Day One Hundred and Forty One November 6th
We love Hog Hollow. The name alone makes you feel like you are staying in a fairy tale. Everything about the place is enjoyable.
The rain stopped so we are off to the Tenikwa Rehabilitation Center to see cats. The center is a non-profit that specializes in big cats. There are leopards, cheetahs, sevals, and a bunch of others. They give us a private guide (we are the only ones here for the 11a tour) that takes us into the large free-range cages they have for the animals.
It is pretty crazy to be so close to such big cats. They are no more than a few feet away. Before we go in our guides asks us to keep the kids really close so the cats don’t get excited and lunge for them. So, what about us?
Most of them are lying around and sleeping. At one point he takes us into a run with two male cheetahs that have been at the rehab center since birth and are “used to” people. Are you sure? I clutch Vince to my leg and Teri has Adele in a vice grip. We stand well within striking range. It’s a strange experience.
We are so used to seeing cats in zoos, at a distance, and with good reason. These things are big and powerful. It is no wonder they are in charge.
For lunch we drive down to a beach at the end of the road. It is stunningly beautiful and completely empty. I can now confirm that South Africa has the most beautiful beaches in the world. They go one for miles and miles, each turn more impressive than the last. The surf never ends. Now if they could just do something about the sharks.
We lunch at a beach bar at the end of the Otter Trail, a five-day coastal hike famous in this neck of the woods. The bar has a tree where the hikers toss their boots at the end of the hike and the boots are dangling from branches high and low. The hike looks like great fun. We need to come back and do it one of these years.
Evening finds us enjoying the surroundings of our “room” at Hog Hollow, Skyping back to the States to catch up with family and taking care of some logistics on the business front. It’s another great day in the Crags.
Day One Hundred and Forty Two November 7th
We really don’t want to leave. If we didn’t have a reservation up the road at Addo Elephant Park we would still be at Hog Hollow. If you ever come to ZA, come here and stay a while. It is one of our top three so far.
To further prolong our drive we stop just a few kilometers up the road for lunch at Natures Valley. This is a collection of locally run shops supported by the surrounding businesses. Tourism is the lifeblood here.
We find a beautiful necklace and earrings for Teri made by the women living in the village across the way. There is also a great café where we sit outside and enjoy the warm sunshine. A group of local school children are playing on the playground and singing beautiful harmony, very softly, as they slide and swing.
Our next leg turns out to be longer than we expected. The Elephant Lodge is on the other side of Port Elizabeth by forty-five minutes and it takes some time to get there. Again we drive by huge shantytowns full of intense poverty.
At one point closer to the end of the drive we pass three bushmen standing on the side of the road in loin clothes, painted white and carrying spears. No joke, these guys were the real deal. They had just emerged from the bush and were standing there carrying on an everyday conversation with one of the men from the shantytown. It was a strange clash of old and new, both living a very difficult existence and undergoing tremendous change.
Our hotel is just off the main road to the park and is tucked away under a grove of trees. It is another great find. We have a little house/hut in the back with two rooms, a thatched roof, a small porch and right next to a little pool. It’s prefect.
Dinner is in a café across the way that serves as the restaurant for the hotel guests as well as a rest stop for park weary travelers. We eat quickly and rest our tired bones by 9p.
Day One Hundred and Forty Three November 8th.
Addo is must do if you come here. It’s an Elephant Park by trade but it also houses the big five (lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino and water buffalo), as well as sharks and whales since the southern boundary is the Indian Ocean.
Elephants are everywhere. It is like they are falling off trees. This natural, protected habitat suites them very well and this is the largest collection in South Africa. I believe they said four hundred and fifty.
It’s hard to describe just how big these animals are. They are massive. When they stand next to the car or walk directly towards us then we are all on edge. Even Vinny stops his constant chatter but not before whispering, “Dad, dad, these are HUGE!”
The park is great fun and we spend the morning exploring the dirt roads with animals around every turn. It’s like a who’s who of animals. By lunchtime we have fourteen checked off on our park list.
Lunch is terrible. I actually have water at the bottom of my salad. They tell you not to drink the water here so to see a small pool at the bottom of my plate is disturbing. I would have ordered a burger but they eat anything and everything here so you never know what the “meat of the day” is. Between this water thing and the malaria pills we are all a bit freaked.
Since we are the only ones around most of the time and we are on dirt roads out in the middle of nowhere, the kids take the wheel. Both Adele and Vince are “driving” and could not be more thrilled. It’s such fun to see them light up with excitement.
With about an hour to go, so maybe five hours into the drive, we find ourselves tired and hungry on a small dirt road ready to throw in the towel and call it a day. That’s when we round a corner and come head on into two male lions sitting RIGHT next to the road. So they are RIGHT next to us. I MEAN RIGHT NEXT TO US. And a third, a female, circles in from the side.
Lions rule for a reason. They are clearly in charge. Nothing fazes these guys. These three sit, stretch and move at their own pace, completely at ease, not worried about anyone or anything. They could care less that we are there because they know they can take us down in a heartbeat. We are alive because they chose to let us live, not the other way around. This is an unbelievable feeling.
You get an overwhelming sense of awe. I keep whispering, “EVERYONE STAY CALM!” over and over, despite that fact that I am the only one freaking out. Teri is rapidly snapping photos, Adele is hiding under the seat and Vince is shouting something about the Backyardagins.
I stop the car. The big one stands up. The female stands and stares us down. Then all three stand and move with in a few feet of the car. We are truly scared for our lives. A car window offers no protection what so ever. Seriously this is very, very scary.
At the same time it is exhilarating. They are majestic. The most efficient animal I have ever seen in the wild. And they are so confident and arrogant. I have never felt outmatched out here in the open like this before. I have had a few close encounters with bears and wolf in Yellowstone (OK maybe it was a coyote) but nothing compares to this. And it’s just us and one other car with two people cowering in the front seat. We are very much alone and out of control of the situation. All we can do is be still, watch and wait.
Eventually they pass by.
In many ways this was the most exciting half hour of our trip.
After that the rest of the day and night are a blur.
