Heading Home

In the morning, I went for a final little walk along the waterfront, trying to soak in the views, scents and sounds one last time. Then I met up with most of the group at Bootleggers. We discovered this place later than I would have wished. It’s in the opposite direction of town and the main strip of restaurants and stores. We had seen it when driving, but didn’t know how good it was from looking at it from the outside. Their almond milk mocha was dreamy (I’m still dreaming of it) and the atmosphere has a beach town vibe. It’s constantly filled with cyclists, stopping off for a coffee break while cycling along the coastline. The main down side is that there’s no view of the ocean from there. But we enjoyed it thoroughly and were happy to make it our last stop before walking back to the house to pack up and head to the airport.

The return trip to the airport was a lot less harrowing than the arrival night had been! It couldn’t have been more different. By now, David was very accustomed to driving the 10-seat van on the left with the left-handed stick-shift. It was daylight, rather than dark, and we understood the traffic patterns and customs and were more familiar with the roads themselves. Plus, we had finally managed to get my GPS to work, so we weren’t blindly trying to figure out when to turn if we couldn’t find a street sign. We were all remarking on the difference and reminiscing on that insane experience our first night in Cape Town.

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A Very Packed Van

We had allowed extra time in case of traffic and to fill the tank and drop off the car. As it turned out, there was a massive traffic back-up on the opposing side of traffic, but everything ran smoothly and efficiently heading in our direction. Dropping off the car was quick and simple, unlike our long wait to pick it up. So we ended up at the check-in too early to check our bags. Thankfully, there’s a nice selection of restaurants on the second floor overlooking the check-in area. So we enjoyed a nice lunch in Primi, one of the chain restaurants we had enjoyed by our house, then checked our bags and went quickly through customs and passport control. We had about a 4.5 hour long layover in Johannesburg, but were able to spend the time doing some shopping in some fun stores with African-made items (including some tasty gluten-free and dairy-free chocolates!), getting a massage to prepare for the 16+ hour flight back to Atlanta, and eating another meal. It’s a good thing our trip was so active because we indulged in many great meals and thoroughly enjoyed the local wines/beers/cider/cocktails (each of us having our own preferences for what we like to drink).

David asked everyone what their favorite part of the trip was. Some said golf, some said climbing, some said surfing, but I think we all agree that just driving through this southern region of South Africa, enjoying the beauty, seeing the animals, experiencing the food and drink and eclectic mixture of people has enriched us all and left us with too many wonderful memories to count.

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Final Full Day

Our final day held few plans except for the golfers, who had an early morning tee time. It was a day to relax and do whatever we hadn’t had time for on previous days.  With 8 adults, there were many ideas of what to do. Normally, this isn’t a big deal, but there were only 2 sets of keys (and 2 sets of automatically locking gates to pass through to get to and from the house). Additionally, almost everyone in the group didn’t enable international cellular service because of the extra cost. So we could only text to communicate if we were somewhere with wi-fi, which was spotty and often weak. Plans had to be made carefully, and that was a challenge.

The day started with an unscheduled power outage. We were told this could happen sometimes, but with the golf clubs stored in the garage, which could only be accessed via the funicular or electric garage door, power was needed to access them. So after waiting as long as possible, David and David Luke had to cancel their tee time. Turns out, the individual house power ran out and the system just needed to be reset. Wish we had known that a lot sooner!

We all went out in intervals for some coffee and food, and Kendall and I walked to our pedicure appointment we had made a few days earlier. Even in the upscale area where we stayed, the pedicures were a good price for us as Americans. They did a phenomenal job with a long leg and foot massage too.

We eventually decided to drive the whole group into the V&A waterfront again, where we wanted to check about getting tickets for a sunset champagne catamaran cruise, then split off into separate groups. We were able to bargain a price that was 1/3 off the published asking price (Hannah had found better prices online, plus we were a large group, so that gave us some confidence in bargaining). David and I then went to the covered market that sells locally crafted goods where I found some pressed wildflower earrings I liked as a souvenir. They had a block of the compressed wildflowers to demonstrate how they make them. I appreciated the ingenuity as much as the design.

From there, Heather, David, and I drove out to Stellenbosch to visit the Kanonkop winery that a Swiss couple with whom David and David Luke had played golf recommended. The Swiss couple, who visits Cape Town regularly, assured us Kanonkop made excellent cabernet, which is our favorite grape. We did a tasting of 7 different wines, which is their standard tasting for only 70 rand. That fee is even waived if you purchase wine. We had been helped by a young man originally from California, who was friendly, upbeat, and very happy to give all kinds of information about their grapes, philosophy of wine-making, and sales and history. We made some purchases and Heather and I had a few more sips from our favorite wine until it was time to head back to the V&A Waterfront to grab a meal before our cruise.

