Durban

Durban Beach Front
Durban, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

THE EAST coast of South Africa borders the Indian Ocean. After rounding the Cape of Good Hope, there are a couple ports on the south of the peninsula. The you turn north along the eastern shore. Port Elizabeth (now referred to in some quarters as Port Edward, and in Afrikaans: Gqerberha), is about halfway up the coast of South Africa. The northern border of South Africa is adjacent to Mozambique along the seacoast. Much of South Africa in that area is Zulu territory, while inland from there is Johannesburg and Pretoria. We were scheduled to depart Port Elizabeth at 5:00 p.m. and were scheduled to complete the short hop up to Durban, by 9:00 p.m., for an overnight stay. Overnight stops are often something to look forward to on a cruise. In 2020, our British Isles cruise overnighted twice (not a common occurrence in our experience), allowing us to see London, and to spend the night and two days on shore in Paris. In other places, it has allowed us to be in the city at night (Barcelona, for example), and for me to make night photos, something that is a real treat in cities and seaports.

Nelson Mandela (KwaZulu) Cruise Terminal
Durban, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved

OUR DURBAN stop, however, was an oddity (though, it turned out, perhaps maybe not so much for this cruise line/itinerary). In the first place, we continued to hear during our entire stay in South Africa, that it (essentially the entire country) was not safe, and that it was inadvisable to wander far from the ship without an organized tour or group. Especially at night. And, we were told, there is not really much to the city, other than a few choice spots to visit. The Durban beaches, reportedly, were nice. There was the aquarium at Ushaka Marine Center (a short distance from our berth). Maybe a couple other spots. But not much else. Conversations aboard the ship later confirmed that. A few passengers took driving tours around Durban and came back underwhelmed. Most had scheduled a Nautica-sponsored visit to a nearby safari park.


During the planning stages and during our trip to South Africa, the word “Safari” came up often. Curious, I looked it up. Various sources agree on this rough definition: the caravan and equipment of a hunting expedition especially in Africa. These days, I suspect there are at least two different “Safari” definitions. One is a true “Safari” involving the big game hunt. The second is, I am quite certain, the much more common event of wildlife viewing and “drives” (again, particularly in Africa). These latter “Safaris” can involve day trips into one of the numerous parks throughout the African peninsula, or a more involved, multiple-day trip at one of the “stay and view” parks. Either way, “Safari” has essentially become synonymous with African Wildlife Viewing.


uShaka Marine World
Durban, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved

FOR REASONS never fully disclosed, we had a late start out of Port Elizabeth, and a late arrival in Durban. High winds continued to harrass us, and we think wind and seas were probably the primary culprit. Once in the port, we held outside of the harbor/berth for about an hour. Due to arrive at 9:00 p.m., we had also learned that they completely close the gated “Nelson Mandela” Cruise Port at 11:00, with no access either to or from the ship from shore. A group of us had heard about a brewery that was outside the door of the cruise terminal and just across the street. We had planned to disembark from the ship promptly at our 9:00 arrival time and go to the pub, with plenty of time to return to the ship by the 11:00 deadline. Instead, by the time we were alongside, it was already 11:00. So much for that plan. Things didn’t improve the next day. The planned safari was cancelled at the last minute. The explanation was that there was a problem at the park. In what seemed to us to be characteristic fashion (at least for this ship – if not the entire line), the announcement was made on shore, minutes before passengers were to board busses. This left the more than 100 people without their planned excursion and really no time to find an alternative. Unlike many of the ports we have made during our travels over the years, for some reason, the normal complement of “hawkers” weren’t on shore to offer last-minute alternatives and many passengers either re-boarded the ship, or opted to take the shuttle, which really only went to the uShaka Marine Center on the Durban Beach Front. Kind of a wasted day on the longest tour stop. You can read my review of the Nautica Cruise and a more detailed account of this particular shore-excursion fiasco, and my excoriation of ship administrative personnel – in particular the inexcusable behavior of the cruise director – at my other Blog,I Am A Celebrity,” here, if you are interested.

Anaconda
uShaka Marine Center
Durban, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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WE HAD not made plans for a safari/drive in Durban. My thinking (again, somewhat misguided) was that we had already scheduled 2 other parks, as well as knowing we would spend some time viewing wildlife back at Cape Town. I (also mistakenly) thought of Durban as one of South Africa’s major city centers (turns out there really are only two – Cape Town and Johannesburg). We thought we could find a tour on shore. Research beforehand did not yield much, though. Ultimately, we opted to take the cruise ship shuttle to the Aquarium – uShaka Marine Center, which was on the Durban beach front. Our thinking was that we could see some of the beach while there and see what else was in the city.

