AFTER OUR 3-day stretch in Cape Town, it was time to board our Cruise Ship. Because we stayed at the waterfront our uber trip to the cruise terminal was short. Our ship, the Oceania Nautica, was wholly new to us. We are seasoned cruisers, having cruised over a dozen times during the past 15 years on Princess, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. Some may know that Royal Caribbean actually owns Celebrity (our cruise line of choice), among several other lines. Most of our cruises have been on Celebrity, with Princess, which is very similar, coming second. We were used to a well-honed routine. Our usual ship capacity is from 2,500 – 3,000 passengers (we have been on full ships and less than full ships). I have always marveled at how efficiently these cruise lines handle the process of boarding and landing that many people – both at the beginning and the end of the cruises, and at every stop. We have only had one time where we felt we had to wait a long time in a line. And there were some issues with the ship before we embarked, causing a late boarding, so not surprising.
OCEANIA, HOWEVER, was a completely different experience, much to our surprise. Our expectations, for a couple reasons, were high. They were not completely met. Advertising themselves as “Small Ship Luxury” cruising, the Nautica had a maximum passenger capacity of just over 600 passengers – a quarter of what our previous ships handled. Second (while I wouldn’t characterize our experience as completely fitting their description) it was supposed to be a luxury cruise line and our cost (nearly twice what we normally pay) would have suggested a first rate, efficient experience. Our boarding experience set a tone of unmet expectations. We arrived at our appointment time at the cruise terminal. It appears that everyoneelse on the ship may also have arrived at that time. Handing off the baggage was the easy part. From there on, it was borderline chaos. We had been issued a digital boarding pass well in advance and had our phones out and ready. They didn’t ask us for that boarding pass at any point during the boarding process! They did have us fill in a handwritten form they had neglected to put on their online app. Everyone needed to fill it out. I think they had 2 pens. We then stood in line (one of several before the boarding process was complete) for at least 30 minutes, as it wound back and forth between the “Disney ropes.” It turns out that line was just for the carryon baggage screening. The line moved in fits and starts. There were two available screening lines and machines and apparently enough employees. But inexplicably, they were using only one of them. Once through that line, we walked into another line for a passport check. Another 10 – 15 minutes. We then were sent outside, along the wharf, for a rather long walk to the gangway (we know people who would have had difficulty doing that walk without assistance). Nobody was out there guiding us, and nobody watching or supervising, although we could see the ship and it was the only one there. At the gangway, we waited in line again (line #3). After another 10 minutes, we finally made it on board. The chaos continued. They checked our passports again, against a handheld, typed list (even though they had computer screens everywhere), and then told us: “welcome aboard.” Still no request to see our pre-issued electronic boarding pass, leaving us to wonder what its purpose was? Once aboard, we thought it odd that we had no ship card (sea pass), or any other identification, but we were directed to Deck 5 where we joined another line. But it wasn’t the right line. We only discovered that after an employee somewhat officiously asked to see our ship cards. To which we responded that we had not been issued cards, and thought we were in line to get them. She informed us that we were in line for the main dining room and lunch, but she couldn’t serve us without a ship pass. It wasn’t just us. There were at least 20 of us who had been sent here by an employee downstairs. So, this staff person took the group of us to where we should have been directed in the first place, where we joined yet another line to wait for our ship cards. Did I mention chaos? Oh, and that we still weren’t asked to show our boarding pass? Once we finally got to the front of that line, the employee handed me an e-tablet and asked me to sign it. “What am I signing,” I asked. She said it was a series of questions that she would ask, and I would answer. After I signed the blank tablet. Nope. I will sign it after you ask the questions (all of them) and I have answered. Wow. We did finally get our cards. We then had to go back down to the purser’s desk to upgrade our drink package (fortunately, only one other couple in line in front of us – we would meet them later and hear their sad story of Nautica-arranged transportation and their baggage not making it to the port – fortunately for them, we didn’t leave until many hours after the scheduled departure and their bags arrived during that time).
WHEW. WE were finally boarded and only had to wait for our luggage to be delivered. Just for comparison, our Celebrity cruises have worked like this. We get a digital boarding pass on their app several weeks before boarding. We are given a boarding appointment time. We arrive at the terminal at our appointed time, drop the luggage off, get in a fast-moving line and when we reach the front (usually about 5 minutes), we show the boarding pass, our passport, and answer a few quick health check questions. We are then invited to board the ship. Our sea pass cards are already in an envelope in the slot outside our stateroom, where we can drop off any carryon stuff, freshen up, and begin the cruise. Our Princess experiences have been similar, except that they issue the seapass or medallion during the boarding process. On my recent boarding of the Celebrity Equinox a couple weeks ago in Ft. Lauderdale, thinking back to the Nautica experience, I actually timed it. I arrived at the terminal and turned my bag over to the ship porter. I then walked up an escalator, showed my passport, had a photo taken, immediately boarded the ship, headed for my stateroom, where my seapass was waiting in an envelope. Upgraded beverage package had already been taken care of and my seapass reflected that. From the time I stepped off the shuttle from the parking lot, the entire process took 10 minutes.
