Category Archives: Adventures

The Rickers Explore Kruger and Vic Falls

After a busy four-ish days exploring Cape Town, my family and I flew to Thornybush Game Lodge for a Ricker fam safari experience. I was slightly skeptical of this choice, since I thought it would mostly just be a cheesy tourist trap or a fancy zoo. Instead, I was delightfully surprised to find a beautifully simplistic lodge with a warm and welcoming staff. The game drives were long and relaxing; our driver and spotter had to spend a significant amount of time analyzing animal tracks since the bush was so thick. Below are some pictures from the safari.

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After spending two nights in Kruger, my family ventured to Livingstone, Zambia to see Victoria Falls. Our highlight was a lunch excursion to Livingstone Island. The island, located in the middle of the Zambezi River which runs between the borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia, sits on the edge of the falls. Vic Falls stretches over a mile from one side to the other during this season, standing over 300m high. The local name for the falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya or in English, “the smoke that thunders.”

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Apart from the tourist areas, Livingstone is significantly less western and developed compared to South Africa and especially Cape Town. I really enjoyed seeing a different part of Africa, but I missed the Western Cape a little. I left Zambia with a strong desire to travel more outside of the Western Cape providence and beyond South Africa’s borders.

While I will not be traveling home during my year abroad, it was so refreshing for my parents and I to be reunited. There were able to meet my friends and see this part of the world through their own eyes. There is only so much one can say about a place, culture and people. It is fulfilling to bring others across the globe to experience the world for themselves.

Ricker Family Vaca, Part One: Cape Town

The Rickers at Victoria Falls
The Rickers at Victoria Falls

My parent’s plane landed at 9pm in Cape Town on Friday, February 8. When they exited the plane, they found me waiting with a box of Butler’s pizza, two soft drinks, a package of ginger cookies, and a hug. My mother chattered excitedly on the way to the hotel, but my father was unfortunately suffering from a sinus infection. When we arrived to the hotel I found heaven: a room of my own! Thus far I have been very fortunate to have a flat that is centrally located, in nice conditions and with fairly normal roommates. However, the wind is so loud that I have to wear ear plugs to sleep. I almost never sleep past 8 am since the sun wakes me up through the blinds. Also, there is no a/c or heat, and I have shared a room most of the time, detracting from the relatively little space and privacy I have (but adding enjoyment since the people I have shared a room with have been nice).  While I have not missed these privileges too much, it was luxurious to have them again for a short time while staying in hotels with my family at the Southern Sun.

For my parent’s first day in Cape Town, we had a tour scheduled for the Cape Point Peninsula. The tour winds through one of the most beautiful drives in the Western Cape and includes mostly outdoor entertainment, so naturally it was raining. We still had a nice time, since the point of our trip was to be together more than it was to tour South Africa.

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Our first stop was in Hout Bay, a town on the coast with a nice harbor and market. We explored the port before going on Drum Beat boat tours to Seal Island. My manager at TSiBA, comes from Hout Bay and knew the owner of Drum Beat tours, Levi Bezuidenhoudt. The Drum Beat took us on a tour around a large rock were heaps of seals bask in the rain or sunshine.

Simons Town was our next stop so we could visit Boulders Beach with the African Penguin colony. It was magical. However, I want to tour the entire Cape Peninsula again since the rain put a damper on the beautiful landscape. After a fairly wet stop a Cape Point for lunch, we headed back towards our final destination: a braai (BBQ) at my manager, my manager’s house with our colleagues and their families.This was one of the best moments of the trip since my family was able to have a local experience while meeting my friends and coworkers.

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Each night in Cape Town we ate dinner with a different set of friends, so my parents could better understand what my life is like here. After our tour of Paarl, Franchhoek, and Stellenbosch (the winelands), we had dinner with my friends Rachel, Cathy and William Arendse, and their daughter Kaylee.

