Archive for ‘South Africa’

December 2, 2011

Go To South Africa

by Johnny

We’ve been in Thailand for over a week now (which is amazing, by the way…if Anna and I were any more relaxed we’d be in comas), but we wanted to say a few last words about South Africa.  To be honest, even after we booked our flights to South Africa we had some apprehension about traveling there.  Whenever we would discuss our round-the-world trip itinerary with anybody, the South Africa segment would almost always elicit a “oooh…be really, really careful” response.  One American woman we met in Croatia (who had never been to South Africa) went as far as to tell us, “If you get lost driving around South Africa, chances are you will get murdered.”  Gee, thanks for that.  Well, while we certainly kept our wits about us and used common sense (didn’t walk around alone at night, didn’t pick up hitchhikers, researched driving directions, etc.), we can’t recall a time where we felt threatened or unsafe.  To the contrary, we found South Africa to have such a joyous culture (which is amazing considering how little the majority have), and we found all the locals we met to be friendly and welcoming.  I mean, we didn’t even get murdered once!

South Africa does have a high crime rate…there’s no denying that.  But if you’re putting off visiting the country because of some preconceived notions about safety, don’t.  Our advice is to go.  Take some necessary precautions and exercise some common sense, but go.  Go for one-of-a-kind Cape Town and its Neighborgoods market.  Go for the stunning scenery of the Cape Peninsula.  Go for Bohemian Kalk Bay.  Go for the food and wine in Franschhoek.  Go for the Karoo’s magical landscape.  Go for the gorgeous coastline of the Garden Route.  Go for the culture and the smiling Xhosa people of the Wild Coast.  Go for one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world in the Drakensberg.  Go for the mind-blowing wildlife in Kruger National Park.  Go for the craftwork, art and music.  Oh my…the music.  Everywhere you go there are kids drumming, clapping, harmonizing and dancing.  Try starting your day off with this and see if you’re not grinning from ear to ear (Soweto Gospel Choir – Seteng Sediba):

Go for some perspective.  Go to South Africa.

November 23, 2011

Planet Earth

by Johnny

One of the main reasons we wanted to visit South Africa was to see its renowned wildlife, so for the grand finale of our month long drive across the country we set aside six nights in Kruger National Park. It was mind-blowing. You can watch Discovery Channel everyday for the rest of your life, but nothing compares to seeing wild animals in their natural habitat with your own two eyes. For me, it was nothing short of a religious experience.

Because Kruger is the oldest, biggest and most visited game reserve in all of Africa, I was somewhat worried it would feel a little like a theme park. It didn’t at all. We could hop in our car, turn down a dirt road and not see another car for hours. Our first day, we pulled right up next to an elephant on the side of the road, turned off our engine and watched it feed in silence for a good 30 minutes. Amazing! Overnight visitors at Kruger typically stay at one of 12 rest camps located throughout the park, and we chose the Crocodile Bridge, Lower Sabie and Olifants camps for our visit. Each evening, everybody returns to the camps (you have to be back in the gates by sunset) and gathers around the communal kitchens to have some drinks, cook up dinner and discuss what they saw that day. Our neighbor one night was a professional chef, and he shared with us some of his wildebeest stew (yum!) as well as stories from all his past trips to Kruger. It’s hard to explain, but there’s just this cool little vibe of community between everybody there…an unspoken understanding that you’re fortunate to be somewhere very special. It’s a little like being at the lot before a Phish show.

One of the highlights of our visit to Kruger was going on a 4:30am guided bush walk with Irving, the most macho park ranger of all times. This dude made Bear Gryllis look like Richard Simmons. He was a walking encyclopedia of wilderness knowledge with x-ray vision and the hearing of a jungle cat. We’d be walking along, and he’d stop in his tracks and say something like, “Rhino…800 meters to the southeast…female…25 months old…Sagittarius.” At one point, Anna couldn’t help but laugh when Irving spit out 20 minutes worth of facts about some male aardvark tracks we stumbled upon. Plus, he had such burly stories about tracking and being charged at by, as he put it, “big and hairies.” Beyond Irving’s awesomeness, being able to get out of our car and walk into the bush was an experience Anna and I will never forget. Oh, and on the way to our walk we drove by two male lions feasting on a fresh kill. It was such an amazing sighting that even our guides were taking pictures. We also took a guided sunset drive one night, which treated us to some cool nighttime wildlife sightings as well as the craziest lightning show we’ve ever seen.

