Monday, February 01, 2010

January 25, 2010 - Cape Peninsula

We love having friends and family visit us. And so we were thrilled when our friends Kate and Amy used our being in South Africa as an excuse to book a trip here to visit the Cape and to go see some wild animals. But this is the first time we have been someplace where sailing and water sports couldn't be big parts of our guests' time with us. The coast of South Africa just isn't a hospitable cruising ground. There is no such thing as gunkholing around here. And the idea of swimming in these shark-infested waters isn't very attractive. There is just no such thing as a sailing holiday in South Africa. Unfortunately, the conditions here just aren't conducive to providing visitors with a view of the cruising lifestyle. So we would be leaving the boat and heading inland with our friends. In some ways, this was terrific news for us. Instead of being hosts, skippers and chefs, we would be on vacation too.

On Friday, Kate arrived in Cape Town from Chicago, via Istanbul (not Constantinople, been a long time gone, Constantinople . . .). After such a long trip we didn't want to wear her out with a lot of sightseeing. So after collecting Kate and her luggage (which was full of goodies for us like maple syrup, tequila and 18lbs of magazines) from the airport, we drove around Cape Town and down Chapman's Peak Drive, which hugs the west coast of the Cape Peninsula. We stopped several times to take in the views. Then we turned in at Cape Point Vineyard, to sample their vino. Sten and I are fans of the Sauvignon Blanc bottled by Cape Point Vineyards for the upmarket South African supermarket chain Woolworths (aka, Woolies). So we were excited to try the rest of their lineup. Luckily for us, we discovered that we prefer their Woolies blend to the more expensive versions available at the vineyard.

From the vineyard we headed back to Simonstown. For two nights, until Amy arrives on Sunday, Kate would be staying with us on board Mata'irea. We had been keeping an eye on the weather and were relieved to see that it wouldn't be very windy the two nights that she would be on board with us. In either case, she'd brought her ear plugs (smart girl!) so she was all prepared for creaking docklines and howling wind.

For weeks we have been looking forward to having a meal at Olympia Cafe in Kalk Bay, but were saving it for a special occasion. What could be more special than a friend flying half way around the world to visit? So after Kate took a long shower and changed out of her flight clothes, we piled in the car with our cruising friends Bob and Glenda on s/v Nero. As we sat at the tables closest to the kitchen, we watched plate after plate of delicious looking food come out, getting hungrier and hungrier. The food was as good as it looked . . . and a bargain at South African prices.

Back at Mata'irea after dinner Kate and I had a debate about whether the boat was moving. It was such a quiet night, and I couldn't feel anything and so I was adamant that it wasn't moving. She kept insisting it was, but I didn't believe her until I looked out the window and noticed all the masts around us swaying back and forth. Apparently I'm so used to my home moving around that it doesn't register until it really gets bouncy or loud.

What a bunch of jackasses - jackass penguins that is.

Saturday dawned as a beautiful, calm morning. So we took advantage of the fine weather and walked up to Boulders Beach to visit the penguin colony. Along the way we also saw a little mongoose and some very large dassies (rodents with the worrying ability to flatten their skulls to squeeze into tight places). Walking back to the marina, we stopped in at the local library's weekly book sale. While we were browsing, Sten (who has little patience for bookstores) headed back to the boat to make us some BLTs for lunch.

After lunch we drove up to Constantia to check out a few of the local vineyards. The Constantia vineyards are some of the oldest in South Africa. Their traditional architecture and proximity to Cape Town make them magnets for tour buses. On a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon, they were packed. But they are clearly used to the crush and have the facilities to handle the crowds. We visited two vineyards, but didn't find anything we had to take home with us.
As we were climbing in our rental car Sunday morning to go to the airport to pick up Amy, Sten noticed that the trunk lock had been jimmied the night before. Luckily, there was nothing in there but some charcoal and a pair of shoes. While Kate waited for Amy's flight to arrive, we went over to the rental car desk to see about swapping out the car. According to the guys at the First Rental Car counter, even though we have full insurance coverage, we would be liable for the damage to the trunk lock if we didn't file a police report. So we kept the car and planned to go to the local police station that afternoon to file a report.