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Our final dinner was with my friends Nthabi, Bertin, Ethan, Will, Lusanda, and her husband Issac after a day touring the city. Our dinners were a great way to end the day, because they reminded me how generous, hospitable, and kind South African can be. I am truly lucky to have found such lovely people.                     Ricker Fam in Africa 031 Ricker Fam in Africa 032 Ricker Fam in Africa 033 Ricker Fam in Africa 036

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33.33% Capetonian

Four months. It seems so strange that I have been away from the States for this long. Four months also marks my end of TSiBA, my start at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), and my family’s visit to South Africa. My first placement has gone by better than I could have hoped for, but I am glad it is not the end of my experiences here. I still need more time and a change of industry to learn more about South African culture, society, history, and future growth.

My team at the Ignition Centre has been like a family. We collaborate closely and genuinely care about each other. The IC has been one of the most positive forces in my South African experience thus far. The office’s humor and creativity has encouraged me to think about entrepreneurship in a more collaborative mentality. My conversations with my colleagues have revealed to me the ways in which South Africans identify and seek to improve local and national social issues.

The largest differences I have seen in South African and western philosophies of social justice are each culture’s perception of poverty. While many Americans’ measurement of poverty is shifting, charity overwhelmingly is used improperly in place of justice due to a belief that poverty is a lack of material wealth. While people in poverty often lack material necessities, many South Africans I work with view poverty as a lack of dignity. This is demonstrative through the aphorism posted on the wall of the Ignition Centre stating “You may be broke, but you are not poor.” Several of my coworkers live in the townships that appear shocking destitute to many Americans—and sometimes they choose to live there. The communities are their homes and the ekasi (the word for township in Xhosa) culture makes up part of the community members’ identity. While living conditions are a direct factor into a population’s standard of living, social issues surrounding housing need to be addressed at physical, intellectual, sociological, spiritual, and emotional levels rather than just throwing money at a problem without proper consideration. While this opinion is not completely foreign to the American mind, I have observed it more frequently here.

My next placement at the SAHRC will also address social and ethical issues in a South African context as I work in the legal division. I anticipate working with legal counselors, interviewing victims of human rights violations and moving through the process of reconciling their complaint.  I also hope to start practicing alternative dispute resolution by assisting the mediation of these cases. SAHRC also has a policy branch, so I am also hoping to visit parliament hearings and report on the minutes.

However, before I transition to the SAHRC, my parents are visiting me for a little over a week. We will be exploring Cape Town, going on safari drives in Kruger Park, and visiting Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia. Please wish us health, safety, and nice weather as we reunite and experience Africa as a family.

A Transitory Time

Due to the nature of my program, Connect-123, most interns stay only 2-3 months. Since my arrival (nearly 4 months ago), I have already had to say several goodbyes and now have a new group of interns to meet. For one of my closest friend’s farewell, we went to an eclectic restaurant called Bombay Bicycle. The seats of our table were actually swings, adding to the bohemian ambiance.

Hannah, Ashley and me at Bombay Bicycle

Swing seats!

For Hannah’s last day, we also decided to hike at Crystal Pools. The path is a lovely trek through a gorge by the sea. The trail runs between two mountains up to a series of pools created by mountain springs. Hannah and I were not so sure we were going to make it, though, because we failed to rent a car after two days of unsuccessful attempts. Apparently you need a credit card and driver’s license in the same name; shocking I know. (Of course, after cleaning my room on Sunday, I found my license.) We ended up taking the train to Strand where my generous and spontaneous friend, Cathy transported Hannah and me to the nature reserve. We finally were able to spend the day lounging beside a waterfall, while other trekkers passed us by as they cliff-jumped from pool to pool.

Hannah’s last day in South Africa

Crystal Pools!

Much warmer than Clifton, but what isn’t

Since Hannah and others departures, I have just begun to meet the new interns. On Saturday, several of us (through my persuasion) decided to try an Ethiopian Restaurant on Long Street called Timbuktu. To find the restaurant we had to follow a series of dark passageways, finally leading us to a small balcony. Due to low lighting and a late dinner, we had to guess at what each clumps of food were. Afterwards, most of us decided that it was the best, sketchy Ethiopian food found in Cape Town so far. However, one intern said she enjoyed the speak-easy music, but she wasn’t a fan of mysterious Ethiopian meat.

While it is sad to see my friends leave, it is refreshing to explore Cape Town anew with the latest interns.

Road Trip!

Day one on the Garden Route with Rachel at the Outeniqua Mountain Pass.

