December 15, 2008

South Africa Travelogue Part 1

I used to dream about visiting South Africa; seeing Cape Town, exploring the other side of the world, going on a safari. So when my dream came true and I recently traveled there with my lovely friend Claire, I was pinching myself. The trip completely exceeded my expectations; a spectacularly beautiful country, lovely and friendly people, amazing game drives.

(JFK Airport)

We flew from Chicago to New York (2-1/2 hours), had a couple hours layover, then flew to Dakar (8.5 hours). During our 1-1/2 hour layover in Dakar (Senegal, in case you don't know where that is - I didn't) we couldn't get off the plane (ugh!) but security came on board to account for all baggage and check under the seats, even under the cushions. Then we flew on to Cape Town which was another 8 hour flight. I slept for about 7-1/2 minutes during all that time. Not a good sleeper, especially on planes.
Yes, it takes forever to get there and costs a lot but it's so worth it. And once we got there we found that the exchange rate was good and our dollar was so strong that food, drink and accommodations were extremely economical. A three course dinner for two at a lovely gourmet restaurant in Hermanus, including wine, cost about $36. Not per person. Total. A gorgeous guest house (pictured below) in Cape Town called The Trevoyan was about $120 a night. South Africa is a great travel bargain. Go visit!

We arrived in Cape Town on Friday about 4:30 p.m. Claire got her bag but mine was nowhere to be found. After we filed the missing bag report we went to the Avis counter to get our rental car and that was our first encounter with South Africans. It's amazing how difficult it can be to understand someone who speaks your language but their accent is so different from ours and they pronounce words in a way that you stand there with confusion painted all over your face. It's difficult for them as well, but they're so nice and so eager to help. They really go way out of their way to assist you, and not in an obsequious way, just with great sincerity. And we found that all over the country. When you say thank you, they say, "Pleasure," in their wonderful accent, and they mean it. So, we got our car, a GPS (a GREAT little device) and a cell phone and headed out for Hermanus (about 1-1/2 hours away). Claire drove that first leg, on the left side of the road, behind the steering wheel which is on the right. A little strange. She did a great job by and large, and got better day by day, but that first day she had a little trouble judging distance and side-swiped a few bushes and curbs, making me very nervous. Thankfully she didn't hit any pedestrians or other cars but I found that I'm not a good passenger. Claire and I worked through that.
Anyway, we stopped in Gordon's Bay (right) to stretch our legs and have a glass of wine at a little cafe along the coast and then drove on to Hermanus in the dark, which wasn't the best idea but we made it safely.
Hermanus is a lovely little town, not too tourist-y, with shops and restaurants and a beautiful coastline. We loved it. Here's the ironic thing: the whole reason we went to South Africa in the first place was because Mikki Williams, the professional speaker I work for, gave me a travel voucher for a week's stay at a resort anywhere in the world (nice perk, huh???). So I found the Hermanus Beach Club, close to Cape Town, and it was a gold star property, the highest quality level, so I booked it. Well, it was not exactly what I (or anyone I know) would call a gold star property. It was very basic, old and tacky - didn't have air conditioning or even ceiling fans, no amenities at all, thin bath towels, tacky bedspreads...need I go on? Mikki would have no idea what that property was like and didn't take it personally when I told her but all that aside, if she'd not given me that wonderful gift I'd never have gone to South Africa. So we sucked it up for five days and just enjoyed being in Hermanus, then we moved to the lovely Trevoyan in Cape Town for days six and seven. And even though we pretty much hated the Hermanus Beach Club, if we hadn't found it in the first place we'd never have had this wonderful trip.
On our first full day in Hermanus we found a funky little restaurant called The Zebra Crossing where we had a lovely breakfast of yogurt and muesli and fruit and cappucino for about $3.50.
Here’s the parking situation in Hermanus: there are parking patrol people whose job it is to catch you as you are parking your car and collect about $4 an hour. So if you pay for an hour and you stay longer you just pay them the balance when you come back. No one tows you. No one gives you a ticket. Very civilized.
We tried to book a whale watching boat ride that day but it was too windy for the boats to go out so instead we drove to DeKelder near Gansbaai and saw whales from the shore - 6 or 8 of them just frolicking in the surf. It was amazing. Fabulous!
Later Saturday night we went out for a cocktail and found a tapas bar called Pan y Vina which was very cute and where we met the owner, Rick, and had a fun conversation with him and several other patrons. Interesting thing is they don't know how to pour a shot of liquor in South Africa. I ordered vodka on the rocks and he wasn't quite sure what to do with that order. When I saw his confusion and pressed him, he told me ladies don't order that kind of drink in South Africa. Hah! Who ever said I was a lady? So he poured a very precise measure of vodka (he only had one option - Smirnoff's) which was about 1/4" of vodka on ice so I told him to make it a double. His double was about half of what you'd get as a single in the States, and I didn't even bother to ask for an olive, didn't want to totally flummox him, but the good thing was it only cost about $2.40.
Here are some interesting things that we were all laughing about: I asked for a napkin and it took Rick a few seconds to realize what I was asking for. "Napkin" is a diaper in South Africa. Serviette is a napkin to them. Street lights are called robots there, and the glove compartment of your car is called a cubby hole. That's one of the things I love about traveling - learning these strange and wonderful things.
One of the things I don't love about traveling is lost baggage but my lost bag was finally delivered to me Saturday night about 10:30 by way of Accra in Guana (?). Hooray! I was getting really sick of that outfit I was wearing. And thank god I now had my mousse and hair spray and could finally do my hair. It's the little things, you know?
Stay tuned for Part 2.

No comments: