South Africa
Part 2   Page 2
  More information below videos.
 
AFRICA!  Haga Haga
We hiked to Whale Point, strolled beaches and played in the sand.
 
 
AFRICA!   Addo
A group of elephants emerged from the trees made their way towards us ...
 
   
 
AFRICA!  Garden Route to Cape Town
We drove west towards Cape Town along what is known as the "Garden Route". The scenery changed as we left the coast and drove through the mountains towards Oudtshoorn and then to Cape Town.
 
 
AFRICA!  Cape Town to Windhoek - Part 1
This next leg of our African Adventure would take us up the west coast of South Africa and into Namibia.  It promised to be an introduction to new experiences and lasting memories.
 
 

June 24

Today was mostly a travel day, from Himeville, in the Southern Drakensberg Mountains to Haga Haga on South Africaís Wild Coast.  Our activity was, for the most part, confined to witnessing life outside the bus windows as we drove southward towards the coast. People were selling and buying, meeting and greeting. Even in cities, street commerce is common. Hairdressing is a popular on-the-street business and, as in some salons, women gathered around to share stories and information.

Part of our drive took us through the district of Umtata. Many of South Africaís black leaders came from this area, including Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela (who, retired, still lives here).

"The houses," Arthur pointed out, "are usually painted one of five colours ... pink, green, aqua, golden or light brown. Each colour represents one of the original five tribes from which each family descends." It would be like the Scots displaying tartans or English their coat of arms.

We stopped at a modern mall to have a quick lunch and pick up groceries for tonightís braai. Pronounced "bry", the word comes from the Afrikaansí word braaivleis ... braai meaning "roasted" and vleis meaning "meat" ... and is equivalent to the North American bar-b-que.

"Bring & Braai" is a popular social event ... casual and laid-back ... where friends converge on a picnic spot or someoneís home with their own meat, salad or side dish in hand. Meats are the star of the South African braai and each person in our group purchased their own.

 

We reached Haga Haga, on the southern stretch of South Africaís Wild Coast, just as the sun was setting. While Arthur and Joseph got the braai fired up, we, along with Jill and Andrea, settled into our two story, two bedroom, 2 Ĺ bathroom cabana with a large deck overlooking the lawn, braai facilities and rocky Indian Ocean coastline.

The Haga Haga Hotel's self catering cabana's are great. If we were staying on our own for a number of days, we would really appreciate the full size, fully equipped kitchen. Instead of creating messes in different kitchens, we went over to the one shared by Arthur, Joseph and John. Andrea made a rice salad, Sherrie made a green salad and Terry, much to the surprise of the other men and to the admiration of the women, offered to do the dishes.

The Bring & Braai was great. Terry washed the dishes and a couple of the guys offered to dry.

Leftovers tested the fridgeís capacity.

     

Our upstairs bedroomís balcony overlooked the ocean and we fell asleep to the rhythmic pounding surf.

June 25

It was a day off ... nothing on the agenda ... a day to do what we wanted to do ... a day to ourselves.

The view from our bedroom balcony, just as the sun was breaking over the horizon, was of two fisherman wearing shorts and yellow raincoats out on the rocks casting their fishing lines from long poles into the foaming surf.

The day turned warm and the ocean breezes were invigorating. We walked into the coveís little village and then took a trail up to Whale Point for a birdís eye view of the coast.

 

The story of how Haga Haga got its name, as passed on by a pioneer descendent, tells of early years when transport and roads were primitive. Farmers from the midlands acquired land at the coast for winter grazing livestock and for a span of 3-4 months they would move their families lock, stock (goats, cattle, sheep, chickens, etc.) and barrel to the area by oxen wagon trains. Since the wagons were heavily laden, one span of 16 oxen was not sufficient for pulling the load across the river. In cooperation, farmers helped each other by unhooking one span of oxen and hooking them up with another. "Haka haka", the driver would call in the Xhosa language ... meaning "hook on, hook on". Thus, the two spans (32 oxen) were combined to successfully haul the wagon across the sandy shore and through the water. This procedure was repeated as often as necessary to assure no wagons or contents were lost. As the area developed into a popular holiday resort it became known as Haga Haga.

Over the top of Whale Point and down the other side to the next cove and onto the beach. Beachcombing over the rocky shore, we peered into tidal pools and marvelled at life we seldom think about.

We strolled beaches and played in the sand. Other than John, off on his own in search of birds and insects, and Jill, briefly flying overhead in a yellow plane, we didnít see anyone until we returned to the beach in front of the hotel.

 
 

After stopping for lunch and a card game on the deck, we took a beach walk in the other direction until the tide swept in and filled the pools and the cresting waves were kissed with pink by the setting sun.

 

It has been an "ahhhh" day of relaxation. Tomorrow we would have a very early start to what we hoped would be a good safari day ... John hoped it would be a great safari day.

    

    

   

June 26

 
 
 

Addo was not on the G.A.P Adventures itinerary. John had been, for the last five days, encouraging us to make a detour to Addo Elephant National Park. Most of us had been on animals safaris and could lean either way on whether to go or not. Mark, Laura and Zack had not and their G.A.P itinerary didnít offer any, so we left the decision up to them and they decided in favour of Johnís request. John, the instigator, now felt the pressure ... "Iíll buy the chips" he offered for the good luck we had had in Kruger. "Iíll buy whatever flavours youíd like," and he did ... bags and bags of them.

