My younger sister Ruth went on a trip to southern Africa a few years ago with her classmates on a charitable/missionary-work trip, and when I mentioned South Africa to her once, she insisted there was no such country and it only referred to a region of Africa. But, after a small argument ensued, we established she was wrong, and I can now assure her of its existence as I started my own trip to Africa in (The Republic of) South Africa.
My first week in South Africa was amazing, full of all the sights and activities a good tourist should do in Cape Town. I flew directly from London to Cape Town on a very luxurious, entertainment-filled, all-you-can-drink, 12 hr, overnight flight with British Airways. I arrived at 8 am to an airport that was surprisingly small for an international airport to what I would consider one of the major African airport hubs, but it was a delightful surprise to clear baggage and customs within 15 minutes.
There’s only a 1 hr time difference between Reykjavik and Cape Town so jet-lag dismissed we made the most of our glorious, sunny Sunday by doing all the most stereotypical tourist things one should do in a day in Cape Town. Steve, who I met a few months ago at UC Berkeley and was staying 3 weeks in Cape Town for an Applied Mathematics/Public Health workshop – he can explain to you very well how they’re related but I won’t try – picked me up in our $17/day Suzuki rental. In South Africa you drive on the left side of the road in the right side of the car and it took some adjusting, but now I’m not sure I even register the difference since its quite easy just to follow the car in front of you and not even think about which side you’re supposed to be on… although parking lots are tricky.
First we visited Table Mountain; we took the cable car up and walked around the plateau with a free guided tour led by a presumably retired old lady who could barely talk faster than she walked. After losing patience with her, we wandered around with the most beautiful view of Cape Town on one side and Camps Bay to the north, and were super amused by all the little hyrax’s sitting on cliff ledges, also enjoying the view. On the way down, we saw a (slightly suicidal) rock climber ascending the sheer cliff face without any safety ropes and decided we were glad we didn’t walk down.
We took lunch on Long Street, the main drag in town, at a delicious café called Pickwicks, and carried on to drive Chapmans Peak to Cape Point Vineyards for a little wine tasting. That ocean view drive is definitely one of the most beautiful roads you can imagine – and an amazing representation of road engineering genius. We ended the day at Simon’s Town and went to visit the penguin colony there. What a sight to see hundreds of little grumbling penguins swimming in on the waves, avoiding all the boulders on the appropriately named Boulders Beach, and then scurrying up into the bushes and low lying forest all around where they’ve hidden their nests and young ones. They were extremely habituated to human presence, barely even noticing your foot inches away from them and thus, allowing for some great, up-close encounters.
The weather all week was glorious, rare for mid-winter days, and the sun kept the temperature above 20`C almost every day. I made it to Robben Island and the Waterfront with a fellow traveler from Antarctica, also considered must-do Cape Town tourist stops, and was very impressed by the Pier 39/Fishermans Wharf inspired boardwalk offering an endless selection of shopping and dining. On the way home we also drove through the University of Cape Town main campus, the nearby Rhodes Memorial (he endowed all the land to the state where the university is currently located), and the Botanical Gardens.
I stayed south of Cape Town in a suburb called Muizenberg, right on the beach with a corner store a block away that sold the most delicious, cheap eats. I was already impressed enough that you could find good meat pie and ginger beer, a luxury I haven’t indulged in since living in Brisbane years ago, but even more excited about their banana bacon burger (don’t knock it til you try it) and calamari bun – a burger filled with huge, deep-fried squid. The town is famous for some of the best surf in the world which apparently holds the Guinness World record for most surfers on one wave (circa 100+). Even though the water was almost too cold, I wanted to be cool and tried surfing in a full wet-suit, and not until I was in the water trying to catch my first few waves did Steve tell me these were some of the most shark infested waters around. To make matters worse, the day after, a small, badly bruised pigmy sperm whale washed up on shore, and after hours of failed attempts by some 20-odd surfers to push it back out repeatedly (it kept getting drawn back in with the waves since it could barely swim), shark spotters set of a siren to alarm everyone sharks were on their way in, probably from the scent of its blood.
I also spent some time visiting my good friend Yashar, a fellow UBC alumni who is on a rotary scholarship to complete his masters in international relations at the University of Cape Town. With proper Persian hospitality, we enjoyed hookah and drinks on his balcony with an amazing view of Table Mountain, and also made it to Cape Point National Park later in the week to have some intimate encounters with baboons and ostriches. Ironically enough, after I left Yashar, I attended a Rotary Club meeting, and two friends of mine, retired South African men who sailed to Antarctica on the same cruise as me, were Rotary Members of that same club and they made the connection that only 2 degrees of separation existed between them – it really is a small world.
Links: For more information on Yashar’s Charity, the beneficiary of his hard work and Rotary Club’s generous scholarship – Peace and Love: http://www.PeaceandLoveInternational.com