A connection with Bridget, a South African friend at home in Durham, led us to the place where we’ve spent 10 days in Cape Town. It is the lovely former home of my friend’s parents, located in the Somerset West suburb about 40 km out of town. At first I was disappointed that we would not be in the city, but in fact it only takes about half an hour to get to the city and it puts us on the way to many sights and activities out of town.
The Helderberg Nature Reserve, our first outing, is very close. We hiked a trail up Helderberg mountain through the fynbos, the distinctive Cape vegetation of restios or sedges, proteas, and ericas or heath. It was hard to pass the proteas, in oranges, yellows, whites, and reds, without taking yet another photo. They are endlessly fascinating in all their phases. Another day we wandered around Kirstenbosch Gardens, on the back side of Table Mountain, looking at the varieties of plants making up the Cape Floral Kingdom. It is the smallest and richest of the world’s floral kingdoms.
The unique plants, the mountains, and the sea make the Cape a beautiful place to visit. One day we headed into the mountains on a wine tour, starting with a couple of estates in Somerset West. Vergelegen, with museum, gardens, restaurant, and tasting room, has been here since 1700. Morgenster had the perfect combination of olives and wine. We tasted extra virgin, lemon, and truffle olive oils, olives black and green, and olive paste. Bypassing Stellenbosch, we stopped at Delaire, near Franschhoek, for lunch on the patio with the mountains as our backdrop. One reason for stopping there was to see Deborah Bell’s art on exhibit. She is Bridget’s sister, and a well known South African artist. In Franschhoek we tasted at Solms-Delta. The wine drinkers in the crowd especially liked the Vastrap and the Cape Jazz Shiraz. I appreciated the fact that the farm workers share in the winery ownership.
With the Atlantic and Indian oceans close by, and False Bay, Hout Bay, Table Bay, we had to turn some attention to the water. One day we took the ferry to Robben Island, the infamous political prison, once home to Nelson Mandela. Our guide on the bus tour was knowledgeable, and a former prisoner, who was arrested for sabotage at 18 and spent 6 years there, gave us the details of life in the prison. After an obligatory tour of the Victoria and Albert waterfront, too touristy for my taste, we ate dinner at Wakame, a sushi restaurant, in the developing Green Point waterfront area. From our table we watched the waves crashing, and sailboats and kayakers making their way up the shore.
We devoted a day to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point and another to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa. I always thought that North Carolina beaches were hard to beat, and for swimming that’s true. But for sheer gorgeous waves, clear waters, and rocky shores, this coast is amazing. On the way down the peninsula we stopped to see the African penguins at Boulders Beach, and had a picnic at Buffels Bay with the assistance of a park attendant who kept the Chacma baboons at bay so we could eat more or less in peace. We parked at the Cape of Good Hope and hiked up to Cape Point, where the lighthouse is, and back. Cape of Good Hope is the southwestern most point of Africa, but not, as we had thought, the dividing point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. On the peninsula we spotted an eland, some zebra, and the lounging dassies, similar to our marmots.
It was at Cape Agulhas that we witnessed the official demarcation of the two oceans. We started the day watching whales at Hermanus. The southern right whales come to Walker Bay to have their young and spend some months lolling around, within easy view of the cliffs in town. At DeKelders more whales and a group of dolphins entertained us while we picnicked. A very long drive later in Agulhas, we stepped into the Atlantic on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other. We hiked along the beach, looking for the fish traps of ancient Khoi peoples from tens of thousands of years ago, a reminder that Africa is indeed our mother continent. As the day was dying, we ate at the restaurant that bills itself as the southernmost restaurant in Africa.
Perhaps our most amazing day in Cape Town itself started with a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, a hike on the mountain to Maclear’s Beacon and back, a walk to Artscape Theater to see a dance performance, topped off by a Panafrican meal at Gold Restaurant. Ihaw Elisha, performed by Jazzart Dance Theatre and choreographed by Sbonakaliso Ndaba, was 100 minutes of nonstop energy. They played to an enthusiastic mixed audience.
Our Gold Restaurant experience began with 45 minutes of learning to drum on djembes, taught by instructors from Mali. We all finished with slightly bruised hands. You won’t believe the meal, 14 courses celebrating the cuisine of the 6 African countries that played in the World Cup:
1. South African spiced tomato soup with Xhosa corn pot bread
2. Algerian Kefta Kebabs with yoghurt
3. Cameroon baked fish, marinated in parsley, coriander, and limes, with herb mayo
4. Algerian briouats, folded phyllo pastries filled with meat
5. Cote D’Ivoire baked white yam wedges with peanut sauce
6. Bafana Bafana Bobotie, Cape Malay spiced ground ostrich with custard topping
7. South African chutney to top the Bobotie
8. Ghanaian groundnut chicken
9. Cameroon Morogo, greens with red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, and chillies
10. Nigerian mixed salad, similar to cole slaw
11. Algerian saffron couscous with mint and raisins
12. South African stewed rooibos nectarines
13. South African sponge cake and pudding
14. Cote D’Ivoire fruit platter
The courses were interspersed with drumming, dancing, and larger than life-size puppets that walked among the tables. Needless to say, we staggered home with very full bellies and fell into bed.