Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Port Elizabeth to Cape Town

The Garden Route takes us from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town over the next few days. After reading my narrative below, I don't think it does this area justice. The towns along this route almost always have beautiful sandy beaches, and many have an interesting estuary as well. As we passed through a particular town, I kept thinking to myself "I could live here", and then we would drive to the next one…and I would have the same thought.

2008-11-05 - Port Elizabeth to Knysna

Jeffrey's Bay offers world class surfing, as does many of South Africa's beaches. Tsitsikamma National Park is our lunch stop. The shoreline is beautiful with sand and rock, and whales to see offshore. As the Brits in our group tell me, it could be the south English coast (or our shoreline off Victoria for that matter). Next stop is the world's highest bungee jump off Africa's highest bridge (Bloukrans) – Face Adrenalin. We watch as a woman jumps. It is a very long way down (216 metres), and she dangles there for awhile until they come down on a second line to pull her up. Next stop is Plettenberg Bay, which is an upscale town and residential area with a lovely sandy beach, but has a shanty town close-by west of town. Knysna town is also upscale with nice shops and quaint malls, just like home! We are staying in the Knysna Hollow Country Estate for the next two nights. It is quite deluxe, offering cottage style accommodation for everyone.

2008-11-06 - Oudtshoorn

Our day trip today takes us inland to George, the main town in this Klein Karoo region. Our first stop is the Cango Caves. The caves have dried out over the last few years because of lack of rain on the surface, however they are spectacular nonetheless. Next stop is an Ostrich farm near Oudtshoorn. A few of the lighter members of our group get to ride the ostriches. We stop in a mall in Oudtshoorn for a lunch break, and are entertained by the barking buggy boy in the parking area.

2008-11-07 - Knysna to Cape Town

We had torrential rain and strong winds all last night and this morning. It awoke me several times last night, since my cottage has a metal roof. Next stop was the Dias Museum in Mossel Bay, which is a maritime museum where the Portuguese explorers Vasco de Gama and Bartolomeu Dias are profiled. There is a full sized replica of Dias' caravel ship in the museum, which was apparently sailed from Portugal to South Africa awhile ago to commemorate the exploration of this area by the Portuguese. After having lunch in the farming and grape growing community of Swellendam, we drive through the 4km long Huguenot Tunnel and we are suddenly in the Paarl district, which is famous for their wines.

Before checking into our Cape Town hotel, Craig and Phineous take us up to Signal Hill. The views of Cape Town's shoreline and the mountains (including Table Mountain, the Apostles, and the Lion) are spectacular. We then check into the Hollow on the Square hotel and say goodbye to Craig and Phineous. I meet one of the single travelers on the tour and we take the hotel shuttle (R10 each) to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. It is a happening place – the locals are obviously out for dinner on this Friday evening. We managed to get the last unreserved table at the Wang Thai restaurant. It is wonderful Thai food. I have prawns and stir-fried vegetables with steamed rice, a corn meal appetizer and a cappuccino to finish (R200).

2008-11-08 – Peninsula Tour

This is my last tour in South Africa on my last full day in Africa. After leaving Cape Town, our first stop is Hout Bay, where I take the boat tour (R60 extra) to see the Cape Fur Seals on Duiker Island. We drive by the prison in Constantia where Nelson Mandela was held while being treated for TB while he was incarcerated. We stopped to see some parasail surfers at Witsand Bay. However, the main event for this tour is undoubtedly seeing the Cape of Good Hope. I didn't realize it is also a wildlife preserve – we spot Eland and Bontebok, and a couple of wild Ostriches as well. The Cape of Good Hope is a landmark, since it is the most southwesterly point of land in Africa. Many believe it is also the most southerly point of land in Africa, but that distinction goes to Cape Agulhas, which is another 200km further east along the coast. The original Cape Point Lighthouse was decommissioned after the Lusitania was lost on the rocks offshore. The replacement lighthouse is located lower down so it's not obscured by clouds. Last stop is an African Penguin colony at The Boulders, located near Simon's Town. We all get wind blasted with sand, so we don't stick around too long here.

Our guide is of Indian descent, and talks about the apartheid years and how his family had to move several times (they were considered "coloured"). Craig didn't talk about apartheid very much, unless I asked specific questions about it. He did say he felt it would take at least another four generations before the effects of apartheid would start to fade. He said at the start of our tour that South Africa is a land of contrasts. He was certainly correct on that score.

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