It was still dark when we left Haga Haga. We arrived at Addo shortly after their gates opened at 07:00. Arthur asked once again if anyone had oranges or orange peels with them and if so to hand them over. The first settlers in the Addo region decimated the big elephant herds. With the establishment of Addo Elephant Park, however, the remaining elephants were protected but they were known to be highly aggressive. In an attempt to appease them, local farmers brought in truck loads of rotting oranges. The experiment was successful, the elephants calmed down and their population started to increase. The feeding of oranges stopped, so that they would return to their natural diet, but the elephants had become addicted to oranges. Still today they will smash vehicles if they smell their favourite fruit, therefore, bringing any oranges or orange scented products into the park is forbidden.

 

Our first stop was at a watering hole where the only creatures in sight were warthogs and hartebeest ... Mark, Laura and Zack were thrilled, while the rest of us stifled yawns (except John). Up near the top of a hill we saw a scavenger bird perched on the carcass of a warthog. It appeared to be a recent kill and we looked around for the attacker thinking we might spot a big cat. No luck.

More warthogs, an opportunity to take a classic closeup photo in the morning light.

Meerkats ... our first wild sightings of this member of the mongoose family. They were all furiously digging for a breakfast of insects while, one by one, they took turns keeping watch.

   

A kudo buck with an impressive set of horns grazed on high bush leaves. We have seen numerous kudu before and it is hard not to be impressed with this regal woodland antelope. The horns on the buck begin to grow around six months of age, twisting once around at 2 years of age and not reaching the full two and a half twist until they are six years old. At this age, the kudo is prized by trophy hunters. The horns have also long been used as musical instruments and for decoration. In the Western world, the kudu horn is shown on the Boy Scoutís wood badge.

 

These were fine sightings but expectations were running a little higher and John was getting a little worried. Even though it was still morning, he figured we needed to break out the chips.

We had stopped to observe a hartebeest when on a nearby hill an elephant crossed an open track of land. Joseph manoeuvred the vehicle around to follow him but he got lost in the high bush and trees. Chips ... we need chips.

Arthur borrowed Terryís binoculars and after surveying the scene below said something to Joseph in Afrikaans. "Elephantís," Arthur told the rest of us, "weíll head down and see what we can find."

They were there.   Munching as only elephants can.

When the original elephant section of the park was proclaimed in 1931, there were only eleven elephants in the area; today there are 450 ... all descended from the original eleven. Most of the elephant cows in the park are tuskless ... in fact, only seven cows have tusks. It does not seem to have affected their ability to feed or live normal elephant lives. Addo elephants are one of the most well-researched elephant herds in Africa. Since the 1970s, detailed records of their family trees have been compiled and updated and extensive research of their social patterns has been carried out.

Because of the small gene pool in Addoís elephants, it became necessary to introduce new blood. Eight bulls from Kruger National Park were introduced in 2002 and 2003. They adapted well to their new environment but could not compete with the dominant Addo bulls so the Addo bulls were moved to four private game reserves which gave the Kruger bulls the opportunity to inject their genes into the Addo population.

"More chips, please.  Salt & vinegar have always been good for elephant luck."

Moving on we stopped next to a water hole where a young lone elephant bull was drinking.  Coming up behind him was an older bull.  We waited to watch the interaction.  The young bull made a token gesture from a distance, but the old bull paid him little attention and the young one backed off.
 

"Look," Andrea called out from the other side of the vehicle. A group of eight elephants had emerged from the trees and were making their way right passed us to the watering hole. Cameraís clicked.

We watched in fascination as they drank and mingled. John was happy ... we were happy ... all of us were pleased he had been so passionately persistent.

 
 

"More," Andrea called out again. More elephants came from the low trees, picking up their pace as they neared the water hole. It was now a party and we felt like honoured guests.

"Guys," Arthur said, "We have to go if we are going to make the sunset game drive at the lodge where we are staying."

"What would we see on a night game drive that we are not seeing here?"

Arthur made some phone calls on behalf of the group and the lodge people kindly offered to change the "night" to an "early morning" game drive. We settled in and continued to watch the elephants ... it was like watching a National Geographic Special ... in person.

 
 

We had been there for nearly two hours before Arthur explained that even though it was still morning, we had a far way to travel to put us back on the G.A.P planned route. We put away Johnís chips and thanked him for his persistence and agreed with him that G.A.P should seriously look at putting Addo on their itinerary.

Continuing through the park we saw the skeleton of an older kudu buck, it was a stark reminder that we were in the wild and not a controlled zoo environment.

 

More meerkat, warthog and antelope, including hartebeest, were viewed on our way to the parkís main lodge for a lunch stop. Arthur had made more of his special tuna sandwiches which he shared with a golden oriole.

 

The viewpoint over a waterhole was a great spot for a picnic and a lone elephant and warthog provided the entertainment.

 

Back on the main highway we caught a glimpse of Port Elizabeth as we veered inland.

