Cape Point

While visiting Cape Town, one thing you must see is the Cape or the Cape of Good Hope. I remember my geography classes from when I was young, but I don’t remember what exactly a cape is. I know that before the Suez Canal was built, traders had to sail all around The Cape. Hence the creation of Cape Town- it was a great place for the Dutch East Indies ships to take a break during their long voyages from India to Europe. I can see on a map that Cape Town has a peninsula- but that’s different from a cape… It can’t be what the dictionary says: “a sleeveless cloak”, so after what could this place be possibly be named? I had to see- so we went to the cape! (Note: a cape is a promontory or a point of high land that juts out into a large body of water.)

We rented a car and drove south. We took Boyes drive again because it is one the prime places for land based whale watching. We didn’t see any whales (high season starts in August and we went on July 29th), but we did enjoy the beautiful drive.

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Once you get to the cape, you enter Table Mountain National Park. This section of the park is expansive. Right when we got in we saw a herd of gazelles (or maybe antelope) and we kept our eyes out for zebras. With ocean on both sides of you, the drive towards the cape is beautiful. Explorers thought this was the southernmost tip of Africa and that it was the location where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean. Neither are true, but it is easy to see why they believed such a thing.

After driving through a seemingly empty park, we found all the tourists. And with tourists comes baboons! We saw our first baboon right away. It was sitting on a car parked not too far from ours. As we walked further towards the cape, we realized that baboons are everywhere. They nonchalantly walk around and don’t care that people take endless pictures of them. But at the first hint of food, they run and jump at the poor person who is stupidly trying to eat despite the many signs warning against it. We saw two people get attacked for their food and countless park employees with sticks trying to run off the baboons.

We ate at Two Oceans restaurant, which is electric fenced off from baboon (though one did get in and stole some food). It has the most breathtaking views. It feels like you are floating above the ocean. It looks over False Bay (rather than the open Atlantic), so you can see mountains jutting out of the water at the far end of the bay. We both loved their famous fish and chips.

We took Chapman’s Peak Drive home; it is a thrilling route along the Atlantic coast. Full of hairpin turns between a cliff/ the ocean and a mountain, on an impossibly narrow road, it is quite a thrilling ride. It takes you into beautiful bay towns and provides some great views. Carey is convinced it is featured in a video game, and after that drive, I don’t doubt it!

Kirstenbosch

Last weekend we took advantage of some very nice weather and headed to Kirstenbosch Gardens. Kirstenbosch is famous because it is one of the only botanic gardens in the world that plants only local flora. It was beautiful and huge!

We ate at the tearoom and watched the tourists pour into the gardens. If only we had come prepared with a blanket- they pack picnics for you to take anywhere in the gardens. Then we went exploring. There is a section for blind people where all the signs are written and in brail. It is a special section where they put the most aromatic plants and encourage you to rub their leaves together to release their scent. They have tributes to extinct plants, and little streams running throughout the gardens. The gardens are nestled right up to Table Mountain (on the Southern side) so there are great views of the city. I could go on explaining its beauty, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words:

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Table Mountain

Last week Carey and I decided to take advantage of a rare sunny day. We left work early and headed to the top of Table Mountain. It is a beautiful, flat mountain and we have been eager to get to the top. It is both a World Wonder and a World Heritage Site that did not disappoint.

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It is an excellent place for hiking, but since we both had to work, and I recently had hip surgery and could not walk up a steep mountain, we took the famous cable car. Still plastered with advertisements from the 2010 World Cup, it is like a gondola that rotates 360 degrees as it takes you up and down the mountain.

Once at the top, the views of Cape Town are astounding. We could see our apartment building, Robben Island, Soccer City, downtown, the Atlantic Seaboard, and almost all the way down the cape. The top is actually like a table and is very flat. You can walk around the top for hours and see different parts of the city. We walked around for about an hour taking in the views and trying to find familiar places. We finished our trip with a sunset drink before heading back down.

Khayelitsha

While reading this blog, it may be easy to forget that I am here to work. We are doing fun and crazy things all around Cape Town- but only on the weekends because both Carey and I are working full-time. I haven’t said much about work because well, I sit at a desk and work. I think it is kind of boring, so I am definitely not going to subject my lovely readers to it. But last week it got kind of interesting.