Day One Hundred and Forty Four November 9th
The next morning we are still recovering from the lions. The feeling is hard to shake. It’s like any adrenaline rush. All you do is want more.
In the morning the kids have school and I spend the day tackling travel logistics and dealing with ATT back in the States. We are having Blackberry issues again. No emails, not good as we head to Kruger tomorrow and will be off the grid for five days. These communication issues are frustrating.
We have decided to splurge on a safaris ride this afternoon at the Schotia Reserve just up the road. The reports from other guests are all very positive and they tellus it is more intimate than we will get up north in the national park. Schotia has a drive from 3p to 9p that bridges afternoon and evening so you get a taste of both a day and night drive. Plus, they take kids: many of the others do not. We are beyond excited.
When we check in they give us a piece of paper with rules and regulations. One of the rules is: if you run out of fuel, feed your ranger to the lions. They claim no responsibility for: dust, rain, mud, snakes, spiders, hail, lightning, thunder, cold, lions, punctures or mechanical failures. The last piece of advice: hold on to your hats!
This is the most exciting six hours of our trip thus far. I know I said yesterday was the most exciting half hour and it was because we were on our own without a safety net stalking Leo the Lion. Here we are in a Land Cruiser with six others and protected by our driver but the experience is just as phenomenal.
First off the lions are here. There are eight total, we see six, and they come within a few feet of our “Landy.” (Their term, not mine.) They are close enough to make us all nervous. Plus they have all kinds of animals here: giraffes, zebras, buffalo, and many types of antelope, hippos, and a gator.
And then there are the rhinos. I should say that Adele is sitting right behind me and we are both on the outside in the back half of the “Cruiser.” (My term, much more appropriate.) The rhinos come down a hill, stop by a waterhole and come over towards us to munch on some grass. They are massive. One of them is pregnant so she is even bigger than usual.
How cute they are munching on grass and wandering our way. And they look so menacing with the enormous horn dangling in front. I swear the horn takes up a quarter of their bodies. Munch, munch, munch, here they come getting ever closer. Ha, exactly when do we start to drive?
We sit very, very still and the rhino munches his way right up to us and scratches its horn on the Cruiser. SCRATCHES ON THE CRIUISER! It is inches from Adele and I. INCHES! I hear, “I am really scared” in a loud whisper. She is a trooper and so very brave. My hands are shaking. There is nothing we can do but sit and wait for him to pass by.
The adrenaline rush is crazy, the impact a lasting memory. We will tell this one at family parties forever.
They only way to calm down is a big bowl of warthog stew.
After dinner we drive around in the DARK looking for lions. Why? I have no idea. Having been there it now seems like lunacy to me. I don’t really like the night drives. It is chaotic and hard to focus as the high power light beams bounce around looking for shinny eyes in the night. We freeze in the rain wrapped in layers of blankets and rain gear. How incredibly great is all of this?
By 10p we carry two sleepy children to bed and call it a night. Come see Addo and take a tour at the Schotia Private Game Reserve. They are both incredible.
Day One Hundred and Forty Five November 10th
The 5:30a wake up call comes all too early. We need to head back to Port Elizabeth to catch an 8:45a Kulula flight to Jo’berg (that’s the hip way of saying Johannesburg).
We get there with time to spare. When we check in the Europcar they do not even bother to look at the car. In fact they don’t even re-check you in, they just take the keys and email you a receipt. All that worry about the rims and the hubcaps for naught. Don’t worry, be happy.
The flight is really rough and the landing very choppy. When we get off on the other side we are all a bit shell shocked. No wonder the six-hour drive feels like and eternity.
For the first two hours we are lost going in the wrong direction and then retracing our steps back to the airport to start again going the other way. It is all very frustrating.
It starts to pour down rain, from all directions, simultaneously. Then the drive turns out to be much longer that we though and we miss the cut off time for the entry gates to the park. That’s how we came to stand in the pouring rain at 6:29p (the gates close at 6:30p) discussing with the park guard how we need to drive to another gate, three hours away, to be escorted in to our camp. And that we need to be there by 9p so we better hurry and drive fast, in the dark, and the rain, after six hours of driving, after a 5:30a wake up call, a zillion diet cokes, no real food, and a handful of Pringles. Not a chance.
We make a half-hearted attempt at the drive and end up in a Southern Sun hotel somewhere along the way to where we think we are supposed to be going. Africa is really dark at night and they don’t have road signs. Tension is running very high by the time we unload. Good thing we all get to sleep together in a tiny room with two double beds. And to think it only costs an arm and a leg at such a late hour.
Travel days can be hard.
Day One Hundred and Forty Six November 11th
The good news is that the breakfast buffet is included! After a terrible nights sleep it is nice to have an endless supply of coffee. Another please, better yet just leave the French press.
More good news. By shear chance we are next to one of the best shopping malls we have been to all trip. It makes stocking up on supplies for Kruger down right enjoyable. We are staying in a self-catering camp for three of the nights and we need to pack in all food and necessities. Lucky the park supplies guards and ammo.
The meat section is crazy. You can buy blesbuck, buffalo, bushbuck, crocodile, duiker, impala, kudu, springbuck, warthog, zebra and god knows what else.
The park list includes: aardvark, ardtwolf, giraffe, hare, hippo, impala, jackal, kudu, lion, monkey, mongoose, porcupine, reedbuck, rhino, wildebeest as well but I am not sure any of these are edible.
The drive is almost three hours all in and passes through and endless stream of poverty. For some reason the street is packed with school kids, all dressed in school uniforms with pressed white shirts and blouses. I have no idea how they do it. They live in shacks held together by twine and they step out each morning looking starched and pressed. It is such a contrast to what it appears to be outside looking in.
Its clear the Christians have been through. The schools are all biblically based. Saint so and so, Nazareth Christian, Jesus and Mary. I have no idea if Christianity rules the roost here but its tentacles are obvious everywhere.
By mid-afternoon we arrive and check in to our camp. Unfortunately they refuse to refund last night since it was clearly our fault that we could not make the late night drive to meet the escort. Luckily they held our cabin.