Green Mamba
uShaka Marine Center
Durban, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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uSHAKA TURNED out to be mostly a tourist attraction/amusement park, largely for kids. It had a decidedly “African Tribal” theme, with shields and spears decorating the entrance. We did buy tickets for the aquarium, which was situated at the end of a very long, mall-like, shopping area, obviously designed to entice us to purchase local goods and services. Along the way, we paid a couple dollars to walk through a reptile exhibit. The aquarium was nice, with some pretty interesting marine life. Looking back, once again, the central focus was wildlife. Just presented in a different way than by “safari.”

Zulu Warrior Dancers
Durban, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2022
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WHILE IN the shopping area, we came across a demonstration of a traditional indigenous black warrior dance. James Mitchener, in his novel, The Covenant, has some colorful descriptions of these warriors (particularly the Zulu – which these young men likely were), and the dances that they did in preparation for – and in celebration of – warfare, mainly among the indigenous black population of Africa several hundred years ago. If you are planning to travel to the African peninsula (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe), I highly recommend The Covenant as preparatory reading. Prior to my very first cruise ever – to Alaska – I read Mitchener’s “Alaska.” I have also read Chesapeake, having spent many summer vacations in that part of the U.S. The Covenant is Mitchener’s fascinating account of (among other things) the history of settlement and development of South Africa. It is a very long book (they all are). They are not for the (reading) faint of heart. But they are incredibly informative and contain detailed and well researched history of the region. Written as historical novels, they are entertaining and many of his characters and families are taken from real life figures, and he occasionally winds real characters in (e.g., Cecil Rhodes, the namesake of the former Rhodesia). At times tedious, the Mitchener books are nonetheless worth reading in my opinion, and the “Covent” books are no exception. They have certainly helped me gain a perspective on an otherwise complex and difficult to understand South Africa.

Aquarium
uShaka Marine Center
Durban, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved

AQUARIUMS ARE notoriously challenging photo environments. The interiors are often quite dark, and the water lit from the interior. The lighting, filtered by the aquarium salt water, is often florescent – or at least appears so. Given the challenges of handheld shooting, through thick plexiglass, I thought the Olympus m4/3 camera acquitted itself reasonably well. These images were made mostly at f8 – f11, at 400 iso, 1/60 sec around 14mm (28mm equivalent). I did not have any filters with me – though a polarizer might have been useful.

Aquarium
uShaka Marine Center
Durban, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved

HEADING BACK to the ship, we did find the brewery, Robsons Real Beer, which was indeed directly across the street from the cruise terminal. We stopped for lunch and I had a couple of their Lagers. They also had a pre-made gin & tonic (“on tap”). It was pretty good. As was the food. We sat at the bar and met a tour guide who chatted with us. She was the one who told us that in order to really see Africa, we needed several days, on land, including safaris to Kruger National Park, and up to Botswana and Zimbabwe, in the African interior. Maybe someday. Our next stop would be Richards Bay – and another wildlife drive. For perhaps obvious reasons, I was curious about this stop. πŸ™‚

A New Direction

Cape Town Waterfront
South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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).Β  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.

Cape of Good Hope
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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).

Oceania Nautica
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 202
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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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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IΒ  WILL 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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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. πŸ™‚ 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.

Tanqueray “Tree”
Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Street Art
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Street Art
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Woodstock Gin Company
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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WEATHER WAS not 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.”

Truth Coffee Roasters
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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. πŸ™‚

The Gin Bar
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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. πŸ™‚ I did get a chance at some authentic braai (pr: “bry”) later in the week.

 

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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“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. πŸ™‚ Our first couple days were at sea. I will cover the first part of the cruise in the next blog post.

Table Mountain Gondola
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Mohammed “Ally” Ally
“Tours By Locals”
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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AΒ  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.

Cape Town from Table Mountain
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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. πŸ™‚

Cape Seals
Hout Bay, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Penguin Colony
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

View of False Bay
Table Mountain National Park
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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.

Original Cape Point Lighthouse
Table Bay National Park
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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” πŸ™‚ ), 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.

Baboons
Table Bay National Park
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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.

Female Ostriches
Table Bay National Park
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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.

Bo-Kaap
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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. πŸ™‚ 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
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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.

Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved