Queer in Cape Town

The faint outline of a mountain shone through the window, but we were too busy screaming over our bougie Airbnb— that would have to wait until morning. Cape Town was off to a good start.

I needed to get to Africa before I renewed my passport, and I had just been displaced off a trip, leaving me with a good chunk of time off. Why, though? Because I had been to every other continent (except the obvious Antarctica), and I wanted the last one in my first passport. So, in true Robbie fashion, I did it.

I chose Cape Town, because getting to Morocco and calling that “Africa” would be, in fact, correct— but too easy. The logistics weren’t all that simple. United doesn’t start their direct service to Cape Town until December, not that I’d even have a chance in nonrev hell of getting on that flight. The big European carriers don’t do daily service, which left options slim for a cohesive transfer; otherwise, I’d be spending a long layover and wasting precious time.

My methodology in travel is this: make the plans, and whoever else wants to come can follow. I learned long ago, from my study abroad experience, that group travel is exhausting. You can’t please everyone, and it’s easier to do what I want to do on my own schedule— but it is nice to have a travel partner. That’s why I was delighted when my friend Cole said he was coming with me. Not having traveled together before, this would be a good test of friendship.

I’m happy to report that we’re good travel buddies. When it came to overall coordination of flights and airlines and load checking, I had that down. But the day to day plans were up to him, and he did an excellent job of picking and choosing when and what to do.

The Stay

As I mentioned before, we couldn’t get over how luxurious this Airbnb was. I got it for a steal since this is Cape Town’s off season: two bedroom, two and a half bath plus exotic views of Table Mountain— it couldn’t be beat. It was staged in my tastes with Eastern adornments and a massive crystal that I held for most of the first morning there. We were centrally located for the most part, and we Ubered nearly everywhere; it’s ridiculously cheap and the best option if you’re feeling a little uneasy. We didn’t feel unsafe, though. We’re tough broads— on our last day, we walked through the brightly colored Bo-Kaap neighborhood. When we left a restaurant, the waiter said, “Don’t go down that road. It’s not safe.” Little did he know, we had pranced up and down it earlier in the day, checking out the sights and sounds. Ain’t no thang, chicken wang!

The Food

We didn’t skimp on the cuisine. Cole and I like to eat, and we’re adventurous at that.

Brunch started at Lola’s, where we both got a smoked salmon benedict. It was a cute little café nestled in the City Bowl, an imaginative neighborhood that had interesting architecture á la Bourbon street, surprisingly.

After a failed attempt to ascend Table Mountain due to an impending and indefinite rain shower, we took a long but cheap Uber to Constantia Valley, where many wineries call home. Our new gorgeous friend, Luke, taught us about the Buitenverwachting wines; he would check up on us in between giggles and gossip over some charcuterie. The sad thing, though, is that he’s disgustingly straight with some girlfriend whom he loves— our single selves loved the wine. It’s significantly underappreciated, in my opinion, but I’m also not a wine snob per se.

The next night, we met up with another new friend, this time a fellow homosexual. We went to Nelson’s Eye, a steakhouse that had nothing to do with Nelson Mandela. The other gay, Sean, got an ostrich fillet— I had a piece, and I didn’t regret my steak; however, I’m getting my own ostrich fillet next time. It was just the right amount of gamey flavor, but not overpowering. My steak, on the other hand, was v delicious. I was being melodramatic and torn between that and a local fish— but the waiter sassed me and said, “Why would you come to a steakhouse and get fish?”

Our final meal was at Bo-Kaap Kombuis, a Cape Malay restaurant overlooking the city. As suggested by our Airbnb host, we both got sampling platters. There was no way we could finish it all, but the flavors coming out of each dish was enough to make me scream. Cole couldn’t look at me and say, “I’ll have what she’s having,” because he already was. Of particular note was the classic Denning Vleis, a sweet and savory lamb stew that tasted like nothing I have ever had before— and I’ve eaten a lot. It was the perfect way to leave a city: full and satisfied, but wanting to come back.

The Crazy

With limited time, we had to capitalize on our experiences in South Africa. We were on the wrong side of the country to go to the famed Kruger National Park, so we opted for a private game reserve. The odds of seeing the Big 5 (lion, buffalo, rhinoceros, elephant, and leopard) were heightened due to the constrained space. But the vast acreage could’ve held the critters away if they wanted— we saw four out of five, the leopard being the elusive one.

I mean, I grew up with The Lion King, and I’ve seen National Geographic. But it’s a whole ‘nother thing to be a Midwestern American casually looking at two elephants in the quasi wild. Cole and I also lost it altogether when we saw the giraffes— they might as well have been unicorns! (Geoffrey and co. seem to be doing just fine on unemployment.)

The following day was NOT my idea, but I warmed up to it after the wet suits were off: we went shark diving. Leaving early in the morning for a venture to the sea, we hopped aboard a vessel that took us just off shore, where the crew “chummed” the water with fish guts in the hopes of attracting sharks. They divided us into groups, and we lucked out— not only did we catch our first glimpse of a Great White while we were above deck, we also got up close and personal as Shaunette splashed her way around the cage. Our guides kept yelling for us to go “down down down!” to see the sharks below the water, but the visibility was so poor that it was better to be spooked by the fins moving about. This is all the name of conservation and research, and the data collected helps to understand what the shark populations are doing as their existence wanes.

I’m not sure I fully realize the extent of what happened— to me, diving with sharks was exhilarating, but I wasn’t seeking the adrenaline rush. This brush with extreme nature felt structured but wild at the same time; after all, these are apex predators in their own habitat. Behind the bars, I was a guest in their home. They were, however, chomping at the bits to eat our guts— quite literally.

The Bottom Line

South Africa is a culturally diverse country— with a sordid history, reeling from the wounds of Apartheid, I find it in the midst of a crossroads. While tourism seems to be its main industry at the moment, I think there is a huge, untapped potential in a nation abounding in lively and lovely people. How everyone, mostly, lives in harmony is a feat that perhaps our own country could recognize. And Cape Town offers a lot of bang for your buck: the lodging is inexpensive, the food is decently priced and delicious, and the outdoor activities will leave you with stories of a lifetime.

Though the journey to the other side of the world was long and our stay short, it was worth it. You may not understand why my trips are quick, but I’m a woman on a mission— and a time crunch.  Of course, I learned a lot about myself— but I made new friends and deepened my friendship with Cole. He’s my gürl, the realest of the real, and a fellow Taurus (we’re actually 10 hours apart in birth, as we discovered). We both know, undoubtedly, that it’s spaghetti in there. We parted ways in Amsterdam; he was heading back to the US, and I continued on my travels for a much-needed stay in Europe. I had only started to conjure up some thoughts and feelings about our country’s status on the world stage, but that portion of my nearly two-week journey sealed the deal. More on that, though, in a coming post.

Soundtrack, for obvious reasons: Toto – Africa

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Suits, but not Pant Suits

Recently, I was asked about the significant increase in male attendance at the Women in Aviation conference. From my perspective as a male person and also an active volunteer, I had several things in mind— and it was always my intention to post about conference, too. I became involved with my school’s Women in Aviation chapter years ago, because I value diversity and fight for equality. When I became president, my typical spiel was “No, I’m not a woman, but I do support women in aviation.” It seems to me that women have more fun with aviation than men. Furthermore, as a member of the LGBT community, I find it imperative that marginalized demographics, especially those of which involved in aviation, band together in an effort to promote their demographic.

Aviatrix Minnie Mouse!

I reached out several years ago to the writing staff at WAI, and I asked them if they needed any assistance at conference— what a better way to combine my two passions! They couldn’t have been more thrilled, and I was thrown into the ring to spotlight collegiate aviators. 

Because egos are often inflated in aviation (I mean, let’s be serious. Flying airplanes is pretty cool!), we lose sight of our other talents and abilities. And when we all come together for conference, we can use these different parts of our identities to enrich the overall experience. Most organizations of which I am a part struggle to find and retain volunteers. It takes people power (not just MANpower) to accomplish a huge feat of corralling 4,000 attendees. 

But I was dismayed by the number of men jumping on the bandwagon. It was obvious why they were at conference. Someone, somewhere, told them “Oh, you have to go to WAI. Everyone is there.” And it’s true! The best of the best and the who’s who of aviation attend this conference.

It’s exciting that our industry is experience growth. Future professional pilots like myself are in a great position for a great career. Just a few years ago, it was easy to walk up to the Delta booth and shoot the breeze, maybe turn in a resume for an internship, and walk away to the next booth. But this year, I had to navigate through endless lines of applicants, mostly male, and couldn’t get a word in edgewise to vendors. It was frustrating.

A source of mine, close to a large airline, said that they were sorting resumes by the applications based on years of membership with Women in Aviation— I praise that wholeheartedly. The question that often came to me as I saw the hustle and bustle of suited-up men was, “What do they contribute to the organization?” With my positive outlook, I can only hope that these men are truly joining for the cause and not riding on the coattails of many magnificent women to score employment. But the last thing I want is for this formidable organization to turn into that which aviation is already— a good ol’ boys club. 

And I’m not going to police every male member of Women in Aviation. So long as you can fight the good fight of putting more women in the flight deck, welcome aboard.

Disclaimer: This is my opinion based solely on my experience at the WAI 2014 conference. In no way does it reflect the opinions of WAI as an organization. 

Cleared to Yap

The Federal Aviation Administration is set to, uncharacteristically, relax on one of its policies. You know, that annoying, “All electronic devices with an on and off switch must be powered down at this time.” Meanwhile, you’re on the lookout for a wandering Flight Attendant, who is playing 7th grade math teacher and scolding passengers for having their cell phones on.

I’m guilty of it. When I look out the window and see that we’re relatively low to the ground, I switch out of airplane mode to see who could have possibly messaged me, tweeted me, or even, archaically, called me. Granted, I’m not a full fledged airline pilot yet and have limited experience with complex flight computers. But I have sat in my own glass cockpit aircraft and used my phone very close to the equipment. Nothing happened. The airplane didn’t veer off course, nor did it display incoherent messages. Therefore, I hardly think that my phone would cause an interference in seat 32A.

PA-28 MFD

Therein lies the necessity (or lack thereof) for regulation on the matter. The FAA is strictly concerned with safety. Their principle question in this investigation is not whether Joe Shmoe is happy that his seat mate is being Kenny Tarmac and announcing that THEY JUST LANDED AT THE ATL. Therefore, the use of electronic devices should be dependent upon the airline policy.

In the court of public opinion, I’m sure the doctrine of No-one-cares-about-your-phone-conversation would be upheld, especially in such a confined space. But that isn’t the case here— the argument is based on the safe and secure operation of the aircraft, not the passenger convenience or discomfort.

Having said this, use discretion. If I’m trying to coordinate a ride from the airport or checking in with friends on the phone, I’m quiet, concise, and considerate. I even try to shield the brightness from my fellow seat mates, depending on the time of day and ambient light level.

It’s a tiny liberty for which I’ll continue to advocate under my breath. Until then, I’ll be breaking federal regulations to tweet one last time before wheels up.

Childhood Dream

“It has always been my dream to fly.”

I’m often prompted with this upon someone’s discovery that I’m a pilot. After I respond with, “It’s pretty fantastic” or something of the like, I encourage them something else.

Do it.

There’s only one way to become a pilot, and that is to start flying. But it costs too much! I don’t think I’m smart enough! Please bore someone else with your…excuses. You have not lived until you’ve experienced a crisp early morning with a graceful departure, or cruising into a metro area shining brightly at night— until you’ve seen the face of a friend who trusts you enough to burn holes through the sky for naught, don’t give me excuses.
Final for 20 at KHFD Here are some ways to get started:

  • Go on a discovery flight. Your local airport probably has a flight instructor sitting around, waiting for you to  hop in. He or she might explain a few basic things, but mostly it’s just to get a feel for flying. The flight will last approximately a half hour or so and shouldn’t be terribly expensive.
  • Be a bum at the airport. Hanging around airports is the best way to meet people; pilots are egotistic and love to brag about their airplanes, so why not schmooze?
  • Don’t be afraid of finances. Yes, flying is expensive. But most FBO’s (fixed based operators) are very flexible— I once paid off my balance at an airport by landscaping and odd jobs (it’s kind of neat to spray weeds on the side of a runway. Not glamorous, but neat).
  • In this day of technology, there is way more information on flying online than ever before. The FAA even publishes the Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK) for free in PDF format— as well as the Airplane Flying Handbook and a multitude of other resources. It may not be the most savory reading, but it’s free and accessible!

And after your brain hurts from aerodynamic concepts and common procedures, roll on over to airliners.net and drool to beautiful metal.

I’ll leave you with this: aviation is a very small community, one that supports everyone involved. Someone will find a way for you to defy gravity, but only if you want it more than anything. Once you join the rank of supreme beings— pilots —you can continue the tradition of paying it forward.

 

Blue skies!

For the FAA publications in free PDF format, follow this link to download copies of the PHAK, AFH, and more!

Where in the world?

Amidst a country in crisis, I find one of my own. This expansive round stone floating around an abyss of black magic is the biggest thing humankind can experience.

And so the question arrives: where in the world do I want to live?

I’m not saying that these few trips I’ve taken in Europe have been the most extensive globe trotting— I still have so much to see. But from what I’ve gathered so far, I wouldn’t mind living…anywhere.

Looking at my past, my permanent address is still the house where I came home from the hospital. My little brown house in a middle class neighborhood of a capital city waits for me to arrive on school breaks. And for the past three years of college, my residences have been within blocks of each other, never more than a 15 minute walk to any of them.

Precedent is tough to overturn, but not impossible.

I do believe in the adage “grow where you are planted” but it becomes more a more difficult decision when I can sew the seed.

My dream has always been to live in New York City for a hot minute and eventually make my way to the Pacific Northwest. But this European adventure is broadening my horizons.

The Swedish culture enamored me, and that climate would be best suited for novel writing (I fully intend on publishing some form of sappy teenage love story) and the production of my memoirs. Stockholm itself was cozy; it’s a fun place with warm yet reserved people and not so much in the limelight as Central Europe.

Madrid is a world-class city with plenty of its own history, but it is subdued and not quite as poignant of Rome’s omnipresent ruins.

I’m not looking to settle down soon, but I should have the thought in mind. And with my proposed career, I can live wherever I want; my office is the sky, my elevator a beast.

This question won’t be answered today and quite possibly for years to come. I’m young, have minimal obligations, and a strong sense of geography paired with an internal compass pointing in the direction of my heart.

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