While we were traveling in the Middle East, we were heartbroken to hear about the Ethiopian Airlines crash in Addis Abbaba. This became more real, when two days later we were flying Ethiopian Airlines through Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia, the headquarters for Ethiopian Airlines. This is where we had to change planes on our flight from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa.
The sign and memorial in the airport terminal for the arriving victims families made it all hit home. This could easily have been us. Thankfully, Ethiopian Airlines grounded their Boeing 737 Max airplanes immediately so we didn’t have any additional worries. It brought home the reality that tragedy can strike anyone at anytime. We should live our lives to the fullest and never leave anything unsaid to one another.
At the makeshift memorial we silently said our prayers and found our gate. This is the only thing that dampened a once in a lifetime visit to Africa.
Our next travel plan is to start in South Africa and work our way slowly north on the continent. Our initial plans include visiting South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. We are blessed that we have lots of time and can change our plans at anytime.
The only thing we pre-booked was our AirBnB apartment for two weeks in Cape Town and our lodging for three weeks in Kruger National Park in South Africa. Unfortunately, I had a list that filled two legal pads of all the things I wanted to do and places I wanted to visit. I was sure that we would run out of time, the one thing we had in abundance.
As Americans we are fortunate that we have a strong dollar. Right now the exchange rate is about one dollar for $13.50 SA Rand. Ol and I quickly found out that sushi was as affordable as eating out at fast food restaurants at home.
Our booking at a nice one bedroom apartment with a balcony on what would equate to our National Mall in Washington, D.C. was less than $45 a night. We would soon find a dinner at a beautiful waterfront restaurant with appetizers, entree, bottle of wine, and a shared dessert was around $45 US.
We went a little crazy on the food. For our first week in Cape Town we tried to eat at the all of the best Sushi and Seafood restaurants. Our expanding waistlines made it obvious that we had a bottle of wine and dessert with every meal.
We have found that since we have started our journey, we usually lose weight. Mostly because the food is so fresh and we generally do a lot of walking. When we get back home we over indulge in the wonderful food of the South and all of things that we can’t get while traveling. So the weight slowly creeps back on.
Unfortunately, it took all of two meals to realize that Africa is where Mississippi, New Orleans, and the South get their Soul. The food is amazing! It is one of the only places we have traveled where we don’t need to add any spice to our food. Every meal is already spiced to perfection.
It didn’t take long for South Africa to feel like home. The weather is wonderful. Sunny and Spring-like. Even though it is a Mediterranean climate it reminds us a little of home during the good weather months, before the heat and humidity casts its spell.
It wasn’t only the food that made me fall head over heels in love with this country, it was also the music. Everywhere we went, it seemed that someone was singing. We heard great voices that would fill a church back home. But, here it was at any restaurant kitchen or in the park. It seemed that everywhere we went someone was singing. We even entered a fast food restaurant and it sounded like the cast of the Lion King musical was preparing our food!
The warmth of its people, with their lilting happy South African accent and their smiles seemed so welcoming. In just a few short days, it seemed that everyone we came into contact with had become a friend.
Just like the South, every conversation began with pleasantries. After talking for a few minutes, we would get to the point of your conversation or business. There is never a rush or a hurry in South Africa. Our days just seemed to have a slow lazy rhythm to them. The city began to seep into our pores.
Before we knew it, we were seduced by the music, the food, the weather, and the South African lifestyle.
We easily got into the slow rhythm of the city and the surrounding areas. It felt a lot like home. There was no hurry. This country and it's people entered our hearts and we were smitten!
At the airport, after picking up our rental car, I was ready with the video camera. I thought that this would be my chance to make a viral video. I wanted to video Ol as he was learning to drive a stick shift with his left hand from the driver’s seat that was on the right. He was going to be doing this in a major city, all while driving on the left hand side of the road!
I quickly put the camera down. He was a natural, as long as he didn’t have to turn or do a roundabout we were fine.
We easily made it to our apartment which was located in a building with a doorman across from the Company’s Gardens. The apartment was located in the city center garden district. We were right across the street from the city’s park which boasted the national museums, courts, Parliament, and several large churches. The area is a smaller version of Washington D.C.’s Mall. It had a captivating view of Table Mountain.
