Part one of our Africa update here. South Africa and Namibia...
02.10.2013 - 02.20.2013 92 °F
Sorry for the delay in getting any updates out, but internet access was spotty throughout Africa. As such, here is the first of two (lengthy, sorry!) updates from Africa we'll be putting out over the next few days....
Cape Town and the Winelands, South Africa. After travelling for 2 days via Paris, Amsterdam and Johannesburg to get to Cape Town, South Africa, we were exhausted. The man stamping my passport at customs joked with me that it was not my passport. My passport picture is fresh faced and smiley and I was the opposite of that after travelling 48 hours. Ryan reserved a car at Hertz for us to use around Cape Town. Unfortunately, Hertz gave away our reserved automatic transmission and only had manuals for us to rent once we finally made it to the car rental office. That would have been no problem if we knew how to drive a stick shift. My first car was a 1968 Ford Bronco with the gear shift on the drive shaft… That did not qualify me to drive a stick shift, while sitting on the right side in the vehicle, driving on the left side of the road, and shifting gears with my left hand. This adventure was a bit scary- but surprisingly we safely made it to our lodge/hostel. The wheels fell off so to speak when I had to parallel park on a hill. Luckily, the manager at our hostel came out and saved the day.
Tired and hungry, the manager sent us to a popular Cape Town restaurant (Arnold’s) around the corner from where we were staying that specializes in African game. We tried ostrich filet, gemsbok filet, crocodile ribs and warthog ribs (imagine super-tender bacon on a stick)! It was weird trying the different game animals that we were about to see all over Africa. If you like meat, take the opportunity to try warthog ribs if you get the chance… so good. Cape Town was growing on us and it was a nice change to the hectic pace of Rio de Janeiro. Everyone that we encountered was super-friendly and the service industry was extremely accommodating.
Cape Town is an incredible city. If you want to plan a romantic getaway, honeymoon, or just a relaxing vacation, I feel that Cape Town would be an excellent choice. In addition to Cape Town, wine country is about an hour away. I know that South Africa is difficult to get to from the states, but once you arrive the cost of living/entertainment is quite reasonable. It reminds me of San Francisco, but prettier – and definitely cheaper!
On our first full day in Cape Town we hung out at the waterfront area. There are multiple cruise ships that dock in this area and there are a bunch of stores and restaurants built up to support all of the tourism. In the middle of the waterfront area there are sculptures honoring South Africa’s Noble Peace Prize laureates. Nobel Square was created as a place for reflection and contemplation of South Africa’s troubled past. The sculptures pay tribute to those who took some of the most significant steps towards ending apartheid peacefully. Included in Noble Park is: Nkosi Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former President F. W. de Klerk and former President Nelson Mandela.
We found a great brewery called Mitchell’s and sampled all of their beer and enjoyed fresh seafood and a boerwors, avocado and biltong pizza. Ryan used the South African sauce Peri Peri to spice up quite a few of his meals. The weather was gorgeous and sunny everywhere we went in South Africa.
In true McPherson fashion, we booked a half-day bike tour. It was just us and our bike guide, Dave, who taught us quite a bit about the city. We rode through the waterfront area, Bo Kaap (colorful houses, the first place where freed slaves lived in Cape Town), Congressional buildings, the Company Gardens, the World Cup Soccer Stadium and rode through Green Point Park to finish it up. Riding though the government area was a bit tricky because Congress was about to come into session and Jacob Zuma (President of South Africa) was going to give a State of the Union address.
Our guide let us know his frustrated views of the political system. Jacob Zuma is known to have said in the past: “if you have AIDS, just take a shower to get rid of it”. Apparently, the Minister of Health backed up his statement. What?! Another sad statement that I have heard multiple times is that in rural areas older men with AIDS think they can cure the disease if they find a young virgin to sleep with. Yikes… it would be great if in the near future proper education can reach the entire population. Another devastatingly sad thing we saw in South Africa was the expansive townships for the poor that initially started during the Apartheid era. These are areas where AIDS numbers are high, and the majority of the city’s murders and crime take place. Just recently, the city of Cape Town ran power to many of these locations for the first time while proper sewage, electricity and water are a continued challenge. One of the townships I read about had a major E-coli outbreak. Knowing and seeing these problems so close to the city of Cape Town are a disheartening reality against the amazing beauty that this part of the country bears.