IT WAS not all bad. I mean, all of the above were what I like to call these days: “First World Problems.” If we had not experienced more efficient processes, we might not have known any better. We were still on a cruise, and still having fun. We know there are many who never get to experience this. My primary point for the critique was by way of comparison. And the fact that the significantly more expensive, “luxury” dubbed cruise line was so comparatively hapless. On board, the ship was very nicely appointed in traditional dark wood tones. The food was uniformly excellent, including the buffet. The wait staff was superb; welcoming, efficient and friendly. It didn’t take them long to know us individually at the various bars and the main dining room. The bars were great, and the bartenders made a good drink (though they did not have many of their advertised items, including wine selection and my favorite gins – another strike against management in my view – which is really where all my “darts” are pointed 🙂 ). Compared to our Celebrity/Princess experiences: They didn’t have as good or high-quality selection or variety of alcohol, and this seems incongruous with their self-characterization as a “luxury cruise line.” And we have experienced the same “positives” every other prior cruise we have been on. The “everyman” staff on these cruise ships (room stewards, bartenders, wait staff) are always great, and given the working conditions and often their own life conditions, it is amazing to us that they continue to perform so well, always with a smile! On the Nautica, I will say that everything was clean. And the entertainment was really good. It was a small ship, and the production crew was perhaps a tenth of what we normally see. But they are equally talented dancers and musicians. All week they had a string quartet on one of the quiet areas inside the ship. And they had a jazz/contemporary combo that played on the pool deck most days for a couple hours and up in the main lounge most nights for a couple hours. The leader, pictured with me below, played two saxophones and the clarinet, and sang. He was uber talented and a really friendly guy! Definitely my favorite on board entertainment.
THESHIP was kind of a “mini-me” version of what we were used to. Everything – and I mean everything was small. The rooms, though clean, were small. The balcony was really too narrow to sit and enjoy. The bathroom was cramped – so much so that I couldn’t comfortably turn around in the wardrobe-sized shower, nor fit on the commode without knees bumping something. Having just come off the Celebrity Equinox (not by a long shot their nicest ship), I can say the room quality is equivalent to the Nautica, and much roomier. The pool was smaller than my own pool here in Florida. The pool area was adequate, but still probably about 1/3 the size we see on the Princess and Celebrity ships. And only a single pool deck. There were two smoking areas. One was a “fishbowl” glassed in room off the largest bar/entertainment area on the ship. It was cigarettes only. The other was a corner off the pool deck. It was fine, and I spent a fair amount of time there. But though it was semi-open, it was not really outdoors. I get that smoking is not “politically correct” these days (especially in a non-European context), but really, it felt a little bit like we were being punished. I address that issue in some detail in my other blog, “I Am A Celebrity,” which is more specifically focused on cruising – where this one is supposed to be about photography. 🙂 And besides, all my complaints are really small in the scope of things. What I mentioned above as “First World Problems.” We had fun on the cruise. We met some wonderful new friends, caught up with some old friends, and generally had a great time. So, yeah, “first world problems.”
SO I will get down off my soapbox. This cruise was supposed to have 5 stops, with a couple at-sea days in between the longer distances. We were scheduled to leave Cape Town around 4:00 p.m. and cruise north to Namibia, our only scheduled stop outside of South Africa. The high winds that had characterized our stay in Cape Town continued. They had forced our ship, which terminated there, to sail around the bay in a pattern for several hours before they felt that they could safely dock. The wind was blowing directly onto the pier, and the area is tight. There was concern that we would not be able to safely push away, so our departure was delayed. We finally departed at around 3:00 a.m. the following morning, with tugboats pulling us sideways off the pier.
IN SPITE of timing, we did make it to Walvis Bay, Namibia on the morning we were scheduled to arrive. Those who had excursions were able to keep them, for the most part. We didn’t have anything planned, so we walked off the ship and hired one of the companies that are always offering their services to tourists. We knew we had a couple animal park drives later in the week, so we weren’t really concerned. We had a nice, relaxing afternoon, with our driver taking us to see flamingos, the pink salt reclamation operations (they actually “mine” both pink and white salt), and sand dunes. We ended with a Namibian beer – Windhoek. It was pretty good.
FOR YEARS, I have associated pink salt with Himalaya (that’s what I see in the grocery stores: “Himalayan Pink Salt”). For all I know it is taken from the mines beneath Detroit, Michigan and died with Red Dye # 2. 🙂 Bordered by Angola to the north, South Africa to the South and Botswana to the East (with Zimbabwe a close neighbor), I was surprised to see on a map the size of the Namibian land mass, and the length of its Atlantic Coastline. Namibia is mostly desert (the most arid of the countries in the African Peninsula). That means there is a lot of sand. Less than 1% of Namibia’s entire land mass is considered “arable” (farmable). Yet ironically, more than 50% of the Namibian population is engaged in agriculture (albeit the bulk of that is “subsistence farming” in rural areas). But along the coastal marshes of the Atlantic, impounds have been made by draining ocean water onto large land masses, and then letting it evaporate, leaving salt deposits. Those deposits form one of Namibia’s important agricultural industries – particularly in Walvis Bay.