The sun had just set over the citrus groves when we arrived at the entrance to Shumba Lodge between the towns of Hankey and Patensie.  Shumba Lodgeís young proprietors, Adolf and Estelle, were there to greet us when our bus made it to a spot half way up a high hill. We transferred ourselves and our backpacks into 4x4s which took us the rest of the way up to the hilltop lodge. The girls drove with Estelle.

"I will let you know now," Estelle warned, "that we have been having some difficulty with our water. We have had it checked and it is safe, however, it does not look very nice ... a brown colour. We have put some bottled water in your rooms and you are welcome to ask for more."

 

The lodge is a hunterís lodge; very spacious, exposed beams and adorned with animal heads (one of Adolfís brothers is a taxidermist). They welcomed us with a drink and then presented us with keys to our separate beehive-style huts.

Unlike the ones we had in Mlilwane these rounded huts had a plaster finish on the outside. Each hut had its own ensuite bathroom.

 
 
 
 

One decor detail was wall lamps made from kudu horn topped by perforated ostrich eggshells. Although the huts were windowless a short path led to a deck overlooking the valley.

Back in the main lodge, we ordered a bottle of local wine from the bar tended by Adolf. It gave us an opportunity to ask him about the lodge. "The large mural at the end of the dining room," we asked, "is that of your father with a lion?"

"Yes," Adolf answered, "that lion is one of the six which killed him." Adolf went on to explain that a month before the lodge was to open, one of the resident lionesses was expecting cubs. One night his father, who had been around lions most of his life, went down to see how she was doing. "There are four rules to always obey with lions," Adolf continued. "One ... you never approach a lion at night. Two ... you never approach a lion while it is eating. Three ... you never approach a lion with cubs. Four ... you never turn your back on a lion. That night my father broke three of the four rules and it cost him his life."

An artist had already been commissioned to paint a mural of the Big 5, but after J.P. Kleinhans death, his children asked the painting to be changed to one in memory of their father and founder of Shumba Safaris.

Estelle introduced us to a traditional Afrikaans dinner which had been prepared for us. With each course she gave us the names of the dishes and how they were prepared. Traditional cooking in South Africa is sometimes referred to as "Cape Dutch" which owes as much to the recipes passed down through slaves brought here by the Dutch East India Company as it does to European style cooking imported by settlers. Among the many dishes Estelle offered us were pampoenkoekies (pumpkin fritters), koeksisters (pastries, deep fried and heavily sweetened) and boerewors (a sausage) made with antelope. In days when families faced daily hard physical labour, these traditional dishes kept their energy up without weight gain. In our world of motorized vehicles and cholesterol counts, these heavy dishes must now only be considered a limited cultural experience.

We used a headlamp to guide our way back to our hut and talked about the wonderful day we had experienced ... a day filled with elephant encounters we shall cherish always.

  
   

June 27

Up before sunrise, we quickly had a hot drink in the main lodge before climbing into a safari 4x4 and heading out.

This is a private game reserve. Shortly after their fatherís death, the lions were sold; now the game is primary antelope species and the only wild cats are ones who find their way through or over the fences to take advantage of a quick meal.

Protected with stronger higher fences are a family of Sable. Adolf and Estelle are hoping, with the extra precautions being taken, this group will continue to flourish. These large antelope are classified as conservation dependent, vulnerable and their future endangered.

 

The vehicleís approach sent a herd of impala leaping across the lowland and up to the top of a hill where they finally stopped and looked back. Being cautious the impala buck called out and the rest scampered over the crest of the hill.

 
 

After breakfast at the lodge and a 4x4 ride to the bus, we said our goodbyes to Adolf and Estelle and headed to the coast and Tsitsikamma National Park. Not only does the Park have many nature walks but also offers a number of more adventurous activities.

Terry had zip lined before and was excited about doing it again. Sherrie has been, bit by bit, challenging her fear of heights and had, in some small measure, looked forward to trying her hand at zip lining ... that was until it started to rain. Heights and slippery surfaces did not encourage her to step beyond her comfort zone at this point. Laura felt the same and suggested they team up for some beach and trail walking. So while Terry and some others in the group zipped through an African canopy ... dry and comfortable in their rain gear, Sherrie and Laura headed down to the rocky shore, watched wild storm waves crash against the rocks and hiked up the hillside while getting drenched in a coastal downpour. Not only were Terry and group drier, they were probably much safer than the slippery mucky trails Sherrie and Laura were attempting to navigate. "Next time," Sherrie says, "zip lining for sure ... I think ... weíll see."

After checking into our room at the Bayview Hotel in Plettenberg Bay, we gathered our wet and dirty clothes to have them laundered at a place across the street. In the lobby we met a bunch of glum faces.

"Whatís wrong?" we asked.

"Andrea has had her daybag stolen." As we were unloading our gear from the bus, Andrea had put her small daybag down by the hotelís front door and went around the back of the bus to retrieve her large backpack. When she returned her daybag was gone. A number of the group spread out to see if it might have been gone through and then trashed into a nearby waste can. On the main street the distraught Andrea talked to a fellow behind gate bars of a small closed mall. "Iím stuck in here," the fellow said. Andrea didnít have time to deal with his problems, she had enough of her own.