Meanwhile, all the others had taken an Uber ride from the waterfront to the Iziko museum. They enjoyed a few hours there, ate some dinner across the street, and met us at the catamaran on the waterfront.

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The catamaran cruise made our last evening special. We had been swimming or surfing in the ocean at the beach, on the mountains, hiking through meadows, in a jeep for our safari, in caves, and on golf courses, but not yet out on the ocean in a boat! The views back toward Cape Town, Table Mountain and along the coastline were stunning, especially as the sun set after such a perfectly clear day. Additionally, we were able to get up close to some harbor seals and watch many dolphins playing in the water all around us.

We returned to our rental home content, but sad, knowing we had to pack since this was our last night.

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Climbs and Curtain Calls

I was so excited for Monday. We were headed out to the Silvermine area of Table Mountain National Park to do some sport climbing. The whole family went out for the hike, but not quite everyone decided to climb. This area is good for varying experiences and abilities since several levels of routes are close to one another. So everyone was able to watch and cheer each other on, even while climbing different levels of routes. The rocks there tend to be juggy with lots of vertical cracks. It was great fun for both lead climbing and top-roping!

 

There are also some wineries in that area, so we went for tapas and some wine tasting at Steenberg Estates. The atmosphere at Steenberg is upscale and beautiful, but welcoming and comfortable even in our climbing clothes.

Since four of us had purchased tickets to the Theater on the Bay for Monday night, we had to rush back to change clothes and walk to the 7:30 performance. They were performing The Producers, which was a bit raunchy at times, but the quality of the acting, singing and dancing kept the show entertaining. For a small theater, we were pleased with the quality and enjoyed a night out. It was almost 11 pm by the time the show let out and we hoped to find a bite to eat since we hadn’t had much of a dinner. However, all the kitchens were closed at every restaurant we tried in the area, so we decided to Uber back and eat some left-overs we had in our kitchen. But we couldn’t find an Uber ride either! So we kept close to one another and walked back, keeping vigilant of our surroundings. Thankfully, we didn’t have any incidents at all. It made us wonder if reports of danger were over-emphasized.

Sunday Funday

Sunday was less planned out than the other days. David and David Luke played golf again in the morning at Steenberg Estates. The rest of us had a more leisurely start. Josh and Adri decided to try out the climbing gym in Cape Town. It’s huge and they really enjoyed trying out some different styles of holds than what we’re used to at home. I was too afraid I’d wear out my fingers and forearms, so I declined that experience.  Heather took the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain to enjoy the gorgeous views.

All of us except the golfers met midday at the botanical garden. It’s over a century old and has focused on eradicating any foreign plants in order to make the entire garden replete with endemic species. It’s less cultivated than many botanical gardens, but has very mature trees and plants and is absolutely beautiful. There were also some statues of dinosaurs from fossils found in the Cape Town area. Some of my favorite areas to explore were the tree canopy bridge and the palms. Many of the century-old trees with thick branches twisting everywhere just begged to be climbed!

Surf’s Up!…and Penguins!

Next up was surfing! Hannah, Josh, and Adri decided to take surfing lessons from the famous Gary’s Surf School on Muizenberg beach. We all went along to cheer them on. What a fun beach town! We had breakfast at an open-air coffee shop called the Hang Ten Café, that is in the same building as the surf store. Great food, as we’ve had everywhere we’ve eaten in South Africa so far. Although service tends to be on the slow side everywhere, the taste, presentation, and selection of foods has been fantastic wherever we’ve eaten, from little cafés to higher-end restaurants. Most places accommodate food allergies well and we’ve found almond, oat, and coconut milk products available in most coffee shops and many restaurants.

Muizenberg is full of people learning to surf in the slightly warmer Indian Ocean waves. The beach is ideal for beginners with constant, small swells. There were so many people out there that it was a bit crowded, but not to the point of frustration. Besides, with so many learners, you’re just one of many, so the pressure to perform is lower! Hannah, Adri, and Josh all did great, popping up quickly and getting some nice rides. Their instructor kept them moving, so there was little rest time and they were pretty fatigued by the end of an hour-long lesson. For those who wished to continue practicing on their own, the company allowed an extra hour of surfing for a small fee.

After they changed and tried to rid themselves of the stale wetsuit smell, we headed out along the coast, passing through one quaint seaside town after another. The 3 things they all seemed to have in common were stores selling artwork, stores selling antiques/used furniture, and coffee shops.

