Saturday, August 31, 2013

Capetown, South Africa

First, apologies for the delay in posting! Internet has been a little less reliable lately, and sometimes even nonexistent. When it does exist, it's often metered, which makes uploading lots of photos a challenge. I'm going to try to get caught up as best I can, though I may only have internet (sort of) for the next two days and then possibly none for two weeks. We'll see what I can get done!.

Capetown is often described as one of the most beautiful places in the world to have a city. The views are stunning, absolutely, and the weather is lovely, and the ocean very blue. It's an incredible gateway to southern Africa.

The first time I ever visited Capetown was in 1999. It was my second trip to South Africa (the first was in 1997, not terribly long after the end of apartheid), and I was startled by the land of contrasts that it was then. There were tall buildings, beautiful homes, great restaurants -- and also shantytowns, and people who were homeless, and a lingering sense that all was not yet well.  More than a decade later, the country seems to have emerged from its rough patch and is moving steadily forward. Not that people don't have complaints about the way things are being run -- no government is perfect, after all.

The flight from Sydney to Johannesburg was very long -- almost 15 hours. It was also a day flight, which meant that we didn't really try to get Carter to sleep. By the time we landed, he was exhausted. Here he is at the airport, asleep on our luggage. He slept all through passport control and customs, rechecking our bags to Capetown, waiting in the lounge, and the flight to Capetown. I don't think he believes us when we tell him we took two flights that night!

Arriving in Africa meant that Carter has now been to all seven continents! (He's been to Europe several times already, and will be there again in a month.) It's fairly amazing to think that he's only 5 and has been to every continent. I'm not sure how many other 5-year-olds have done something like that, but I'm going to guess it's a small number.

After giving ourselves a day to get over our jet lag, we headed down to the beautiful waterfront. There is even more here now than there was a decade ago. This big Ferris Wheel, for example, didn't exist when we were here before.

Neither did this playground.

There is a mall on the waterfront with a huge variety of shops and restaurants. On that first day, we decided to try an Italian spot, and it turned out to have some of the best and most authentic Italian food we've had outside of Italy. And it had a lovely view, too!

There are many boat-related activities you can do here, and one day we went out on this pirate ship. It was really cute!

There was a birthday party in progress, and all the kids in the party were running around in pirate gear. It's really a fantastic idea for a birthday party!

We headed out for a cruise around the harbour, and were joined at one point by some dolphins who swam along the bow of our ship. (I have a video of that, but I'll have to upload it later because of bandwidth issues.)

We had lovely views of Capetown and Table Mountain (the flat-topped mountain in the center) from the boat.

The crew got into the act, of course.

I'd forgotten about Castle beer! It really is one of my favorite beers in the world, especially on draft. 

We rented a car for part of the time we were in Capetown, and on the first day we had it, we drove down to the Cape. Our first stop was in an African penguin reserve.

It's an incredibly beautiful spot.

As we walked along the pathways on this beautiful sunny day, I couldn't help thinking about the miserable day we spent looking for penguins in Argentina. The contrast was pretty amazing.

It was fun to watch the penguins waddle down to the water and swim off, while others popped up out of the water and waddled up the shore to regurgitate food for their chicks.

The penguin chicks were very cute and fuzzy.

Carter enjoyed the penguins, though I think he enjoyed running around on the walkways just as much.

We then drove down to the Cape of Good Hope, which is not, incidentally, the southernmost point of Africa. Depending on the currents, it can mark the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Its name is apparently a reference to the old sailing voyages from Europe to Asia that had to go around Africa. Those ships would often stop and resupply in Capetown, and so the passengers who'd been stuck on a ship for weeks were happy to see the Cape of Good Hope!

The water around the Cape is a gorgeous shade of turquoise, and there were some stunning white sand beaches below.

This photo is taken from Cape Point (the end of the Cape) looking north towards Africa. You can see water on both sides there: the Atlantic Ocean on the left and the Indian Ocean on the right.

You can hike up the steep hill to Cape Point or take a tram. (We did the latter.)

The view is insanely beautiful.

We took our time driving back, and checked out some of the gorgeous little beaches.

We got excited when we saw this ostrich: Carter's first sighting of African wildlife! But when we headed back out of the park later, we passed an ostrich farm just outside the gates -- so it was probably one from the farm that escaped, rather than a wild one!

We also saw some baboons -- definitely wild ones. There were signs all over warning that they could be dangerous, and that they know how to get in your car if you don't lock it!