The police were called; not that there was any expectation of them being able to do anything, but at least there would be a report on file for insurance purposes. Inside the lost bag was her passport, camera, journal, cell phone, a bit of money and credit cards. She had already phoned and cancelled the credit cards and locked the use of the cell phone. A few days earlier, Andrea was having some difficulties with her camera. To be on the safe side, we had downloaded her image cards to our laptop computer. As a result it provided one bit of good news Ė her camera was gone but her photos were safe. There was nothing she could do now except bounce back and enjoy the evening with friends ... there was a popular night club just down the street.

 

We looked forward to a quieter evening and walked to a grocery store to pick up some items for a light dinner in our room.

 

June 28

We found Arthur, Nick, Andrea and Jill sitting at an outdoor cafť. Andrea had a smile on her face. Another search this morning for Andreaís daybag had turned up some good news. Andrea and Arthur were back at the little mall which had been locked up the night before. Arthur told a storekeeper what they were looking for. "Oh, I have it," the lady said. It seems she was working late the night before. A man had somehow got caught behind the locked gates, so she let him out and then closed up herself. When she came to work this morning, she found the daybag on the ground. Andrea realized then that the man she had talked to behind the locked gate must have been the man who stole her daybag. She had him behind bars and didnít realize it! Looking in the bag she, not surprisingly, saw her camera, cell phone, money and credit cards were gone but to her delight, her journal (written in German) and her passport had been left. A wave of relief swept over her.

 

At a camera shop we were able to get on a computer to check email; picked up something for Terryís ongoing sore throat at the pharmacy; stopped for a coffee with the group who was still sitting at the outdoor cafť and walked along the street window shopping. It seems in Plettenberg Bay stores are only open a half day on Saturdays. The rest of the day was a lazy one. Thatís okay; a down day would be good for us.

June 29

As we left the tourist section of Plettenberg Bay filled with hotels, restaurants and upscale decor shops and drove over the top of a hill and saw the part of Plettenberg Bay where the people who make the beds and scrub the floors in the hotels, cook and wash dishes in the restaurants and make the goods sold in the decor shops, call home. In South Africa, they call these ghettos ... "townships".

We drove west towards Cape Town along what is known as the "Garden Route". Near Knysna we passed large upscale homes as we climbed to a high viewpoint overlooking the "Heads" and "Featherbed Cove". The name "Featherbed" is derived from bygone sailing days when ships, en route to Knysna, would spend many weeks, sometimes months at sea. When they finally made it through the Heads, which marks the entrance to the bay, they would drop anchor in the safe calm cove and enjoy their first restful sleep, in some time, as though they were in a feather bed.

 
 
 

The cove is part of Knysna Lagoon, which is more accurately defined as an estuary where five fresh water rivers flow in from the surrounding Outeniqua Mountains and meet with the surging sea water flowing from the Indian Ocean through the Heads. Between the Heads, the course is a dangerous one, some regard Knysna as one of the most dangerous ports in the world ... many shipwrecked captains would agree. In 1928 the railway became a faster and safer mode of transport for exporting timber out of Knysna and commercial shipping declined until it was no longer referred to as a harbour after 1954.

Today Kynsna is a popular destination for tourists, golfers and retired seniors, especially among the British and former expats, due to the year-round warm climate.

It has also become a favourite haunt of artists, restaurateurs and hippies. We stopped for a coffee break and  picked up postage stamps.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Further along the coast we drove passed Wilderness Bay and stopped to look back from Dolphin Point which has a postcard view to the train bridge across the Kaaimans River.

A steam train, popular with tourists and photographers (lots of photos on the internet), used to run between George and Knysna, but the railway line was severely damaged in 2007 from landslides after heavy rains and extreme flooding. There are efforts underway to make repairs and resume full service in 2008 but as of today some the slide damage can still be seen on the Dolphin Point side of the train bridge and the train is only operating between George and Mossel Bay.

 
 

The scenery changed as we drove through the mountains towards Oudtshoorn and the Cango Caves.

 
 

The Cango Caves are a 5 km chain of limestone caverns (only about 25% are open to tourists) and there may yet be more found. They are South Africaís oldest surviving tourist attraction and the first to be protected by environmental legislation.

Although there is now proof the caves have been known and used by man for more than 80,000 years, they were, according to legend, rediscovered in 1780. Later many of the caves significant discoveries were made by its full-time guide (South Africaís first full-time tourist guide) Johnnie van Wassenaar who walked these caves for 43 years until his retirement in 1934.

 
 
 
 

Today some of the chambers display an impressive show of stalagmites and stalactites. The time to create many of these formations, depends on the supply of water and carbon dioxide ... in the case of the Cango Caves it took millions of years and they are still in the making. We took the "standard tour" which meant we stayed upright; Nick and Zack, however, took the "adventure tour" which took them into places where they crawled in narrow passages and slithered through horizontal crevices ... the smallest being only 30cm high.

Nineteen kilometres from the caves, at the foot of the Swartberg Mountain Pass, we booked into the Swartberg Country Manor. Although we were in the converted main farmhouse (dated 1864) there was nothing old or farmhouse about it; each room is tastefully appointed and unique. We teased Nick about having a party in his large room since his boasted a hot-tub-sized soaker tub.

The property is still a working farm cultivating agricultural products as well as cattle, sheep and ostriches.

