Monday, December 13, 2010

South Africa

My entry for South Africa will be rather simple. We spent 5 night in Cape Town and then 4 nights on the road driving east of Cape Town. First I'll highlight our Cape Town experiences.

Cape Town for us was meant to be a resting point after having bee on safari in Kenya & Tanzania for the previous two weeks. I know what some people are thinking. How hard can a safari be? Well it was a little rougher than I expected but I still think it is the highlight of our trip so far. We needed a few days to recoup from being on the go plus the travel time from Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania down to Cape Town took over 24 hours. The trip down to Cape Town was smooth until we arrived in Johannesburg. We arrived before midnight and didn't think we would have to go through immigration to collect our bags and recheck but we ended up having to do this. This wasn't hard since you don't have to do anything upon arrival in South Africa but get a stamp in your passport and recheck your bags. The problem was that the place to recheck your bags had closed for the night and the check-in counters were not open until the next morning. We knew were going to have to spend the 6 hour layover in the airport but thought we would be able to stay what they call air side to stay in a 24/7 business class lounge but instead we had the privilege of sleeping on benches by the check-in counters of South African Airways. It is the first time I've slept out in the open at an airport. It actually wasn't that bad. I got about 3 hours of sleep before we checked in around 5 am for our 6 am flight to Cape Town.

view of Table Mountain from our hostel

Once we arrived in Cape Town we spent the first couple of days relaxing. We stayed at a pretty good hostel called The Backpack at the African Travel Center. One downside was that the wireless internet was down for the 1st three days but we had access to the desktop computers in their internet lounge. We also made use of our time by taking care of some administrative\logistical things. I got a haircut that I was overdue on. My last one was in Turkey and that was 6 countries ago. I also got my 3rd and final TwinRx Hepatitis A\B vaccination shot at a travel clinic. It only cost me the equivalent of about $51 US to get the shot in South Africa while costing $175 back in the US. South Africa has private health care and not a government run system to subsidize the cost from what I read online. We also took a morning and drove out to the US Consulate to get additional visa pages added to our passports. We still have months of travel left and definitely run the possibility of running out of visa pages especially since some countries will take up two pages. If you run out of pages then more than likely you will not be allowed into a country. Seems a little harsh but is true. We decided to do it here since we had access to a consulate versus waiting until we almost ran out and have to significantly alter our plans to go to an embassy where it isn't as convenient. It turned out to be pretty easy and quick to do. The bad part is that they now charge $82 to add the pages. It used to be free up until I think 6 months ago but I know have the equivalent of a new passport book worth of empty visa pages. The cost of a new passport is up to $135.

We did spend a little time sightseeing. We walked down Government Avenue which is a pretty pedestrian only street that runs down the heart of Cape Town. We then walked over to the waterfront area. On our last night we met a friend of a former colleague of Alethea's who took us back to his place and cooked dinner for us. It was a real nice dinner and I enjoyed playing with his dog Miss O who is named after Oprah!

Government Avenue in Cape Town

Cape Town was a pretty good resting point. It is a nice modern western city. The unfortunate part is that crime is real high here but not as bad as Johannesburg. There are a lot of tall walls with barbed wire or sharp objects on them to keep people out. Many of the fences have a top wire that is electric. We also drove by some of the townships. There is an obvious disparity in the livelihoods of those who live in the townships and those who don't.

We finished up our time in Cape Town by mapping out what we wanted to do for our other 5 days and did just a little bit of planning for Southeast Asia. It was a little difficult to do research because internet access in South Africa isn't as cheap or widely available as it is in other parts of the world. It was almost like we were back in Australia or New Zealand with their notoriously slow and expensive internet service.

One slightly amusing thing about Cape Town is that they have replaced parking meters with human beings. When you park you pay an attendant who watches your car while you shop or eat. You pay them in tips and usually not a flat fee when you return to your car. We found this practice to also be in place in other parts of South Africa. Another practice is if you park in the street someone (usually a young kid) will wash your car whether you wanted it or not and expect a tip. We had this happen in one town and we gave the kid a decent tip but he kept asking for more money. We didn't give him any more though. Despite the high crimes rates I wonder if they have lower rates of vandalism involving cars. I'll need to look this up at a later date.