After discovering that Madagascar was not covered in lemurs as certain movies might suggest, I decided to spend my last week of summer vacation exploring the Garden Route. Rachel and my strategy was to get most of our traveling out of the way now, while we are on break, so we won’t have to ask off of work very often for the rest of the year. Since TSiBA’s academic calendar runs on a semester schedule, I was able to spend five days with Rachel and five other travelers on a tour called Bokbus. The trip went from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and back, exposing us to some of the loveliest parts of the country.

Once I discovered that Tolkien was born in South Africa, I have imposed Lord of the Rings imagery everywhere. I perceive these to be the Misty Mountains.

Wilderness, a small town in the Western Cape at the beginning of the Garden Route

“Map of Africa”

Our fearless leader and bus driver Benjamin was an absolute gem. He diplomatically handled our one disgruntled passenger, while making sure the group had a nice experience. Benjamin led us through Oudtshroon, Wilderness, George, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, The Crags, Tsitsikamma, Addo Elephant Sanctuary, Port Elizabeth, Mussel Bay, Hermanus, and Kogel Bay.

Tsitsikamma National Park

Suspension bridges

The Garden Route is famous for its gorgeous scenery while also providing a youthful, adventurous spirit. Road trip highlights include feeding ostriches, spelunking in the Cango Caves, bungee jumping from the world’s highest bungee from a bridge, feasting at the game lodge’s African animal buffet, hiking to Tsitsikamma’s suspension bridges, spotting dassies, getting out of the Western Cape, safari game drives, eating delicious seafood at Knysna’s waterfront, one night of air-conditioning, driving through Tolkien-esque mountain passes, and zip-lining over waterfalls.

Baby dassies!

World’s highest bungee off a bridge

Picture of Bloukrans Bridge by Face Adrenaline

Promo picture of Bloukrans Bridge by Face Adrenaline

Furthermore, the trip was even more enjoyable by spending time with Rachel and my co-passengers from the Netherlands, England, Australia, and South Africa. The community we formed by the end of the trip reinforced my hope to participate in group tours through other parts of the world in the future. However, for now I am content living in Cape Town and working at TSiBA.

The lemurs we never saw in Madagascar

The color of a male lion’s mane darkens with more testosterone, so apparently this is a pansy lion.

Baby tigers playing

Vicious.

Happy Holidays from Sub-Saharan Africa

Johannesburg has invaded Cape Town. High heels and designer brands attached to a Jo’burg accent are easily distinguishable among the Capetonian trendy flats and plaid. Cape Town and Durban are often the annual holiday destinations of preference among Jo’burg professionals. In the spirit of Jo’burg’s holiday traveling traditions, another Connect-123 intern and I decided to get out of Cape Town and explore other parts of the country and the continent. In eleven days we were able to briefly explore a new South African city and two new countries. Leaving from the Durban port, Rachel and I went on a Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) cruise to Madagascar and Mozambique.

The trip was not funded by Lumos, and while it was a good price for what we were able to do, I still hesitated on spending money on extravagant travels. In the end I obviously still went on the trip, but as my friend Jennifer advised, I decided to approach the trip with the goal to share these parts of the world with others while being mindful of how I spend money and participate in new cultures.

To experience different parts of Durban city center, Rachel and I stayed in two parts of the city. Before we embarked on the cruise, we spent two nights at Gibela Backpackers Lodge located near Florida Street. This was a lucky guess since we ended up in a neighborhood with several shops and restaurants to explore. Also, Durban has the highest population of Indians outside of India, so we made sure to capitalize on the delicious Indian curries found around town.

Gibela Backpacker Lodge

Gibela highly exceeded my expectations

Apart from the curry, Durban is also famous for the Victoria Street Market, which offers a fusion of African and Indian goods. We found the market to sell more touristy merchandise than authentic good, so that was a slight disappointment. However, the experience was well worth it. In Cape Town, the colonial Dutch and British influences are strong and can sometimes overtake the African culture. Durban is far less westernized and the area surrounding the Victoria Street Market made me feel like I was in a completely different country than Cape Town.

