South Africa Part One: Capetown

April 6, 2012

When we bought our Safari in South Africa package at the Boyer auction over 15 months ago (story here), I knew we would not be going for just the six nights included in the safari.  I didn’t think it made sense for us to fly 10,000 miles for a six night stay.  It takes two days to get there and two days to get back, so it almost didn’t seem worth it.  I said to Randy, just minutes after we found ourselves in possession of this trip, “We have to go to Capetown for a few days”.

Capetown.  What do you know about this city?  After he graduated from college, my brother Michael spent almost a year in Capetown so I knew, from him telling me, that it is beautiful.  Did you know that?  Capetown is breathtakingly beautiful.

In fact, it is so beautiful, so majestic, so awe-inspiring that I found it impossible to capture with my camera.  The only city that I think could come close is Vancouver, B.C. with its similar mountains-right-up-to-the-water landscape.  Vancouver has much better architecture (Capetown’s has a vaguely Soviet Bloc feel), but Capetown is right on the Atlantic Ocean and the mountains are truly awe-inspiring.


(This guy is gigantic and is made out of Coke cases.)

There are several snap-shot memories of this trip for me and the first one was on the plane.  The flight from London to Capetown is 12 hours during which I got a few hours of sleep.  I woke up and groggily turned on my screen to see how long was left in the journey.  That silly little graphic they show, the one that approximates where the plane is in its flight pattern, showed it about half way down the west coast of Africa.  Africa!  Somehow seeing our little plane against that massive continent made it finally feel real that we were going on this trip.

We landed at 6am.  Too dark to see the landscape during touchdown.  My first glimpse was from the taxi heading in to the city.  At the same time I was marveling at Table Mountain, Randy pointed out his side of the cab to the townships that line the highway.  Thousands upon thousands of tin-roofed shacks.  Tall metal posts with lights and wiring stringing every few feet.  Some painted bright colors, some sprayed with graffiti, some looking solemn and terrible.  We later learned that each shack has a number on it which represents where that particular family is on the waiting list for a home.  After the end of apartheid, the government committed to providing electricity, running water, and toilet facilities to the townships, and to ensuring everyone eventually has a home.  So far, they have built over 3 million homes but they have a long way to go.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we stayed at the Westin.  This was our view.  The hotel runs a shuttle every half an hour that takes you to the waterfront, an area that used to be strictly industrial but is now a major part of Capetown life.  There are tons of restaurants, shops, a ferris wheel, and lots of opportunities for day trips.

We decided to go to Robben Island that day.  This is a small island a few miles out from the city where various people have been imprisoned ever since Capetown was settled in the 17th century.  Its most famous prisoner was Nelson Mandela who spent over 20 years on that rock.  The tour takes you to the island in a small boat.  The barf bags everywhere and stains on the seats and carpets clue you in to the fact that the sea can often be rough, but fortunately our ride out there was fairly calm.  The boat leaves you on Robben Island for several hours.  We loaded on to a bus where a colorful guide took us around the island for the various sites, including several houses of worship and a cannon that they began construction on during World War Two, but did not finish in time to actually help the war effort.  Once we got to the actual prison, a former inmate gave us a tour and also a sense for what it was like to live there.  He was imprisoned for taking part in a demonstration and spent over ten years sleeping on the floor, crammed into a room with 100 other men.

Our ride back was a little rougher – think roller coaster in a dense wall of fog.  As I desperately tried to hang on, Randy’s head lolled from side to side as he napped.  Having been in the Navy, rough seas don’t impact him at all.

One of the delights of Capetown was the food.  We had gotten some restaurant advice from a few different people, including a reader of mine who lives there.  The two truly memorable meals we ate where on her recommendation.  But all in all, I had fabulous salads and wonderful fresh pastas, nothing boring or second rate about any of it.  We were shocked by the prices – shocked in a good way.  All the goods we encountered in South Africa seemed to be on par with what we pay here, but food and drink were seriously cheap.  Our meals out were about half of what we would pay in Seattle.

Randy and I debated about whether or not to rent a car.  His inclination was yes and mine was no.  In my experience, driving a car in an unfamiliar place, especially one where they drive on the other side of the road, brings unnecessary stress into our relationship.  But we knew there were sites to see in and outside of Capetown, so we booked three tours.  The first was in Capetown proper.  It was helpful to get a sense of the city but truly the only part we really enjoyed was the ride up Table Mountain.

There is often a series of clouds brewing behind the mountain.  At over 3,000 feet, Table Mountain usually stops them from actually coming into Capetown proper, but they often drape over the top.  They call it the tablecloth when that happens.  Unfortunately, the tablecloth was in place for most of our time up there but the views were still spectacular.

The next day, we boarded another van to take us to the Cape of Good Hope.  This is the very tip of Africa, where the weather and the seas have shipwrecked thousands of ships.  It is not, contrary to what many people think, where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean converge.  That meeting point is a little farther down the road.  We started our journey heading out of Capetown towards Camps Bay, a kind of suburb of Capetown with a beachy feel, great restaurants, and billion dollar views.

