South African Christmas (1)

Posted on December 29, 2011

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After a hectic last few weeks at work rushing to get content for two magazines written and edited, it was with some relief that we closed the office and were able to look forward to a long break. A manic Christmas party was hastily and successfully arranged, and after a blur of a few days I found myself en route to a different part of Africa to meet my long-ignored family for a well-deserved holiday.

South African Airways did their very best to make sure my break got off to the least-relaxing start imaginable, first advising me that my bag would change planes at Johannesburg (it didn’t), then saying that they had located my bag (they hadn’t) and that it would definitely be on the morning flight the next day (it wasn’t). Luckily it was located the next day, with my family able to pick it up at the airport upon their arrival, and the holiday could begin properly.

South Africa in general, and Cape Town in particular, is worlds apart from the Africa that I have become used to in Kenya. The tarmacked streets and highways of Cape Town are more reminiscient of western cities than the busy dirt roads of Nairobi. Bustling side streets and rammed bus stations are replaced by wide open spaces, ample greenery and towering buildings. For all its chequered past, South Africa is the booming nation of the continent, and its major cities certainly demonstrate that. After spending our first afternoon recovering from difficult flights by the pool, we headed off to Mama Africa’s for some food and traditional music later that night. My meal comprised of kudu, ostrich, springbok and crocodile (it tasted better than it sounds), and we celebrated the reunion with several beers and by dancing to the distictive drum beats of Cape Town’s leafy streets.

Next morning we strolled around the attractive V&A docks area of the city, which has various upmarket shopping centres and cafes, and is also where boats depart for Robben Island. Again a distinctively African feel was mostly lacking, this area is owned and populated by people with money, and the ambience reflected it. The purpose of this morning was just to get a quick look at the area, however, and before long we had picked up our hire car and, after a quick look at the 2010 World Cup final stadium, were driving towards the coast. The drive along the peninsula is a stunning one, with brilliant coastal views the whole way, and after a brief stop for lunch in the picturesque and beachy Fishhoek, we arrived at our house at Seaforth beach. About halfway down the peninsula towards the Cape of Good Hope, the area was quiet and comfortable, with the beach an easy walk. A few penguins were to be seen scrabbling around in bushes (their hangout at Boulders Beach is a short walk away), adding a bizarre flavour to the whole experience.

After a quiet night, we set off the next morning into the Cape of Good Hope National Park, stopping at various points along the way to take in the scenery. The park is fairly devoid of wildife, aside from birds and some hiding baboons, but the views are as spectacular as you would expect from the southernmost point of the African continent. We parked up at Cape Point and walked up to the lighthouse on the top, which by all accounts was quite useless when it was in operation. Even from here it was clear to see that the outlying rocks surrounding the point would be extremely hazardous for passing ships. From Cape Point we took a short walk to the Cape of Good Hope itself, battling our way through Japanese tourists for a picture by the famous sign. Windswept and burnt, we retreated back to our house for a barbeque dinner (or braai, to the South Africans).

The poor weather the next day did not put us off making the trip to Robben Island, but did make the journey over there rather more choppy than we had allowed for. Perhaps becoming the first people in history to be relieved to be arriving on Robben Island, we were ushered into buses to make the tour of the island. It was once used as a leper colony, with last parts of land used as leper graveyards, while it had been used as a prison island well before Mr Mandela and others who opposed apartheid arrived. It was a surprise to most of us to find that people still inhabit the island, not just the former prisoners who now act as guides but also a small village of people with a post office and a school. Unfortunately the school has just been forced to close having been undersubscribed, and the children that reside on the island are now forced to get the boat to the mainland each day to attend school. The tour of the prison sites, and a look into Mandela’s tiny cell, were as sobering as one would expect before we took the long walk to freedom back to the boat and on to the mainland.

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Posted in: Experience, Travel