As I prepare to pack for the holiday I mentioned in my previous post, I thought it an opportune time to schedule a few memories of a South African trip taken in 2006. The following is the first part of my account. Part two will follow in due course.
I have always wanted to go to New Zealand. New Zealand intrigues me and not just because I believe that is where all the Hobbits come from. New Zealand has been on my list of places to visit for years.
As my fiftieth birthday approached and folk were deciding how I should celebrate it, a quiet drink, a meal and an early night perhaps or a riotous party, I could be persuaded to go for both, I decided I would like to go away for it. My fortieth had been spent in a medieval castle in Langley, Newcastle – a wonderful surprise engineered by my husband and kept secret by my five children. I was feeling a little more adventurous a decade later.
“Shall we go to New Zealand?” I ventured, as my husband poured over the map. I was quite taken with the idea. We began to investigate ways of getting there.
The thing about New Zealand is that it is a very long way from here. The flight would be arduous, the jet lag daunting, New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of us. To go for a week would be foolhardy, one needs to spend far longer there and since the journey would take up at least two full days then that hardly leaves room to explore.
A change of plan was needed.
Where could we go that was not going to take a week to get to, was warm in November and would not entail us coping with jet lag?
Of course, South Africa! This was another of the destinations on my ‘must do’ list so I was happy to swap.
South Africa it would be. Same time zone you see – no jet lag and just a 12 hour flight.
I glossed over that last part (the 12 hour flight).
We were a party of three, my husband, myself and a friend. Fortuitously, my friend’s brother, also a good friend of ours, knew the area we were going to (Cape Town) quite well and issued us with a list of places to visit.
You note how this trip differs from the one I took to California – I was not alone!
I was made well aware that I was not alone as it happens when my friend found she could not sleep. I was finding it a tad difficult – the seats were somewhat cramped in Economy Class. Every now and then we caught a glimpse of those in Business Class as the stewardesses swished through the curtains. My friend bemoaned our decision to travel cheaply.
I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the slight smell of sour milk that clung to the in-flight blanket. I noticed the more seasoned travellers had brought their own pillows and a warm cover. With hand luggage limited, we had not brought much on board. The inflatable neck rests we had purchased fell short of being comfortable.
By 2.a.m. I had drifted off into a light doze and the unrelenting pressure of the armrest, digging into my left side, began to fade. I imagined myself to be stretched out on a soft, downy bed…sometimes my imagination is very useful.
“Oh God, I can’t sleep!”
The voice next to me broke into my reverie and I was back in the cabin, squashed up against the armrest with pins and needles setting in. Probably just as well my friend did wake me at that point before worse happened.
Where was my husband? He had somehow managed to be allocated a seat half a mile from us (a clerical error on the booking form) and was apparently sound asleep, wedged between a large woman with a billion bags on her lap and a man with a beard. The beard is of no significance – I just noticed it. Dave can sleep anywhere.
My friend continued to squirm in her seat, trying to find a comfortable position. There wasn’t one of course. The only position was bolt upright and even that entailed almost hitting one’s nose on the seat in front. How different from my flight to San Francisco, with the same company, Virgin Atlantic, all those years ago! I suppose cut-backs have had to be made everywhere.
Despite all this, we did manage to arrive in South Africa with our sense of humour intact.
Our drive from the airport stunned us with the colour, the sheer vibrancy of the country around us yet the shiny modern building was at odds with the shanty towns still sitting on its outskirts. Poverty was still here.
Table Mountain beckoned, providing a magnificent backdrop to our destination – Cape Town.
We had chosen not to stay in the rather nice hotel on the sea-front that most folk had gone to. We had decided to go for a self-catering apartment in a smaller hotel, away from the sea front. It had seemed to be a good idea at the time.
The first thing I noticed as the taxi dropped us at the door, was that all the surrounding houses we had passed had their gardens fenced off with robust, iron gates pad-locked and guard dogs roaming behind. Our Hotel had none of this. It stood back from the road in a more rural quarter of town, looking pretty and quaint and the staircase leading from the courtyard up to our apartment, was open to all. There was a gate just before one reached our apartment’s front door, which was locked when we arrived. It seemed to serve both our apartment and its neighbour.