Just after these shots were taken, I started to feel unwell.  At first I thought perhaps the decaf I ordered had possibly been caf, then I thought I was just a touch carsick.  While I was willing it to be just that, I realized I needed to get back to the hotel.  We were far enough away at that point that we couldn’t turn around and ruin the trip for the rest of the people.  We stopped in Hout Bay for a half hour look around and we asked the driver if he could possibly help us find a ride back for me.  We were counting our money, realizing we didn’t have enough for a cab, when the driver said the tour company was sending another car for me.  The tour needed to leave to stick to its schedule and Randy asked if I wanted him to stay with me.  The Cape of Good Hope is a very important symbol to anyone who has every spent any time on the ocean and to anyone who knows naval history – Randy is both of those people.  I couldn’t take that from him, so I told him to go ahead.  The driver said to me, “A man named Sharrif will come for you.  He has a description of what you are wearing.  He will bring you to a white unmarked Toyota and take you back to the hotel”.  And they were off.  As I stood waiting in the coffeeshop, surrounded by smell of dead and decaying fish, pacing, trying to keep the nausea at bay, hoping I wasn’t going to have to throw up in the overly air-freshened bathroom, I realized I was living one of my worst nightmares.  Sick, alone, about as far from home as I could be, waiting for a man named Shariff to come get me in an unmarked car.

It sounds like the plot of a short story, or a bad film, but it ends well.  Shariff did come.  The road back to the hotel was windy and bumpy and I was silently begging myself not to throw up the whole way.  Once back at the hotel, I took some nausea medicine and, as is my way when I am stomach sick, laid down and did not move for 24 hours.  Randy took the rest of these photos.

Invisible Dana.

The next day I was exhausted and shaky but came around fairly quickly.  I actually don’t remember much of what we did that day.  I slept for a lot of it.

The following day, we went on our wine country tour.  South Africa produces the 7th most wine in the world and we went to three different wineries to taste some of their best.  If we came from a state other than Washington, we probably would have been more impressed with what we tasted.  But we have excellent wine in our state and while we liked everything we tasted, nothing blew our minds.  Again, we couldn’t get over the prices.  Just having been in the Napa Valley last spring, where every winery we visited had a $50/person tasting fee, we were overjoyed to see the prices so low.  This winery did a wine and chocolate tasting that was lovely.  The chocolate all had amazing flavors infused in them (white chocolate and lemon verbena anyone?) and the whole thing was $7/person.  It was also nice to not have sales pitch at each place.  They let us taste and then sent us on our way.

We stopped for lunch and a look around in the town of Stellenbosch.  A friend who had been to Capetown gave us the advice to take some of our time and stay in Stellenbosch instead.  We opted to not do that but once we got there, we were a little sorry we hadn’t taken his advice.  It is a beautiful small town with tons of shops and restaurants – totally walkable.  our time there was too short but I’m glad we got to see it.

The following day, the second part of our journey began.  Stay tuned.


  1. Wow, what a beautiful place. Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by Maria — April 6, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

  2. Way to persevere with Light Room! The photos are great… making me yearn for a similar getaway. Sigh.

    Comment by Sage — April 6, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

  3. Wow, wow, wow! This sound absolutely amazing, Dana (minus the sick part, of course). So glad you got to experience Cape Town before the Safari; I have a few friends who studied abroad here and actually would talk about how unsafe it was, so I’m happy to see/hear you didn’t have that experience. Welcome home!

    Comment by Megan Gordon — April 6, 2012 @ 6:03 pm

  4. awesome pics and adventure! looking forward to part two!

    Comment by bunkie — April 6, 2012 @ 11:20 pm

  5. What an amazing adventure. I can’t wait to hear and see more Dana.

    Comment by bellini — April 7, 2012 @ 10:14 am

  6. You brought back memories from the time I went to SA, and stayed in Stellenbosch for two weeks, as part of a job; it turned out to be one of my best trips ever. Besides the wine I remember fields of strawberries. It was great. Hope you enjoyed it!

    Comment by Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes — April 7, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

  7. Great photos! So fun to see. Glad you are home safe and sound!

    Comment by Deborah — April 7, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

  8. So glad you got to RSA. It’s spectacular country. Brought back some lovely memories for me!

    Comment by brooke — April 7, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

  9. Capetown looks beautiful, I can’t wait to hear about the rest of your stay!

    Comment by melinda ke — April 7, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

  10. Thanks for writing about Capetown, Dana. I really enjoyed it! (and the photos also!)

    Comment by Elli — April 8, 2012 @ 2:15 am

  11. So beautiful! I’m not sure when, if ever, I’ll get to go to Capetown or Africa at all so it was so wonderful to live vicariously through you. Getting sick in a strange place and being alone would totally be my worst nightmare as well…they would ahve found me in the cafe, in fetal position.

    Comment by Joanne — April 8, 2012 @ 2:43 am

  12. Great write up, loved reading it… being sick in a foreign country is not fun at all, been there, done that!

    glad it all had a happy ending, you were brave to stay there alone, I am not sure I could have done it

    I look forward to the continuation of your amazing adventure!

    Comment by SallyBR — April 8, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

  13. oh dana, getting sick while on vacation and far far away from your own bathroom is the worst.
    glad you got back to the room in time. out flat for 24 hours? you must have been really sick.
    at least you and the hubby got some good photos to smile at later.

    Comment by vanillasugarblog — April 8, 2012 @ 10:08 pm

  14. I’m so glad the part about being picked up in an unmarked car worked out fine! The views of Table Mountain and the coast are gorgeous. Looking forward to the next segment of your trip.

    Comment by lisaiscooking — April 10, 2012 @ 7:37 pm

  15. OK I’m not going to lie, the part about Sharif and the unmarked van had me laughing. In reality, it does not sound so fun! (Completely petrifying, actually.)

    Comment by Hilary — April 24, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

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