Hello again Nic Schoolers!
In my last blog, I left off at our arrival into Cape Town. Andrew, Megan, Jay, Lisanne and I spent just over a week (July 19 – July 27) in the surrounding Cape Town region, truly one of the most spectacular places any of us have visited. The Western Cape in southwestern South Africa, where Cape Town is located, contains more adventurous opportunities than anyone could squeeze into a week. We have been surprised daily and have each crossed things off our Life Goal’s list. Here is the story of our week.
Cape Town is contained between Table Mountain to the north and east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south. Cape Town has an estimated population of 3.5 million people but has a comparatively lower population density than other South African cities due to its large area. There are many other towns and villages in the surrounding area that stretch south to the Cape of Good Hope, where there is a nature reserve. The weather is pleasant, considering that it is winter here. The days are warm and the temperature drops to 8 C at night, or around 45 F. The weather is perfect for hiking, particularly if you have a jacket at sunset.
What have we done? Well, we ventured to the wharf our first night together (July 19) and purchased our guidebooks, explored, and Jay and I split a “Soulmate Seafood” platter for dinner. We went back to the hotel to sleep off some jetlag. The next morning (7/20), we visited Robben Island, the prison that held Nelson Mandela for 18 years. It was here that I crossed off the first thing from my life list. I saw my first species of penguin in the wild: African/Jackass Penguin. The prison tour itself was a good tour, though we were mainly on a bus. There is still a small village on Robben Island with ~120 people, but the prison has long since closed. We saw the stone pile that Nelson Mandela started in 1995 when he revisited the prison. President Mandela laid a stone in remembrance at the Lime Quarry, where the prisoners had to work every day for most of the day. Each ex-prisoner laid a stone there after President Mandela and the pile remains today.
After Robben Island, we journeyed to Table Mountain. Wow, what beauty! Table Mountain overlooks and surrounds Cape Town, so we finally realized how vast Cape Town is. All of it, however, is located between the mountains and the ocean. Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, much older than the Himalayas, the Rockies, and comparable to the Smokies. We started late just before 4PM and ascended as the sun was descending, generally not a good time to start climbing a mountain, particularly in winter! We were unable to reach the actual summit, but we did spot an introduced Himalayan Tahr. Table Mountain is relatively flat at the top, hence the name. We probably only made it a little more than halfway to the summit. Nevertheless, we had a great hike along the ridge and walked west for several hours, eventually descending well away from where we started. The entire hike lasted around 5 hours. Famished and exhausted, we grabbed dinner at the first restaurant we saw. It ended up being the oldest restaurant in Cape Town and was quite a treat. After getting ripped-off by the cab driver on the way home (we were in the middle of nowhere when we got in and didn’t immediately notice that he didn’t have a meter, after which it was too late because it would have been dangerous on those roads to get out – we argued him down a bit, but it was still a rip-off!), we passed out, exhausted, at the hotel.
On Wednesday (7/21), we checked out of our hotel in Cape Town and rented a car, though not a large enough car. We needed a full-size SUV and they had none. We left most of our luggage at the hotel since we would return in a few days. We then headed to the World of Birds. This was, of course, my idea and it initially met a decent amount of resistance. However, in addition to many neat birds, it also had many other interesting animals. A few of the areas were petting zoos. For instance, we petted a wallaby, had squirrel monkeys walk along our arms and squeeze our fingers, got charged at by geese and displaying turkeys, and much more! After that, we drove to the Cape Town National Park, which we agreed was quite easily the most beautiful park that we had ever visited. There are resident baboons, ostriches, cape zebras (though we did not see any), whale watching spots along the cliffs (also did not see any), elands, and other ungulates. Red-winged starlings are common as well. We watched the sun disappear behind the cliffs and ocean, the end of a great day.
More adventures to come in the next entry.