IVHQ Surf Outreach: Volunteer Program in Muizenberg South Africa

We were first drawn to Cape Town because we had friends who were living there at the time and wanted to visit before they moved back to the U.S. After doing some research we found a surf outreach volunteer program in the Cape Town area through IVHQ.  As a volunteer your time is spent teaching and supervising kids as they are participating in an after school surf program. We decided to volunteer for a week and then give ourselves a few days after our volunteer program to visit our friends, explore more of Cape Town and to of course do some wine tasting.

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IVHQ/Dreams to Reality Surf Program

The surf program is based in Muizenberg which is about 20-30 minutes south of Cape Town. Muizenberg is a small beach town known for its surfing. The local organization in the Cape Town area is called Dreams to Reality. There are several volunteer programs offered in the Cape Town area; other programs included childcare, teaching, and sports development. We thought Dreams to Reality was a very well run organization that did a good job focusing on the relationships between the kids and volunteers. When we arrived we were picked up at the airport by another volunteer and taken to the house we would be staying at. There are several bedrooms in the volunteer house, each with 4-5 beds. We had people from several of the other volunteer programs in our house. There are several volunteer houses in Muizenberg, all within walking distance of each other so you get a chance to meet a lot of the other volunteers. The other volunteers are awesome. This program was a great way to meet a bunch of people from around the world some of whom we still stay in touch with.

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The first full day we were provided a walking tour of Muizenberg to help familiarize us with the area. We were also given a walking tour of Cape Town and offered several tours through a local tour company- CapeXtreme. We did not book any tours with them so cannot recommend or not recommend them. They did do a nice job of showing us around Cape Town for the afternoon. The tour was more of a brief overview of the city, nothing very in-depth.  We chose to stay after the tour was over and explore more on our own. You can read our Cape Town Essentials post for more details on what to do in the City.

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Before this trip Erika had never surfed and Ryan had done one lesson. You do not have to know how to surf to join this program but you do need to know how to swim. Both of us swam in college so we figured this program would be a good fit for us. The first day you are given a quick surfing lesson by the instructor and given time to work on your surfing. Each day consists of two sessions, one AM session where you get to surf with the other volunteers. The afternoon session is when the kids come and they get to surf. Most of the kids in the program while we were there were already very good at surfing. As a volunteer your job is to help the kids get their wet suits on and walk to the beach. Once everyone is at the beach your job is to help keep an eye on all the kids and help out wherever needed. That may mean you get to help push the kids into the bigger waves, help some of the younger kids learn to surf or just play in the water. After surfing everyone walks back to the surf shop and the kids get a meal. Some of the volunteers will be helping kids clean and hang up the wet suits, others will be serving up a simple meal. After the kids eat the volunteers clean up and the kids are picked up and brought home. The program is working to give kids from a local township a good activity to do after school, to learn social skills and responsibility. The leader of the Surf program did a really nice job of relating to the kids and served as a great role model for the program.

When the kids aren’t in school (during holiday break for example) the times the kids come in may change and on some days they may go to a local park and play basketball or play beach games pending weather conditions and the conditions of the waves.

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Check out the IVHQ website for the most up to date lists of programs they offer as they are always adding new opportunities. We would strongly recommend if you do a volunteer trip that you volunteer for more than one week. We are lucky that one week was the minimum requirement needed so that we could do this trip since our time off was limited but it is really difficult to really get to know the kids when you only volunteer for one week. The first day of the week you do spend all day in an orientation so you actually only get to volunteer 4 days if you are there for a week. At the bare minimum two weeks would be our recommendation so you can do orientation, get your bearings and also have some time to actually connect with the kids you are there to help.

Link to the IVHQ website: https://www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-in-south-africa/

Here is the link to our other South Africa posts

-TFWY

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Tulum Ruins, Beach, and Snorkeling

We had heard about how cool Tulum was prior to the trip, but nothing really prepared us for the ancient ruins juxtaposed with the white sand beach and turquois water. We got off the colectivo from Playa del Carmen and went walked to the entrance. When you arrive at the entrance there will be lots of people trying to stop you and offer tours. You do not have to take a tour, you can pay the entrance fee and walk through the ruins on your own.  We ended up going with a company that offered a boat tour and snorkeling out on the reef for around $10 per person. We first walked through the park on our own to see all the ruins you can see from the land. As you walk through this part you get incredible views of the beach and the water. The ruins are all roped off so you can look and take pictures but you cannot climb on or touch them. We were there on a hot, sunny day and saw lots of Iguana’s laying on the ruins.

