Five days in Cape Town

Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
Trip End Dec 22, 2013

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Where I stayed
Ashanti Lodge Gardens Cape Town
Read my review - 4/5 stars
What I did
White Shark Projects
Cape Pennisula

Flag of South Africa  ,
Sunday, November 11, 2012

As mentioned in the last post my first night in Cape Town was spent on Long Street all night long, so the 6am alarm to go Cage Shark-diving on day one with White Shark Projects ( ) was greeted with a bit of a groan. There was seven of us from the tour that got picked up from our perspective accommodation's and after picking up a few other passengers at another hotel we got on the road to drive down the coast to a place called Kleinbaai, about 60km from Cape Town.  Once we arrived we were treated to a real nice breakfast while we signed waivers, got our safety briefing and paid our fees.  After that it was straight down to the waterfront were we were fitted with life jackets and whisked on the boat.  This is the first time I’ve ever boarded a boat on land; they then use a tractor to push the boat launch in the water.  A very choppy 20 minute boat ride later to "shark alley" between Dyer and Geyser Islands we anchored in for our shark adventure.   While I wasn’t scared, I for some reason thought it would be better to go sooner rather than later so jumped at the chance when they asked for the first volunteers. Our first task after being given a wetsuit and booties was to put them on.  Now this is a challenge under normal circumstances, meaning I have practice putting on a triathlon wetsuit on land.  Here were attempting to put on 7mm thick wetsuits on a boat in the water with constant waves.  Let’s just say with five us trying to get on wetsuits in a confined area, we were apologizing to each other a lot for falling on top of each other and stepping on toes.  As we were getting ready, the crew was anchoring the cage, preparing the chum (a soup of blood, mashed pilchard, and sardines) that would be used to attract the sharks to the area and getting the line with the tuna head on ready to draw the sharks closer to the cage.

Just before entering the cage they fit you with goggles and two 5k weights to help weigh you down when under the water.  I was the second person to climb into the cage and focusing really hard on not having any fingers or toes hanging outside the cage as I descended.  Once in you are pretty much standing on a platform and they close the top of the cage.  Then they starting throwing out the tuna head and dragging it back and over the cage. While they do this they yell out “Down down” or “Down Right” or “Down Left”.   At this point you are supposed to take a deep breath, grab on to the red bar below the water and pull yourself under and look for sharks either straight on, to the left or to the right. It took a few tries for me to get my rhythm and actually see something as the water was quite murky but then…WOW.  The sharks would literally swim right by the cage.  It was amazing to see them so up close.  We got to stay in the cage for about 20 minutes and then had to rotate for the next group. 

Once out of the water, we all got quite chilled and had to fight off sea sickness. Some of us (including me) were more successful than others.  I just headed to the top of the boat and viewed the sharks from there.  It was a completely different perspective but just as amazing.  I was about to decline a second opportunity to go in the cage because I was really cold but sucked it up and so glad I did.  The sharks were getting more aggressive and during my second round a couple of them actually grabbed the edge of the cage and gave us a little shake.  As crazy as it sounds I was not at all scared just truly amazed.  We were able to stay in longer this time because the sharks were so active and nobody else wanted to go.  Back on land we once again were treated to a nice bowl of hot soup and a chance to watch the video of our whole experience. Then back in the van for the ride back home.  This was a fantastic experience, and I recommend to anyone who has the opportunity.

No adrenaline rush on day two as the same group plus Ursula went and did the Robben Island tour in the morning.  I have to say I’m on the fence about this experience.  I think most people feel obliged to go on this tour because of the significance to Nelson Mandela, however you actually don’t get to learn too much about him and what he has done for the country.  And as for seeing his cell where he rode out his prison sentence on the island, you see it all for about 30 seconds while fighting with everyone else on the tour for a picture.   The tour starts with a 30 minute ferry ride from the waterfront to Robben Island where you sit inside and watch a video about the brief history of Robben Island.  Then upon arrival to the island you are assigned a bus to go on where you are then driven around the island for about 45 minutes while they show you various buildings and provide additional history of each.  There is one stop were we can get out for about 15 minutes to look at the view back to Cape Town and Table Mountain. Then back on the bus to go to the prison.  Here it gets a little better because the prison tour is given by someone who was actually detained at the prison and he takes you to the block that he was in.  It was interesting to hear him talk about prison life and how they worked around the “system” to organize things such weekly performances, whether it was a play or singing and how they made sure everyone was getting educated while in prison. We had about 5 minutes to walk through the cells each having stories about each of the prisoners held in the cells. Not nearly enough time to read but two of them and then it was the march by Nelson Mandela’s cell.  Once released from prison, we had 10 minutes to get back to the ferry for the return trip. It was a very rushed three hours and wished that it was more self-guided so that one could take time to look around more.  But they have this tour running like a well-oiled machine; as we were walking back to the ferry we saw our tour guide from the bus on another bus with new passengers!  Getting back to shore we decide to have lunch at the Water front and then parted ways for the afternoon with Jesse and me opting to wander around as we made our way back to our hostel. Still no big night out as we were still recovering from our first night in CT and day three was a big day…..

 Ruth Ann and John, a lovely couple on our Africa tour was so kind to arrange a wine tasting tour for us with Marilyn, the lady that they were staying with in Cape Town who happens to be a certified Cape Town tour guide.  She was a lovely who had the gift of the gab but didn’t necessarily always keep her eyes on the road as she talked, if you know what I mean.  Nevertheless it was a great day and we started by driving to the town of Paarl which is the start of the wineries as well as a predominant fruit growing area.  If anyone is familiar with the Ceres juice brand, the fruit is grown here.  She took us to a beautiful hotel that we were all envious considering our accommodations in Cape Town and for the last 45 days.  Just outside of Paarl she took us for our first wine tasting at a place called Fairview ( which makes “Goats do Roam”.   And for R25 we got to taste six different wines and have as much cheese as we wanted.  How happy was I!  Wine was purchased at six bottles for R200 which was a real bargain and off we went to another winery near the area of Franschoek which was set within a really old farming area with lots of history. Unfortunately the name of it has escaped me now; I should have written it down.  This wine tasting was more civilised in that we sat in the garden and the wines were brought to us. Again it was another six different wines and by the end of it, we were all feeling the need for some food.  Off we went to a lovely place called Le Petite Ferme and we had the fanciest meal in 7 weeks.

After lunch the plan was to hit another winery near Stellenbosch but as luck would have it, Marilyn was having a little car trouble and wanted to get it looked at.   So she took us into the town of Stellenbosch where we had about an hour to wander around and check it out.  Aside from being famous for its wineries, it is also a university town; a nice mix and definitely not a bad place to attend school.  By the time we got ready to get going again everyone was beginning to fade and it was getting late in the day so our third winery visit never materialized but was probably just as well as we definitely got our fill and experience with the first two

On day four,  we needed a bit of a down day to recover from the wine tasting so four us (yes the numbers are dropping as people are leaving for home or opting to do other things) did the hop on/hop off city bus tour.  But first we strolled over to the District Six museum ( which is aimed at giving a better understanding of apartheid.  District Six named in 1867 was an area in Cape Town close to both the city centre and port that established itself as a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants.   By 1901, the “resettling” process had begun when the black South Africans were forcibly displaced from the District. At the same time those who were more prosperous were moving away to the suburbs resulting in the area becoming a neglected ward of Cape Town.  In 1966 it was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act of 1950, and by 1982, the life of the community was over. 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers.  I really enjoyed getting a better understanding and definitely well worth the time and money. 

Waiting to be picked up by the hop on/hop off bus we wandered around and happened on a music festival venue that was doing a cover of a Michael Jackson song (I can’t remember the name as I’m writing this entry three weeks after the fact).  But I remember it was good and we were stepping to the tune.  Hopping on the bus we toured all through downtown, stopping at Bo-Kapp for a little tour and a snack of samosas and other such treats.  Bo-Kapp is essentially a township situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city centre and is famous for its brightly coloured houses and cobble stoned streets.  Highly populated by Muslim’s for many years there are many beautiful mosques and is home to the first established mosque in South Africa. 

Catching the bus again we drove up to Table Mountain and then over to the beaches and decided to get off at Camp’s Bay which if I say South Beach should give you an image.  Except I have to say it was more beautiful.  We decided to fortify ourselves with a cocktail and snack before hopping back on the bus to take us to Sea point an then we walked along the coast back to Bantry Bay where Ruth Ann and John were staying as they had invited us over for a braai (bbq).  The place they were staying at was gorgeous and from the large terrace where we hung out, their view of the Atlantic Ocean was even more gorgeous.  It was a great way to spend an evening in Cape Town with the remainder of the group and to bid a final farewell to Ruth Ann and John who were continuing their travels in South America.

For our last day in Cape Town, five of us decided to get out of the city and head to the Cape.  We did an all day tour where we were picked up at out hostel and then driven down to Hout Bay Harbour for essentially breakfast and for those who wanted to take a boat ride out to Seal Island to see you guessed it..seals.  But there were seals in the harbour so no need for the boat ride.  Continuing on through Chapman’s Peak drive with amazing views we stopped in Simon’s Town to see some African penguins.  There were about 200 of them in this protected area and there was some serious molting going on, so feathers everywhere! They were fun to watch but watching the people get excited over the penguins was even more fun.  

After travelling some distance into the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve we got to get out of the bus and hop on some bikes for a very quick 6km ride to where we were going to eat lunch.  This was the part I was looking forward to the most but the conditions of the bikes were such that it didn’t make for an enjoyable ride.  The end of our ride was near the bottom of the hill and as my bike did not having any brakes to speak of,  I had to coast by and turn around and ride back up.  But with all things like this you have to remember…This is Africa.  After lunch we drove a little further to Cape Point where we hiked up to the top of the lighthouse and took in some stunning views.  Then we walked along the cliffs and down to the Cape of Good Hope, which is the most South Western point of Africa often confused with the most southern tip of Africa which is actually Cape Agulhas; the officially dividing(or meeting) point between the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans.  Then back in the bus to be whisked back to Cape Town. All in all it was a good day and a great way to see the Cape Peninsula.

I’ve enjoyed my time in Cape Town though it has been a completely different experience then what I had been having.  Being such a first world city it was a bit of shock for me after being in “real” Africa for so long, and it took a couple days to re-adjust.   I definitely felt like a true tourist in the city probably because I was doing nothing but tourist like activities.  But even when I was doing activities in Tanzania, Zimbabwe or Namibia I didn’t feel like a tourist…more like a visitor in that I was able to interact and connect more with the locals and the people leading the activities. In Cape Town I just didn’t feel that connection with the tour guides, it felt like we were just people and they were just guides…life in a big city.
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