31 July 2009

From Robben Island to robbin' b@stards

We've been really lucky with the weather since we arrived in South Africa. Apart from our first day in Cape Town we've had clear blue skys and bright sunshine. It's not been particularly hot but it has been very pleasant considering it's the middle of winter.

Our luck finally ran out yesterday when we visited Robben Island, the former prison for the anti apartheid protesters. There's nothing like a gray sky and a bit of drizzle to cheer up a prison!

After Liz's declaration about never going on a boat again following the crossing from Zanzibar to Dar, we again found ourselves sea bound. And just to make things even more fun the 25 minute crossing was nice and choppy. Not quite bad enough to force breakfast to make a re-appearance but still bile churning.

Once you get over to the island the tour is split into two parts. The first part is a bus tour around the island where they explain it's history and the stories of some of it's more famous inmates. The second, more interesting and more poignant part of the tour, is a guided walk around the prison compound by a former detainee.

Our guide, Kgotso, was sentenced to a 25 year stretch for being a member of the ANC's paramilitary wing. However he ended up only serving 7 years as the prison was closed down in 1991 as part of the deal that saw the end of apartheid.

We got to hear all about life in the prison and even got to see Nelson Mandela's cell.

Robben island wasn't only home to political detainees, the island is also home to a colony of about 2000 prison penguins.

The rain got even worse when we left for the airport this morning and we would have probably made better progress if we had a boat rather than a taxi. We've had a great time in South Africa but it has certainly felt a little bit odd to be somewhere that feels so similar to home after nearly 9 months on the road. Liz has been in her element as they have their own clone of M&S out here (which is rather confusingly called Woolworths) and you can even get a South African version of Heat!

We're now making our way up to Cairo but have had a bit of an incident during our transfer at Johannesburgh airport. Some thieving b@stard baggage handler cut the locks and zip off my Berghaus backpack and stole my Leatherman pocket knife / multi-tool thingy. A nice leaving present from South Africa!

29 July 2009

Stellenbosch and the winelands

Stellenbosch, which is located about 50km East of Cape Town, is famous for being South Africa's main wine producing region. Yesterday we took a day long tour around some of the local vineyards with a company called Easy Rider. The trip included a cellar tour, wine tasting at 4 different estates, cheese tasting, lunch and most importantly of all a vehicle with a sober driver.

We started the day at the Simonsig estate on the outskirts of Stellenbosch. After a brief introduction into the history of South African wine making and a cellar tour we got down to the serious business of drinking . . . I mean wine tasting.

We were given a crash course on the techniques of proper wine tasting, which most of us did our best to ignore, and then let loose on 10 bottles from the cellar. Each person was allowed 5 glasses, so by paring up we were able to sample all of the wines on offer. I don't think I've ever drunk 10 different wines before 11 in the morning.

Then we headed onto the Fairview estate at Parl. Here everyone got to pick 5 wines from a selection of about 40 bottles. Again by pairing up we got to try up to 10 different ones. Fairview also makes a range of different cheese which we also got to sample, the best being the goat cheeses which they specialise in.

As we left Fairview we overheard another another person on our tour ask one of their friends "Do you have to kill the goat to get the cheese out?". I know we'd been drinking wine for a fair proportion of the morning but there really is no excuse.

To help everyone sober up we then stopped for lunch at another estate. There we got to try one of the more unusual African game meats with a springbok stew. Of course lunch was served with yet more wine. I think that this was the only place we've ever been to where wine is free with your lunch but you have to pay for soft drinks!

The third wine tasting stop of the day was at Dieu Donne Vineyards in the Franschhoek region. This time everyone got to choose 5 glasses from a list of about 20 different bottles. By the time we finished there things had started to go decidedly hazy and I think many of us would have struggled to tell a chardonay from a shiraz.

The forth and final wine tasting stop of the day was at the Boschendal estate back on the outskirts of Stellenbosch where we were greeted by yet another 5 glasses.

After the tour finished we wobbled our way back to our guesthouse for a dinner of freshly baked bread and Fairview goat's cheese washed down with a drop of Simonsig wine. Please note that no goats were hurt during the extraction of our cheese.

Today, as we headed back to Cape Town, we made one final vineyard visit, calling in at Spier. We weren't there for the wine though as we couldn't face anymore after yesterdays marathon. The Spier estate has an outreach project which allows you to get up close and, if you want to, in the cage with some hand reared cheetahs.

28 July 2009

Warning Signs

We've seen quite a few unusual warning signs whilst we've been on the road the last few days.