After collecting Amy we drove back towards Simons Town via the townships south of the airport. We planned to spend a lot of time with our guests in the "nice" parts of the Western Cape, so we thought it would be a good idea to show them the rest of the story.

The drive back to Simons Town along the False Bay coast took a while with the weekend traffic. By the time we reached Kalk Bay, we were all getting a little hungry. So we found ourselves back at Olympia Cafe for what would be the first of many 2 hour lunches that we would have during Kate and Amy's visit.

After lunch, we dropped Amy at the British Hotel so that she could rinse off a few thousand air miles. Then Kate and Sten and I went to the police station to file a police report at the insistence of the rental car company. After that bit of housekeeping was taken care of we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, a national park just 8kms from the yacht club.

Cape of Storms

We climbed up to the lighthouse at Cape Point and then drove out to the Cape of Good Hope for the obligatory photos at the most Southwestern Point of Africa. Then, as the sun set, we drove some of the backroads of the park, where the tour buses don't go. Along the way, we spotted a small herd of zebra, which was a very lucky siting, a few groups of bontebok, which is a species of antelope only found in the Cape, a lone ostrich, and lots and lots of baboons. It was such fun seeing how excited Kate and Amy got about each animal. We just knew they were going to have a great time at Sabi Sabi.

It was such fun to be able to get out of the car and walk to take pictures of animals. As soon as we stopped the car, the girls were immediately gone with their cameras and off into the fynbos snapping pictures. But because Sten and I had done all of our prior game viewing in Big Five parks, full of dangerous predators, at first it felt so wrong to be out of the car. It took a while for us to relax and adjust to the fact that there was no chance that a lion or leopard was lurking in the grass by the side of the road.

On Monday morning we drove into Cape Town along Chapman's Peak Drive. We just can't get enough of the dramatic views along that twisty, winding road. And since Amy hadn't seen it yet, we had a perfect excuse to do it again. Once we reached Cape Town we parked the car, much to Sten's relief, at the Waterfront and climbed aboard a big red double decker bus for a "hop-on, hop-off" tour of Cape Town, which had been highly recommended to us and Kate by friends and cruisers. It is probably the most touristy thing we've ever done, but it was a good way to get an overview of the city.

After a few kilometers we hopped off to browse the craft stalls at Greenmarket Square. Then, as we wandered around the side streets branching off the square, I spotted the sign for one of the restaurants that Amy had included on her extensive list of things to do in Cape Town. And so we wound up having some tasty Ethiopian for lunch. It didn't look like much when the waitress set our communal plate it in front of us, but boy does that bread expand in the stomach!

The poorly named 12 Apostles. Actually, there are 17 of them.

With bellies full of injera, we climbed back on the tour bus, which took us up and around the back of Table Mountain and down into the ritzy neighborhoods perched on the edge of the ocean. On the way back into Cape Town, Sten thought he spotted a whale spout. So we jumped off the bus to see if it was really a whale, which if it was, would be completely out of season for this stretch of coast. As we peered out at the water, we saw the distinctive v-shaped spray pattern of a Southern Right Whale. And then another! It was a mother and calf playing around in the surf. We were so thrilled to share with Kate and Amy that feeling of solemn awe that we experience whenever we see whales.

The only disappointment of the day was that it was too cloudy to go up Table Mountain. So we got back on the bus and took it back into the center of the city so we could stroll through the Company Gardens. Cape Town was founded as a revictualing station for the Dutch East India Company. The stretch of land that was once farmed to provide fresh vegetables to the ships that called in here is now a beautiful swath of flower gardens in the center of the city.

Table Mountain dominates the Cape Town skyline

The colorful houses of the Bo-Kaap, a Muslim neighborhood

As the sun set we found ourselves back at the Waterfront, sitting at a wine bar, watching the standing cloud falling down off of Table Mountain. Over a decadent steak dinner Amy let us in on a few fascinating secrets of the marketing trade. See if we ever give out our zip code again!

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