During our visit to Kruger, we saw elephant, giraffe, zebra, impala, lion, rhino, hippo, crocodile, wildebeest, baboon, warthog, buffalo, mongoose, jackal and more cool birds than I can name. The only animals we really wanted to see that we missed were the elusive cheetah and leopard. We’ll get ‘em next time. We took hundreds of pictures (you can see them all on our Flickr page), but here are some of our favorites:

We had our first of many elephant sightings as soon as we entered Kruger
Two male lions feasting on a buffalo kill
Spots and stripes
Buffalo proving the butt-cut never goes out of style
Two lionesses
Wildebeest Impala
“Whatchu lookin’ at?!”
Rhino at sunrise
Up close and personal with an elephant
Zebra are the coolest
Vervet monkey
Sunrise on the drive to our bush walk
On the drive to our bush walk On our bush walk…can you tell it’s about 5:00am?
The lion was so impressive even our guides were taking pics
Irving protecting us from a leopard tortoise
Warthog and babies
African elephant
Saddle-billed stork
Anna goes crazy for elephants… …while Johny is cool as a cucumber
Post feeding nap time
Kudu
Giraffe striking a pose
Our “safari tent” at Crocodile Bridge Our hut at Lower Sabie
The huts at Olifants The viewpoint at Olifants
The view from Lower Sabie
Watching a family of elephants from the viewpoint at Olifants
Scoping it out at Lower Sabie Wildebeest stew gave me some stomach problems
Rush hour at Kruger
Sunset over some hippos

And a couple videos, for good measure:

November 21, 2011

The Drakensberg

by Anna

From Coffee Bay we headed out of the rugged Eastern Cape into KwaZulu-Natal. An eight-hour drive that took us through rolling hills dotted with round colorful huts, immense stretches of farmland and hectic, bustling towns where people and livestock outnumbered cars in the road, brought us finally to the Drakensberg (“Dragon Mountains”), a mountain range that forms the dramatic boundary between South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho. We entered the pristine Champagne Valley in uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park and were immediately thrilled with our new “home-away-from-home” at the Inkosana Lodge.

Former mountaineer and owner of the lodge, Ed, showed us around the beautiful property, which had everything you could think of and more…amazing scenery, an indigenous garden where you could pick herbs and veggies to cook with, big shared kitchens stocked with every appliance under the sun, a colorful and cozy “hang out” room with piles of National Geographic magazines (I think Johnny and I read about eight cover-to-cover between the two of us before we left), four big, friendly dogs, delicious home-cooked meals, a fridge stocked with Savannah Dry and an “organic pool” (however, we decided after hearing from some German travelers that the pool had leeches that we’d rather enjoy looking at it than swimming in it!).

The lodge The indigenous garden
One of the super awesome kitchens Million-dollar slogan: “It’s dry. But you can drink it!
The “tree circle” on the lawn…our favorite late afternoon spot
Clouds reflecting in the “organic” pool

The Drakensberg is known as being one of the best spots for hikers and climbers in South Africa, and we took advantage of some of the half-day hikes in the Monk’s Cowl area of the range. Our first day we took the four hour “Hlatikhulu Forest Loop” and were blown away by the magnificent landscape of green hills and jagged rocky peaks. We passed through lush forests and waterfalls and even ran into a group of wild horses along the way. The magical moment of us alone with wild horses on the side of a mountain was a little bit tainted by the fact that one of the horses passed a serious amount of gas – really loudly I might add – in my face, but it was still a highlight of the day and Johnny got a good laugh out of me hightailing it away from the horse up the trail. Already very happy with our awesome hike and wild horse encounter, we couldn’t believe our eyes later that day driving back to the lodge when we spotted zebras on the side of the road! Where else does that happen?!

Our hike started out shrouded in mist Sterkspruit falls
Wild horses
We are getting really good at balancing our camera on rocks for self-portraits!
Nandi falls Flora along the trail
Zebra!
Our zebra sighting whetted our appetite for our final destination, Kruger National Park

On the second day, we took more of an uphill route called “Blind Man’s Corner” where our heavy breathing and sweatiness was rewarded with incredible views of the valley and mountain peaks. In the evenings, we’d sit out in the big Adirondack chairs on the lawn at Inkosana and soak in the tranquility and beauty all around us. It was such a peaceful place, and Johnny decried it as one of his favorite mountain ranges of all time.

Johnny taking in the view at the “Sphinx”
Johnny scaling the rocks Another great balancing act
We almost lost Johnny…
November 21, 2011

Into The Wild

by Johnny

The Cape Peninsula, the Winelands, the Garden Route, Hogsback…we’ve really enjoyed every place in South Africa we’ve been thus far. All the people we’ve met have been super friendly and welcoming, and the scenery is an unimaginable combination of beauty I can only describe as coastal California meets Napa Valley meets Joshua Tree meets rural Hawaii. It’s been amazing, but it hasn’t exactly felt like Africa…at least not the Africa I had been picturing in my head. Well, that all changed upon our arrival to Coffee Bay, located on the very appropriately titled Wild Coast.

We noticed a different, more authentic feeling South Africa as soon as we crossed over from the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape, but the 80 kilometer drive down to Coffee Bay, known as “South Africa’s most dangerous road,” took it to a whole new level. It almost felt like I was playing a video game as I continually swerved to avoid cows, goats, donkeys, stray dogs, schoolchildren (the cutest kids of all times) and potholes the size of our Nissan Tiida. Passing Xhosa women carrying sticks on their heads dressed in traditional garb, including red clay on their faces to keep out the sun, Anna and I definitely had a “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment.

We survived the livestock, pothole, cute kid obstacle course and arrived at our hostel, Coffee Shack, where we could finally exhale and admire our surroundings. It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque setting. Behind us were rolling green hills dotted with Xhosa villages while in front of us the sun was setting behind towering cliffs crashing into the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, that would be the last time we would see the sun during our time in Coffee Bay as the next few days were full of wind and rain. It did, however, manage to stay dry enough for us to join a walking tour of one of the nearby Xhosa villages. Seeing how the Xhosa people live and learning about their customs and rituals from our guide Jerry, a Xhosa himself, was incredible. We saw how their traditional mud huts are made, hiked to the Sacred Pools, got our faces painted by Jerry (OK, that part was a little cheesy), ate a home cooked lunch in a Xhosa hut and even got to try some local Xhosa homebrew out of an old milk carton. Later that night, we enjoyed a traditional braai (barbeque) at our hostel, which included fresh oysters and mussels plucked right from the sea and drumming entertainment by some local Xhosa boys into the wee hours…a most excellent day.

View from our hut Our hut at Coffee Shack
Hiking in the hills The Wild Coast
The Indian Ocean View back towards Coffee Shack
Traditional Xhosa huts…the green “paint” is made from crushed rock and berry juice
Xhosa kids Little man hard at work
Rolling hills full of Xhosa huts
Xhosa man fixing his roof Xhosa woman
Red clay face paint Anna getting tribal
Anna made some friends Jerry and Johnny
The Sacred Pools, where Xhosa believe their ancestors go after they die
Wood fired meal Veggies, mealie pap and meat sauce
Having lunch in a Xhosa hut Xhosa brew
Fresh oysters and mussels at our hostel Traditional braai at our hostel
Drumming at our hostel Drumming and dancing into the night

Part of the reason we wanted to take this big trip was to experience new cultures and see firsthand how different people across the world live, and our stay in Coffee Bay definitely provided us with a heavy dose. For that, it was worth the white-knuckle drive, the crummy weather and being out of our comfort zone for a couple days. We also found it interesting that at a placed called the Wild Coast, which is considered one of the more primitive areas in South Africa, there seemed to be more integration between whites and blacks than anywhere else we’ve been in the country so far. Some of the accommodations at our other stops in South Africa have felt almost liked gated fortresses (our room in Franschhoek had a panic button!), and even though apartheid ended almost 20 years ago, things still seem very, very separate. I don’t know…maybe all the gates and alarms are necessary and warranted in those areas, but being able to walk and mingle worry free with the local Xhosa people, who would always greet us with a wave and a smile, was quite refreshing.

November 13, 2011

Hogsback

by Johnny

Needing a spot to spend a couple nights to break up the long drive from the Garden Route to Coffee Bay, we headed inland to the tiny village of Hogsback, perched 1,300 meters up in the Amathole Mountains. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit author JRR Tolkien lived his early years in nearby Bloemfontein, and legend has it his books were inspired by childhood visits to Hogsback’s indigenous rainforests, rolling green grasslands and steep mountain peaks.

We settled in at our hostel, Away with the Fairies, which had amazing mountain views, a bar and restaurant with yummy food, hiking trails starting in its garden, and the world’s scariest tree house. It had everything we needed right there on the grounds, and it was great not having to get back in the car for a couple days. We spent our time hiking to nearby waterfalls, relaxing in the garden, braving the climb to the tree house and enjoying the company of fellow travelers from Australia, Holland and England. Unfortunately we didn’t encounter any hobbits, but we did see a family of goats as well as about 30 Samengo monkeys swinging from tree to tree.

Hogsback’s peaks literally looks like a hog’s back
Our cottage at the hostel View from our cottage
Entrance to the hostel You could take a bath at the edge of the cliff
Madonna and Child Falls
“Big Tree” View from our hike
Goats! Samengo monkeys!
Rickety latter to the tree house
Anna in the tree house Johnny in the tree house
Self portrait in the tree house
View of the valley from the tree house
November 9, 2011

The Garden Route

by Anna

We set off from Franschhoek on scenic Route 62 along the “longest wine route in the world.” It was a beautiful drive through lush mountains on steep, winding two-lane highways and through long stretches of red, rocky desert in the Karoo. We couldn’t believe how much the landscape changed in such a short amount of time! We made a pit stop for lunch in Oudtshoorn, famous for its ostrich farms where people can take a wild ride on an ostrich if they are feeling so inclined, and then made our way onto the Garden Route, a scenic 300km stretch that is a top priority on almost everyone’s South African itinerary. As we approached Knysna, our home base for the next few days, we were awed by the landscape around us as we passed by dense forests and the turbulent waters of the Indian Ocean, finally settling on a tranquil lagoon where Knysna is situated.

Knysna lagoon

We spent the next few days enjoying the natural beauty around us with hikes in the ancient forests around Knysna, heading to look out points to take in the two cliffs, called the Knysna Heads, that create a dramatic entrance from the Indian Ocean into the lagoon, checking out all of the unique, crazy-looking birds around the lagoon (a bird watchers paradise!) and stopping to watch impromptu rugby matches on evening strolls. We checked out the Wild Oats farmer and crafts market, the beautiful and almost deserted white sand beaches of Buffalo Bay and had an awesome “slow food lunch” overlooking a river in the Goukamma Nature Reserve. But I think our favorite part about Knysna was our B&B hosts, Margo and Agnieszka, two of the nicest and coolest gals around! We couldn’t get enough of Agnieszka’s ridiculously delicious two-course, gourmet breakfasts each morning and loved hanging out and chatting with them over amazing fresh-pressed coffee and good tunes before we started out each day.

Knysna Heads
Jubilee Creek Walk
In the forest A nice cow family strolls past us on our walk
Looking into the lagoon
View from East Head Cafe Best. Dessert. Ever.
The Heads leading out to the Indian Ocean
Rugby at sundown
Wild Oats farmers’ market Buffalo Bay
Buffalo Bay
The River Deck
Johnny’s braai (bbq) My delicious quiche
Our B&B, 9 On Heron
The breakfast room at 9 on Heron Agnieszka’s yummy “course 2” of breakfast
The tropical gardens outside our room

After a lovely few days in Knysna, we packed up our things, hit the store for lunch and dinner supplies and headed off for Tsitsikamma National Park. Wow, was this place unbelievable! Tsitsikamma, meaning “place of much water,” lives up to its name with a stunning stretch of coastline, where we were lucky enough to camp out for the night. After taking a hike to the three suspension bridges dangling over the rocky coast at Storms River Mouth, we grabbed a couple bottles of my new favorite beverage, Savannah Dry Cider, and settled in at our cozy “forest hut” just a few feet from the crashing waves. The waves were huge, and it was great entertainment just sitting and watching the giant sprays of whitewash and resulting rivers of foam. We met a couple other campers from Holland and Zimbabwe cooking up our pasta that evening in the camp kitchen and hit the sack early in preparation for our long drive to Hogsback the next day.

Suspension bridges
Crazy amounts of foam A view from our walk to the bridges
Our camp site
The camp grounds were so nice…there was even a pool
Our “forest hut” for the night The Sherwoods got the Stinkwood hut!
Sunset
The campgrounds at dusk

We almost wished we could have stayed longer at Tsitsikamma, as it was so beautiful and serene as we headed out early that morning. We decided we’d drive about an hour to Jeffrey’s Bay, aka J-Bay, for breakfast and hopefully check out some of its acclaimed surf breaks like Super Tubes. Unfortunately, J-Bay was as flat and calm as a lake, but it was still a beautiful spot to see while we filled up on French Toast and coffee.

J-Bay
November 5, 2011

The Winelands

by Johnny

Seeing as how we’ve already visited the wine regions of France, Portugal, Italy and Croatia, we thought it only fair to add South Africa to the list…strictly for comparison purposes.  Only about an hour northeast of Cape Town lie the Cape Winelands, South Africa’s most famous wine producing area.  Fun fact…South Africa has the oldest wine industry in the world outside of Europe.  We drove through the university town of Stellenbosch before arriving at our home base of Franschhoek.  Franschhoek was settled over 300 years ago by French Huguenots, who brought with them their love of food and wine.  Today it is know as the culinary capital of South Africa…and we decided to take full advantage of this fact.

We had an absolutely amazing dinner at the locally-recommended Reuben’s on our first night before settling in early to get a good night’s rest from some serious wine tasting the next day.  We woke up to our first cloud-free day in South Africa, ate some breakfast, grabbed our map and set off on foot to some of the nearby wine farms.  We were happy to discover that 1) South Africa has some tasty wines, and 2) wine tasting in South Africa is pretty cheap.  At each wine farm, we were able to taste any four or five wines of our choice for 15 rand (about $2).  “Umm, yes, I’ll try the five most expensive, please.”  We really liked the Merlot and Pinotage (the region’s signature grape…a cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage) at Chamonix, the view of the entire valley at Dieu Donné, and our mouthwatering wine and lunch combo at Mont Rochelle’s Country Kitchen (one of Anna’s favorite meals of the trip).  It was an amazing day, even if we ended up only visiting three of the five wineries we planned on and were too pooped to go out to dinner later that night (imagine that!).  Although it feels a little more like Napa than Africa, Franschhoek is definitely worth a night or two to enjoy some of the best food and wine South Africa has to offer.

The view from Dieu Donné
We picked up some goodies at Mont Rochelle Red wine for Red Beard
Lots of roses and pretty buildings in Franschhoek Church in Franschhoek
Pork belly from Reuben’s…mmmmm
Clouds creeping over the mountains
November 2, 2011

All Around Cape Town

by Anna

We loved our time spent exploring in and around Cape Town – so much vibrant culture and gorgeous natural beauty to see. Here are some of the highlights from our week:

V&A Waterfront and Downtown
The V&A Waterfront had been described to us by many friends as “the Fisherman’s Wharf” of Cape Town. It definitely reminded us of that with its noisy, colorful restaurants and shops lining the boat-packed harbor. Even though a bit touristy, it was a beautiful spot to walk around, get lunch and gaze up at the magnificent Table Mountain. Moving into the heart of the city, we stopped by Green Market Square to check out the stalls filled with jewelry, crafts and souvenirs, and walked over to Bo-Kaap, “The Cape Malay Quarter,” known for its brightly painted houses, cobblestone streets and multicultural neighborhood on the slopes of Signal Hill. We also tried to visit the District Six Museum, but it was closed for renovations. In the process, however, we met one of the founders of the museum who had been a resident of District Six. He shared his story and heartbreaking accounts of families torn apart during apartheid, resulting in a much more personal and touching experience than we would have had just visiting the museum.

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Neighbourgoods Market
On Saturday morning we had one of our favorite experiences of Cape Town, the Neighbourgoods Market. Johnny had read that it was a cool spot in the emerging neighborhood of Woodstock to check out, so we decided to give it a go. Little did we know what an amazing, sensory overload of food, atmosphere, crafts, fashion and community awaited us. It was the most awesome, heady place of all times, and we didn’t want to leave! We spent a couple hours just looking at all the food stalls and wandering through the shops before deciding on a crepe and champagne (for me) and a microbrew and BBQ steak sandwich (for him, of course!), which we enjoyed at one of the many candle-lined family style tables. Since I can’t do the place justice in words, here is a better description from the website/blog (which is also really awesome!):

The Neighbourgoods Market is an independent initiative … whose aim is to revive and reinvent the Public Market as a civic institution. This award-winning market features over 100 specialty traders every Saturday, creating a weekly platform for local farmers, fine-food purveyors, organic merchants, bakers and distributors, grocers, mongers, butchers, artisan producers, celebrated local chefs, and micro enterprises. The Neighbourgoods Market is housed in an old sky-lit Victorian warehouse and courtyard at the Old Biscuit Mill in the emerging industrial neighbourhood of Woodstock, Cape Town. It is as much a source for farm fresh… goods, as it is a meeting point to enjoy community, swap ideas and stories, and become educated about what we buy and eat by going directly to the source. The Neighbourgoods Market has been created along ethical, eco-friendly and organic lines, to offer a wide range of products from the extended community of Cape Town.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
The beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens back up to the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, making for a pretty breathtaking setting. You could easily spend an entire day wandering through the tranquil gardens, and we passed many people picnicking, sketching or just napping on the expansive lawns dotted with funny little guinea hens. The gardens are part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, and both the region and the gardens were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 (you know how we love the UNESCO!), making it the first botanical garden in the world to be on this list. We would have loved to have checked out one of the open-air concerts that are held here in summer, but just missed them by a couple of weeks.

Hout Bay
We were really happy that we picked Hout Bay as our base to explore Cape Town. As you already read, we were instantly in love with Poplar Tree Lodge and the beautiful bay below it, and we even loved the stunning drive along the coast, through Camps Bay to Cape Town. We took a late afternoon stroll one day along the white sandy beach and watched the sun go down in the company of tons of happy dogs running along the sand dunes and in and out of the water fetching sticks. We ended our walk with some delectably greasy, down and dirty fish & chips at Fish on the Rocks which had a million dollar location right on the harbor.

Kalk Bay
Although we had driven through Kalk Bay on the way down to Cape Point, we decided to go back so that we could spend more time “behind the lentil curtain” and check out the town’s main drag of craftsy shops and restaurants. We were so happy we did, because not only did we love the Bohemian/artsy vibe of Kalk Bay, but we also had a delicious lunch at Olympia Cafe (go there if you are ever in Kalk Bay!!) and saw THREE whales along the coastal drive between Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town. We also couldn’t get enough of the cute little furry seals playing in the breakwater at Kalk Bay Harbour. There has definitely been no shortage of wildlife on our adventure thus far!

Now it’s off to give South African wines a little Sherwood taste-test in Franschhoek, the culinary heart of the country…sounds like trouble!

October 30, 2011

Cape Crusaders

by Johnny

We’re in Africa! I can’t believe it. Truth be told, South Africa wasn’t on our original itinerary. It was definitely a place we always wanted to visit one day, but it was just so far away from anywhere else we were traveling to on this trip. I suppose it’s far away from anything else, period. I figured it would be a hectic, expensive detour to get down there and wrote it off for another time. But then once we started telling people about our trip a month or so before we took off, anyone who had been there said emphatically, “You HAVE to go to South Africa.” OK then. We did some more research (errr, re-watched Brad Womack’s second go-round on The Bachelor), found some surprisingly cheap flights in and out of the country and decided to take the plunge.

We flew from Istanbul to Cape Town (never thought I’d say that in my life) and made it to Poplar Tree Lodge in the suburb of Hout Bay, our base to explore Cape Town and the surrounding region for the next week. Apologies if it sounds like we keep plugging our accommodation, but we’ve been having great luck lately…especially with this one. The setting is stunning, the garden is beautiful and full of life, and the owners are super friendly. Vivienne made Anna a beaded necklace so that she would always remember her time in South Africa, and Marshall makes fun artwork out of driftwood and plastic bottle tops he finds on the beach. It definitely has a homey feel to it, and we love coming back here for some wine on the deck after a day out.

View from the deck at Poplar Tree Lodge
Mountains behind Poplar Tree Lodge Our Hout Bay digs
Marshall’s creations…The Herd Dusk on the deck

I most definitely needed some practice driving on the left side of the road, so rather than venturing into the traffic-filled city on our first day we set out to explore the Cape Peninsula. We headed towards the towns on False Bay on the eastern side of the peninsula, stopping first to see the colorful bathing house at the beach in St. James. According to our coffee barista, we were now crossing the “lentil curtain” that separates cosmopolitan, ritzy Cape Town from Bohemian, hippie Cape Town. Good to know. We wanted to stop in Kalk Bay to check out some of its boutique shops and galleries, but some road construction made this new-to-the-left-side driver panic and we drove right through. Oops. We continued on through the scenic Fish Hoek Bay and Simon’s Town until we reached Boulders Beach, famous for being home to a colony of 3,000 African penguins. Neither of us could say we’d seen a penguin in the wild before, so this was pretty cool. I dare you not to smile watching them walk around.

Colored bathing houses at St. James St. James
Presumably talking about fish and fantasy football
Boulders Beach…not just a clever name Standing guard
Awwwwww

We continued south into the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Wow! I expected the Cape Peninsula to be beautiful, but not this beautiful. Wildflowers, deserted white sand beaches, windswept coastlines, red and green mountains sloping into a tropical sea…it’s incredible. We stopped at the Cape of Good Hope, the southwestern most point of all of Africa, and at Cape Point to see its famous lighthouse. As if we needed to be reminded we were in Africa, we saw some wild ostriches and baboons as we were leaving the park.  There must have been 20 baboons, including a handful of babies.  I wanted to get some better pictures, but one of the big ones stared directly into my eyes and my soul so I sped away. We made our way back to our apartment in Hout Bay slowly but surely along the Atlantic side of the peninsula. The last few kilometers of this drive are known as Chapman’s Peak Drive, and it makes driving along the coast in Big Sur seem like a walk in the park. We would stop every couple of minutes for some pictures and for me to change my pants.

Flora in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve
2016 Olympic hopeful at Buffels Bay
Cape of Good Hope A little windy out on the Cape of Good Hope
Cape Point lighthouse View from Cape Point
Wild ostriches…are we in Jurassic Park? Baboon crossing
Chapman’s Peak Drive View towards Hout Bay from Chapman’s Peak

We’re pumped to finally have our own wheels, and for the next month we’ll be making our way from Cape Town in the west to Kruger National Park in the east, with pit stops along the Winelands, the Garden Route, the Wild Coast and the Drakensberg mountains. If the rest of our time in South Africa is anything like our first day, we’re in for an amazing month. However, we’re also in for a very eye-opening experience. South Africa has one of the largest gaps between rich and poor out of any country in the world, and it’s evident immediately. In our 30-minute drive to our apartment from the airport, we saw enormous mansions and wine estates but also several townships where the poverty stricken masses live in a sprawl of tin shacks. Anna and I read up on the history of South Africa and especially the apartheid era before coming, and it’s definitely heartbreaking. It should be an interesting month, that’s for sure.