Cape Town and Johannesburg
May 1, 2023
We took a day flight directly from Amsterdam to Cape Town on KLM, which was about 10 hours. We could have taken an overnight, but we would have had to change planes in Johannesburg and travel days are pretty much wasted anyway by the time you check out of the hotel in the morning and have to wait around the city until you night flight leaves. We redeemed points for the ticket in business class. We found it using our go-to search engine for award travel, the point.me website. Even though we weren't going to sleep on a day flight (although Eli napped), it is nice to have all the extra space. KLM gives out cute delft pottery miniature canal houses to business class passengers at the end of the flight. We'll make ours into ornaments for the Christmas tree.
We checked the web a few days before our flight to make sure we weren't going to have any delays because May 1 is Labor Day in much of Europe, and Labor Day there is very much about labor flexing its power. Tons of disruptions were called for in France, so we were worried. We didn't find anything going on in the Netherlands related to air travel, but the darn French managed to mess with us from afar anyway. The air traffic controllers in France went on partial strike for the day, and since we were flying over French airspace, we had a ground delay of about an hour.
May 2 and 3, 2023
We spent the day getting organized for our stay here, visiting the supermarket, the local gym, and then trying to plan for our next segment from August to November which will be in Europe. We're going to spend some time in Norway and Sweden, then head to Italy for 2 months, meet up with our friends Ken and Michael in Barcelona for a long weekend, and then head to Morocco. Table mountain was shrouded in fog today, although it was quite sunny on the ground, so we decided to wait to climb. It's nice to be back in Air BnB's again with a kitchen and nice not to be too tired out after touring to cook... we did our favorite comfort food meal tonight-- roast chicken and oven roasted potatoes.
After hitting the gym in the morning again, we headed out on a walk about town, heading through the Bo Kaap neighborhood which is the heart of the Cape Malay community. It was originally a ghetto during the colonial period and during Apartheid. It's known for its colorful cottages, mosques, and its unique creole cuisine. It's also got a few art galleries. We're going to check into doing a cooking class to learn some Cape Malay recipes. The vibe as we walked toward the CBD changed a bit-- Lots more people on the street. We did get approached a couple of times by people asking for money; one guy followed us for a couple of blocks and even into a store. We headed over toward the waterfront and then back to the flat.
May 4, 2023
We headed to Robben Island today, which is the home of the notorious prison where Nelson Mandela and other prisoners of conscience and political prisoners were held during the Apartheid era. Stephen had been here when he came to South Africa 20 years ago, but it is always very powerful to see.
A couple of things had changed, partly as a result of the increase in visitors to the island. You're now shepherded via bus around the island before seeing the actual prison; In the old days, you actually could just walk around. The challenge with that is that we didn't get off the bus except at the lookout point looking back on Cape Town. We did a drive-by of the limestone and rock quarries, and Stephen missed having more time to spend there, particularly to contemplate the nonsensical forced labor that the prisoners had to endure cutting rocks and hauling them from one side of the quarry to another, not for any other purpose.
The tour of the actual prison is led by former political prisoners. Their stories are what gave us a visceral experience of what life was like for the prisoners and the conditions they had to endure. They also talked about the role that the international community had in putting pressure on the Apartheid government to improve conditions at the prison, and eventually close it and dismantle Apartheid entirely.
South Africa is still very much experiencing growing pains. Observers will say that corruption has taken hold here and that's one of the major reasons for slowed development. For example, rolling blackouts have become the norm throughout the country because transmission lines cant carry enough of the load and there is not enough generating capacity (mostly coal). You can imagine, though, that in a country that for so long apportioned development resources only to the white minority, that when that changed that it would have a hard time keeping up with new disbursement patters that were more equitable.
Differences in daily rations based on racial classification. The "B"word next to the C-, while still referring to the language grouping of the languages spoken in Southern Africa and used in that context, is considered here on the level of the N-word in US English when used to describe someone Black.
May 5, 2023
We kept it mellow today during the day because we knew we had a big night ahead of us, the Spice Experience at Gold Restaurant. We booked through AirBnB experiences, and we've definitely had some good experiences through them (we've felt much more authentic than through sites like Viator). We were a little trepidatious, though, that it might be a bit hokey. When the first thing we got was the map showing the graphic of the true size of Africa in comparison to other countries and continents, we knew they were serious about their work. It has been one of the highlights of the cultural experiences we've done so far, similar in respect to the Kushi Waira experience in Ecuador.
Gold Restaurant is the brainchild of Cindy Muller, a white South African woman who had vast experience in restaurants. She had been traveling across the continent and wanted to create an experience that pays homage to the diversity of cultures and cuisines of Africa. There was a Congolese drumming demonstration and participation experience, singers singing songs in Xhosa (one of the 11 South African official languages) backed with Congolese rhythms, we danced the Jerusalema shuffle (which was written in 2019 in Zulu, another South African language), and there was food from all corners of the continent. You can just make a regular reservation and participate in all of these pieces across almost 4 hours. As part of the Spice Experience, though, we got to interact in a much deeper way with many of the staff, including our fabulous host and server, Irene, and even some of the kitchen staff. As we listened to their personal stories and also they way the wove the tale of how the spice trade and the colonialism that followed impacted the continent. We got to harmonize as they sang in the kitchen (and we remarked to each other about how much of gospel and contemporary pop music we heard in the melody), we got to make spice masalas with the cooks, we did all the experiences as the regular guests, and the wine was free flowing.
We also got to know a little bit about Irene as well; She had emigrated from Cameroon 10 years ago. In fact, the staff of the restaurant were from all over Africa. It also showed the role that contemporary South Africa plays in intra-Africa emigration. We had conversations about the role that colonialism played in the experience we had at the restaurant, and more generally in what we've observed in our travels so far. Cumbia would not be a thing if not for colonial history. But it clearly left and continues to leave lots of damage in its wake. We think that some places we've seen in our travels are doing some good work in giving appropriate contexts that forward the story and the role of the marginalized in that history, but others not so much (we're looking at you, UK).
May 6, 2023
Today we headed to a local farmer's market, Oranjezicht City Farm Market. It was one of the more complete markets we've seen... Lots of prepared food stalls and cooking stalls, enough fresh vegetable and fruit stands, and some bread and sweets stands. They were missing any raw meet or fish stands, though. We picked up about $30 worth of organic veggies and will use them over the next few days (we were excited that they had jerusalem artichokes and mulitcolored beets and carrots which we hadn't seen in a while).
May 7, 2023
We rented a car to check out the winelands and the coast, but they are close enough that we came back in the evening to stay in our flat. We have the car for two days, so on our first day, we started off by driving into Stellenbosch town. Stellenbosch is the largest town in the Cape Winelands region, only about a 45 minute drive from Cape Town, and the campus of one of the largest and best universities in South Africa. We walked around the quaint town center which boasts lots of cafes and restaurants. Lots of people were having brunch and enjoying the late fall weather. There was lots of Dutch colonial architecture, especially on the campus. The other big thing we noticed was how white the city was (and we don't mean the paint on the buildings, although that was true as well) in comparison to where we've spent our time so far in Cape Town; it was quite a contrast.
After walking around town a bit, we headed off to the Blaauwklippen Family Market, which is held every Saturday at the Blaauwklippen vineyards. We had seen a YouTube video about it, and they highlighted a roasted lamb dish that someone was cooking at the market, so we thought we'd go and check it out. It may have been because it was getting to be low season, but there wasn't much stuff there-- just a few food vendors and some clothing vendors (although they did have a couple nice antique stands). And unfortunately for us, there was no lamb to be found. Instead, we just had a so-so shawarma. They do know, though, how to create an event that will attract people; there were plenty of places to bring your kids and have them play while the adults sip wine and shop.
We then drove toward Franschhoek, which is the other notable town in the area. When we were originally thinking about staying overnight somewhere in the wine valley, we had asked Claire and John, friends of ours from the cruise in the Galapagos, because they had just been there recently. They had a great time staying in Fraschhoek at a cute colonial cape style inn and vineyard. Franschhoek is definitely cute, but we personally preferred the vibe of Stellenbosch more (maybe because of all the university students around). We first stopped in at Delaire Graf Estates. They have a large and beautiful porch with incredible views of the vineyards and mountains-- a great setting for a wine tasting. We did a 5 red wine flight. The wines were good, but they were overshadowed by the views. We moved on to Lanzerac, one of the oldest wineries in the region, founded in 1692. Many of the vineyards in the region were founded by fleeing French Huguenots. We got a charcuterie board to snack on and did a 5 wine tasting of mixed whites and reds. They had a really nice rose (it was barely blushed) and a chardonnay that was very unusual as chardonnays go, but we both really liked it and picked up a bottle for ourselves.
On our way back into town, we took the scenic route, continuing up in to the hills for a bit and then back along the coast. On the way back, we caught sight of a baboon snacking near the roadside and we passed by an area of apple orchards, with lots of Black South Africans apparently just getting off from work and waiting for the microbus vans to get them back to their homes. There are lots of neighborhoods of improvised homes that are hooked up to electricity and have satellite dishes, but we can't tell what the plumbing status is or what their property rights are; we'll hopefully find out more when we visit Soweto in Johannesburg.