The next day we drove out to Stellenbosch, one of the major wine regions in South Africa. We stayed at The Clouds, a winery with a hotel. We probably had a lovely view of the valley below, but it was rainy and cloudy the entire time we were there, so we never had a good view of it!

This region includes Stellenbosch, Franschoek, and several other famous appellations. We had three days here, and we spent parts of those days relaxing in our hotel room (especially when it poured rain outside) and parts visiting wineries. The entire region is dramatically beautiful, with lush valleys and rocky mountains.

Carter had an encounter with a large dog at one of the first wineries we visited. It's giving him a rather slobbery kiss here.

The wine estates in South Africa were all more opulent than the ones we've seen in North America and Australia, much more reminiscent of the South American wineries in style.

Carter was fairly patient with us! Exploring the winery and its grounds is something he usually enjoys.

Glen Carlou was one of our favorites. Unfortunately, one of the bottles we bought here turned out to be corked!

Noble Hill was another fantastic find. We enjoyed nearly everything we tasted here.

I think this was the best view of the valley we had.

By day three, Carter's patience was running out.

But when the rain stopped and he could run around outside again, he suddenly didn't want to leave!

One of the most interesting wineries we visited was the Ernie Els Winery, owned by the famous golfer. The winery was clearly a vanity project! Everything about the winery, from the design of the estate to the style of the wines to the attitude of the people pouring it, had been carefully crafted to create a particular sort of experience. The wines were big and over-the-top, and the pours were full glasses, and the staff kept talking about "Ernie's sophisticated Bordeaux-attuned palate" and so on. It was highly entertaining.

The views from the winery were definitely beautiful, though. Ernie picked a lovely spot.

We enjoyed tasting at La Motte (below), though we weren't impressed enough to buy anything. We didn't buy much wine, honestly -- everything we bought we'd have to drink before we took our next flight. 

We celebrated my birthday while we were in Stellenbosch. We bought cupcakes at a local grocery store and finally opened up this very old bottle of tawny we bought in Australia and have been carrying around. It was great!

Though Stellenbosch is generally known for Pinotage, we didn't see much of it while tasting. We were never terribly fond of it, but a decade ago, it seemed to be the wine every place was making. Now, not so much. Now all of those wineries have Bordeaux-style blends as their top line, and many of them were very good. We also had some good sauvignon blancs, though I still prefer the style they make in New Zealand. These are the bottles we bought while in the area, our favorites that we tasted.

There are lots of fantastic restaurants in the area, but most of them were in the downtown areas of the little towns, and parking was nearly impossible. We managed to eat at a few of them, though. And happily, many of the restaurants had play areas for kids - always a bonus.

We spent a few more days in Capetown after returning from Stellenbosch. Carter was happy to see the playground again!

We rode the Ferris Wheel.

Here Carter is posing with statues of some of the country's anti-apartheid heroes.

It rained the last few days we were in Capetown, but we found lots of things to do inside. We visited the Capetown Aquarium, for example. I loved this anemone clownfish exhibit that you could crawl inside. I also love Carter's shark face in this picture.

The sign by the exhibit said that the clownfish had imprinted on the plastic dome in their tank rather than on an anemone as they would under other circumstances, which is why you see them staying so close to it and even lying down on it!

We ended up going to the movies twice in the last few days while it rained. We hadn't been to the movies in ages, and so it was fun to go and do something like that! One of the things that has been interesting about this trip is how the extraordinary becomes ordinary, and vice versa. We're doing and seeing so many amazing things every day, and now that we're eight months in, it just feels normal, like this is our life. Being able to do something simple like cook breakfast or go to a movie or even to do a load of laundry (on those rare occasions when we've stayed in a place with laundry facilities) is suddenly completely special and even exciting, as hard as that my be to believe.  I even get excited when the hotel room has a coffee maker, because I could make coffee whenever I want. The trip has gone by so fast, and with only three and a half months left to go, I know that we'll blink and be home again, staring at each other and unsure what to do next. That's going to be a very strange experience. In the meantime, we'll have to just keep enjoying it and making as many memories as we can.

Like this one, for instance: When Doug and I first came here more than a decade ago, we had a drink in a pub on the waterfront, and were delighted to see that the pub had a playground. "A bar with a playground!" we said, and decided that when we had kids we'd have to come back to Capetown and have a drink in this very spot while our children played. Fast forward more years than we thought it would be, and with only the one child, but here we are, doing something we said we'd do. It's really a great feeling. :-)

From Capetown we flew to Johannesburg and then off to Madikwe Game Reserve, where we spent a week in a safari camp. There will be lots of fantastic pictures in the next post!

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