Cape Town, South Africa—Etosha Game Park, Namibia
After a really, really long flight (24 hours, via New York and Dakar), I arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. I had pre-booked a hostel that included airport pickup, so I was picked up just after Customs and driven to my hostel. On the way I got to see a little bit of the scenery as we entered the city, and of course, the famous Table Mountain. I arrived at my hostel, the Sunflower Stop, and got all checked in, and went for a little walk down to the ocean to stretch out my legs and watch the sun set. This was the farthest south in the southern hemisphere I had ever been- and although it wasn’t freezing cold, it was definitely “winter” time here, even though it had been high summer when I left Texas the day before!
The next day, I went to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, where I could pick up the Hop On/ Hop Off bus. Chris and I have discovered that this is a great way to see a new city, because for about $15 you can get transportation all around the city for a whole day, plus some interesting facts on the history and culture of the place. It really helps me plan what all I want to see while I’m visiting a city. Some of the stops were the Two Oceans Aquarium, the original Dutch fort from the 16th century, the Robben Island Gateway, the South African Gold Museum, St George’s Cathedral, the District Six Museum, and of course, the Table Mountain Cable Car. Table Mountain is a beautiful mountain that towers over the back of the city, and you can take a cable car up to the very top of the mountain and see for miles all around. It’s really an incredible vista and definitely worth the price of the cable car. With a picnic, or if the restaurant was open (it was closed for renovations), this attraction alone would be worth a day’s exploration- especially if you were brave enough to hike up and down the mountain (3 hour round trip, I am told).
But as I was in the city only a short time, I got back on the bus, which was then heading for the southwestern edge of Cape Town, an area studded with beautiful homes and long stretches of sandy beaches. I enjoyed the ride so much that I went on another whole circuit of the bus route on the same day just to enjoy the views.
The next day, I went on a wine farm tour with a group of people. There were 14 of us, plus our driver, who really knew a lot about the region and was a great guide. We visited four wine farms. The first one also specialized in cheese, which is a particular weakness of mine! We sampled 7 wines, and tons of cheeses- goat milk cheese, cow milk cheese, soft ones, hard ones, cheese rolled in chakalaka, a South African spice- yummy! Then we left that farm (Fairhaven, whose logo is a castle tower with goats on it- mom and dad should definitely build one of those!), and headed to another wine farm, and this one had a chocolate shop attached. Mmm, chocolate and red wine, nothing better (except cheese and wine). Our third stop was a wine farm specializing in Pinotage (a mixture of Pinot Noire and Cinsault), where we also had lunch. Delicious. Finally, a stop at a last wine farm, which also had some ports. We all basically dozed the entire trip back to the city, and I was so full from my lunch that I didn’t even bother with dinner.
I spoke with Chris that night, and he and two friends had left Luanda and were headed down to Etosha Game Park; the plan was to meet up with them over the weekend and drive back up to Luanda with them.
My last full day in Cape Town I went on an early morning ferry to Robben Island, a small island off the coast. This is an island that has a long history of being used as an isolation point, first for lepers, and later for political prisoners (including its most famous inhabitant for 20 years, Nelson Mandela). Robben Island also has tons of penguins! Which are really fun to see. After the ferry ride over, we took a bus tour of the island, and our tour guide gave us a very interesting history of the island. Then we got out and walked around several of the prison units, listening to stories told by former inmates (who are now tour guides there). Then a quick look at the penguins by the beach, and then the ferry ride to the mainland.
After Robben Island, I had a great lunch of fried seafood down at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront (until a seagull stole some of my calamari!), and then I toured the Two Oceans Aquarium. They are quite famous for their shark tank, which holds dozens of sharks and rays, and which you can walk completely around 360 degrees, ending at a large viewing window that is over 30 feet wide and 15 feet tall. You really get a panoramic view of the creatures swimming in the shark tank. Another famous exhibit is their live kelp forest, one of only two in the world, a huge tank full of live kelp over 18 feet tall with thousands of fishes swimming in and out of the stalks. The aquarium is definitely a great place to spend an afternoon.
