Hello from sunny South Africa! As we have had such a busy week one in Cape Town, this first post will detail what we’ve been up to, including our highlights and moments that made us laugh until our bellies hurt. Let’s start at the beginning: our pre-departure started well when I managed to rip off the main zip to my faithful Osprey Farpoint 55 backpack the night before our flights (backpack review to follow!). I managed to do a temporary fix, we’ll see how long it holds out for…
We arrived at Gatwick and bid our goodbyes to Elliott’s parents (who hilariously left late and met us at the airport within a close shave of when we need to pass through security – perhaps they were hoping for us to miss our flight?) and at last, we make it to our boarding gate. At this point, I think things are going relatively smoothly, which of course only provokes Elliott to suddenly pipe up: “Now, don’t get angry, but I think I’ve left my Revolut card at home!” Revolut is a global money app, and issues you with a MasterCard, but most importantly doesn’t charge fees for most of its services. We can withdraw up to £500 per month each with no charges. And Elliott left his card at home on the mantelpiece. This is made even funnier by the fact that not even 6 weeks before this mishap, we had poked fun at Elliott’s eldest brother for dropping his Revolut card down a SE Asian drain; at least Alex’s made it out of the country!
We successfully made our flights without leaving any items at the boarding gates, and we arrived at Cape Town International a mere 22 hours later… to be greeted with an endless crowd queueing to get their passports stamped. While queuing, Elliott was absolutely convinced ex-Liverpool winger Paul Ince was in front of us. I wasn’t convinced, and there was only one way to find out; I called “Paul!” but he didn’t look over. Who was it I hear you ask? John Barnes (wearing diamanté encrusted shoes)… Unfortunately we didn’t get a picture.
An hour and a half later, we were through immigration and arrived at our hostel. We had initially booked an Air b’n’b in upmarket Greenpoint, however due to a mix-up our host made arrangements for us to stay at ‘The B.I.G’ in Greenpoint, a boutique hostel. I will review the hostel in a later post, but it’s worth saying now that this is the best hostel I’ve stayed in.
Thursday morning (26 Jan), officially day one! Shall we take it easy today, we thought? Nope, we’ll hike the 3,000 ft journey up Plattenklip Gorge to the summit of Table Mountain. In true Michelliott fashion, instead of commencing the ascend at the recommended time (before 8am), we started at 10am. This 2.5 hour steep hike (note I have not been to the gym in almost a year) is one of the most physically challenging things I’ve done; imagine stair-climbing for 2.5 hours! And being overtaken by much older locals (some with walking sticks…!) The view at the top is one of my favourite views and we felt like we had really earned it once up there. We had heard that the descent is also challenging, so after many photo ops we treated ourselves to a ride in the cable car on the way down, which rotates at 360′ offering spectacular views. Dinner was a slap-up burger at Gibsons (Upmarket Doll for me of course, and the Governor for Elliott).
Friday brought rain to the city, but Elliott having pinched my brothers ridiculously expensive North Face jacket (cheers Fozzy!) couldn’t wait to get out and about. With the whole day ahead of us, we wandered to the V&A Waterfront (like a mini Western mall by the harbour) and got afternoon tickets for the ferry to Robben Island prison, where Nelson Mandela was held. Looking to kill time before the trip, we fell into the tourist trap of visiting a nearby museum (Chavonnes Battery Museum) for convenience; which initially appealed to Elliott’s interest in history, but actually held only a handful of cannons, ruined walls, historical facts about Cape Town, and a random gallery about the global wealth disparities. I found the latter gallery the most interesting, in particular a portrait on the relatively unknown/unreported billions made by the elite (CEOs etc).
For lunch, we picked up food on the go from a food market, and then went off to catch our ferry. We noticed a couple of interesting-looking older men queuing near us (both wearing matching horizontal stripes). They were the tour eager beavers (every tour has at least one, if you can’t pinpoint them then unfortunately it’s you), and hurried to keep pace at the front with the tour guides; who each took us on an island tour, and then a tour of the prison. As we arrived at Robben Island, the showers and clouds gave way to beautiful sunshine – an omen? We would highly recommend a trip to Robben Island to anyone visiting Cape Town; the tours were informative, and we were guided at the prison by an ex-inmate which was a humbling experience. Our guide answered our questions openly, and even responded well to the eager beaver’s direct, rather pushy query about the nature of his crime. A highlight was the opportunity to view Mandela’s cell (and admittedly the eager beavers pushing to what they thought was the front of the queue to view the cell; it actually turned out to be the rear). Back at V&A, we ate at a South African restaurant, where we ate snoek, boerwors, and lamb, with wine from Stellenbosch. A waitress invited us to a township with her and her husband at the weekend, and regretfully we didn’t take this offer up as we had plans, but it goes to show how friendly people here can be.
