I once thought South Africa was a geographical region, rather a country. Such as “I’m from South Africa” was comparable to “I’m from the Midwest”. At least I realized there are white people in South Africa, thanks to The Disney Channel’s “The Color of Friendship” and of course Cady from “Mean Girls”. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2014 when I started working on ships that I first made conversation with South Africans, and I finally put their location on the map. From friendships, roommates, and relationships with Saffas, I continually grew more curious about their acclaimed country. So when my most previous roommate (from the Eastern Cape) suggested I visit the man I had been seeing to his home near Cape Town, I thought, “yeah, I guess I should”
24 hours later, my flight was booked.
Arriving around noon, I landed in Cape Town International with a plane sparsely filled with Europeans from London Heathrow. I spot my Saffa, Aldert, up from the gate, flash a smile and approach immigration.
Country twenty two and counting.
We hug, we kiss, we drive into his home of Durbanville, and I shower after 36 hours of traveling. By now I am exhausted and a bit unsteady. I just arrived to South Africa to visit a guy I had known for a few months… Best make the most of it.
Starting off the holiday with one of the Western Cape’s finest attractions, we head to a local wine farm in Durbanville. Aldert’s colleague suggested we try Altygdacht. With hundreds of wine farms in the region, word of mouth is the best source while searching for a quality experience.
We shared an exceptional bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon with lunch. To savor the moment and the wine, I ordered a second bottle to check in my luggage home. After a peaceful meal on the farm we headed to Blougberstand, a beach town just kilometers away.
During the costal drive, I noticed surfers beginning to cross into the beach. Soon after, the entire shoreline was filled with wind surfers. Aldert and I sipped on a draft of Black Label lager and watched the surfers fly up to three meters above the water, hoping for the surfer’s sake they had that moment recorded on GoPro.
We approached the water, I soaked my swollen feet in the cool water, and embraced the majestic Table Mountain for a moment before heading back home.
That evening I met the family before Aldert and I grabbed more Black Labels at Durbanville’s local hotspot, Speakeasy. Being in a suburb, we were surrounded by cliques of long-lived friends. Not to mention everyone preferred to speak in Afrikaans. I don’t blame them, but I also felt incredibly outcasted. Though by the end of the night, I made short conversations with Aldert’s friends about South Africa, and they all would give me the same response:
“You’re only here for a week?! O no, that’s much too short.”
Hey now, I just arrived…
Little did I know what they meant
After catching up on more sleep, Aldert and I ran a few errands before heading to Stellenbosch, a town best known for its wine farms and the Stellenbosch University. We swirled through the hills and into the charming campus. Memories of my college years ran through my head as we passed students walking to class. Except for my alma mater did not have mountains in the background of the student center building.
We stopped for lunch under a misting patio at the Happy Oak, shopped around novelty stores and popped our heads into art galleries before sitting down for another drink. There at De Stomme Jonge, Aldert helped me interpret a menu completely written in Afrikaans, which was a first since arriving. I could pick out a few words, recognize each menu section, but without the help of Aldert I was hopeless. Throughout this afternoon pick-me up, we dodged acorns violently falling from above. Though we were covered by an umbrella, the nuts shot at us from all directions. As the saying goes, “You are only a true Stellenboscher when an acorn falls on your head”
Does one landing in my lap count?
That evening I stretched out my legs with a run throughout Aldert’s neighborhood. I made way to a dam not too far away, and within one loop I couldn’t help but running back home to grab my phone for a picture.
That night we met up for drinks in downtown Cape Town with Aldert’s colleagues. It was the first time actually seeing Cape Town, only it was after sunset. We sat outside at Cubanas bar and restaurant then headed to the Asylum venue to meet old friends during a live show. Aldert’s friend let me know he would speak in English for me, but I told him not to bother until the band was finished. Later that night I found out why a portion of the people speaking Afrikaans refuse to speak English. The majority of people can understand it, but are too embarrassed to practice pronouncing English. If only everyone from South Africa would speak English for me, because their accent is so damn sexy.