Back to more pleasant topics… Next to the governmental area in Cape Town are the Company Gardens which were the foundation of the city in the 1600’s. Cape Town was founded as a stop-over resting area for shippers needing sustenance, and the Dutch East Indies Trading Company was created. Fast forward four centuries, it is a beautiful city that still functions as a stop-over point.
On our tour, we saw the FIFA stadium that hosted the 2010 World Cup. Unfortunately, only 2 concerts have been there since the football matches. The space is not utilized at all, and local sports teams opt for a more affordable venue. There was a beautiful park next to the stadium, but it baffles me that the projected future use was not thought out prior to the multi-million dollar investment.
We wrapped our bike ride up with a return to the waterfront where one of my favorite animals surprised us by jumping up onto a nearby dock and requesting a snack:
After riding through the city, we did the number one touristy thing in Cape Town- we rode the cable car up to Table Mountain. It was Valentine’s Day when we went, and couples were having picnics and enjoying the sunset on top of the mountain. The views were breathtaking and we could see Robben Island, Lion’s Head, the 12 Apostles, Camp’s Bay, and a complete view of Cape Town. Also, there were several furry little creatures called Dassies (Rock Hyraxes) on top of the mountain. They are super-cute, and a baby Dassie caused quite a commotion. The first Dassie that we saw kept posing for Ryan; notice his headshot below!
The next day we took a boat ride tour out to Robben Island, which is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 20 years. The tour was fascinating because actual political prisoners from the past decades gave the tour once you were inside the prison. Our guide, Cipo, was at the prison with Mandela. Cipo gave a personal account of being at the prison, and showed us Mandela’s cell. There were quite a bit of political prisoners before Apartheid came to an end in 1994. At the prison, the inmates used to discuss their ideas and educate one another. Here is a clip of Cipo talking about how they stayed sane during incarceration:
Less than an hour from Cape Town are the beautiful wine country towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek. There are wineries all over the place, and you can pop in and experience a tasting for a small fee. We stayed at a lovely B&B with a bunch of Dutch folks. On our trip we have met more Dutch travelers than any other nationality with Australia in second place. On our first night in Stellenbosch we went to a beautiful restaurant called La Pineta and enjoyed a nice sunset view looking all the way back to Table Mountain (and its “Tablecloth” cloud). There were kids dressed in cricket gear from practice, and couples dressed up for dinner… it seemed that we had stepped into a very high class establishment. The venue would have been amazing for rehearsal dinners and weddings!
Ryan and I made it to three different wineries for tastings. We took the advice from our lodge owner on which ones to go to, but we had luck going to the third place randomly. The first place we went to in Franschhoek was called Anthonij Rupert. It was a thorough tasting, and we learned a lot about the different South African wines with complimentary bubbly to start with! Luckily, Ryan was the DD for the day because my tolerance is super-low. Next we went to Boschendal Wineries. This one was a bit understaffed for the demand. There were multiple tour buses that came through during the hour we were there. Evidently, quite a few people had the same idea as we did. The final one we went to was on whim because they were still open. I am so glad we did because it was very entertaining. Camberley Wineries is a small operation run by a retired man who is passionate about wine. At first, a local college student who loved wine led the tasting but the owner came up to hang out with us after the tasting hours had “closed”. He wanted us to try all sorts of different wines, and was really excited about letting us taste his latest creation of Cabernet Franc (bottled just two days prior). Apparently, it is really hard with conditions in South Africa to cultivate that particular grape in an amount that allows you to make a 100% Cab Franc, and he told us he “knew in his heart” that it was great wine that others would love.
According to our last host, it is hard to clear a profit from the sale of wine if you have a small operation. His Shiraz had won multiple awards, and he said he barely breaks even with bottling 35,000 bottles per year. He loves it for a hobby in retirement, and he enjoys meeting people all over the world. How fun would it be to own a vineyard if money was no object! We wrapped up our visit with a tasting of a 10-day old bottle of a red blend and headed off.