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We stopped off at Boulder Beach to see the penguin colony and cool off in the water. We parked and then hiked along the rocks, past some little beaches, then along a boardwalk to the park entrance. Although most everything in South Africa is a bargain for Americans right now, we found the foreigner price for the National parks to be way too high. We had already seen a bunch of penguins at the free beach, so we voted to skip the 160 rand entry fee ($(10.15 at the time) and go back to swim a bit in the cove.

Ready for lunch, we found another beautiful restaurant perched along the coastline with perfect views, called The Black Marlin at Miller’s Point. From there, we headed out to Cape Point, also part of Table Mountain National Park. We intended to visit the Cape Point lighthouse and see the ship graveyard along this treacherous point. However, when we got to the entrance, the per person fee of 320 rand ($20.35) was again more than most of our group wanted to spend. I’m not sure if we made the right call turning around and missing that one or not, but when traveling with a sizable family group, you often have to make compromises. So we headed back home, enjoying yet more gorgeous coastal views.

That night’s blackout started in the late afternoon and lasted until 8 pm, so eating in wasn’t much of an option. Thankfully, we had so many great restaurants within a 10-minute walk of our house, eating out was simple and enjoyable. That evening, there were so many people walking around since it was a Saturday night, that we decided to walk back rather then Uber. We had no problems at all as a large group, but 2 of our group stayed out a little later and had a few uncomfortable moments returning.

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Climbing, Golfing, and Beaching

Pick-n-Pay and Woolworths were just down the street from our house, so we stopped there after visiting the waterfront for some quick groceries and some charcoal for the braai, and cooked a simple dinner to eat in the house while we enjoyed the sunset views over the ocean. Planning this dinner was actually a challenge because of the daily electrical blackouts throughout South Africa. We downloaded an app that tells us when each day’s blackouts will occur in our section, but sometimes they’re at very inconvenient times. This day, one of the blackouts was from 6-8:30 pm, so we had to have everything cooked no later than 6 pm. We managed…with seconds to spare.

After an early night to bed, the day Adri, Josh, and I had been anticipating the most arrived!  We were up at 6:30 am to grab an Uber to Table Mountain to meet our guide by 7:45. We hiked up a rocky path to a climbing point, where we were given very detailed instructions about how we were going to trad climb as a group of 4. Our guide, Kai, was extremely talented at managing the 3 ropes we had to negotiate as we made our way up the side of the mountain one-by-one in stages. Kai would go first, setting 2 sets of cams, followed by me, cleaning up the cams on my rope, followed by Adri and then Josh cleaned up the rest of the cams for his rope.  The route we took was pretty easy for us, which was both a relief and a slight disappointment. We decided that for our first trad climb up a mountain, it was probably good to feel so secure. Regardless, it was great fun and a whole lot of exercise.

Meanwhile, David Luke and David went golfing at Milnerton Golf Club. This is a links-style club located right along the coastline of the ocean, with great views of Table Rock in the background. They loved the course, but had to contend with the challenge of adjusting their game to extremely windy conditions.

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In the afternoon, we strolled out to one of the little secluded cove beaches along our waterfront. The water was very chilly, but refreshing for a quick dip, followed by relaxing on the sand and soaking in the views we couldn’t stare at too often.

Camps Bay, Cape Town

Arriving at our house in Camps Bay, Cape Town, we were greeted by our house manager, Robyn. She gave us all kinds of great tips about where to eat, grocery shop, and find some secluded little local beaches within walking distance. We were also warned, not for the first time, not to be out walking after sunset. During the day, runners, bikers, and walkers enjoy the spectacular sea-walk. But in the evening, it becomes a hunting ground for thieves. So, following all the advice we’d been given, we walked 10 minutes to a nice seafood restaurant for dinner, but took Ubers for the short ride back.

Unlike our penthouse at Pinnacle Point, our house in Camps Bay had both air-conditioning and wi-fi. Some of our group slept fine with a bit of breeze, but the rest struggled to stay cool enough to sleep without the air-conditioning. Plus, there are always pictures to upload and share, which is tough to do without wi-fi. So the modern amenities of our Camps Bay house were much appreciated and everyone got a good night’s sleep.

We were greeted the next day by gusts of wind coming off the ocean. We had scheduled a Robben Island tour for 11 am, but the ferries were all canceled because of the choppy ocean conditions. This was disappointing since we had all looked forward to touring the island internment camp where Nelson Mandela and so many other political prisoners had been held. Instead, we split up and explored the V&A Waterfront. Some went to the aquarium and enjoyed it, but didn’t find it to be anything special. Others went to “Cause and Effect,” rated the 2019 cocktail bar of the year for South Africa. They had a great experience there. The rest of us walked the waterfront, stopped at the original transit station for Robben Island to look at photos and read some history, then found a picturesque restaurant along the quay with a unique menu. I was in the mood for a smoothie and tried their Revved Up Red, a mixture of beetroot, red pepper, watermelon, strawberry, cucumber, lemon and ginger, which was phenomenal!

