Saturday, December 30, 2006

Split Company

Upon leaving Kenya, we went in different directions. Carol headed for Johannesburg where she met up with Bailey, her husband and Alecia, her friend from Rwanda. Rick and Edith continued to Cape Town where they spent 3 days in Cape Town and 2 days in the wine country before heading to Laos for one week. Carol spent 2 days in Johannesburg, a week at Alecia's beach house in Port Alfred and then headed for the wine country and Cape Town. We'll each tell you about our separate trips.

Edith and Rick stayed at "An African Villa" which is a guest house in Cape Town. It is probably one of the best inns that we have ever stayed in. It is made up of three town houses with all the amenities you need. One of the owners, Louis Nel, was so friendly and helpful during the entire time we were there. The room was spacious, bright and had a lovely decor. Each morning, the staff would fix us a great made-to-order English breakfast on their gorgeous terrace or lovely dining room depending on the weather and off we would go. The first morning, we wandered around the city on our own. Since the guesthouse is centrally located in the City Bowl (named this because Cape Town sits in a bowl completely surrounded by mountains), we walked to see all the sights including Green Market and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. It was actually great to be able to get out on our own, never get lost and enjoy all the city had to offer. Cape Town is quite a lovely city with oceans, mountains and great views everywhere.

One thing that Louis provided for the room which we had never encountered before and thought was a great service - individual phone cards. We had to call back to the U.S. several times because the credit card company was concerned about all the different countries we charged in (even though we had called before leaving on our trip and informed the company of each country we would be visiting - highly recommend you do this if you are going on a long, multi-country trip). Anyway these cards were practically as cheap as they are in the U.S. and we were calling from Africa - great innovation for inns. The other service that was quite nice were two computers in the family room which guests could use. We almost never had to wait to use the computer. It was the only inn on the whole trip that provided this amenity and as we have said before, access to computers was very limited on the whole trip - KUDOS to An African Villa.

On this trip, Edith became quite taken with trade beads and so in Cape Town, she went on a successful hunt for these beads. Trade beads are actually European beads (Venice, Holland, Bohemia) which date back to the late 15th century when Portuguese trading ships arrived on the coast of West Africa to exploit resources such as gold, slaves, ivory, and palm oil. Beads were a major source of currency exchanged for people and products. Over four centuries, millions of beads were traded with Africa, and by the nineteenth century, European bead makers were producing a wide variety of designs (millefiori, chevrons, striped melons, feather, and eye beads) specifically for African trade.

The next day, Edith and Rick got a great guide, Tania of Discovery Tours, to show us the sights of the peninsula of Cape Town. Luckily for us the day was very clear and we saw beautiful views of Hout Bay, beaches with wonderful thatched houses, Cape Point where we saw a whole family of ostriches and Boulder Beach where the African penguins have their home. The penguins were so cute because they were molting and looked all puffed up. Did you know that when they are molting, they cannot enter the water as they have lost all the waterproofing so they fatten up before molting period and mate during this period? They mate for life and take turns incubating their eggs and feeding their young - a mini March of the Penguins.

At Cape of Good Hope, we took the funicular up to the top of the point and
walked down. The view was quite beautiful and of course, it was very windy. We learned that just recently they discovered that the Indian and Atlantic Oceans do not meet here as always thought, but the meeting point is actually a couple of miles across False Bay. Also the first light house on the Cape never worked because there was always fog to block the light so they ended up building another one that was lower, therefore avoiding the fog. At the Cape Point, you might see a number of animals like baboons (the one in the photo above is carrying a small one under her belly), antelope, zebra and eland. Among the eight species of antelope found in Cape Point is the rarest antelope in all of Africa. . It is called the bontebok and at the turn of the 20th century, they were on the verge of extinction with only 81 surviving. As an inspiration to conservationist, they have made a remarkable comeback and now there are over 2000 in all of Africa.

Toward the end of this terrific day, we visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. Sitting with the gorgeous backdrop of Table Mountain, the collection of protea and other flowers is unbelievable. The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest, most diverse and richest of the world's six floral kingdoms. Over 9600 species of plants are found on the Cape Peninsula, 70% are endemic (occur nowhere else) to this floral kingdom. At you can tell from the pictures, Edith and Rick loved the many different species of protea.

In addition, we learned what townships are in South Africa. Our guide kept talking about townships and we unknowingly thought that all she meant was a small town, but then she explained to us about townships. This is where someone can build temporary shelter on government land and if they stay there for more than 24 hrs, they are allowed to stay permanently. Townships are quickly formed and shacks and all sorts of temporary shelter spring up. Many of these people come looking for work and as soon as one comes, then relatives and others follow. If you have land next to the township, the value of your property can quickly drop. We are sorry that we did not take the time to visit these places. We were surprised that based on all the news we have read, we did not catch this distinction.

The next day, we rented a car and drove to Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands. It is an enchanting region with rolling mountains, gorgeous vineyards, olive groves and lavender farms. In addition, it boasts some of the best restaurants in the world. Settled by the Dutch, the architecture is quite picturesque and all the inns are charming. We stayed at La Petite Ferme which has only 4 stunning cottages with fireplaces and individual lap pools. The day we arrived, they were having a wedding on the grounds and they could not get the groom out of our room, but it was okay because we had an absolutely spectacular lunch there, overlooking the vineyards and beautiful mountains. The whole time we were in Franschoek, we ate like kings and slept and played like royalty. It was a great way to rest up before beginning our Southeast Asian tour.


After a couple of days living it up at a posh resort in Johannesburg called the Westcliff, Carol, Bailey and Alecia headed to Port Alfred, which is a small, lovely Indian Ocean beach town. Alecia's beach house is located in the hills overlooking the ocean. It is wonderfully situated with a 180 degree, panoramic view of the Indian Ocean and coastline. Carol and Bailey were amazed by the long stretches of undeveloped coastline - absolutely gorgeous. We also particularly enjoyed having cocktails in the Jacuzzi and watching the whales cavorting just offshore. Alecia has a cadre of friends in Port Alfred and Carol and Bailey had a marvelous time meeting them and getting to know the area. We reluctantly tore ourselves away, because we had reservations in the wine country and flights booked out of Cape Town.

Both Carol and Bailey loved the wine country. We stayed at Le Franschhoek Hotel, located in the hills just outside the town of Franschhoek, about an hour or so outside of Cape Town. The Hotel was associated with a culinary school and Bailey rated the food staff there (he should know as his company's name is FoodStaff) as the best and most personable service of anywhere on the trip. The food was terrific as well - but it was absolutely out of this world at Le Petite Ferme. Edith and Rick had been thoughtful enough to make reservations for us, because they had such a great meal there themselves. Carol and Bailey ate there on Thanksgiving Day and it was a meal to remember.

Carol and Bailey stayed in a comfortable suite in a small hotel in the heart of Cape Town - the Adderley Hotel . The hotel had only been open a couple of weeks and the staff and management were wonderfully gracious and welcoming. While in Cape Town, Bailey and Carol walked the city, seeing all the sights such as Greenmarket Square which is home to a fantastic flea market, the Victoria and Albert Waterfront which much like the Baltimore Waterfront and the Two Oceans Aquarium with punk like penquins, funky orange billed oystercatchers, kelp forests and many fish from the two oceans.

The hotel restaurant, the Bowl, was on the second floor with huge arching windows and balcony overlooking Aderley Street - which is one of the main thoroughfares in the old part of Cape Town. As a result, Carol and Bailey were perfectly situated for the Christmas parade and street party on Adderley street which kicked off when the mayor of Cape Town flipped the switch on the city's Christmas decorations. We had dinner on the balcony overlooking the party and got caught up in the festivities. It reminded us of a family-oriented Mardi Gras.

After Carol flew out of Cape Town to meet Rick, Edith and long-time friend Holly Hook in Bangkok, Bailey stayed on for a few days to check out the Western Cape and South African fishing. The weather was wild and he caught no fish, but had a good time and came back with salty stories.