The remaining 5 nights in South Africa were spent on the road.. We rented a small Indian manufactured called from Tata. The car was ok but had very little horsepower. We had to turn the air conditioning off when going up hill for extra horsepower. It actually made a difference. We drove the first day along the coast through the town of Hermanus to Cape Agulhas. During season you can actually see whales from the coast in Hermanus. We just missed them by a few weeks. The drive was pretty scenic except when you come across a township of tin shacks which are only a few hundred meters from homes that would list in the US for over a million dollars. Cape Agulhas itself is best known for being the southern most point on the continent of Africa and the place where the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet. It is well marked and meant for us tourists. After Agulhas we traveled down to the town of Knysna. We visited some overlooks and a beach on the Indian Ocean before having some fresh raw oysters at a local restaurant. We even heard some live music and were given a CD from one of the bands (Collin's Street) who were promoting their music. One small problem is that I am not carrying a CD player in my laptop plus I don't even own anymore except I guess the one in my car back in Tennessee. 

Alethea @ the southern most point in Africa & where the Atlantic & Indian Oceans meet

The next stop on our driving tour was in a town called Oudtshoorn. Oudtshoorn was located somewhat inland. The highlight was that we got to go to an ostrich farm. We saw a few different types and got to stand on some ostrich eggs. We wanted to ride them but it was too hot. Once it gets over 30 C's the ostriches can become aggressive and I don't blame them although I was really looking forward to riding one.

The last place we stopped which was for two nights was the town of Stellenbosh which is home both to a large university and is a major wine growing region with over 300 wineries with 100 open to the public. On our last full day we went wine tasting. We manged to visit 3 wineries including eating lunch at one. We visited Lanzerac, Hidden Valley (the golfer Ernie Ells winery was next door), & Tokara where we had lunch. The weather was fantastic and it was a good day to wrap up South Africa before a 24 hour day of traveling.

An ostrich & Alethea posing for a picture

This wraps up South Africa. South Africa itself is a nice modern western country. You can tell the English and Dutch heritage throughout the country. The Afrikaans language sounds pretty much like Dutch which means it doesn't make much sense to an outsider. I recognized a few similar words from the brief time I've spent in the Netherlands. We only covered a small portion of it but it is a quite large beautiful country with lots to see and do. We didn't even visit any of the game parks since we had just finished seeing plenty of wildlife in East Africa. I think it be worth a visit if you are in the area but not sure it warrants a trip from the US due to the sheer distance. For me South Africa was an enjoyable experience that allow for some rest, some planning for future stops, as well as some enjoyable sights to see that were easy to visit. The only real negative take away will be the townships and all the fences with barbed wire in virtually every town that you visit. I am sure a lot of progress has been made since apartheid was legally dismantled in the early 1990's but a lot of progress still needs to be made. It seems like each town has a township no matter how nice. It will probably take decades for things to become more balanced. 

me toasting Africa goodbye :-)

Next stop for us is Southeast Asia. We start with Vietnam. I am little ignorant on some of the countries we are visiting in this part of the world outside of the history of the US with Vietnam. I did spend some down time recently reading about 20 scanned in pages of guide books about Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, & Thailand. I'm looking forward to these countries. The food alone should be worth the trip plus it is supposed to be one of the more economical (cheap) parts of the world to travel in. I am still holding up pretty well. I get a little homesick every now and then after being on the road for more than 4 months. Sometimes I let the daily inconveniences get to me a little bit which may not always make me the best person to travel with but I am still having a good time exploring all the new countries and cultures that we have been exposed too and am looking forward to the next leg of our journey!

Link to photo album:

Daily Log

Friday December 3rd
Arrived in Johannesburg around midnight. Ran into some problems here. First we thought we could transit through the airport versus going through immigration but we had to through immigration. Not a big deal since there is no cost for a visa and you don't have to fill anything out. We then had to collect our bags even though we were told in Kilimanjaro that they were checked all the way through to Cape Town. We left the baggage and customs to find out that the area to re-check bags was closed until tomorrow. We thought we would be able to go to a lounge which is open 24/7 but it was on the other side of security which we knew but since we had no boarding pass and couldn't re-check our bags we were stuck. We went upstairs and found some benches. We slept on the benches from around 12:30 until a little after 4 am. I slept probably 3 hours total while Alethea slept less. First time I have ever spent the night in the airport and I have a feeling it probably will not be the last.
We checked in to our Cape Town flight which left on time at 6:00 am. Flew two hours to Cape Town.
Waited for about 40 minutes at airport on shuttle pick up and some other passengers.
Made it to hostel around 9:30 am. Room isn't ready and check in isn't until 2 pm. I took out my toothbrush before putting my bag in storage and brushed my teeth. Sitting by pool outside on a couch until whenever the room it ready. Internet is down too at the hostel.
Definitely not a smooth travel day but at least we made it with our luggage.
We plan on taking a day or two just to relax before seeing this area. I know next to nothing about South Africa so I'll need to read up on it. I should clarify I know the history with Mandela and apartheid but not much about what there is to see here.
Checked in to our room around noon.
Finished editing pictures
Took nap for just over a hour
Ate lunch at the hostel
Walked around neighborhood.
Got haircut
Bough groceries
Found laundry mat place running a special. Came back and got our clothes. Dropped them off will pick up tomorrow
Bought beer to bring back to hotel to drink.
Worked on blog.

Saturday December 4th
Woke up around 9 am. Nice to sleep in for a change
Ate breakfast then went to pick up laundry. Laundry wasn't ready. Excuse was that they had electrical problems the night before and things were delayed.
Bought some wine from the grocery store since we think alcohol shops are closed on Sunday.
Walked around town. Walked down Government street which is a 1 km pedestrian street. Real pretty, lots of parks and nice buildings.
Walked over to waterfront area. Stopped and had beers and a pizza at a tavern. Walked over to mall. Alethea got some medication.
Stopped at Belgium beer bar on way back to the hostel
Purchased some sandwiches for light dinner. Ate sandwich, wine, and chili Doritos for dinner.
Tried to get online but was told at reception that wireless is down and will not be back up until Monday. Not sure how this place got to be one of the top 10 hostels in the world. It is Ok but not great.

Sunday December 5th
Slept in to around 8:30. Didn't sleep as well but still Ok
Had coffee and breakfast.
Went down to front desk to the travel section and discussed options for planning remainder of South African portion of trip.
Was going to go down the street to a restaurant and eat and get online. Packed up and walked down there only to find out they are close on Sundays. Walked down the street and found a pretty cheap internet cafe.
Alethea's computer was having problems charging. Her computer gave out after 30 minutes and she went back to the hostel. I surfed for 78 minutes.
Came back to hostel and finished posting my blog and pictures.
Started reading Alethea's SE Asia book while drinking some of my $2 a bottle red wine. It's not that bad.
Went to Ocean Basket Seafood a couple blocks where we are staying. It was a little bit of a splurge. The excuse was celebrating our 4 month anniversary on the road. The food was good and so was the beer (Jack Black – locally brewed, tasted like a pilsner)
Called home via cell phone. Balance it getting low on GoSim card. For some reason it is down to $33. It dropped from 61 to 41 but there doesn't appear to be that many calls. Need to research my call history online. First time I had called home since Turkey.

Monday December 6th
Didn't sleep too well last night. Had reaction to seafood we ate last night. It was probably the raw oysters. I seem to be having issues with them lately which stinks since I like oysters.
Planned out morning SA itinerary
I went to Netcare Clinic in downtown Cape Town while Alethea went to Rick's cafe to take advantage of the free internet. I was in and out of the clinic which I found with no problem in 10 minutes. It only cost $51 to get the Twin RX Hep A\B shot. In the US the same shot costs $175 and SA doesn't have a state run health system they have a private system.
Hiked back to Rick's Cafe where Alethea was still working on uploads and blogging. Walked over to the hostel to get my laptop. Hung out at Rick's & surfed online.
Called US Consulate in Cape Town regarding passport pages. Cost $82, no guarantee we would get it back the same day.
Went back to hostel and booked rest of SA itinerary.