Friday morning Aldert and I hopped on his motorcycle (my first ride!) to grab biltong, South Africa’s signature snack of dried meat, and some sausage for a brunch with friends. Two of the girls we met up with were sisters who had both spent an extended period of time in the states. It was refreshing to hear about their thoughts on my country, as I shared my adornment for theirs. As much as I enjoyed their company, our time was limited as Aldert had to work that afternoon. His friends generously helped me call a cab and plan a trip on Cape Town’s Hop-On Hop-Off bus. I was extremely grateful for their hospitality, and happy to know Aldert and I would be seeing them for a birthday party the next night.
Aldert kindly left me with his phone as I ventured Cape Town on my own. Well, with a reputable tour bus company. Regardless, I jumped off in downtown’s Long Street to shop around.
I was impressed with how friendly everyone was (though I was a foreigner), and the vendors were impressed with the little words I knew in Afrikaans. As I might have stressed in previous blog posts, I believe it is important to learn the basics of a language while traveling. A simple “hello”, “please”, “thank you” and “goodbye” is much appreciated to a local.
Time was running out before I planned to meet up with Aldert’s family for dinner, so I gave my wallet a breather as I gave myself one during the rest of the tour up the Cape’s mountain. I was quite disappointed in myself in that I left my phone charging at home, my GoPro died, and Aldert’s phone was low on battery, which was my doing from Snapchatting the tour. But during the scenic route of the bus ride I shook off my frustration and fully embraced the beauty of the Cape without the distraction from a screen. As much as I enjoy photography, no view compares to the one we have been blessed with by God.
Arriving at the aquarium with a few minutes to spare, I walked through the Wharf, contemplated shopping, yet continued on to the V&A Waterfront Ferris wheel to meet Aldert’s family. Being Friday night, the lush area was packed with tourists and locals blissful in the scenery and live music. The four of us were lucky enough to sit by the harbor before every table filled up in the waterfront. There at the steakhouse I enjoyed the company of Aldert’s family and my first Kudo steak. I’ll most likely never order Kudo again, but when in South Africa…
Later that night Aldert returned from work and we met up with an old friend of his at a local bar and restaurant. The original plan was to keep things casual, for the two of us scheduled to climb Table Mountain early Saturday morning. However the friend, Johan, had a different idea of how the night would to turn out. Once I discovered Uber taxi service existed in the Cape Town area, we beelined to Stellenbosch. Table Mountain could wait.
Being that Stellenbosch is a college town and we posted up at a college bar, I felt old. But who am I kidding? My university friends and I had relived our college years just the weekend before. Plus, being foreign I was naturally an outsider. Though Aldert and his friends made great company, and “the more you drink, the easier it is to speak another language” phenomenon kicked in with one of the guys.
Alcohol. A universal language.
That morning was a slow start, but we still had places to go! So Aldert and I filled up with coffee and Vitamin Water and headed down to Simon’s Town.
Unfortunately, the traffic in the Western Cape can be a pain, and with it being a Saturday much of our day was spent on the road. I still couldn’t complain, the view was incredible.
We slowly passed the quaint Simon’s Town and struggled to find parking for Boulders Beach. After much patience we found a spot and bought our ticket for the attraction I had been looking forward to the most… Penguins!
We could have spent enough time at Boulder beach for me to smuggle a bird into my satchel, but the wind became a pain and I decided to avoid jail in South Africa.
Just a few kilometers away we reached Kalk Bay. We visited a neighborhood market, shopped at antique stores, and decided on Cape to Cubana for a late lunch. There is something about these beach towns that make me feel like buying an item from every store, and sipping a drink outside every restaurant patio. Though Cape to Cubana ended up a stellar choice, with mussels and paella and plenty of Sauvignon Blanc.
On the drive home, we had to make a pit stop. You know those images you see on Pinterest or Instagram that have you thinking, “I must go there! I must!” Well, the beach houses on Muizenberg beach was that image for me.
And though we stayed in Muizenberg long enough to take a photo and dip our feet in the water, the trip was completely worth it.
