Happy New Year to one and all. December was an incredibly busy month for us, as I’m sure it was for you too. Between tying up lose ends before Christmas and putting on the holiday show, we had a lot on our plates. (I have never been covered in so much glitter in my life. Never again). On top of regular holiday festivities, we ran into a slightly more frightening situation. Before you click the link I promise you we were in no danger at all. (Although, it was very close to our house and school) The school board had us evacuated, drinking wine and playing cards by early afternoon. http://bit.ly/KJEb4F
On a lighter note, we headed to South Africa for our two week, well-deserved, vacation. As two weeks would make for a too long blog post, I’m only choosing 10 highlights of our trip.
1. Those South Africans are Courteous Drivers!
Matt and I drove from Johannesburg to Cape Town in one shot. (It totaled about 15 hours). The Drive was ok, reminded us a bit of Canada and a bit of the desert. Something we really enjoyed our entire trip, was the courteous drivers. On the highway, if a vehicle passes you, they will flash their hazard lights a couple of times as a thank you. You may flick your headlights back to acknowledge if you wish. As well, most vehicle pull in the large shoulders to let you pass. There was a lot less competition as there is in Canada. And a significant decrease in honking from Brazzaville. I would love to see Canadian pick up on the cute flashing.
We drove a total of 3991 km in two weeks!
2. Hello Western World!
The characteristic that helped tip the scale in our decision to head to South Africa was the western culture. We heard it was essentially like Europe without leaving Africa. I would say it had a more North American feel. Cape Town was definitely a driving city. Very large, and very developed. Prices and landscape were closer to that in Canada than Europe I think. We definitely got what we came for in terms of a break. We spent about 1.5 days at the mall, we got drip coffee to go, craft beer, we could use credit cards and we had our pick of delicious, cheap food. (that deserves a post all in it’s own)
McDonald’s has become a tradition when we drive from Edmonton to North Battleford.
3. A Cut Above the Rest (hehe)
Matt has been counting the days until he could get his hands on a kitchen knife. In advance, he researched knife brands and the place to shop in Cape Town. That was the first stop on our first day there. What. A. Kitchen Store! It was sketchy from the outside and stuffed full of high end commercial and personal cooking supplies inside. The knife selection took some time, but in the words of Matt, “When I picked up this knife, the feel of it, it chose me.” What a nerd. We cooked a little bit at our Cape Town home, so he had a chance to test it before he left. It cuts everything! Flying lemons, loaves of bread, fingers. You name it, Matt will slice it.
4. The Food
Remember that time we went to Paris in August and every single cool restaurant was closed? Never again. We had 4 dinner reservations and one wine tour booked in Cape Town months in advance. The nice thing about Cape Town is that you get incredible fine dining food at a reasonable price. We went to two of the top restaurants in Cape Town for multi-course meals with wine parings. We enjoyed a variety of fancy foods and fancy preparations like gels and foams and liquids served on the side. Admittedly, we were a little dined out by the time we left, but no regrets. My guess is that we won’t be sinking our teeth into any seared tuna while we are in Brazzaville. Our favorite overall dining experience was The Pot Luck Club. It was a tapas restaurant owned by Luke Dale Roberts, a famous South African Chef. He was even eating there that night. Matt recognized him from TV. This was a less fancy venue, but the food and atmosphere was superb. When we called a month advance to make the reservation, they only had room at the bar. Great decision! We had a view of the open kitchen, and got to practically watch a reality cooking show as we ate. The guy running the grill talked to us during the prep time and let us sample some food. Then, when service started, the grill man crashed big time, and we could see the meals that were backed up. It was incredibly fun.
5. Hiking Table Mountain
This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. I really enjoyed our hike. It is a pretty popular trail, and there was quite a variety of skill levels and age levels hiking up the mountain. For the average person, the hike takes about 2 hours. At our usual hiking pass, Matt and I scaled the mountain in 1.5 hours. Go us! As we hiked up we saw people wearing flats, bathing suits, and people who didn’t bring water. Really unprepared. Never mind the people who started the hike around noon, when there is no shade to be found! Many people hike up, and cable car down. There is also multiple trails on top of the mountain for people to explore. By the looks of the cable car line, we climbed the mountain in less time than waiting for our turn on the cable car. We both felt that the view was kind of tainted because anybody can get to the top if they want. We prefer a view that is hard earned. The hike was great nonetheless. And, we were both rather soar the next day(s)!