OTHER MINERALS play an even bigger part in Namibia’s economy. Especially Uranium and Diamonds. Namibia is said to have rich alluvial deposits of diamonds. Of course, the African Continent is famously know for its diamond mining and production. And not in a good way. The term “blood diamonds” has a well-deserved pejorative meaning. Namibia may be different. Originally inhabited – like the rest of the South African Peninsula, with indigenous tribal cultures, in the late 1800’s, Germany established a colony – and eventual ruled over much of what is now Namibia; ostensibly as a bulwark against continuing British control over South Africa and the eastern parts of the peninsula. The German immigration was exploitative, to the point of genocide against the native people. They ruled (and exploited) the area until World War I, when the Germans were driven out, and the territory came under the rule of South Africa. During the 1940s and beyond, South Africa’s white ruling minority imposed apartheid on Namibia. Namibia gained its independence following an extended period of conflict between the United Nations and South Africa, and prolonged guerilla warfare on the ground, in the late 1980’s. The first Namibian Constitution was adopted in 1990. Since then, (at least according to their propaganda), Namibia appears to be a progressive country, with a humanist, and ecological philosophy. Government includes a democratically elected head of state as well as a bicameral legislature. Intended to be “multi-party,” a single party has effectively always one the election and occupied the positions of power. Wikipedia notes that: “Although much of the world’s diamond supply comes from what have been called African blood diamonds, Namibia has managed to develop a diamond mining industry largely free of the kinds of conflict, extortion, and murder that have plagued many other African nations with diamond mines.” We did not visit, or hear much about, any diamond mining during our time in South Africa.
WE FINISHED our day at an outdoor bar at the entrance to the sand dunes. I had told our driver I wanted to try some local beer (i.e., actually brewed in country). There were two, but the one I chose was Windhoek, named for (and presumably brewed in) Namibia’s capitol city. It was good and refreshing. We headed back to the ship for the long, next leg, back down and around the Cape of Good Hope, from the Atlantic into the Indian Ocean, and up the eastern coast of South Africa. Our next stop: Port Elizabeth.
AS I turn away from the Baltic, I have also reached an unexpected development. I am getting behind. In the early years, when I started writing this blog, after an initial surge of (probably pent up) thoughts and ideas, it was not unusual for me to hit a lull. This did not really start out as a “travel” blog. Nor is it really my intention that it only be that. Indeed, I still consider it a photography blog. But photography has been the catalyst for many other things – travel being high among them. Back then, we would travel to a major U.S. destination maybe every other year or so. In between, I would make my periodic sojourns to Vermont in the fall, and often to other U.S. destinations, mostly during fall foliage season. That always gave me new subject matter to write about here, and many new photographs. But inevitably, I would get “caught up” and there would be a lull. During these lulls, I would often write about other topics, sometimes philosophical, sometimes about photography technology, gear, and digital subjects. More recently, we have ramped up the travel (probably a result of us both being fully retired, and of a mind that we had better do it while our health allows). Over the past couple years, we have done 2 and even 3 major trips/cruises each year. This has made keeping up more of a challenge. Indeed, I have several non-travel subjects “queued” up, planning to fit them in between subject changes or during anticipated lulls. But there haven’t been any of those, and I don’t see them coming up in the near future. I will continue to sprinkle in the occasional post between the travel posts (particularly if they may relate to the travel or a subject that has come up). But as I write this, I have two additional cruises backed up (posts mostly written), and two more cruises coming up in March and June. Lots to write about and more to photograph.
WHAT I mean by new direction is twofold: where I will go with the next several posts; and the fact that we visited a new part of the world for us. In January, we joined a group of “members” of The Obrien Estate Winery (Napa, California), on a cruise and trip to South Africa. Chronologically, this is out of order. Following our cruise in the Baltic, we did what was for us, at least a 4th cruise in the Mediterranean, along the French and Italian Riviera. We bookended that cruise with several days in Rome prior and several more days in Venice after. During that multi-stop cruise, we visited only one port we had not been to (a few of them several times). That doesn’t mean they weren’t great (we will be in the Mediterranean numerous more times, I am sure). And it doesn’t mean I didn’t take many more, new and – I think – good photos. But it does mean that the “been there, done that” feeling means that I would like to move on, to the South Africa experience, while it is still somewhat fresh. I will come back to the Mediterranean Cruise.
LIKE EVERY cruise, and many of our land-based trips, In addition to seeing great places, we met some new people and made some friends. We generally plan our own itineraries, and therefore can select the venues, whether cruise ships or hotels and vrbo’s. In this case, the itinerary was set by the winery and their travel company partner. This meant that other than the hotel for the first few days in Cape Town, we didn’t really have much say over the rest. This included the Cruise Line/ship. So we had a new experience and adventure ahead of us. I review the ship, Oceania’s Nautica, on my other blog, “I Am A Celebrity” dedicated to cruising (and in particular, our cruises).
WE WERE a group of approximately 40. Interestingly, the ship (with an overall capacity of just under 650 people) carried just over 400 passengers on this cruise. That meant our group made up a full 10% of the ship’s passengers during the cruise. I doubt we will ever experience that again. We knew only one other couple, from a couple prior trips sponsored by the vineyard. But we quickly got to know several others. We spent a fair amount of time together as a group. And I am glad to say we have made some great new friends. As we have in the past, we will undoubtedly stay in touch with some of them (we already have plans to meet one couple for dinner here in Florida next month). As we always do, we also met folks not associated with the wine group. One thing about a 400 passenger-cruise (our usual is more like 1500 – 2500) on a physically much smaller ship; you will probably run into the same people a lot more often.
THE ITINERARY for this trip involved a few days (of our own plan) in the cruise port of embarkation – Cape Town – and then a several-day cruise which included stops in Walvis Bay, Namibia, and in several South African Ports (Elizabethtown, Durban, and Richards Bay), before returning to Cape Town. Getting to that part of the world is more challenging than our flights to places like Barcelona, Rome, London, Amsterdam and Athens have been. At first, we were scheduled to fly from Tampa to Atlanta, to Amsterdam, to Cape Town. The total travel time would have been some 20 plus hours (it is actually a longer flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town than from Atlanta to Amsterdam). But during the planning stages, Delta added a direct flight from Atlanta to Cape Town. Still a 15-hour flight (the second longest we have made – Tokyo from Detroit was slightly longer). The flights are mostly overnight (which is probably a good thing, as we do get a chance to sleep some). So we didn’t leave Cape Town to head back to Atlanta until nearly midnight. Our ship returned to port in the early morning hours, and that left us a full day in Cape Town. For reasons I will mention below, even though we were tired from the long cruise, this final day turned out to be a great one.
IWILL cover all of our time (including the final day) in Cape Town in this post. We spent 3 nights at a waterfront hotel in Cape Town, pre-cruise, and then another full day in an d around Cape Town at the end of the cruise. For that last day, we hired a guide/driver for the day. We landed in Cape Town on Tuesday, and by the time we got transportation to the motel and got checked in, it was mid-afternoon. We had not planned anything for that afternoon, so we relaxed a bit, and then walked over to the adjacent mall, to find a bank, and check it out, generally. Ultimately, we were in search of a meal. We found a restaurant and had burgers, fries and a beer. Not very South African, I know. This was our first experience in a restaurant or bar in country. We were to be consistently astounded at how inexpensive things are there. Unfortunately for South Africa, a large part of these very cheap prices is the result of a tanking economy. In American dollars, our average meal – with drinks and tip – was between $20 and $30 for both of us. Our average Uber ride cost us between $4 -$6.
THE WATERFRONT is nice, but not remarkably unique. There is a mix of working boats and tourist boats. Further in, there is a private harbor for pleasure craft. On the ground, there is substantial development devoted to the tourist industry; mostly bars and restaurants, with a smattering of shops. At night, things were lit up nicely, and I thought it made the area more photogenic. As is my custom, I got out fairly early from the motel room and walked around the waterfront area. In addition to the standard sights at a working harbor, there were some quirky photo opportunities. The “life size” chess board is interesting., I got down low to get a low perspective of it though with all the people around me, I did not lay down on the ground. I should have as it might have yielded a more interesting perspective. But shooting like this does underscore the advantage of an articulating rear screen. Those who know my shooting style know that I don’t usually use the rear screen. But there are times when it really adds to the versatility of the camera. As I look at this now, I could imagine my 3-year old grandson standing next to the tallest nearmost chess piece. He wouldn’t be a lot taller.
THERE IS a cabled walking bridge across the main canal from the harbor back into the private boat harbor. At night it is interestingly lit. It is a swing bridge, and when boats come through, it pivots on a horizontally in from the canal so they can pass. I watched it in operation the first morning we were there.
THOSE WHO know me well know that my “go to” cocktail is a gin & tonic. I am particular about how I like it, with a “short” (whiskey) glass, very little ice, no fruit, and mostly gin. 🙂 Perhaps most importantly is that I like it with a gin that suits my taste. Over many tastings over the years, I have settled on Tanqueray #10 (not “just” Tanqueray), as the “very best” gin for gin & tonics. Well. When I saw this “tree” outside of one of the waterfront restaurant/bars, I of course, had to photograph it.
WE HAD scheduled a walking tour of an older part of town that would feature the street art of Cape Town. Having recently become enamored of street art (it really got rolling in Porto, Portugal, back in May of 2022), I was enthusiastic. It was perhaps the only scheduled excursion during those first several days that actually went off without a hitch. The “big deal” view in Cape Town is probably the large, flat-topped mountain known as Table Mountain. Our hotel room had a great view of the waterfront, with Table Mountain as a backdrop. You can drive up to the base of the final peak and get a pretty impressive view back down on to Cape Town and the waterfront. But the only way to the top is to hike or to ride a funicular (really more like a gondola). That is considered one of those things you should do on a visit to Cape Town. Unfortunately, two things consistently prevented us from doing that. First, for most of the three days, the top was in the clouds, meaning you would see nothing up there. And second, the unusual high winds meant they would not operate the gondola. So once again – stymied.