Saturday brought us our first awkward encounter as hosteliers. The lovely hostel staff have a gift for hooking up solo travellers with others for activities. Just as we were about to uber to a market, we got ‘hooked up’ with a fellow hostelier who was heading to the same place. I didn’t mind at all, being a relatively chatty person, but it soon emerged our companion perhaps wasn’t on the same wavelength and didn’t encourage conversation. I found this rather awkward, and we returned far sooner to the hostel than we would have liked. To prevent a repeat encounter, we legged it out the hostel and walked 1.5 hours (almost 4kms) in our flip-flops from Greenpoint to the Clifton beaches; where karma came for us in the form of menacing sunburn! After a couple of hours of sunbathing and dipping our toes in the icy Atlantic (11 degs Celsius!), I coaxed Elliott into nipping to the shops to pick up lunch. This turned into a marathon mission to find any form of shop in Clifton (no luck), and eventually a trek to the next suburb. Meanwhile, my karma for being lazy has come for me, as I’m swarmed by local guys playing ping pong tennis (kept getting hit and balls rolling under my bum) and the African sun is beating down on me (the sun cream is in Elliott’s backpack, two bays away). I resort to huddling under the sarong type scarf I picked up for £1 in Thailand last year; unfortunately by this point my feet have already been charred by the early afternoon rays. Half a lifetime later (just kidding, maybe an hour) I spot Elliott’s bright pink starfish beach shorties across the horizon. Food! “Yay you’re back”, I said, “I’m burning alive, please can I have the sun cream?”
“You’ve got the sun cream, I left it for you under my towel”, replied Elliott.
Sunday, my favourite day thus far! We had heard really good things about a harbour market in the suburb of Hout Bay, so we decided to go and see what all the fuss was about. Imagine a cleaner, funkier and more diverse Borough market, with local live bands playing. It was very cool, and we could see why this place was popular with the locals. We found a spot at a bar, and caught the majority of the Australian Open final – what a match! Cheese herby baked breadsticks for R10 came highly recommended and didn’t disappoint.
During our first visit to Cape Town, we had stopped at the posh 12 Apostles hotel for cocktails and high tea on the recommendation of a friend, and as 12 Apostles is on the way back from Hout Bay it would have been silly not to stop in! Conscious that, as part of the ‘Leading Hotels of the World’ group we should dress accordingly, I wore a summer dress and Elliott chose smarter shoes. We were seated out on the Leopard Bar terrace, surrounded by many well-to-do folk, including a fabulously dressed gay couple (one chap in lemon shorts) accompanied by two adorable pooches. On cue, I heard a slapping sound, like water dropping to the floor from a great height, and felt something wet on my forehead. I wiped my forehead with my napkin, and realised I had been the victim of a lone pigeon, hovering on the rooftop above us with it’s butt over the edge. We were in absolute hysterics; it was pure comedy gold. With that, we stopped attempting to appear middle class, and had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon bantering as usual.
(Even more comical: as I am writing this blog post now, in the shade of the pool area at the hostel, Elliott has just been pooped on, probably by the same pesky pigeon!)
Later in the afternoon, we set our sights on the next mountain to climb: Lion’s Head. We were feeling fairly confident about making the climb, as we had tackled Table Mountain earlier in the week. However, as we gradually ascended the base of the mountain, we looked up and couldn’t see any gentle sloping routes to the top. Within half an hour, all became clear: ladders, slack chain ropes and monkeys bars dotted across the face of the mountain were part of the only route up and down (note the SANPs advise you to use the obstacles at your own risk… Reassuring!) Terrified of heights, I wasn’t sure I would make it all the way to the top. However, we did; and it was one of those amazing moments associated with overcoming a fear, coupled with the feeling of being in an isolated bubble at the top of the world. I can only describe the view as spectacular, and as we made the descent just before dark, we watched an insanely beautiful sunset. I’m so excited about our RTW adventure, but I’m going to be very sad to leave South Africa.
Monday: chill day! We lazed by the pool, messed about on social media and met some friendly people. In the evening, we went out for dinner at a place called Marco’s African Place, which guest stars an African band playing an array of music. They were incredible! A rowdy German tour group got involved in the dancing, and it was a great atmosphere. I had slow cooked lamb with traditional ‘pap’ – we thought this tasted like rice, with the consistency of mash potato. Eat your heart out Greg Wallace! Elliott tried the oxtail curry, and loved it. We would recommend the experience of Marco’s to anyone visiting Cape Town!
Tuesday 31st Jan: we departed Cape Town for the beautiful wine village, Franschhoek. We got an uber to pick up our hire car from Avis in Bo Kaap. A member of staff helped us with a brief overview of the car, but after that we were on our own. It’s worth mentioning that during our previous trip to SA, we hired a TomTom with the car (a budget hire car costs approx £350 for 3 weeks in SA, and add on an extra hundred for a TomTom), as their post codes don’t pinpoint a particular area like in the UK. For this trip, to cut costs, we had heard about ‘NavMii’, an app that provides navigation offline. I thought this was the answer to our problems, and refused to fork out for a TomTom. When we tested the app a few days ago in the hostel, it picked up the addresses perfectly.
Back to Tuesday morning, sat in the baking sun in the parking bay outside Avis. We loaded up NavMii and entered the Franschhoek address… “No address can be found”. Oh shit. I desperately tried again, to no avail. Luckily, Elliott had downloaded a TomTom app, which also provides offline navigation for free (75km for free, then upgrade after the limit has been reached). Elliott managed to pick up the address, and boom, we were back in business. Until I tried to navigate out of the compact parking bay. This involved some careful reversing, so I put the car into reverse, and hit the gas. We rolled forward sharply. “Shit, it’s not reversing” I said to Els, panicking. I tried again; but lurched even closer towards a parked car in front. My sweaty hands clutching the steering wheel, I try one more time and still we don’t reverse. At this point, I’m blocking the entire road (both ways) and an angry old lady is beeping and shaking her fists at me. Overcome in my sweaty panic, I order Elliott out of the car to ask the peeps at Avis “how do I put the car in to reverse”. A man ran over to assist – silly me, I had to push down on the gearstick and move it across to first. Oops! Old lady immediately overtook me, swearing as she passed, as I sank further into my seat – trying to make myself invisible.
A rather tense car ride to Franschhoek followed, and after about 45 minutes we reached the village. What could possibly go wrong? At this exact moment, the TomTom navigation app froze, and informed us we needed to upgrade to complete the journey as we had reached the 75kms limit. I pulled over into a supermarket car park, where we desperately tried to locate the road for our next hostel. After a frustrating fifteen minutes, and hot tempers flying, we succumbed to temptation and switched on our data roaming. The hostel, Otters Bend Lodge, was 500 metres up the road.
All logistical nightmares overcome (or so we thought), we hired a couple of bikes from the hostel to cycle through the vineyards – and it was stunning. We stopped off for a completely necessary wine and chocolate tasting, and as we paid I asked the staff if they knew a shortcut back to Otters Bend Lodge. The ladies confidently directed me up the road, to Branson’s winery ‘Mont Rochelle’, where the security guards would let us cut through. Checking locations on google maps, it looked very close by. We set out with the late afternoon sun beating on our backs, and every now and again stopped to consult Elliott’s new TomTom app… Interesting, it seemed like we were moving away from our destination. We persevered for a good fifteen minutes up the side of a mountain (awesome views) and stopped for a water break. A fellow cyclist stopped and asked where we were heading. “Dassenberg Road, it’s near Mont Rochelle?” I said, looking hopeful.
“Oh no”, she said, shaking her head, “You need to go all the way back through the village, right to the other side and just off of Main Street you need to turn left. Then follow the gravel path over the bridge.” I smiled weakly, and as she cycled off up the mountain, we cracked up laughing.
For dinner, we went to Cafe Des Art, where we sat outside under the lantern-lit trees, and ate hoisin and chilli pork belly – yum!
Wednesday – Formally known as boozy Wednesday! We got tickets for the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a tram/railway service that takes you between the different wineries in Franschhoek, and set our sights on the following vineyards: Grand Provence, Maison, Eikehof, Leopards Leap and Dieu Donne. We loved the Chardonnay and Shiraz at Maison and sent bottles back home, but our favourite vineyard was Eikehof, where we met a member of the family who own the vineyard, and enjoyed a really personal and unpretentious wine tasting experience. We arrived back at Otters Bend Lodge rather sloshed, and couldn’t recommend a day out in Franschhoek enough!
That’s a wrap of our first week in South Africa. I hope you enjoyed reading our first blog post and laughed along with us. Until next time!