Last Wednesday when I was working away at my desk, everyone in my office was preparing to go march through the streets of Cape Town. It was in protest of a court case in India, in which a pharmaceutical company has been suing an Indian law that allows generic drugs to be produced. We marched in support of the Indian law because the companies that produce generic drugs in India provide affordable HIV, cancer, and other medicines to the developing world. We marched through the streets to the parliament. It was a very interesting experience- people were singing, dancing, and chanting the whole way. When we got to the parliament building, they just kept doing that for about half an hour then turned around and went back! Unfortunately, I didn’t know this was going to happen, so I didn’t bring my camera to work with me that day!

Aerial view of Cape Flats

The next day was a big day. I knew it would be- it was the day I had planned to interview the participants of the project I am evaluating. In order to interview the most people, I went to a different branch office of the organization. I went into Cape Flats, the area I promised both my school and their emergency insurance provider that I wouldn’t go. WHOOPS! I went to Khayelitsha, which is a township, or a sort of slum. Townships were created during the apartheid, as urban living areas that were reserved for non-white citizens. They tend to be dangerous, which is why the emergency insurance carrier wouldn’t cover me if I didn’t say I wouldn’t go there.

Khayelitsha means new home in Xhosa (a clique language). It is not that dangerous, and is much better than other townships around it. Townships are interesting in that they were originally created as towns; so there are big streets, gas stations, legitimate buildings, houses with fences, etc. But informal settlements seem to have taken over. So there are many more dirt/mud paths winding through endless rows of shacks made of tin.

I had someone to drive me there and pick me up at a specified time. I thought it a little odd that my ride was a Mercedes- but it was an old car with no hood ornament. My driver, named Bothwell from Zimbabwe, eased my nerves by talking about the weather and the economy. He started telling me all about the townships and about government initiatives that build real houses in place of shacks and give them to people, many then sell them and move back into other shacks.

My first real view seemed very odd to me- tons of shacks with satellite dishes right next to port-o-potties. While some of the buildings have running water, most of the shacks do not. When driving through I could see inside a fair amount of shacks, some had absolutely nothing inside, some had a log burning, some had makeshift furniture, some had really nice furniture, some had flat screen tvs. I even saw one shack with a homemade fence trying to hold in cows! I think I was a pretty rare sighting as someone came and started banging on my window, yelling something, but I have no idea what!

An informal settlement in Khayelitsha

Once we were there it took about 10 minutes winding through smaller roads towards the center. At one point, I saw a group of goats eating trash off the side of the road. I eventually got to an office that was in the middle of what must be called a shopping center for lack of a better word. There was a large super market and many stalls right outside selling a variety of knickknacks and playing loud music. It was also a sort of parking lot and bus station for the many taxi buses making their way through. I was mildly terrified, but once I quickly walked into the office I recognized some people from the training my first week. After exclaiming their shock of seeing me and that I came alone, they made sure I got settled and even made me tea!

I spent the whole day inside an office interviewing 21 people. It was a weird day of constantly repeating the same 20 questions, and feeling overwhelmingly thankful for my family, my friends, my education, my health, my luck of being born in Denver, and pretty much everything in my life. After 8+ hours, I was exhausted and glad to be leaving to go back to my nice, cozy apartment in the city. I didn’t bring my camera, but I am putting up some pictures from Google images so you can get an idea of where I spent my day.

Sharking

For those of you who don’t know, I have a *healthy* obsession with sharks. When I was little, some irresponsible baby-sitter (I can only assume) let me watch the movie Jaws. I was FASCINATED… still am. I am an avid admirer of Shark Week on Discovery Channel (which starts August 12th this year). I have an eclectic collection of shark-y things- a baby mobile, bath toys, squirt guns, posters, many editions of Shark Week on DVD, hats and shirts- that were all gifts. Despite my poor swimming abilities, I have wanted to swim with sharks ever since I knew that was a possibility. There have been a few failed attempts, but when I came to the great white capital of the world, I was determined to see sharks up close.

If you haven’t seen Air Jaws, I encourage you to at least watch a youtube clip, or watch Shark Week- they will replay it. It is an amazing video of huge great white sharks breaching (jumping out of the water at full speed) to catch seals. This is my favorite Shark Week video; in April I sat Carey down and made him watch it- hoping it would encourage him to join me on my dive. He thought the video was great, albeit slightly terrifying, but decided he’d come anyways.

I tried to do a fair amount of research on which company to go with. It is becoming a very competitive industry, offering a variety of trips to see the predators. I knew I wanted to go with a company that focused on preservation, but I wasn’t sure which one. I also wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to Dyer Island or Seal Island. Once I found Apex Predators, my search was over. It is run by the man who discovered white shark breaching behavior, and who is a regular on Shark Week!! The goal of Apex Predators is to learn as much about the sharks as possible, and to conserve them and their environment.

