Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Next Part of the Adventure:  Cape Town - May 19-23, 2015

The safari portion of my South African adventure being over (go to to read about that part of my trip), all of the participants were driven to Eastgate Airport for flights to various destinations.  At 12:45 p.m., six of us were going on one of only three flights a week to Cape Town International Airport, a trip of under three hours.  

Eastgate, opened in the late 1990s, is the civil airport terminal at Hoedspruit, an airbase of the South African Air Force.  Interestingly, when Hoedspruit opened in 1978 right next to Kruger National Park, the base was teeming with wildlife.  Three cheetahs were introduced onto the airfield, and very quickly, animal incursions onto the runway decreased by 90%.  

It was the smoothest small plane ride I've ever been on.  Because we flew low and had window seats, the scenery was amazing.  Phyllis and I had not made any provisions to get from the airport in Cape Town to our hotel, thinking we'd just get a cab, but Robert and Wing had made a reservation for someone to pick them up, and were staying in the same hotel we were, so we got a ride with them, no problem.  

We checked into the Tudor Hotel, in Greenmarket Square, for five nights.  The Tudor is the oldest hotel in the city and in some ways really looked it.  For example, there is the tiniest elevator I've ever been in with two metal folding gates, one in the direction you get in on the ground floor and another at a 45 degree angle where you get out on the floor where your room is located.  The hotel is directly across the street from a huge outdoor African craft market and a half block from the indoor Pan-African Market. Our rooms overlooked the street where, after the craft market closed at 5 p.m., the vendors rolled their laden carts slowly and carefully up the steep hill to a storage area somewhere, and then down again, much more quickly, of course, but equally challenging, early each morning.

The Tudor was exceptionally well located for tourists.  We found the hop-on, hop-off double-decker red bus office just a few blocks away.  Yes, it's the same hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus company we used in London, but this one was far better organized.  Because it was late afternoon by the time we got to the bus office, we decided to purchase their two-day ticket package the next day.  On that same street, on the way back to the Tudor, we discovered a tapas restaurant called Fork that became our home away from home, where we ate dinner every night but one.  The small plates were varied, delicious, and reasonably priced, and the local wines exceptional.  The servers became our friends!

The next morning after a very satisfactory full English breakfast, which was included, along with a total of 15% in taxes, in our reasonable room rate of $62.50USD each per day, we returned to the bus office to begin our day of touring.  We'd been warned that the weather in Cape Town can change completely in a matter of minutes, and that if we were lucky enough to get a good day to be sure to take the cable car up to the top of iconic Table Mountain, an imposing monolith of granite and sandstone over 3500 feet high.  The weather was good, though chilly since it was almost winter there, so we got off the bus at the Table Mountain stop, but while the top of the mountain was clear, there was dense fog over the ocean below, so we thought we'd wait for another day.  We called that one wrong, as the weather was not that good again during all of our days in Cape Town.  Later, when we met Denise and Ruthie, the other two safari participants who had flown with us to Cape Town, they said that they had gone up. We heard tales of people who were in the city for two weeks who never got up.  When the top of the mountain is shrouded in fog (the proverbial "tablecloth"), or when it is windy, the cable car doesn't even run.

So it was back onto the bus to go to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront to try to get a ticket on the catamaran out to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years that he was a political prisoner.  (He spent six years at Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison in a Cape Town suburb, and three at Victor Verster Prison, a low-security facility in the Western Cape.)  What we didn't know until we got there was that there were only two trips a day, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and all tickets were sold out for both trips.  No one at the ticket booth told us that we could have bought tickets then for one of the next day's trips, and we didn't think to ask if that were possible, and that came back to bite us the following day.

With two strikes against us at that point, we were somewhat discouraged, so decided to use our free canal cruise tickets, which left from the waterfront.  Since the boat tour primarily showed off exceedingly high-end apartment buildings with owners like Oprah Winfrey, we were disappointed in it.  We could see that there is a huge amount of money in Cape Town, but another day we were going on a township tour to see the other side of the coin.

Back at the waterfront, we discovered a combination of historical site and social gathering place with shopping malls, arts and crafts markets, live music and entertainment, including the Two Oceans Aquarium, Africa's largest, chi-chi shops and restaurants, all within a bustling, working harbor, the oldest in South Africa, with fishing boats, large container ships, and a thriving boat repair business.

This is the historical clock tower of 1882, originally the port captain's office.

And all of that with a stunning view of Table Mountain.

After lunch, Phyllis got to go up in a ferris wheel on the waterfront, which she had been denied in London, but was very disappointed to learn, when the ride was over, that the many photos she shot from the top didn't turn out because of a malfunction of her camera.

The next day, we headed right for the waterfront again and to the ticket office for the ride out to Robben Island.  It was then that we were told that all of the tickets for that day's rides were already sold.  Several other people who followed us to the ticket window were told the same thing, and we were mightily down-hearted.  And then, in one of those travel miracles, a person holding a fistful of tickets came to turn them back as his party would not be able to make the trip that day, and all of us standing there got to buy tickets.  

In order to kill time before the line formed for the catamaran ride out to the island, we "did" the Robben Island Museum in the same building, and we learned a great deal, particularly about the reaction of the Dutch to apartheid, as it was their countrymen, generations later, who put the heinous practice into law.  Only four months after his release from prison, Mandela made a trip to the Netherlands to thank his supporters there.  This was not something either Phyllis or I knew about.

Finally we were aboard the catamaran headed for Robben Island, which lay about seven miles off the waterfront and took about 45 minutes.