 

The MSC Opera

The ship deck

A view of a sunset at sea

With scrumptious seafood in our bellies, Rachel and I set off on a six day MSC cruise stopping in Anakoa, Madagascar and Portuguese Island, Mozambique. We soon discovered that our cruise companions were a diverse range of nationalities, races, and ages. Also, we did not hear any other American accents the entire time. Since the cruise was over Christmas, there were many families on board, along with endless Christmas music, and ridiculous Christmas outfits worn by the staff while they paraded and hosted a Christmas countdown that was about 10 minutes before midnight.

We were able to engage with two South Africans for the majority of the time through our dining assignments. We were seated at a table with a South African young couple from Pretoria. Fia and Kobus were lovely dining companions and joined us for several events and excursions. We found their company especially entertaining since we don’t usually have the chance to interact with white Afrikaners, so it was interesting to hear their perspectives about domestic and international current affairs.

To manage the 2,000 passengers while at sea, MSC sponsored voluntary organized group activities for a majority of the time. Most of these activities were wildly cheesy, giving Rachel and me ample entertainment to look upon. To highlight the ridiculous events, you must first look to Arrested Development as a reference. If you haven’t watched the show, quickly acquaint yourself with Arrested Development Job, the Alliance certified Magician. MSC hosted a magic show with an Italian magician that not only looked like Job, but actually had similar mannerisms as well. It was magical.

Also, my love for karaoke was fulfilled through the show, “MSC Stars” (aka American Idol). In the theater, Rachel and I looked on with Fia and Kobus as we watched some lovely and terrible musical performances. We heard songs from the musical styles of Celine Dion, Miley Cyrus, and Duffy. Hilarious.

Along with cheesy magicians and horrible karaoke, I would also say that I am drawn to most choreography.  However, MSC’s group dance of “Wavin’ Flag” was too horrendous to participate in. Instead, I looked on and took pictures of the dreadful dance numbers. Enjoy:

This occurred everyday at the same time

Sometimes they danced the Cha Cha or the Mambo as well

Our first stop was in a small fishing village of Anakoa, Madagascar.

Anakoa, Madagascar

Locals at the port

A local woman spoke to me while selling jewelry. She only spoke French to me, so the conversation did not last long.

A couple days later we arrived to Portuguese Island. Mozambique.

Portuguese Island

Inhaca, Mozambique

Inhaca was just a short boat ride from Portuguese Island

Portugese Island has no residents, but Inhaca had these mysteriously shipwrecked and deserted boats

Clearly I was captivated

Finally, our return to Durban hit a slight rough patch. We had to disembark fairly early, leaving us with about five hours until we could check into our next location, the Happy Hippo Backpackers. We found our location to be lucky again since the lodging was situated in the nicer part of the Golden Mile (Durban’s famous strip of beaches and casinos). Rachel and I walked to Ushaka Marine World to find the closest coffee shop to read in while we waited to check into our room. Our priority was to find air conditioning to evade the humid Durban weather. The early time left us with KFC as our best option. My low point hit when Celine Dion came on the radio as I was reading The Book Thief (which has a terrible beginning and should never be read after J.R. R. Tolkien). Just when Celine ended, a massive parade filled the streets, rendering any attempts of reading fruitless.

 

Durban’s Golden Mile

One of the many, many, many parades I have seen since coming to South Africa. This is Ushaka’s interpretation of Zulu culture.

Real life Wizard’s Chess from Harry Potter! If only... but this match is between then funniest two people. Rachel and I really wish we saw how the game was initiated.

However, I was cheered up while watching a life size game of chess that resembled Wizard’s Chess in Harry Potter. After getting some rest, Rachel and I were able to mostly enjoy the beach, more curry and Ushaka Marine World before heading back to Cape Town.

This is why I said we mostly enjoyed the beach. Here is the part of the beach for surfers...

The portion of the beach reserved for swimmers. After being spoiled at Madagascar and Mozambique’s desolate beaches, we missed an open place to swim and sand that did not stick all over us.

Spontaneity, the Lack Thereof, and a Beachy Start to Summer

Similar to most activities in Cape Town, going to see the new James Bond movie was a mission. While there is still room for spontaneity in Capetonian life, most events I have participated in took foresight, a moderate amount of time, and reasonable effort to implement. Skyfall was no different.

