Last month (is it seriously April already…how, Sway?!), my husband and I got to spend 11 wonderful days (14 total with travel) in beautiful South Africa, visiting Cape Town, the Greater Kruger National Park Area (aka safari), and Johannesburg. 2016 was such a weird year for me so I was more than happy to cap off the first quarter of 2017 with a trip to the motherland. It was everything I hoped it would be – equal parts relaxing, fun, thrilling, and inspiring. In fact, I would say those nouns ended up correlating with different experiences in each part of the country we were in. I really hope I get to go back one day. Visiting the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg should be required for anyone that is apart of the African diaspora, and certainly just anyone in general.
This trip was 100% my DH’s idea; he’s always wanted to go to South Africa. I was definitely excited, but never really thought of it as a bucket list country. I’ve moreso focused on getting in a trip to Ghana (way overdue here) or an East African country such as Kenya or Tanzania. But once I saw the great price on flights and realized that a safari excursion could be part of the trip, I was all on board. I’ve never been a huge fan of zoos and have had a long-standing desperation to see a lion (they are amazing creatures, more on that later). Of course now I can’t wait to go back.
Getting There and Back
We flew out of JFK via Emirates Airlines. The flight time to Capetown was approximately 22 hours, with a 3 hour layover in in Dubai, for a total of 25 hours. 22 hours in coach (cause we ain’t got it like that) will literally destroy your spirit (and your lower back). We got in lucky in that, for the first leg of the flight (12.5 hours), there was an empty row of seats in the back of plane. Then for the second leg (9.5 hours), no one was assigned to sit with us. So for the most part we (really, I) got to stretch our legs out for a bit. Overall, Emirates is a pretty nice airline – the snacks are decent, there are ample entertainment options, and the staff is is nice and accommodating. We flew back home out of Johannesburg – the flight time was the same, except our layover in Dubai was 3 and a half hours.
Let’s kick this off by talking about Cape Town. Be prepared to see repeat use of words like incredible, spectacular, amazing, breathtaking…..yadda yadda!
Capetown is breathtaking (see, did it already). It’s just beautiful, picturesque, and sunny 100% of the time.The sunniness comes at an extremely high cost. as the city, and the rest of the country to varying extents, is going through a very severe drought. In fact, when we were there, the city only had approximately 90 days of water left, with the reservoir at only 22% of capacity. That is some scary stuff. We were super cognizant of our water use the whole time. Nonetheless, I was pumped to be there!
We arrived on a Wednesday evening, called an Uber and stepped out of the airport, only to be immediately greeted by the magnificent Table Mountain.
You can see the mountain from almost every part of the city, and its breathtaking (again!) every single time. After setting in, we headed over to the V&A Waterfront to get some sim cards. I was pretty tired after the flight and everything in Capetown closes ridiculously early, so we just spent the night relaxing.
Day One – Beach Time and Lion’s Head
We woke up to a beautiful, sunny day and decided to head to the beach in Camp’s Bay. We first grabbed a bite to eat from Ocean Blue (the food here was just decent). After eating, we crossed the promenade, rented some beach chairs, and laid out.
I had grand plans to read a book but jet lag and the fierce gusts of wind had other plans. I mean it was so windy I literally had to keep my face covered the entire time because the wind blew sand in my hair, eyes, and EVERYWHERE else. We could barely to speak to each other because then sand would fly into our mouths. Nonetheless, we managed to enjoy the views (there’s not much to complain about when you have water in front of you and mountains behind you) and get in some beachside napping.
After a few hours we grabbed some drinks then Uber-ed (is this really a verb now?) over to Lion’s Head mountain.
It takes around an hour to hike up Lion’s Head, and let me tell y’all…..I was NOT READY. Although I am fiercely afraid of heights, I somehow thought I would enjoy this activity. I was not prepared for how rocky and straight up vertical (oh the irony, it’s a damn mountain!) this journey was. There were some points where I thought I would not be able to climb anymore. I was literally crouching down and crawling on my hands, with dust and grim and dirt engulfing me.There were points where we had to use an affixed ladder to climb the side of mountain; I was so terrified I almost regurgitated my lunch. The views were increasingly incredible, but the city girl in me was so miserable I couldn’t enjoy literally being on top of the city. In full disclosure, I also had not worked out in a few weeks so I was doing some embarrassing huffing and puffing the whole time.
Meanwhile, hubs was dang near skipping up the mountain like a toddler in a jungle gym. He was so pleased and eager to the get to the top that when we reached the ‘neck’ of the lion’s head, I just told him to go on. I sat down, ate a snack, and enjoyed the sunset.By the time we were ready to head back down, it was getting dark and we had to use our phones to light the way. At one point, we had to leverage permanent anchors affixed to the mountain to get down and I just started chanting “omg, I can’t do this!’ I literally thought I was going to fall off the side to my death. My husband was a few people behind me and busy taking pictures (how big of a side eye can I get in here) so some poor British guy had to coax me down the anchors. He told me to face the mountain and not to look down.