They offer two daily outings to see the sharks and cage dive. I wanted the morning dive because that is the best opportunity to see natural predation- to watch the sharks jump as they try to catch the seals who are making their way back to Seal Island. The seals swim to the island in the early morning because visibility is low so they have improved chances of getting past the hungry sharks. Unfortunately, all the morning trips are booked until the day after I leave, so afternoon trip it was!

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On Saturday morning, we drove down to Simon’s Town to meet our crew. I bought more items for my collection. And yes, I did get an autograph from the Shark Week celebrity- its not as bad as you think, he just signed his book for me. Before we knew it, we were getting on a boat to go sharking (an awesome word that was used by a crewmember).

There were 16 people on the boat- 12 divers and 4 crewmembers. It is a 30-minute boat ride out to Seal Island. We were very lucky with the weather, it had rained all morning, but the sun came out just before we got on the boat. The water was not too choppy (actually it was really choppy, but I was prepared for the worst). As we approached Seal Island, we were briefed on how cage diving works and decided our diving order. Carey and I went in the second group.

Once we got near enough to the island, we started trolling for sharks! The crew had some lovely fish heads for bate, a mixture of fish pieces and other things like onions and apple cores that they mixed into the water, and a decoy seal to attract a shark to us.  I was prepared to spend all day in the rain searching without even a sighting (I didn’t want to get my hopes up), but we had a shark chasing the bait within the second cast!

My first view of a great white shark!!! He came right up to the boat and sniffed us out. I said he was small, but everyone else thought he was pretty big. Just a baby- but he ended up being the perfect shark for our day. Mature sharks would know pretty quick that this was all a ruse and that the decoy was not the real seal. But the innocent little baby hung out with us for over an hour! He was about 5 years old, 3.9 meters long and 2.5 meters in diameter.

After about 20 minutes of us trying to hurriedly put on wet suits, boots, hoods masks and weights, we jumped in the water! I wasn’t really that nervous about jumping in the ocean when I knew there was a shark just a few feet away. But I was nervous about jumping into a choppy ocean in the middle of winter! Holy moly it was COOOOOLD!!! We did not have snorkels, just masks, so the shark viewing method is to hold your breath and pull yourself underwater.

It is very disorienting at first. Huge swells (they didn’t seem so big from the boat, but now that little me is in the water they are HUGE), freezing water, a SHARK right in front of you, people yelling at you telling you where to look. But it calms down once you figure out where you are in the cage, how to move, and spend a little bit of time under water.

Right when we got in we had directions to go under and look left- and there was the shark! We had about 20 minutes in the water, and he hung around for almost all of it. Visibility wasn’t that great- I think we could probably see for about 20 feet. Sometimes he would just come into view for a second and turn around. But most of the time he was very close. He chased the bait and decoy seal, so sometimes he would swim right at us! He swam along the cage so we could appreciate his size, and the many scars he had on his body. Carey had a pretty intense moment staring into his eye- wondering if he saw us. There were several times when he was only an arms distance away!

Sharks are lazy hunters and try not to expend any energy unless it is absolutely necessary, which is why it is so amazing to see them jump out of the water. During our time in the cage, the shark (I should really name him…) actually expended some effort to try to get the seal. He unexpectedly (at least for all the non-marine biologists) burst towards the seal- so fast, it was amazing!

After 20 cold minutes we got out and let others have their turn with the shark. We had to option to keep our suits on and try to go in again, but it was way too cold! I shivered for the rest of the trip. We were very lucky, shortly after our dive, the shark grew board with us and didn’t hang around as consistently. Once everybody had their trip in the cage, we pulled up the anchor and drove around Seal Island. Home to some 60,000 seals- it stinks worse than the zoo!

Unfortunately, when I was focused on getting in my wetsuit and in the water, I did not have my camera on me, so I only have 2 pictures of the shark. If you look closely during the slide show, there are two pictures where you can just make him out in the water. We have an underwater camera and are hoping for some close-ups, but we haven’t developed the photos yet, so I cannot share them with you.

Franschhoek

This past weekend Carey and I went venturing into the winelands. Before we left the good ol’ U S of A, we had tried a few South African wines, looking for one we liked. Carey seemed to like them all- I didn’t like any! We didn’t know of many South African wines, but I am beginning to think that is a good way to approach a wine trip. No expectations, just try what you can and see what you enjoy- everything in our cases!

