Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 8 - Hermanus

As I stated yesterday, Hermanus is the place to see whales. Yesterday, as we were driving to our hotel, we saw several whales in Walker Bay just floating around from our vantage point high up in the hills. Today our goal was to get front and center with them; however, they really weren't out today. It's alway my luck, right? Still it was a great time. 

Three of us started out the morning by sea kayaking in the bay. We went out with a guide in two tandem open-top kayaks and probably paddled about 3-4km altogether. We saw a bunch of fur seals lounging in the sun in the water. It was cute how they would lie on their side and have one arm out holding its fin. One even swam right by us about a foot away! We didn't get up close and personal with any whales, but we did manage to see one in the distance. The water was a little choppy with some large waves rolling thru. It just made it a little more difficult for me, but otherwise it was a lot of fun! 



A few folks from the group were daring enough to go swimming with the sharks in a cage. It really didn't interest me. One woman who went on the shark trip emailed her kids the night before, saying that she is fine and healthy, but realized they did not know where her will was!  What a great way to let your kids know you're going swimming with sharks!

After our kayak trip, I walked along the cliff walk in Hermanus just to walk but also keep an eye out for whales.  I did manage to see one breaching off in the distance and got picture of it, but that's it. 



Folks were saying that because it was so warm out today, the whales were not coming close to shore. What a bummer, especially since had we stayed at a hotel in town, we could have walked around yesterday and seen lots of whales. While out on my walk I ran into the whale crier and asked if he'd seen many whales today, and he said no. He said there were many yesterday, but very few today. Oh well. 



The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and then I had a 90 min massage. I figured if I'm staying at a spa, I need to take advantage of the services, right?

Tomorrow we leave bright and early for the airport. We fly to Johannesburg and then embark on a 4-hour drive (so I've been told) to the Entebani Game Reserve to begin our quest for the big 5! Yippee!!!!!!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Day 7 - Hermanus

Well, this morning I had to say goodbye to Cape Town. I really enjoyed the city and am so glad I had a chance to arrive 2 days earlier. I wish I had arrived even earlier, but such is life. 

Our drive this morning took us along the east side of False Bay, opposite from the peninsula where we had driven yesterday. We had more beautiful views driving along the winding cliff side road. I was very happy that we stopped for a few photo opps. 





Our main stop today was the Creation Winery, about 30 minutes outside of Hermanus, our next stop. The valley was beautiful, as was the winery. The vines were all barren except for a few buds since last week was the first day of spring down here. I'm not a so e drinker, so I knew going into this that it wasn't for me. However, to be a sport I did try all the wines.  As expected, I did not like any of them, and some much more than others. My friends, who are wine drinkers, did enjoy the wines so it is a good winery. Please don't base it on me!!!! They did a wine pairing of 9 wines with canap├ęs, some of which I enjoyed. Lunch was springbok, which is a type of venison in South Africa. It was pretty good. 





On our way to the hotel we stopped at a lookout point over Hermanus and were treated with the site of 3 southern right whales hanging out in the bay. My pictures weren't great because we were so far away, but tomorrow I'm hoping to get a little more up close and personal. More about that tomorrow. 

Hermanus is known as the place to see whales. They even have a whale crier in town who blows some horn when the whales are around. They had their annual whale festival last weekend, which I'm bummed to have missed. 

Our hotel is outside of town (bummer) on a golf and spa resort. It's great if you are into golf but not so much other things. Didn't really do much tonight because there really wasn't anything to do. Had planned to do dinner on my own but one of my fellow travelers joined me and we had a really nice evening chatting. 

Tomorrow should be an interesting day. Some people are going swimming with the Sharma, but not me. I'll leave that for tomorrow's post. 


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Day 6 - Cape Town & Cape Point

We started off this morning on our way to the southwestern most point in Africa.  However, before we left our guide checked to see if the cable cars were running up table mountain (the group still hadn't been up there) but when we left it was still closed. As we made our way down past the coastal neighborhoods we saw that the mountain was clearing. By the time we reached Camps Bay we saw the cable cars were running and immediately changed course and went straight to the mountain. It was nice to go up again, but I have to say that the time of day I went on tuesday was so much better as far as light goes. Still, it's a gorgeous view no matter the time of day. 