The pending darkness had me completely spooked. I spent the next 45 minutes walking in silence because I couldn’t get out of my own head.
I can’t even articulate the level of relief that washed over me when we reached the bottom. Suffice it to say that hiking is not for me. I immediately ditched my pipe dream of hiking up Table Mountain (and thank goodness I did, cause that would have guaranteed death).
After arriving back at our rental apt and profusely thanking the universe for my life, we showered and headed out to dinner at The Black Sheep. The food here was so amazing that we ended up at dinner here twice during our time in Cape Town.
Day Two – Robben Island
We started off day two by enjoying tapas at Fork before heading over to the VA Waterfront to catch our ferry to Robben Island. The ride over took 30 minutes and we enjoyed some amazing views on our way over.
I wasn’t quite ready for how emotional the tour of Robben Island would make me. But perhaps you are not surprised after Lion’s Head exposed my inner crybaby.
During the tour we learned about the history of resistance in South Africa, the state sanctioned slaughter of black people during uprisings against the oppressive white government, and the human rights abuses heaped on people imprisoned on the island.
There are direct views of Cape Town from Robben Island. Even without the hours of working the limestone quarries under the unrelenting sun, or the subpar slop that those imprisoned had to eat, one could easily mentally deteriorate seeing that just across the ocean, people enjoyed their freedom.The tour guide told us about former political prisoners such as Robert Sobukwe, who was kept in solitary and abused to the point that he lost his mind. He also shared the many other psychological and physical abuses that prisoners had to endure, with Black prisoners bearing the brunt of the injustice. These included:
- Accelerated vision loss from forced labor in the limestone quarries (used to build roads in Cape Town).
- Lack of education (many prisoners taught each other and engaged in political discussions).
- Lack of access to under wear…yes…underwear.
- Ability to receive monthly visitors for 30 minutes only, and only after six months imprisonment.
- Censorship of letters. For example, if a prisoner wrote to a girlfriend and a wife, the guards would swap the letters going to start petty drama (what the heck is the point of this?!! so…much…..side eye…).
- Disgusting food. In fact, Black prisoners were given less food of less quality as compared to White and Asian prisoners.
We spent around two hours on the island before it was time to leave.
We ferried back to the mainland just as the sun was setting.
We walked around the Waterfront for a bit and took some obligatory touristy pics.
We then went back to the apt to get ready for dinner at The Culture Cheese Club. I ate a TON of cheese and meat on this trip, but more on food later.
Days Three and Four – Table Mountain and Franschoek (aka all the wine)!
We woke up nice and early (8am) to head over to the Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill. This place gets crowded fast,so get there early! There’s food, music,and vintage shopping available. For my New Yorkers, it reminds me of the Smorgasbord location that is(was?) at Brooklyn Flea. After gorging on waffles, oysters, and fried mac and cheese, we uber-ed on over to Table Mountain!
We took the cable car up (very cool) and were immediately greeted with spectacular views.
The top of the mountain is so vast that it can take up to an hour to walk the whole thing. Additionally, there is a restaurant, coffee shop, and gift shop on the mountain. We spent a few hours walking around, marveling at our proximity to the clouds (Table Mountain is much higher than Lion’s Head), and taking pictures.
It eventually came time for us to take the cable car back down and get ready for dinner at Kloof Street House.
On Day Four, we took an Uber out to the Vineyards in Franschhoek, which is about an hour from Cape Town. Hubs booked us on the Franschhoek Wine Tram, where you can visit up to eight vineyards. We spent an hour at each vineyard, sampling two to five wines at each. Dieu Donne Winery is a must visit – the views are dreamy.
Dinner this night was at Arnold’s Restaurant. I wasn’t pleased with this meal at all. I’m going to write a separate post about all of the food in South Africa.
Days Five and Six – Bo Kaap, A Drive Around the Coast, and Off to Safari!
We slept in this morning and started our day with a brunch at Jason’s Bakery. We arrived too late to partake in their supposedly life changing almond croissants. We walked off the food by strolling through a market in City Center, where we also passed by the Iziko Slave Lodge and took a quick jaunt through the colorful neighborhood of Bo Kaap (muslim quarters of CT).
We then met up with our driver for the day, who drove us all the way down the western coast of South Africa. Places we hit up and took a billion pictures at:
Boulders Penguin Colony in Simons Town (cute penguins!)
Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve
Cape Point, the most south western point of the African continent (as it very clearly says in the picture, lol)
Cape Agulhas lighthouse (you can take a cable car to the top); this is also where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet
Chapman’s Peak Drive
This one deserves all the superlatives: astonishing, beautiful, spectacular (did I use that already?)! Seriously, the views all along the coast are so incredible you won’t even notice that the heavy wind is about to knock your teeth out every time you step out of the car.
We topped off a long adventure with dinner back at The Black Sheep. The next day we hopped on a plane to Greater Kruger National Park! Finally, my dream to see a lion was coming closer to being fulfilled.……