That evening we joined the previous day’s brunch group for the birthday party, chilling out with red wine in the candlelit yard. We later returned to the Speakeasy bar to meet another friend, and stuck to our commitment for an early night. Table Mountian requires a 5am wake up call.
It had been a while that I’d waken up before sunrise. Flashback to my swimming years. Though instead of diving into a cold pool, Aldert and I warmed up with some coffee and drove up to Table Mountain.
Unfortunately, with the Cape’s already windy climate, we deemed Table Mountain too dangerous for the time and turned around for Lion’s Head.
Clearly, everyone else in Cape Town had the same idea, and we were joined with several others during the hike.
I decided during the hike that I must live somewhere with mountains. And somewhere with a beach. A far fetch from the Kansas landscape I grew up with, but it’s fair to say I tend to adapt to the new and the unknown quite well.
It was still breakfast time after our hike, so we parked at Camp’s Bay for a snack. The service was slow at the cafe, but time is never an issue when you have a beach side view.
Again, I decided on some life plans: invest in property. The thought of owning a place near Camp’s Bay is incredibly appealing. Running along the beach then catching a coffee with some Saffa friends every morning? Yes aseblief (please).
By the time we reached home adrenaline still pumped through my veins. So I ran around the dam again before getting ready for a Goldfish concert at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
My South African roommate had played Goldfish in the past, and I jumped on the opportunity for tickets when I noticed they were playing at Kirstenbosch during my stay. The botanical gardens were on my Cape Town bucket list, so the event could not have planned out so perfectly.
I had been to some botanical gardens in the past, but this place is another world. Scenery straight from Jurassic Park combined with elaborate cacti I never knew existed. Aldert and I spent most of our time in silence on the skywalk before the concert, soaking it all in.
Exhausted from the early rise, I suggested we leave the concert early to beat traffic. I felt like my Dad. (Sorry Dad). It ended up a brilliant idea, for we made time to have dinner at Mitchell’s at the V&A Waterfront and catch the sunset.
I woke up with a shake on the shoulder by Aldert, who had French Toast waiting for me in the kitchen. Today we planned to keep chill, due to Sunday’s activities and Tuesday’s early rising. We had time to kill before borrowing a car for the afternoon’s road trip to Hermanus, a costal town. So Aldert and I shopped for my Rugby jersey, went on a bobsled run, and stopped for a drink along side another dam. Once we acquired the car for the road trip, we accounted little time to spare if we wanted to catch the sunset in Hermanus. Regardless, we took the scenic route and parked alongside the coast just in time.
After a long drive, we were ready to wine and dine. After multiple glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, fresh sushi and grilled fish at a popular chain Lemon Butta, we headed to our stay near the beach for a quick sleep before Tuesday’s adventure.
Aldert’s friend called us around 5:30 am to make sure we were still keen for our plans. Within minutes we flew down the dark road and arrived to Gansbaai before the sunrise. Gansbaai is a small beach town with a large tourist attraction: shark cage diving. Great White shark-cage diving, that is. Aldert and I pondered the idea when I first booked my flight to South Africa, but I didn’t expect to go through with it. When I told my parents and cousins about the potential plans, they looked at me with fear and concern for my mental stability. I promised my family I would be careful, and I was.
We were safely assured that the shark cage company operates 363 days of the year alongside seven other tour agencies in Gansbaai. If thousands of people from across the globe are doing it, why not jump on the bandwagon?
Part of me felt guilty for participating in an unnatural attraction. These guides were throwing gallons of fish chum into the sea to lure in Great Whites on a daily basis. On the other hand, safely interacting with the sea’s most aggressive fish seemed sensational.
And it was. Despite the freezing water, the trip was a blast. Seagulls swarmed the boat throughout the tour, feeding for fish. I attempted to GoPro the Great-White happenings as my hands cramped up in the water, only to capture a few quality shots. Aldert and I shivered throughout the entire experience, but I would never take it back.
After several coffees and sun-soaking, Aldert and I grabbed a drink with his friend who hooked us up with the tour. His English was limited, so I sat in the bar reviewing the past few hours of my life while trying to understand the Cricket World Cup game that was playing on TV.