 
 

Ostriches were just over the fence and fascinating to watch. Females have lighter feathers to camouflage them as they sit on their nest during the day. Males with their dark feathers, sit on the nest during the night. By the way ... ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand ... thatís a myth which may have started because if an ostrich senses danger and cannot run away, it flops to the ground with its head and neck flat out in front and remains still. Since the head and neck are lightly coloured they blend in with the colour of soil and from a distance it may appear that the ostrich has buried itís head.

We all went into town for dinner and since this is ostrich country, it was only right for Sherrie to enjoy this delicacy. Although ostrich is a flightless bird its meat is a red meat; low in fat, calories and cholesterol and it tastes like very tender beef. Delicious.

 
 

June 30

As we were loading the bus to leave Swartberg Country Manor, the sun, rising up behind the mountain, turn the clouds a fiery red as though we were looking at a volcano.

The area around the town of Oudtshoorn is home to the worldís largest ostrich population. Between 1873 and 1914 the ostrich industry was based almost solely on feathers with very little value placed on leather or meat.

In 1913 ostrich plumage ranked 4th on the list of South African exports (after gold, diamonds and wool).

 

Oudtshoorn boomed and wealthy ostrich farmerís build town houses (dorpshuis) constructed of local sandstone. Besides the aesthetics (an important consideration for the successful ostrich farmer), thick walls, high ceilings and window shutters provided ideal insulation from Oudtshoornís summer heat.

There were close to a million farm raised ostriches in South Africa at the time but wild ostrich had been hunted almost to extinction. After World War I fashions changed and the feather industry collapsed almost overnight. Out of necessity, most farmers returned to more traditional crops.

In the early 1970s the ostrich market began to grow again, now the emphasis is on leather and meat rather than feathers. After a severe drought in the early 1990's, many Oudtshroon farmers turned back to ostrich farming as a means of survival.

 
 

We stopped at Cango Ostrich Farm. After giving us a short history of ostrich farming in the area, our guide took us into the incubation room. Like any type of farming, there are good crop years and bad. Ostrich eggs are the largest of all eggs (by extension, the yolk is the largest single cell), however, in relationship to the size of bird laying the egg, the ostrich egg is the smallest. One ostrich egg equals about 2 dozen chicken eggs. Would you like one or two eggs? Scrambled or sunny-side up?

From the eggs we went outside to the birds. Standing beside an femaleís enclosure, the guide asked if anyone would like to feed the birds. Terry volunteered. Holding his hand out flat, as he would with a horse, the ostrich hit his hand with a its flat, broad, round tipped beak in a thumping pecking motion. Sherrie tried too, as did a number of others, before we moved on to another paddock with a male bird.

The guide explained that in breeding season the males beak turns bright red. He also pointed out the ostrichís strong legs and feet. Each foot only has two toes (most birds have four) with the larger, inner one having a large hoof-like nail which aids them in the ability to run at speeds of about 74 km/h (46 mph).

   
 

We moved on to what looked like a small rodeo ring. Thatís exactly what it was but instead of bull ridiní there would be ostrich ridiní. Terry volunteered.

With something looking similar to a shepherdís crook, two ranch-hands caught an ostrich and slipped a bag over itís head. As long as the bag was on the bird would remain calm. They led it to a chute and gave Terry a quick lesson on ostrich riding ... which consisted of "Hang on tight to the wings and lean back."

Lesson over, they backed the bird up so it was free from the chute and removed the bag. The bird ... and Terry ... took off like they had been shot out of a cannon (remember the speed these birds can reach less the weight of a rider). The feathered fury headed towards the fence corner, perhaps thinking he could scrap this dude off his back but before he reached his goal the ranch-hand sidekicks yanked Terry off.

"Whew ... what a ride!"

"Who would like a neck massage?" the guide asked.

 
 
 

"I would," said Sherrie.

"Stand over here with your back to the fence." A few ostrich came over ... they knew what was going to happen next. The guide picked up a small white bucket with feed pellets covering the bottom and put it into Sherrieís hands. Instantly there were bobbing beaks and a knot of nodding necks over Sherrieís shoulders as five vied for their share of the goodies.

Before leaving the farm we visited the obligatory souvenir shop. While some purchased ostrich eggs, both plain and decorated, and others considered leather products, we bought a package of dried ostrich meat.

 
 
 

Spier Wine Estates near Stellenboch provides a hectare of land for a Cheetah Outreach project headed by Annie Beckhelling. Itís an effort to increase awareness of the diminishing numbers of free ranging cheetahs in the wild and ensure their survival through breeding cheetah in captivity. The cheetahs at Spier, have an average of 350,000 visitors each year. There are a number of activities at Spier Wine Estates, including wine tasting, but time limited us to one activity. Knowing we could taste wines elsewhere made the decision to visit the cheetahs an easy one.

   

It wasnít long after seeing the cheetahs that we were tasting wines, not at Spier but at Zevenwacht Wine Estates. The wines were excellent. We liked their cheeses as well, enough to buy a sampler package.

Not only were we tasting wine at Zevenwacht, but we were staying the night as well in their vineyard cottages. Each cottage had three ensuite rooms and a small lounge area. Smaller than we had experienced at Swartberg Country Manor, but very nice ... and each room came with itís own bottle of wine. Such a nice touch.

