Pizza, Penguins, and a Party

We had one final morning of unsettled weather so we headed over to the Two Oceans Aquarium mid-morning on Boxing Day. A lot of other people had the same idea, too – the place was pretty packed! We got to walk through an interesting skeleton made completely out of scavenged plastic – bottles and jugs stuffed tightly with plastic bags. Apparently these can be joined together to create quite a strong structure! There was also a neat little sand box area where kids could “uncover” a marine fossil. And of course, we saw some of the local penguins and met a big penguin lady!

After the aquarium we headed to Cafe Paradiso. It’s a place that was on our list because they offer “Kids Projects”: kids can go in a special area of the kitchen and make their own pizza, cookies, or cupcakes!

For dinner we headed over to beautiful Camps Bay as the weather finally started to clear up. We enjoyed a delicious meal with a view right over the beach and sea as the sun set behind some clouds in the distance.

Although the weather had cleared, there was a cool breeze blowing off the ocean.

On December 27th, we woke up relatively early to a beautiful blue sky as we had been booked in for a trip to Robben Island – the site of the famous prison where political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela had been held, in addition to being a park reserve. These trips have to be booked well in advance during the summer months, so this had been on the itinerary since September. It’s about 11 km offshore Cape Town and trip success depends heavily on favorable weather conditions to make a safe crossing. Literally minutes before we were about to lock the door to our apartment, I received the dreaded email notification that the trip was cancelled due to adverse weather conditions (ie: high winds forecast for the afternoon, which would have been the return journey). It’s really hard to believe but after a few days in the area, we experienced that the winds in one area of Cape Town can be completely calm, and just around the mountain it can be a gale. Crazy. Anyway, we made the most of the morning and seeing that the Table Mountain Cableway was open, we headed right over and arrived 15 minutes after opening time but still had to wait an hour to get to the top. It was worth it though! That’s Robben Island in the middle of the first photo beyond Signal Hill.

On the top we noticed an adventure activity – the opportunity to rappel down the upper steep pitch of the mountain for 990 ZAR (about $95). And yes, we saw a couple of tourists do it and they did have helmets, unlike the guides…

After renting a car for the remainder of our trip: next up – a bucket list item – what better way to spend a few minutes on a bluebird day in Cape Town than a scenic helicopter flight!

Our pilot commented on how brave and happy Elinka was for her first ever helicopter flight. She was even able to point out one of the local landmarks! “That’s Lions Head!”

We landed back at a very busy V&A Waterfront (a pretty place, but still a tourist trap). It took half an hour to get out of a parking lot when we were picked up by our Uber driver to bring us back home.

The next morning we got up really early for trip out of town! We’ve kicked our colds now just in time for the nice weather – perfect. First stop of the day – the Penguins of Boulders Beach! So cute!! I could just sit and watch these guys all day. If you haven’t heard of these guys before, there are hundreds of penguins in a colony just south of Simons Town and are in a national protected area. There are two boardwalks over the beach for penguin viewing, and further down there is a bathing beach where you can see or swim with the penguins – on their terms only!

There was another species of critter living in the bush just in from the beach. It’s locally called a “dussie” but its proper name is a Cape Hyrax.

Eli under the rock tunnel; penguin under the rock tunnel next!

The Penguins of Boulders Beach was an unforgettable experience. After that, we went into Simons Town for a delicious breakfast (I told you we were up early!) at the Lighthouse Cafe and walked around the local harbour which is also home to a naval base.

Heading back to CT now, we stopped at a very windy Fish Hoek beach to try some beach activities, but it was just too windy to be enjoyable. We stayed only about half an hour here.

On the way home, we took the beautiful Chapmans Peak Drive on the west side of Cape Point. The road is narrow, average speed about 20 km/h for sections, and has some nicely spaced pullouts for viewing and photo taking. If you look at the fourth photo from the helicopter series, you can see how the road hugs the cliffside above the sea.

Back home in Sea Point, and the weather wasn’t windy at all here – told ya it could be different! So we headed over to Queens Beach which was about a 5 minute walk from our apartment. It’s nicely protected from large waves by some boulders just offshore, and also hosts a uniquely Cape Town beach feature – a tidal pool. The tidal pool is filled slowly with water from incoming waves, and circulates out to the main beach. The water is constantly refreshed, yet isn’t as cold as the open ocean and is protected from waves, undertow, and other currents. It’s in the bottom of the second picture. We stayed here for a couple of hours before heading back to our patio for dinner!

