South Africa, p1

Written by on December 16, 2012 in Africa, General with 0 Comments

Karen, Alisa and I arrived in Cape Town a bit early to check in, so headed to Twankey’s, a pub attached to the Taj Hotel, for a champagne lunch.  Actually, local South African sparkling wine is called MCC, which stands for Methode Cap Classique.  Twankey’s was only a block from the amazing flat with killer views of Table Mountain and Lions’ Head that we’d rented from Air B&B.  After “roughing it” for the last 10 days, our condo was a fantastic step up.  We spent the afternoon setting up our plan for the next several days, visiting hostels to gather information on various tours, rental cars, etc., and for me to scope out where I was going to stay after Karen and Alisa left on the 17th.  We were pretty exhausted by days end and ended up with take out pizza and calling it a very early night. Early to bed and early to rise.  We hopped in a taxi to the V&A Waterfront

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to catch a ferry to Robben Island, where we visited the prison that held Nelson Mandela for 18 years. Our tour guide was actually a former political prisoner there, which we all found quite weird as we couldn’t imagine anyone who was locked up there for years would want to not only return to live on the island and work there!   The morning reminded me of going on one of the many trips I’ve made out to Alcatraz, except instead of looking out at the Golden Gate bridge and the San Francisco skyline, you see Cape Town and Table Mountain across some beautiful azure waters.

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We took the boat back to the mainland, grabbed a quick lunch and then jumped on the hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus tour to learn a little more about Cape Town and to get our bearings.

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The District 6 museum was our first stop.  At first we walked in and had no clue what we were looking at.  Then we were told for 15 rand (less than $2), we could hire a guide who used to live in District 6, which turned out to be the greatest value tour I’ve ever taken.   He informed us about the forced evictions of 50,000 people of mixed race from District 6 in the 1960s as a result of apartheid “pass” laws, and more on how apartheid affected people in Cape Town.

It seems so crazy to me that apartheid occurred so recently and it kind of made me dislike South Africans for being such racists, even though I know the younger generations are being brought up differently.  I spoke to several under 40 who seem ashamed of their country’s recent past, but they think it will take several generations to get over it their parents and grandparents are still quite racist.   And, despite apartheid being over for 20 years, everything still seems very white or very black in South Africa.  There is a massive gap between the wealthy (almost 100% white) and the poor, who are mostly black or colored (how they refer to everyone else that’s not white or black), who live in townships (shanty towns with makeshift homes on the outskirts of the city) Anyway…after a heavy morning and mid-afternoon, we decided to lighten things up a bit and headed to Camps Bay for an afternoon cocktail and to check out the gorgeous white sandy beach and spectacular Twelve Apostles of Table Mountain in the background.

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We found outdoor seating on the deck at the Pepper Club and ordered a bottle of MCC to toast the afternoon.

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If I ever move to Cape Town, I think this is where I would live.  Camps Bay was gorgeous, with a small strip of restaurants, boutiques and trendy cafes/clubs along the waterfront.  I could have stayed all afternoon, but our bus ticket only worked for another hour, so we hopped back on to get us back to the Waterfront, where we did a little shopping and had dinner at Quay Four, a restaurant that had been recommended to us with a great cover band.

We called it early again as we had a 4am pick-up the next morning by a shuttle out to Gansbaii, a town that is well-known as the launching point for cage diving with great white sharks.   We slept in the van and arrived in Gansbaii around 6:30 where we were briefed and signed our life away over coffee and a light breakfast.  This was the first indemnity form I’ve ever filled out where I had to provide a next of kin.  Wow.  I’ve done a lot of scary/sketchy/adrenaline inducing activities before, and may have put down an emergency contact person, but never had to put down a next of kin!  We headed out to sea about 20 minutes in a small boat called Nemo, which wasn’t the tough image I would have expected from a boat that encounters great white sharks on a daily basis.  We were very lucky that the weather was calm, as we had been warned that the sea gets pretty rough and a lot of people get seasick. They dropped the cage in the water and 5 people in thick wetsuits jumped in one by one, each with an air hose behind them so they could stay submerged in the cage to watch as sharks passed.  The guys were dropping fish guts behind the boat to try to lure the sharks from afar, and then one guy had a big tuna fish head on the end of a stick that he was using to try to lure the sharks closer to the cage.  Sure enough, within a few minutes, the first shark made an appearance.

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And then another one.  Each person got about 25 minutes in the cage, and I suited up, ready to go in the second round.

We decided to split up so that we could take pictures of each other, and Karen and Alisa weren’t ready to go in the next round anyway. I had seen that the person closest to the guy holding the fish head seemed to get the most underwater shark action, so I asked to be positioned there.  As I lowered myself into the freezing water, I was actually relieved that the wetsuit was keeping me warm and didn’t notice the temperature as much as I thought I would.  What occurred after was kind of ridiculous.  The visibility under the water was maybe 1.5 meters, so you couldn’t be in the cage under the water and see the sharks coming.  So, you would wait with your head above water and then the guy with the fish head would yell “Down, Down” and everyone would lower their head into the water quickly to see if they could see the shark come by.  You didn’t know whether to look left or right, or if he was on the surface or deep.  But, the sharks were definitely there, which was quite cool.  After 25 minutes of this, and not really seeing much underwater, I just stayed with my head out of water and watched them at surface level as I could see a lot more.  At no point did I ever feel in danger from any of the sharks as the cage felt safe.  The only thing that was tough was the surge.  If the surge was strong and you were diving down, sometimes your feet or hand would slip and miss the place you were supposed to grab, and instead your limbs are flailing outside the cage.  That could have been a problem if it happened with an aware shark right there.  But it didn’t, luckily!