   
 
 
   

July 1

Stellenbosch is the second oldest European settlement in South Africa. Although it has preserved many of itís Dutch-style heritage buildings, Stellenbosch is a young university town surrounded by vineyards and wineries which makes for a interesting and vibrant community. We stopped in town for breakfast and a quick look around before heading off to Cape Town (50 kilometres distance).

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Nearing Cape Town we passed, Khayelitsa, South Africaís second largest "township" (after Soweto, near Johannesburg).   During the apartheid era, blacks were evicted from properties which were designated as "white only" and forced to move to townships on the outskirts of town.

 

What designated white, black or coloured was at times difficult to ascertain. The Population Registration Act of 1950 used subjective tests including the "pencil test". A pencil would be placed in a personís hair, if it fell through they were classified as "white" (or coloured, depending on other subjective class distinctions), if the pencil did not fall through, they were classified as black or coloured. Members of the same family with different hair textures could find themselves divided into different race groups which were classified as: "blacks", African indigenous people; "Indians", from the Indian subcontinent; "whites", Afrikaans and Europeans; "coloured" a mixture of any of these races.

The apartheid government is no longer in power but the townships remain.

 
 

The only difference is that under apartheid all black and coloured people were evicted to townships, now it is only the poor living in these shack settlements and a few older people who may have the means to move but donít wish to leave their lifelong friends and community. Education, it is believed, will be the young peoples ticket out, but new people will take their places.

Townships are growing. Khayelitsa is bordered on one side by the freeway on which we were travelling. We had been driving for numerous kilometres and the township still went on for kilometres more. A second side is bordered by the railway tracks. On the remaining two sides the township is creeping into the surrounding countryside ... growing ever larger both from population expansion from within and new immigrants infiltrating the country. If these new immigrants believe this to be a step up, it is most difficult to imagine the lifestyle they have left.

Reports of this townshipís population cannot be confirmed but estimates put it between 800,000 and a million. There is no organization to the townshipís design. If there is a space and one has materials to build a roof, and perhaps walls, it is used. This freedom of design has itís drawbacks; fire from cooking on open flames within these meagre dwellings is always a threat. When fire does break out, there is often of life as there is no way for fire fighting or prevention vehicles to penetrate the tight squeezed jumble. At one point authorities tried to put in straight roads to create blocks, but the road spaces were soon filled in with more dwellings.

 

Downtown Cape Town is a stark contrast to the poverty of the township. South Africaís oldest European settlement is a modern city where bit by bit the sea has been pushed back to provide space for glass clad towers. It is a city similar to Vancouver; a port city with a background of mountains whose city core has, as well as business offices and shops, a large residential component.

 
 
   

We quickly got checked into the Saasveld Lodge before Joseph drove, anyone who wanted to go, up to the cable station on Table Mountain ... after that we were on our own.

Table Mountain, Cape Townís most famous landmark, is visible to ships from over 150 km away. This unmistakable landmark marks the maritime halfway point between East and West ... the Cape of Good Hope. Atop steep cliffs the mountainís plateau measures approximately 3 kilometres from side to side.

 

The first cableway was opened in 1929; there have been three upgrades since then (the old cars are on display); the latest in 1997. The new "Rotair" cable cars carry up to 65 passengers each and run on double cable, making them more stable in high winds and the journey to the summit in 5-10 minutes.

Moments after we started our ascent there was a bit of a jerk and one of the passengers let out a nervous scream. She didnít know ... we didnít know ... that the floor of the car rotates 360ļ during the trip giving passengers a panoramic view and today was beautiful ... clear and warm.

 
 
 

 

The top of table mountain is laced with walking paths providing easy strolling and outstanding views of Cape Town, Table Bay, Lions Head, Camp Bay and beyond. From Table Mountain we could also see Robben Island 7km off the coast in Table Bay. Itís flat, only rising a few metres above sea level.

Nelson Mandela gazed at Table Mountain from Robben Island, which for some 450 years served as a prison for European convicts, slaves from West Africa, princes from the East, lepers, the insane and thousands of South Africans punished for resisting oppressive rule. Nelson Mandela, along with some 3,000 other anti-apartheid activists, served two decades of a life sentence there, which included hard labour at the infamous quarries. Robben Island was declared a National Monument in 1996 and a World Heritage Site in 1999.

 

Down from the mountainís cable car station, we caught a double-decker, open-topped bus for a circle tour of Cape Town. We were trying to see as much of Cape Town and area as we possibly could in half a day.

Where one G.A.P tour ends another begins. The last day of one tour, is the first day of the next, therefore, people who are doing both only have part of a day and one night to see the city. Cape Town is a beautiful city and deserves more time than we had; but we did very much enjoy our time on the mountain, around on the tour bus and some city walking.

 
   
 

Evening brought dinner at a restaurant a block away from our accommodations. Both the people who were heading home from Cape Town and the people who were beginning their G.A.P tour were there ... at separate tables in separate rooms. We introduced ourselves to our new travelling companions and asked them to understand that we did not mean to be rude by dining and saying our goodbyes to the old group and that we would see them in the morning for breakfast. The only ones moving on were our driver, Joseph, Nick and ourselves. Even our guide, Arthur, was heading home for a short break. The new group would be larger ... eighteen. But that was tomorrow. Tonight we were saying goodbye to friends but hopefully not friendships.