We were greeted by a very pleasant black African gentleman who owned the Hotel and who showed us into the apartment. It was cool and delightful in an old-fashioned way. We eyed the beds longingly. The hotel owner left us and we unpacked.
Feeling somewhat jaded after our long, night flight, I decided to lie down for a while. My husband decided to go for a walk. (He had of coursed, slept well). So it was that my friend and I were dozing comfortably at last when all hell broke loose outside.
“You let me in!” screeched someone directly below my window.
“Who lock the ***ing door?” A few more choice expletives followed and my friend crept into the room.
“Be quiet out there!” a second voice joined the affray.
“You be shoutin’ too if you got ***ing shut out here…who in there?”
We sat on the bed listening to the torrent of abuse that poured forth from the unseen woman’s mouth and held our breath. It was some time before we realised that my husband must have locked the gate when he left and this person might want to come through it. Had she no key of her own?
Now, normally, I would have rushed to the door and apologised profusely but by the time we had realised what the problem was, the girl had been involved in a slanging match with another resident and what sounded like pots and pans had been thrown about. We didn’t seem to have a key for the gate either. My husband had taken it with him. We decided silence to be the best form of defence.
After some time, the voice stopped.
My friend crept to the window and peered out, shrinking back quickly,
“I see you peeping, lady!” the girl screeched, “Who that in there? Afraid to come out now I suppose?”
At that point, the hotel owner came out to see what all the fuss was about and it was he who let the wailing banshee pass, muttering to herself and cursing the ignorant people who had caused her such inconvenience. The hotel owner was giving her a piece of his mind. He asked why she had no key. She did not seem to be listening. My friend and I stayed low for a while lest we be recognised when we left.
We heard enough to establish that the young woman had come to clean the apartment next door but had been locked out by Dave who had now been gone for some time. On his return we related the tale to him.
“Oh, did I lock it?” he asked innocently.
My husband maintained this wide-eyed innocence throughout the holiday much to our horror at times.
True, on the surface, Cape Town seemed to be friendly, safe and full of tourists. This feeling lasted as long as one stuck to the recommended paths. It was a day or so before we realised our hotel was situated away from the recommended paths – hmmm.
The recommended paths seemed to be those inhabited by the whites, not that we ever saw many whites. They seemed to be permanently entombed behind their security gates and if seen out at all, it was, rather bizarrely, to shop in the local supermarkets with an impeccably dressed, black housekeeper/maid at their side.
It was completely foreign to me as a way of life.
Nothing I have ever read about apartheid, the struggles of Mandela or South Africa as a whole, could have prepared me for the reality of the place it has to be said.
Despite the obvious divide between those who had and those who had not, everyone we saw seemed to know how to enjoy life. They laughed a lot and called out to one another and to us. They were generous and kind.
At first we were a little suspicious of the wide smiles that greeted us wherever we went but we soon came to realise that they were genuine. We had been warned that we would be expected to pay children to watch our car for us when we parked and this we happily did as barefoot urchins smiled up at us, one hand on the car as though this alone was enough to protect it (it probably was) the other outstretched to collect their fee.
Table Mountain greeted us when we woke and the V&A Waterfront charmed us with its traditional African dancers and wide range of restaurants. We had come to Cape Town to see just part of the real South Africa. We were here. There was plenty to see…
Ian’s list of things to do:
- Revolving cable car up Table Mountain
- Boat trip to Robin Island and tour of the island where Nelson Mandela was held. Tour guides are former inmates
- Camps Bay – for the beach, good bars and restaurants along the front
- Wine tasting – Stellenbosh, Vergelegen, Franshhoek
- Cape of Good Hope
- District 6 Museum
- Picnic on Signal Hill – watch the sunset over the bay
- Victoria and Albert Basin – the waterfront –seals in the harbour
- Green Point Market on Sunday morning
- Chapman’s Peak – spectacular drive – Hout Bay a good stop-off
- The Waterkant – trendy, gay area with lots of cafes and lovely low-rise buildings
Ian’s original emailed list :