Cape Town, Africa's Crown Jewel
Our two months in Southern Africa was nearing an end. After Cape Town, the adventure continued on to Southeast Asia for two months and Australia for another two months. We completed our odyssey by touring the South Island of New Zealand by motor home for two weeks and spent 10 days in Fiji before returning to the U.S. at the end of September 2009. In total, the second leg of our around the world trek lasted seven months, and included four continents and nearly 50,000 miles - not including the U turns, of which there were many.
We learned and experienced so much during our two months in Southern Africa. For starters, although Apartheid has long been abolished, there is still a distinct class structure. A majority of blacks are mostly involved in the blue-collar work and actually wear blue coveralls to designate their work station. For example, general labors working on roads or in most towns and cities all wore blue coveralls as they went about their jobs. However, we did not see even one white person wearing blue coveralls during the entire two months in South Africa, which implies low skill, low wage jobs are still primarily filled by the black majority. It should be noted there are a significant number of blacks now holding white-collar jobs, but it appeared few whites were relegated to the menial jobs.
On several occasions during the trek through South Africa, we needed to see a doctor. Nothing major, but the ailments were not something we could cure on our own. In one case, I had a sore on my knee that became increasingly painful to the touch. In addition, I started feeling sluggish and decided it was best to see a doctor in case the two issues were connected.
We were in Jefferys Bay and the proprietress of the guesthouse suggested I see her doctor who was located just down the street. I walked into the reception area and silently prayed the doctor could see me within a few days. Much to my surprise, the receptionist asked if I could return at 12:30 p.m., as the doctor had an opening. I returned at the appointed time and before I could complete the one-page information sheet, the doctor personally came to the reception area and invited me to his office. We chatted for a few minutes about our trek, and then he looked at my knee. I told him I had been feeling lousy, and asked if the two were connected. The doctor immediately diagnosed my sore as a spider bite, which he said is very common. He told me 10-days of antibiotics should clear it up, and that he could dispense it so I would not need to go to the chemist (aka pharmacist).
I had no idea what the doctor's visit would cost, and approached the cashier with much angst. My angst was replaced with shock when I was told the visit (without insurance) would cost 260 Rand or approximately $26 USD, and that included the prescription for the antibiotics. When the doctor came to the reception area to welcome his next patient, I thanked him and told him the cost in the U.S., without insurance, would have been at least three times more and would not have included the antibiotics. His response . . . "You have a much more litigious society than we do." - enough said!
The Western Cape Region of South Africa is one of the most diverse regions of the country. It's culture, terrain, food and people cover an enormously broad spectrum. The Region is approximately the size of Greece and has a population of nearly five million people.
Cape Town is unquestionably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was my third visit and I have always likened it to San Francisco without the steep hills and cable cars. The list of things to see and do is almost endless. The short list includes District Six, which was ground zero during the early days of Apartheid; Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years; Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, home to myriad unique-in-the-world flora and incredible sculptures from Zimbabwe; Victoria and Alfred Waterfront Complex and aquarium, plus city cultural tours including visits to nearby townships.
The region is also world famous for its wines and cuisine. The university town of Stellenbosch is only 30 miles east of Cape Town, and is surrounded by vineyards and breathtaking scenery. There are restaurants aplenty in Cape Town, Stellenbosch and throughout the region that will satisfy the most discriminating palate.
Table Mountain offers a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town, and is an almost perfectly flat-topped mountain that rises more than 3,000 feet. The views are spectacular from the top, and most visitors get there via a 20-minute ride on a gondola suspended from enormous cables. The carriages revolve during ascent and descent, giving passengers unsurpassed views of Cape Town, Robben Island, Lion's Head Mountain and the ocean. There are excellent food choices at the top including a quick eating option or a sit down restaurant. A hiking trail to the summit can also be accessed through the botanical gardens. In addition, the iconic mountain experiences a weather phenomenon that gives it a unique appearance when conditions are right. It occurs when a layer of clouds spill over its top that appears as if a "tablecloth" has been draped over it.
We spent our last few days on the continent in Simon's Town, a quaint burg best known for the naval base and its always formally-dressed inhabitants, the penguins. The colony is home to thousands of Jackass Penguins (aka South African Penguins), so named for the hee-haw sound they constantly make. Simon's Town is also the gateway to the Cape of Good Hope. The small town has many fine restaurants and affordable accommodations, and is a great place to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery and laid-back atmosphere.
Cape Peninsula National Park is another must see for anyone in the area. It offers visitors at least a day's worth of activities. In addition to having an array of wildlife, the Park is home to more than 1,200 indigenous plants. There are excellent roads within the park for driving and biking plus hiking trails, which provide spectacular scenery including the fabled Cape of Good Hope. There are limited accommodations within the park, a full-service restaurant and walking trails that hug the sides of the cliffs near the lighthouse.
Our trek through Southern Africa totaled more than 3,400 miles by van and took 61 days to complete. The next stop was Bangkok by way of Qatar, the tiny oil and gas rich country in the Middle East. This portion of the journey would be our most challenging, as we would have great difficulty communicating with the locals and adjusting to the food . . . or so we thought.
And remember, "Travel is the ultimate education."