Just as the journey to South Africa was long, tiring, but so very worth it, so has the ability to put it all down into words. I usually have accounts of a trip blogged before I leave the destination, but there’s just too much to say about these experiences, and I want to do it justice. Also, the holiday season made things a tad more hectic than usual. So here’s PART ONE of three in the latest Adventures in Africa. Spoiler alert: it was definitely worth the wait.
Day 1: Cape Town, South Africa
After a six-hour flight to London and 11-hour flight to Cape Town, it was even more of a thrill to see a sign with our names on it as soon as we stepped out of the gate. The kind gentleman took our bags and ushered us into the customs line, then introduced us to our driver—all perks of booking a trip with a travel agent like Global Basecamps.
One of the many reasons I love booking with this company is their attention to detail. Not only do they think of everything a traveler needs to have a memorable trip, but they’re equally conscious about the local community and environment. The tours I’ve taken have been small groups or privately guided by knowledgeable locals who care about their country. Not only do we see some of the more touristy places, but we’re immersed into the culture—whether that means learning about the history, area we’re traveling through, or food we’re about to enjoy. More on all this later. The adventure is just about to begin in Cape Town.
We pulled up to Hotel on the Promenade—a quaint establishment a block from the beach in Sea Point. A lovely European-sounding woman greeted us and offered a very much welcomed drink. Then we took a very much awaited shower before exploring the area.
The waterfront here is more park-like than boardwalk. There are a few people near the water, but most walk their dogs, ride their bikes, and run along the walkway. There are more shops and restaurants a block up from the beach, passed our hotel. So we stop at a local sandwich shop for our first official meal.
On our way back, we happen to pass a liquor store, so I start my self-guided wine tour of the area by picking up a bottle. It’s enjoyed on a spacious balcony outside our room before heading back to the beach to witness the sunset on our first day in Cape Town.
Day 2: The Uthando Experience
Today may have only been a half-day tour, but it was full of art, culture, and excitement. We spent this morning with the group from Uthando who showed us four different community projects that they sponsor.
First was a community theater situated right outside the maze of a shack neighborhood. Homes are so close together that if one burns, the neighbor burns too. Traversing through the maze was only possible with a guide, and some passageways were not meant for more than one person to pass at a time.
After making our way out, we were treated to a poetic performance at the theater, as they told us how the program came about and all the obstacles they run into. Having a theater background, I could empathize with the funding struggles as well as the desire to rise above it and find a way of pursuing creative outlets. Inspiring doesn’t begin to describe what these programs do for everyone in the community. It’s not just a theater. It’s a refuge when needed and beacon of hope for anyone, whether they need an outlet or not.
Next stop was a community garden. Workers plant herbs and veggies to sell at markets, hotels, and to feed their families. They manage to get a variety of plants to grow in the dry, hot, sandy soil.
We headed to a school next, where we toured the classrooms, library, kitchen, and joined a kindergarten class at recess. The kids went about their daily play ritual until they discovered we had things like camera phones, beards, and freckles. They were amazed.
Last stop was a community center that had their own after-school and arts program. As we entered, they were already in the middle of a lively song and dance. It was hard not to feel the joy and rhythm in the room as we enjoyed their performance, so much so that it was only natural we join in the festivities.
It’s easy to take certain things for granted–like fresh veggies, free education, and access to creative programs. It’s also easy to see the parallels on how these programs shape a person and community, no matter where you live. Even though this was only a glimpse into what an organization like Uthando can accomplish, it was a morning packed with cultural experiences that will continue to play out in my memories for years to come.
Day 3: Table Mountain & Foodie Tour
You’d think since Table Mountain is a natural world wonder and must-see tourist destination, it would be the highlight of the day. Don’t get me wrong–the flat-topped mountain is surely a sight, as is the 360-degree views of the city below. But after stopping and strolling for an hour in the morning, we were ready to head back to the city to eat for the rest of the day on a local foodie tour through Cape Fusion.
Table Mountain was supposed to be the last stop on today’s tour, but another plus to having a local guide all to yourself is you can alter the schedule based on certain circumstances. Ryan, our fearless local, suggested we switch things up in case the winds picked up later on, which could cancel the trip up the mountain. This proved to be an excellent idea since there was no line to the tourist site at this early hour. Plus, we didn’t know this yet, but all the food we were about to consume would turn out to be pretty exhausting, but delicious work.
From local favorites to authentic South African fare, we tried it all, and walked it off—kinda—on a tour around Cape Town. Ryan took us to some swanky-looking hotspots, well-known sidewalk stalls, and even to the roof of the train station. Yup. Not the first, or even the fifth place I’d think of going to eat, but among the various rooftop eateries is a Michelin-star chef and his five-course tasting menu. When we weren’t eating, we stopped to see some art, learned a bit more about the history and architecture, and got to know our guide better, so it felt more like a casual day with a family friend.
While I thought I’d never eat again for the rest of the trip after all the tastiness we tried, I’m glad I did, because each meal just got better and better.
Day 4: South African Cape
On our last day in Cape Town, we set off to have our first sightings of wildlife. First, we cruised to an island to watch the seals sunning and swimming. Of course there were ones closer to the dock that made for touristy amusement.
Driving around the scenic Cape Peninsula, the view was dotted with bicyclists sharing the road. We passed Clifton and Camps Bay and saw some swimmers taking advantage of the beginning of their summer, even though a flag was raised warning of shark sightings in the area.
Soon we reached another one of our destinations— the southwestern-most point of Africa—Cape of Good Hope. We walked to the top of the Cape Point lighthouse for an even better view. Then we headed to Simon’s Town to visit Boulder Beach, home to many adorable penguins who seem to prefer the African climate over the Arctic. Lunch at the marina brought us closer to kingklip, a rather tasty local fish, before hitting the road for our last stop—the botanical gardens. Walking through the lovely flora and fauna was hot, yet relaxing until being stopped by security before entering a section where “something” was spotted. Oh, Africa.
One part of the trip down, two more to go, and a lot more to look forward to.