Friday, November 18, 2011

South Africa

South Africa
Thursday, October 26th we left Istanbul and began our long journey to Cape Town, South Africa. We had to start taking malaria medication and the pills were making me sick. About ten minutes before we left for an hour-long bus ride to the airport, I was vomiting in the dirty hostel bathroom. Oh, the glamorous side of traveling! We had three flights ahead of us. Our first layover would be in Abu Dhabi and our second would be in Johannesburg.

It was a full day later when we finally arrived in Cape Town on Friday the 28th. We stayed at a backpacker's lodge called "The Backpack" which was thankfully so much nicer than the horrible dirty smelly hostel we stayed at in Turkey. South Africa has become extremely backpacker-friendly over the last ten years and the lodges we stayed at were all fantastic. Most of the places we stayed in had pools, a bar, a cafe, and a travel desk to help coordinate and book tours, rental cars, and accommodations.

I wrote in my last post about Turkey that we met a woman from Cape Town who gave us lots of helpful information about the city. She sent me an extremely descriptive email with suggestions of places to see and things to do. We found it really helpful to have a real Capetonian's perspective on things rather than reading a guide book. It was so useful to us that I've asked her to allow me to post what she wrote to us. The following text in blue was written by Alex Swanepoel:
Alex's Cape town post

[ LONG STREET is the main street in the Cape Town CBD (Which all refer to as "Town") and is great for shopping, African souvenirs and partying. It has the biggest variety of clubs, shops, and what-not. BUT, there is plenty of theft!!! You will find anything here.
Good places to go for drinks etc. THE DUBLINER, ZULU BAR (for live music), STONES (if you like to play pool), NEIGHBOURHOOD (for food and a more alternative upper class vibe) DO NOT walk down a dark alley alone, or alone at anytime. DO NOT wear lots of expensive looking jewellery. DO NOT flash your money, try using smaller notes when you pay. AND DO NOT trust helpless looking street kids or car-gaurds! Just carry on walking if they approach you, the street kids distract you, etc and that is when your phone or money goes missing. Be nice to car-guards as they can cause trouble... so be friendly, say thank you, make a joke and give them a tip of about R5 depending on how you feel about them. NEVER TIP THEM BEFORE, always when you return to your car. otherwise they leave and they don't do their job. But generally the normal rules apply for theft in any country, just watch your bags and don't ever leave them unattended. Don't put your phone/wallet in your pocket. Just ignore beggars... bla bla same in New York I am sure.
Just be aware, be clever, be humble and smile! South Africans are very helpful and friendly and respond well to kindness.

- CAMPS BAY is home to the up market lounges/clubs/restaurants, and some of our best/cleanest beaches. Great to go to after a day at CLIFTON (The main beach close by) or Camps bay beach. You can go all sandy from the beach, for some sundowner cocktails at CAPRICE, BLUES, THE BAY HOTEL, SAND BAR, BARAZZA, but keep in mind that you spend more in Camps Bay... cocktails are expensive but as a sun downers place. Always busy and vibey, food is good. Bring a bottle of your own champagne or wine to take down to the beach.

- CLAREMONT is where our rugby stadium is. Its the rugby and beer central! Go to the brewery for a tour if you can. and to a rugby game if one is on! they are about R50 for a ticket. And right next to each other. Cavendish Square, is the shopping centre in Claremont if you need some clothes etc. Best places for everyday clothing is Woolworths for quality at a decent price and Mr Price for cheap cheap cheap clothes, they won't last long from here but they do the job for a couple months. Both of these shops you find pretty much anywhere you go.

-KALK BAY is a whole day trip along with CHAPMANS PEAK DRIVE, HOUT BAY, CAPE POINT, and SIMONS TOWN. Let's plan it.

On a hot, sunny SUNDAY day you go to HOUT BAY for the market (go early) its better as a whole day thing but if you can't then try quickly do this whole trip in once. Get breakfast at the market. GET A DOGHNUT!!! This doghnut stall has been here for over 20 years and still going strong. its amazing. HOUT BAY also has the 'world of birds' if you spend the day there its pretty cool to support. For dinner or lunch in Hout Bay go to the harbour for fish and chips. BEST FISH AND CHIPS EVER!!!

!! CHAPMANS PEAK DRIVE (CHAPPIES) !! cannot be missed. its incredible to see and you have to do it no matter what! You can only go on a good weather day as its closed on bad days. You pay about R28 in a car to cross.
CHAPPIES takes you from hout bay to NOORDEHOEK. Noordehoek is cool and lots to see but you can see better.
Drive through from Chappies over to Kommetjie, where you can ride camels if you like? through to Misty Cliffs, Scarborough, on to the CAPE OF GOOD HOPE (CAPE POINT) another MUST!!! What ever you do, you must do cape point! Drive through, see baboons, springbok, dassies (little rock rabbits, FACT: their closest relative is the elephant), and walk to the point of Africa :) STUNNING. There are great hikes in the Cape Point Reserve, down to beautiful caves and beaches, unreachable by car. Try do it if you can. Food is expensive and not so great inside the reserve though, so rather eat in Simons town or at the ostrich farm to try some weird foods ie. ostrich. Just across the road is an ostrich farm. If you have never seen or ridden one, then go have a quick look.

Drive from there through Simons town, an old navy village, where you can go to boulders beach to see the penguins! on to KALK BAY. Go to the BRASS BELL for some drinks and sundowners. On the weekends it is full of surfers and plenty of drinking. Nice pizza. After then, if you stay late, go to Polana (either after Brass bell or for dinner). CAPE TO CUBE is a great restaurant for Cuban food. OLYMPIA CAFE is a good breakfast spot... be aware they are dirty in their kitchen, but they make the most amazing croissants!

FOR SURFING (learning) go to MUIZENBERG.
Long Beach for bigger surf, this is where all the locals go.
Otherwise Llundudno is good (but freezing cold) or to
Kalk Bay, but Kalk Bay is a bit rough if your not experienced enough and locals tend to get pissed of with people mucking around at this spot.
Wit Sands on good days is amazing, plenty of kite- surfing out here.

!! TABLE MOUNTAIN, you have to do. Hike up if you can and take the cable car down. !!
Very expensive to eat and drink at the top, so bring your own picnic and food etc. It gets cold and windy on top so bring a wind-breaker. You can go KLOOFING, or Paragliding from the top.

Kloofing at Crystal Pools, would be an incredible experience. I think that -especially for the two of you- it would be an incredible adventure in the mountains and natural springs.

SHOPPING. go to CANAL WALK for a million million shops, its our biggest centre. and the
V&A WATERFRONT is great too, more up market but its great for lunch, movies, to see the boats, people, the mountain, its a great tourist thing to go to and I highly recommend it. Also at the V&A Waterfront:
!! The TWO OCEANS AQUARIUM is incredible. I have never been to an aquarium like this in my life. You will love it !!
Robben Island, where Mandela was in Jail. You take a day trip out on a ferry.
Little indoor Market on your way to the Aquarium with lots of hand-made African Crafts. Across the road is Put-Put and the Scratch Patch.

Or LONGSTREET, which depending on where you go can be expensive or cheap. GREENMARKET SQUARE (in Town) for african souvenirs,.

GRAND WEST CASINO is brilliant. a huge casino, with ice-rink, games area, food and restaurants and generally have theatre and shows. Its a bit far out but the casino is well work the visit!

!! KIRSTENBOSCH GARDENS is a must and I mean A MUST!!! You cannot go to cape town without going to kirstenbosch. Best on a hot day. If you are able and if the live act is any good, then on a sunday, they have an open air theatre in the gardens. You go around 3pm (always go early as possible as parking is hell) with a big picnic blanket and basket. take wine, cheese, more wine, and grapes, snacks to keep you going for a good couple of hours. its crazy busy but the best thing. A picnic in the gardens with live music, good happy people, children and nice food. Its a truely cape town experience .

This is a pretty good site.

There are some great Hikes over into Kirstenbosch Gardens from Constantia Nek, that go through Cecilia Forest, where there are many natural water springs from the mountain :) Should only take Two hours or so depending on the trail you walk and how fast you go. But try do this. The forest is a working one, They might have recently cut down some trees but not too sure???

For wine tasting go to Steenberg in Tokai, Constantiaberg uitsig in Constantia... these are great and close. but if you have a chance to get out of cape town, take a day drive out to
Franschhoek! Just wine wine wine farms one after another. But its so beautiful! Take a sober driver, stay the night in a B&B or hire a bus haha as you will be waaaay to drunk to get home.

Or to Stellenbosch which is a student town, very old, plenty wine farms and great local shops etc. Just outside of Stellies is a Cheetah sanctuary at "Spier". You can take a train out to this area which is quite nice to do. The restaurant here MOYO is amazing, they paint your faces, wine tasting and you can dine in a tree house, really great!

For Kruger I think you might need the Wild Card?

I know this is a lot of info all at once but maybe one or two of these things will spark a memory and you'll have a good experience.]

We were only in Cape Town from Friday to Monday and there were no rental cars available until Monday but we still got to take advantage of a lot of the things Alex mentioned in her list. We climbed up Table Mountain which was amazing but it took an hour just to walk up to the base of the mountain and an other three to do the serious vertical climb to the top. This was a very difficult hike but worth it. If you take the cable car up you will miss all of the beauty along the way. Most people choose to take the cable car up and then hike down. Now we know why we only passed a few other people hiking up. It's a tough climb to the top.

One thing we really wanted to do that was on Alex's list was to take a tour of Robben Island. Like the rental car, this needed to be booked in advance and tours we booked up through Wednesday, two days after our departure from Cape Town. So if you're planning a visit, know that tours are very limited and plan ahead.

You can buy a ticket for one of the backpacker buses and hop on and off at backpacker lodges all along the Garden Route. It's a really safe and easy way to travel around South Africa. But we found that for the two of us traveling together it was actually cheaper to rent a car. It wasn't available until Monday though (another thing I recommend booking ahead of time) so on Sunday we took the bus to Kirstenbosch Gardens, home to the worlds oldest plant species which predates the dinosaurs and survived the Ice Age.
We also saw the V&A Waterfront, Camps Bay, and Mariner's wharf in Hout Bay where we did eat the fish & chips and also saw seals! They came right up to the pier to get fed.

We also decided to take a Township tour. It was an extremely awkward and uncomfortable yet humbling experience to take a tour of someone else's impoverished living conditions but this is something I think is important and also necessary for anyone visiting South Africa to do. I found the disparity of wealth in this country to be disturbing. People are living in shacks made of salvaged scrap metal and just up the street others are living in mansions. We were invited into people's homes even though the six of us on the tour could barely all fit inside. At one point (and this is the part where it got awkward and uncomfortable) we were invited into a church while a wedding was in process. We were brought right up to the altar where the bride and groom were standing. All over Cape Town and the rest of South Africa homes are surrounded by fences or walls with spikes and barbed wire.You have to pay car guards to watch your car and you can't leave any items inside the car when your driving or when it's parked. It's extremely unsettling, unwelcoming and gives the impression that nowhere is safe. Yet, in the township where they had nothing to offer us but their smiles, we were welcomed in. A little boy ran up to Darren and gave him a hug (this was the humbling part) This township was small in comparison to most. 30,000 people lived there (most of them children) and there was one bathroom for every 500 people. The name of this township was Imizamo Yethu which means "Our Struggle"

We spent the next week driving across the country along the Garden Route to get to our final destination of Kruger National Park. Along the way we stopped in Simonstown and saw hundreds of African penguins at Boulders Beach. Then we drove for six hours to Knysna and saw no houses or people for almost the entire drive. What we did see a lot of was mountains and wide open land with ostriches,donkeys, cows, sheep, goats, and baboons!
We spent one night in Knysna, a gorgeous little town on the coast. We explored the Knysna waterfront, Thesen Harbour Town and these amazing cliffs called The Heads.