Later on I bought some souvenirs, including batik placemats and a bag, at a craft mall. I still had some daylight left, so I walked over to the Gold Museum and went through their exhibit on gold that has been found in Africa in general and South Africa in particular. It was pretty interesting and a good way to wrap up the day.
Friday, my last morning, I left the hostel and took a cab ride over to the area of town where the train and bus station is. I still had about two hours before I needed to get my bus to Namibia, so I had the cab driver drop me off several blocks north of the train station, at the start of the Company Gardens, a huge section of gardens that were once owned by the Dutch East India Company. It was starting to rain that morning (the weather had been surprisingly dry for winter in Cape Town all week), but it was still nice walking through the Gardens and seeing several of the old historic buildings in the area, including St. George’s Cathedral (the home church of Bishop Desmond Tutu).
At last our bus was ready to leave to go to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. It was a long bus ride- 20 hours- but it was nice to see the countryside go by. I guess I could have flown but I enjoyed most of the bus rid. I particularly enjoyed the sunset and the sunrise. I didn’t sleep much during the night, and for long periods of time I would sit watching the stars out the giant bus window to my right. The stars were amazingly bright as we drove north through the bottom part of Namibia, which is not very densely inhabited or polluted.
We arrived in Windhoek and I met up with the group I was going with to the game park. I didn’t know if Chris had been able to make it out of Angola in time to meet me or not, so I signed up to go on a 3 day camping safari. We left Windhoek around 10 am and drove north to Etosha Game Park, one of the largest game parks in Africa. We stopped for lunch along the way. However, pretty soon after arriving in the game park I spotted Chris and pretty much joined up with his group after that. He had a cabin, as opposed to sleeping on the ground in a tent with my safari group, so I figured his way was much better. We went on a night drive that evening, which turned out to be absolutely freezing in an open-safari car. Over the course of Friday and Saturday we saw tons of animals at the game park, including zebras, giraffes, elephants, warthogs, kudus, springboks, elands, rhinocerous, foxes, and ostriches. In all, we saw everything we had wanted to see except for cats- we never saw any lions in Etosha.
After a couple of days at the game park, we started heading back up towards Angola. We spent one last night in Namibia, at a great little inn just south of the border, where I had the best dinner ever- a kudu steak. Wow. It was awesome. The place also served pineapple pancakes at breakfast (which I just made here at the house this past weekend!).
Finally we crossed the border into Angola and started heading north. We were figuring it would take two days of hard driving, or three days if we went a little slower, to get back to Luanda. Unfortunately, there was no gas to be found in the small towns in the south, and we wound up having to buy gas from a street seller…. Which ten minutes later caused our fuel pump to break. We got the fuel pump somewhat repaired, which of course took hours, but then not too much later it broke again, this time for good. We were still quite a ways from any major town, so we got towed for a while by some Angolans in a truck. They towed us until dark, but as the roads are really bad, it wasn’t safe to continue on that night. The four of us- Chris, me, Delvis, and Noel- slept in the car that night on the side of the road. The next day we got another tow, and finally made it to the town of Lubango by early afternoon. In Lubango we found a body shop that could order the part we needed, and we got a hotel room to figure out what to do next. If we had had more time, we would have stayed in Lubango and waited for the car to get fixed, but Chris and Delvis and Noel needed to return to Luanda by the end of the next day for a 4th of July function at the Embassy. So, the following day, we wound up getting a quick flight from Lubango to Luanda, thus saving ourselves the last 12 hour leg of our driving journey. A week later some other guys from the office flew down to Lubango and drove the car back up to Luanda after it was fixed.
All in all, I really enjoyed my visit to Cape Town and to Etosha Game Park. I would love to return to Cape Town- in fact, I think I could live in that city for a long time and be happy there. It’s Africa, but “Africa for beginners”, as we call it, which is kind of how I like it. I liked Namibia, as well, and am hoping to go back in late November, early December to visit some other parts of it- they have the second largest canyon in the world, Fish River Canyon, as well as an area called the Skeleton Coast which looks fascinating, plus the Caprivi Strip and Okavanga Delta, both of which are en route to Victoria Falls, a destination I hope to see in December before I fly out of Africa.