 

July 2

Johnís flight had left early in the morning but the others ... Arthur, Jill, Mark, Laura, Zack and Andrea came to see us off.

 

Joseph, Nick and we were now joined by Carley from Waterloo, Ontario; another Nick from Edmonton, Alberta; Jim & Kay from near Wellington, New Zealand; Hartley & Nadine from Calgary, Alberta; mother and daughter team Debbie & Dana from Orange County, California; friends and co-workers Kelly & Stacey from Australia, Ros from Oxford, England; Fiona from Dublin, Ireland; Meredith from San Diego, California; Alister and Samantha "Sam" from England and Gerda, a twenty-something guide who had been working in the G.A.P office in Cape Town but whose talents were needed back on the road and who was using this as a familiarization trip. She was familiar with this and other G.A.P routes but wanted to refresh her knowledge and gain her licences for Namibia, Botswana and Zambia; as guides must be licensed by each country in which they plan to work.

The new G.A.P. Adventures group leader is "Guts" Swanepoel. His real first name is Gerhard ... not pronounced in the German way but in Afrikaans which, for those not experienced in Afrikaans, is most difficult to wrap the tongue around. The nickname "Guts" was derived from an adventure tour company he ran with the tag line "Do you have the guts?" Calling someone "Guts" was difficult at first but it soon rolled off the tongue naturally.

 

After experiencing Arthurís laid back subdued manner of guiding, Guts seemed very animated, extremely enthusiastic, full of energy ... perhaps a little over the rah-rah-top.  It didnít take long for that too to seem natural and with such constant positive reinforcement, he soon had the whole group positive, upbeat and interacting with each other.

As we left Cape Town, we looked back at Table Mountain. We had been so fortunate to have been at the top yesterday, for this morning the top of the mountain was covered by the infamous "table cloth" .... cloud which forms when south-easterly warm winds sweep up to the top of the mountain where it hits the high cold air and creates condensation. Thatís the technical explanation ... old legends tell of how an old Dutch pirate, Van Hunks, having retired from his life at sea enjoyed smoking his pipe on the slopes of Devilís Peak. The devil didnít like that much and challenged the pirate to a pipe-smoking match with Vanís soul hanging in the balance. Itís said the dual is still ongoing as is evident with each south-easterly wind. These same south-easterly winds have been nicknamed ĎThe Cape Doctorí. They are forced over the neck between Devilís Peak and Table Mountain and funnel down into the city. This blast can reach speeds of 130 km/h and, while annoying to some, cures Cape Town of its smog and summer heat - hence the name, Cape Doctor.

 
 

Our first stop after leaving Cape Town found us again in Stellenbosch visiting a bursting-at-the-seams, funky shop called Oom Samie Se Winkel which sold everything from antique lingerie to local souvenirs, to cough drops, to stinky dried fish. "Itís a fish you either really really like ... or strongly dislike ... no in between," said Guts.

 

During our time in Stellenbosch yesterday morning, we had noticed a few trees wrapped in red cloth. We had wondered if it was a bark-bug preventative measure or perhaps a university hoax. The wrappers must have stayed busy because there were many more trees wrapped today.

We asked what it was about and were told there is an artist who likes to take unusual photography. They told us that the photographer, David C...something, plans to have a crowd of people walking backwards down the avenue of red dressed trees ... oh ... the people? ... they will all be nude!

 

Being in wine country one must indulge in some wine tasting and we did that at Backsberg Wine Estates. The winery also imports and sells Tomes Chocolate. We still had the complimentary wine from Zevenwacht in our backpacks so we didnít buy any wine, but chocolate ... dark chocolate ... Sherrie could not walk away without a sweet remembrance of our time here.

 
 
 
 
 

Another winery, the picturesque Seidelberg Wine Estate, was selected for lunch. The elevated setting of the estate buildings and restaurant provide distance mountain views enhanced by acres of cultivated vineyards in the foreground. The restaurant, "De Leuwen Jagt" is the domain of Chef Cass Abrahams who kindly took some time to check on our satisfaction herself.

 

"Red Hot Glass", one of the very few Venetian-style glass blowing studioís in South Africa, is just a pane of glass away from the restaurant giving us an in-studio view of artist David Jackson creating a magnificent piece of glass art. It was fascinating to watch his mastery of this unique medium which is neither liquid or solid as it goes from fire to glove. What looked like a vase or carafe in the making suddenly changed form at the end to a stunning, very large display plate. Not until the piece was complete and the gathered audience had spontaneously applauded, did we realize that the clients for whom the piece was being made had been sitting in a corner of the studio watching its creation.

In late afternoon we arrived at Sir Lambertís Guesthouse in the small fishing village of Lambertís Bay on the Atlantic Ocean. Guts encouraged us to settle in as quickly as possible so we could get out to Muisbosskerm.

 
 
 
 
     

Edward Turner built a "skerm" (shelter) using "muisbos" (an indigenous bush which grows freely in the area), as a place to "braai" (bar-b-que) and socialize with friends and family after catching fish and crayfish. He thought it would be nice to surprise them with an place that had terrific atmosphere and a view; it was never his intention to start a business. The next year a friend of his asked if he could bring a group of fifteen Japanese clients for dinner ... that was the start ... 22 years later Edward and Elmien are still making the paying public feel like family friends at a braai and the Turner family are still providing "a seafood experience of a lifetime".