Cape Town and Table Mountain gradually faded from view, but not before we had some great views of the stadium, which was built for the 2010 World Cup.  It seats 60,000 and is now used mostly for rugby matches, but is not being used to its potential anymore.

And then Robben Island began to come into view.  I had thought that is was named for someone, but actually, the name is Dutch for Seal Island.

Don't let this colorful, welcoming mural fool you.  It is the last color seen on the island until we returned to the dock to depart.  I have never witnessed so much grayness as I did on Robben Island. Even the sky was gray.

We were ushered onto school buses which took us on a short tour of the Island.  People actually live there, undoubtedly workers at the now-tourist site.

When we got off the bus, a former political prisoner, Jama, who had served a five-year term on the Island, was present to show us around the facilities and spoke of his experiences and those of Mandela.  I found it extremely ironic that Jama was wearing an Alcatraz baseball cap, and I asked him about it when I thanked him at the end of the tour. He said that a tourist had given it to him.

He then took us into the cellblocks.  This one was dormitory-like. 

He told us details of the prisoners' diets and how the different races got different types and amounts of food.  He is showing an enlargement of an ID card, a "pass card," which all Blacks had to carry at all times. 

He showed examples of the censorship of letters coming into and going out of the prison.

This is a particularly interesting and historic photo, because most of the time, the political prisoners, as well as criminals, were sentenced to hard, mind-numbing labor, like pounding boulders into pebbles all day.  Once, when an organization like the Red Cross came to visit, the criminals continued with their usual labor, while the political prisoners, in the back row, were given sewing machines to work on to prove that they were not being treated harshly.

Jama showed us Mandela's garden, which he was finally given permission to keep, where he buried the manuscript of his  autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom," which was hand-written on empty, heavy brown paper bags that cement came in.  It was smuggled out by a prisoner who was being freed after serving his term.

Then we went to the building where Mandela's cell was.  The man having his photo taken has his head directly underneath what would have been Mandela's cell window.

And then we went to see the cell.  There was absolute silence as one by one we filed by it, all of us, I'm sure, trying to imagine what it would take to live in that tiny space for 18 years.

We left the cellblock and walked past other buildings on our way back down to the dock for the return trip.  It was grim.

The ride back was much more choppy, and the boat, the last one of the day, much more crowded than on the trip out.  The boat had just come in from the mainland and lots of children got off in their school uniforms.  I found one child sleeping on a seat and asked someone to wake him and make sure he got onto the Island, where he lived.

Back at the waterfront, we walked through a gift shop which featured many items with the designation "466/64," which was Mandela's number on Robben Island.  He was the 466th prisoner to be taken there in 1964.

In preparation for this trip, Phyllis had completed and I had read half of Mandela's autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom."  I got bogged down in it and had stopped reading it for several months, but had brought it along with me on my iPad.  After visiting Robben Island and experiencing the feelings I had, I once again picked it up, and the chapter where I had stopped was of the Ravonia Trial, which had led to his sentence of imprisonment for life for conspiracy to overthrow the state. So where I started reading again was him going to Robben Island, and it was so much more meaningful for having visited there.  From then on, I couldn't put it down, and finished it before leaving the country.

Since the only place at the Tudor Hotel with an Internet signal was the reception/dining room area, I spent a lot of my free time there, and in addition to being able to check e-mail, got to overhear what other tourists were saying, and that's where I picked up on a hot tip to go to a restaurant called Gold, featuring "opulent African cuisine" and entertainment from all over the continent.  We made reservations and took a cab there.

The restaurant was on many levels with videos in the background of the animals we had just seen on safari.

We were given huge menus which spelled out the small portions of seven appetizers, four "mains," and three desserts we would be served on our "taste safari"!  

At four different points during the meal, we were entertained by a large cast of brightly-costumed performers, who danced, drummed, and sang in a high-energy, audience-involving cabaret.  They were accompanied by huge papier-maché puppets, somewhat similar to the mojigangas Phyllis and I knew and loved in San Miguel.

Two tourists from the table next to ours really got down with the dancing, were able to keep up with the performers, and were excellent.

This comely creature, with her way-out glasses, came to each table, sprinkling glitter.

One of the desserts was served in this amazing little reproduction of a township kiosk, made from the metal in soda and beer cans.  Everyone wins with this:  less trash from discarded cans, employment for people in the townships making these, and a clever device for serving one of the courses.

At the end of the final performance, one of the dancers walked from table to table, bowing her huge basket down to receive tips.  As we left, a taxi was waiting for us at the door to whisk us back to the Tudor.  It was a most enjoyable, memorable, and considering the quality of the food and entertainment, inexpensive evening.  And what a colorful, enriching counterpoint to the grayness and sadness we had experienced earlier that day.

The next day was our peninsula tour down to the Cape of Good Hope, for which arrangements had been made for us by the concierge at our hotel.  Phyllis and I were the first of about eight people to be picked up by our Argentinian driver; our companions on this trip -- all young people -- came from London, Spain, Uruguay, and Brazil.  Phyllis became very friendly with the newly-weds from Uruguay, and I with the Indian couple from London.  

Since we were a little too early to pick up the others, our tour guide gave us a quick spin through Bo-Kaap, a Muslim area populated by the descendants of former slaves.  The story we were given is that these slaves were forced to wear very drab clothing, and when they were finally freed, went wild with color, and it stuck.

 I think that this is the renowned Groote Schuur Hospital where Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first-ever heart transplant in 1967.  I remembered that as if it were yesterday.