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I was pretty cold by the time I came out of the cage, and gave Karen and Alisa a bit of advice on trying to keep your hands/feet inside the cage and wished them luck before stripping off the wet suit and getting back into dry clothes.   I grabbed the camera and started firing off shots of what have must have been an amazing underwater experience for them as their turn in the cage brought around more sharks…and bigger sharks.  And, they guy with the fish head was doing a better job of getting the shark to come straight into the cage so those inside had a better look.  I was so jealous!  But, it was cool to be on the boat to witness it all, too, as the sharks were so big and powerful.  So strange too…their eyes just seem black and dead.

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I was happy to hear that they both loved the experience, and we were high on adrenaline all the way back to shore and for the rest of the day.  Our driver was kind enough to drive through Hermanus and stop a couple times along the coast where we immediately able to spot several southern right whales swimming a few hundred meters offshore.

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Amazing luck as I’ve paid a lot of money in the past to go on whale watching cruises and saw nothing, and we saw about 6 in less than 5 minutes on the two stops we made.  Still only noon, we all snoozed for the 2 hour ride back to Cape Town. We took it easy that afternoon, and around 5p we headed up to the base of Table Mountain to commence our hike up the Platteklip Gorge trail.  This is where we learned that Alisa was a mountain goat in her previous life, as she flew right up the mountain, leaving me and Karen panting in her wake.  The views from the top were well worth the 80 minutes of climbing basically straight up the mountain.  We got up there about 45 minutes before sunset, and the light was fantastic.

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We took a bunch of pictures, checked out all the viewpoints, and then grabbed a seat to watch the sunset. There was a layer of fog that had settled into the south, and the sun lit up the clouds and fog in spectacular fashion, all the way until it sunk into the sea.

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Others up there with picnic baskets and wine or champagne.  Smart move.  Note to self for the next time!  The trail was so steep, there was no way my knees would have made it walking down, so we headed over to wait in line to take the cable car down.

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That night we grabbed dinner at the Long Street Café and then went home, exhausted from the days activities, once again.  Our shuttle up to Stellenbosch arrived around 9am, and we settled in for the hour ride north to meet up with our winery tour.

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We visited the Simonsig winery in Stellenbosch, Fair View in a town called Paarl (where there was also cheese tasting), Dior Donne in Franschenhoek, and finished with Boechendal.  We had a fun day, although none of the wines were worth writing home about.  It would have been nice to stay a couple days and do a little more research to seek out some of the more well-known wineries.  Both Stellenbosch and Franschenhoek were cute towns that reminded me a little bit of St. Helena in the Napa Valley.

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Next time.  I said that a lot throughout South Africa as I seemed to be skipping a lot of things that would have been nice to see.  Bad planning on my part.  I should’ve allocated at least a month for South Africa as there is just so much to see!  Oh well.

For our final full day together, we decided to rent a car to drive down to the Cape of Good Hope, taking the scenic Chapman’s Peak Road, driving through Simons Bay, and making the requisite tourist stop at Boulder’s Beach to check out the penguin colony.  They were so cute!

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But, there weren’t that many of them.  For some reason I expected to see thousands of them.  Still, was weird to see penguins chilling out on a beach when it was 75 degrees outside.  Boulder’s Beach was beautiful.  It would have been a good idea to leave earlier in the morning, and then chill on the beach for an hour or two.

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Instead, we pressed on, entered the park and drove down to the water to check out the most south western point on the African continent.

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This is where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, and the waves crashing against the rocks here were fantastic.  We hiked up for a better vantage point, took some silly pictures, and then stopped for a very late lunch at Two Oceans.  MCC and sushi overlooking a gorgeous view of the Indian Ocean…not too shabby an afternoon 🙂  On our way back, we didn’t get too far before our car was attacked by a babboon!

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We saw a lot of ostriches in the park, too.  So cool to have them roaming free.

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Karen drove back, so I was able to enjoy the views back along Chapman’s Peak.  Such beautiful coastline!

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And, amazing that it’s pretty much uninhabited.  If this was the States, it would all be developed, I’m sure.

The next morning, we’d arranged to play doubles at Seapoint Tennis Club with a 12-year old soon-to-be phenom from Zimbabwe named Kimberley.  Karen and Alisa actually crushed Kim and I, which I take full blame for as my timing is completely off after not playing for over a month.  That said, you could tell Kim was mainly a singles player.   It didn’t matter as it was all in good fun, and a beautiful day.

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We found a cute lunch spot nearby, and then we took Alisa to the airport.

Karen and I spent the afternoon packing and went for a last minute shopping spree to test our negotiating skills at the nearby market on St. George’s Mall and help her score some choice elephant curio carvings and artwork.  Karen waited in the car while I checked into my hostel for the night at the Penthouse on Long Street, and then I took her to the airport and said farewell. I had an interesting experience parking the car which reminded me of a night about 12 years ago with my friends Harris and Andrea when we went to a club called Insomnia in downtown LA and had to pay off a guy to watch our car and keep it safe.  20 rand (about $3) sounded like a good price to ensure the rental car stayed in tact overnight, so I agreed and paid the guy.  Turns out that is a popular practice all over South Africa as theft is a common practice.  Annoying, although probably less so than getting busted windows fixed…or coming down to find the car gone altogether!

Another huge thanks to Karen and Alisa for flying such a long way to meet me for one of the most fun and exciting legs of the trip so far.  I had a blast and hope they did, too!

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