05/14/2008 75 °F
We made it! We've officially crossed the last border of our big Africa trip. One more stamp out and we'll be headed home. Sigh.
Okay, that's enough meloncholy about finishing the trip. We have the next 50 years to reflect on this trip. Lets get you up to speed:
The last time we blogged we were dodging the oryx horn curse and headed for South Africa. Obviously the curse didn't cross the border as easily as we did because we arrived unscathed in good ole Springbok country. First stop: Stellenbosch. A wine lovers paradise! Rolling vineyards set against a mountainous backdrop with college students drinking in cafes as the autmun leaves fall from the trees. Dreamy....which is why its a darn shame I don't like wine. My friends can vouch that I've officially come out of the closet this year as a non-wine drinker. I just don't like the stuff. I can swirl around the glass, pretend to smell oak and eucalyptus, comment on the tannins with the best of them but I'd much prefer a Diet Coke, vintage 2008 fountain any day. (Note that I thought wine "tannins" were called "talons" until Colin corrected me. Oops.) Fortunately for Colin he enjoys a glass or two of the red stuff and fortunately for me most of the places in Stellenbosch where you can taste the wine offer a bit of cheese as well. Dear Cheese, I love you. Love, Mary.
It is a bit unfortunate for you wine loving blog readers that given my distaste for such things I can't recall a) where we went wine tasting or b) if it was any good. All I can say is that the cheese platter at Cafe Fromage was DELIGHTFUL! If you have any additional questions about Stellenbosch please direct them at Colin.
The day after Stellenbosch we were headed to a place that Colin and I have been eager to see: Cape Town. Many of our pals (shout outs here to Lauren, Pat and Blake) have told us that Cape Town is a fabulous city and we'd enjoy it tremendously. Many have often remarked that it has that San Francisco feel to it which is a huge bonus considering my love for San Fran (shout outs here to Aunt Mar and Sister Judy). The real draw to Cape Town is its setting. Its located at the base of Table Mountain and stretches to the Atlantic Sea. A "must do" Cape Town activity is to climb Table Mountain and watch the sunset on one side and the city lights from the other. Sign us up!
Here's the kicker: On certain days Table Mountain is covered at the top by what is known as the Tablecloth, a layer of fog that prevents visitors from taking in the magnificent view. We were in Cape Town for three days. Each day the table had been set and apparantly the tablecloth has the capability of extending all the way to the floor. We didn't even see the bottom of that mountain and we were lodging a mere 300 meters away. (Note to non-metric friends - this is extremely close). Darn you oryx horn!
No worries - Col and I had plenty of other activites to occupy our time in Cape Town. The other main attraction was a visit out to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandella lived for many years. The tour is actually conducted by ex-prisoners. I had been looking forward to this as I've heard from numerous sources that its extremely educational and moving experience. I'll have to take their word for it. Cancelled due to fog. Moving on....
Any good Van De Walle female knows that if the weather doesn't agree with your planned activities you do the next best thing: shop. Col and I spent a good deal of time doing just that. We strolled down Long Street, the Bucktown-y part of the city, and made a trip to the V&A Waterfront, the way cooler Navy Pier of CT. It didn't take long before we (and by "we" I mean Colin) tired of shopping so we decided to hit a few more sites. This is where our curse ended and luck finally re-entered the equation. We met Frank.
Folks, if you are ever, EVER in Cape Town you must call Frank the taxi driver. People have casually entered his cab for a $5 fare and ended up with Frank for a 9 day tour of Cape Town and the Garden Route. He's fantastic. Frank was born and raised in Cape Town and is one of the most helpful, fun and delightful guys around. He first drove us to the Kirstenbosch Gardens (more on that below) and picked us up later to take us to Robben Island. When that was cancelled he saved the day by taking us on a tour of the Bo-Kaap district and the rest of the city. He took us to the District Six Museum to learn about the colored people (see definition of "colored" below) and how one of their major neighborhoods was demolished during apartheid. Another educational opportunity missed - it was closed. No worries, Frank decided to give us his own history and perspective of living in SA during apartheid and how life has changed since. (Editor's note: First Robben Island cancelled now District Six Museum closed. Hey, we tried to learn about your history CT but you kept bringing us down.)
Anyway, Frank is considered part of the "colored" Afrikaans community- the group of people who are neither white Afrikaan or black Africans. It's not a racist term at all (we asked)- its just what this group of mixed race, Arabic, Asian, etc. folks are referred to as collectively. Frank is the son of an African woman and a white British man. His stories about living in Cape Town during apartheid were both fascinating and alarming. During the time of "white rule" the colored people were treated like the Africans and terribly discriminated against. The black and white issue is something we all know at least a little bit about (and would know more if the darn museum was open) but it was interesting to hear where the colored group fit in. According to Frank the first few years post-apartheid were promising. Unfortunately, there is a general sense now that the current government is just as corrupt and discriminating as it was in the past only the racism is reversed. Its his feeling (and the feeling of many other people we've spoken to) that the new South Africa is only a hair split away from becoming "like before" if the corruption and racism isn't controlled. He says the colored people are stills stuck in the middle and that its a shame more people don't realize apartheid and the current situation is more than just a black and white issue. Needless to say, I will certainly be learning more about apartheid and paying closer attention to international governments when I return home. A very interesting and insightful guy that Frank. And he'll pick you up from the airport at any time of day - that's a promise!
Okay - on to less serious matters. Kirstenbosch Gardens: A World Heritage Site. No trip to foggy Cape Town would be complete without a visit to this stunner of a botanical garden. It absolutely took our breath away. Our breath and the breath of about 12 East Indians - the only other people in the whole of the grounds. I guess there are some bonuses to coming in the off season. Anyway, I would rank Kirstenbosch up there with any of the natural wonders we have seen on this journey in terms of beauty. Serious flower power. I say this and there weren't even any flowers in bloom (remember May is the SA November). Regardless this garden packs a punch. Google break! We've arrived at the part in the blog where you can break for 10 minutes and look up some images of Kirstenbosch on Google. My recounting of its beauty won't do it justice. In a nutshell: Go there. Stay there. Eat a sandwich in the cafe.
So, after a busy day of shopping, hanging out with Frank, visiting the Botanical Gardens and taking a final stab at education by visiting the Cape Town Slave Lodge museum, Col and I wrapped up our stay in this beautiful but foggy city by doing what we do best - eating a slab of wildebeast and going to the movies. Like Colin said to me last night, "I bet the folks at home don't picture us in Africa strolling along the waterfront with an ice-cream cone after the movies." Ah, Cape Town. A little slice of African Heaven. Oh, and I almost forgot...for those taking the virtual African pub crawl with us - Hansa beer. Delicious.
Well, that's about all I have in me for today friends. We are at a beautiful B&B in Hermanus, SA winding down after our exciting GREAT WHITE CAGE DIVE today. It was incredible(as Uncle Norm, part of the Original Five, predicted) but we'll have to save that for another post. Word to our families: We still have all of our arms and legs.
Love from South Africa....