May 8, 2023
On our second day, we headed first to see the penguins at Boulder's Bay. They were just as cute and fun as the penguins we saw in Patagonia and in the Galapagos (and a lot more accessible). From there we drove to the Cape of Good Hope, which is not actually the southernmost point on the continent, but since we learned about it in school, we went to see it anyway. It's actually quite a beautiful drive with everchanging scenery, so we would recommend it anyway. And you can get the requisite selfie at the location marker.
From the Cape, we headed back along the coast again, passing through tons of cute small towns along False Bay, and some very interesting scenery until we turn the turn up inland toward Stellenbosch again. Since we had done plenty of wine and food pairings while we were in Mendoza, we thought we would enjoy doing a wine and picnic lunch at one of the vineyards here. There are a number of them that offer them, but some only do it during summer season. Spier vineyards does theirs throughout the year, and ordering a picnic for two comes with a complimentary bottle of either shiraz or chardonnay; we opted for the shiraz. The food was very good for a picnic... We had a very flavorful pumkin soup, some excellent cheeses, a white bean humus with roasted vegetables, and a African spiced chicken and lentil salad. For desert they made pasteis de nata. We rated them second best to the ones we had at Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon; they were just as light and flaky but the custard was just a little bit sweeter. Pasteis de nata are like the Portugese version of cumbia... something that's been spread all over at this point (and we're not complaining).
They have beautiful grounds at the vineyard and the have a special section for picnicking next to a lake and babbling brook. We spent about 2 hours eating and relaxing. It would have been perfect, except we could still hear the drone from the generator as they were running it to power the guest services (they were the victims of load shedding from the power company this afternoon).
Before leaving wine country, we stopped in at Rozendal Farm. Rozendal used to make wines, but now they are a company that makes high end vinegars. We did a tasting (in the ambient light (as they were victims of load shedding as well) and got a quick tour of their garden where they grow the herbs they use for their infusions. We picked up a bottle of their Fynbos vinegar and look forward to using it in the days we have left here in Cape Town.
May 10, 2023
Today we headed back to Bo Kaap for a cooking experience and guided tour. Our host was Faldela, who has lived in Bo Kaap since her family was forcibly relocated there from District Six during the Apartheid era. She is a well respected community member, tied in to all going on in the neighborhood, a fierce advocate for maintaining the culture and nature of Bo Kaap, and she's got a bit of a potty mouth (which we appreciated). As we walked through the neighborhood, she introduced us to everyone from the community that she ran into, we got some history of the neighborhood, we got to see the community garden, we stopped in at the spice store and the local Muslim center, and she waxed "poetic" about her feelings for Instagrammers perching on her doorstep.
After walking through the neighborhood for a few hours, we came back to her house to cook the food. We made samosas, butter chicken, and roti, plus she had made already some fritters for snack and dessert. We got to also meet Jordan and Ashley who were visiting Cape Town from Richmond, Virginia. All in all it was about 5 hours start to finish; we came home overstuffed from an enjoyable day. Jordan and Ashley had to run to their paragliding experience, and we had talked about maybe meeting up at the top of Table Mountain afterward, but we decided we had had a pretty full day and wanted to come home and nap... food coma.
May 11 and 12, 2023
Winter has arrived to the Western Cape. The weather these two days has been pretty crappy.... incredibly windy with bouts of rain. We mostly stayed in, but did manage to go to the gym, do a little shopping, and have some good food. Thursday night, Stephen made pan seared ostrich filet, and then we went out to The Bungalow on Friday night, which is on the beach in Clifton. We started with local oysters, Eli had a really good sea bass, and Stephen had grilled lamb chops that were perfectly medium rare. We decided to break down and pick up a musical instrument here to add to our collection; we got a marimba.
May 13, 2023
The weather improved today enough that we headed back again to the Oranjezicht City Farm Market. We picked up more veggies, but this time stayed to eat lunch at the food stalls. Eli picked up an excellent barbecue pork belly sandwich, and Stephen got a chorizo eggs benedict. There were so many more stalls to try, but we won't have another Saturday here, unfortunately.
After dropping off the veggies back at the flat, we headed to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. It's on the far side of Table Mountain, so we needed to Uber, but it was well worth it. They mostly concentrate on local flora, and it's set right up against Table Mountain, so it is quite dramatic (and you get great views back over the city to the sea). It was also great for bird watching, but the birds in the area are so quick, we only got one or two good shots of all of the different species we saw. The park has lots of large grassy areas and there were a few groups picnicking. Had we not already eaten in the market, we would have brought a blanket and done the same.