It had been nearly three weeks since I lost my phone in the airport in Amman, Jordan. Since I lost my phone I have been driving Ol crazy. Whenever he is reading the news or the headlines, I ask him to read them to me. I keep borrowing his phone to text the kids, check the weather, or just look up something. Hence, he has been working overtime to get my phone back.
Our first stop in Cape Town was to the local DHL office. The Encounters Tour office had arranged to pick up my phone from the airport and agreed to package it for shipping to me. To get my phone shipped from Amman, Jordan, I had to fill out custom forms, get copies of our passport visa stamps, and pay for shipping, we were told that I should have my phone back in seven days! Our trip was back on track!
We quickly got to know the “parking attendant” for the public street in front of our apartment. At night, the local homeless population don fluorescent vests and “watch” cars for the night. They do this for tips and pocket change.
This being a new country, we now have a new currency. I have learned that Ol seems to think any money that is not from the US might as well be Monopoly money. So after “tipping” the parking attendant, Ol now has a best friend for life and a reserved parking spot. It didn’t matter when we would pull up, we always had the best parking space. A few times, parking attendants actually fought over who would "watch" our car. Before we left, Ol was even bringing our "parking attendant" breakfast. I was getting a little jealous of their relationship!
We spent our days exploring many of Cape Town’s attractions. We loved the museums, parks, and gardens. We hiked the hills, walked the city’s colorful neighborhoods, ate, and sampled too many of the South African wines.
We seemed to find ourselves along the city's waterfront on a daily basis. Cape Town has a world class waterfront with shops, museums, restaurants, free concerts, outdoor sculptures, and walking paths.
We also took day trips out of the city to visit the nearby beach communities, wineries, and other attractions. Cape Town was the perfect home base.
As an avid gardener, one of my favorite attractions was the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, located at the base of Table Mountain. At the time, I didn’t know how instrumental this visit was to the rest of our visit in South Africa. It not only helped us identify the plants we were seeing on our hikes, but to also appreciate the rare ecosystems and plants in the areas we were visiting. The garden features a spectacular collection of proteas.
We also enjoyed the S.A. Cultural and History museum where we marveled at the ancient rock drawings. We loved visiting he Aquarium and seeing the plants and animals that lived under the sea in this region of the world. It was equally nice to visit the Planetarium to see the night sky. Little did we know at the time that we would have many nights to view the Milky Way and the Southern Cross which is only visible from the Southern Hemisphere.
We walked along the water at Mouille Point, Sea Point, and the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, and enjoyed the beautiful beach in Camps Bay. We spent evenings up on Signal Hill drinking wine and watching magnificent sunsets.
One of my favorite visits was to the top of Table Mountain. Table mountain is a flat topped mountain overlooking the city of Cape Town. There are many legends of the mysterious ‘table cloth” of clouds that cover the mountain against the blue backdrop of the Cape.
We rode the Cableway, hiked around the top, and opened a nice bottle of bubbles to toast Ol’s mom’s birthday. She couldn’t believe that she could see and talk with us, all the way across the world, on top of a mountain as we shared the same sunset seven hours before she would see it back home. She reminisced about the old party lines she had growing up and marbled at how much has changed with FaceTime.
We found driving in the city and surrounding area very easy. The roads are nice and we quickly recognized that we were taking the same routes daily. The city is very clean and the architecture stunning. Our favorite building was The Silo, which housed the Modern Art Museum. To see a landmark waterfront building repurposed into a work of art in itself was a joy to visit
Unfortunately, like any big city, crime can be a problem. We tried to be aware of the areas to avoid. Exercising common sense is the best way to avoid trouble. We went out a few nights for dinner and a movie and the only problem we encountered were a few aggressive panhandlers. We always carried small bills and pocket change to navigate this. We didn’t experience any other problems during our time in Cape Town.
In our view Cape Town should be on the top of everyone’s travel list. It is truly a world class destination, with perfect weather, beautiful scenery, amazing cuisine, and so much to do for the entire family. We fell in love with the area and the South African people. The hospitality we received has us already planning our return.