Later, we re-grouped and tried some locally produced beer, wine, and cider at a brewery at the waterfront. Some of our boys tried a flight of beers from that brewery, while the rest of us enjoyed hearing their comments.

We were impressed that the V&A Waterfront had a lot of character and charm. Although there is a typical fancy indoor mall, much of it is a combination of current working piers, individual shops and restaurants, and several museums.

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Safari!

We had a reservation to go to a nearby game preserve for a safari drive at 11 am. Knowing that mornings and late afternoons/early evenings are the best time to see the animals active, I had tried to reserve a safari during those times. However, only those staying at the preserve could reserve the prime viewing times. So we took what we could get and decided to make the most of it. We were far from disappointed! First of all, our guide, Janco, was phenomenal. Although he’s young, he’s experienced and learned so much. We laughed about the fact that every time we asked him, “Have you ever…,” the answer was a self-deprecating “Yes.” Then we’d ask for more information and he’d regale us with a great story. He seemed to truly enjoy teaching us fun facts about the animals and about South Africa in general. Some of our favorites include:

  • Ostriches eat rocks because they don’t have any acids in their stomachs to break down food, so the rocks do that. There may be 70-80 in their stomachs at any given time.
  • The Secretary bird, a bird endemic to South Africa, mates once for life and remains loyal to that mate until they both die AND it eats venomous snakes.
  • Hippos kill 3-4 thousand people a year in all of Africa.

After our 2 hour safari (which turned into 2.5 hours thanks to our fascinating guide), we ate lunch at the preserve. Not only was it a stunning setting, but our food was excellent. Most of us tried their local ostrich dishes (as steak, a burger, and sliced rare in a salad) and thoroughly enjoyed everything.

The rest of our afternoon was dedicated to exploring Mossel Bay. There are a few artisans with shops and a bunch of coffee shops. I had wanted to see the famed Post Office Tree, where letters would be left in boots or other secure containers and fellow countrymen passing through would collect and pass along the mail. We were too late to visit the lighthouse, but still walked up the path to a fantastic view across the bay. This is one of the end points to the St. Blaize Trail. The other is located at the small, rocky beach at Pinnacle Point. The trail leads along the picturesque and rugged coastline for about 13.5-15 kilometers (depending on start/end spot). I would have loved hiking along the entire trail, perhaps ending with the zip line a little further along the cliff line down to the beach area at Mossel Bay.

The beach area has a little sand, but is mostly made of up rocks that create little pools that are safe from the currents. Many families congregate here to swim in the seawater rock pools, walk along the waterfront, and eat at the restaurant that boasts beautiful views. There was also a small aquarium, though we didn’t visit it.

Very early the next morning, my husband and son headed out for a 7 am tee time at the highly ranked Pinnacle Point Golf Course.  Unfortunately, fog was so thick they couldn’t see where they were hitting for their first 3 holes. After that, the fog lifted and they were able to enjoy the stunning and difficult course. According to my son, the course required approach-shot precision and the ability to play creatively in constantly varying wind, fog, and rain conditions. Additionally, similar to Pebble Beach, this ocean course requires adapting your shot to ocean-level differences in how far the ball travels.

While they played, several of us hiked out from the St. Blaize Trail starting point on this end to Cave PP13B. The cave is massive and very impressive. However, to truly explore it, a guide is necessary. One such group was heading out to the cave just after we returned and we would have enjoyed joining them. But it was time to check-out of our house and head back along the scenic garden route to Cape Town.

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Garden Route Scenic Drive

Cave Entrance

Mossel Bay

Refreshed and ready to start our adventure the next morning, we filled up with a hearty breakfast at the hotel and headed out along the N2 to our resort just outside Mossel Bay. The scenery is rugged, with many mountains, farms, plains and animals. My husband, David, was much more at ease driving a large vehicle on the “wrong” side of the road with a left-handed stick shift after a bit of sleep and in the daylight. We were all in good spirits and enjoying the sights of South Africa. It took about 4 1/2 hours to get to our resort, called Pinnacle Point. This is a golf course community perched on a promontory with stunning views. Sadly, fog had set in and we couldn’t enjoy a long-range view. But the views from the resort restaurant and from the little beach, just a hike down the hill, were still beautiful.

