Africa Part 5: South Africa
Writing this 6 weeks later I’m only starting to realise how exhausted we were both physically & emotionally as we finished the overland part of our trip.
While we didn’t do it for as long as others (I can’t even imagine how exhausted they were), arriving in South Africa was a strange shock between extremes, mostly between total familiarity and total unfamiliarity.
Crossing over the border from Namibia suddenly the roads were again improved. While the vista was rocky, the roadside was covered in planted wild flowers.
Heading into the wine valley of Citrusdaal, I felt like I was back home where I grew up, in the wine region of Marlborough. It was so bizarre.
Our last night was a few wines, and a later last breakfast and straight through to Cape Town, almost felt like the longest journey yet – 4 hours or so, the view of Table mountain slowly looming larger.
The first sense of culture shock was the huge township we passed by, after all the excitednesss on the truck – there was suddenly silence. It seemed to go for miles and miles, satellite dishes out, toilets on the edges, power lines strung across.
After all the villages in Africa, it was nothing I expected to see – but we zoomed past, onward to our drop off point.
Even the drop off was strange, everyone rushing out, desperate to get off the truck we’d lived in for 3 months (or 6…), finding luggage, speedy goodbyes and suddenly we were on our own.
We almost didn’t quite know what to say to each other. Entering a small flat with all the room to ourselves for the next 5 days. We dropped out bags, had long showers, and ventured out to find dinner, back to where the truck dropped us off.
Cape Town is full of people sleeping rough, against the backdrop that could easily have been Wellington, and as we walked back towards Kloof Street (which is pretty similar to Ponsonby Road) to have a burger and craft ale, strange these trends that have followed us from Auckland to London to Cape Town (and even Jordan, but that’s for another post). They even had sweet potato fries.
On checking the weather when we arrived back to our apartment, the next day looked like the best for our Table Mountain climb – so early to sleep as it was destined to be an interesting hike.
Adding an extra hour we decided to hike from our apartment. At some stages the streets feel almost vertical – a bit of a hint of what was to come. We’ve never been hikers previously, but with our Everest Base Camp trek looming in our nearish future, we’re conscious of walking as much as we can.
It was a lot harder than both of us realised, hiking from Tafelberg Road (straight outta Wellington) across the side of the mountain (Contour Path) up through Platteklip Gorge, which at some stages felt more like climbing massive rocks than a nice easy walk…
Table Mountain is covered in varieties of Protea, half of these in flower – making for an amazing backdrop to our hike. Looking across Cape Town it could have been home.
All up it was about 1 hour from our apartment to Tafelberg road (where the cable car is) then 2 hours across the Contour Path and up Platteklip Gorge. We got to the top, started looking around, amazed at the little clouds swarming. Then the little clouds turned into big clouds, and while we were at the restaurant snacking on lunch (a pie. What else but a Pie!) and within 10 minutes the entire mountain was covered. The wind was up, and it was freezing.
We kept seeing people who had obviously come up on the cable car, teeny shorts and singlets and jandals – shivering. You can’t even imagine the smug with my hiking boots and puffy jacket.
We’d originally planned to head down on the cable car, but on our way up we saw a few people saying it was closed? So we headed down to find it, and thankfully made it on, and given the weather change might have been one of the last ones for the day.
The rest of Cape Town is a bit of a blur, a desperate hunt for Havianas (Africa, destroyer of Havianas, I’ve gone through 2 pairs already) unbelievably I paid the equivalent of $30 USD for a pair. Incredible Wine and cheese at our apartment, mostly purchased from Woolworths, basically M&S Food rebranded. Amazing Biryani in a little food court (not a patch on yours Divina x), a search for a post office (only to find a 3 week protest in Jo’burg thankfully our post still arrived back home within 2 weeks), a last dinner with friends from our tour, clothes shopping in Kloof Street, wandering around Long Street and V&A Waterfront – and suddenly it was time to leave.
First stop – Cape Point / Cape of Goodhope.
Not much to see here really. It’s not even the southern most point of Africa… but leaving, past Simonstown we saw 3 Southern Right Whales – just 50m off the beach.
These huge graceful creatures are amazing, flapping with their fins, poking their heads a little out of the water, snorting air with a large belch, diving and showing their glorious tails – we stayed watching for over an hour, before they starting swimming further out to sea. Amazed they were so close, seemingly unafraid of the trains passing, or people standing watching, probably unaware of their captive audience.
Second stop – Stellenbosch.
This was even more like Marlborough, and I developed a weird sense of near homesickness and desire to go back and live there. Blue sky as clear as can be, the air crisp and sweet, vineyards for miles – but before then you’re hit with a township stretching for miles and miles. Khayelitsha. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khayelitsha
They’re a shock to see I guess if you’ve not lived in South Africa. There’s search lights not street lights. South Africans outside trying to flag down rides. People walking for what looks like miles to jobs. You can see little shops within, and places where people have kept their place inside with a huge sense of pride. But of course you wonder where’s the social mobility for the people inside. If you’re born within poverty of that scale – how can you get out? Sure Education you may say, but I’m sure the other side is more complicated. Transport to education. Items needed these days for education (uniforms, computers, internet access), jobs available post-education.