Tuesday December 7th
Rental car rep met us at hostel around 9 am. Drove back to Tempest Rental Cars. We could have walked it was so close.
Drove to US Consulate in Cape Town. It was around 30 km and took a little over 35 minutes. There was some road work going on that slowed us down.
Made it to consulate, passed through security and went to window for American Citizen Services, filled out necessary paperwork to get additional passport pages, paid $82 via CC,
Drove back to hostel
Alethea got haircut while I walked all over downtown for a SE Asia guidebook. Didn't find one. Went into 5 stores.
Bought some toiletries.
Went back to hostel, Alethea took shower
Went to Ricks' to do SE Asia research. Internet was off and on. Alethea booked a place to stay in Hanoi. We decided to get visa approval letters for Vietnam since we needed them. Probably should have gotten this visa before we left the US.
Met a friend of a friend of Alethea's at a hotel just down the street who lives in Cape Town named Kevin. We went to a grocery store and bought groceries then went back to his place and spent a few hours talking and hanging out with his dog Miss O which is a Jack Russel Terrier. We didn't get home until after midnight. Didn't sleep well woke up with a headache.

Wednesday December 8th
Hand wrote notes since didn't have adapter for these type of SA outlets
Drove to Hermanus from Cape Town. Had nice lunch of mussels at seafood restaurant.
Drove to Agulhas over some bumpy unpaved roads for a little bit of the journey. Drove probably 3.5 to 4 hours.
Small town decent hostel. Signed up for BBQ. Told it would take 30 mins to prepare. After 1 hour food wasn't ready & were told it would be another 30 mins. Went to room and ate peanut butter & jelly.
Visited Lighthouse, Shipwreck, & the Southern Most Point in Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. It is actually marked. Had beer on bench.

Thursday December 9th
Drove 4 to 5 hours from Cape Agulhas to Knysna. Nice coastal tourist town.
Went to Mitchell's Brewery and had a round of beers. A cat climbed up on the bar.
Went to overlooks and down to the beech. Touched the Indian Ocean with my feet. It was cold.
Ate dinner @ Quay on 4. Had oyster special 12 for 65 R and one Peroni (Italian) beer. Stomach wasn't feeling good so stopped eating.
Listened to two bands. One or was given a CD for the second band named Collin's Street.

Friday December 10th
Drove to Knysna Elephant Sanctuary 22 km east of Knsyna. Too expensive to tour or ride elephants. $25 to tour $100 to ride.
Drove into Plettenabay. Look for Bungi jump place that is supposedly the world's tallest but found out it is another 30-45 minutes to the east despite brochure saying it was in Plettenbay.
Headed back west for a hour to George. Bought gas. All fuel purchases for cars have to be made in cash and you cannot pump your own gas.
Drove another 30 plus minutes to Oudtshoorn where we spent the night at the Karoo Soul hostel.
Went to Safari Ostrich farm. It was too hot to ride or race the ostriches. If over 30 C they get aggressive. Did get to see plenty including feeding them and standing on their eggs.
Went grocery store to buy dinner. Also, stock up on some additional toiletries before heading to SE Asia.
Borrowed two electrical adapters from the reception. Our around the world adapter kits only partially worked in SA. They have a 3 pronged outlet that I haven't seen anywhere else in the world.
Read all 16 pages for Vietnam. Read all 8 pages on Thailand, Laos, & Cambodia.
Cooked dinner back at hostel.

Saturday December 11th
Long day of driving.
Drover route 62 from Oudtshoorn to Stellenbosch. Took over 5 hours. Drove through a lot small towns. Stopped in Robertson to get some cheese at a farmer's market. Ate lunch in Worscester. Drove through a very long tunnel jest east of Stellenbosch that costs 25 R.
Checked into hostel around 3:30 pm. Discussed options with hostel.
Washed one pair of pants so I wouldn't be short.
Went to internet cafe.
Went to grocery store. Brought back pizza for dinner. Bought a bottle of wine from the hostel.
Printer out Vietnam visa entry letter but found out that it had someone else's name on the invite. Emailed agency that handled the transaction. Must be accurate.
Scenery was pretty nice to drive through. Drove through some arid regions then got into wine country. Saw tons of vineyards around Stellenbosh.

Sunday December 12th
Spent the day touring wineries.
Toured Lanzerac, Hidden Valley (Ernie Ells winery was next door), & Tokara where we had lunch.
Weather was gorgeous.
Dropped off laundry in the morning.
Finished with with tasting around 3:30 pm. Came back to hostel after going to get gas and grocery shop.
Washed out Teva's and black sandals.
Worked on blog and pictures.

Monday December 13th
Travel day to Vietnam starting with flight leaving Cape Town around 1:30 pm.
End of South Africa blog.