We flew from the Chobe region to Maun, Botswana on a little tiny plane, and then got into a more traditional aircraft to fly to Cape Town, South Africa. We were very excited to visit Cape Town because my sister Michele had given it rave reviews after visiting on a business trip. Cape Town was named the best place in the world to visit by the New York Times in 2014, but that article only reinforced my sister’s comments.
We were picked up at the airport and driven to our hotel, which was in a prime location at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. There were shops, restaurants, live music on the plaza, and lots of people. In California terms It reminded me of a cross between Ghirardelli Square and Pier 39.
We were also apprehensive, because news reports in 2017 said that there was a severe drought in this region. In January it was reported that Cape Town faced running out of water completely, with Day Zero when the taps would be shut off estimated for April 1. Fortunately, conservation measures were successful, and Day Zero was postponed. The rainy season had started when we arrived, and hopefully the reservoirs would soon be filled. There were signs everywhere about conservation, including at our hotel. Fortunately our time camping in the trailer have made us used to very short showers. The conservation measures really hit home when I used the restroom at Cape Point National Park, and like the other men in the restroom, I was confused when the faucets at the sink did not work. Then we all saw the sign on the wall: “The taps are off to save water. Use the hand sanitizer provided.” One of our drivers expressed the opinion that the politicians had made up the water crisis as a way to increase prices. “We are paying five times as much for water now, and we are only getting a tenth of the water we used to get.” He told us that several years ago there was a similar power crisis, due to a need for investment on the power grid infrastructure, and that this water crisis has played out similarly, with dire warnings ending in massive price increases. The truth? I won’t step into that minefield.
We had three nights and two full days in Cape Town. Our tour company had provided us with two full day tours. The first day we went on a tour of the peninsula. We were picked up by our guide Grant, and joined six other people on the tour. It was truly an international group. There was a man from Germany, a woman from Japan, and four French-Canadians from Montreal. At lunch Susan broke the ice by speaking French. “Etes vous Canadien?” It was a couple and their two young adult children, and after breaking through this apparent communication barrier we had a good time talking with them in our limited French and their limited English.
The tour took us along the coast where we saw the nice homes where the upper crust live, and the beautiful beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay. We stopped at Hout Bay and boarded a boat that was to take us out into the ocean to Seal Island. The boat people warned us that the seas were very rough, at times people might be asked to remain seated, and that they might be forced to turn back before reaching Seal Island. Well, we made it to the island and saw the seals, who were mostly sleeping. Reminds me of the male lions, sleeping. The most amusing part was watching the selfie-stick-idiots (selfie-stick-idiot is one word) who refused to sit nearly falling overboard in the rough sea.
It turns out you don’t have to go out on the boat to see the seals. You can see them on the dock.
Notice his sweatshirt.
We than drove up to Chapman’s Peak, and then went to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve/National Park. We went up to the Cape Point Light House, and took pictures at the Cape of Good Hope, the southwestern-most point in Africa.
We then went to Simon’s Town for lunch, and then the best part of the day, visiting the nearby penguin colony. They were amazing!
And Penguin Videos!
We then had a far too brief visit to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and we were then returned our hotel. This was followed by dinner at the Waterfront, and a ride in the Ferris Wheel on the Waterfront.
When we were getting on the Ferris Wheel, a woman getting off excitedly said “There are great sunset views at the top!” She was right.
The next day we had another full day tour set up by our tour company. This was what they call the full day winelands tour – wine tasting as well as visiting the countryside. We were picked up by our guide Zi, but unlike the United Nations group for the previous day’s tour, we were the only people. This turned out to be great, as without a larger group, and after we got to know our guide and he to know us, we were able to really talk about politics and sociology. Susan was amazing here, as she gets people to open up and gets them comfortable enough that she can ask difficult questions. He also told us about his native language called Xhosa, which has lots of different kinds of clicks. We had an enjoyable and educational time with Zi.
In terms of the wine tour, we visited three nice wineries, spread throughout the day. Actually, our guide called them “wine farms,” rather than wineries. I had tasted Pinotage wine when we were in the Mala Mala camp, and really liked it. I now learned that Pinotage is a grape variety developed in South Africa. We brought some home in our luggage. There was one major difference in the wine tasting in South Africa, at least at the three wine farms we visited. In the US and in Europe, you typically stand at a bar to taste. In South Africa you are seated, either at tables and chairs, or on sofas. In our first wine farm we had gone on a cellar tour with six other people (Aussies and Coloradans) and we tasted together on sofas around a coffee table; the advantage was that you could converse with the entire group, which is difficult with more than two standing at a bar.
In addition to the wine farms, we visited Stellenbosch, founded by the Dutch in 1679. It is an interesting old historical town, and as home to Stellenbosch University it felt like a college town. We had lunch in a nice bistro in Franschhoek, a small town founded by French Huguenots in 1688. Franschhoek, means French Corner in the Afrikaans language, is now a tourist hub for those visiting the wine farms, and said to be the “food and wine capital” of South Africa. Lunch was good. We also stopped to see the statue at Groot Drakenstein Prison, the last of the prisons where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. He was released from in Feb 1990.
South Africa is an amazing place, with wonderful people. Our conversations with Zi reinforced the idea that there are still many cultural and economic issues. We passed shanty towns on the way from the airport. There were shacks made from corrugated metal, but many had satellite dishes, so there must be electricity. Our guide Grant on the Peninsula tour (who was mixed race) described these as “informal settlements,” instead of the term “township” that Zi (who was black) used. The word township dates from the time of apartheid. Clearly many changes still need to be made in this fascinating country.
I had really wanted to visit Robben Island on our last morning, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars. Although the boats to Robben Island leave from the waterfront near our hotel, any delay would get us back late for our 12.30 PM pickup for transport to the Cape Town airport. So we missed Robben Island. We did go to Greenmarket Square in the center of old Cape Town, and did some bargaining at the market there.
A photo holder? Looks like a roach clip to me.
We discovered that they sell some unusual gourmet items, including Ostrich Liver Pate, Kudu Pate, Wildebeest Pate, Zebra Pate, Springbok Pate, Crocodile Pate, and Impala Pate.
There was evidence for a good sense of humor.
One last thing. I highly recommend Henning Mankell’s book The White Lioness. Mankell’s fiction involves his lead character, Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, but this book also weaves in an international assassination conspiracy in South Africa in 1993, soon after Mandela’s release from prison.
I would love to go back to Africa. Will we? We’ll see what happens.