Our drive to Cape Point took us all the way down the peninsula, hugging the cliffs along the ocean most of the time. The most spectacular part was the drive along Chapman's Peak. This road hugs the cliffs and is so narrow at points that buses are only allowed to travel in one direction on the road!  It really was spectacular. 



As we turned into the Cape Point nature reserve we were treated to our first wildlife sightings. First, we saw a pair of ostriches along the side of the road, and then a troop of baboons wandered down the side of the road and into the fields. It was quite cool. We then saw another pair of ostriches along the coast, just before we made it to the Cape of Good Hope.  We all lined up to get our pictures taken behind the sign stating we were at the most southwestern point in Africa when a large group of South Africans barged in front of us. We were all annoyed until they began to break out in song, protesting the poaching of rhinos. It turns out they were a choir of staff working at a Kruger National Park camp. They had won some award and sang in front of parliament yesterday. I managed to get it all on video. It was pretty cool! 



Many think that the Cape of Good Hope is the southernmost point in Africa, but that is really 150 miles to the east at Cape Agulhas where the Indian and Atlantic oceans technically meet. However, it really is more like they meet at Cape Point because that is where the cold Benguela current of the Atlantic on the west coast meets the warm Agulhas current of the Indian Ocean on the east coast. 

Afterwards we drove over to Cape Point where there is a funicular up the mountain to the lighthouse. Some of us went further and walked up to the lighthouse itself where we were rewarded with unbelievable views of the point and Cape of Good Hope. Gorgeous!



We had one more stop on the way back up the peninsula and that was at Boulder Beach to see the penguins. These were African penguins that looked a lot like the Magellan penguins we saw in South America. I must admit, while a beautiful location, it wasn't nearly as impressive as Magdalena Island in Punta Arenas, Chile. 



Tonight we had a nice dinner at a local home in one of the townships. It was nice to interact with some locals and learn about them and what it's like living in South Africa. 

Tomorrow, we leave Cape Town for Hermanus. I am sad to leave. There is so much here to do, and 4.5 days are not enough. I could easily spend all 19 days here and still have things I didn't get a chance to do. Guess I will have make it a point to come back!


Day 5 - Cape Town

Today was a bit of a crap shoot weather wise. The clouds over table mountain started to clear up, but the wind was too strong for the cable car to run up the mountain.  Instead we went up to Signal Hill. , where I went to want the sunset that didn't really happen the other night. On e up there I could totally see why the cable car wasn't running because I almost blew away a few times from the wind, it was that strong!  It was nice to be up there on a sunny day and we had some spectacular views of the city and the mountains. On our way back down the mountain we stopped so our guide could show us the national flower, the protea, which is just now starting to bloom (it just turned spring here, remember). We got out of the bus and it was higher up an embankment and I was the only daring one to climb up it to get a decent photo of it. 



Afterwards we stopped and walked thru the streets of Bo Kaap, a Cape Malay neighborhood, with brightly painted homes. It reminded many of us of La Boca in Argentina.  We then drove around town some more, past some of the sites I had seen previously and then walked thru the company gardens. 



We then tried again to go up cable mountain but the car was still closed. Instead we had free time to walk around town.  We went and checked out some of the craft markets as well as a store that a friend suggested I seek out - carol boyes. Her stuff was amazing but I refrained since her stuff would be too heavy in my bag this early in the trip. She's got stores all over joburg so I'll check it out before I leave. 



Tonight was Friday night and being on a trip with Jewish singles, they like to do some kind of a Friday night service. However, since there's a beautiful synagogue in town, we went there. I normally do t participate but I could t really get out of it without leaving the group for the entire night. It was modern orthodox shul so the women had to sit upstairs and I had no idea what was going on bc it was all in Hebrew. Still, it was a beautiful shul. 

Afterwards we had an amazing (and long) dinner at Aubergine. Sooooo good! 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Day 4 - Cape Town & Museums Galore

Today is the day the group arrives and I am no longer traveling on my own and on my own terms. There's good and bad with that, but I'm glad I got to visit some of the places I would have missed with the group. The hotel I'm staying at was very accommodating and didn't make me switch rooms. 

