Thursday, February 26, 2009

Day 2 - Cape Peninsula

Today I got a taste of first-world South Africa as my South African friend Derrick showed me around the southern part of the Cape Peninsula, which has to be one of the world's most scenic locales. The way I like to describe the Cape Peninsula is that it is a larger, steeper and dramatic version of San Diego's Point Loma.

The morning was spent slowly meandering through the towns on the False Bay side of the peninsula--St. James, Kalk Bay and Simon's Town. The former two towns are sleepy fishing and retirement communities with bland architecture. Simon's Town, on the other hand, is a naval base. Its draw though are the jackass (African) penguins on Boulder's Beach. While they were impressive, their numbers were nothing compared to the humongous (hundreds of thousands) Magellanic penguin colony in Punta Tombo, Argentina.

The drive down to the southwesternmost tip of Africa, Cape Point (apparently, the Cape of Good Hope is another, though less visited point on the Cape Peninsula) was breathtaking. We drove up the windy road, which gave us an elevated view of False Bay with the towns and mountains behind us. Even though there were signs instructing people not to feed the baboons, we did not come across any.

After parking at Cape Point, we took some time to hike down to the tip (or almost the tip) of the peninsula. During the walk, we observed the ubiquitous fynbos, the indigenous flora (shrubs) present on the Cape Peninsula. We also saw two lighthouses, one slightly behind and elevated compared to the other one, which sits at the absolute end of Africa. The phenomenal views at Cape Point included waves crashing, the steep cliffs and the beach between Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope.

We then drove up the peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean side, passing through the quaint villages of Scarborough, Kommetjie and Noordhoek. There was surprisingly a township by the ocean next to Kommetjie. Lunch consisted of sandwiches at the Noordhoek Farm Village. After refueling our bodies, we went for a photographic stroll along Long Beach at Noordhoek, an 8km-long and extremely wide beach. The views here were spectacular-- to the south was Kommetjie with its lighthouse and to the north were several mountains of the peninsula. The sand here was white and fine; I felt like I was in the desert. We observed several horses cantering along the beach. On a side note, the Atlantic waters here are just as frigid as the Pacific waters near San Diego!

The late afternoon of the day's tour was spent driving through the interior of the peninsula, past the vineyards of Constantia, South Africa's oldest. The area was lush with trees alongside many of the roads. What is amazing to me about the Cape Peninsula is that mountains, beaches and forests are all within a few kilometers from the city center. It's like one enters a completely different world within minutes of driving from the city!

We spent the last part of the day stopping briefly at Hout Bay (or the Republic of Hout Bay; don't remember why it's still called a republic), a fishing community on the Atlantic. Nearby is Duiker Island, which contains a seal colony. We were also able to observe a part of the Chapman's Peak Drive from Hout Bay Harbor. This drive is one of the world's most spectacular coastal drives, with jaw-dropping views of the ocean while meandering through. Unfortunately, the drive was closed for maintenance.

Overall, absolutely fantastic day in which I got to experience the natural beauty of Cape Town! I thanked and bade Derrick farewell just before dark and promised to reciprocate him for his hospitality by showing him around San Diego in the near future.

Day 1- Arriving in Cape Town, South Africa

Including transit time, my flight from San Diego to Cape Town took 23 hours! Luckily, I had no one sitting next to me on my Atlanta to Dakar and Dakar to Cape Town flights. Both flights were only half full, which is not good news for Delta Airlines. (I hope they don't start charging for food on international flights.) To sum up my Delta experience, I would have to say that the airline is stingy. They served us one meager meal on an eight-hour segment! Also, who ever heard of an international long-haul flight in which passengers do not have individual TV screens?

Because the transit in Dakar, Senegal was so interesting, I have to add a few points about it. First, we arrived there at 4:30am and that passengers who would be going to Johannesburg had to stay on the plane while the Cape Town and Dakar passengers de-planed and Senegalese authorities came on board to search for illegal items. This I found bizarre as how could anyone have smuggled any items while flying? We were then shuttled to a waiting room and then within one hour boarded our plane to Cape Town.

A few minutes into the Cape Town flight, the flight attendants came by and sprayed an insecticide that the South African government required. I later learned that this was to kill mosquitos.

The highlight of the flight was the descent into Cape Town, as I got to observe Table Mountain and the rest of the Cape Peninsula mountains rising majestically behind the city. I was also able to catch a glimpse of Robben Island, the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for many years.

Upon landing, I collected my bag only to find out that my brand-new sleeping mat had fallen out of the bag straps! Boy had I learned my lesson.

Since the flight arrived earlier than scheduled and my CouchSurfing host Hannes was not yet off work, I waited in the Cape Town Airport. I did not realize how small the airport of this major city would be. (They are expanding it in time for next year's World Cup.) While waiting, I immediately noticed the diverse racial mix of South Africans, including the Malays and Indians. Another interesting point to note is that the ATM display is available in eight languages!

Hannes kindly picked me up from the airport and we proceeded to drive through the city. En route, I saw the infamous Cape Flat townships whose shacks house 2.5 million of the city's 3.1 million people! This is the third-world side of South Africa that so few foreigners get to observe.

We drove up Table Mountain to the trailhead with gorgeous views of the City Bowl and harbor. We also drove down the mountain to Camps Bay and up the coast along Clifton, past the Waterfront and Bo-Kaap (more info about these places when I actually do a neighborhood tour).

I spent the first of three nights at Hannes' apartment in the southern suburb of Diep River. He prepared a delicious South African meal of bobotie (shephard's pie with ground beef, curry, dried fruits and eaten with rice). This is a traditional Cape Malay dish in which the spiciness of the curry is mitigated by the sweetness of the dried fruit. I savored the scrumptuous meal along with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from nowhere but South Africa's Stellenbosch region.

My Adventures in Southern Africa

As some of you know, what had originally slated to be a one-year round-the-world experience is now up in the air as I was not able to find someone to sublet my room in San Diego.

However, my six-week trip to Southern Africa will proceed as I make my way from South Africa to Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls with a one-day stopover in Paris en route back to San Diego.