After our walk through the park we headed down to the beach. We found our tour guide and took a small boat out on the water. We were given a brief tour down the shore to see the ruins which face the water and are not visible from land. After that we were taken out to the reef for snorkeling. All necessary snorkeling equipment was included in our tour cost. We got to snorkel for about an hour. We saw lots of colorful fish, sea turtles and sting rays and got to swim along the reef. After we got back to the beach we decided to walk down the shore for a while. The beach at Tulum is one of the best beaches we have been too. The sand was basically powdered sugar, and the water was clear and turquoise. There are a few restaurants right on the beach so you can sit and enjoy a drink or some food which we would highly recommend. You will need to bring cash because none of them took a credit card while we were there and you need to make sure you have enough cash for the ride back. We regretfully didn’t go into the town of Tulum due to the timing of our trip, but we have talked about making a whole trip to Tulum one day in the future.

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Playa Del Carmen: Home Base for the Yucatan

Ek Balam and Cenote Maya through Alltournative Tours

We chose to do an all day excursion with the Alltournative Tours company. The Alltournative company gives a portion of the fees they charge back to the communities and local people in the area. They work to offer tours that promote cultural awareness and promote conservation efforts in the area. We chose a tour that spent part of the day swimming in a cenote followed by a lunch of traditional Mayan food. The second part of the day was spent exploring the Ek Balam ruins. The Cenote Maya is the largest cenote in the Yucatan. The area around the cenote is a garden area with traditional Mayan homes so that guests can see how the Mayans lived. We also got to see a traditional shaman ritual before entering the cenote.  You have two options for getting down to the cenote; you can rappel down or you can take a staircase. I am scared of hieghts so I opted for the stairs. Ryan rappelled down. Once your in the cenote you can swim, and zip line over the water. The water is fairly cold and also very clear. you can see some small fish swimming around. They will ask that you rinse off in a shower stall before entering the water and to not apply sunscreen before getting into the water in efforts to keep this water source clean.

After lunch we were off to Ek Balam. There are multiple old ruins at this site, which is less visited than other Mayan ruins. While you are visiting you can walk on and climb through all of the ruins. You are given a tour of the grounds with an explanation of what all the different buildings are. This tour is offered in English, we also had French speakers in our group so they split up from us and were given the tour in French. After the tour you have time on your own to walk through the ruins. There is also a small market in the parking lot near the entrance were local people are selling crafts and locally made liquors and other goods. We got to sample a local liquor called Xtabentún. This is made from anise seed and honey. It has a very distinct flavor, we enjoyed it and would recommend trying it while there since it isn’t something we have ever been able to find it in the U.S.  The people in the market are very nice and will offer to show you things and explain to you what they are but they will not haggle you or pressure you to buy.

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Here is the link to the tour we took with Alltournative Tours

https://alltournative.com/servicio/ekbalam-cenote-maya/

Link to the Playa del Carmen post

Playa Del Carmen: Home Base for the Yucatan

Playa Del Carmen: Home Base for the Yucatan

For a good balance of a beach vacation and great activities Playa del Carmen is a great place to base yourself to explore the Yucatan. We stayed for a week in a small bed and breakfast in the Playacar area. We were walking distance from the main beach and tourist area full of shops and restaurants. We were also only a short walk from a beach which was less crowded and quieter than the Playa del Carmen public beach.  The bed and breakfast offered a rooftop pool and a backyard pool. We spent several evenings on the rooftop by the pool and were the only guests up there. The host did not speak english but did try to be as helpful as possible. Breakfast included eggs, fruit and yogurt as well as coffee and fruit juices each morning. This was not a luxury bed and breakfast but it was affordable and the location was great. We would recommend Bed and Breakfast Buen Dia Playa if you are planning to stay in the area.

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From Playa del Carmen you can easily get to the city of Tulum and the Tulum ruins, Cancun, Akumal, take the ferry to Cozumel and many other locations up and down the Yucatan coast. We did not get to all of these areas on this trip.  We did get to the Tulum ruins and also did a day long tour that included swimming in a cenote and exploring a Mayan ruin site – Ek Balam. Playa del Carmen itself also has lots to offer so we spent several days there enjoying the beach and the food. Playa del Carmen is about an hour south of Cancun, we flew in and out of Cancun so the last day we traveled back to Cancun and spent the day there so we were closer to the airport to catch an early morning flight back home.

For getting around in the area, you can take the ADO bus to/from Cancun/Playa del Carmen. The bus is very affordable, air conditioned and comfortable. We used it and would recommend it to anyone traveling in the area.