To obtain seats together, one must get to the theater early to select reserved seats. While the Victoria and Albert Waterfront theater is the closest, it is also the most expensive. Tickets cost R50 for a regular movie or R60 for a ticket at the independent film theater.[1] This is about a third more expensive than other Cape Town cinemas. However, another Connect intern and I decided to save money by walking to the waterfront rather than taking a R30 cab ride. (I know I must sound stingy and absurd considering price in USD, but it adds up in a year!) Our walk ended up taking an hour, getting us to the theater on time, but not early enough to get seats together (James Bond is a South African favorite apparently).

While the other intern, Ashley and I waited for the movie to start, two friendly Bond fans beside me suggested for the crowd to rearrange for her to sit beside me. Eventually Ashley ended up sitting beside me and we were able to munch on the sandwiches we packed to save more money on dinner.

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While writing this blog, about the lack of spontaneity in my life, my friend Hannah called and ironically asked if I wanted to jump in her car in 15 minutes to go to Lagoon Beach. I quickly left the coffee shop I was writing at and got ready just in time to visit one of the loveliest beaches I have visited. Hannah and I also made a sand lady and children rushed up to help us, making afro-spaghetti hair.

Lagoon Beach

 

Hannah walking towards Table Mountain and Lion’s Head

Me with our new sand-lady friend, Judith

Along with Lagoon Beach, I have also been able to visit the Strand, Gordon’s Bay, Cool Bay, Kalk Bay, and Clifton Beach 2 and 4. In the States, I never found much distinction between the beach towns I visited, but perhaps I wasn’t looking. In Cape Town, my curiosity lead me to find different characteristics in each beach.

I visited the Strand beach with my friends Cathy Arendse. The Stand was filled with coloured and black locals eating “ice lollies” and splashing in the shallow waters. Families restlessly moved around the strip of beach in from of high rise condos, looking for the next piece of beach to settle. Cathy and I decided to indulge in ice lollies of our own, forgetting that I did not wear sunscreen. On the way to Cathy’s house she noticed the color of my shoulders and apologized for keeping me out in the sun. She said, “I’m so sorry! I forgot you were white!” I laughed and said that was probably the nicest thing she said to me. Races distinction is such a part of life in South Africa, so it was nice to be thought of without reference to a skin color.

I also visited Gordon’s Bay at the beginning of my trip, but I recently passed by it on my way to hike the Crystal Pools. The other interns and I needed a permit, so our adventure instead took us to Cool Bay. This ended up being the same beach I went to after shark cage diving, only I did not discover the shallow caves at that time. Cliffs and mountains surround the beach, leaving pockets of shadowy breaks in the cliffs to retreat from the strong African sun. This was one of the most beautiful places I have visited thus far, but I, of course, have no photographic documentation.

My recent holiday leave from work has also allowed me time to explore during the week. Due to our time off, a friend from TSiBA was able to join me in an excursion down the Cape Peninsula to Kalk Bay. While exploring the quaint beach town, My friend was able to give me a local perspective about the current political state of the Congo. As a Congolese citizen, he is technically considered a refugee by the South African government, but his rights are hardly met. Refugees have an exceptionally hard time gaining work permits from the government. Even if these are obtained, the xenophobia in the country is pervasive, steadily fueling hatred and poverty. Fortunately and not that surprisingly, he and I were not met with any nasty xenophobic people in Kalk Bay. We walked by the eclectic shops and beach cafes in peace while enjoying the lovely view. On the way back to the city, he pointed out a woman sitting on the train in a dressy, traditional African garment. He said she was Congolese and she must be on her way to see an important person, like a doctor, due to the nature of her outfit.

Clifton is a dramatic change of scene to places like Strand, Muizenberg, or Gordon’s Bay. Beach 2 is almost all white and (not surprisingly) trendy and pretentious. However, my only experience at beach 4 was with TSiBA at our Staff Fun Day. My cheery coworkers were the most enjoyable company while we played games and ate “Kentucky” (KFC) under the shade of umbrellas. While eating, Cindy and I watched workers clean up the seaweed, making the beach spotless. She commented that the act was racist since the “black beaches” were not cleaned like that. I am inclined to believe that the issue is more complex than it seems, however, Cindy’s opinion is very relevant and valid through her experience as a local from the Gugulethu community. Fianlly, her opinion rings true for me in regards to my experiences so far.

