Today we have a guest post from our good friend Vicky who joined us in South Africa alongside Simon, Ally and Karina. Over to her:
I’ve been asked a few times what my South African holiday highlight was. It’s a really difficult question to answer. Perhaps it was the table top views from Table mountain. Or was it road tripping to Cape Point, the most southwesterly spot of the continent? Or visiting Robben Island, following in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela. Maybe combing the shore just 15 feet off the ground in a tiny plane, or dining on delicious ostrich and wildebeest. Not forgetting those South African wines! Or sitting under African skies and seeing the Southern Cross (which is only visible south of the equator).
It’s not hard to see why Cape Town, and South Africa, is consistently voted as one of the best places to visit in the world.
“All mountains have peaks, but out mountain is flat.” – Francis, Cape Town taxi driver
Cape Town really is one of the most visually spectacular places I have ever visited. Table Mountain looms high behind the city, and you just never get tired of seeing it, for it looks so different throughout the day. Sometimes it’s covered with a cloud tablecloth, other times light bounces off the surrounding haze, or it stands tall, iconic, crisp and clear against the blue sky. And it’s not just the table itself. It’s flanked by the Devil’s Peak to the west, Lion’s Head to the east and the Twelve Apostles behind. These 500 million-year-old rocks forming the backbone of the Cape Peninsula. We were staying in the City Bowl, a cool area near Kloof Street which is lined with tonnes of quirky restaurants and bars.
Our first night found the six of us on a boat celebrating Alice’s birthday, sailing out into the sunset, grinning in the golden light and toasting as Table Mountain shrank in the distance, and dolphins swam alongside the boat. What a welcome!
It was Cape Town’s winter, but the weather was unusually warm and mostly dry, helping us to us to appreciate all of the wonder and beauty of this extraordinary place.
We were in the city for a few days, and aside from marvelling at it from the great height of the mountain, we wandered around Bo-Kaap, which is the Muslim quarter and an interesting pocket of the city lined with multi-coloured houses that just pop out at you as you pass them. We also visited the bustling V&A Waterfront and the sobering District Six museum, detailing the forced evictions during apartheid.
‘After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.’ Nelson Mandela
A ferry ride from the V&A Waterfront takes you out to Robben Island, and the jail where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. The guides on the island are all ex-political prisoners; our guide was a member of the ANC and was imprisoned in the 1980s. Trailing behind him, and hanging off his every word in awe and interest, I wondered how it felt to run tours on the very island he spent ten years as a ‘prisoner of conscience.’ Some of the ex-prisoners even still live on the island (as it is cheaper and safer than the mainland).
It was humbling to see Mandela’s cell, remembering his fight for freedom, peace and justice.
Apartheid ended over 20 years ago, and the greatest honour the world can pay him is to build the world he wanted to see: a world free from division, whether between black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. This was certainly on my mind as we passed the sprawling townships of the city. For many Capetonians right now, poverty is still a part of everyday life.
‘The world you’re moving through flows into another one inside, nothing stays divided any more, this stands for that, weather for mood, landscape for feeling, for every object there is a corresponding inner gesture, everything turns into metaphor. The border line on a map, but also drawn inside himself somewhere.’
-Damon Galgut, In A Strange Room
We jumped into our van and headed on a trip to the Cape of Good Hope, through Chapman’s Peak ocean drive – a breath-taking spin around the winding cliffs. It was a glorious journey, and I often found myself picturing where we were on the planet, like a dot on a Google map, a little spot on the southern tip of Africa. And then, my mind’s eye would zoom out, to see the long strip of land extending into the ocean, then further out to see the country, then the continent, then our place in the world.
After a memorable seafood lunch at Cape Point with the ocean sparkling beyond us, we took the eastern route back to the city, and stopped off at Boulder’s Beach to see a colony of African penguins. It was hard to tear away from these funny little animals, nature’s comedians, and all six of us were so content watching them go about their little ways; squabbling, swimming, and their quiet sweet moments of cuddling.
For Simon, Alice, Karina and I, our time in South Africa was brief, yet we definitely wanted to see some wildlife. After all, it’s South Africa, the home of the Big Five – lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino. We were lucky to see all of them apart from the elusive leopard.
There are many small game reserves along the Garden Route, as you drive east from Cape Town. We chose the Garden Route Game Lodge. We had two magical game drives with a guide, at sunrise and sunset. As well as four of the Big Five, we saw hippos, beautiful and awkward giraffes, the steadfast wildebeest and dizzying zebra. Our enthusiastic young guide (“welcome to my office”) led us to a mother cheetah and her three babies and it was so amazing to see them play, just like domestic cats, lazily swiping at each other and chasing one another down from a tree.
When we reached the lions I was overwhelmed. The majesty of the male and female renders you quite speechless. These were lions brought to the reserve, rescued from hunters who like to buy permits to kill. I honestly cannot understand how this is still happening today, I wonder who are these people who like the trophy of dead animals, and maim rhinos for their horns? I was glad to see places like this working so hard to protect these animals.
The animals were magnificent, and the evening brought with it a clear sky, full of a million twinkling stars. Sipping drinks under starry skies and imagining the giraffes stood up yet fast asleep, and the rhinos gathering to be social by night, just beyond our balcony was surreal.
‘You lead me down, to the ocean. The world is fine, by the ocean.’ – Richard Hawley
From starry skies to crashing waves. My soundtrack to the last leg of the trip was this song that Alice sent to me just days before we left. De Kelders is a small village near the larger town of Hermanus east of Cape Town. This was the quieter leg of the trip where we had planned for relaxing times of walks and whale watching. It turned out to be too early for the whales, and the limited few who had arrived were notoriously elusive. But in a month or so hundreds of Southern Rights will come into the bay to have their calves, and they will be visible from the shore. What a place to live! Alas my quest to see more whales continues, and also my obsession with these mysterious creatures grows, and I’ll hold onto the fact that I think I saw a humpback diving when we flew over in a search plane, and I definitely think we saw the spray of a whale at sunset one evening.
But the coast of Walker’s Bay is worth the visit alone, and we enjoyed view of it from the sky, thrilling and trilling as we soared and dropped with cheeky pilot Dave on our personal beach combing tour.
De Kelders for me will forever be sunset skies on fire and the thunderous roar of the ocean just beyond our deck where we sat, chatting laughing and sharing, in the knowledge that whales were just a couple of hundred metres away from us.
I’ll take a bit of South Africa with me wherever I go, for I shall never forget that stolen season with wonderful friends, and though our time on the edge of the world was brief, I’ll always have the memory of those road tripping, stargazing, sunset bathing, wildlife watching, wine sampling, stunning South African times.