6. Wildlife (Seeing and Eating)
South Africa has all the wildlife you would go to Africa to see. There is an abundance of game reserves for tourists. We didn’t go to any, as we plan on heading to East Africa eventually. Just from our drive and a bit of exploring, we came across some fun animals. We saw monkeys on the side of the road a couple of times. There were lots of signs warning people about baboons. We also, drove up to Simon’s Town (which is on the way to Cape Point) where we walked alone the beach and saw some penguins. Very cute! On our drive home, we saw a few Kudo and Springbok farms where you could see the little guys in the fields.
Like I mentioned above, we weren’t there to see the animals. Matt was more concerned with eating them. We tried nearly every wild meat. Kudo, Springbok, Ostrich (4 ways), Takbok (it’s like reindeer), oysters, and lots of seafood. Biltong, which is like jerky, is a popular snack, so we brought a mix home for later enjoyment (along with some wine!)
7. Cape Town in the Past (or not so past)
On Boxing Day, we found a free walking tour of Cape Town where we learned about different neighborhoods, the number of Europeans who tried to colonize SA and of course, Apartheid. Neither Matt, nor I, knew that Apartheid ended so recently (1990). Prior to that, there was complete separation of races, and each person had to carry an identity card that outlined their rights. The whiter you are, the more rights you had. We learned about both the Dutch and British involvement in colonizing South Africa, and of course a bit about Nelson Mandela. There were lots of posters and memorabilia of Nelson Mandela around the city, partly because he recently died, and partly because people really love him.
Below is a picture of a Cape-Malay area in Cape Town. The Cape-Malay culture began because South-East Asians were brought to South Africa as slaves. This neighborhood is famous for its colorful houses. This trend started because there was a lack of street addresses, and the doctors house was hard to find. He painted his house purple, and told his clients to look for the purple house. And now it’s a trend.
8. Giant Dinosaur Birds
Riding an Ostrich was #1 on Matt’s wish list. We headed to an ostrich farm, which was in a town that was clearly famous for ostriches. Every business and restaurant was somehow ostrich affiliated. Our tour was about 45 minutes long. We saw baby ostriches, got to feed one, stand on the eggs and Matt got an ostrich hug. They are bizarre, ancient looking creatures. They only have two twos and their necks can twist completely around. Did you know that the meat and joint underneath their wing is actually the knee? Their rear-end is the hip. So really they are a set of legs with a neck attached. The grand finally of the tour was the ride. Only six people in our group could ride, and thankfully, Matt was chosen. The whole affair looks very awkward and uncomfortable. They blind fold the ostrich until the rider is on, then away you go, with two jockeys holding on. After everyone had rode, a jockey showed us how they ride. The use the neck to steer and stop. I think ostrich racing is an actual thing.
After our tour we ate at the farm. We had the ostrich platter, which included ostrich steak, kebabs and carpaccio.
9. Bungee Jumping
I had read that South Africa had one of the highest bungee jumps in the world. Pourquoi pas? In the picture you can see in the center of the bridge where the jump site is. We went up in a large group and your jumping order is predetermined. There is music playing and the staff was very happy. This jump, was also quite a bit cheaper than other places. (As are most things in South Africa) This jump is 216m whereas as the World’s highest one is 233m. It was scary and fun. I would definitely do it again!
10. The Country as a Whole
Overall, our trip was great. South Africa is very interesting and very diverse. Cape Town definitely has a different vibe that Johannesburg. Although, we were only in Jo’burg at night, it did not feel as safe. In fact, I feel like Jo’burg has a reputation for being a rough and tumble city. Granted, we were warned by everyone in Cape Town to never carry too much cash, and hold on to your belongings. Apparently, hiking trails can be dangerous as well.
In Cape Town, it seemed that the people love it there. They are proud of their country and the improvements it is trying to make. There is an obvious class division, but citizens are trying to be accepting and equal. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate is very high and there is little job security. The public school system has little support, so if a family can afford it, the students will be in a private school. Overall, it had a very western feel, and it was a great choice in the hope of getting away from Brazzaville.
Now that we got our fill of eating and shopping, we are leaning towards a more strenuous Christmas next year. Maybe a safari or a mountain? Who knows!