This is the Skukuza Main Camp the largest in the park. Kruger is the size of New Jersey. It is not to be confused with New Jersey’s Cougar National park where you go to spot 40 somethings on the prowl. The joke is completely lost on Vince. He keeps saying “Cougar? There are Cougars here?” We are staying in the lower third for four and a half days to see some animals and relax a bit before the Asia leg of the trip. This camp is the jump off point for many and has the highest human traffic.
Our hut is large and comfortable in a roughing it / almost camping sort of way and is right next to the pool that is almost clean except for the brownish water and the bugs. Welcome to safari.
We unpack, swim with the bugs, checkout the monkeys trying to break into the hut next door, get out our sleep sheets, lock all of our windows to monkey proof our hut and head out for a drive.
Animals are everywhere. Impalas seem to be overrunning the place. Hippos are wandering around. Elephants and giraffes meander aimlessly; water buffalo herd up and mosey about. Wildlife abounds.
In the evening we head up to hear a ranger talk that is actually a really bad movie made way back it in the early 80s about elephants. For some reason they are focused on death and dying and the kids are a bit freaked out. So are we. There is no need for that sort of thing in national parks: they should keep the message positive.
This is followed by a terrible buffet dinner at the main lodge. Not a great way to end the day and certainly not a good impression of the South African National Parks. The infrastructure is clearly lacking. How could a country with such natural resources be so far behind the rest of the world in terms of managing them?
Day One Hundred and Forty Seven November 12th
We wake to clear skies and hot sun. Our first stop after school is the swimming pool for some exercise and play. The pool has filled up with some very cool looking bugs.
Kruger is mostly dirt roads with a few paved sections connecting the dots. We are spending our time here in the most southern section, the part closest to Jo’berg and easiest to access for a short stay. The dirt and solitude make a great place for the kids driving lessons and both take to the task with great gusto. I think Adele has a future in Formula One.
Once again animals are everywhere. We see elephants, giraffes, and more impala than I thought possible, water buffalo and so on. They don’t seem to notice us much as we creep along trying to be quiet. It is so much fun.
For lunch we stop in a dedicated camp so we can get out of the car. They have a rule that you cannot exit your vehicle unless you are in a marked area. I’m not sure why they need to make this a rule: the thought of getting out never crossed my mind. When we start back out again we find a rhino waiting for us as we turn onto the road to our next camp.
Our camp for the next three nights is a “bush camp” tucked way off a side road with only fifteen cabins and one ranger. It is enclosed with an electric fence to keep us in at night. Our hut sits on a bend in a river that is running from the recent rains. It has a thatched roof, monkeys trying to get in and a screen door without locks. It’s spotless, comfortable and empty and we are the only ones there when we arrive. The others are out and about.
This is an amazing place to be. We are in the middle of Africa staying in a hut on a river surrounded by wild animals. We’ve come a long way from home.
They should tell you to shut the windows while it is still light outside so the bugs don’t seep through the screens and charge the light bulbs after dark. That is useful information out here in the bush. Instead we are covered in bugs. Adele is not a big fan of bugs. They are everywhere. But that’s not as bad as the lizard that crawls out of the light fixture while she is brushing her teeth. Then again that is not as bad as the noises coming from outside.
We hear roars. Big roars. And elephant trumpets, and a deafening chorus of various bugs. It is over powering and all encompassing. Plus it is all happening right out side our hut on the riverbed. We stand trying to see out the screen door. It’s a rock and a hard place: stay in and fight the small creatures go out and risk the big ones.
We don’t sleep much the first night. But this is really, really exciting!
My head is spinning round, my heart is in my shoes, yeah
I went and set the Thames on fire, oh, now I must come back down
She's laughing in her sleeve boys, I can feel it in my bones
Oh, but anywhere I'm gonna lay my head, I'm gonna call my home
-Tom Waits, Anywhere I Lay My head
Day One Hundred and Thirty Five October 30th
Today is a rainy day of sorts, almost always cloudy with a few sprinkles here and there. We spend the morning at school and playing around the house. At long last we are starting to feel settled in and get used to this Cape Town lifestyle. It suits us after the run of constant activity we have had this past few months. I am just now starting to feel a bit rested and relaxed.
Our big activity today takes us around to the other side of Table Mountain to Kirstenbosch Gardens. On the drive over the skies get darker and darker and the weather much more ominous, but we forge on. There is a heavy mist when we arrive. The place is absolutely beautiful.
The gardens are set on the side of a hill sloping up towards the rim of Table Mountain. They were first set aside as gardens way back around 1900. However, people had been planting and farming here since the early 1600s so much of the landscape has been worked for centuries.
I am not sure why we like it so. Perhaps it is the gentle mist or maybe the peace and quiet. There are indigenous grasses, plants and trees in various stages of bloom. A whole section is devoted to medicinal plants with detailed descriptions of their ability to cure ailments of every conceivable type. Sadly and maybe only in Africa, there is a large sub section for plants used in fighting AIDS and AIDS related issues.
Here’s why: There was an estimated 5.7 million people living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa in 2009, more than in any other country. It is believed that in 2008, over 250,000 South Africans died of AIDS. Prevalence is more than 15 percent among those aged 15-49, with some age groups being particularly affected. Almost one-in-three women aged 25-29, and over a quarter of men aged 30-34, are living with HIV. The national average of all persons is around 10%.
Think about that.
Now link the epidemic to the living conditions in the shantytowns and you start to get a picture of the undercurrents here in ZA. As I have said all along this is a hard place to get a handle on.
The garden also has a brail trail that runs through the woods past wild almond trees and through ferns and berry bushes. There are a series of ropes running at waist height that you hold on to as you walk with closed eyes to get an idea what it is like to be blind. For those that actually are blind they have signs in brail to help guide and fill in what is around various resting spots. Adele takes it all very seriously and does a great job navigating her way around.
At the very top of the hill we branch off on the “Skeleton Canyon” trail looking for “bamboos.” It is a fun hike down on a pretty stretch of single track. Luckily all the “bamboos” leave us alone. Late in the afternoon we stop off for a hot chocolate and a cookie at the guesthouse before heading back home.