Taking a Colectivo is also a good, cheap option for getting between cities in the area. These are white vans which you can take for a small fee. They depart from the pick up point as soon as they are full. There are several specific pick up/drop off points in Playa del Carmen. They fill the van with as many people as they can so prepare to be sitting very close during the ride. The vans are full of local people going to/from work as well as other tourists. There is a drop off point right at the Tulum ruins so we took a colectivo from downtown Playa straight to the ruins and then back when we were done exploring for the day. They run very frequently so you shouldn’t have to wait long for the next available ride.

Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Our time in Playa was focused on the beach and the food!

The Beach

The public beach is lined with small restaurants serving cheap food and beer with a view of the beach. We ate at several of these small places during our stay. We had some delicious ceviche and tacos for lunch without ever having to leave the beach. Señor Frogs- super touristy and we would not recommend eating here but, it is located right next to the pier where the ferry boats leave from to head over to Cozumel. We did stop for a beer on our way back to our bed and breakfast several nights. The location offers tables right next to the water and you can watch the ferry’s come and go. For the location and view its worth a stop for a beer or two on the beach.

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The Tequila 

While wandering through the shopping area we were persuaded to stop in and do a tequila tasting. This is definitely a touristy place but prices are negotiable so don’t just pay what they initially offer as the price. We knew there would be pressure to purchase a bottle but we wanted to try to find some tequila that we wouldn’t be able to buy back home so we figured we would go in. We got to try several different bottles and were shown a lot of small batch tequilas we definately won’t find at home. We ended up buying a bottle that was aged in cherry wood giving it a very different flavor than you typically get in tequila. If you ware willing to spend money on a bottle this store does have a good selection and there are several of these stores in the main shopping/tourist area by the beach so you don’t have to go far to find one.

Alux Cave Restaurant 

This restaurant in downtown Playa away from the main tourist/beach area. It is in a cave which was something we had never experienced so we decided to go. This is a nicer restaurant, it was still cheaper than a night out in the U.S but was by far the most expensive meal we ate in Mexico. We would recommend this restaurant for a nice dinner while in Playa, the food was great and its a nice atmosphere. The restaurant is quite large, there were lots of other people there the evening we went but also there was a rather empty portion of the restaurant which we wandered through to get more views of the cave before heading out. We would recommend taking a taxi to/from the tourist/beach area to this restaurant as it is a long walk.

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El Fogon – Best tacos in Playa del Carmen

We had read from several different travel blogs and reviews online that El Fogon had the best tacos al pastor in Playa del Carmen. Ryan had traveled to Mexico for work many times before we took this trip but I had never been to Mexico and had never had real tacos al pastor. We had tried to recreate these tacos at home many times before and each time they were really good but Ryan assured me that they were not really pastor. So needless to say tacos al pastor was really hyped up in my mind before we even left for Mexico. We walked to El Fogon one afternoon and it did not disappoint! The restaurant is nothing fancy at all, it has bugs bunny and tweety bird panted an the wall along with some other old cartoons and basic tables with plastic chairs but the food is amazing! You can see the pastor being rotated on the vertical spit and everything else cooking on the grill as you eat your food. The food is also super cheap, we each had two beers, we had multiple tacos and a gringa and the total bill was about $14. Definitely worth a stop or two while you’re in Playa.

La Coronela Restaurant

As we wandered around Playa in the main tourist/beach area full of shops and restaurants we stumbled upon this very small, family run restaurant. Nobody was standing outside trying to get us to come in and eat, which most of the restaurants in the area will do. This place was amazing, everything was delicious and all homemade. We actually loved it so much we ate there twice during the week we were there. We would recommend the pastor style fish. We did enjoy the coconut shrimp but they were a bit sweeter then we expected.

We spent about 3 days of our trip just relaxing and exploring around Playa del Carmen. The rest of our trip we spent exploring further out in the Yucatan. As we said Playa del Carmen is a great place to base yourself as you are not that far from a lot of other activities/cities. Other things we did on the trip include; the Tulum ruins and snorkeling, swimming in a cenote and exploring the Mayan ruin site of Ek Balam and spending our final day in Cancun before flying back to the US.

24 Hours in Cancun

Due to our early morning flight, the last day of our trip we headed to Cancun. We stayed in a small apartment downtown. We took the local bus to the hotel zone which is along the beach were all the resorts are. There is public beach access so even if you aren’t staying at one of the resorts you can still enjoy the beach. The restaurants and shops in this area are very touristy. We were starving and did end up grabbing a quick lunch in this area. The food was okay but overpriced and nothing tasted authentic. We would recommend eating in downtown Cancun then just spending time in the hotel zone if you are looking to enjoy the beach. Our host recommended an Argentine restaurant (Restaurante San Temo Argentino) that had recently opened up just down the street. We walked there for dinner and would highly recommend it. You can see them grilling all the various cuts of meat from all the tables in this small restaurant.