The original plan was to head into Mossel Bay to explore in the afternoon. But we were so tired that we ended up just exploring the golf resort, eating in the restaurant, and relaxing. David and I had also run out to the grocery store to stock up on a few supplies, but had forgotten that many countries don’t keep the hours the U.S. stores keep. We headed out at 6 pm, only to discover that the grocery stores were already closed for the day.

We were all probably eating too much because the prices of food in South Africa are so inexpensive compared to the U.S. Even resort restaurant food seemed like a bargain. We had also been treating ourselves to very nice South African wines.

Half of our group slept great that first night at Pinnacle Point, but the other half kept awakening hot and sticky. Our penthouse has views and beautiful floor-to-ceiling glass doors that can be fully opened to catch the breeze, but there’s no a/c. Even though it cools down nicely in the evening, it’s very humid. Some bodies just don’t adapt well to that kind of weather.

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Welcome to South Africa

Our family enjoys active vacations. So when planning our 2020 family trip, my task was to find a place we’ve never yet visited where we could hike, golf, climb, and enjoy some cultural and historical pursuits. Plus, we needed to go in February or March, but wanted to escape winter weather. I threw out a few different ideas, but everyone agreed unanimously on Cape Town, South Africa.

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Weather while heading to Atlanta

Flying to Cape Town requires a lot of travel time. The best flights we found for price and convenience were out of Atlanta, so we made the call to add the drive to Atlanta. Adding the drive, plus extra time in case of traffic, plus getting to the airport 3 hours ahead of a 15-hour flight to Johannesburg, 2 hour connection, then 2 hour flight to Cape Town, seemed like punishment. Thankfully, we have some long-time family friends in Atlanta we could visit. So we drove down the night before and had a bonus visit with wonderful friends.

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After the 15-hour flight, we had to pick up our luggage in Johannesburg to go through customs. Then we switched to the domestic terminal to fly to Cape Town. Right after we claimed our luggage and passed through customs, heading to re-check our bags in the domestic terminal, two men “materialized” in uniforms of sorts, pretty much insisting on leading us and trying to take some of the luggage to “help.” While we resisted allowing them to take any luggage, they still insisted on leading the way. As a kindness, we decided to tip them several dollars worth of rand. They got indignant and told us it wasn’t enough. They wanted 10 USD each. My kindness was quickly evaporating as disgust at their tactics took root. I was entering “don’t mess with me” mode as my husband handed over half of what they wanted and nicely said that was plenty. They had what they wanted and left. Telling them to leave us alone at the outset would have been best. Lesson learned.

While landing in Cape Town, the sun was setting and we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the city and mountains. It was a beautiful welcome, except that it meant we would have to drive out of the airport with only printed directions to try to get to our hotel, in the dark. A few things worked against us: signage was terrible, we had a 10-seat van with a left-handed stick shift while driving on the left side of the road, and taking one wrong turn near the airport meant entering extremely dangerous neighborhoods. We had been warned in advance to avoid any routes going into these neighborhoods, but told that if we did find ourselves in them, we should lock the doors, not stop at all, even at red lights if the coast was clear, and make no eye contact. We checked with the car rental agent to make sure our planned route avoided the dangerous areas and he confirmed it was perfectly safe. And it would have been if we hadn’t made a wrong turn. In addition to difficult signage, our windshield kept fogging over slightly, even with defrost running. So visibility was bad. We were tense, tired, hungry, and frustrated. Then we made the wrong turn and immediately found ourselves in a very, very bad place. Fear took over as the predominant emotion. We ran red lights, ignored hand signals and other gestures, and desperately searched for a sign to get back on any highway. By the grace of God, we made it back to a highway and somehow made our way back to the airport. Our plan (thanks to Hannah’s quick thinking), was to hire a taxi to lead us to the hotel. Brilliant. We found plenty of taxis at departures, had 2 of our group ride in the taxi, making sure he didn’t lose us, and had a much calmer and definitely safer drive to our hotel. Have you ever felt like angels were keeping you from really imminent danger? From not crashing to not getting attacked in a truly dangerous area, I am convinced every time I relive the whole scene that angels were surrounding us.

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Sketchy neighborhood we accidentally drove through
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“DANGER ZONE DO NOT STOP ON FREEWAY”

Finally, safe at the hotel, we were greeted by a different sort of angel. My sister had arrived in the early afternoon and took a taxi to the hotel to meet up with us there. What a blessing that was. By the time we finally made it to the hotel, the restaurant had closed (and we were very hungry). We had communicated our frustrations as we were trying to get to the hotel, so she ordered everyone burgers, fries, and drinks to go. Right after checking in, our order was ready to go and we all savored the food, toasted God and my sister, and laughed about our inauspicious start in South Africa.

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