We drove down the west coast of the peninsula, where we saw the huge surfer beach where the great white shark attacks have taken place.  A sophisticated shark spotting and warning system is now in place.  The road we took is the route of the second largest (after the Tour de France) bike race in the world, which attracts between 40,000 and 50,000 riders.

We stopped to visit Hout Bay

and saw the remnants of small segregated swimming areas for Blacks, created with boulders, since they were not allowed on the white beaches during apartheid.

 The word breath-taking doesn't begin to capture the beauty here, so I'll let some photos do the job.

We then cut across the peninsula to reach the east coast in a very short time, going to False Bay, which receives currents from the Indian Ocean so that the temperature of the water there is 8-10 degrees higher than the water on the west coast.

It turned out to be a very hot day and it was the first time on the trip that I had dressed inappropriately.

We saw a poor, befuddled motorist who was in the wrong lane, obviously a tourist in a rental car who was not used to driving on the left side of the road.  This lack of experience with driving -- and walking, as Phyllis and I found out -- on the opposite side of the street or sidewalk or steps from what we are used to, caught us unawares several times, and I never did get it ingrained during my time in South Africa or London.  I would never attempt to drive in those places!

On our way down the coast to Cape Point, we stopped at Boulders Beach, part of Table Mountain National Park, to visit the African penguin colony there.

Although the colony is in a residential area, it is one of the few sites where this endangered bird can be observed at close range, wandering freely in a protected natural environment.

These penguins are not indigenous to the area.  From just two breeding pairs introduced in 1982, the penguin colony has grown to about 2200 in recent years.

The distinctive pink gland above the eyes helps the penguins to cope with changing temperatures.  When the temperature gets hotter, the penguin's body sends more blood to these glands to be cooled by the surrounding air.  This then causes the gland to turn a darker shade of pink.

Social breeders, the monogamous penguins nest in colonies with the peak season being March to May, so we got to see it in full swing.  Two eggs are laid in holes in the sand, and the parents take turns incubating them for about 40 days.

The fuzzy chicks seem almost as big as the parents.  Both parents feed and protect the young chicks for about a month, at which time the chicks join a creche (a place where youngsters are cared for by adults who are not their own parents, a word we encountered frequently on this trip), and the parents go into the sea to forage for food.

I found them totally captivating and took way too many photos of them.

As we returned to the parking lot, along with a little souvenir market, we encountered a group of a cappella singers, hoping for tips, a very common sight.  They were always quite accomplished and fun to listen to.

From there we drove down to Cape Point, where we stopped for lunch at the Two Oceans Restaurant, which offered a seafood cuisine and one of the most stunning ocean views in all of South Africa.  The group split approximately in half, with some eating in the restaurant and others grabbing individual pizzas and other snacks to eat outside, although that turned out to be a real trick as some very aggressive birds would swoop down and try to snatch the food right out of your hands, not a pleasant experience.

After lunch, we boarded the nearby Flying Dutchman funicular to ride up an incline to the viewing point just below the upper lighthouse, a 3-minute ride.

Unfortunately, this lighthouse, which was built in the late 1850s, was so frequently covered in fog and its warning light not able to be seen, resulting in ships crashing into the rocks below, that it was decommissioned and another one built half-way up the cliff, which fared better in the unpredictable weather.  

You can just see the lower lighthouse peeking out on the right side.

Again, and on an exquisite day, we were surrounded by stunning scenery.

We drove the short distance to the Cape of Good Hope, the most southwestern point on the continent and popularly thought of as the junction of two of the earth's most contrasting water masses,  although the Indian Ocean actually joins the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Agulhas National Park, the southern-most point on the continent, about seven miles to the east.

Bartholomeu Dias, the Portuguese sailor, christened it the Cape of Storms;  Vasco de Gama found a route to India by rounding this Cape.

We lined up to take turns having our photo snapped at this most famous of spots and then ogled more astonishing vistas.

Returning to Cape Town, we stopped to check out an ostrich farm, and learned that South Africa has the most ostriches of anywhere in the world with 2500 farms raising them.  Originally the feathers were sold to royalty, but now the best customers are those seeking them for Carnaval costumes.  In addition, the meat is in demand, and the skin is very valuable.

We ended our very full day with a visit to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

A bonsai exhibit was at the entrance.

Just inside the visitors' center entrance to the Garden was the spot where Nelson Mandela planted a pepper-bark tree on August 21, 1996.

Our destination, in a race against the coming darkness, was the Enchanted Forest tree canopy walkway...

...from which we could overlook Cape Town as night fell.

Way before coming to South Africa, Phyllis and I had determined that we wanted to visit a township, and the hop-on, hop-off bus company provided that opportunity with their LaGuGu (short for Langa and Gugulethu Townships) mini-bus tour with a local English-speaking guide.

Another hoped-for event was to be spoken to in a click language, and the minute our sassy, smart, spirited young tour guide opened her mouth, we realized we were going to fulfill two dreams at once.  She spoke to us in Xhosa!

The word "township" refers to the often underdeveloped living areas usually built on the periphery of towns and cities, that, from the late 19th century until the end of apartheid, were reserved for non-whites.  These citizens were evicted from properties that were in areas designated as "white only" and forced to move into segregated townships, separate ones for each of the three designated non-white race groups (black Africans, coloureds, and Indians).  They often lack basic services such as sewage, electricity, roads, and clean water, and are far from the residents' work places. 

