2003 - South Africa

                                                      Saturday 9th August

Leaving home at 1pm and dropping off a tent etc for Keren by meeting her in a carpark at Hatton Cross, we journeyed from Heathrow via Amsterdam and Johannesburg to Cape Town.  We landed just after 10.30 a.m. and arrived at the hotel at about 12.22 hours!

Still game for action, or fearing we would not sleep at night if we had a snooze, we went out.  A short shuttle ride took us to the Waterfront shops.  In part these are redeveloped warehouses and  inpart new shopping malls.

Following a good look round we looked at some local crafts in the Red Barn.  These included a German lady who had prepared pictures from red seaweed gathered in the Cape area.  Later we would buy one!!!

We had a very good meal in a fish restaurant there before returning and sleep!!


 Sunday 10th August

We took a whole day tour of the Cape Peninsula.  We were the only UK people out of 13 which included 6 from Saudi Arabia, 2 from Portugal, one from France, one from India and one from Japan.

The guide, Kyle, was excellent on his commentary. Our first stop was for a boat trip to a low small island or rock on which were certainly over 100 seals.  The weather was very cold and windy but rain held off.    We visited Kirkenbosh botanical garden which is beautifully set on a hillside at the foot of Table Mountain.  We passed through Simonstown, an ex-British naval centre, and some other coastal settlements.  We later stopped at Boulders Beach to see lots of penguins.  Apparently they took over a popular sandy beach in 1982 and are now protected and the community increasing.  The local human inhabitants are far from happy - they have lost their amenity and seen their houses devalued.

Lunch was an excellent meal at Cape Point National Park.  We chatted (in English!) with the French, Japanese and Indian men on the trip. This area is lovely bush or moorland granite and sandstone with wild baboons and ostrich.  The former we saw jumping merrily from car to car in the car park in search of food. In search of them was a paid warden with catapult and obviously a good aim since his presence produced immediate flight whilst ours had no effect unless we got in touching distance.  We saw probably 10 - 12.

We opted not to walk to the top of Cape Point but the scenery was spectacular.  We then went by bus the short distance to the Cape of Good Hope seeing several ostriches close up.  The Cape is low (perhaps 100 feet) but attacked by very rough waves producing a wonderful roar and spouts of spray.

Then homeward bound viewing the coastal scenery and Table Mountain and Lion Mountain on our way.

The hotel restaurant scored low in Adrian's expectations as it was called McRib Family Restaurant.  However it produced a very good meal  (like all our other meals) but  also an upset stomach for Adrian.


Monday 11th August

Today more shops to buy Jill trousers and trainers more suited to our activities than what she had brought from home.

Then a 20 minutes catamaran trip to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela had spent 1964 to 1982 before transfer to another prison till his release in 1990.  This is a small island perhaps 8 miles off-shore and occupied only by the former prison and its staff.   The whole is now a museum.  It is ironic that this prison enjoys a spectacular view of CapeTown and it surrounding mountains.

We first took a 45 minute drive around the island learning about its history.  This included a visit to the limestone quarry where Mandela and others worked.  There was also a graveyard of lepers whose colony pre-dated the island's use as a prison, ending in1932.  The island was also used as a defence in the second world war.  It became a political prison for black, coloured and Indian activists from1960.

The guides at the prison building itself are themselves ex-prisoners. Ours was a woman probably in her mid 40's who spent 6 and a half years in another jail for terrorism - importing arms.  She would have been there 1984 - 1990 till an amnesty following Mandela's release.

She was very sombre, as were her tales of torture, punishment, and censorship.  It was very moving.  We saw the cells including Mandela's and the exercise yard.  In this was a garden tended by Mandela and in which he hid the manuscript of his book "Long Walk to Freedom".  A copy of this was smuggled out to be published in London, shortly after the guards discovered the manuscript and meted out punishment to Mandela in the form of withdrawal of study privilege for 4 years.

The island has a number of animals.  Earlier we had  seen springbok, antelope and quail.  As we returned to the port we spent a short while watching some of the 25,000 penguins.  We saw them sheltering under bushes and in holes as well as gathered in huge numbers on the beach.

Altogether a very memorable trip.

                                                     Tuesday 12th (our anniversary!) 

I write this in bed, fully dressed and trying to keep warm in a little hut/room/lodge on safari! For these purposes fully dressed includes 2 shirts and 2 jumpers as well as having the electric blanket on.  Now I had always thought of hot sunshine and sheltering in the shade of the odd tree when I thought of safaris.  Not here!  We can see the snow on the mountains perhaps 2000 feet up from us and here a cold wind accentuates the temperatures of the 40s (Fahrenheit).  On our safari I wore 2 shirts, 2 jumpers (one of which was alpaca), a fleece, a kagoule finished off with a blanket,  Later a second blanket gave the required warmth apart from round the head and on the hands.  It was cold!!

We left Cape Town at 7.00 a.m. with 2 American trainee doctors and 3 women from Malaya.  The 2 hour road journey took us through beautiful mountain scenery and then onto wide bush/scrub plains surrounded by mountains.  The game reserve is 3,500 hectares, so getting on for 8,700 acres and was reached by several miles of dirt road. 