May 16, 2023
We finally made it up to the top of Table Mountain. We opted for the cable car as Stephen wasn't feeling great after what we expect was something bad that he ate on Sunday. The views do not disappoint.
On the way back, we headed to pick up Eli's suitcase at Rocksole Shoe and Luggage Repair. On our tour of Bo Kaap with Faldela, she introduced us to the shop, and since Eli had some damage to his suitcase from the trip from Ecuador, we thought it was worth it to check and see if they could repair it. Luckily they could, and so we left it there a few days ago and were able to pick it up today. Total cost for the new zipper and restitching where it had torn was about $15.
May 18, 2023
Our flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg was pretty uneventful. We stopped in at the lounge that's available through our Priority Pass Benefit from our Chase Sapphire Reserve cards and had a light breakfast before boarding.
Once we arrived, we had to decide if we were going to see the Cradle of Humanity or go to the Apartheid Museum. We decided to go to the Cradle of Humanity as it is a bit further afield and the Apartheid Museum is only about a 20 minute drive from our hotel. We figured we'd be able to go to the museum after our tour of Soweto tomorrow.
The Cradle of Humanity is a museum that was built near the site of a discovery of a number of large fossils of early hominids. This was something that hadn't been discovered the last time Stephen was here, so he hadn't seen it, and it would have been the kind of thing we would have enjoyed as we tend to marvel at humanity across time. The caves where the fossils were found have been closed due to water from recent rains, so we couldn't go in there. The museum proper was definitely focused more on explaining the evolution of homo sapiens to a youth audience... a worthy goal, but not quite what we were hoping for. It was interesting, though, that an article appeared in today's New York Times about the deepening understanding of how homo sapiens developed in relation to the other homo species that were around at the time and what happened from there. Apparently there were a lot of homos (that's the genus, not referring to the gays) around at the time in Africa and there was a surprising bit of migration and intermixing which over time seems to have led to the homo sapiens who eventually surpassed the other homo species.
May 19, 2023
Today was our tour of Soweto. We booked through Stephenson Adventures, particularly because they offered an opportunity to check out one of the community action projects that was home-grown in one of the communities in Soweto... run by community members for community members. Our guide, Mo, is a resident of Kliptown and was (and still is) very involved in the Kliptown Youth Program. You can read all about the project here (and please DO!) The short of it, though, is that they provide afterschool tutoring, sports, and arts programs (plus breakfast and lunch) for students in the community. They also do a lot of youth-to-youth email penpal projects for any of our school-based friends who might be interested.
Kliptown is a community of improvised housing (what most would call "shacks") of almost 40,000 residents. It does suffer from some of the challenges that come with improvised housing like poor drainage and lack of access to sanitation services from the government, but they work as a community to address them. They have port-o-potties that they arrange to have serviced twice a week, and they have local "engineers" who jerry rig electricity connections for the community. When Stephen came to Soweto 20 years ago, he did a tour of Soweto and remembers standing on the bridge looking down into Kliptown (although he didn't remember that that's what it was).
Getting down into the community was surprising in some ways. What looks disheveled and chaotic from above is quite organized and normal once you get in. A resident of the community was kind enough to let us in to her home (she also runs a business selling drinks, snacks, and beers to the neighborhood). It had improvised flooring that was easy to sweep or mop (it looked like old linoleum or something). They had electricity to power their fridge, and had developed a small plot across the way where they gardened for vegetables and greens. Granted, not every abode in the neighborhood was like this, but you get the idea.
KYP just last year opened a brand new facility in the community, that was partly sponsored by someone like us who came on a tour of Soweto, saw the initiatives that they were working on, and decided to help out (he's from Miami, in fact). We donated a small amount as well (quite a bit less than their benefactor), and after you read about KYP from their website, if you're so inclined, please consider donating. They are currently doing all this good work on a budget of only about $350,000 a year.
There has been a lot of development in Soweto since Stephen was here last so it has started to feel more like a traditional suburb with retail and commercial enterprises easier to spot within the community. Also the areas of more middle class and upper class (for Soweto) homes have expanded.
Mo also took us to the traditional important historical sites (and cultural sites) in and around Soweto including Mandela's house, Regina Mundi church which was a site of anti-Apartheid organizing, and the Hector Peterson memorial and museum that recognizes those that died in the student uprising of 1976 and talks a lot about student organizing against Apartheid.
After our formal tour ended, we went ourselves to see the Apartheid Museum. The museum says that it can take between 2.5 to 4.5 hours to work through it, and they weren't incorrect. It has a huge amount of material about how Apartheid developed, what life was like, and the organizing against it. Definitely plan on 4 hours to get as much as you can out of what the museum offers. At dinner afterward, we spent time talking about our impressions of the day.