In Langa, the "mother" township, so named because it was the first township established in South Africa, we saw people living in shipping crates.  Ships come to South Africa with cargo in these crates, but must return empty, so the crates are put up for sale.  They often lack windows, unless they are improvised.

Some other very sub-standard housing.  Another frequently-used building material is roof sheeting.

A little market we went into.

We simply could not resist the children.

We saw a wide variety of housing stock, including this well-to-do place, and were told that the sense of community is so great in the townships that if and when people are able to move into the middle-class, they sometimes build a finer house within the township in order to maintain their connection with the community.

We could see that some improvements were being made by the government, including new homes with solar hot water heaters,

and satellite disks.

But then there was this, which was almost too much to bear.

This is the bathroom in one house we went into.

The second township, Gugulethu, "Place of Pride," located 15 km outside of Cape Town, was established in the '60s due to the over-crowding in Langa, the only black residential area for Cape Town at the time.

Our tour guide took us to the Gugu Seven Monument, built to commemorate seven young black activists, members of the armed wing of the ANC, who were ambushed and killed by South African security forces during apartheid.

Also the Amy Biehl Monument.  Check out the story on this online; it's heart-rending and heart-warming at the same time.

We were told that the population of Cape Town is 4 million, of which 1 million live in townships.  Also that people who live outside the area, but who work in Cape Town, will rent a place in a township, perhaps with others, in which to stay during the workweek, returning to their homes on the weekend.

Then it was on to the famous Mzoli's Meat Market, which was quite an experience even though we didn't eat there.  We went in one door which led us to a place where there was a large selection of meats from which to choose.  You could buy sides and drinks, also.  After you paid, you went to another part of the restaurant while you waited until what you had chosen was cooked.  We went right into the kitchen and met some of the friendly, busy cooks in a very hot place.

Accompanied by loud music, there was an incredibly large number of people eating the food and drink they'd ordered and enjoying themselves.

Outside were all manner of glasses for sale, recycled from wine bottles.

Our time in Cape Town was over.  I enjoyed it immensely.  It seemed vibrant and youthful, and the races seemed to be mixing well.  They didn't seem to be trying to hide their past.

Everything from this point on was arranged for us by a fantastic travel agent, Lucia Theron, located in Pretoria. We got to her via a circuitous route that started with Charles in Polokwane, the leader of the safari we took.  Phyllis and I were back and forth with Lucia through e-mail for probably six months as she endeavored to make happen what we wished.  She told us later, when she actually invited us to her house for dinner when we were in Pretoria because she wanted to meet these two women who wanted to go where seemingly none of her other clients ever did, that we had challenged her with our requests and she was thrilled.  And certainly up to the challenge.

We hired the driver who had brought us to the Tudor Hotel to return us to the Cape Town airport early in the morning of May 24 for our flight of two hours to King Shaka International Airport in Durban.


A Zulu village, the Drakensberg Mountains, and Durban - May 24-26, 2015

Upon arrival, we were met by Sheldon of Tim Brown Tours, a real find.   It being a Sunday, when many of Durban's attractions would be closed, with our permission, Sheldon altered our itinerary somewhat so that we would be on time for the 3:30 show at the PheZulu Safari Park, which included a game park (we nixed that as we'd certainly seen lots of game on the safari), a crocodile and snake park (we nixed that just because), the Boma Restaurant, where we had lunch, and the highlight of the visit, the dancing show and Zulu Cultural Village.  

On the way to PheZulu, Sheldon took us to a real Zulu village which welcomed tourists, and put us in the hands of a local inhabitant, a trained guide and real cheerleader for this type of program. 

 We started off at a visitors' center of sorts, housed in these beehive-shaped thatched huts.

As we walked around the village, we saw where the people lived and observed them going about their daily lives.

We were thrilled to meet the chief, who briefly interrupted a meeting he was in to welcome us,

and then we met one of his several wives, who showed us her kitchen in one of the large huts, as she was preparing the mid-day meal.

Nearby we saw a kraal, a small enclosure for animals (perhaps this morphed into the English word "corral"?).  The word can also be used for a traditional African village, a collection of huts usually surrounded by a fence, which is exactly what we were in.

Another thrill was to meet a traditional healer, a large, inposing fellow with a colorful wardrobe for various occasions.

We followed the protocol of tipping these various people, as suggested by our guide.

Then we were taken to a spaza store, a neighborhood corner market, a tienda for you Spanish speakers.  You could not enter the store, however,  You ordered what you wanted and the clerk would get it for you and pass it to you through the iron bars.

Then we hurried to the PheZulu and their restaurant with its killer view.

We wound up taking our lunch into the performance center, as we were running late.  An explanation was given in English of the story that we were about to see acted out in dance and song, basically a romance.  The shields used are dance-sized shields; actual Zulu shields are far larger.

After the performance, we met the dancers and musicians and their children,

and they indulged us for some photo-taking.

The small audience then made a circuit of various representative huts and had an explanation in each one.

They also offered accommodations at PheZulu, but we were taken for a one-night stay to a small B&B, Lindisfarne, in the Botha's Hill area, "an elegant homestead situated on two acres of park-like gardens 40 km west of Durban, sought after by tourists and corporates who want good hospitality, cleanliness, comfort, and peace and quiet.  The main house was designed by a Dutch architect and built in 1956 as a family home."  It lived up to its billing in all categories.