27 July 2009

Boulders Beach and the Cape of Good Hope

The real reason why we came to Cape Town was to visit Boulders Beach in Simon's Town.
Although I'm a fine candidate for the naming of somewhere it is in fact named after Simon van der Stel the former governor of the Cape Colony from the 1680's.

Boulders beach is famous for the 3000 odd African penguins who nest there. It is one of the few land based penguin colonies anywhere in the World and a great opportunity to get up close to the little flipperd fellas.

Even without the penguins it's still a spectacular beach and coastline.

Simon's Town is also a naval base and was home to one of the navy's strangest recruits. Able Seaman Just Nuisance is the only dog to ever hold rank in the British Royal Navy. According to legend the great dane dog befriended and assisted intoxicated sailors during World War II. When he died he was buried with full military honors and a life size bronze statue erected in the town square.

His birthday is still celebrated every 1st April, Just Nuisance Day, with a dog parade through the town.

After the excitement of the penguins (and the dog) we left Simon's Town and headed down the coast to Cape Point, the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

We had feared that Cape Point may have been turned into a horrible tacky theme park like at Lands End in the UK. Thankfully though that's not the case. All you get is the Flying Dutchman funicular railway, which takes you 238m up the cliff, and some spectacular scenery.

There's also some pretty mean looking chacma baboons who spend their time terrorising the diners at the cafe. Although this fella really should move somewhere else if he's after a bit of food.

We also made the short trip across to the Cape of Good Hope, the most Southwesterly point on the African mainland.

Finally we ended the day by heading all the way back up the peninsular to the town of Stellenbosch in the heart of the South African wine lands.

Once again we've found a really great guesthouse on-line called Magnolia Place which is just on the outskirts of Stellenbosch town centre. After two months of fairly ropey accommodation in the rest of Africa (or camping) it's been a real surprise that the last 3 places we've stayed in have been really nice. It's been great to stay somewhere that has furniture, hot water, is clean and doesn't cost you both arms and legs.

A lot of the vineyards in the surrounding countryside have really nice restaurants attached to them that as well as serving copious amounts of local wine do food sourced from the local farms. We headed out for dinner to a place called 96 Winery Road at Zandberg Farm in Helderberg. They served up the most tender steak I've ever eaten. When we were on the overland truck we struggled to eat our hippo steaks with butter knives, there would have been no such problems with this piece of meat.

26 July 2009

On the road

The cheapest car hire we could find got us a Toyota Tazz for about £12 a day.

Although it looks a bit of a heap it actually drives fine and is still miles better than the under powered hair dryer we had in Langkawi or the death trap jeep that we had in Bali. And lets face it, after spending two weeks crossing Africa in a truck, it actually feels quite palatial. Hopefully with it being a bit crap it also means that the gun wielding car jackers wont be interested in it either!

Our first port of call was the Tafelburg Road which takes you about 300m up the side of Table Mountain for some great views of the central Cape Town.

We then skirted round to the opposite side of the city bowl to check out the views from Signal Hill.

Next we headed out of the town centre for the coastal resort of Camps Bay. Although the sun was shining and the sky blue, thanks to the Antartic currents, the sea was absolutely freezing and out of bounds to all but those with a very thick wetsuit.

For our next stop, at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, we had to drive all the way around the base of Table Mountain to the Southern edge of the city. Kirstenbosch was the first botanical garden in the world to be established to protect local flora and is home to lots of giant protea and finbos plants.

After a couple of hours exploring the gardens we carried on South out of the city to Hout Bay on the West coast of the peninsular. For some unexplained reason the residents of Hout Bay have declared the town an independent republic. It is also home to Fish on the Rocks, reportedly the best chippy on the coast. We didn't get to sample their wares as the queue was out the door and half way down the (very long) road when we got there.

We had intended to leave Hout Bay by taking the Chapman's Peak drive. The road which is blasted into the side of the mountain is said to be one the most scenic routes in the World. Unfortunately it was closed for repairs so we had to take the slightly less scenic motorway instead.

We ended our first day on the road at Kalk Bay, a small fishing town on the Southeast coast of the Cape Peninsular. Thanks to another great deal that we found on Expedia www.expedia.co.uk we are staying at an absolutely stunning B&B called Chartfield Guesthouse. The room that we have is really beautiful with great views over the bay. Not bad for £20 a night.

After checking in we headed out for a quick drive around the coast. Whilst passing through the town of Glencairn we were lucky enough to spot a Southern Right Whale out in the waters of False Bay.

It may not look like much in the photo but at a weight of about 65 tons it was a pretty spectacular sight.