All photos taken by yours truly.
When people hear we went to South Africa they ask
- What it’s really really really like in South Africa?
- What was the best part of the holiday?”
- “On a scale of 1-10, how was your holiday?”
So much has been written about South Africa by great writers like Nadine Gordimer, J.M Coetzee, and Alan Paton, whose book “Cry the Beloved Country” written in 1950 begins,
“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa….”
Don’t worry, I know this is the internet, the place for quick reads, I haven’t written a novel, just a little travelogue – with many photos which you can speed through.
South Africa is a beautiful country, but no one day or one thing stands out as the best, each day of our three-week vacation was an adventure of vibrant colors, smells, sounds and magnificent scenery.
The ANC government is as plagued with scandals as many other African countries.
Most people in the country are poor.
As this photo of an informal settlement outside Cape Town was taken from a moving vehicle, it’s not the best quality, but I hope you can see the houses built right next to each other.
Some highlights, in no particular order:
The early wake up call from the hadeda’s meant that every morning around 6:30 a.m I’d be sitting outside on the veranda with my coffee and a rusk listening to the birds in the garden – the turtle doves, weavers, mynahs, grey mouse birds – singing their welcome to another African morning. A lovely way to start the day.
I don’t think one can say whether this view of False Bay (about two hours from Cape Town) is better
than this one of a creek, in the mountains near the trout fishing area of Dullstroom, several hours north-east of Johannesburg,?
Can you say which mountain is better? This one
or this one?
Neither can I, and we don’t need to. We can agree that it’s a beautiful country.
When I walked into the self-catering apartment at Sea Forever in Simons Town, about an hour south of Cape Town, to find myself in a house on a hill overlooking the ocean with magnificent 180 degree views of False Bay, and the Swartberg Mountains directly behind the house, was like a dream come true.
Even though I had a great book to read (more on that later) I didn’t want to waste a minute of our short visit with my head in a book, and spent all the time we were at “home” soaking up the view: you can see both sunrise and sunset, as well as the most unbelievable night sky, and if you’re fortunate to be there during whale migration season, the whales swim right past the house. We hope to see them next time.
Mr F and I agreed that Cape Sea Forever was without a doubt the *best* place we’ve ever stayed at, and on the scale of 1-10 we give it a 10 plus: in addition to the priceless view, and wonderful location near the beach and Cape Point (more on that later), the apartment was spotless, the kitchen had everything one would need, the owners Diane and Peter, who live downstairs, were friendly and helpful, and then there’s the huge, really comfy bed…
We spent three days at Forest Creek Lodge, about three hours north-east of Johannesburg which is in an area famous for it’s trout fishing (yes Mr F is a fly fisherman).
We stayed in the self-catering cottage which came with a well equipped kitchen, and lovely bath tub. It’s situated in an incredibly beautiful valley surrounded by mountains along a creek.
We were fascinated by the wealth of birdlife, and Mr F was thrilled to see a troop of baboons early one morning.
One note of caution: to get to the Lodge we had to drive 4.5 km along one of the worst roads we’ve ever been on. It was more like a donkey track and we should have been in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Mr F kept the car in first gear the whole way and couldn’t admire the view, because he didn’t dare take his eyes off the road for one second. But it was worth it, and thank goodness it didn’t rain while we were there.
When Mr F went fishing for the day, guess what I did? At the end of the worst road we’ve ever driven down, in the middle of *nowhere*, I sat in this room with an endless view of the lush valley below, and had a manicure.
Even though it was summer I took the same walking shoes I wore in Italy in October, and was glad to have them, because besides walking every day we also went on some marvelous, though challenging hikes.
On one particularly lovely hike near the town of Betty’s Bay, a couple of hours from Cape Town, the six of us climbed past notices like this
faced about a dozen ladders like this
to reach this waterfall
The water was so cold I could barely put my toes in.
On another hike near Forest Creek Lodge, the creek was higher than usual and flowing very swiftly, due to heavy summer rains, which meant the stepping stones were all underwater. The path went back and forth across the water, we couldn’t avoid the crossings. We took off our shoes and socks for most of them.
We visited several Museums, and of course a visit to any museum in South Africa includes the history of apartheid. It’s shocking to see a sign like this
We took the boat tour to Robben Island. The island, which is a hot barren windswept place with no trees or natural vegetation eight miles from Cape Town, has been a leper colony, a jail for black male prisoners – both political and hardened criminals – and is now a Museum.
In 1960 Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, a university lecturer, was the first black political prisoner to be sent to Robben Island. His original sentence of three years solitary confinement was extended to eight years. His lonely house still stands, surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence in the middle of nowhere.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 years, from 1964 – 1982.
During all those years he was allowed to receive two letters a year, and slept on the floor in this cell.
I was surprised to learn that Black prisoners weren’t given bread or jam. The tour guides of the jail are all former prisoners, and our guide told us how they longed for a piece of bread.
If you’d like to know more about Robben Island, and a bit of the political background around Nelson Mandela‘s arrest, watch this YouTube link:
(Unfortunately there’s a block forbidding me from embedding it in my blog. You’ll have to copy the link and go to the site to watch it.)
The Fort, Johannesburg’s old jail, an infamous place where black and white, male and female regular criminals as well as political prisoners were all imprisoned, is also a Museum.
Esther Barsel, a white political prisoner, stayed in this cell when she was held in The Fort. She was arrested in 1964 along with 16 other people under the 90-day law which allowed the police to hold detainees in solitary confinement for one or more 90-day periods. Her charge? Belonging to the S.African Communist Party.
The 76 boxes in the cell represent the evidence and notes from the trial – November 1964 to April 1965 – the longest trial heard in the Johannesburg Regional Court.
I’ve barely started, haven’t mentioned the food, animals, places like Cape Point, or the Sterkfontein caves, or the friendly people, but this post is long enough. I’ll need more than one post to tell you about South Africa, stay tuned. And thanks for your interest.