When I asked what Lindisfarne meant, Jane, one of the owners, said somewhat wistfully, I thought, that Lindisfarne was once a band.  I saw an old photo in the vestibule of a band with Jane as the singer.  Turns out it was a very successful band in England that she and her husband were in.  Those two plus another woman for years have had quite a successful band in the area they live in now.  At breakfast the next morning, at our request, she played some of their demo tapes for us.

It was a magnificent property with some of the most gorgeous old trees I've ever seen on a huge and lovely piece of ground.

Phyllis and I settled into our rooms and then Sheldon took us for dinner to a nearby chain restaurant, in which we were practically the only customers, it being a Sunday night.  Sheldon said we were lucky to find someplace open.  We enjoyed talking with Sheldon and learning about his family, his business and some of the more unusual travelers he has guided and the destinations he has taken them to.  I think the next group he guides will hear about us.

After dinner, Sheldon returned us to Lindisfarne and went back to his own home, not that far away.  We discussed lunch possibilities since we'd be hiking much of the next day, and Sheldon said he'd pack lunches for us all.  

In the morning, he returned and we loaded up the comfortable and spacious van with our luggage, bid farewell to Jane, and headed for the KwaZulu-Natal region in the Drackensburg Mountains in order to see San art paintings on the walls of several caves.  The San people are the indigenous hunter-gatherer people of southern Africa, also called Bushmen.  "This portion of the Drackensburg has between 35,000 and 40,000 works of San rock art in some 500 caves, and is the largest collection of such work in the world.  Due to the materials used in their production, these paintings are difficult to date but there is anthropological evidence, including many hunting implements, that the San people existed in the Drackensburg at least 40,000 years ago, and possibly over 100,000 years ago."

We drove to the Kamberg Rock Art Centre, a sort of lame visitors' center.  It turns out that not that many visitors come there, so the gift shop is not that well stocked.

Sheldon parked the van, we perused the shop, ate the delicious sandwiches he had brought us on the covered porch, used the restrooms, awaited our local guide, who ran over from his nearby village, and then set off for our long, strenuous hike.


You can just see the openings to some caves at the top of the hill, our ultimate goal, with some rock art sightings along the way.

Many of the cave paintings are of the eland, a type of antelope, that is endangered.  In fact, the present-day descendants of the San people may hunt the eland only one day per year.  We were shocked to see many eland.  Our local guide, who, out in the middle of nowhere had a cell phone with camera, was astounded to see them and photographed them, saying that he hadn't seen any guiding on this trail frequently, for the last eight months!  What a treat for us!

It was a very hot, sunny day, with absolutely no shade, but the scenery was exquisite.

Our first sighting of the long-awaited art was on an outside wall of a cave, thus somewhat degraded due to exposure to the elements.

Soon after that, the walking became more steep and strenuous and I began to feel a bit nauseous, which I knew was a symptom of sun stroke.  I thought that the combination of eating a big sandwich and then immediately embarking on a very strenuous hike at mid-day in the glaring sun was probably not the wisest thing I've ever done.  I made the decision to stop where I was and to allow Sheldon, Phyllis, and our guide to continue on without me.  Sheldon assured me that I would always be in his sight as they continued to climb.  Surprisingly, I felt no fear.  I was still in the direct sun as I sat, but I was not exerting myself at all.  I drank lots of water and just enjoyed the occasional small breeze.  Now I know what a shepherd's life might be like.

The caves here were the final goal, which were reached, when I queried Sheldon, "not without stress."  But Phyllis got to see a lot of San rock art in far better condition and in much greater numbers than we'd seen so far, as had been her fervent wish, and was very happy, but tired.  All in all, we had walked for well over four hours.  Sheldon revealed later that when we started the hike, he had no confidence that we would be able to reach the caves, but Phyllis made a joke when she used the South African word for grandmother, and said that we gogos went went.

We left the area as the sun was setting, to go to our next one-night stand, Sandstone, in nearby Kamberg.

We had a lot of fun with Sheldon, particularly with his accent.  He used "whilst" instead of "while," something we'd heard a lot on safari.  For "hikers," he said, "hackers."  For "build" and "building," he said "bold" and "bolding."  He used "yayz" for "yes."  But the funniest was when he began telling us about "Ellen Payton," the famous South African author, who for a while was the headmaster of the boarding school right across from Lindisfarne.  I finally figured out that he was referring to Alan Paton, the author of "Cry, the Beloved Country."  And a country-wide, saying, it appears, is "just now," which means some indeterminate time in the future, but definitely not now.  Quite similar to "mañana."

We pulled up at Sandstone just in time for cocktails and a most delicious dinner with out hosts, Graham and Sue.  We were shown to our rooms.  (Sheldon had a room somewhere else on the property, as his home was too far away for him to return for the night.)  Phyllis and I had the two separate suites in this large, comfortable cottage separate from the main house.  Shown below is the public space between the bedrooms.  Not visible is a full kitchen, in case guests want to self-cater, which we certainly did not.

We had marvelous conversation with this most fascinating and welcoming couple.  Graham had recently sold a large dairy farm.  Between his daily duties with that, which would have been difficult to leave for any period of time, and his avid polo playing on the weekends, the couple didn't get to travel much.  Now, retired, they are able to do so.  They have a beach house in Mozambique.

The next morning, on a brilliantly clear day, we stepped out of our cottage onto this charming patio, 

where we could see part of the 500 acres surrounding their house, which they had recently built, along with the guest cottage, a stable for 20 retired race horses that they board, a terraced herb and flower garden just outside their house, a small waterfall feature, and then a one-acre veggie garden, which supplies all of their vegetables, many of which we had sampled the night before.  