THE STREET art walking tour was in the afternoon. We met at a quirky old mostly outdoor shopping center, The Old Biscuit Mill, in an area of the city called Woodstock. Most of the street art was in an adjacent area to the immediate east known as Salt River. I made a lot of images that afternoon. I couldn’t begin to showcase -or even highlight them – here. But if you find them interesting, you can certainly see them on my LightCentricPhotography website. The Street Art Gallery is here. I will include just a couple here on the blog, though.
OUR TOUR ended where it started, about 3 1/2 hours later. The Old Biscuit Mill is on Victoria Street, and on one corner of the mall entrance is a small storefront gin distillery: Woodstock Gin. They only make 3 gins; their standard gin, and two flavored gins. We had to stop in. I had their regular gin and tonic. My wife likes to try the different flavor infused gins. She really liked the cocktail made with the Tangerine and Fiery Ginger Gin. Unfortunately, we only had an hour before they closed. Somehow, we were able to get a couple drinks down in that short time. Looking for somewhere else similar, the proprietor suggested we walk down the street to a relatively newly opened brewery called appropriately enough, Woodstock Brewery. I had a couple of their lager beers, and we enjoyed about an hour of chatting with the bartender who was serving us. We talked about where we might get some authentic South African food. Oddly enough, they had some there and he never even suggested it. After our afternoon “refreshments,” though, we knew we needed to get some food in our stomachs. We Ubered back to the waterfront area and eventually to the Quay 4 restaurant, which I had seen earlier that day. We first stopped at a gin bar in the Silo Hotel, which my brother-in-law had recommended. He was in Cape Town several years back and had actually sent me a video of the gin selection. Unfortunately, the only way to get in was by reservation if you weren’t already a hotel guest. Reservations were several days out, so it was a non-starter for us. I was in the mood for seafood and Quay 4 had it on the menu. Not the best I have ever had, but decent for a tourist area.
WEATHER WASnot cooperative for us during our initial stay in Cape Town. Everything we had read suggested that December-January is more or less right in the middle of the summer in South Africa. We expected daytime temperatures in the 80s, and plentiful sunshine. Instead, we were treated to an unusual display from Mother Nature. High winds and cool temperatures dominated all 3 of our days prior to the cruise. And that wreaked havoc on our “best laid” plans. My wife has always really wanted to see the prison on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held for all those years. So we had a ferry trip out there booked for our second morning. When we arrived at our scheduled time, there was a big electronic sign that said all excursions were cancelled due to high winds. Nothing they (or we) could do. Disappointing, but unavoidable. Unfortunately, that also meant hundreds of other people’s excursions were also cancelled. Which created a mad scramble for other available excursions. We got on Google (what did we ever do before “smart” phones?) and found a walking tour of a coffee roasting shop and the “parliament” area of the Cape Town city center. We had just enough time to walk up to the main street and get an Uber and get there. We made it right on time. But there was a problem. Nobody else was there. By the time we got that sorted out, we learned that they had not been given notice of our booking and couldn’t come up with anything on such short notice. We should have known better. We booked through an internet outfit called “Get Your Guide.” They don’t own or conduct any tours. They are just a clearinghouse for local tour operators. It bears a word of warning. We have generally had good experience with this group and another as well (like “Tours With Locals”). We can say that the actual operators are generally very good. But it was almost too good to be true that we were able to get right on and book the tour just an hour before it was due to go. We assumed it was set up and there were still openings. What it appears really happened is that they booked it and their system did not timely communicate with the actual purveyor. That seems like a weakness to us. Seems like they should have a way to check with the purveyor and make certain that the tour is going and there are openings. They didn’t do that. A very inefficient setup. Oh, but they were extremely efficient about charging our card – and taking our money. We did get a refund, but what a hassle. And essentially a “blown” day. Not cool, “Get Your Guide.”
WHAT DO you do? Make the best of it, I guess. The next day we were due to board our cruise ship at 11:00 a.m. So, this was really our last day before the cruise. Our purported meeting spot was a coffee roaster and shop called Truth Coffee Roasters. We walked in, got a nice cup of coffee and a tasty cinnamon roll, and chilled for a while. We had been striking out. But we didn’t want to sit around the hotel all afternoon. So, we took another Uber. This time to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. It was a large, peaceful place. I think spring may be the best time to go though. There were some flowers, and things were green. But it wasn’t “knock your socks off” for me. We were also there during the hottest light of the day, so not especially good for photography. Still, I managed to come away with a shot or two.
