In all, we spent two and a half weeks in South Africa and visited three different areas: Cape Town, the wine country (right next to Cape Town), and the Southern coast of Africa towards the Eastern Cape. All three areas were gorgeous – a mix of mountains and ocean.
In Cape Town, we strolled through trendy neighborhoods with cute cafes and restaurants, generally relaxed, did a bit of day hiking, and drove out to Cape Point. The schedule for the safari had been intense and it was nice to just take it easy for a while.
Table Mountain at sunrise seen from our rooftop deck (Cape Town)
We first visited the wine country about an hour outside of Cape Town with my parents and loved it so much that, when they left for home, we went back for three more days. Our favorite was the town of Franschhoek (translates to “French Corner” in Afrikaans) which was like a less pretentious and much (much, much!) less expensive version of Napa Valley. We adored the view from the patio of Dieu Donne Vineyards and ended up whiling away three separate evenings there simply watching the sun slowly sink over the mountains.
View from Signal Hill in Cape Town
Our trip out to the Eastern Cape was planned as a mad dash east to the start line of the Otter Trail, a 5-day hike along a rugged coastline, and then a mad dash back to Cape Town for more relaxation. Contrary to our plans, driving rain struck our first night and when we reached a supposedly simple stream crossing the next day we were met with a treacherous river which forced us to turn back. This was actually a blessing in disguise because it gave us more time to explore the area and see the adorable towns of Storm’s River and Swellendam.
Day One of the Otter Trail
Oh, and Aileen got to do the world’s highest bungee jump off of the world’s highest single-span suspension bridge (708ft). (Instead of joining her, I decided to enjoy a large plate of crispy french fries from the comfort and safety of the cafe. Yum!)
We ended up with surprisingly mixed feelings on South Africa. We adored the stunning coastal landscapes and hiking opportunities but disliked the ubiquitous security guards and razor wire. We had categorized the people as generally OK, if slightly on the brusque and unhelpful side, but then ran into the delightful warmth of the small towns along the southern African coast where exuberant smiles were the norm.
With Apartheid ending just 16 years ago (circa O.J. Simpson and Tanya Harding), it’s impressive how far this country has come so quickly: from complete segregation to a society that seems, to us, fairly well adjusted. And, intellectually, we agree – amazing progress. Still, we found it impossible not to have a visceral reaction to the constant reminders of the extreme wealth disparity along racial lines. One example: we were astounded to observe that the black man with the three white South Africans was not their friend, but hired to carry their heavy equipment and cook their food (and, apparently, to be constantly bossed around to fetch things as well). I mean, I understand hiring Sherpas for Everest, but this was a really easy hike, people! Crime is a real problem and the nicer areas of Cape Town seem more like fortresses than they do neighborhoods. There are guards on every block and iron gates, razor wire, and electric fences on every property. If good fences make for good neighbors, then these folks sure do have things figured out.
A small sample of security measures in Cape Town
After much discussion, here’s the official wheresgrayleen one-liner*: “South Africa – it was worth a visit, but mostly because we were nearby, and we sure didn’t fall in love.” How’s that for a tourist slogan? Of course, your experience may vary!
*Caveat: It’s conceivable that our opinion is just a touch colored by the individual who broke the window on our rental van and stole my mom’s camera (with safari pictures), our rain jackets, my favored “speed skater” hoodie, and more. Grrr! Fat lot of good those security guards and cameras did for us. I knew we should have strung razor wire around the van! (We’ll be sure to write a recommendation or disrecommendation of our travel insurance company, World Nomads, based on how the claims process turns out.)
You can see all of our photos from South Africa here.