We then walked toward the main house,

meandering through the gardens.

They had two of the most enormous German shepherds I've ever seen and a tiny rescued mutt who rules the roost.  All had impeccably good behavior, except when the shepherds saw us first thing in the morning, and then their exuberance nearly knocked Phyllis over.

This is Sue in her little garden room, which she called her hide-away, where she holes up with her classical music and a good book.

All of this is managed with a staff of three for outside, a secretary who came while we were having breakfast, and surely there is a housekeeper.  It was a unique glimpse into a totally different way of life in South Africa than we'd seen to date.

Back in Sheldon's van for the trip back to King Shaka Airport, with several very interesting stops along the way.

Perhaps you can see small white spots at the top left of this waterfall.  They are women doing their laundry!  

The other interesting thing about this site is that there is believed to be a Loch Ness monster-like creature at the bottom of the falls, probably some type of eel.

Our next stop, the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, was of great interest since Phyllis and I had both read his autobiography.  

And also to others, as we arrived about the same time as a large school group.  While they took the "long walk to freedom" to view this clever sculpture, an optical illusion of 50 iron poles, erected in 2012 on the 50th anniversary of the capture, which from one angle looked just like bars on a cell, but when viewed from another angle, produced the profile of Mandela behind those bars,

we did the museum.  This was Mandela's father, a chief of the Thembu Royal Family, and after reading about him, I could see where his beliefs and values were passed down and lived out by his son.

This a photo of Nelson Mandela and Cecil Williams in the car which was waved down on August 5, 1962, in a roadblock on a lonely country road near Howick in KwaZulu-Natal.  Mandela was posing as a chauffeur.  His arrest set in motion a series of trials, culminating in the Rivonia Treason Trial that would ultimately send him to prison for 27 years. 

This plaque was on the roadside at the exact spot of the capture.

Since we had to be at the airport at 1 p.m., we had time for nothing but a drive-by tour of the Golden Mile in Durban before bidding adieu to our now good friend, Sheldon.  

The Cradle of Humankind and Pretoria - May 26-28, 2015

Our one-hour flight from Durban to OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg was uneventful.  We were met by a guide from Ulysses Tours & Safaris and driven to the exquisite Maropeng Boutique Hotel near Pretoria and the Cradle of Humankind, where it all began for us humans, our final destination of the trip.  It turned out that we were the only guests for our first night there, it being off-season.

Our travel agent had put us up in top-of-the-line places incredibly cheaply, precisely because of the lower rates of the off-season.  It was so weird to be the only guests in the dining room. 

The food was incredible!  I had Norwegian salmon.

This breathtaking view of the Witwaterberg and Magaliesberg ranges was available from all of the public spaces and the bedrooms.

We were particuarly enamored with the art in this hotel.

I did consider taking a dip in this sweet pool, but both the water and the air were a bit too cool for me.

Although they had lots of tempting breakfast choices, Phyllis and I stuck to our usual fruit, yogurt, and granola, beautifully presented.

After breakfast, a different guide with Ulysses Tours & Safaris came to get us, and we were thrilled to learn that it was a woman, Kim.  Turns out she is the only female guide with Ulysses, and very proud of that fact.  Her husband is a journalist and the couple's child is looked after during the week by her grandmother in another city, so that Kim could become educated and work at a job she loved.  She was a veritable font of knowledge and a lot of fun to be with.  We were off to the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site since 1999, and the richest treasure trove of early hominoid fossils on earth!

We started off with a partial drive-through of the Rhino & Lion Park, which is home to many more animals than just these two.  In fact, there are over 700 head of game including the white rhino, lion, buffalo, cheetah, wild dog, Bengal and Syberian tigers, jaguars, and white lions.

Kim then turned us over to a local guide for our visit to Wondercave, one of the most beautifully naturally decorated caves in South Africa.  Since its discovery only 100 years ago, few people have entered the caves and it is thus relatively well-preserved and virtually untouched.  The enormous cave chamber with a volume of 46,000 cubic meters is believed to be 2.2 million years old.  Access to the underground cavern is by means of about 90 steps and then an elevator.  "No crawling is necessary" assured a sign near the entrance.

The skeletons that were discovered in this cave were determined to have fallen into it by means of several openings, and then couldn't get out.

We were taught about the formation of caves, stalactites and stalagmites

and saw an underwater lake that had potable water because of the filtering process of the water seeping ever so slowly through all of that rock.

This naturally-occurring stalagmite appears to represent a praying Mary.

By means of a single drop like this one, the stalactites form over centuries.

Kim drove us through a bit more of the Rhino & Lion park on the way to its creche (there's that word again)

where we were able to interact with white lion cubs

and a "retired" cheetah.

As with the penguins earlier, I took way too many photos of the cubs.

We made the rounds of the rest of the animals in the creche, those deemed not fit to be out in the wild for any number of reasons.

This albino snake intrigued us no end.

By the time we returned to have a final look at the oh-so-cute lion cubs, they had fallen asleep, exhausted from their role as the main attraction at the creche.  We were glad to be asked to wash our hands both going in to pet the cubs and the cheetah, and coming out, to avoid the spread of diseases in both directions.

Kim then took us to the Sterkfontein Caves, where we had lunch. Kim bought our tickets to go down into the cave with a group, led by a guide.  We were issued hair nets and bright blue hard hats, and while we waited for our group's turn to descend, we perused a small museum.