This morning I took off to the District Six Museum which documents the forced  removal and demolition of an entire neighborhood with the purpose of wiping out a multicultural community to make way for a whites only city. The result was the removal of more than 60,000 inhabitants. It is revolting to read what they did. The museum remembers the families that lived in District Six for several generations and what it was like to be moved. These residents were vibrant parts of the community. 





From there, I walked down to the Castle of Good Hope which is the Cape's oldest colonial structure, built in the mid-1600s. It was interesting, but I quickly ran thru it. They did have a really nice ceramic exhibit. 

I had a whole route planned for the day and my next stop was meant to be the South African Jewish Museum. On the map it didn't seem like a long walk, but the taxi driver said it was. Of course I didn't listen and walked there, up a hill, about 3.5km.  This is where my lack of knowledge of Jewish  holidays works against me. Apparently today was a Jewish holiday and therefore the museum was closed. Sigh. Just my luck, huh? Should have gone yesterday when I had the chance, but it was probably a holiday then too. It's like every time I try to go to Mama's Vegetarian for falafels they are closed for some Jewish holiday I didn't know about.  So, having that roadblock I went and sat in the company gardens for a bit to cool down, relax and have a snack. 

Afterwards, I hopped back on the bus and went around the east side of table mountain (as opposed to the coastal towns I saw on the western side yesterday). It's amazing how different the climate and vegetation is from one side to the other.  A good example is that the east side of table mountain gets 80mm of rain a year whereas the airport 13km away gets a quarter of that.  It is much more green and lush than the western side which is drier. 



The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are on the east side of the mountain and display the natural vegetation of the Cape Floral Kingdom. It's a cultivated garden and nature reserve that includes rare and threatened species in its garden of extinction. Of course, I had a field day taking pics of all the flowers and trees. Way too many artsy pics to post but will eventually end up in my photo album. 



From Kirstenbosch I went to the World of Birds Sanctuary and Monkey Park which is the largest bird park in Africa and one of the few large bird parks in the world. It was really neat being able to walk thru the enclosures with the birds. At times I thought a few of them were gunning for me straight out if a Hitchcock movie!  They had everything from your basic ducks to bald eagles to peacocks and flamingoes. I came upon one enclosure where from behind I thought it was a crazy puffed out turkey of some sort, but then realized I was looking at the back side of a peacock. It was aroused and protecting something from the other birds. It was really cool!





I was beat by this point (and cold!) and hopped off real quick in Hout Bay for some much needed water and a few pictures. Then we followed the road over the mountain and then hugged the cliffs along the Atlantic before making it back to Camps Bay and the other coastal communities. 

Upon arriving back at the hotel I caught up with the group and then headed with them for an African dinner, complete with a drumming tutorial. It was a total tourist trap, but it was my first real African meal since I got here and it was really good! In between courses we were treated to some traditional singing and dancing. It was quite enjoyable. 

Tomorrow begins the first day of my official tour. 


 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Day 3 - Cape Town & Robben Island

When I arrived yesterday I learned that tix to Robben Island were all sold out thru Friday afternoon. I was really bummed because i had really wanted to go. However, the concierge at my hotel suggested I go first thing in the morning and see if there were any cancellations. I got there at 8:30 for the 9am tour and there were already a group of folks waiting for cancellations.  Within a minute a woman came up to us asking if we needed a ticket. She only had one and I was the only one there who was a single. Perfect!  She had something else she needed to do that day so her guide sold me her ticket. What luck!  I was going to be very bummed if I was here and didn't get to go. I read Mandela's book Long Walk To Freedom and was very moved by his struggles and the organizing of the apartheid movement. 

The ferry ride out was rough, and freezing because I sat up to of course. After a 25 min ferry ride we arrived on Robben Island and took a 45 min bus tour around the village and nature reserve. There are about 200-250 people who currently live on the island. Most of them work there or keep up the grounds. The buildings they live in were once the guards quarters.  


We learned that depending on what block you were in determined your privileges, including the number if times a year you could have visitors. To demoralize prisoners and their families, who sometimes travelled days to see them, visitors were often told that the prisoner was sick and couldn't be seen or the prisoner was told the family missed the boat. All the while they were both on the island. Terrible!