Stellenbosch is the most popular and biggest wine area by Cape Town. We were going to go there, but then heard about this little area founded by French Huguenots that seemed better. Franschhoek is a quaint town in a beautiful valley and it boasts some of the best-rated restaurants in South Africa (actually in all of Africa and the world for that matter).

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We stayed at Masion Chablis, a guesthouse right in town. When we arrived the owner came to meet us. He gave us maps, advice about where to eat and drink, directions, and even umbrellas! The room even felt like a luxury hotel room!

It was a great weekend (or day and a half) of eating delicious food and drinking delicious wine. We ate at Le Quartier Française, where one of the top restaurants in the world, The Tasting Room, is located. We ate lunch right next to it in the Common Room, a casual restaurant potentially run by the same chef. It was very colorful and comfortable, we sat in large armchairs and had tapas and local wine.

Then we headed up the hill to Haute Cabrière a cool wine estate tucked into the mountain. It has low brick ceilings and pillars with a very old feel to it. We had a tasting while sitting next to a large fireplace across from a bone so big it could only have come from an elephant. We had champagne, white wine, rosé, and red wine in our tasting. This rosé was just a mixture of my two favorite kinds of grapes: chardonnay and pinot noir, I still find it mind boggling that it was so good.

For dinner we went to the French Connection on Main Street. James, the hotel owner, told us it was great and the least over priced place in town. We started dinner with a goat cheese tart. Then Carey had a super French seeming large hunk of lamb, and I had moules frites. With chocolate dessert and a local bottle of wine it was a perfect dinner!

The next day we went to the Moreson Family wine estate for a tasting and lunch in their highly recommended restaurant Bread and Wine. We got there just as the sun was coming out of the clouds and showing us the beautiful colors of the valley. It was about 11:30- the perfect time to drink wine! Apparently we were the only ones who thought so, as we were the lone tasters in the wine room. It was great, we had a young guy who was very knowledgeable about wine helping us out. He is moving to Florida soon, so we quickly got to talking about the US, wine, sports, wine, Miami, wine, and Cape Town. Similar to Haute Cabrière, we started with bubbly- both a white and a rosé, and then had two white wines and three red wines. It was delicious!

We then ate at Bread and Wine, another one of the top rated restaurants in South Africa. It was a nice restaurant with hand drawn menus, cool food presentations, ornate flower chandeliers, and delicious food! As we drove out of the beautiful valley and back towards crazy Cape Town, we made a pact to try to go back before we leave.

Penguins

Last weekend we decided to do some around Cape Town exploring. Just south of Cape Town, a little south of where I was working all last week, is one of only two land-based penguin colonies in the world.

But first we had to rent a car. We didn’t have to, it’s not too hard to get down there without one, but since we intend to go much further during our time here, we figured this would be a good time to practice driving on the left (wrong) side of the road. By we I mean Carey, because I like many of my fellow Americans cannot drive stick! Neither of us had rented a car before, and we were amazed at the ease of it. Within 20 minutes of arriving at Avis, we were driving away from it! It took Carey a little while to get his left/right bearings straight, and to figure out that the windshield wipers and turn signals are switched! But after a short time, we were on our way!

The weekend weather report said not to expect to see the sun until Monday afternoon, but we lucked out. The only time it came out all weekend was during our little trip on Saturday afternoon. We took a scenic route called Boyes route, which takes you through Rondebosch a beautiful residential area, through the mountains, across from vineyards, and along the coast. The mountains here are very cool hills with huge rock formations growing out of them. The coastal route has spots to pull over every hundred yards or so because it is one of the best land-based whale watching spots in the world. No whales for us though. Not yet anyways, they’ll come see us in July!

It only took an hour and  the penguins were pretty easy to find! In order to preserve their colony, the government has extended Table Mountain National Park to cover the beach area where the penguins live. It is called the Boulder’s beach penguin reserve. It is so bizarre, the water is crystal blue, the sand bright white and there are even flowers all around- the perfect setting for a tropical beach- but it’s winter and PENGUINS live there! A guidebook said it is not rare for sunbathers to have penguins walk by their towels in the summer!

There is a wooden boardwalk that allows visitors to walk through the reserve. It is small, but full of cute little penguins. They are not shy, at one point I even thought one was running at me- but he was just running on the path that went under the boardwalk. We saw babies in various states of fluffiness, eggs, nests, swimming penguins, running penguins, penguins walking in pairs, waddling penguins, and heard all the noises they make too! Don’t worry I have pictures and videos! video1, video2

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