Category Archives: South Africa

The End of Africa

We took an overnight bus from Zimbabwe to Johannesburg, and I have to say that we were ready to be in South Africa again.  Despite the bad reviews we had heard of Johannesburg, we had a great time in the big city.  We went out to nice meals and fun bars and clubs in a trendy area near our hostel.  Jo’burg was surprisingly hip but still laid-back.  It was encouraging to see diverse groups of people, at least in the ritzy nightlife scene.  We met friends from the US and Botswana in our hostel and joined them for the night on the town.

The next day, we visited the Apartheid Museum, which was incredibly powerful and beautifully presented, and the World of Beer, which was commercialized and worth skipping.  As we were walking out of the World of Beer, we received a phone call from our friends from the hostel.  “Um, can you pick us up?  Our car was stolen!”  “Of course!”  “We’re in a shopping mall.”  “Be right there.”

We drove as the sun set…and we drove and drove.  We saw a sign for “Soweto,” the historical township, and current high crime area.  We started getting nervous.  Not a good idea to drive here at night. Random objects in the road, then people walking in the road.  “Don’t stop at stoplights,” we had been told, which was easy because the street lights were mostly out, adding to the darkness and our increasing anxiety.   We called our friends: “Our GPS must be wrong!  It drove us straight into Soweto!”  “No, that’s right – we’re in a shopping mall…in the heart of Soweto.”  Well, that would have been good to know – we thought we were driving to one of Jo’burgs chic malls.  Despite our better judgment, we picked up the stranded group in Soweto.   “Now, can you drive us to the police station?”  “Allllright.”  We didn’t get out of the car for the entire two hour rescue mission, even at the sketchy-looking police station.  It turned out that they had stopped at a chain food shop in a strip mall, and their car had been stolen in less than 6 minutes in broad daylight in a crowded parking lot.  All in all it was quite a long rescue mission, and they never did find their car.  We were glad it wasn’t us and happy to have helped.

After a few days in the big city, we headed to the Drakensburg Mountains.  We spent a day staying with the hospitable and kind family of Jon’s friends from college, Cameron, on a beautiful cattle farm.  We then spent a night in their rustic cabin near the entrance to the national park into a section of the Drakensberg Mountains.  We hiked to some cave paintings, and tried to stay warm with a fire.  Jen came down with a stomach bug, so Jon went on a hike in the morning, and then we headed for the coast and warmer temperatures.

Durban had perfect temperatures and a nice beach, a perfect antidote to freezing nights in the highlands.

Overall, we loved our time in Africa…  the people, the diverse natural beauty of desert, coast, mountains, and valleys, and of course, the animals.   We both agree we will make a return trip to Africa, it is a special place.

But for now… next-up, brief stop in the Middle East and then on to Asia!  Can’t wait!

Garden Route: Stunning coastline and mountains

After the sun ran out in Cape Town, Jon and I jumped in a rented pint-sized, yet trusty, “Chev” (AKA Chevrolet) “Spark Lite”.  Jon began the task of learning to drive on the left side of the street! To our delight, he was mostly a champ, with only a few minor lapses into the right side of the road, and we survived.

We spent long days in the car, driving east from Cape Town on the Garden Route, watching the scenery as we rolled by.

Our first stop was blustery Mossel Bay, where we enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner while watching the waves crash, and a lovely seaside coast walk the next morning.

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Jon hiking along coastline at Mossel Bay

We continued to sleepy Knysna, with its lagoon and stunning cliffs.

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Looking across at some spectacular property along the cliffs in Knysna
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Jon where the ocean comes into the bay in Knysna

Next was glamorous Plettenberg Bay, where we had the highlight of our mini-tour:  a hike along Robberg Peninsula, a nature reserve.

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Panorama at Roberg Peninsula in Plettenberg Bay – STUNNING scenery

Here, we also stumbled upon a farm with homemade organic cheese, meat, cream, etc, and naturally Jen went nuts bought entirely too much food to eat and cart around with us.  We stayed at a B&B in a nature reserve, with 360′ views of both the forest and the beach.