We were all very excited to be part of the “Scuarium” Halloween festival at the Cape Town Aquarium. The kids get all dressed up: Adele in her belly-dancing outfit from Turkey and Vinny in his Stars and Stripe American Flag pajamas. However, when we get there we discover they sold out online and refuse to let us in.
It is like a bad dream as a parent. We stand there with two crying kids, clearly crushed they could not trick or treat and missing one of the few things that remind them of home, talking to the “director” all of about nineteen who could care a less about any of it and is willing to do absolutely zippo for the traveling family far from home.
The Cape Town tourist board should be ashamed. I can tell you this: the one thing the kids will definitely remember is NOT being able to trick or treat at the Aquarium in Cape Town. How infuriating to turn away an eight and four year old, both so full of hope and wonder.
We drive back to the house, rent a movie, burn some popcorn and have a family movie night instead. If only we had not picked Toy Story 3, its terrible, we turn it off half way though and call it a night.
Day One Hundred and Thirty Six October 31st
We are up to a beautiful morning of bright sunshine and clear skies. It is Halloween! And after last night we are even more determined to find some trick or treating.
Cape town has pretty much everything you could want as a traveling family: the options are endless. Today we are heading off to the Indian Ocean to see a small fishing village and catch a Halloween parade we found in one of the “Things to do in Cape Town with kids” magazines.
The coastline on this side of the peninsula is beautiful. The beaches are built for surfing with endless swells and wind swept shorelines. I can only imagine a hot summer day when the place must be packed with people. Or maybe not. We are finding that South Africa has plenty of room for all.
Lunch is in the town of Kalk Bay, a small single lane town with a jetty shielding a fleet of fishing boats. Our restaurant, Live Bait, sits on rocks so close to the ocean that waves crash into the windows at high tide. It’s excellent, fish so fresh it comes off the boats and straight into the kitchen.
For those that remember winding away a few happy hours at Live Bait in NYC I assure you this was an entirely different experience. Though if they added frozen margaritas to the drink menu the place would really rock.
Vince has been wearing his Spiderman pajamas all day in anticipation of the Halloween parade. Adele has her belly-dancing outfit from Istanbul all ready to go as well in the event it all works out this time. Muzenburg won’t know what hit them! The Americans are coming, and we own Halloween!
We pull up to a nondescript building off the main road running through town. We could not find the road we are looking for so after several attempts I finally stop and asked for directions. “Just passed the robot down there you turn right,” she says. Robot? “Yes, the robot, go there to the bot and turn right and then right again after the tracks.” Sorry, are you making fun of me? She smiles and waves. A robot, as it happens to be, is a traffic light. Who knew?
The gymnasium is crowded when we get there and it gets more so over the next half hour. It seems the entire town is here. By the time we start out on the parade there must be hundred people.
It is all very bizarre. There seems to be a leader of sorts, a big guy in a leather jacket and a mesh halter-top with a huge beer belly hanging out. He is pierced pretty much everywhere. Then there are a bunch of others wandering along, some may be in costume but then again maybe not. It is like one of those very uncomfortable dreams where everything is off kilter.
Adele notices that the kids here are “all dressed as scary things.” Back home they are “nice and go as princesses and fairies, good things.” Here they are all in black and wearing something out of a horror movie. There are a number of scary witches, people with various wounds, bleeding from various places. One guy has an ax in his head with fake blood everywhere (he is one of the fathers), a girl has a big safety pin through her nose with fake blood on all sides. It is all very dark and gruesome. Both of our kids looked concerned.
In the end they each manage to get a few treats so all is right with the world. After a long day, we eat our few pieces of candy on the ride home, talk about the differences between here and the States, and wonder if anyone filled in for the annual Halloween party we through each year. We love that party: it is one of our favorite times and highlights of the year.
It has been a good day but a hard one as well. Holidays away form home are tough. We all fall off to sleep a bit homesick, missing a normal life with friends around to share in the times we have together.
Day On Hundred and Thirty Six November 1st
The weatherman doesn’t lie here in Cape Town and today, as predicted, is our best beach day yet. We wake to a brilliant, sunny, cloudless sky.
After an hour or so of school we are ready to go back to Boulder beach and swim with the penguins! It is unbelievably cool. The beach is formed from giant boulders that are stacked upon one another and spread out along the coast. They create this natural cove, protected from the winds and high surf.
We spend all day here lounging around, swimming in the Indian Ocean, building sandcastles and watching penguins. They have a restaurant with excellent food for lunch and a small store where we buy assorted penguin paraphernalia.
It is a long day in the sun and worth every minute. We wind down back at home with Teri at a yoga class, the kids and I cooking dinner and everyone in bed for and early night.
Swimming with penguins! Can you imagine?
Day One Hundred and Thirty Seven November 2nd.
All good things much come to an end. Teri announces at breakfast that today is our last day in Cape Town. We planned to spend one more day but a room cleared up the road in one of the B&Bs she has targeted and we are out of here. However, there is much to do before we bid our farewells.
First off we have a bunch of logistics. We head to the crafts mart for some gift shopping which leads to the need to find shipping back to the States. I also need to stop by the rental car place to sort out billing issues and extend the rental for another week. On top of that we are waiting on a fed-x package from home that is to arrive at the place we already checked out of and we need to squeeze in a trip to Robben Island to do the whole Mandela thing. That coupled with a two-hour drive and the stress levels crank up a bit.
The trip to Robben Island takes us by surprise. You start by boarding a boat and ferrying across the bay. The waves are bigger than you think they are going to be and the boat rocks for most of the crossing. It’s a half hour ride to freedom or captivity depending on the direction you are headed. When we arrive at the port there are big pictures of prisoners being unloaded and their guards watching over them. When we bought the tickets we sort of forgot that we were going to a prison. It brings up a lot of eight-year-old questions.
Our guide is an ex-political prisoner held here in the mid-90s. It is strange to walk through the halls of the prison and hear him say, “this is where we were kept” or “this is where we were beaten.” He decided that the peaceful resistance targeted against the way public education was being taught to blacks was taking too much time to foster change so he skipped across the border with the ANC and trained as a militant leader. Upon return, and getting into some trouble I assume, he was picked up and sent here after being held for six months in detention. The six months did not sound pretty.