WE WERE ready for some refreshment. When we were trying to find the gin bar mentioned above, we googled “gin bar.” We found “The Gin Bar” (the original “Gin Bar”). It was back down in the city center. If you go to Cape Town, I recommend you go there. It looks to us to be a little-known spot, but popular with the locals. When your cab or Uber drops you off at the address listed in Google, you will think you are in the wrong place. But you are in the right place. The way to get into The Gin Bar is to walk into the street front Chocolate Shop and walk straight on through and out the back door. There is a nice little courtyard, and in a few steps, the entrance to The Gin Bar. I think the quirky entrance kind of adds to the ambiance. They have a number of craft gins, and several signature cocktails. Very good. And, once again, we escaped with an astoundingly inexpensive tab. We each had at least 3 drinks, and spent several hours there, before heading back to the waterfront to try a restaurant that purported to serve authentic South African food. You may sense a (gin-based) theme developing here. 🙂
ONE OF the things we like to do when we travel is try the foods of the countries or regions we are in. I like to do the same thing with locally brewed beers. I generally like a Lager. The seemingly most popular South African Lager is Castle. I had several of them while in Cape Town. The other beer I tried – Windhoek – was a Namibian beer, when we were in Walvis Bay, later in the week. But so-called “South African” food was/is an enigma to us. They have their favorites, and they can vary from region to region. But none seem to be particularly unique to only South Africa. For sure, we live in an ever-shrinking world, and “ethnic” foods have often morphed in localized versions (e.g., “Indian” food in London and in Durban). South Africa gets its cultural influence from African tribal culture as well as Dutch, British, German, and more recently Indian cultures. The most universal food type seems to be grilled (or as they refer to it “barbequed”) meat. They call it Braai. I had found a restaurant on the waterfront that claimed to serve “authentic” South African food and we had planned to try it. We didn’t make a reservation, which probably normally wouldn’t have mattered. But because of the wind event and other cancellations, they were overwhelmed and couldn’t seat us. In fact we had a tough time being seated anywhere nearby. We ultimately ate in a non-descript “family-type” restaurant that was so “memorable,” that I cannot even remember what I had. 🙂 I did get a chance at some authentic braai (pr: “bry”) later in the week.
“South African” food was/is an enigma to us
THE NEXT morning, we had breakfast, packed up, and took an Uber to the cruise port just a short distance away. After getting on board, we had a wait while our staterooms were being readied. So we did the predicable thing. We found the bar. 🙂 Our first couple days were at sea. I will cover the first part of the cruise in the next blog post.
ON OUR return to port in Cape Town, as mentioned above, we were picked up at the port by our guide and driver for the day. Ally was an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable guide. I will characterize him as “a character.” He was also caring and attentive. One of us had a “minor” but serious enough injury from a fall early in our day. Ally not only handled the situation diplomatically and efficiently but kept an eye on our friend for the remainder of the day.
A LIFETIME resident of Cape Town, Ally met us at the cruise port, and we spent a great day with him, driving around the cape. We had a long and active week on board and were pretty tired, but ready to see some of the parts of Cape Town we had not gotten to see. Our first stop would be Table Mountain, and the weather cooperated wonderfully. The entire day was warm and mostly sunny. We took the gondola to the top and were treated to some pretty impressive views of Cape Town and vicinity.
WE THEN drove down around the Cape Peninsula, first stopping at Hout Bay for a boat ride to see the Cape Seals. Of course, Ally knew somebody with a boat. 🙂
FROM HOUT Bay, we continued down the coast on the east side of the Cape Peninsula, with our ultimate destination being The Cape Point Nature Preserve, and the Cape of Good Hope (complete with its iconic sign), all in the Table Mountain National Park. But before we got to the park we had two other items on our agenda. The first was the Boulders Bay Penguin Colony just beyond Simon’s Town on the beaches of False Bay. False Bay has a couple of things about it that are noteworthy. First, Simon’s Town houses the largest Naval Facility in South Africa (formerly occupied by the British Navy). False Bay is a “square-ish” bay between Cape Point and Cape Hangklip on the east side of the bay. It got its name centuries ago, because of the similarity of Cape Hangklip to Cape Point. Sailors approaching from the east often confused Cape Hangklip with the Cape of Good Hope, and consequently, the bay as Table Bay in Cape Town. Hence the name “False Bay.” False Bay is also a known habitat for the African Penguin (we didn’t hear it, but apparently its cry is a bray much like a donkey and so it is sometimes known as the “Jackass Penguin”). The African Penguin is listed as an endangered species. In 1910 there were known to be over 1.5 million penguins in South Africa. But by the end of the 20th century that population had shrunk by 90%! According to my sources, this was due to a combination of factors, including the harvesting of their eggs for food and the commercial trawling for small fish (like anchovies and anchovies which make up a significant part of the penguin diet). In the early 1980’s the Boulders Bay area was selected as an ideal breeding ground for the Penguins, with its sheltered beaches and above tide bushes, it afforded a safe place for them and is now a protected natural area for them. From just 2 breeding pairs in 1982, the colony today exceeds 2000 today. It was characteristically warm and summerlike when we arrived there, and the hot sun was actually threatening the young penguins we were being born as we visited. The “hot” light made for challenging photographic lighting conditions. But I managed to make a few images.
THE PARK – nearly 20,000 acres (7750 hectares) – covers most of the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula. The last town of any size is Simon’s Town on the eastern shore of the Peninsula. South of Simon’s Town, while there are some residential properties, it becomes increasingly less inhabited, until you reach the park entrance, where it is completely natural. Admission for a day is about $20 U.S. dollars (352 South African rand). A mostly mountainous, rocky peninsula, there are transitional areas as the land reaches the beach. The park drive is mostly along the shoreline. There are shipwreck sites, as well as rocky cliffs and small sandy beaches. For the most part, they are uninhabited. This scenic area is certainly South Africa’s most famous seaside landform.
AT THE point of the Peninsula stands the Cape Point Light, warning seagoing vessels off of the rocky coastline and guiding them around the cape. There is a kind of interesting story there. The original Cape Point Light is at or near the highest point on the cape and can be seen from the parking lot of the Table Mountain National Park visitor center. There is a funicular that can be taken up to the light, as well as a walking path. We did not do either. The best I could do was to photograph the light from below, in the parking lot. We were there in the highest light portion of the afternoon, and any photograph would have been a lighting challenge (as this one was). But this is no longer the working light for the Cape. The original light was so high that – coming from the west (Atlantic) – ships were seeing it “too soon,” and it actually had the opposite effect of what it was intended for. It actually falsely brought the ships in too close. In 1911, the Portuguese Lucitainia, wrecked just south of the Cape. It is thought that seeing the light too soon, and being falsely assured, was the primary reason for this wreck. Sometime later, a new light (now the working light) was built at a lower elevation. This means that the ships now don’t see the light as soon, which has the effect of keeping them off the Cape longer.
OUR FRIENDS, Craig and Georgia (we first met them on our very first O’Brien Winery sponsored excursion, years ago), having the same flight as us back to the U.S., joined us for the day. Craig has a hip problem, and my wife has issues with her feet. Both are capable – and plucky. But walking up the path was really out of the question. Collectively, we didn’t have enough interest in the old Lighthouse to take the funicular. But there was another reason we didn’t try to walk the path – or anywhere else on the cape. While there are certainly a number hikers, there is also a fair amount of wildlife there. Some can be dangerous. But it’s not what you might think. It isn’t Lions (or Tigers or Bears, “oh my” 🙂 ), or any other cats. Rather, it is Baboons. Looking at my photograph (the best I could do from inside a vehicle, through the window glass), they look almost “cute,” furry and cuddly. The aren’t. They can be among the most dangerous of South African wildlife, perhaps partly due to being underestimated. They generally hang together in what are referred to as “troups.” Their natural habitat is the mountainous regions like the Cape affords them, with transitional vegetation as the land approaches the ocean. Their natural food sources are fruits, roots, bulbs, honey, insects and scorpions. They are omnivores. I have emphasized “natural” for a reason. Human-provided food sources have become a serious problem. The Baboons are not only very smart, but they are also extremely aggressive toward food. The have dangerous teeth and claws and will not hesitate to attack people – not for any reason other than they may think you have food. They can be as large as a small human, and certainly as heavy as an average person. They are tremendously physically strong. There are signs everywhere. The brochure for the park makes it illegal to purposely feed them, and notes that because of the aggressive behavior from receiving food from humans, Baboons (a protected species within the park) sometimes have to be destroyed. Earlier in the day, when we stopped for lunch at a magnificent restaurant overlooking the ocean, there were signs warning about Baboons. There were also electrified fence wires near the edge of the ground (which our waiter told us are basically useless if the baboons come around). Wildlife in South Africa is real.
OF COURSE, there is other wildlife in the park. We saw several Ostriches. They are – in keeping with the oft-heard saying – “a strange bird.” Interesting. Huge. Curious, but cautious. We had seen a fair amount of wildlife during the week while cruising. Ally could have taken us to another part of the park where we would have been more likely to see Springbok, Kudu, more Baboons and Ostriches, and possibly Giraffes. Probably no lions in the park, and no elephants. There were a couple major challenges to good photography of these animals. First, the light was pretty “hot.” Second, we were shooting from a vehicle and my seat did not have a window that opened. The glass presents an obstacle to good quality. And third, we were often far enough away that details would be a challenge. Given that earlier in our trip – during the cruise – we had all had some great wildlife viewing opportunities, we decided to forego that part of the park to head back to Cape Town for one other photo destination that I had in mind.
BEFORE HE returned us to the Cape Town airport, I asked Ally to make one other stop. I had read about an area known as Bo-Kaap (or sometimes, “The” Bo-Kaap). I originally thought it was a separate village, somewhere near – but outside of – Cape Town. It turns out that is right in the city in a neighborhood situated on the foothills of Table Mountain, at the base of Signal Hill, just to the southwest of the “Victoria and Alfred” Waterfront where we stayed. Once known as “The Malay Quarter,” it was a racially separated area during apartheid. In the late 1700’s a wealthy Dutch farmer purchased several tracts of land where Bo-Kaap now stands. “Bo-Kaap” translates as “above the ocean” in Afrikaans. The farmer built rowhouses which he leased to his slaves. At the time, the indigenous African people had resisted Dutch (and British) incursions, and largely moved east. Consequently, slaves were often imported from Indonesia and Malaysia. Hence, the “Malay Quarter.” During apartheid, the Bo-Kaap was populated with many other minorities. But the majority of the population were the slaves, who were primarily Muslim. Today, the area is still populated with approximately 58% Muslims, and is said to be the oldest surviving residential neighborhood in Cape Town.
ORIGINALLY PAINTED white, Bo-Kaap is known today for its brightly colored buildings. My oft-repeated mantra (is that redundant?) on this blog is color. 🙂 So naturally, I was attracted. Perhaps unfortunately, we were nearing the end of our day and did not have a great deal of time to wander around Bo-Kaap. I will certainly go back and spend a bit more time if we ever return to Cape Town. I have since seen a couple of really nice (and effective) panoramic images of Bo-Kaap. We were somewhat hurried, and I wasn’t “on-the-ball” enough to consider making a panoramic or two. The area is a very tight neighborhood, of mainly row houses. It requires wide angle images, or close studies, in my view. I pretty much don’t feel that I did it justice. It is said that when the inhabitants of Bo-Kaap gained independence, the brightly colored paint was a symbol of freedom and did not begin until the late 20th century.
BO-KAAP ESSENTIALLY ended our South African adventure. When we first planned the trip, I did my usual “quick and dirty” research. Originally, what might today be referred to as the “indigenous people of South Africa” were black, “African” tribes with names like Khoi, San, Bantus, Xhosa and Zulu. While some of them (notably the Zulu’s) did develop somewhat organized and “sophisticated” permanent settlement, for the first several centuries, Africa remained essentially wild and natural and these peoples were very small group, hunter-gatherers who moved often. In the 13th Century European Explorers arrived. During the so-called “Age of Discovery, first Portuguese and later Dutch explorers “discovered” Africa as they searched for an alternate to the “Silk Route” to the West Indies. Too far, east, they instead referred to this land as the “East Indies.” In 1488, Portuguese sailing explorers first rounded the Cape of Good Hope. It appears, though that it was later, around 1652 that The Dutch East India Company, brought significant settlement into the Cape area. They founded the Cape Colony (now Cape Town and vicinity) and the Cape Town Trading Company. The company, however, diligently avoided colonization, or establishment outside of the settlement in Table Bay. The intention was that it be an outpost of the company, whose sole purpose was as a waypoint to re-supply their trading vessels. Over time, however, some employees who had finished their contract with the company, were granted limited rights to farm and establish housing, though they continued to be governed by the company (from Amsterdam). These Dutch-turned “Afrikaan” farmers were known as Boers. Over time, they developed their own customs, way of living, and even language. During that time period, the Dutch had dominated Cape Town. Partly in search of better lands for their farming activities, and at the same time, chafing against Dutch remote authority, many of the Boers continued to expand eastward into the African interior. These “explorers” were known as Voortrekkers (or Boer Trekkers). Near the end of the 18th Century, through machinations, mostly occurring back in Europe between the Dutch, the English and the French, the Dutch ceded the African territory to British Control. By 1806, Africa was pretty much controlled by the British Empire. There were many tensions in Africa at that time, between the Dutch, the English, and the Boers, as well as between these Europeans and the indigenous tribes. In 1833, the British Slavery Abolition Act, had severe repercussions for the Boers, who felt strongly that they needed slaves in order for their farms to survive (an eerie parallel to the U.S. southern agriculture industry and eventual Civil War). To some extent unlike the U.S. attitudes toward slavery, the Boers viewed this from a religious perspective. In the rear-view mirror, it was a clearly twisted justification, but in the times, it created much turmoil between a somewhat embittered Afrikaan population and absentee (but thought-to-be absentee “do-gooders,” mostly from England). Eventually, tensions resulted in armed conflict between the Boers and the British (The Boer Wars). Initially, as a result of the First Boer War, the Boers prevailed, and the result was the independence of The South African Republic. But tensions between the nations continued, and the lure of minerals and diamonds, as well as control of the sea passages and ports was too strong for the then imperialist-leaning United Kingdom. In 1899 the tensions once again erupted into war (The Second Boer War), in which the British ultimately prevailed, and essentially ruled South Africa until their independence was granted in 1910. During this historical period, a culture of white dominated (probably due mainly to superior military power) racism predominated the South African culture. This culminated, of course with the infamous “Apartheid” period from 1948 to the early 1990’s. If you go back to many years to that period where the Boer independent culture developed, it puts these strong (although terribly wrong) feelings of racial superiority, and the “necessity” of separation in perspective. During our cruise I heard a lecture given from a professor from Cape Town University. His summary of the state of South Africa today was not optimistic. While apartheid has been abolished, the powers that ultimately took over appear to be largely corrupt and incompetent. The so-called “elections” are – from much of what I heard from citizens – kind of a farce. The economy is in critically bad condition, and the prediction is that there may well be economic, political and possibly military chaos in the short term. Personally, I hope not. I wonder, though, if our visit to South Africa was timely. Back, in 2003, we visited Istanbul, Turkey. Shortly after our visit, things there had deteriorated to the point that cruise ships and other excursions simply no longer went there. It is heartening to see that, some years later, cruise ships are stopping In Istanbul once again, signaling that stability may well have returned. I wonder if we won’t see a similar progression in South Africa in the very near future. We can only hope that any period of such instability will be short-lived. Time will tell.