Clifton Beach 4

Lion’s Head

Linda, Lindelwa, and Tyson at TSiBA Staff Fun Day

Ignition Centre manager, Abe. I started the tradition of singing “Abie started the fireeeeeeeee” whenever our group won a game

Cindy and I took shelter from the harsh rays under the umbrella


[1] The conversion rate is usually 1 USD to 8 ZAR

A Different Type of Gratitude

November is looking to be a month full of celebrations. So far, I have managed to turn 23, successfully survive a Great White shark cage dive, understand most South African accents, and achieve lung-disease-free X-rays! While my calendar lists Thanksgiving around the corner, I did not need the holiday’s close proximity to reminded me of the people, places, and possessions most dear to me.

My stay has not been without illness or sadness so far, but my misfortunes have been eclipsed by the immense kindness, hospitality, and love sent from overseas and throughout the streets of Cape Town. When I was flying from Knoxville to DC, coughing was so ferociously that fellow passenger gave me her unopened bottle of water and a fresh pack of gum to get me through the next 33 hours of traveling. I was still coughing by the time that I reached Cape Town and woke up my poor, new roommate in the middle of the night. She helped me to navigate my new kitchen and make tea, bringing me salvation. Moments like that have helped me to heal physically and comfort me spiritually. I am constantly reassured that there are good people everywhere. Although, my bumpy start prevented me from engaging with others in the beginning, I have found plenty of kindred spirits to share joyful moments.

Now, I am much healthier, but my cough is lingering. I will have an entirely separate post for you to describe the delightful South African healthcare experience. You may think that if American doctors cannot heal my bronchitis in a month, then there is no hope for my cure. However, I will assure you that from appearances at least, South African physicians are providing to be more thorough. Also, I now know the ins and outs of international medical insurance (don’t even bother… it’s a rip off unless you have an absurd emergency outside of the UK). I will visit the doctor again on Wednesday to hopefully put an end to this three month long plague. The moral of the story? American healthcare is overrated.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Encountering the African Outdoors

Camps Bay

After a month of living in Cape Town, I am proud to say that I have discovered how to download pictures from my iPhone to my computer. Yes, this should not have been a difficult feat, and yes I have my degree. This has been an unexpected technology struggle since I assumed that my iPhone would receive internet reception. Also, I thought I packed my camera, and was disappointed to find that I left it in Knoxville. However, I have managed to document some of my favorite moments in South Africa so far, three of which being an excursion with TSiBA’s SIFE students to Muizenberg beach, sea kayaking with whales in Hermanus, and a sunset hike on Lion’s Head Mountain.

I cannot provide photo documentation of Muizenberg yet, but all you need to know about it trip is that I imagined it as an African version of Rent‘s “Sante Fe.” For the 45 minute ride to the beach, the SIFE team sungand danced all throughout the train. Of course, they tried and failed to teach me Xhosa songs, but they died laughing when I gave my white, American imitation of their choreography. Many of the students live in the township Khayelitsha, so we rode third class, rather than Metro Plus during our commute to save money. On the return trip, I learned why I always traveled first class—we were smashed together so tightly in the crowded train, that we literally could not move at all. Regardless of the momentary discomfort, the team building trip helped me understand the dynamics of the SIFE team.

Fellow Connect interns kayaking

The next day I went with eighteen of the other Connect interns to Hermanus. We spent two hours sea kayaking in one of the best coastal cities known for whale watching. As we paddled, we saw at least five whales and a curious baby whale followed after the group at one point. Apart from the whales and a delicious cup of gelato, my favorite aspects of Hermanus were the picturesque mountains, bays, and cliffs scattered all around the city.

Hiking Lion’s Head at sunset

The night after my trip to Hermanus was October’s full moon and therefore the night of a monthly hiking event to the top of Lion’s Head Mountain. I found the hike to be much easier than the first time I attempted it and the sunset and moonrise completely transformed the city sights surrounding the mountain. I think I have found a new tradition. Below I will post pictures from Lion’s Head, so you can finally see what my new home looks like.

The City Bowl, where my apartment is located

 

Signal Hill