It is odd to stand here with him now after all he went through. He does seems at ease and content with his current lot in life. It is however hard to place him in the context of the Mandela story. Is a militant political prisoner, one trained in violent tactics, a martyr or a criminal? It’s a struggle to sort it all out.
The prisoners were the ones that rallied to turn the island into a national park so I guess in many ways the place is testament to the struggle for freedom. The fact that it held the leaders of the resistance movement here, pretty much in isolation, for such long sentences, strikes a note in all of us. Mandela was here for eighteen years then another seven on the mainland. That is a long, long time.
By later afternoon we are camped out in a Thai restaurant across from the lobby of the cottage place (they closed at 5p) waiting for the FedEx guy. Do not believe the FedEx ads you see on TV. Their service overseas is terrible. I mean really, really bad. They don’t show.
We track them down by begging our way on to the restaurant’s wifi system (our blackberry battery died) and finding them via Skype. Turns out they have our package at the airport, sounds simple enough, so we head off to pick it up.
Cargo at the Cape Town airport is not easy to find. We wander aimlessly for an hour or so before we bump into the place by chance. God does watch out for fools and drunks. By 7p we are on our way.
Our next stop is another home stay in Franschhoek, a pretty little town in the heart of South African wine country. I am sure the drive was beautiful. Just not at night with three other tired and weary passengers.
The house is well worth the early move. This self-catering travel really works well if you hit it right. You end up with a house for the price of a mid-range hotel. This one sites just off the main street, has three bedrooms, a great kitchen and CNBC on the cable system. What more can you ask for?
Day One Hundred and Thirty Eight November 3rd
It is so nice to wake up after a good nights sleep in clean crisp sheets. These are the things you miss the most while on the road. So far in South Africa sheets seem to be a priority. I guess good Egyptian cotton and cheap labor make all the difference.
In the light of day our house is even better than we expected. They have a large farm table perfect for school and an Internet Café around the corner. I know, I can see the emails already, by way of defending the use of the “public Internet” we have been off the grid and need to get back on to secure reservations for the next few nights. The Internet Café is a necessity. We pray they do not hack into our Google accounts.
The boxes still need mailing. I venture to the post office to try and send them back home. The long poster size tube with four wooden men goes off with out a hitch. The big box of stuff is another story. They have two classes of mail, the first a slow boat that may or may not get there. This one cost a few bucks. The second is the one they tell you will get there but it costs a bit more. Teri and the kids are back home and I can’t remember what is in the box and I forget if it has to get home or not. A decision has to be made. I opt for the “this one will get there” service and walk out two hundred dollars poorer. I am still not sure how it happened.
By mid-day we have planned and reserved the camps in Kruger, picked up cheap tickets for Jo’Berg and rented a four-wheel drive to chase lions, all in all a productive couple of hours.
We need to split up so I can focus on some CallMeCuff logistics back home and write up a complaint against the Cooking Vacations people that took advantage of us (and all of our money) back in Tuscany. When we do Teri and the kids go to a gator farm to check out the crocs.
There is much excitement when they return. The gator farm sounds like it was some sort of breading place for gator meat, a local favorite around here. Regardless, the kids had a blast and “culling” the gators “at a certain size and age” can be easily explained away. Sort of.
This was Teri’s first drive since the Fiat 500 way, way back in Edam. With the steering wheel being on the “wrong” side of the car and all I ask how it went. Everyone bursts out at once. Apparently the hubcaps are in the front seat because of the “rock” or maybe a “bump” or perhaps a “hole”. Nothing to worry about they all say. Just going a bit fast over a bump. When I go out to put the hubcaps back on they don’t fit because the rims are bent on both tires on the drivers side.
For some context, another reason I needed to see the car rental people was to review the American Express insurance policy to avoid paying the supplement rates they are convinced they need to charge me. I have been dealing with Amex and the Europcar folks for the better part of two weeks and final got it sorted out today. I cancelled it. Just before the hubcaps came home in the trunk. We can’t get a break. Maybe they won’t notice. Teri is sure that the hubs were bent before we left. I tie them on with the kids string and hope for the best.
It is Election Day back home. We have no idea what is going on and honestly don’t really mind. My Google headlines fill me in on the important stuff like we failed to legalize marijuana in California. Other than that it seems to be business as usual. Someone won and another lost. No one is working. House prices are plunging and the mood is grim. Glad to be here instead of there, we picked a good year to get out of Dodge.
The guy that rents the house we are in has a sitter service (actually it turns out our sitter works as his house cleaner) and we have booked Julie for a few hours so Teri and I can grab dinner. She looks a bit shell shocked when we leave but she has a few of her own so it all works out.
Dinner is a few blocks away at a nice place with average food and great wines. None of the details matter, a nice dinner with just the two of us is priceless these days.
Day One Hundred and Thirty Nine November 4th
It poured late last night and the roof of the house is corrugated steel. I ended up sleeping downstairs in the back room (too many people in one bedroom) but Teri and the kids took the storm full on. It raged and was unbelievable loud. Somehow, Vince and Adele slept through it all.
We skip school today and instead catch a quick breakfast and start one of our longest driving days yet. Today we are on The Garden Route to The Crags, a seaside resort near Plettenberg Bay up the coast almost 500K.
The drive is uneventful. It takes forever but for the most part it is a blur, kilometers slide on by. The countryside here is some of the most beautiful we have seen anywhere. Farmland stretches for miles, blue herons stand in freshly cut fields, sheep and cattle graze about. Honestly, it doesn’t look real. It’s like a landscape captured in heavy oils by one of the Masters. If you saw it hanging in the MET or the Louvre you would think it imagined.
By the time we get to Hog Hollow, an Inn at the end of a long narrow road, it is half past six and we have been driving all day. Everyone is exhausted.
Sometimes in life you wonder why thing happen the way they do. You get hit with the unexpected and it lifts you up. The sense of surprise and wonder sort of shock and startle you. This is what happens when we check in.
Let me first say that we booked a “family room”. Or at least we booked a room suitable for a family.
When the check in guy comes out to get in our car to drive to our room we all sort of grumble that we would like to be close to the main house with the pool. The guy just smiles and says not to worry we are close. We leave the main property and head about two hundred meters down the road.
“Turn in your driveway” he says. Did he way our driveway? The house is probably the closest we have come to a dream home. It’s bigger than our place back home. It has a “family room” complete with pool/ping pong table, beanbag chairs and dragon kites. There are two rooms and baths upstairs one for each kid.
The main room has a wall of folding sliders that open on to a deck that overlooks the jungle. There is a private infinite pool. The kitchen is fully stocked. There are two or three fireplaces. I could go one forever. I actually say to the guy, “Is this all for us or are we sharing?” He just smiles.
Somehow we must be on a list. The one they take out for road weary travelers in search of some down time and relaxation. The one that says these people need some space, some room to spread out a bit. It is reserved for the ones living together every minute, twenty four seven, for one hundred and thirty nine days. I have no idea how we got on it but I pray we never drop off.
Later that evening while we stand on the deck we can hear the voices of a local gospel choir bounce off the treetops. They come over to the lodge to share traditional African folks songs. Now I truly understand the inspiration for Paul Simon’s Graceland. Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose.
Day One Hundred and Forty November 5th
It’s raining. Not that we care. We don’t plan on leaving the house. Actually we do try and see a Cheetah Reserves but it’s raining too hard so we pick up some supplies and retreat back home. The cats can wait.
VCC: There are flamangos there?
DAD: Mingos, fla- mingos Vince
VCC: No dad, it’s mangos, fla – mangos, the birds
It is a prefect day to simply sit in front of a roaring fire.
For dinner they have arranged a sitter so we can have adult conversation at the main house. How nice it is to be out and about with others without distraction. This is the first time in a long, long time.
As luck would have it I find a seat next to an older lady from Holland that I cannot understand. I struggle to pull conversation out of her. Teri gets to sit next to a guy who is in pharmaceutical sales in the UK and is starting a business to coach the mental side of golf. Everything happens for a reason.
On my end of the table I notice that some of the men describe themselves as “working for and American company” like it is a badge of honor in some way. They don’t discuss professions and skirt around which American companies but you get the sense they are all sizing each other up. I freak them out and totally confuse them.
Teri’s guy is into some organic, linguistic, life balance program something or another. He describes it as a transforming personal philosophy or an approach to life that changes your entire outlook on things. I am in but I’ll pass on the week long off sites. Been there, done that. Basically all the mumbo jumbo boils down to this: you are the one who decides where to go. The good doctor is always right: sometimes you just need to hear a second opinion. Same bat time, same bat channel.
You can choose to be happy, sad, playful or frustrated. You are in charge not the situation. It strikes a cord.
At this point in the trip we are all getting a bit tired of each other. Vince is constantly asking if we can go home. Adele doesn’t come right out and ask but you can tell she is thinking it. The contact with the kid’s friends back home is really minimal and they are feeling a true sense of loss: one we cannot replace.
You would think that they would meet other kids as we travel but it’s not like that, only an occasional playmate at some random pool. We are not in one place long enough to truly settle in so we have not met many others traveling with kids thus far. Ours are feeling very much isolated and alone. The same goes for Teri and I. I hope it all changes with the six months in NZ. As a parent and a participant you feel the pain.
Hang ups and bangs ups do happen to us.
These are the roots of rhythm,
And the roots of rhythm remain. - Paul Simon, Under African Skies, Graceland
Day One Hundred and Twenty Eight October 23rd
This alarm system will be the death of me. I can’t sleep with the thing on because I am convinced something is going to set it off and we are all going to be freaked out in the middle of the night. Then again, I can’t sleep with the thing off because Marko the house manager put the fear of God in all of us that people are standing in the shadows just waiting to break in. This leaves only one option: stay awake as much as possible and worry about the alarm. Not a good way to get by day to day.
Instant coffee does the trick. I am actually learning to enjoy the instant coffee. This is a shock to those that know me well. The secret is to put a bunch of spoonfuls in so it gets a strong as possible. Sugar helps. I am convinced that they put instant into the French Press pots at the hotel in Cairo. There were no coffee grounds in the French Press pots there. How can that be? Plus it was painfully weak coffee. It had to be instant.
After school this morning we load up the car and start to drive the coast. Once you get out of the city you immediately notice two things: (1) the shantytowns with intense poverty and (2) the beauty of the land.
I will take them in reverse order. The landscape is stunning. When you get away from the populated areas the natural surroundings are still relatively untouched. There are no billboards or electric lines, housing developments or random suburbs. Not by LA standards anyway. You notice that there aren’t any roads connecting places. The only road is the one we are traveling on. Occasionally you see a dirt side road or we come across some random intersection but other than that it’s just our “highway” (two lanes, max speed 120K on the straightaway).
The poverty is really intense. South Africa is deceiving: one minute you are in suburban paradise the next a ghetto of cardboard boxes. In the back of your mind you know that this world exists: the apartheid and segregation issues. But somehow you think it is all better or fixed in some way. Don’t let the waterfront and the new stadium fool you. It isn’t.
These towns of cardboard and corrugated steel rise up as stark reminders. At first sight you cannot believe people are living in them. It is unbelievably congested with huts and boxes and simple square shelters made out of all kinds of materials. There are old highway signs, cardboard appliance boxes, random pieces of wood, tents, sheets and blankets, all stacked together, leaning into each other for support. It looks like one good storm would wipe the place clean.
The crazy thing is that there are electricity lines running everywhere and there is a sense of permanence about the place. It feels as if generations have been passed through here, raising families and living out their lives. There is a clear and present danger to those of us looking in from the outside, but it seems not as much so to those looking out. Then again what do I know: I am just driving by at 120K.
Garbage is piled randomly with out apparent rhyme or reason, though there must be some method to the madness. I have no idea how they handle sewage. There does seem to be a central area with block cement buildings. These may be community, water and waste centers but it is hard to tell.
The other crazy thing is that these areas are so contained. The towns are large but they seem to exist within set boundaries. The closest I can come to it is Cabrini-Green on the North side of Chicago when I lived in Lincoln Park back in the early 90s. At that time you literally walked one block over and you were in a radically different world. The same hold true here. One minute you are driving along looking a pristine countryside, the next you are passing by some of the most disturbing living condition in the world. This is a strange country.
