A Travellerspoint blog

Day 13: The Wine Country

and the wrong choice for lunch

overcast

You know how beautiful I thought the beach area was? Well there is another side of Cape Town - the side you've seen on the news - the side left over from apartheid. On the outskirts of Cape Town, on the way to the wine country, we passed by ten or fifteen shanty towns. These are communities that grew because the poor non-whites had to live somewhere, and it had to be cheap. So they built their little homes out of scrap metal and cardboard one right beside another, and they barely subsisted. These towns are still there. The government is trying to build public housing to replace the towns, but there is not much tax income coming in. The unemployment rate in the country is 25% and of those working, only a small percentage make enough to pay income taxes. Plus, since S. Africa is considered "the USA of Africa" (because they do have social programs) a lot of refugees pour in. Private enterprise loves Cape Town, as evidenced by the upscale malls, restaurants, and hotels. Meanwhile, education, healthcare and housing suffer.

Farther on down the road, the shanty towns give way to vineyards and wealth becomes apparent again. We stopped at a small college town called Stellenbosch and went through four historic homes that are furnished as they would have been in the 18th and 19th centuries. To be honest, if I've seen one antique living room, I've seen them all. I can make very quick work of museums and the like. I prefer art I can own. It was kind of interesting but I never have to do that again.

Onward, to lunch at a very charming restaurant which boasts a duck and cherry pie as its special. (It's like a pot pie and the cherries flavor the sauce.) So I ordered it. It was very rich and kind of good. (not great, OK the glass of wine was better). I couldn't eat it all, though a couple of the ladies at my table did. By the time we got back on the bus, I was feeling too full and a little unwell. Our next stop was one of the things I had been waiting for, wine tasting. This was a wine and cheese pairing of six different wines and cheeses. The winery was beautiful and the pairing was conducted by a very knowledgeable and fun woman. It would have been great, but I just didn't feel up to it. I drank most of each wine sample but nibbled only a tiny bit of each cheese. Minute by minute I was feeling less well.

Our final stop was the prison that actually released Mandela to freedom. Everyone thinks he was freed from Robben Island but he was sent to another facility first. Outside this facility is a huge statue of him with his jubilant fist up in the air. A very popular photo of him was the inspiration for the statue. (Yes, I got emotional seeing the statue)

I had already told Rosemary that I wasn't joining the group for dinner because I wanted to shop. Several of us felt the same way because the dinner reservation was reduced from 16 to 6. When our bus got near the lovely waterfront shopping area, a bunch of us got off and a few stayed on to go to the hotel (and then dinner). But I was continuing my decline and after I wandered around the shops for about 20 minutes, I decided that I needed to go home and go to bed - which I did. I was sick all night and I blame that duck. I'm fine now, but I guarantee I won't be ordering duck any time soon.

Posted by Follow Carol 08:19 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Day 12: Cape Peninsula

penguins and lighthouses

all seasons in one day

We lived on the bus today. It is a huge modern bus, so it's pretty comfortable with sixteen women occupying fifty seats. First they drove us around the town and pointed out some of the important buildings. This city is even more impressive than I thought. When we hit the waterfront we turned left and began a long drive around the bottom of Africa. White beach after white beach greeted us as we drove along a lovely tree lined boulevard. It was a bit early on a Sunday morning so the families were not out, but the joggers and the dog owners were. It promises to be a beautiful day - a bit cooler than yesterday, with a high of 75.

Once out of the main part of town, the boulevard becomes a two lane coastal highway hugging the side of a mountain. The views of the ocean and the city behind us were gorgeous. There are several towns (suburbs?) that are obviously home to the wealthy. In fact living along there is the goal of the rich and famous.

