South Africa – Western Cape

June 28 – June 30

On our final morning safari ride we saw a herd of rhinoceros. When we returned to the camp our ride was waiting to take us on the 2 1/2 hour drive back to the airport where we flew across South Africa to Cape Town in the western cape area.
We flew from the north eastern town of Nelspruit to Cape Town

The western cape was so different from the Kruger national park area yet so beautiful. We explored a number of areas on our few days there. My impression of the Western Cape area as we flew in was a large multi-fingered hand lying in a pool of water. There are many spiny mountains jutting out into the ocean with little towns and villages in the coves. We were looking forward to visiting some of these little seemingly isolated towns in our few days there.

A few of the places we visited in the western cape

Cape Town was originally settled by the Dutch East India Company in the 1650s as a resupply point for the ships sailing between the Netherlands and India. They provided inducements for the Dutch to settle farms in the regions; eventually the community grew to a point where they expanded from the original needs.

We had a little thrill when we got to the Cape Town airport: our driver was waiting for us holding up a sign that said “Thompson”.  We’ve seen folks like this at airports during our travels but we’ve never been the ones waited for. We had about a 30 – 45 minute drive from the airport over to the coast where our hotel was. One depressing part of the drive was passing by an enormous shanty town. It was a vivid reminder of the poverty there.

Our home base for this part of the trip was Winchester Mansion, a fantastic hotel right on the coast in hotel row. Andrew and Henriët were honeymooning in Cape Town and transferred to our hotel the next day.  Everyone was so friendly and helpful; it was a delightful place to stay. It looks out on the Atlantic Ocean where there is a lovely wide walk way along the sea wall. We took walks up and down the sea wall every day of our visit.

Our hote, Winchester Mansions,l with the mountains in the back ground

View of the sea from Winchester Mansion (Google Map street view)

Everyone we talked to about Cape Town told us if it’s a clear day scrap your plans and go to Table
Mountain. Luckily our first day there was brilliantly clear and it was the day we had planned to visit the mountain overlooking Cape Town. Our tour guide Chris picked us up and gave us a brief tour of parts of Cape Town on the way up to the mountain. We purchased tickets for the tram ride and got in line. In Portland we have a nice tram ride from the Willamette River waterfront up to the OHSU hospital. This tram was much, much bigger; I figure at least 75 people could fit inside. Plus the floor rotated 360 degrees on the way up the mountain.

I’m not a big fan of heights and was pretty jelly legged as we approached the cliff and got an idea of the immense scale of the mountain.

Aerial Tram up to Table Mountain

The nervousness was replaced by awe when we got to the top and walked around. The view of the city and coast was amazing. I agree if you go to Cape Town and a clear day presents itself, go directly to Table Mountain

Looking down on Cape Town from Table Mountain

Chris drove us around other parts of Cape Town on our way back to the hotel. Being Colored (multi-racial), Chris had interesting insights into the racial divisions in the country. His mother (about Carla and my age) was affected by the resettlement acts in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. His mother’s family was moved from their home in Cape Town and moved outside of the city.

One ramification of the resettlement was the development of an interesting public transit system used by the Blacks and Colored. Lacking a true metropolitan mass transit system, a plethora of small white van taxi/busses sprang up. We saw them everywhere. They don’t have route numbers on the front and no published schedules or routes (as far as we could determine by our questioning). A driver will rent a van from a company each day and head out to pick up rides. As the vans would go by, a walker would hold his arm up/down/sideways and hold out a number of fingers. The driver would know from that code whether or not to pick up the pedestrian. On the corners of  major intersections we would see dozens of vans parked in the afternoon waiting for the rush hour commute. It’s not an exaggeration to say we saw hundreds of these white taxi/vans.

We found a bottle of South African champaign and a basket of fruit and cheeses awaiting us when we returned to our hotel room. We opened the bottle and enjoyed the snacks. As we toasted each other we read the card to “Mr and Mrs Thompson” and it dawned on us that maybe this was meant for the other Mr. and Mrs. Thompson; the ones celebrating a wedding, not just an anniversary. Oops. We called down to tell them of the mistake but they assured us the gift was for us. Andrew and Henriët would have their own when they arrived.