This is very much an outsiders perspective, I don’t know at all enough to really comment, but with 1 and 4 New Zealand children living in Poverty it’s enough to make you much more aware of the different facets of poverty. And while New Zealand’s poverty isn’t as in your face as this (in fact I’m sure it is in some areas), it makes you question more of your worldview, and understanding of your (yep here it comes) privilege of being born white & essentially middle class.
So to turn that again on its head (and I am well aware that it’s almost hypocritical), our first night I’d booked Dan and early birthday dinner, Rust en Verde. For a 6 course degustation & matched wines. We’ve been lucky enough to eat like this all over the world, and this was definitely our best meal in Africa.
While the wine matches weren’t really inspired at all(I’m a little bored of the standard Manzanilla, then Sauvignon blanc, then Pinot, some other red varietal then Late Harvest), the food was incredible.
I’m definitely going to make Smoked Tomato tortellini when we get home, and the most unusual item on the menu (and partially because neither of us speak Afrikaans, “Boerenkaas? Must be a regional thing) was a cheese Panna Cotta. It was rich & smooth served with a pickled ginger sorbet – seriously one of the most inspired and genuinely creative courses I’ve had since heading to Story in London (full menu here http://rustenvrede.com/rv/menu-type/six-course-wine/ and for my London-based friends here’s a link to Story http://www.restaurantstory.co.uk/ it’s second only to The Fat Duck in my opinion)
We loved Stellenbosch so much we decided to stay an extra day – heading out the next morning to their Slow Food Market. Again I was transported home, the Jazz, the local products, artisan cheeses, craft Ale, and wine. Oh the wine.
South Africa is the cheapest place on earth if you’re even an iota of a foodie (and winey). Good quality glasses of red for 50 Rand (£2.70, $5.50NZD), open, freshly made steak sandwiches for 80. We stayed at the market for 5 hours, taking everything in.
The next morning with flat-white cured hangovers, we drove on to Mossel Bay, about a 6 hour drive. Past a flock of Crowned Cranes flying, almost floating in the sky, close to the ground, oversized but somehow still in the air. They’re the most graceful birds we’ve ever seen in flight. Past fields of gold (canola flowers), vast numbers of windmills.
Mossel bay is fairly small, going in the low season was an inspired choice. It’s like a small fishing town, hikes close by, fresh fish on the menu at most restaurants. The next morning we hiked the St Blaize trail, essentially a walk around the sides of the cliffs close by. http://www.visitmosselbay.co.za/adventures/st-blaize-hiking-trail
All was fine (even a few more whales) until the last couple of hours, as we came across a HUGE snake. It hissed at Dan ahead of me, who jumped back. Watching snakes glide into the undergrowth is disturbing. They seem to disappear into the earth, hidden in the shade. Later we found out it was a puff adder. Super venomous, super scary. I not sure what we could have done if Dan had been bitten. I’m not strong enough to carry him very far, and the trail was completely deserted.
Next stop: Plettenberg Bay
Larger than Mossel Bay, “Plett” as the locals call it was a great second to last stop. Lots of little shops, amazing beach, excellent food, warm sunshine (29 degrees in their “winter”)– I think this will be a lasting piece of Africa I’ll always hold close. Just like the cat in the B&B. Seriously this cat made my day. Even got a little evening snuggle.
South Africans are really friendly. Everyone who talked to us was so pleased that we where in their country, mentioned they rarely see Kiwis, and that we hope we were enjoying our stay. In Plett even more so.
Next and last stop: Port Elizabeth
Port Elizabeth – which we didn’t even see, just drove along the garden route – was our last South Africa stop. The Garden route is strange, I was expecting something different (key word: Garden.) It’s mostly treelined roads, and what roads. You can drive up to 120kmh – beautiful, wide, well looked after roads, I’ve not seen anything like it anywhere we’ve travelled. As that’s the speedlimit you can image at what speed some people are passing you, slightly frightening in our little rental car that sort of seemed to struggle at 4000 revs on 110.
Crazy to think this part of our trip was all coming to a close, from Nairobi to Port Elizabeth, Gorillas to Whales, from tropical to desert and everything in between. From village food and ugali to degustation. From instant coffee to flatwhites. And Nandos in at least 3 countries.
At the end I’m still exhausted. Emotionally and Physically tired. Still in a weird state of culture shock mixed in with a feeling of home that’s strange and foreign after all we’ve seen.
But on we go to Cairo – for the next part of what is more of an adventure than anything else either of us have done before.