After dinner, we had our second gelato of the day then headed back to Queens Beach to catch sunset.

Sunday – another early morning. First on the list was a township tour of Langa. Langa is the same township that we visited for dinner on Christmas Eve. This morning we’ll be doing a walking tour with a local guide, Nela, from Siviwe Tours. He was an excellent outgoing tour guide who had some good stories and seemed to know just about everyone in the community. We heard about how the township system came to be, how many of the people were tricked from coming to these townships from other parts of the country in search of work but weren’t allowed to bring their families, and how bad the living conditions were. We certainly are fortunate that we didn’t have to live through anything like that.

There are free Google Station Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the township to provide internet access for the many folks who can’t afford data plans for phones.

We saw some of the local shops, and heard that in the days of apartheid, the government gave these stores and even the supplies to the black and colored people just so that they would have no reason to go white communities.

Ubuntu means “humanity” and the actions taken by many of the township people to green their own grass since apartheid ended shows how important Ubuntu is to these folks. Even the very successful people seem to still think of the people at the bottom and how they can be helped.

We also saw some rough parts of the township, total shacks that look as if they couldn’t withstand the next thunderstorm with piles of half burned trash out back. We heard that generally the people in these conditions have been in it for so long that they really don’t know any better and it will take the next generation to change this.

We also saw these shipping containers. Each container is 2 apartments which could have up to 4 people in each apartment. We saw into one. It did not look like a pleasant place to live.

We also heard about how unpopular the ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela has become since total corruption has infiltrated most levels of the government. Nela told us that people were pretty unhappy to see this election mural painted at great cost (approx $700) on the outside of this rooming house instead of making some improvements with most of the money and then an ad saying “Renovations brought to you by…”

These sheeps heads were on display at a local market stall. They’re a local delicacy. We didn’t try them.

We also saw happy kids playing in the streets near these much nicer apartment blocks. This girl doing cartwheels and her brother came out of their home to warmly greet our tour group walking by.

Over to where the next generation of township dwellers live – this is literally a 5 minute walk from the shacks that are falling down. It looks like any other suburban neighbourhood! A lot of people who grew up in the township and are now successful tend to want to stay because of the great community connections with their families and friends; and also because the real estate is way cheaper!

Some lovely artwork throughout the community.

The main street of Langa, with a million dollar view of Table Mountain in the distance.

In the afternoon we headed over to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. It’s set in the Cape Town suburb of Newlands, which being on the protected side of Table Mountain receives much more rain and less wind than the city side. It was gorgeous, but also very busy. We had lunch there, and spent a bit of time at the playground outside the restaurant. South Africa really caters to families, if you can’t already tell!

They have a tree canopy elevated walkway that we visited but it was hard to get a good photo since there were so many people doing the same thing. It’s twisting and turning and is not rigid so it wobbles when you walk. It’d make a great photo if no one else was on it…

And here we are at the real reason for our visit to the Gardens – to take in one of the famous Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts! These take place every Sunday evening in summer, are picnic blanket style (you bring your own blanket, food, wine, etc) and are very popular with locals. The show we attended was sold out in record time – it was the Cape Town band Goldfish. They play electronic dance music with real jazz instruments such as the double bass, keyboard/piano, flute, and saxophone. They have a very lively yet mellow style and their tunes are very catchy. The concert was a big hit for all of us especially as we’d become familiar with some of their tunes before heading down. She seemed to shy away most of the times that the camera came out, but Elinka danced for most of it!

We really loved the Goldfish concert – all of us. The first third of this video basically sums up the first part of our trip: the views we saw and our favorite Goldfish song “Deep of the Night”:

One thing that amazes us is how organized things seem to be here and how courteous people are especially on the roads. Leaving the concert was a great example of that. No traffic chaos, honking, or cursing from a few thousand people leaving at the same time; just some well placed traffic direction personnel and other drivers who actually let you in when you need to change lanes or turn across traffic.

And with that, we bid Cape Town farewell this morning. We’re not far away for the next few days but it’s a completely different environment. Very peaceful – no WiFi even – I had to sit beside a vegetable garden to pick up enough signal to post this. It certainly is stunning here, though!

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