The next morning we headed out for a group wine tour with Andrew and Henriët and a group of strangers who were soon to be friends. It was a bit cloudy and a good day to hit wineries. South Africa has a robust wine region; I recommend picking up some bottles if you are lucky enough to find them. We have found more and more in the past few years here in Portland.

The other Mrs. and Mr. Thompson enjoying the fireplace at a winery.

We took a break from wine tasting to visit the little town of Franschhoek about 30 miles east of Cape Town (on the right side of the 2nd map above). Henriët and Andrew had lunch with her Pa who lives and owns a business in nearby Paarl. Franschhoek was settled in the 17th century by French Huguenot’s. At that time the area was inhabited by herds of elephants and was also known as “Elephant Corner”.

The next day Andrew and Henriët headed out to attend a wedding of one of Henriët’s cousins. Carla and I headed out on a tour of the cape. Our tour group was very international. Carla and I from the US, a couple from Italy, three women from Japan, and two women from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We drove about an hour down to a couple of stops at cape point.

At the … well you see where we are. South western most part of the continent

 We took a long hike up a paved path to get to the look out point.

Looking back north from our hike up to cape point 

 Cape point is not actually the post southerly part of Africa, but it is the “traditional” mark of the cape being the most south and west. It has a dramatic change between the Atlantic on the west and a large bay on the east

Big surf on the Atlantic side of the cape

Much calmer on the east side of the cape

This calm bay was known as False Bay or Skeleton Bay. Back in the day sailors would think they had reached the turning point around the continent and would get stuck in the very calm waters with little wind. Being unable to get out they’d have to abandon ship; the resulting ribs of the decomposing ships gave it the impression of skeletons, hence the name.

We headed back north to go to lunch. On the way we scouted for baboons. We found a couple. Baboons can be real pests in the neighborhoods. They can get into anything; even figuring out how a door knob or window works. When you leave your house you have to lock everything.  Baboons travelling through town usually have a group of volunteer monitors who helped keep them out of houses and such. This guy was just munching on the grass. As we got close our guide warned us to keep the windows rolled up and the doors locked.

Foraging baboon

At lunch we sat down at a table with the three women from Japan from our tour group.  One of the women, who spoke a little English, was working her way through the menu trying to tell the others what was on it. We joined in and read the offerings and described them. They were all interested in eating spaghetti so we found that part of the menu and explained the ingredients as best we could. The English speaking women is a nurse on a volunteer mission of some sort. Unfortunately, because she speaks so little English she can’t work as a nurse in South Africa, but she still has opportunity to help. Her adult daughter and her best friend had come out from Japan for a visit. Like us, the first place they went when they arrive was Table Mountain.

Enjoying lunch with our new Japanese friends.
Our lunch companions from Japan
Interesting, the two groups of people we had the best interactions with were adventurous Japanese women. The other couple I may have mentioned in the safari post was a flight attendant for Dubai Air Lines and her mother. 
After lunch we walked up to a penguin colony. There was a nice little beach that was taken over by penguins a few years ago. They can’t be disturbed, so people were displaced by penguins

Looking across a little cove. Notice the walkway to take for penguin viewing.
Penguins take over the beach

 We had one last stop before going back to the hotel: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens The gardens are on the east side of Table Mountain, across the mountain from Cape Town. The grounds are festooned with walking paths. There were a couple of creeks that had very red water; I imagine from the minerals in the nearby mountains

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens  = looking toward the eastern slope of Table Mountain. Yes it really is that green.
In the middle of the grounds is a large glassed in climate controlled building with a Baobab. These trees live for hundreds of years. Henriët tells stories of climbing in one on her sister and brother-in-laws property to the north west of Johannesburg.
Baobab Tree

Henriët is growing a bonsai version of a Baobab in their Chicago apartment. Here she is with it in summer of  2011.

Henriët and the bonsai Baobab.

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