Tuesday, 29 November 2016

VISITING MANDELA’S LAND- PART II– WHALE-WATCHING & CAPETOWN

In the first part of this series, I narrated my encounter with the free and the wild inhabitants of Madique Game Resort.  I sat motionless in a Jeep, with 5 other companions, with a lion 10 feet away. I used all my might to avoid looking at his powerful open jaws hoping that he would just pardon my puny presence in his territory.  Since he did, I am able to write the second part of this series.

From Johannesburg, we flew to Cape Town in South Africa and Daryn, our driver, drove us to Hermanus, one and a half hour van ride.  We checked into a very nice hotel – Quarters, right on the waterfront.

I ventured onto the built up waterfront and saw the picturesque coastline of Atlantic ocean.  A few dussie animals (they are like large rabbits) were scurrying around looking for handouts from tourists. Couples were taking pictures with the scenic backdrop.  I picked out an ostrich leather belt and a few other souvenirs in the local shops.

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 29, 2013 – On the sea

We drove 45 minutes to Gaansbaai (goose bay).  From here we divided into two groups.  One group had opted for diving with the Great White Sharks.  We dropped this group at Kleinsbaai harbor. Since the water temperature was a few degrees above freezing, this group put on wet suits and went for shark cage diving and sightings of the great white sharks.  

Having faced lions at close range a few days prior, I was not about to face yet another set of jaws and freeze my booty in the process.  So I went with the other group for the less daunting sport of whale watching.  We piled onto a fast boat and felt the cold piercing wind as the boat sped along.  We spotted a mother and a calf Southern Right Whales in the distance of about 100 yards.  They were just having a good old time in the shallow waters.  

The skin of these whales is dark grey or black.  The adults are up to 60 feet and may weigh 65 tons, compared to our 15 ton boat, which they could flip with the flick of a tail.  The male has the biggest testes of any animal on the planet – up to 1160 lbs each.  The penis can be up to 10 feet. 

At night, we went to a seafood restaurant for dinner.I ordered the catch of the day - yellow tail fish. We came back to the hotel and had a little party.  Legal disclaimer – I only drink non-alcoholic beverages!

SATURDAY November 30 – TRAVEL TO CAPE TOWN

After breakfast, we left the Quarters hotel.  We stopped at the Cheetah Outreach Park. Cheetahs are bred here in captivity on the grounds of Speir wine estate.  You can pat an adult Cheetah or play with a cub.  This park is there to grow awareness of wildlife in general.  

The park is home to many other animals as well as the impressive Anatolian Shepherd dog which is bred and placed with farmers to stop Cheetah attacks on the farmers’ flocks.

We checked into Commodore hotel on waterfront in Cape Town.  Situated on a peninsula, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  It was established as the first garden in Africa for ships restocking en route to India. Cape Town lies on a narrow peninsula that curves southward into the icy Atlantic ocean.  A spinal ridge of mountains divides the eastern and western shores of the peninsula.   

The rugged mountain range with twelve peaks is known as “twelve apostles”.  The massive sandstone bulk of Table Mountain is the most dramatic landmark.  The “lion’s head” and “devil’s head” are other peaks in the geography.  In Cape Town, the whites, the “colored” and the blacks live in fairly distinct neighborhoods because of economic reality, even though Apartheid came to an end in 1994.  There are many “townships” in Cape Town, where the poor live in shacks made from corrugated tin sheets.  These lack basic amenities like running water.

At night, we went to a unique African restaurant called Gold. The 14 item setmenu includeddishes from various African countries (Morocco, Ethiopia, Namibia etc.) as well as Cape Malay.  Springbok, the national animal, was also on the menu.  True to my Indian background, I chose lentils in lieu of Springbok.  During the meal, African performers entertained with drums, dancing and singing in their colorful costumes.  Tall Mali puppets danced around us.  It was a festive and enjoyable evening with audience participation.

SUNDAY December 1 – Cape Peninsula Tour

We departed the city along the picturesque Atlantic seaboard and stopped on the beach in Camps Bay for a beautiful view of the white surf in turquoise waters in the golden sunshine. We passed the fishing village of Hout Bay.  We drove through the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve.

We saw baboons, ostriches and the majestic Eland, the largest antelope on the planet.  Finally, we arrived at the Two Oceans hotel for lunch.  I had delicious shrimp curry.  The name Two Oceans is a misnomer, because the only ocean here is Atlantic ocean.  The true southernmost point in Africa is Cape Agulhas, 105 miles southeast of Cape of Good Hope.  That is where the Atlantic and Indian oceans actually meet. There was a Flying Dutchman funicular ride available up to the Cape Point lighthouse.  I decided to run up and down a couple of times on the 20 minute walkway.  We took pictures of the magical ocean vistas 600 feet below, at this, the south westernmost point of Africa.  

We drove down to the cape itself and took pictures in front of the sign that says “Cape of Good Hope”.  I felt like I was Vasco de Gama or something!

On the way back, we visited an ostrich farm and fed the ostriches by hand.  The female ostrich lays a lot of eggs that are hatched artificially.  At about one year of age, the ostriches are slaughtered for their meat and skin.


We headed along the False Bay coast to Boulders Beach near Simonstown to see a colony of adorable African Penguins.  They are smaller than the emperor penguins of Antarctica.  Hundreds of them frolicking on the beach presented a heartwarming sight.  Last year, I saw penguins in Galapagos islands, that is the farthest north they go.  (Question – why does a polar bear not eat penguins? answer – they live on different poles)

MONDAY December 2 – Seal Island and Wine tasting

After breakfast, we headed to Hout Bay to catch a cruise to the seal island.  It was a tremendous sight to see thousands of seals perched on the rocks and also splashing around in the water.  The antics of young babies are always so cute.

South Africa has more than a dozen designated wine routes. Stellenbosch route is one of the best known ones.  On this route are many wineries and estates.  We went to Boschendal manor house of 1812.  It has beautiful grounds and great wines that we tasted.  Stellenbosch has the second oldest university in SA.  The language of instruction is both Afrikaans and English.

Next we went to Fairview vineyards in Paarl and tasted more wines.  I bought some Gouda cheese with cumin here.  

We had lunch at a rustic restaurant with African theme, drums, music and festivities.  I got my face painted like a native African.

Third we went to spectacular Spier wine estates.  I had a feeling that some people were doing more than just tasting!  At each winery, we tasted 5 different wines.

In the evening, we went to Camps bay area for dinner.  The sunset was beautiful in the Atlantic ocean, dipping toes in 45 degrees water is all I could do.

TUESDAY December 3  Cape Town tour

We departed the city for the Lower Cableway Station at the bottom of the Table mountain.  Here we boarded the cable car for a 5 minute ride to the top.  The car itself rotates as it ascends, thereby providing spectacular views of the city.  Once on top, we were able to walk around the summit for more views of the city and the peninsula.  We could see the Twelve Apostles and the Lion’s head.

We returned to the city via the old cape Malay quarter.  The city center of Cape Town lies in the City Bowl, surrounded by Atlantic ocean and Table mountain.  The buildings are a combination of Cape Dutch, Victorian, Georgian and 20-th century architecture.  We walked through the Company Gardens, the fresh produce gardens for the ships and the locals from the mid 17th century and today.  Now it is home to SA museum, Cultural History museum, Houses of Parliament, National Gallery and St. Georges Cathedral.  We strolled through the city to Greenmarket square to purchase some African mementos such as a painted ostrich egg.  I ate some fish and chips for lunch.  It set me back $5.

We drove to the Castle, the oldest building in SA and took in the grand parade where Nelson Mandela addressed the nation on his release in 1990.

In the evening, I spent time at the V & A (Victoria and Alfred) waterfront.  This immensely built up area has a Ferris wheel, shops, museums, restaurants, boat rides and family entertainment for everybody.  I saw the Puff Adder and Mamba among other snakes in the Reptile center.  One could buy African artifacts here.

WEDNESDAY December 4  -Kirstenbosch and Hiking Table Mountain.

I asked the hotel to hire me a guide to hike up the Table Mountain today.  Lauren, a young fit hiker (she is married, btw) showed up at the hotel at 730 am.  We went to internationally acclaimed Kirstenbosch (bosch=bush).  This is the flagship botanical garden, established in 1923, of the South Africa National Biodiversity Institute, which conserves and promotes the indigenous flora of South Africa.

We walked thru different parts including Fynbos (fine bush) garden, fragrance garden, Protea garden etc.  King protea is the national flower of SA.  I saw many plants of king and pincushion protea on this trip.  We saw remains of the wild almond hedge, that was planted in 1660 to demarcate the colony from indigenous Khoi. 

Spending about an hour in the garden, we headed on to the Skeleton Gorge Hiking trail.  I did not find any skeletons there nor did I leave any behind!  The trail requires good fitness level without being an extreme adventure.  It leads quite steeply up the back of Table mountain.  It is shaded by forest of trees but the muscles and lungs get quite a workout.  Magnificent Yellow- and Ironwoods surrounded us.  Fynbos and Protea were everywhere.  We had to negotiate loose river stones and several ladders.  

We came across a dam, the water too cold for swimming.  We hiked up to McClear’s point, where a cairn marks the top of Table mountain at 1085 meters (3500 feet).  So I was not a mile high (like in Denver, CO) but a kilometer high.

We sat down for lunch.  After this, Lauren lent me one hiking pole so I could follow her down the Platteklip gorge.  The going was slow, steep and arduous.  It would have been a killer on a sunny day but this day was overcast and cool for most part.

We saw wonderful wildflowers on the descent.  The hike up and down took a total of six hours.  It was a great icing on the cake of my 10 day trip.

We all had a wonderful dinner at Beluga restaurant.  I had Norwegian Salmon, which was out of this world.  Around 10 PM, we were taken to the international airport.  On December 5, I flew from Cape Town to Amsterdam, then to Atlanta and then to Charlotte.  Only 32 hours of travel time.

When I came back, I heard the news of Mandela passing away that very day.  I pay my homage to the great man.  

I dedicate my South African trip to our guide Chris and my hiking guide Lauren.  And to many others who helped making this a memorable trip.  I hope that I return some day to the wonderful African animals and Cape Town!  So long, Lauren!

P.S.  Kindly see my own struggles for justice at www.novantracism.com and sign my petition for fairness and justice.

Ron Virmani : Visit online Resource to know more about other travel destination by Dr Ron Virmani.


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