We spent the next night in Port Elizabeth and stopped in Jeffreys Bay to check out the world famous surfing beach. The waves and surfing did not disappoint us! What an amazing beach and phenomenal surfing!!
The next day we headed to a remote little town call Chintsa. A Canadian couple we had met at The Backpack back in Cape Town mentioned that it was their favorite place they visited in S.A. So we decided to check it out. On our way we saw giraffes, monkeys, wart hogs, goats, cows, sheep, ostrich, impala, pigs and horses. It was way out of the way and really hard to find. We drove down an unmarked dirt road and what we discovered was an amazing little gem in the middle of nowhere hidden away in the wilderness and overlooking a lake and the ocean. For approximately 50 US dollars we had our own private house with a terrace and an ocean view. So of course we decided to stay an extra night.
We went canoeing the next morning and that afternoon we went surfing for the first time in the Indian Ocean. There were millions of giant colorful seashells all along the shore. The hermit crabs loved them too and we discovered a lot of the shells could walk!

We wished we could have stayed in Chintsa but had to get back on the road if we were going to make it to Kruger Park. Everywhere we drove in South Africa we'd see people hitch hiking or walking along the road or selling fruit, crafts, live chickens. Women with babies on their backs and groceries on their heads. Vans drive around picking people up and cramming in as many as possible. There were children walking barefoot along the highway by themselves and up to ten kids would pile in the back of pick up trucks to take them back to their villages after school.
We spent just one night in Durban and originally we weren't really thrilled about stopping in a big city after our relaxing time in Chintsa but we wound up happy that we did. We found the diversity refreshing and promising. Durban has a large Indian population as well as some other Asian in addition to the black and white South Africans we'd seen everywhere else. It was nice to finally see some diversity and on top of that blacks and whites were interacting as friends and colleagues, which we unfortunately saw very little of elsewhere.
From Durban we drove to Swaziland. (read my separate post on Swaziland)
We drove through Zululand and started seeing round huts with thatched roofs. One woman working in the toll booth tried to teach Darren some Zulu but Zulu is such a complex language and with an Irish accent is a total disaster. She couldn't understand his English either so they just laughed at each other.
We finally reached Kruger National Park on Sunday. Kruger National Park is a protected area for Africa's amazing wild animals, many of which are critical (ie. Wild Dogs) or endangered (ie.rhinoceros) Poachers kill one rhino every day in Kruger Park just for their horn. It's estimated that a rhino horn is now worth about $250,000. We were told it is very difficult to spot a rhino-probably because they're hiding from poachers- but we were lucky and spotted nearly ten of them. It's sad to think that by the time I post this many of them will have been killed by greedy poachers.

There are so many magnificent animals in Kruger. Even though I worked in zoos it still amazed me and I saw animals I had never seen in person or in pictures. I never thought I'd hear myself say, "Watch out for the elephant in the road!" Everywhere we went we saw elephants, giraffe, nyala, kudu, wildebeest, buffalo, wart hogs, zebra, rhino, and cheetah. What an amazing experience. All of South Africa was truly an amazing and eye-opening experience. It is not a vacation but it definitely leaves a lasting impression. It is a land of extremes. It's rich in so many things- culture, landscape, animals, and minerals but people are living beside diamond mines and starving. One in four people are HIV positive and 25% are unemployed. There is no welfare and no unemployment assistance.

It's one thing to read about it but it to experience it first-hand has truly affected us. It is such an amazing and terrible place all at the same time. One woman we met from Johannesburg summed it up perfectly when she said, "I love South Africa and I hate South Africa."

No comments:

Post a Comment