South African Christmas (2)

Posted on January 7, 2012

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Having taken a detailed look at and done a lot of research into the slums around Nairobi, notably Kibera, I was interested to take a look at the famous townships around Cape Town. During the apartheid era, many black, Asian and “coloureds” (as they were known) lived in or were forced to relocate to these townships. Upon arriving in Langa, I was surprised by its appearance. There is no way I could argue that it looked particularly comfortable, but it was certainly more spacious than its Kenyan equivalent, most likely as a result of the abundance of land available on the Cape Flats. In areas where the post-apartheid government has invested in improvements by building new housing or renovating the old hostels, Langa actually resembled an American suburb in some respects. But there was no avoiding the continued, and by all accounts growing, presence of the shanties on the edge of the township, where some people continue to live in abject poverty two decades after the fall of apartheid.

After an excellent African tapas lunch at Africa Cafe, we took the cable car to the top of Table Mountain for unbelievable views of Cape Town and out to sea. The top of the mountain is a lot less flat than you would imagine and, though we were assured it was not what they would consider to be a windy day, the gusts were such that we feared standing too close to the edge while seemingly strong wooden walk bridges wobbled in the wind. In spite of the cold it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we lingered at the top for as long as we could stand it before taking the car back down to the shelter and sun of the mountain’s bottom. We returned to the house to spend Christmas in a relaxing fashion by the pool and the beach, venturing out only to take a look at the huge flock of penguins that reside on Boulder’s Beach, giving the appearance that they had once taken a wrong turn somewhere in the Antarctic and actually quite liked their new surroundings on the Cape peninsula.

Boxing Day was spent at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, where a concert had been arranged in the shadow of the mountain. The headliners were the apparently very famous South African indie-rock band Zebra and Giraffe, who actually turned out to be surprisingly good. It was certainly a very middle-class occasion, and we arrived with a full picnic in hand. The setting was a spectacular one for such an event, and if anything it was a shame that proceedings came to an end at 7.30pm. It was a good excuse for an early night, though, as the next day we faced the long drive to Albertinia, where we were booked on two days of safari. This was something that was a minor letdown after Kenya, having become used to expansive national parks filled with wildlife. Our base for safari was a private game reserve where animals are bought in from elsewhere, and though we saw most of the major animals of interest they were far from plentiful. Nevertheless the guides were very knowledgeable and I doubt I will ever be on the receiving end of so much information about antelope ever again. Our lodges were comfortable and authentic, while the down-time between morning and evening safaris was passed in a relaxing way by the pool.

From our safari lodge we made the drive to the town of Knysna, stopping of at Mossel Bay and Wilderness on the way for brief spots of relaxation by the beach. Knysna is a quiet little town on a lagoon, with a waterfront area that reminded us of the V&A docks in Cape Town. Our hotel was a nice one and we had a good seafood dinner by the water, complete with oysters (of which Knysna considers itself to be the home). The next day we took a boat trip across the lagoon, where whales can apparently spotted during the relevant season, to the Knysna Heads, to two juts of rock where the lagoon meets the sea. Here there is a national park, where we took a relaxing walk up to the point for views of the lagoon and the heads.

For the final stop of the trip we arrived in Franschhoek, at the heart of the South African winelands. The whole area has a very French vibe, having been established by immigrant Huguenots in the seventeenth century. The wine-tasting was excellent, with several lavish wineries dotted around the time. We spent new year at one such winery, having a seven-course meal and sampling the local wine, before taking a winery tour on a slightly thick head the next morning. It was a relaxed way to spend the last few days of the holiday before embarking on our mammoth journey back to the UK, via Istanbul.

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Posted in: Experience, Travel