To South Africa We Go

Remote Year has given me the unique opportunity to book trips on a whim and head to places I never dreamed of before this year. Since our program fee covers our travel between each country, I had a travel credit for our flight from Valencia, Spain to Buenos Aires, Argentina to begin our South American leg of the trip. Instead of traveling with the group on travel day I opted to go to Cape Town, South Africa for a few days en route to Argentina. It only cost me $500 extra to go from Spain to South Africa to Argentina so it was a no-brainer to book. On top of that, two other remotes were already going to be down there so I also had a place to stay.

Getting to Cape Town is not easy. I had to fly from Valencia to Madrid, Madrid to Doha, Qatar, Doha to Cape Town. Total travel time was around 24 hours but we finally made it around noon on Sunday. After a quick nap we headed over to the Camps Bay area to grab some food by the beach. We luckily have a remote in our group from Cape Town so he was able to give us recommendations throughout the week. Cape Town is one of the most unique and visually stunning cities I’ve ever been to. You have the beautiful beach and ocean on one side and beautiful granite mountains on the other side. You can’t drive 2 minutes in Cape Town without being in awe of your surroundings. We wanted to just have a relaxing Sunday by the beach as we were tired from our flights. It was a pleasant surprise when our waitress spoke English and I was reminded that I had not been an English speaking country for the last six months. It was honestly a bit weird to be able to read all the signs, not ask for an English menu and order without simply pointing to a line on the menu. After our dinner, we walked over to the beach to watch the sunset. Living in Charleston on the east coast, we only have sunrise on the beach not sunset. Luckily for us, the sun set right over the horizon of the ocean and it was one of the most beautiful I have seen. As the sun set, it turned the rock faces an orang-ish color as it reflected back onto the beach. We had an unobstructed view of the sun and the ocean to our front and awe-inspiring mountains behind us.

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The next day I went out to explore the city. I found a coffeeshop for breakfast before heading down to the waterfront. The waterfront reminded me of any touristy area with lots of shops and restaurants. There was also a really nice indoor mall but I wanted to see the water so I didn’t walk around it for long. I ended up getting to the water and there was a sidewalk for as long as I could see leading away from the city. The view of the ocean as spectacular. The waves came crashing down on big black rocks as the sea splashed up over the wall. I walked for about an hour or so along the water enjoying the beautiful weather and day. After I got far enough I decided to walk back and find a cab. I hailed a cab and I asked him about Lions Head, a hike I knew I wanted to do at some point. He gave me some info and told me he’d drop me off at my place, let me get ready, pick me up and drop me off at Lions Head and then pick me up and drop me off again when I was done with the hike. Since I didn’t have phone data, this seemed like an opportunity I could’t pass up so I got his name, Blade, and had a plan in motion for the rest of the day.

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Lions Head is a point where you see from all over the city. It is a narrow cylindrical peak that looks out over the city and the sea below. Where as Table Mountain is a giant plateau, Lions Head reminds me more of a lookout point and a bit of a closer view of the city and other towns that surround it. I was told it would take me around 2.5 hours for the full hike. An hour up, about half an hour at the top and an hour down. The beginning of the hike was a pretty sharp incline on a nice trail and it had a good view of the beach I had spent time at the day before. The trail is a spiral but the beginning is all on one side of the mountain. About half-way up, there were a group of paragliders and if I had a few more days in the city I would’ve definitely done that. They strap you in, push you off and you can just see this parachute swaying back and forth in the wind over the city and sea below. On a nice clear day it looked like a great way to get another perspective of the mountains, sea and city. I kept on hiking up and eventually the trail turns into bigger rocks that are sort of like steps on your way up. As you climb higher and higher the trail gets rougher and rougher and you have to be a bit more careful. There are no guard rails or safety measures so you need to watch your step as your are hiking up loose rocks. At one point, you must climb ladders and use chains to weave your way up. While the view below looked a bit precarious, it was a fun hike and, while it wasn’t difficult, it wasn’t extremely easy either. After you pass the ladders, you begin the final ascent which is straight up to the top. You must climb over bigger rocks, using your hands to gain your footing on the way up. After about an hour, I had made it to the top and after one look, I knew the climb was well worth it.

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The top isn’t very big but it gives you an amazing 360 degree view of Cape Town. As you creep toward the edge you see how high up you really are and people who are afraid of heights probably wouldn’t want to get too close. I sat down, relaxed and tried to take it all in. It was one of the most amazing sites I had seen as you look up at Table Mountain on one side, down to the ocean below on the other side and down to the downtown area on the last side. A stranger was nice enough to take plenty of photos for me and after some more time just taking in the view I decided to return down. The hike down was a bit difficult at times as going downhill down a steep face is never fun. I took my time on my way down and had my cab driver Blade waiting for me as soon as I finished up. It was an amazing hike and I’m glad I did it spontaneously when I did as it was the best weather day we ended up having.

I got back to the AirBnB and did some work for a bit. I found a craft brewery on google so I decided to check that out for dinner as the girls opted to go to a place closer to our spot. I got an uber and took it to this brewery outside of town and of course as soon as I go to the door I see a sign saying it was closed for renovations. Luckily, I was able to hail another cab and head to another spot. This cab driver was a nice guy and we chatted as we went from the impoverished part of town to the nicer area. He was telling me how the city wants to be more “European” but that you can’t take Africa out of Africa. It was a really telling statement as Cape Town seems like this fairy-tale perfect city on the coast but you have to remember that you are still in Africa and about the struggle all the people there had to become free and represented. After being in Europe for the past six months, I could see how bits of the city reminded me of Europe but other bits didn’t at all giving the city character. Even though Cape Town has all of these wonderful places and sites, there are still poor and homeless people and some sections are certainly run-down as well. I know most cities are like this but his statement really stuck with me. He also said his brother lives in Ohio because he got an education and got to leave. The cab driver said he didn’t receive an education and that was why he was stuck being a cab driver. It was sad to hear and I didn’t pry but you’d usually assume that each brother got the same opportunity to be educated but for some reason this cab driver didn’t pursue or have the opportunity. It made me value my education as I couldn’t imagine one of my brothers not having the same opportunity or result in life as myself.

Anyway, I told the cab driver I wanted craft beer and he dropped me off at a great spot. I sat at a bar, tried a bunch of the local beers they had on draft and had a great time talking with the bartender about Cape Town and the beer scene here. The food was also great and it was a good save to a night that could’ve gone a different way after my original spot was closed. The next morning we had to hop on a bus at 4:30am as we were going Shark Diving. A wrote a whole blog post about that HERE.

That night after Shark Diving, we went to a restaurant called Clarke’s. Both Dana, the remote from Charleston, and I both said it reminded us exactly of a restaurant in Charleston. It had a very familiar look and feel and reminded us both of home. We had some drinks ordered mac and cheese and a fried chicken sandwich and had a wonderful dinner. The 3 of us just sat at the bar and it was the same sort of meal I would eat at home with my friends. I think we all liked having that feeling of home as we reflected back on our first six months. The food was delicious and the three of us ate and drank for $45! The US dollar is really strong against the South African Rand so eating out was super cheap which I wouldn’t have expected. It is a great time to visit South Africa because you can get the same quality as home but 25-40% less of the price. After dinner we went to a secret gin bar on the recommendation of a local. It was tucked behind a chocolate shop and you had to be let in and walk through the shop to get to the bar. They only served gin drinks which was fine with me since I really enjoy gin. The bar had a great vibe and the bartender was super nice so we enjoyed a few cocktails to wind down from our busy day. From waking up at 430am to being in the ocean with sharks to casually drinking gin and tonics in a secret bar, it was a day you only experience on a trip like this – part planned and part serendipitous.

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The next day, the girls were doing a wine tasting tour all day so I was on my own again. My goal for the day was to get to the top of Table Mountain, whether I hiked it or took the cable car. The morning was super foggy so it didn’t make sense to go up when it wasn’t clear. Instead, I walked around town and found a lunch spot to have a few beers. I walked around a bit more, bought my token patch I get from each country and just relaxed a bit until it cleared up. Finally, the sun poked out and I got a cab to cable car station as I felt that was the best option. Even in the offseason on a Wednesday, I still had to wait 30-40 minutes to get into the cable car so I can’t imagine what it would be like in the summer. The ride up was short but had great views. The cable car rotated 360 degrees so you got to see the entire view and not just one vantage point. Once at the top, I didn’t realize how big Table Mountain really was. You could spend hours up here just walking around. I spent about an hour or so walking around and taking in the views. The view down to the city was amazing but the view behind the mountain was my favorite. It was breathtaking from this angle. There isn’t really a town on the other side of the mountain so it was a really unique view of our mountain peaks and the ocean in the distance. It was a view I wasn’t expecting but really enjoyed and you felt more in nature when you didn’t see a bunch of buildings below. There was a little restaurant on top where I bought a beer and walked around enjoying my last afternoon in Cape Town. The views are really some of the best I’ve seen and I could’ve stayed up for there for a while but I had to catch the last cable car down.

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Once down, we ended up back at the same restaurant for dinner again and the same gin bar afterwards. Sometimes if it isn’t broke you don’t need to fix it and we just decided to go places we knew we would enjoy. Its nice to have some familiarity when traveling so we were happy to sit at the bar again and enjoy our chicken sandwiches and gin drinks afterwards. The next morning I was off. Cape Town -> Johannesburg, South Africa -> Sao Paulo, Brazil  -> Buenos Aires, Argentina. 24 hours later I was in my new home.

A short trip but extremely worth it. I loved my time in Cape Town and it got me ready for my next adventure – six months in South America!

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