On our final day in South Africa, we traveled to Boulders Beach to see African (aka "Jackass" - from the sound they make) penguins. They are an endangered species, but their numbers are improving in this location. It was about 90 degrees outside, and the birds were really friendly. Notice how close we got to the penguins in the pictures below. Next we drove to Table Mountain National Park and saw Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope and Olifantsbos Bay. The cliffs at the southern point tower 200 meters above the sea and the Indian and Atlantic Ocean meet at this point. We walked out to this point, and the wind was strong (nothing like Patagonia though). Gorgeous!
On the way out of the park we saw a number of beautiful animals including ostrich and the very rare bontebok. Lastly, we took time to enjoy some people wind surfing and kite surfing on the Atlantic Ocean. I definitely want to try that one day! Driving back to our lodge we went on the Chapman’s Peak Drive. This is one of the world’s best ocean drives, and there are a lot of areas where you can get out and take pictures. There are cliffs, so your pictures can’t be that ambitious! Ryan took one of me, and I look angst-ridden posing over the cliff with the sunset in the back ground. Once again, the spectacular views did not disappoint...
Namibia. A peaceful feeling came over us when we stepped off the plane in Namibia. The airport was small and everyone we talked with was so pleasant and helpful. Driving to Windhoek, we were taken aback by the expansiveness of the sky. You can probably see several miles in all directions. Unfortunately, our time in Namibia got chipped away on both ends because Air Namibia cancelled and rescheduled our flight multiple times. Originally we were going to spend 5 days here, but it got whittled down to 36 hours. We had already booked our safari and the cost to change flights and safari dates made it not economically viable to reschedule and extend our time in Namibia. The owner of the lodge we stayed at was upset about the airline changing flights all the time. He constantly has guests changing and cancelling because they can’t get here. Basically, the airline tells you when they will fly you from point A to B.
Nevertheless, Ryan was incredibly determined to make it to the Namib Desert to see the famous sand dunes. We woke up at 4:30 AM and drove from Windhoek to Namib Naukluft National Park (500km) over mostly dirt highways. Ryan had a blast “rally car racing” along the dirt highways and in a testament to Namibia’s scattered population; it was common to drive for 2 or 3 hours along the way without seeing another car. Our drive involved driving through creeks and stopping to refuel in Solitaire, Namibia – a “town” consisting of one gas station and a thatch-roofed curio shop. As we neared the dunes in the park it felt like we were on a car safari because we kept seeing all sorts of wild animals including ostrich, springbok, monkeys and oryx. We went to “Big Daddy” (tallest dune in the park – about 400 meters high), Dead Vlei (salt pan with 900 year old trees that have been scorched by the sun), and Sossusvlei.
The combination of climbing sand dunes and drinking copious amounts of water were a surefire way to detox from wine country. It was really challenging to trek up the enormous dune. Certain areas where the sand was compact were much easier to hike. Although, the higher we got the sand got looser, and it was incredibly difficult to hike because our feet kept sinking. Here is a video of Ryan showing the sites:
It is treacherous hiking to climb a large dune to the top, but on the other hand it is really fun to run down the dune afterward. I felt like I was gliding down the dune. You basically have to run because if you move slowly down the dune, your feet will sink up to your knees and you could hurt yourself. It is possible to sand board on certain dunes like these in other parts of the country. I bet face planting in the sand dune would not be too pleasant.
Anyway, our 11 hour round-trip to the Namib Naukluft Park was definitely worth it. Cars are rare in Namibia, and hitch hiking is a common request when you drive through towns. We did not pick up any locals on our journey. It could have been really interesting, but for obvious reasons it was not worth the risk. The ride was beautiful and we saw a lot of animals including ostrich, springbok, baboons, horses, and cows on the way back. Amazingly, we also saw a full double rainbow across the expansive sky! The sky is like a three ring circus: on one side there is a thunderstorm, the other side is sunny, and a rainbow in the middle to complete the entertainment.
We wrapped up our time in Namibia with (of course) one last great meal at Joe's Beer Garden in Windhoek. Joe's not only allowed us a chance to sample a few new beers from South Africa (Castle) and Namibia (Hansa and Windhoek Lager), but also gave us the chance to try out some more game; zebra, oryx and kudu were the new offerings on the menu that night! With our bellies full, we closed our short stint in Namibia and prepared for the next chapters in our adventure: safari time in Botswana and a visit to the "Spice Island" of Zanzibar in Tanzania!