If you drive south long enough, you reach the bottom of the country, the bottom of the continent. Everyone refers to that southernmost point as the Cape of Good Hope, but actually there is another point on the continent that is slightly farther south. Details, details. Anyway, way down there is where the cold Atlantic meets the warm Indian ocean. Our guide says that some days you can see them meet, they appear to be different colors. We made several stops along the way, including a very nice restaurant where I enjoyed trout for lunch (oh, and wine, I'm not driving). Outside the restaurant is the entrance to the funicular that took us to the top of the hill, upon which sits a lighthouse that can be reached by a short, but steep hike up a path. I didn't get all the way up there. Up is no problem, down is beginning to tax my knees. (I see another joint surgery in my future.) The view was spectacular, as you can imagine. We were very lucky to have such beautiful, clear, warm weather. It won't last. There's a storm brewing.

Next stop is Boulders Beach where African penguins hang out. To get to their part of the beach, you walk past an area where families spend a sunny day like today. Strangely, there are lots of palm trees growing there. It's strange to be walking through palm trees to visit penguins. Then you walk through a whole lot of street venders who depend on this particular tourist trap for their livelihood. Then you pay to get to the area of the beach where penguins live. They are indeed very cute, and it's neat to see them in their natural habitat (tourist trap or not).

By now, that storm that is brewing is showing itself with thick dark clouds blowing our way. We have one last stop and the guide is intent upon getting us there before the storm hits. We're going to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which is acres and acres of flora indigenous to S. Africa. Very beautifully landscaped with sculpture, paths, a small concert area, and an amazing bridge. Unfortunately, the winds of the storm had hit and were strong enough to almost blow you over. As beautiful as it was, I couldn't wait to get back to the bus.

This evening most of us dined at a very upscale restaurant located outside of the city proper, inside some sort of gated country club. The cab ride was kind of interesting because the cabbie really had no idea where he was going and at one point pulled over to get his "spectacles" out of the trunk. (hello? you need glasses to drive and you aren't wearing them?) We did finally get there and had a wonderful dinner. But I do have to say that 12 tourists around the table of a gourmet restaurant is a bit chaotic. I love crowds at cocktail parties, but not at the dinner table. Just understanding the menu was a stretch goal. In the end, it was fine but I was never sure it would be.

Back at the hotel, enjoying a quiet glass of an excellent chard, and enjoying a bit of solitude. Just me and my electronics.

Posted by Follow Carol 00:37 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Day 10 and Day 11: Traveling to Cape Town.

Long days, but rewarding

sunny 85 °F

It is a long travel day to get from our camp on the Okavango Delta to Cape Town. First we have to go back to the airstrip and board a little prop plane to fly to the town of Maun, the main town in the Okavango area. ("town" and "Maun" rhyme. Do they look anything alike to you?). Then we fly from Maun to J'burg, and then to Cape Town. It is a long, un-luxurious, steerage-class day. But it's what you do. One highlight was that I got to see Captain Doogie again. I didn't co-pilot the plane this time but we got to chat for a minute. He is a darling boy, I wish I could be around to congratulate him when he lands his first job as a regional airline pilot (instead of bush planes). Alas, I am sure our paths will never cross again. (whaaaaah!)

So here I am in the Taj Cape Town Hotel. Of course I am sitting in the bar, drinking some Chard or another. (My wonderful waiter, Cameron, suggested it for me.), and catching up on blogs. I let my Kindle run down to practically 0, so Cameron scurried around to find an outlet and an extension cord for me. Most accommodating.

Today we did some Cape Town highlights and I was amazed at the modernity of this city. It is clean and sleek, kind of a cross between SF and Seattle, and It appears to be home to a lot of wealth. There are some wonderful stores here - lots of high end stuff and of course lots of brightly coloured art and textiles. This could be dangerous.

I am failing to give the day its due. Today I went to Robben island. Even typing the name "Robben Island" makes me emotional. I am fully aware that Mandela is not the only person who was an active and important participant in the overthrow of apartheid here. But he is the face of the struggle. And from the day I became aware of his existence I was a devoted supporter. I only wish that I could have made it to S. Africa before he died so I could feel what it is like to share the same air with him. As it is, I shall be content just to know that my feet have fallen on the same ground as his and that by visiting the place of his imprisonment, I can get closer to the suffering and struggle. But I will say that as a white woman, I feel like I am trespassing on the cause with my sentimentality. Oh well, I can't change that.