At lunchtime we find ourselves in the town of Noodhoek looking for horses to ride on the beach. To give an idea of the scope of things here, they have 8K of unspoiled beachfront for riding. I don’t think we have 8K of unspoiled beachfront left in all of the US. It turns out we need reservations for the ride so we cannot go today. All is not lost though as we find a great little shopping/play area with an excellent brunch place. It feels very much like Carmel or maybe Mill Valley up in Northern California.
After lunch we continue on our way to the Cape of Good Hope. This is another “biggy” for those of us ocean freaks out there. It is the notorious Cape route that opened the trade links between Asia, Africa and Europe. We are psyched.
The Baboon Crossing sign makes us stop and reverse the car to make sure we read it correctly. Then sure enough, a large one comes walking up the road. Baboons! In the wild, not caged, just walking around looking for something to eat. Vince is calling them “Bamboos” and Adele “Bambooms.” There is much excitement in the car with all of us talking at once and all calling them something different. Teri is trying to snap photos and I am trying to roll up the windows, press the door locks and not to run into them. Baboons, really, walking down the street.
The drive to the Cape is majestic with big, wide-open spaces and wind swept landscapes. If the end of the world had an address this might be the place. The land mass gets narrower and narrower the farther out we go. I understand why they used to think the world ended at this waterline. From the tip of the point there is nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see.
We drive the climb up to main lighthouse that sits on top of the final peak. The kids and I take a cable car up to the very top and explore the observation decks carved into the mountainside. These are old rock walls and platforms used for a few hundred years to call out to boats as they attempted to pass by. Over six hundred and fifty recorded wrecks lie beneath the waves. With the winds and waves you get a clear sense of how dangerous a journey it is.
Down at the shoreline they formally mark the Cape coordinates with an official sign so we head off to take a few photos and walk amongst the crashing waves. As we drive in we notice that big necks with beaks are watching us. Ostriches. There are big wild ostriches, walking around and checking things out. They are enormous birds, much bigger than we are. It’s a bit scary to see them standing roadside waiting for you to get out of the car to see if you are indeed ostrich food. Once again I feel the need to lock the doors and windows.
Our last stop of the day is Boulder Beach the home of wild African penguins. Adele has always loved penguins and she can barely contain herself on the way over. When we get there it is almost unnatural to see them sitting around in the wild. Your instinct is to pick them up and call the zookeeper.
They are all over the place: in the water, on rocks, under trees, all along the boardwalks. Adele teaches us everything she knows about penguins. It is amazing to see her so passionate and excited. We have a great time and vow to come back to swim with them at the beach if it warms up a bit during our stay.
After a long afternoon we head back to our compound, eat in, watch some Animal Planet and call it a day.
Day One Hundred and Twenty Nine October 24th
Today turns into a rest and logistics day. In the morning we have school, fill in our journals, lounge about the house and play an extended game of cars.
By mid-morning we venture back into the city for lunch at the Waterfront Pier and an extended shop for necessities.
Evening finds us on the couch watching Planet Earth.
This is our goal for these next few weeks, to slow down and regroup. We need some extended R&R.
Day One Hundred and Thirty October 25th
Up to more sunshine and wind. This is one of the windiest spots we have experienced to date. It never stops and the sudden bursts are really strong and powerful. At one point I overhear Teri telling Adele that the constant “winds can drive people crazy.” It’s time to move over the hill.
We are city people at heart and feel the need to be in Cape Town to fully experience all it has to offer. Luckily we found the De Waterkand Cottages online. They are in De Waterkand a largely gay neighborhood that climbs up from the base of the hill leading up to Signal Mountain.
The company has fifteen or so houses spread though out the neighborhood. The owner, Richard and his partner have been building up the business over the past eight years. They own six or seven houses with the rest owned by out-of-towners and managed by them. We have a great time touring five of six to see if we can find one that will work for the four of us. We do and it is available tomorrow morning. Decision made: we will stay another week in Cape Town.
The kids are wound up so we try to go to Table Mountain to burn off some energy. By the time we arrive the cable car is closed. If you keep driving past the main station the road goes on for another half mile or so before stopping due to a large rockslide that knocked out a lane and a half. You can however continue on foot.
Adele and I brave the winds and walk along the deserted road. It is great fun. We wander as father and daughter, keeping a watchful eye out for “bambooms”, talking about Apartheid and Robben Island (sitting just off shore in the distance), trying to figure out how people actually live in cardboard boxes, wondering where the winds come from (Antarctica I am told) and making up whale jokes. It is the perfect moment.
To celebrate our last night in the “alarm house” we head down to Camps Bay for dinner. Our restaurant, Blues, sits just across the street from the beach and has incredible sunset views. The food is good but expensive. Camps Bay wants to be the Hamptons of Cape Town but instead feels like a mix between the seeder side of the Cape and nicer parts of the Jersey Shore. It has a preppy appearance with a gritty undertone. Not our style.
Day One Hundred and Thirty One October 26th
We are so excited to be leaving Camps Bay and the “alarm house” that we are up and out by 9a. If we thought we could have moved in early we would have left at 6a. By the time we settle in to our new place it is close to 10a.
Adele and I walk across the street to do a food shop and check out the local shopping area. How great is that? We are just a few steps to a great grocery store. This is exactly what we are looking for.
The De Waterkand neighborhood has been gentrified over the past decade and is a collection of one and two story row houses. The streets are cobblestone with tree lined and the there is a constant buzz of activity. With a Yoga studio around the corner and the city sights in walking distance from our front stoop we feel right at home.
Determined to get to the top of Table Mountain and anxious to take advantage of another stellar day, we once again head up to the cable car to see if we can hitch a ride. Today we are in luck.
Table Mountain is a “must see” for good reason. It rises up and towers over the city. The top looks like it was severed off with one quick blow leaving a clean, flat “table” upon which you can wander around and explore all sides of the mountain. The views are incredible.
The most interesting to me is Robben Island, sitting just off the coast. To think that Mandela spend eighteen years imprisoned there looking out to where we are standing as a focal point for strength and hope is both thrilling and disturbing in a way. It is hard to form opinions of South Africa without context. We need to get a better understanding of the trials and tribulations of this land.