We had elected to stay for 2 days as we felt it would be different.  Well it has been!  The food has been excellent but far too much and we are recovering after struggling to eat a respectable amount served by 5 people.  We are the only overnighters and enjoyed the privilege of our own safari today and another to ourselves tomorrow.  Tonight we dined in splendour (relative) served by these 5 staff

The safari was excellent but as I may have  let slip a little on the chilly side.  We saw giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, springbok, water buffalo, eland, nyala, and several others(!) in our 2 hour journey by Land Rover.  

We saw all close up and whilst this is a game reserve, the animals are all natives of this region and the thornbush scrubland,  So a great experience,despite it being the coldest day of their winter which is now nearing its close.


Wednesday 13th August

There had been rain in the night so we never did see then fabulous night sky boasted about in the brochure.  Neverthless it did seem warmer.  By dint of Jill adding a couple of logs at 2am the fire remained alight all night and was quickly converted to a roaring centrepiece to our room when we got up at around 9.  After breakfast we set off with our guide for our second animal trip and were immediately rewarded with a close up encounter with two rhino at the water-hole with numerous springbok. The rhino were munching contentedly but are capable of charging with their vicious looking horns at up to 25kmph.  We stayed  there for probably 10 minutes learning more about them.  Then we were off again seeing a group of about 7 giraffe (just as interested in us as we were in them).  Also a group of zebra and some wildebeest were met at close quarters.  We travelled to parts not visited the previous day.  Whilst we probably saw fewer animals, it was very interesting and the beautiful mountains were seen at closer quarters and even  with some sunlight on them. With this little bit of sun and less wind, the day was much more pleasant but still rather cold on the move.

We had to stop whilst  2 tortoises crossed the track and then later we saw a couple of bat-eared foxes who stared at us for several minutes before deciding that they should make a run for it.

At lunch we were joined by a couple in their 60s who were the only people to be staying for  the next night.  They came from London and had just bought a 3 bedroom house at Simonstown for 38k and were planning to live here 8 months of the year and in London for the 4 summer months. 

African Eagle had to send a minibus the 217km from Cape Town to collect us.  Our driver Norman took us the scenic route back via Ceres and over a long mountain pass. The scenery was totally spectacular and the mountains extended for at least 150km of the journey.  Apparently he had encountered a number of baboons near Ceres as he came up this morning, but we saw none.

Arriving home at about 5.15 we felt we had had a really great visit which had been very worthwhile.  As part of this we had learned much about South Africa both from our experiences but also from our conversations. The guides had happily answered a multitude of questions on every imaginable subject.  As a result, we had come to feel that a visit to the townships would in fact increase our understanding, not be resented by the inhabitants but even help them. So that is where we head tomorrow.   


Thursday 14th August

This morning a tour of the city.  It is too cloudy for Table Mountain which is shut.

We visited District 6 museum.  This commemorates the resettlement of blacks and coloureds from one of 42 areas designated as white only.  Started in1901 following a bubonic plague outbreak it culminated in a proclamation in1966.  The signs such as "This bench for whites only" told a clear story.  We moved on to the Museum of South Africa which helped further in our understanding of how the country was populated from bushmen onwards.

Following a walk through the parliamentary areas we returned via a botanical garden.

We returned to the hotel for less than an hour before setting out on a township tour.  This was a small group (5 of us) led by  man from Langa, one of the townships.  Another longer visit to District 6 museum where we bought from the author a story of his experiences living in District 6 at the time of the resettlement .

Then we continued to the township where many of the buildings were hostels for men only built in the 40s and 50s.  Now families live there with communal rooms plus bedrooms that accommodate 3 families to a room.  We spent some time in one of these, first in the communal room with two stone trestle tables with stone benches, sink and cold tap.  They all have water, electricity and flush toilets.  The bedroom has 3 beds on frames going up to the ceiling and with one family per bed.  Our guide, in his late 30s(?), was brought up in a hostel like this in that same township.

Then we went to a shed that operates as a pub where for 5 rands men (only) can drink from 6.30 am till 9 pm a home made beer from a single large billy - we joined in - an experience I did not want to repeat.  There is 60% unemployment in the townships - 43% overall in SA.  There is no unemployment benefit where people have never had a job.

People were universally friendly and welcoming.  We then visited a herbal doctor whose dark shed had bits of animals (such as half an alligator head, snake skin, skeletons of animals) as well as brightly coloured powders.  Tristan, an English guy on our tour, bought a love potion but unfortunately the stopper was not secure and so he was left wondering how he would get it back to his girlfriend in London.

Then on to a shanty town, more reminiscent of Kenya where accomoodation was sheds of wood or corrugated iron.  However they did have electricity and waster.  It was strange to see colour TV in these squalid dwellings. Some brick rendered houses have begun to be provided by the Government - but in at least one instance the owners have extended it with a corrugated iron leanto.  There are little enclaves of vastly better housing with iron grills at the windows - one had obviously suffered at the hands of vandals and seemed to have been broken by a flying stone.  We then stopped at a kindergarten funded by these tours.

Not such a heartbreaking experience as I had had in Kenya but if I think of the practicality of living in such conditions I wonder how they do it.  Clearly the community and the optimistic and happy attitude make a difference.

It is strange to see some smart small brick built houses with security notices and cars - apparently some successful people still like to live in the area where they were brought up.