Next stop, Table Mountain. I can see this imposing geological shape from my hotel room. But I can't see my hotel room window from atop Table Mountai because everything looks very small from there. To reach the top, one takes a cable car, which was a bit concerning to me at first, with my fear of heights. The car holds 65 people, so it is quite big with windows all around. I walked in, grabbed a rail and felt fine about the impending ascent. Then, the conductor announced that since the floor of the car revolves, please do not hang on to the rails. What!? (Deep breaths, cow girl. Just be confident that if you faint, you won't hit the floor because the car is too full. ) I was fine actually. Not my favorite mode of transportation, but it's better than hiking up 3500 ft. The views of the oceans and the city are breathtaking. This is a major tourist destination and I can see why.

Cape Town is a modern metropolis of 3.5 million people. It is cosmopolitan and new with lots of upscale apartments and shops along the expansive waterfront. It is in this area where we had lunch and on the way my eyes took in all of the potential retail opportunities. My credit cards and I are not going to have enough time here. I must come back. It's only a couple days away by plane. Anyway, lunch was huge and because of that, I was not interested in dinner. I was interested in a glass of wine but upon returning to the hotel, a couple of us decided to stroll down the street to check out a store someone had spied. I got bored with the store fast and ducked out to stroll further. A couple blocks away and up a side street, to what did my wanderings eyes appear but a vendor's market!! Be still my cash! As luck would have it, they were closing down for the day so I was one of their last chances to make a sale. Combine that with the fact that the dollar keeps getting stronger against the rand, I struck it rich. I bought a painting from the artist and a beautiful beaded necklace - also from the artist. I spent less than $50. I have to laugh though, it'll cost me several hundred $$ to get that painting framed.

Posted by Follow Carol 14:02 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Day 09: Okavango Game Drive

Searching for leopards

I was up at 5:00 this morning to meet the others for a 6:00 continental breakfast on our beach by the reeds. At 6:30 we were in the non-jeeps searching for leopards. Our driver is named "Speedy". I don't know why because it is impossible to speed over this fine, powdery sand and through all the bogs and mud. But he is a bit maniacal, swerving around trees and bushes and bumping up and down over small dunes. (Warning: this terrain and these vehicles are very hazardous to your spine. I cannot begin to imagine doing this with a bad back or neck. . . .or kidney, for that matter.) At one point Speedy got us stuck in the mud so we had to get out. One thousand pounds lighter, he rocked the the non-jeep back and forth to no avail. Then he found some dead wood to stick under the sunken tire and was finally able to get out. There was never any danger. If animals approached, he'd know how to scare them off. Plus he could always radio for assistance. Oh wait - he's a man. We'd be there until October before he'd ask for help.

Meanwhile, back at the safari that was already in progress - we did find a leopard! She was out hunting and we followed her around for about an hour. Evidently, she is used to vehicles and because they have never threatened her, she goes about her business while we watch. She has no concept that we are there. You stay well within the open air vehicle so she doesn't see the movement of an arm or leg. She can walk right by you and not be aware of your presence. We got some great pictures.

Next Speedy decided to hunt for a hyena. We didn't find one but we did find a nice little picturesque pond beside which Speedy set up "second breakfast" - coffee, tea and cookies. It's crazy. We eat all the time, and often we're out in the boonies when we do. Afterward we drove around viewing elephants, buffalo, zebra, various antelopes, and giraffes until it was time to go back to camp for a BBQ chicken lunch. It's fiesta time until 4:00 tea and then there's another game drive. I opted out of that and was going to have a nice quiet afternoon when my darling friend, "Bird Watcher" and another of my faves also decided to stay in camp. One of the guides is most enamoured of Ms. BW and offered to take her out on the lagoon to look for a Malachite Kingfisher (eye roll here). So the three of us went out and birded for a while. It was actually fun because of the company I was keeping. But the guide "Ike" got bored after a while and wanted to go look for hyenas. So we did. He had found a burrow where a mother hyena has secured her babies, so the four of us went out to stalk her. We never found her, but a couple of visiting hyenas came by and we got pictures of them.

