Our South African adventure in Cape Town – I

Our 2-week visit to this southern country of the African continent, commenced with Cape town, then proceeded on to the  beautiful coasts along the Garden route, and ended with a thrilling safari in Kruger National Park.

Cape Town

Cape town is a beautiful coastal city at the tip of the African continent. The sights here are incredibly beautiful – a combination of sun & sand with cliffs & beaches is a win-win combination any day!  The city mesmerises the onlooker with its abundance of natural beauty. Not only does this place offer beautiful vistas but there are also ample of things to do in and around this vibrant town. Taking a peek into its rich but turbulent cultural history, engaging in various adventure activities like shark-cage diving, to savouring its local cuisine which is a melting pot of its multicultural delicacies  – this city offers it all.No! we did not do shark-cage diving at that time of the year.

The Victoria & Alfred (V&A) waterfront is one such happening place, which especially comes alive at night! Set against the Table mountain, this waterfront boasts of numerous shops and restaurants selling a variety of food options and local wares. A big Cape Wheel adds to the fun and character of the area. There is a food market right opposite the Cape Wheel which is quite popular with the locals and tourists alike. The market sells all kinds of food including ostrich and other exotic meats. Meats that I had never heard of before and I started wondering what can a vegetarian like me would eat in this part of the world 😉 Then we saw this little Samoserrie!  – a counter selling small samosas with various kinds of fillings, both of the veg and non-veg type. Our first evening in Cape town had indeed begun on a wonderful note.

@ V&A Waterfront

 

Samoserrie

The next day started early for us as we were going to trek the Table mountain. Wrapped in jackets to beat the 6 degrees celsius chill, we started driving towards this natural wonder. The mountain’s summit is flat like a table; however the climb was pretty steep.  It took us (not regular climbers) close to 3 hours before our guide, Steffi, could coax us to get up there. As the climb became more steep, she encouraged us all the more to put our best foot forward (pun definitely intended!)

Simon’s bay (village) as seen from the Table Mountain

Once atop the flat tablescape, the views surrounding us were superbly fascinating. Our jackets were long gone during the climb and we were trying to cool ourselves in the chill up there. We thanked heavens to find a small restaurant serving some good food which was badly needed. We had a ravenous appetite by the time we entered the restaurant. It is a great place for a leisurely breakfast after conquering the 1,085 m high Table mountain. We were, however, wise enough to take the cableway down the mountain. 😉

That afternoon, we had an amazing vegetarian lunch at a Eritrean (Ethiopian) restaurant in the City Bowl. A couple of beggars followed us down the street begging for alms which alarmed us a bit, but that was about it. We did not encounter any such incident during our entire stay in the country thereafter. The restaurant was bang in the middle of Greenmarket square, a local flea market. This market in the heart of Cape Town’s CBD is the place where local traders and artists flaunt their fabrics, sculptures, art and beadwork at reasonable prices. Bargaining, I was told, is accepted in South Africa but hardcore bargaining is something that one should refrain from so as to not offend the local sellers. Surrounded by beautiful wares, we could not resist our urge of shopping and ended up buying some local fabrics and wooden bowls as souvenirs of our stay there.

Eritrean lunch (vegetarian) – consisted of a injera (bread), with shiro(legumes) and alicha (legumes and vegetables); served in a communal plate

 

A local vendor at his stall in Greenmarket Square

 

Another stall @ Greenmarket Square

 

The Majestic Table Mountain from V&A waterfront

The evening took us to Kirstenboch Botanical Garden – a beautiful garden, beautifully located against the eastern slopes of Table mountain. In fact, the entire Cape Town is situated  along the Table mountain. No matter in which corner of the city you go, you will find the Table mountain towering tall above you 🙂 This garden is  must-visit in Cape Town with its majestic location at the foothills of the mountain.  

Another recommended activity while in Cape Town is to drive along the M6/Victoria Road. This road runs from Cape Town along the 12 Apostles mountain range all the way to Hout Bay. The drive on this road along the coast was a spectacular experience with fabulous views of palatial homes and pristine beaches along the coastline.

Vistas as seen from Victoria Road

We thoroughly enjoyed our morning drive to Hout Bay and decided to visit the World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park, situated there. It is the largest bird park in Africa and an informative park to hang out with your little one. We had an amazing and also an ‘safe’ experience there – with little monkeys jumping over us in a caged area with a park official standing beside us. My little one too jumped around with the monkeys, feeding them. Never had such a close experience with monkeys, anywhere before. It was just about noon by the time we exited the park and decided that we have plenty of time to go down south and visit the Cape of Good Hope Reserve.

