South Africa – Part 2

We started our first day there with a visit to the Cape peninsula, stopping in the picturesque port of Houtbay

From there we sailed to Seal Island. This is a small land mass located about 5.7 km off the northern beaches of False Bay. The island is occupied by Cape Fur Seals (doh!).. Males grow up to 2.2m (7ft) and weigh around 200-360 kg (440-800lb) yet are a prey to the Great white sharks.

We next drove to False Bay

Our last stop was Simon’s town before we finally arrived at Cape of Good Hope! This is where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean and what a spectacular meeting it is! I could have stayed there all day watching the waves crash on the rocks and cliffs.

 We climbed up on a hill to get a better view. If this is not the most southern point of the continent, it is very close. We had been told this was a natural reserve and that we might see some more wild animals but all we saw was a wild ostrich

and some  baboons who, although rambunctious, are not really wild as they have grown accustomed to humans and their food…and like to forage through garbage cans when they don’t simply steal the snacks out of people’s hands.

The next day we set out for the Kirstenbosh botanical gardens. As is often the case in this area, there was some fog early on…it gave everything an eerie quality…

but took nothing from the spectacular flowers on display. The emblem flower of South Africa is the Protea. There are several varieties and they are all spectacular.

Wild flowers made a pretty backdrop, as did the birds of paradise. This yellow one was created to honor Nelson Mandela and bears his name.

The next day we drove through the wine region, to Stellenbosh.

Our next stop was Franschhoek. Many of the farms here still bear their original French names while their buildings are  spectacular Cape Dutch homesteads, surrounded by towering oaks and luscious vineyards.Here is why: after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in France in 1685, when Protestantism wasoutlawed, hundreds of so-called Huguenots fled their homeland, 277 of them arriving by ship at the Cape of Good Hope. The Dutch offered them land and many of them settled here thus it became known as Franschhoek (French Corner). They brought with them their knowledge of wine which explains the abundance of vineyards.

There is a museum and a monument, yet what impressed me the most were the flowers

We next stopped in Stellenbosh for wine tasting

We finished the day with a city tour and a jazz concert/dinner that night.

The architecture in Cape Town is a testimony to its history, there are a lot of Dutch style houses but then you also have homes that remind me of New Orleans. 

There is a neighborhood called Bo Kaap or the Malay Quarters with brightly colored houses from the nineteenth and seventeenth century, Muslim saints shrines (“kramats”) and many beautiful Mosques. This is where the Cape Muslim Community started: many of the inhabitants are descendants of the people from Indonesia (Batavia), Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia, who were captured in the 17th and 18th century and enslaved by the Dutch-East Indian Trading Company. Many were Muslims and others were converted to Islam by the Cape Muslim community.

There are spectacular modern buildings as well slums …still..

The city will be host to the World Cup in 2010 and they are in the middle of building a huge stadium for this event.

The following day we visited an ostrich farm, not something I was very excited about, but it seems to be a popular attraction. It felt very touristy and I honestly do not find ostriches very pretty to look at, especially albino ones…needless to say I did not sit on one to get my picture taken.

As we were staying 3 days longer than the group we had planned on keeping our room at the same hotel, but neglected to check availability…not smart for travel agents…There was no room at the Inn… so we had to move and ended up in a very luxurious property close to the waterfront, called the Cullinan hotel…very pleasant….

There are two excursions that were not included in our trip and that are “musts” in Cape Town: the first is a ride up the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, and the second is a trip to Robben Island.  For nearly 400 years, Robben Island was a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment. It was here that rulers sent those they regarded as political troublemakers, social outcasts and the unwanted of society.  Between 1961 and 1991, over three thousand men were incarcerated here as political prisoners, Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration there.

 We tried to book the tour from our hotel only to be told that there were no places left until October (this was September). We decided to go to the museum/ticket office/dock nonetheless on the off chance that there might be some cancellations, and, sure enough, we got seats on the next boat out.

It is a short ride (about 20 minutes). A former detainee (a political prisoner) is our guide inside the prison. It is hard to picture what life must have been there now that the cells are empty and have all been repainted, save for one group room… and an abandoned mine again says little of the pains of those working it…

We happened to see a few wild animals on the island, such as this spectacular bird

And this turtle

But what this island is famous for (animal wise) are the penguins

We also managed the second “must do” excursions and rode the cable car  up Table Mountain. We were rewarded with spectacular views of the entire Cape. There was a sign that was titled: “Eve’s footsteps”….of course I photographed it… We were well advised to go when we did as the site was closed for the next three days because of heavy winds.

Here is a good view of the mountain called the Lion’s Head.

There is an area called the waterfront that is being developed into a “playground “ for tourists, complete with a marina, all kinds of shops, restaurants and bars. It is lively and pleasant. We went there several times to eat, shop, people watch or catch a tour bus.

I had one last opportunity to visit a reserve and took it. The Cape is not the best place for safaris but the concierge suggested one that was not too far away so I booked it. The drive was spectacular. 

Watching the sun come up and the fog lift to reveal the mountains was worth the trip. We even saw snow on top of one of the highest peaks.  We drove through the wine region and that too was beautiful. The reserve itself is new and small with few animals but it did have one advantage, we got to see the animals close up, so I took more photos…

These are white rhinos. We watched this one scratch itself against a small tree and I am surprised it was still standing when we left.

Zebras have to be the most photogenic animals…

Even if this park was without much surprise we did get some excitement when our guide spotted this snake which is supposed to be extremely dangerous….I did not get its name…

The antelope family is a big one…they have different names but are all related. Some have spectacular horns. These are called Blesbok.

One breed has killer straight ones and the males just bend their heads when a lion charges and impales it. The only problem is they are incapable of pulling out so they also die in the end….

The Wilderbeest is also part of the same family

As elsewhere we got to see more elephants

They did have a group of three lions, but again, in semi captivity. This one seems to be roaring menacingly…but I have to confess…it was only yawning….

That was our last day in South Africa as we made the grueling trip back the next morning: from Cape Town to Johannesburg to Dakar to Washington to Montréal. Thirty hours from door to door, but not enough to deter us from traveling again…we are already plotting our next trip…

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