Back at the lodge, we had another fun cocktail hour and a fabulous dinner, but the highlight was the singing and dancing. One of our ladies celebrated her birthday today and the staff got wind of it. They came out after dessert and danced and sang a few local songs from their tribes. Wonderful! As one of the staff members explained, "in our culture we don't celebrate with cake. We sing. " OMG! Each and every one of them had strong, commanding voices. How can that be? They are not hired to sing. They are hired to serve food, or guide tourists. I think it is because they have been singing loudly and proudly since birth. It's what tbey do. Of course some are particularly gifted, but everybody sings. How wonderful!

It's back to civilization tomorrow. I've had a lot of fun here, but I have to admit it, I'm missing my electronics.

Posted by Follow Carol 11:28 Archived in Botswana Comments (1)

Day 08: The Okavago Delta

a whole different world

I published yesterday's blog too early - before the cocktail hour. Since ours is a large group, taking up almost all of the lodge, they held a bon voyage party for us and surprised us with a short show of local song and dance. I love African music and was overwhelmed to be in the same room with 20+ young people sharing the culture of their tribes. There were two or three of us with tears welling up. Gratitude? Happiness? Both.

Leaving was hard today because we'd all fallen in love with the place. Since we had no choice, we all piled into a couple of vans and we're transported to a tiny little airport to board two small prop planes. I had been told that the view of the Okavango Delta from the air is spectacular and that I should try to get a window seat. I kept that info under my hat as I maneuvered my way to the front of the line waiting to board the plane. A very young man introduced himself as the pilot of the first plane going out and asked for six passengers to go with him. I walked on up and counted myself in. (I must confess, although he was really young, he was not hard on the eye.) Five others also stepped up, and while they trailed behind, I chatted with Doogie Howser as we walked to the plane. On a whim, I asked if I could ride up front with him. Unbelievably, he said yes - so I did! It was the most amazing experience. Here I am in the co-pilot seat, surrounded by gauges, and switches, and windows! Captain Doogie showed me how to lock myself in to a five strap seat belt and warned me not to touch anything. I think a few of the ladies were a little concerned about their fledgling co-pilot, but I assured them that I also wanted to get there in one piece. Anyway, it was wonderful. I can cross that off my list and I never knew it was on the list!

Meanwhile, back at the safari, when we arrived, (safely, thank you very much) we were in the middle of nowhere, on a landing strip with three non-jeeps waiting for us to whisk us off to our new home. This camp is eco-friendly (read "charming, but with few conveniences") It is located in what looks like bayou country and sits on a large reedy lake. Each room is its own canvas walled building. The rooms are big, with a full bathroom and they all face the lake. Meals are served in large open air common rooms by the lake.

Six of us went on a canoe ride around one of the neighboring swamps. The canoes held two ladies and a pole man (like a gondolier). It was kind of pretty, certainly peaceful, but the whole thing was a bit cheesy in my opinion - like they are stretching to find enough for us to do. I think I am the only one who feels this way, though. When the sun started going down we left the lake and on the way back to camp we encountered the rest of the ladies who were ordering cocktails from four staff members who were setting up a full bar out in the middle of the Botswana grassland with not a sign of civilization around, but they had all the mixers, all the liquor, ice and munchies. Oh, and bug spray. Gotta have it. This wonderful outdoor bar definitely improved my attitude.

After a couple of g&t's they took us home, served more drinks and then served us filet mignon under the stars. When it was time to retire, we had to be walked to our rooms because all of the wildlife roams free around here. Baboons and vervet monkeys play around the rooms all the time and the elephants walk through frequently. Consequently, if we want to leave the room before the sun comes up, we need an escort. There are no phones, so you're stuck in your room. Oh well, there are worse things than excellent food, plenty of wine, and exotic surroundings.

Posted by Follow Carol 10:27 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

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