(South) African Sarfari

We flew north on South Africa’s Airlink airline on a very unusual British Aerospace jet. Almost looks like a cartoon jet or an old Soviet based cargo carrier…

But I have to admit, they have better coach and food service than any other US based airline!

We are now in Kruger National Park and doing some adventuring at the Lions Sands game reserve.

These huts are better than most inclusive resorts I have ever seen around the world or Caribbean…and they do NOT have electric fences like you see around every hotel, apartment and home in Cape Town.

The elephants will come by your hut every day and have lunch with you!

But, the monkeys will join you too.  and they LOVE bread and will fight you and bite you to get it if you are not careful.  They are SMART and clever.

Now, in just 1 day, what did we see? Anything?  Let’s start with the giraffe’s who like to eat close to the river as the trees have green leaves during the wintertime where the trees further out have not in order to save water. This one was male.

and of course, we ran into a herd of Zebras.  We actually ran into two herds that were close to each other, so that was a pleasant surprise.

Lots and lots of elephants!  Here is a group that were moving on through first thing in the morning and taking their kids to the park.

This one had a little bit too much testosterone and almost charged us when we came close.  I don’t think the ranger’s heavy duty rifle can protect against these situations…

We ran into some hyenas in the morning and night.  They are very unusual characters without a doubt.

Now I know the warthogs are not everyone’s favorite pet, but they are the lion’s source of pork chops!

I know everyone is asking, did we see any lions?  Here was a trip that were taking an early morning nap after we stopped by to say hi. We will check back with them later tonight.

In closing, we did see a leopard, rhino and hippos…but they were quite a bit of a distance from us.  So, I will use that as an excuse for at least one more safari blog.

 

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Wildlife in the Southern Tip of Africa

Today we went down south the explore the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point.  Very popular locations, but surprisingly they were not too crowded and you could easily get around and take pictures.

Cape Good Hope

I only wish we had more time to do some longer hikes to explore all the views along the coast.  Definitely some amazing hiking trails here despite the wind and the light rain.

Along the way, we certainly got to check out some of all the famous beaches and luxury homes all owned by the world’s celebrities.  The odd thing is this coastline ALWAYS has brutal winds in the summer and the winter…yet it is so popular.

We certainly also ran into lots of interesting wildlife (in the wild) like these SA antelope which were grazing along side the mountain.

As well as wild ostriches that also roam the countryside.  Ostrich is a very popular and quite a tasty meat dish here in South Africa.

We continued to avoid the light rain today and also got to take a short hike up to the Cape Point lighthouse which was a little further south.

 

Some amazing views up here and you can view the Cape Hope from above as the Atlantic and Indian oceans converge here.

We then headed back up north a little to Simon’s Town to have a local beer and local fish (Hake).

Along the way, you do run into some of the local children trying to make a few coins.  It is hard to resist not being supportive of this poor country and economy.

This is a great town/city for a stop as there are some unique birds that are quite animated and craving attention…

because everyone likes to visit and say hello to all the African penguins that make their home here.

There were definitely some very young “chicks?” that you could observe in their home nests. This is one of the best and easiest places to meet penguins north of Antarctica!

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South Africa Wine Country

Since we are in South Africa, we needed to check out the wine country!  Last night we took a drive to Steenberg which is in Constantia Valley and outside of Cape Town.

We checked out the Steenberg Vineyards which is one of the oldest in the region apparently.  These are old vines, but they are less than 3 feet tall which was very different compared to living in the WA state wine region.

It is actually a very nice collection of farms, restaurants and winery.

We had a nice dinner and wine pairing in one of their restaurants.

Summary:  very good wines, very lightweight ports and decent pairing…but I am still biased and prefer the WA state wines compared to South Africa.

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Tabletop Mountain – Cape Town

This morning we to the top of Tabletop Mountain which is one the modern wonders of the world.  Because we did not want to spend the full day hiking up 1500 meters, we took up the Swiss made cable car which was quite a delight.

It rotates as you ascend and descend which I captured in this video.  That is why it is hard to capture the entire experience as the window moves past you.

The views are simply amazing and breathtaking.

It was a cold sub-40 degrees out and quite breezy, but you cannot resist walking around and taking it on all the views of the surrounding areas.

Check out the video of how fast the clouds move across the mountain and sometimes surround it in minutes.  It is nice to actually be in a place where you are not restricted by fences, paths, etc.  You have complete freedom.

There are also a native animal that lives on top of the mountain called “dassies“.  They are quite friendly and aggressive in getting junk food…and are all overweight because of the tourists!  They are a unique species to South Africa.

We then took a walk around Kirstenbosch Gardens which is famous for being on the other side of the Tabletop Mountain and has 8,000+ different species of plants, flowers and trees.  Very popular for tourists and locals to picnic and take a relaxing afternoon.  It is not lush, but very unique and reflective of the southern Africa climate.

This was a delicious natural spring that was built in the last century by a British Colonel when they still controlled the country.  It is shaped like a bird since it was built by Colonel Byrd.