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Incredible view in the common area of the guest house in Plettenberg Bay – lucky to share it with just the owners while it was the off season!

Jon delighted every time someone passed us and gave us the universal “thank you”: a few flashes of the emergency signals.  Jen delighted every time someone called her, “MAMA.”  We won’t discuss the time when Jon almost lost his wallet.

Upon the solid advice of Cameron, a UVA friend of Jon’s, we headed inland for the drive back, through some amazing mountain scenery.

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Mountain pass heading up from the coast to the scenic, more in-land “Route 62” route.

We came upon an ostrich farm and Jon tried out his hand as an ostrich-jockey.  Jen declined, but had a hilarious time watching two men try to hold back the poor ostrich that ran like mad when it realized that Jon was on his back.

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Jen and the foster mother ostrich – she and her mate raise young from abandoned eggs
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Jon “Ostrich Jockey” Wohlers

We stayed on a beautiful farm with the nicest elderly South African/English couple that ever could be.

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View at the farm where we stayed in Montagu

We drove quickly back to Capetown through some pretty mountains so that Jon could meet up with Cameron to mountain bike… unfortunately, when they got there it was pouring and had to cancel.   Instead, they met up at a REALLY good brewery in town, Devil’s Peak, named after the mountain next to Table Mountain.

Jon and Cameron at Devil's Peak Brewery in Capetown
Jon and his UVA friend, Cameron, at Devil’s Peak Brewery in Capetown

We head out to wild Namibia tomorrow, for sand dunes, big game, and real adventure!  Can’t wait.

Wine tours, penguins, Apartheid history, cliffs, sunsets

With four sunny winter days packed with the top-sights and activities under our belt, I think we can safely declare Cape Town as incredible.   After our first day Tuesday, Wednesday we visited Robben Island where Nelson Mendela was imprisoned for 18 years, along with hundreds of other political prisoners during the Apartheid.  We then walked around the Waterfront, had fresh fish and chips, then went to dinner with Cameron, Jon’s UVa friend who lives here, and his wife.   Yesterday we took an amazing wine tour in regions that seemed similar to Napa or Sonoma – except perhaps a bit more spectacular with the mountain backdrops and bottles of your favorites for $6 vs. $20+.  Today we rented a car (driving on the left-side a first!) and began the day with a hike (and literally climb in some parts) up Lion’s Head with spectacular views across from Table Mountain, hugging the ocean.   In the afternoon we headed out to the Cape Peninsula, driving over Chapman’s Peak to Boulders Beach and the penguins, then to the Cape of Good Hope.    We love South Africa!

Wow! What an amazing first day…

…it really is hard to imagine 9.5 months of days like this…

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Being Coloradans, we began plotting when and how we would climb Table Mountain as soon as we set eyes on it.  We set out the first morning.    It was cold and wet (no rain, just waterfalls and puddles left over from lots of rain yesterday and overnight), but an incredible 2 hr hike, lunch at the top, and then a tram ride down. After a taxi ride back to the hostel and a hot shower, we caught one of the local doubledecker, open-top sightseeing tour buses that go around the city and took the route that goes around Table Mountain and the surrounding towns that we could see from the top of the mountain.  We also stopped along the route at the botanical gardens and Camp Bay – both very cool!  We ended the day with an African game meat platter – croc ribs, warthog ribs, gemsbock and ostrich – and some SA wine.

It’s going to be a great trip!

And, we’re off!

After a few wonderful days in Boston and Brooklyn, we have arrived safely in Cape Town… to cold, wind, and hail!! (?)  However, we have an amazing view of Table Mountain from our hostel, and the next several days will bring sun, sun, and no rain!  It is approaching winter here, so Cape Town should be the coldest of our destinations.  In about a week, Namibia will be 70-75 and sunny with no rain.  Then it’s hot hot hot the rest of the Roundabout!

The view from our room in Cape Town!
The view from our room in Cape Town!

 

Great friends in Brooklyn!  (Missed a photo of Smoot)
Great friends in Brooklyn! (Missed a photo of Smoot)