The Sterkfontein Caves was where, in 1947, the 2.3 million year old fossil, Australopithcus africanus, nicknamed "Mrs. Ples," was found by Dr. Robert Broom and John T. Robinson.  That find helped to corroborate the 1924 discovery of the juvenile Australopithecus africanus skull, "Taung Child," by Raymond Dart at Taung in the North West Province of South Africa, where excavations still continue.  Also found at Strekfontein was "Little Foot," an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton dating back about 3 million years.

Just as I'm writing this, in mid-September 2015, a new species of human ancestors was discovered in an underground cave within the Cradle of Humankind.  The species is Naledi, which means "star" in the local Sesotho language.  Scientists say that the species buried its dead.

In this same area were found over 1000 hominoid fossils and several hominoid species, spanning a period of about three million years.  The Cradle of Humankind is the richest treasure trove of early hominoid fossils on earth.

Here our super, well-informed guide told us the story of the discovery of Mrs. Ples, as we stood around a plaque commemorating it.  That orange bag he is holding is a first aid kit in case anything should happen to any member of his group way below ground.

This was a much more challenging adventure than Wondercave, as there were 211 steps down -- and then up again -- and we had to squeeze through spaces one meter high and wide.

Behind this gate was where Mrs. Ples was found, and because of its extreme importance, is gated off from visitors.

Again, the water is crystal clear here far underground.

After we exited the cave, we were allowed to walk on this walkway over an old excavation site.

Here is what Mrs. Ples' skeleton might have looked like.

I was quite taken by this sign.

Then Kim dropped us off at the Maropeng, the official visitors' center for the Cradle of Humankind, as there was no point in her waiting to drive us back to our hotel, as it was just a short walk away.  There are more than a dozen major fossil sites in the Cradle of Humankind, and as not all these sites are open to the public, the Maropeng center was developed to provide visitors with an overview of the significance of the area as well as the story of human development.  Maropeng means "return to the place of origin" or "the place where we once lived" in Setswana, one of South Africa's 11 official languages.

As visitors approach Maropeng, they are confronted with a striking building that resembles an ancient burial mound, known as a tumulus, blending artfully with the grassland surroundings.


Once inside, our tour started with a boat ride on an artificial lake to journey back in time from the start of our universe, some 14 billion years ago, to the present and beyond. 

Then it was on to the exhibits, which tackle questions among many others about how our brains developed, where language comes from, when we first used fire, and what the risks are for us as a species in the future.  The latter exhibit made the biggest impact on me, and here are some of the signs from it that really resonated with me.

As you emerge from the back of the building and glance back, you see that the tumulus is transformed into a futuristic building of glass and steel, a symbol of how far we've come as a species.  I did not care for it, so did not take a photo.

The sun was just setting as we dragged ourselves back to the hotel exhausted but exhilarated at the end of a very long, active day.  As we straggled in, the women at the front desk couldn't help laughing at our condition.  I slept 9 hours that night!

Although we most certainly wanted Kim as our guide for a second day, neither we nor Kim had any say in whether that would happen, so we were especially happy to see her early in the morning as we checked out of the Maropeng Hotel.

We were not quite as happy to see this very poisonous snake -- as Kim told us -- crossing the driveway out of the hotel.  Kim was shocked.  She'd never seen this kind of snake.

It was amazing to see how well it was camouflaged. We were glad that we had encountered it while in the car rather than walking back to the hotel from the Cradle of Humankind at dusk the night before.

Kim drove us to our next-to-last hotel, City Lodge in Pretoria.  It is affectionately called "Jacaranda City" because of the clouds of purple-blossomed jacaranda trees, which we know and love from San Miguel.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any as it was almost wintertime.   It was too early to check in to our hotel, and because there was some mix-up with our scheduling, we were free to roam around a stunning outdoor mall right across from the hotel for a couple of hours and have lunch.

I was shocked to see how the Woolworth's 5 and 10 cent store of my youth had morphed into this glistening food palace.

Back with Kim, we were off on a Pretoria city tour, starting with the Voortrekker Monument and Museum. 

"Inaugurated in 1949 and a national icon for South African Afrikaners (an ethnic group descended from predominantly Dutch settlers who arrived in South Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries, who dominated the country's agriculture and politics prior to 1994), it honors the thousands of Voortrekkers (pioneers) who left the Cape Colony between 1834 and 1854 to find independence from the British."  This enormous movement of people, similar in many ways to that in the U.S. to open up the west, is called the Great Trek.

"Around the building's perimeter is a chain of 64 wagons carved into granite, which represents the Battle of Blood River, in which the trekkers and the Zulus clashed."

You can see the symbolism of the Zulu spears on this gate.

In many of the wagons, a flap folds down to reveal a light so that the entire area is lit up in the dark.

"In the Hall of Heroes, 27 bas-relief panels create a 100-yard frieze illustrating the Great Trek, as well as the day-to-day life of Voortrekkers and Zulus.  The depiction of indigenous South Africans is obviously biased and inaccurate, but the frieze is impressive nonetheless" (National Geographic Traveler - South Africa).

Cenotaph Hall is designed so that once a year, on December 16, the sun shines through the dome roof onto the cenotaph, to illustrate the words "Ons fir jou, Suid-Afrika," literally translated as "We for thee, South Africa."  The museum's central focus, a cenotaph is a monument to those buried elsewhere, in this case memorializing all of the Voortrekkers who died during the Great Trek.  Kim told us that the crowds in this hall on December 16 are not to be believed.  December 16, 1838 was the date of the Battle of Blood River, and December 16, 1888, was the first time the idea to build a monument in honor of the Voortrekkers was discussed, although construction did not begin until 1937.