We hike along the ridge and learn about the shipwrecks and the sacrifices men made to round the Cape of Good Hope. We see the three-meter high cairn used to make early calculations of the arc of the earth. The city and new stadium gleam down below basking in the sunlight. It is windy and cold even on this glorious day: I can not imagine what it is like in stormy rain and gale force winds, especially on a ships deck.
In early evening we head back to our new house for a home cooked meal and early to bed.
Vince is bleeding again. The red line runs down the back of his head and seeps out into the blond hair. Do we go to the emergency room? After much debate back and forth we decide not to go. Back home, under insurance, we would have been in for a few stitches in a heartbeat. Out here we are a bit more cautious not sure exactly what awaits us in the ER. Besides it is not that deep and head wounds always bleed a lot. The call could go either way: hopefully we made the right one.
Day One Hundred and Thirty Two October 27th
The wind is still blowing. I don’t believe it has stopped since we arrived a week ago. The only thing to do in these circumstances is to turn your attention indoors and go bowling! Yes that’s right we are going bowling!
The lanes are on the other side of town tucked into a video arcade place in the basement of a strip mall. Perfect. It is supposed to be “duckpin” but we may have confused that with “ten pin.” Either way, the lanes are long and the balls are heavy.
But not too heavy for Vincent the Strong! He has a dark green ball and Adele the Bowler has a light green one. They put up lane guards so it is impossible to throw a gutter ball. Bank shots add a whole new dimension and make the game so much more interesting. We have a great time.
The afternoon is spent napping, Teri doing a Yoga class, the kids get ice cream, we all cook pasta, the kids take a long hot bath and finally we wind down to a good nights sleep.
It is nice to be settled and living a semi-normal life without the constant movement. At times it feels unnatural and takes some getting used to again. You almost need to reacquaint yourself to the day to day. Then again, just as you settle in, you remember that there are “bamboos” lurking about.
Day One Hundred and Thirty Three October 28th
The town of Hermanus is about a two-hour drive. After breakfast and school we head out to see if we can find some whales. This harbor is now world famous for offering the best land based whale viewing. We have some inside scoop from a fellow traveler that the place is teeming with whales.
The drive is another mix of beauty and poverty, the ying and yang of South Africa. It is hard to take in and synthesize the opposing points of view.
Hermanus is a pretty little seaside town that is all about the whales. They have a guy, the Whale Crier, who stands around and blows a horn every time he sees one in the bay. Apparently he is one of the most photographed images in all of ZA (yes, it si ZA not SA, no idea why). His horn is silent when we arrive.
Where are all the whales? We thought they would be lined up like SeaWorld waiting to pose for photos. Did someone forget to fill them in? No whales from what we can see.
Then a big one sticks its flipper up in the air. The thrill of seeing such a large creature in the wild is really incredible. These are southern right whales and humpbacks, big ones, swimming around and having fun.
For the kids (and parents) it is a lesson in patience. You need to sit and watch the horizon or you miss them. It takes time and energy to sit and whale watch. Especially when you are four. It’s a bit easier when you are almost nine.
Satisfied with our whaling experience we grab a bite to eat cliff side and then head back to the city. At one pint during lunch Adele and Vince wander across the street, staying in our line of sight, to get a better look at some whales. When they do an older lady approaches us to ask, “Are those your children?” We say yes and start to talk about how fun it is to see whales and such. She cuts us off, “In this country, never, ever, leave them alone like that.” Startled, Teri mumbles something about being able to see them, and she cuts us off again, “Never leave them like that: not here, it is very, very unsafe.” They are no more than twenty-five yards away. The undercurrent here is so strong.
At days end we are all exhausted. Teri and Adele are so tired they skip yoga class! That’s OK though, Bilbo Baggins, Thorin and Company need to face up to their fears and deal with Smaug the dragon…
Day One Hundred and Thirty Four October 29th
Teri is a bit under the weather today so after school the kids and I head over to the waterfront park for a few hours of “gym class.” The wind is still howling but we manage to stay grounded and burn off some energy. We meet a nice lady that tells us it is usually beautiful this time of year and rarely this windy. Not sure I believe her!
After traveling for two hours yesterday in search of whales it turns out we have some of the best viewing right in our own backyard. There are two big ones surfacing about fifty yards from shore. They are something to behold.
The playground is part of the newly completed Green Point Stadium complex. The stadium is very impressive. I am told the cost came in at over four hundred million dollars. The odd thing is that is now stands empty. When I get into a discussion about it with one of the shop owners in the neighborhood he tells me there was much controversy with FIFA over the location.
You need money to get here. Parking is expensive and you need arrive by either car or public transport. As a result, they don’t actually have a team assigned to play in the stadium because they’re afraid it is too hard to draw enough people to keep the lights on. Apparently South Africa did present the option to put the stadium further out of town and make it more accessible to the masses but FIFA pushed the country and eventually got their way. It’s a shame; the four hundred million dollars could have gone a long way towards upgrading the shantytowns.
We decide to make mom some chicken noodle soup to make her feel better so Adele and I head off to pick up the fix’ens at the market. We spend an hour or so walking around the shops checking things out and talking to the owners. Two conversations stand out.
The first is at the climbing store about a brand called Sherpa, made in Nepal. This is a small company just starting to branch out into new markets and run by two American guys with local Nepalese workers. They are creating products and selling them with the goal of upgrading the lives of their worker force. This is right up my alley. I need to research them a bit and see what they are up to.
The second is with an Austrian guy that runs a local weaving shop making hand loomed rugs. He is training and employing local women to work in his shop. They are the main breadwinners for their families.
Adele and I are drawn in to see the differences between hand looming and weaving via knots as we saw in Turkey. This leads us into a discussion on travels and comments on Cape Town. The comment that strikes me most is that he says, “We are living on a powder keg.” In response to my comments on the poverty he let’s us know that Cape Town is one thing on the surface and something entirely different underneath. As we part the store he shrugs, tells us to be very careful, shakes his head and says, “such is South Africa.”