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Last Two Days in South Africa

On our last day but one we decided to go to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.  Our legs were still screaming from the walk down the mountain a couple of days earlier so we practised being very old folk and keeping mostly on the gentle paths and avoiding steps as much as possible.  It was a peaceful interlude allowing ourselves some time to think about the days ahead.  We barely covered a fraction of the gardens as they were vast.  Several visits would be required to get a sense of the place.

We returned to our lodgings for 2-3 hours to rest and to pack.  In the evening we went to the V&A docks area.  Our first stop was the marina just in case there was someone there who we knew.  There weren’t but it was nice to be down by the water.  It was a bittersweet experience though as it is already beginning to look like another life, one which we sometimes find it hard to believe we’ve experienced for ourselves.  We ate out in the docks area.

Upon awaking on our final day we discovered an email from South African friends of ours (Ruth and Rob on Albatross III) who are now domiciled in New Zealand.  We first met them, briefly, when we were in the Rosarios in Colombia and then many times across the Pacific (including New Zealand).  They have a daughter, Savannah, in Cape Town who they asked us to go and see.  The biggest sacrifice cruisers make is separation from their families so we knew how much this request meant.  So we dumped some admin on my sister (sorry Sue) to make time to go and give their daughter a surprise visit and proxy hugs from her Mum.  We then visited the District 6 museum in town followed by a walk in The Company Gardens.

Soon, our time was up.  It was back to the lodgings, pick up our luggage and off to the airport, drop off the hire car, and take the long flights home to the UK.

Off to Cape Town

After an absolutely divine breakfast in Swellendam (I hope I’m putting on weight) we were off to Cape Town. The weekend weather forecast has Friday as the best weather so we were keen to get to Cape Town in good time and visit the top of Table Mountain that day.

On arrival at our accommodation, Parker Cottage, our host was very helpful ordering us a taxi, cable car tickets and getting our luggage into our room so we could leave almost immediately.

The weather held with blue skies and cool wind. Having had a few bad days down here the top was packed with tourists (of which I have to reluctantly realize we are among). But we walked the loop at the top before leaping off on our next adventure.

And leaping off aptly describes what we did as we had booked to abseil off the top of the mountain. They claim to be the highest commercial abseil in the world and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is true. The descent was 112m all in all starting from over 1000m above sea level. Prepping and practise took some time. We were in no hurry. Leaning back over the edge was not a comfortable experience. However, waving to the camera for the commercial pics loosened us up and soon we were on our descent.

The first third was down a rocky face where, if we wanted to, we could kick away from the rocks as James Bond might. One of us declined to do this. After this first third we found ourselves in thin air having to descend the last 70m or so straight down to the helper below. We were both pleased to put our feet down on terra firma but pleased we’d done this. There’s not a lot of thrills left but this one was new. My first regret was allowing my tee-shirt to ride up and ending up with a couple of burns on my side (see pics).

110m from the top of Table Mountain is nowhere convenient at all so we had to scramble along the vague rocky path to meet a series of paths which converged on the top. We had already ascended 60m (in total) by the time we had the choice to complete the final 50m or descend by path. We decided on the latter and that sort of leads us to our second regret. The path we took down was basically uneven, steep, rocky steps. Half way down our legs were killing us. By the bottom I’d lost my tee-shirt and had had enough. We thumbed a lift to where we could catch a taxi back to the ‘cottage’.

There we soaked the sweat off in the most energetic shower we’ve probably ever seen. Nice. For the evening meal we went to a nearby restaurant where we had a mixed experience. The steaks were delicious but the service poor, including Helen getting two dirty glasses. Not good.

On Saturday we woke to screaming thighs. It was horrible. So we chose to do a tour of the peninsular by car. We visited a market in Haut Bay, the penguins over by Boulder Beach and even exercised our weary limbs at Cape Point.

We drove the west coastal road close to sunset getting some terrific views and ended up eating fresh seafood at The Codfather restaurant. As we’re nearing the end of our multi-year sojourn, I splashed out on crayfish. I think back to the two we were given in Kelefesia in exchange for razors and crap rum (Frank, remember?). The were worth several $100 in a western restaurant. Different economies.

Another day has passed but I’m behind on my updates so I’ll leave you for now with the pics up until this point.

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Tomorrow we fly back to the UK. It feels like the end of something but I must get focussed on it being the beginning of something new and exciting.

Swellendam

After a hearty breakfast we were soon off on the near three hour trip to Swellendam through fantastic scenery and mountain passes. This part of South Africa is turning out to be very picturesque and the towns immaculate. Even small towns like Barrydale which we reluctantly drove by made us feel we could have stopped there for at least a day.

Swellendam, the third town populated by Europeans in South Africa, is more of the same. We pulled into our lodging, the Old Thatch Lodge, and soon met the owner. We learned our room had been booked by the folks who’d been there the night before and that we’d be bumped to the honeymoon suite. She also suggested a few things to do in town and soon we were off.

We first visited the Sulina Faerie Sanctuary. This sort of thing is not our normal port of call but we’re trying out different things. Young girls (and some boys) would would be enchanted here. The adult perspective, we understand, is that the lady of the house, a couple of decades ago, started seeing / hearing from the faeries around her. She started making porcelain figures of them and planting them around the garden. This obsession turned into an attraction and now a museum and shop, the profits of which all go to charity. So we understand.

Next stop was a light lunch at Pennantwing where we both had the most delicious apple strudles.

Then we were off to the Drostdy Museum which portrayed a little of the history of the town. This is all very much original Dutch territory so a lot of the history is told from their perspective which makes it all the more interesting.