These needlepoint embroidery panels basically tell the same story as the bas-relief ones, but were all created by women.

Because the Monument is high on a hill, the view down to the city is excellent.

Next on the schedule was the modest home, now a museum, of Paul Kruger, president of the South African Republic from 1883-1900, and after whom Kruger National Park is named.

In Church Square, the historic center of the city,

just the day before, this statue of Paul Kruger had been defaced with paint.  By the time we got there, it had been thoroughly cleaned up.  Kruger, who took part in the Great Trek as a child,  has been called the personification of Afrikanerdom.  He remains a controversial and divisive figure after all of these years.  Admirers venerate him as a tragic folk hero, while critics view him as the obstinate guardian of an unjust cause.

Some of the buildings ringing Church Square include Ou Raadsaal, old Council Chamber,

the Palace of Justice, scene of arguably the most infamous political trial in South Africa's history, the Rivonia Trial, which led to the incarceration of Nelson Mandela and several other defendants after they were found guilty of treason.

Also, the Union Buildings, called just "the buildings," are the official site of the South African government and also house the offices of the president of South Africa.

This statue of Mandela overlooking the city, seen just from the back because of our time constraints, ended the day on a perfect note for me.

Kim returned us to City Lodge.  She told us that she was still in training to guide in Johannesburg, and hoped to tag along the next day to learn from a seasoned guide to that city, but that she could not guarantee anything, so we bid her a fond goodbye.  We had admired her spunk and intelligence and were sorry to part company with her.

We got back just in time, as our wonderful travel agent, Lucia Theron, was picking us up for dinner at her house at 6 p.m., and she was right on time.  Joining us was a long-time friend of hers, a retired professor.  Both women are Afrikaners, and spoke Afrikaans to each other when they were alone in the kitchen.  Lucia served a delicious traditional meal and we so enjoyed our conversation with them.  Quite late, she dropped us back at CityLodge.

Our Last Day in South Africa, Johannesburg - May 29, 2015

Indeed Kim was not with our guide this day, but, after a bit of a rocky start, he turned out to be quite fine on his own.  By dint of his persistence, he got us into an exhibit of 1000 year-old gold jewelry and artifacts from an archeological site at Mupungubwe (a pre-colonial state in southern Africa, that lasted about 80 years and was the first stage in a development that culminated in the creation of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe) at the University of Pretoria Museum, which was closed because of a meeting.

Afterwards, we went to the Constitutional Court, the highest in the country.  It was established in 1994 following South Africa's first democratic elections and the adoption of the interim Constitution.  A competition was held for the design of the court, and the winning entry (of 500) was by three young South Africans and incorporates elements of the building that it replaced, the Old Fort, Johannesburg's notorious prison.  

One of the remaining four stairwells, remnants of the awaiting trial block of the prison, now with the Flame of Democracy on it.

Again the result of a competition, all of South Africa's 11 official languages are represented on the Court's sign, each in a distinctive font, representing a combination of the letters, signs, and symbols found on the site, such as graffiti on the prison walls, street traders' hand-painted signage, and even Justice Yacoob's handwriting.  (Justice Jacoob, a former justice of the Constitutional Court, was appointed by Nelson Mandela in 1998.)  The idea was to move away from Roman lettering synonymous with official buildings.

This copper door led into the courtroom.

The courtroom itself was majestic.

Each justice's seat had a unique animal skin in front of it, along with his or her name.

This representation of the new flag of South Africa is rendered in beading.

On a wall just outside of the Constitutional Court were drawings of some of the more famous former political prisoners:

Gandhi is revered and there was an entire exhibit dedicated to his memory and struggle.

There was another exhibit which told of some of the more gruesome facts of life in the former prison.  This one is called "blanket art," and was something the prisoners did to relieve the monotony.

These are solitary confinement cells.  We were invited to go into any of them, but I was not up for it.

With time running out, as we were being dropped off at the airport at 3 p.m., our guide took us up to the Carlton Center, a 50-story skyscraper and shopping center, located in downtown Joburg.  At 730 feet, it is the tallest building in Africa and provided 360 degree views of the city.  From this perspective, one could easily see that the majority of the vehicles were painted white, which makes a lot of sense in this hot city.

One last quick stop was made to see this unique sculpture of Mandela in the pose of a boxer, a sport which he enjoyed very much as a younger man.

As I turned away from the statue to return to the car, my eye was drawn up to the second floor of a rather plain office building, and this is what I saw.  It was the perfect ending to this eye-opening and heart-wrenching trip.

This sculpture just outside of the Voortrekkers Monument says it all for South Africa:  Quo Vadis:  Latin for "Where are you going?", the perfect question for South Africa.  I'll be waiting and watching with great interest.

If you liked this blog, perhaps you would enjoy some of my others:
Elderhostel trip to Alaska (2005):
Elderhostel trip to Copper Canyon in Mexico (2008):
My first winter (2009) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My second winter (2010) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My third winter (2011) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My first autumn (2011) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My fourth winter in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (2012):
A trip to Chiapas, Mexico, with Vagabundos (2013):
A trip to Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico, for the annual Palm Sunday artisans festival (2013):
My trip to the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, with the Audubon Society (2013):
My tip to Morocco (2014):
Day of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (2014):
My South African safari (2015):
Day of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende , Mexico (2015):

Dead of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (2016):

A Trip to See a Tree (2017):

What a Storm! (2017):