So off we set towards Simon’s town where we had a quick halt to grab some lunch. The town is a charming little place set on the coasts of Indian ocean and offers some good food options. Further on, along the way we decided to visit Boulder’s beach which is a haven for the endangered South African penguins. The beach is a protected area,and rightly so. We purchased tickets to enter the reserve and had a gala time watching the penguins playing with the waves and amongst themselves. Seeing the penguins waddle along the wet sands lifted our spirits no end!

South African penguins @ Boulder’s beach

Our next destination for the day was the famous Cape of Good Hope Reserve. We reached there at 3:30 pm and were supposed to exit the reserve by 6pm before the gates shut close. Happy to make it on time inspite of so many stops on the way, we hurried to take the funicular tram which took us all the way upto the lighthouse. The lighthouse is situated at the highest point on the reserve and offered spectacular views of both the oceans together in sight! A little down along the steps of the lighthouse, goes a trekking path around the lighthouse which again is an experience to be enjoyed. A narrow path cut out on the cliff around the lighthouse is surely not to be missed 🙂 However, short on time, we walked around the lighthouse for only a little while before descending down to see the actual spot known as the Cape of Good Hope. This is the same spot along the Atlantic coast where Bartolomew Diaz, the Portuguese explorer, first set his foot on the African soil in 1488.

I wonder whether this serendipitous discovery by Mr. Diaz really bode well for the local settlers here! Well, time and deeds cannot be reversed. Colonisation, first by the Dutch and then by the Brits is the bitter truth of this African nation.

Cape of Good Hope Reserve – with Atlantic Ocean on the left and Indian Ocean on the right

 

As seen from the lighthouse @ Cape of Good Hope Reserve

The next day’s itinerary included a visit to the District 6 museum. We knew little about South Africa’s apartheid history before visiting the museum. However, the visit left us shocked and disturbed to know the inhuman atrocities meted out to the black and coloured citizens there. District 6 is actually a church converted to a museum in the inner-city residential area of District 6 in Cape town. It is a memorial dedicated to the forced eviction of close to 60,000 inhabitants from District 6 in the 1970s. The handwritten notes of the evictees, various exhibits and pictures of the District 6 colony tells a dark tale enacted in the recent South African past.

Initially, we were surprised to see only Whites frequenting expensive restaurants and places of entertainment & recreation. It made us wonder where all the native blacks of this country are, especially so in Cape Town! There is still a clear segregation between the Blacks and Whites, who constitute only around 8% of the entire South African population. The decades of economic and social repression have crushed an entire generation of the non-white population here.

This and our visit to Robben island deeply impacted us. Robben island was a political, high-security prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 out of his 27 years of imprisonment before the fall of the apartheid regime. It is now declared as a World Heritage Site. The tours to Robben island start from the V&A waterfront and lasts for around 3.5 hours.

Nelson Mandela’s prison cell for 18 years

We spent 6 days in Cape Town and had a wonderful time knowing a different city and a different culture. The locals were genuinely friendly and considerate and went out of their way to help us at times 🙂 Food options too were diverse for vegetarians like us. There were quite a few Indian restaurants too which dished out quite authentic Indian fare. I am listing out a few eating tips for you all:

  1. Stayed in the City Bowl Area of Cape Town through air bnb (airbnb.com) Many apartments are available right in CBD which is quite close to V&A waterfront. Alternatively, one can choose to stay near Seapoint or Greenpoint as well.
  2. Do visit Market on the Wharf near the V&A waterfront for a variety of food options
  3. El Burro Mexican restaurant, again near the waterfront (reservation mandatory; Sunday closed)
  4. Salathai Thai restaurant, near the waterfront. Food quality was decent, not great.
  5. Sawaddee Thai restaurant, Rheede Street, Gardens. Food was great here! (reservation mandatory, Sunday closed)
  6. Jewel of India, near the waterfront. (reservation mandatory, Sunday closed)
  7. Jarryds, a good breakfast place in Seapoint. Recommended on the way to Victoria Road
  8. Jiji’s juice bar in CBD of Cape Town
  9. Punjab Wok, near Canal walk mall, Century City. One of the better Indian restaurants there with excellent service
  10. Shopping  recommended at Greenmarket square (can bargain), along the V&A waterfront (expensive) and at Canal Walk mall

Well, my South African travelogue is not done yet. Stay tuned for more on Garden Route to come 🙂