With our minds full of wonder we picked up some food for the evening and settled in for the rest of the afternoon / evening. The common area for the lodge has a real fire which the owner sets and we light if we want. Helen and I feasted on Brie and Salmon rolls accompanied by some Calitzdorp red plonk in front of a nice fire watching an old TV show on the laptop. A different type of heaven to what we’ve been used to over the last few years but a wonderful way to spend the evening nonetheless.

Calitzdorp and Port Wine Tasting

Calitzdorp turned out to be a beautiful sleepy escape tucked in the middle of nowhere. The trip was not long and we arrived at our accommodation, the aptly named Port Wine Guest House, late morning.

When we arrived we could find no one home so we strolled around the corner to the Boplass Winery for our first sampling. Despite being a free sampling the wines, ports and brandies were both delicious and copious. Knowing we have limited allowances to the UK we bought just one bottle of vintage port vowing that if we ever return, we’ll do so at the beginning of our trip, not near the end, so we can buy more of the very attractively priced wines.

When we returned (slightly staggered perhaps) to our accommodation we found the owner home and our room available so we were able to drop some of our gear off. The owner reassured us there was no crime in Calitzdorp and that we would be ok leaving most our stuff in the car. (It’s worth noting the houses still had bars on the windows and fearsome fences).

After a rest we headed out into town and followed a couple of historic walks around town we got from a printed guide. This took us back to our lodging so we continued on to our second tasting. Along the way we checked out the abandoned railway station only to find a surreal object one would normally find in Google Earth. See pics below for what I mean.

Our second tasting, at the De Krans winery, was shorter but perhaps more delicious than the first. We were consequently influenced to buy an 11 years old vintage port and a bottle of relatively inexpensive red plonk. We were out and about for over two hours walking continuously (except when sampling) so we had some good exercise.

After another return to our room we headed back into town to first hear the organist at the Dutch Reformed Church perform his 6pm daily recital. The organist was more interesting than his music as between each pair of songs he would come over and give us a flowing description of what he was about to play. To give a brief idea of this here is a short clip.

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After the recital came dinner which we had just by the church.

Here are some more pics. As you can see, the weather has finally turned nice.

Oudtshoorn

We’ve spent the last two nights in Oudtshoorn in a delightful place called the Surval Boutique Olive Estate.

We drove up from Plettenberg Bay, stopped for lunch in town, still arriving early for check in. The staff were good enough to take our weighty luggage and store it so we could play the tourist without fear of theft. We decided to head for the hills, specifically the Cango Caves. These are another set of limestone caves carved out over millions of years and now turned into a visitor attraction.

With a choice of a Standard Tour or an Adventure Tour we couldn’t resist the latter. After enough time to see a short movie of the area and look at the small museum we were collected by our charming (read ‘extremely camp’) guide. He was hilarious. He took our party deep into the cave system. The two tours start the same but the Adventure Tour gets an extra bit. That extra bit involves four ‘tunnels’ to negotiate, six if you count coming back through the first two.

The first (and last) were a very low squeeze which we had to negotiate in the cossack dance position. Being Africa we were provide no helmets as we would have done just about anywhere else. I guess the idea is is that if you bump your head it’s going to hurt so don’t. This section really tested our knees and I now believe I need new ones. For some odd reason this section was called the Tunnel of Love. On the website they still refer to this section as Lumbago Alley which is far more appropriate. Just not a tourist puller.

The next tunnel was called The Coffin as it was so low we had to give up all pretense of being on our feet and wiggle through on on our bellies at times.

And then it got worse as we had to wriggle UP the Devil’s Chimney. This required both arm and leg strength and a complete lack of claustrophobia. This tested my recovering fitness to the limit. At one point I thought I couldn’t make it but I didn’t give up. By now many of our party had given up and gone back, perhaps put off by turnarounds from the previous party. This gave the guides some challenges as they had to deal with folks heading off in different directions. I presume they are used this this chaos.

After the Devil’s Chimney we had to negotiate the Post Box. This was a belly crawl followed by a roll onto our backs and a slide through the lowest opening yet. With the guide now looking after our party’s turnarounds Helen and I had to negotiate this section without his instructions which made it a little more of a challenge.

We then had to get back through The Coffin and Lumbago Alley (Tunnel of Love remember). Then the long walk back through many, many steps and caves. We were exhausted by the end.

After returning to our accommodation we found ourselves pretty beat so after a rest we ate at the hotel restaurant, Su Casa.

Yesterday morning we visited the Safari Ostrich Show Farm. Here we were given a tour including a history of the farm and seeing a number of different breeds of ostriches. We learned that they really are bird brained, where each eyeball weighs 60g but their brain only weighs 40g. So they can see but they can’t remember what they see so they go around doing the same daft stuff all the time. Daft as they were, they still looked cute.

Towards the end of the tour we participated in a couple of ‘strength’ demonstrations. To demonstrate the strength of their eggshells, we were allowed to stand on some eggs. To demonstrate the strength of the birds, we were allowed to sit on one. All in the pics below.

We were lucky with the weather as it had rained all night and early morning. We took a gamble on the weather improving on the way to the ostrich farm and it did. The skies turned blue for us and the sun came out.

We headed back into town where a festival is running. It’s an Afrikaan Arts Festival which runs for about a week once per year. We had no idea this was on so we had a little walk around the town center and visited the CP Nel Museum in the center of town before returning to relax for the afternoon. We headed back into town in the early evening for a meal before returning to our room.

All in all it’s been a fun couple of days here in Oudtshoorn. Our aching bodies testify this.

Next stop Calitzdorp and port wine tasting.