaxed a bit at the pool before our first safari tour. It was just a massive zoo. It’s nice, but it is a one time thing! We got back and exercised a bit, and I swam some laps. But I did realise that I had not given my brain a break in years. A literal break from work. Just do nothing. Not do something for the sake of a goal, but just do something for fun. Even my travel trips had turned into checklists lately which is short term fulfilling, but it is not a break. So I learned that and that is good!
Day 14, 20th Jan
We had an early morning safari but it was a drag really. Breakfast was okay and we were back on the road. A friend of my father recommended a different route which had a really nice view over the West Cape area and then we also went to recommend wine estate called “Spice Route” where I got some nice gifts. We then went straight to the Hotel.
Day 15, 21th Jan
Check out, Check in, Board, Plane home!