An open arch leads to a huge outdoor kitchen. When we arrived, the braai fires had been set and they were just putting bread dough into the clay oven. We had some time to walk down the beach and watch the waves shatter against the orange glow of sunset.

Guts had warned us, several times. "Okay, G.A.P Group ... pace yourselves," he said, "food will be coming out all night. Taste a little of this and a little of that, but donít fill up on anything or you wonít have room for whatís coming next. Oh, and try to stay away from filling up on bread ... if you can."

When we arrived back from our beach stroll the first plates were out. Guts pointed to a dish of small white fish pieces. "This is the stinky fish we saw in the Stellenbosch store earlier. Try it." We did. Guts was right; you either really really like it or donít like it at all. We fell into the latter category.

We walked around and watched preparations at the different counters. Salads were being made, fish were being placed on grills, mussels and scallops were cleaned and placed in bowls, traditional waterblommetjie (a vegetable) and hotnotskool (wild asparagus) stew was simmering in a large pot and rice was cooking. In bowls was the regionís famous hanepoot korrelkonfyt (grape jam) to go on the freshly made bread which was just coming out of the clay oven. Resist ... resist.

By the time we had purchased a beer from the bar, a banquet of food had been laid out on the main counter ... fish ... yellowtail, snoek, cob, Cape salmon along with seafood paella (with rice, mussels and calamari), Greek salad, and big chunks of fresh baked bread. This was only the beginning ... remember Gutís words ... "pace yourselves". The roast of beef was tender and the roast lamb succulent.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Not only was the food plentiful but the freshness was unexcelled and the preparation only enhanced the flavours. Prawns were prepared in a wok and crayfish glistened with melted butter. The tastes, textures, sights, sounds, smells and chatter all added to the experience.

It was our first day together as a "G.A.P Group" (as Guts always referred to us) and a most memorable one it was. It seemed a good mix of people ... some older ... some younger ... some well travelled and others not so much; but everyone seemed to want to make it the best possible experience for all.

 

July 3

Today was a travel day ... a long travel day. By dayís end we would find ourselves in "more arid regions Ė the Namib desert of southern Namibia," so said our itinerary.

Guts has a good way about him and some time-proven activities to help a group of strangers become acquainted with each other. Each morning as we boarded the bus we were to move, clock-wise, one seat: the left side of the bus was to move forward one seat and the right side back one; so that each day people are sitting across the aisle from different people than the day before. Everyone then has an opportunity to sit in the "good seats" (whichever your perception says they are). The wide back seat was packed high with luggage to avoid having to pull a trailer behind the bus (on dirt roads not an easy task and in tight spots, impossible to turn around without having to unhitch and rehitch). Even with the back seat full, there was still an extra double seat free, so it was decided these back seats, in front of the luggage and the bumpiest, would be the bonus seats. The people whose turn it was to have the back right hand seat could split up and each have their own full seat for the day.

As we drove, Guts would take his small sleeping bag in its light blue nylon cover and use it as a portable seat. Placing it on the aisle floor he would sit, facing back, and visit with different groups of passengers throughout the day. His questions stimulated conversations between passengers and by him getting to know us and visa versa, everyone got to know each other.

 

Periodically we would stop at gas stations or small towns for toilet breaks, stretching, snacks and lunch.

With 18 tourists, two guides and a driver we didnít have room inside the bus to move and stretch as we had on our previous G.A.P legs.

When we reached the South Africa border crossing at Vioolsdrif (677 km north from Cape Town), we saw an opportunity to get off the bus and take a walk; either we would catch the bus on the Namibia side or somewhere in-between.

   

The day was cloudy but as we walked on the bridge across the Oranje (spelt ĎOrangeí on the Namibia side) River, which divides South Africa and Namibia, the sun broke through and made it very pleasant. Legend tells that before the construction of this bridge a lone Nama (indigenous person of this Namibia region), with the nickname of Jan Viool, was responsible for navigating travellers across the Orange River where the river is at its shallowest, also known as a Ďdrifí ... hence the name Vioolsdrif ... ta da.

 

We had just finished the 600 metre walk to the Namibia border control post when the bus with the otherís caught up to us. The walk was just what we needed.

For most of us, going through Namibia customs was done without incident, however, for Gerda it was not going so well. She and Guts tried to explain to the border officials that even though she worked for G.A.P, she was not working as a guide but simply taking an orientation tour. Guts kept us updated on the slow progress. At one point we thought it was a go and boarded the bus but Guts came onboard and suggested we move on; he would return to the border crossing after we were settled in to tonightís accommodation. We voted to stay a little longer, thinking that might have a positive impact on the border officials. We waited.

 

Guts and Gerda came out to the bus. Gerda was apologetic for holding us up and explained that the customs officers thought she was going to work in Namibia without the proper licensing so her entry had been denied. Guts helped her gathered her bags and carried them to a bench. Guts is not allowed to leave a group without a guide so we all left, leaving Gerda sitting in the dimming light looking very much alone with her belongings at her feet.

 

continue to Namibia ...

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