Tuesday, April 2, 2013

South Africa

I just got back from a week in South Africa. Given that we only had a week, we had some tough choices as to where to spend our time.  In the end, we opted to skip Kruger, the big national park in the northeast of the country that guarantees an amazing safari experience and National Geographic-esque photos, and instead, spent most of our time in Cape Town with a few days driving the scenic Garden Route which graces the southern coast. We considered this trip an intro to South Africa and figured if we liked it enough to come back some day, we’d do the safari then.

When I think back on my favorite part of the trip, it’s hard to pinpoint just one special site or one specific day. The best part of Cape Town is just the overall beauty of the place – the scenery and the sunsets.  It’s really breathtaking and even we amateur photographers can get some pretty nice pictures.

See for yourself:

Table Mountain

The backdrop of the entire city of Cape Town is Table Mountain.  I love that the city provides water and mountains, both of which can be seen from just about any vantage point. They’ve built a cable car that takes you to the very top of the mountain for some amazing views. The cable car ride is pretty cool in and of itself – it has a revolving floor so no matter where you’re standing, you’ll get a 360-degree view.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

Just following Table Mountain, a must-see in Cape Town is Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. It’s a calm in the middle of a big city.  And it is just beautiful – a collection of plants, herbs and statues climbing up the backside of Table Mountain.  It was probably the warmest, sunniest day we had and I was so busy enjoying the place that I forgot to take many pictures.

Huge Spider Web

Robben Island

We took a tour of Robben Island, an island in the Atlantic Ocean 5 miles from Cape Town that started out as a resting stop for sailors, then became leper colony and finally a prison which housed both common law criminals and political activists, most famous of which is Nelson Mandela.  I was expecting something similar to Alcatraz, but Robben Island was much bigger than Alcatraz and wasn’t nearly as ominous.  I wouldn’t call it inviting, but the buildings weren’t as threatening or as cold and there were normal roads that led you around the various parts of the island. 

The tour starts with a 30 minute ferry ride to the island, then a 45 minute bus ride with a guide showing us the highlights - like the quarry where the prisoners spent most of the sunlight hours mining for limescale and the coast where several prisoners attempted to escape and the solitary confinement building which was separate from the main jailhouse.  Our guide, who went by the name MP because his African name was more like a sound than any repeatable word, was a friendly guy who lived on Robben Island and told us that the word “Dom” in the Africaan language means “stupid”.  I know it was a serious tour, but I couldn’t stop giggling.

The next part of the tour was through the prison itself, with a guide who had personally spent 5 years jailed there as a political prisoner. He was part of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress and told us stories from his time in the prison – like how they used to communicate with each other via tiny notes that the guys who delivered the food would pick up from one cell and deliver to another.  And how they were allowed to receive one letter every six months but everything was heavily censored before distributed.  He told us how Nelson Mandela later had to have his tear ducts removed because of all the limescale dust that collected in them from countless days of working in the quarry.

Our trip to Robben Island was moving and inspired me to learn more about the recent history of South Africa and about Nelson Mandela himself, who was in the hospital with pneumonia while we were there.  I am just about to finish his book “A Long Road to Freedom” which details his journey from Anti-Apartheid Freedom Fighter in Johannesburg to Prisoner on Robben Island to becoming the first black President of South Africa. 

Wine Country

We spent one afternoon in Cape Town’s wine region which lies a handy 45 minutes outside the city. We opted for Franschoek which was a cute little town with some nice restaurants and several wineries. We only spent an afternoon exploring wine country but it’s a great way to relax and spend time enjoying the scenery outside the city.  If we had more time we could have done this for another full day.


One other thing to mention about South Africa was the food. The food was amazing, especially coming from London. The cuisine is a mix of many cultures and you can find just about anything you’re looking for in Cape Town. But where they really excel is in the meat. The beef is some of the best that both Dom and I have ever had. Pair that with some local wine and you can have a stellar meal at a very reasonable price. We found a steakhouse in Cape Town we loved so much we visited three times! It was starting to get embarrassing.


You can't really go to Africa without seeing some wild animals. We saw our fair share, but I'l save those stories for another post.

1 comment:

  1. great photos! Reminds me how much I want to go myself!


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