We really enjoyed our time in Playa del Carmen itself and the surrounding area of the Yucatan. We found Playa del Carmen to be a great central location to stay while you explore the region. Links to Yucatan day trips:

Hidden Gem Near Cancun: Fish Market Mar-Bella Raw Bar Grill

This restaurant was highly recommended to us by the host at our apartment the last night of our trip.  We didn’t make it to this restaurant that night since we decided to go somewhere within walking distance and this was a little further away. But when we went back to the Cancun area for Ryan’s brother’s wedding we were determined to leave the resort and find this place. The resort staff actually tried to talk us into another restaurant, but we insisted this was where we wanted to go and we were not disappointed. You walk into what looks like basically a convenience store and you would not know that there was a restaurant if you didn’t know to look for it. You walk up a small spiral staircase and once you are upstairs there is a small seafood counter to the left and the restaurant to the right. The restaurant is right on the water so you see the beach and the small fishing boats as you eat. You order from the list of all the fresh seafood at the counter. Items can be cooked in a variety of ways. Fish is on order by the kilo.  The server can tell you the different ways they can cook everything and offer recommendations. We were lucky enough to find a waiter who did speak English well and could help us out. Spanish would have helped with the majority of the staff there. We had a group of 5 of us so we ordered a ceviche, a whole fish, grilled and served with risotto and veggies on the side. We also tried a few chocolate clams: a few of us had them raw with a squeeze of lime juice and the others tried them grilled in a butter sauce. Everything was delicious and very fresh. We would highly recommend this restaurant if you are in the Cancun area.

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South African Biltong Recipe

Every time we travel there are iconic foods that stick out and define a location for us. Foods that we go back home and try to recreate as closely as possible. Empanadas in Chile, Zucchini balls with Tzatziki sauce in Greece, or Tacos Al Pastor in Mexico. For South Africa, it was dried meats: Droëwors and Biltong specifically. This post is a recipe for Biltong that we have tinkered with a bit and are still refining. Our friends that lived in South Africa for over a year had it last weekend and thought the spice profile was extremely close. We used Venison, but you could use any lean cut of beef or wild game:

Ingredients:

  • 3-5 lbs of lean Beef or Venison (you are looking for a lean roast: top round, eye of round, bottom round, etc.) It should be long enough to slice into nice slabs.
  • 1 cup rock salt or coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 cup – Whole Toasted Coriander seeds – crush w/ mortar and pestle (you can use coriander powder if you are in a pinch)
  • 1 cup of Apple Cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp Black pepper

Instructions

  1. Cut the meat into strips. Slice them WITH the grain into roughly 2 x 1.5″ slabs. Ours were Venison and ended up a bit smaller than we would have liked
  2. Add about half the salt to a large bowl or pyrex dish
  3. Lay the slices in the salt, then cover with the rest of the salt- the slices should be well coated. Put in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes
  4. In another large bowl, add the Worcestershire Sauce and Apple Cider Vinegar
  5. Add in the baking soda and brown sugar, mix
  6. Remove the meat from the fridge, remove all the salt. They should have firmed up.
  7. Add the strips of meat to your brine, let them soak for 5-8 minutes. You may need to do this in batches. As you remove them, put them on a paper towel to soak up some of the moisture.
  8. Time to crush your coriander seeds: you can use a mortar & pestle; food processor, or just a rolling pin on a cutting board to get the seeds crushed in half with a bit of powder.
  9. Coat each steak strip with copious amounts of coriander. Each piece should be completely covered.
  10. With the pieces encrusted with coriander, crack some black pepper on both sides.
  11. Time to dry: either use a Biltong Box or Umai Dry Bag
  12. Slice THIN. It should be so thin it is slightly translucent. It’s not jerky!
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Venison Biltong in the Umai Dry bag
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Finished Biltong: slice it thin!

Dry them to your liking: some people prefer Biltong a bit more ‘wet’ while others like it completely dried. Using a biltong box that would range anywhere from 4-8 days. We did try another method while I work on building a biltong box: Umai Dry Bags. These things are awesome, we have dry aged steaks with them and made a few types of charcuterie. They are basically breathable vacuum seal bags that you leave in your refrigerator. We dried our Venison Biltong for 14 days (it will take a bit longer than a biltong box).

Umai Dry Bags on Amazon

Have you ever had Biltong?

-FWY