Several kilometers later, we met up with a couple at the wine farm of Vergleden for wine tasting. The couple, Wikus and Liisa had just finished a flight of white wines and informed us we had an hour before the restaurant’s kitchen would close. I regret to say I never did an official wine tasting in Cape Town, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t taste any wine. With the weather being the hottest in record for the season, we cooled down with three bottles of Sauvignon Blanc between the four of us. While Wikus and Liisa left for some afternoon work, Aldert and I walked around the wine farm after-hours. Completely alone amongst the rose gardens and Dutch buildings, romantic in the least.
The rest of the night ended abruptly for me. We watched the sunset outside Aldert’s favorable bar from studies, but when the natural light vanished, so did my energy. After enough red wine I decided to call it a night.
With enough sleep from the previous night, I woke up realizing it was my last full day! And like any natural end to a marvelous week, the sky was overcast with scattered rainclouds. For a pick me up, we went for coffee and I tried a Rooibos latte, a traditional South African tea that I decided to try with steamed milk.
Beautiful, but I prefer it plain.
We then stopped briefly at a cheetah sanctuary to see some wildlife. I must admit I am quite disappointed that I visited South Africa without seeing a single lion, but I’ll save that for next time.
Then leaving Somerset for Paarl, we parked at the much anticipated Spice Route, a collaboration of vendors and culinary expositions. We taste-tested beer at Cape Brewery Company, where we learned about the craftsmanship of the fresh drafts on-site. We then observed the process of glass blowing at the next door gallery, all before gorging in a delectable platter of meats and cheese at The Barley and Biltong restaurant.
I took pleasure in a nap after the beer and food back at Aldert’s, while he and Wikus arranged for an unforgettable last night in Cape Town.
Fighting traffic, Wikus, Liisa, Aldert and I toasted with bubbly at Liisa’s apartment and headed to Koelbai with a braai (barbecue) and sleeping bags. We first cheered on top of a hill for a glass of wine to appreciate the city view, then trekked our belongings to the beach. Enclosed by boulders, our sleeping quarters fell between two caves. Once the fire ignited we were off to explore. Sharing two flashlights between the four of us, we entered a black cave, some of us more daring than others.
I was terrified. Death gripping Aldert’s arm while Wikus and Liisa creeped further in. Graffiti covered the inside walls and rock formations had me seeing images from horror movies. Then Wikus jumped, I screamed, Aldert started walking back and then I realized it just a bat. A Bat! No no no, bats are friends. They eat Mosquitos.
Still startled, we headed back to the braai and the men did their manly duties while Liisa and I walked along the beach. Luckily for us, the sand and the water created a sparkling blue reaction as the waves crushed in and while kicking our feet against the ground. A subtle glow shimmered between our toes. Liisa mentioned her last time at this beach the blue glimmer was much brighter, but this instant was impressive enough for me.
Once the meat was cooked, we munched on lamb chops and steak, washed our hands in the ocean, and slept under the stars.
Waking up with a natural alarm of the sunrise, I laid in content. I had spent the night on the beach, something I had never done before, nor ever thought I would. That last night could not have been so perfect. And that morning could not have been for blissful.
The rest of the day was quite exhausting, and Aldert and I purchased last minute gifts before my flight home. It was difficult to say goodbye, not knowing when we would see each other again. He coordinated an incredible journey for me during my stay in South Africa, and allowed me to experience most of the Western Cape in a way most people will never do. I felt truly immersed in the culture for a week. Sure, we hit the major tourist attractions. Though I don’t know of any tour guide that will braai for you on the beach.
I learned so much about the English and Afrikaans culture. I realized that lions don’t roam the streets of South Africa. I appreciated white wine again. I came a foot between a Great White shark! But mostly, I regained insight on how inspiring travel is. The places we are most uncertain of are capable of striking us with awe. The people of different nations are generally good hearted. And the only way to find out for yourself is to book a ticket.
Thanks again for an exceptional holiday