We then ended the afternoon with a late African style lunch at Moyo’s which had some great food, but the staff struggled a bit with all our different beverage asks…

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Robben Island – Cape Town South Africa

Before kicking off the main topic of this posting, a quick travel update from a dinner gem site we found last night…

Last night, we had an amazing dinner at the Pot Luck Club restaurant which can be found in the old Biscuit District/Factory.  This is a small place, but borderline Michelin star tapas.  It is hard to get in, but recommend planning in advance and using the Platinum AMEX concierge to get you a table.  Believe me, the $40 per person reservation charge is worth the risk!

This morning, we took the Nelson Mandela museum history tour over to Robben Island where he was held for 18 years as a political prisoner.  It is a 45 minute boat road to get the island 7 km off the coast of Cape Town.  You can see Tabletop mountain in the distance.

There is kelp everywhere…almost displeasing to the sight, but that is what political prisoners used to harvest for farmers when they were in captivity.

I also did not know that the British had huge 19 inch gun emplacements all over the island to defend Cape Town in WWII.

The island is quite large and many people still live on it to maintain the museum and provide tours. A local showed us the limestone quarry where Nelson Mandela and others were forced to work and mine limestone for building more prison facilities.

The pile of stones was formed a number of years ago when Nelson Mandela hosted and led a reunion of many prisoners that worked here when in prison.

We had a former prisoner give us a lecture and guide us through the prison.  Many were held in individual homes and cells as individuals for many years.

The facilities were so spartan and limited…they were almost as bad as the WWII concentration camps and they did not even have hot water or windows until the 1970s.

Nelson Mandela’s cell

This was Nelson Mandela’s individual cell where he lived for 18 years when at this prison.

This is a landmark in how we fight social oppression.

Overall, it is a long 4-5 hour tour and very important history for South Africa and the world.  But you must remain patient and take your time as it is a slow paced guided tour and the facilities are slowly being worked on to restore and bring the whole experience to a museum quality facility.

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South Africa

We landed late last night into Cape Town South Africa, and ran into a few luggage challenges, but they all did get sorted out.  It is nice being in a city when you can use Uber very reliably and cheaply to get around quickly.  Only $15 to or from the airport during non-rush hour time windows.  $20 if you want to pay for UberBlack.

We are staying at the Cape Grace hotel which is backed by the famous Tabletop Mountain on one side and the active community waterfront/marina on the other.  A perfect blend of location, luxury, history and great hotel service.

The waterfront is full of history, places to eat, museums, statues, music and tours.  Stay tuned for more on this topic tomorrow…now on to the more interesting topic for today!

Now the weather in South Africa and Cape Town can be quite variable in the winter months, so when you have good weather, what do you take advantage of? Go hiking early in the morning in the mountains before the sun rises!  This shot is a nice view of the city when we were about half way up the Lion’s Head peak with the crescent moon still up on the sky.

Of course, we saw the sun rise on the other side as we made slow circles up the mountain to accomplish the steep 600+ meter climb towards the summit which is quite tricky in some spots where ladders and chains are necessary.

Lion’s Head

Here is what it looks like from the bottom when we walked back down when the sun was starting to get hot and the holiday crowds swarming the trails.

Summary: it is not a novice trail and even though you do not need hiking boots, the rocks and steps can be quite narrow and tricky to navigate.  We were told that at least 1 helicopter evacuation/rescue occurs every day on these hiking routes because it is so accessible, but requires careful navigation.

Here is a quick video of the sunrise and feel for the quality of the rocky trail on the way up to the top.

One of the really delightful aspects of hiking in South Africa is the fact that EVERYONE says “hello” and “good morning”.  One of the friendliest countries I have ever encountered on my travels when it comes to meeting people in parks, hiking or exploring.

and if you would like to get a peek at Brad Pitt’s house down below the 7 Apostle peaks, check out this video.  That is a very exclusive and expensive gated area of Cape Town.

Overall, Cape Town feels pretty safe, and it is not as problematic as Johannesburg as we have been told, but there is sure a lot of razer wire and electric fences on top of many walls in many parts of the city that resembles the risky areas of Lima, Peru that I have seen a few years ago.

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Amsterdam

On the way to the latest adventure, we chose to stop overnight in Amsterdam to break up the long flight sequence.

So, we hopped on the train from the airport to downtown Amsterdam.  Bikes are VERY popular here.  I only wish they had the $1 an hour Lime bike rentals like we see in Seattle nowadays!

We took a nice leisurely evening walk along the canals.  It was 90 degrees out, but the overcast sky and light breeze made it quite nice.  It was amazing to have a constant diversity of languages and tourists…every 5 minutes you heard another language being spoken.

We of course took the opportunity to visit and honor Anne Frank’s hideout during the Nazi occupation during WWII.  We did not go into the museum as it was too late, but it was a nice way to remember the history and what has occurred in the past in this famous city.

We then ended the walk with some local cuisine and beers.  The local schnitzel was delicious and their specialty was Moules Frites.  The mussels were amazing…the only problem was the local bees like it even more than the dinner guests!

Flying off (south) tomorrow.  Stay tuned for the next wave of exciting adventures and some surprises!

 

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