Once the bus tour was over we proceeded with a tour of the prison which was led by a former prisoner. I didn't catch his name, but he was imprisoned in 1981 at age 25. He operated underground for the African National Congress.  Inside we learned a out how prisoners were classified based upon their behavior or politics. There was a study room, where prisoners taught others and when they left many now had 1 or 2 university degrees!  At the height of the apartheid movement many letters were written from family members in code. The government would wait until something was revealed and then arrest family members or others based upon those letters. Also, prisoners in different blocks didn't intermingle but they were allowed to play tennis. They would stuff messages into the tennis balls and hit them over the wall to communicate with each other. 

Day 3 - Cape Town & Robben Island

When I arrived yesterday I learned that tix to Robben Island were all sold out thru Friday afternoon. I was really bummed because i had really wanted to go. However, the concierge at my hotel suggested I go first thing in the morning and see if there were any cancellations. I got there at 8:30 for the 9am tour and there were already a group of folks waiting for cancellations.  Within a minute a woman came up to us asking if we needed a ticket. She only had one and I was the only one there who was a single. Perfect!  She had something else she needed to do that day so her guide sold me her ticket. What luck!  I was going to be very bummed if I was here and didn't get to go. I read Mandela's book Long Walk To Freedom and was very moved by his struggles and the organizing of the apartheid movement. 

The ferry ride out was rough, and freezing because I sat up to of course. After a 25 min ferry ride we arrived on Robben Island and took a 45 min bus tour around the village and nature reserve. There are about 200-250 people who currently live on the island. Most of them work there or keep up the grounds. The buildings they live in were once the guards quarters.  

We learned that depending on what block you were in determined your privileges, including the number if times a year you could have visitors. To demoralize prisoners and their families, who sometimes travelled days to see them, visitors were often told that the prisoner was sick and couldn't be seen or the prisoner was told the family missed the boat. All the while they were both on the island. Terrible!

Once the bus tour was over we proceeded with a tour of the prison which was led by a former prisoner. I didn't catch his name, but he was imprisoned in 1981 at age 25. He operated underground for the African National Congress.  Inside we learned a out how prisoners were classified based upon their behavior or politics. There was a study room, where prisoners taught others and when they left many now had 1 or 2 university degrees!  At the height of the apartheid movement many letters were written from family members in code. The government would wait until something was revealed and then arrest family members or others based upon those letters. Also, prisoners in different blocks didn't intermingle but they were allowed to play tennis. They would stuff messages into the tennis balls and hit them over the wall to communicate with each other. 


We saw where Nelson Mandela lived for 18 years in the B block. Mandela wrote his book Long Walk to Freedom while in prison. Everyone knew he wrote it and the big challenge was how to smuggle it out of the prison without it being confiscated by the guards. Mac Majaraj smuggled the pages out by bringing in photo albums, and putting each page behind a picture. That way, when the guards flipped they the book, all they saw were pictures! What's hysterical (and ironic) is Majaraj became Mandela's first minister if transportation!  


After the tour and I was back on the mainland, I had  lunch outside on the water.  The seagulls are ballsy. Swooped in when I finished and started grabbing fries. At least they were kind enough for me to finish eating first! 

It was cold and overcast in the morning but then it turned into a beautiful afternoon. After lunch I hopped on the hop-on hop-off bus to get the lay of the land. My plan was to ride it first and then decide where I wanted to go from there. By the time I got to stop 14, which was Camps Bay, I was itching to get off and walk around. Camps Bay is a beautiful seaside community with an active beach and lots of restaurants. I had already eaten lunch so I just got out and started walking. There were huge boulders in the water which made for some fun photography options.  I then stopped for some gelato and then hopped back on the bus, winding our way along the cliff's edge and some of Cape Town's most expensive neighborhoods. 


Starting in Sea Point there's a promenade that hugs the coast all the way to Green Point and really, back to the waterfront where I'm staying. I'm hoping I will get a chance to walk it one of the days I'm here. 

I returned to my hotel for some quick warmth and charge of my iPhone battery and then was off for a night tour. The tour took me back thru the seaside communities I had just passed, but then up to the top of Signal Hill to catch the sunset. Because the route hugged the coast, I was able to get some great sunset shots; however, by the time we got to Signal Hill the sun was behind the clouds and no more sunset. At least I got the pics from earlier. 


Oh, and one interesting thing I learned tonight. While in Table Mountain yesterday we saw this cute furry creature that was a mix between a rabbit, squirrel and groundhog. It called a dassie and is native to South Africa. Turns out the dassie is the closest living animal to the elephant! Totally don't look alike and are on opposite ends if the spectrum for size, but they both have 4 toes on the front 2 feet and 3 toes on the back 2 feet. Crazy!


I'm back at the room again and ready to crash. As much as I'd like to go grab dinner somewhere, I think I'm just gonna mix a protein shake and crash. I have another long day ahead of me tomorrow, including the arrival of the rest of my group in the afternoon!

Day 2 - Cape Town & Table Mountain

It was a long 24 hours of traveling and very little sleep, but i eventually arrived here in Cape Town Round 3pm

I can't get over how spectacular Cape Town is. It is situated on the water with these gorgeous rock formations that remind me of the southwest.  The view from my hotel is of table mountain. 

When I arrived, the weather was perfect - clear skies. I had been told that the weather on table mountain can be very unpredictable and the weather on Friday is not looking so good, so I immediately hopped in a cab and went up there to walk around and watch the sun set. Also, even if we got to go up on the mountain on Friday, I wouldn't have had as much time to walk around and take pictures like I'd want to. This gave me the perfect opportunity to explore at my own leisure. 




To get up to table mountain, which is 3,558 feet above sea level, take a cable car that has a 360 degree rotating floor so you get a panoramic view on the way up, no matter where you are on the car. Kind of wild once it starts moving!  

Once I got up to the top I was spellbound by the scenery. I had a clear view down the Cape Peninsula to Cape Point which most believe is the southernmost point in Africa.  However, this is not where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. That is about 300km east of here. 

Table Mountain is quite large. I walked the Agama Loop which was a path all along the edge of the mountain. Unbelievable views, some of which I've posted here. The time of day was perfect because the sun was setting and therefore the light was great. I was not the only person up there for sunset. There were a good 50 folks that remained up there with me, some of which had picnic baskets with wine and cheese to watch the sunset. Of course, I was exhausted at this point and was running on fumes, but I was determined to stay up there. When I got back to the hotel I finally showered and then slept the sleep of the dead!





Sent from my iPhone

Day 1 - En Route to Cape Town

I'm off on another adventure, this time it's South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.  This blog has been on hiatus since my last trip and even then I don't think I finished all my entries for India. I think I just got so tired from all the traveling that I had no time to finish updating things. Oops!  Hopefully that won't be the case on this trip. I'm really excited to go on safari and see all these amazing animals in person and in the wild. I'm all decked out with my Canon 50D and brought an 18-135mm lens and a 70-300mm lens. I also picked up a new point and shoot (samsung) that has an 18x zoom and wifi so i can immediately transfer pics to my iphone and then upload them here or to facebook. Much better than relying on posting iphone photos on my trip. In addition, i borrowed a very powerful (and small/lightweight) pair of binoculars. So I think I'm all set to capture the animals. 

However, our first stop will be Cape Town, followed by Hermanus where there's excellent whale watching.  I'm headed out 2 days before the rest of the group and plan to do some sightseeing before they all arrive.  Most importantly, I want to go take the tour of robben island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned since we won't have a chance to do it on our tour. In addition, I might take the cable car up to the top of table mountain, because the weather forecast is not looking so good for the day the group is scheduled to go. If there weather is bad, they stop running the cable car and I definitely do not want to miss out!

I took off today for South Africa. Very excited. The flight was pretty easy but my sleeping pill did not so its job and I was up after only 5 hours of a very fitful sleep. Very frustrating. 

The guy next to me on the plane is on his way to Malawi for 1 month to work with a community to make bucket flush toilets and other things. Sounded really interesting and something I'd like to do someday (do a volunteer project abroad) when I have the time and money. 


Wednesday, September 11, 2013