The last continent before home

Trip Start Jul 23, 2002
Trip End Jul 23, 2003

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Monday, May 5, 2003

It's getting into the home stretch now with the last continent being visited, and just under three months left. I've been in Cape Town for the last couple of days and have caught up on some sleep and also done some sightseeing, and tomorrow head off to the game reserve to see what I came to Africa for - the wildlife.

After yet another wonderful flight of about 13 hours we set down in Africa. The upside of that flight was that there were bugger all people on it so most of us ended up with a row of seats to ourselves, so sleep was a little easier to come by although a plane seat has this way of being uncomfortable no matter how you sit or lay in it. Once in the airport it's wander around and try to get my bearings and find a way into the city. There's no publc transport here, only shuttle buses but I ran into another girl at the desk heading to the same place I was so we ended up sharing and reducing the cost dramatically, which is always a good thing. Airports are not my favourite place in the world but they do have the benefit of getting you to cool places, well after a lot of waiting.

Once in Cape Town and after a bit of a snooze it was off for a wander around the city to get my bearings and to check out the waterfront and main city area. It's a city that has a very western feel in the city centre, but if you get away from the main tourist areas you find a very different place. Driving from the airport you go past all the shanty towns and then find yourself in a city that could be anywhere in Europe, America etc. But the city does have something that not many others do have, a huge mountain in the middle of it, and surrounded by ocean. Coming in on the plane you couldn't actually see the city as it was covered in fog, but you could see the top of Table Mountain peering out from the cloud. Once in the city though it was the opposite with the Mountain being hidden, but the city obvious all around you. It's certainly a major landmark that you can use to orientate yourself from almost anywhere.

The next day, taking the advice of another backpacker about the weather, I headed up to the top of the mountain to take in the views before the clear skies disappeared over the next couple of days. I thought about walking to the top, ~1000m climb, but once I'd walked to the cable car base I decided to be slack and take the cable car up since you can't do that everywhere (and it would give me an extra 4 hours to wander around on top). The cable car not only takes you up to the top, but it rotates you around on the way up, which is a little disconcerting the first time the floor begins to move, but it does mean you get to see the views in all directions. At the top I went for a wander taking in the sunshine and fantastic views. The weather was perfect and so you could see a long way without any of the cloud that quite often gets in the way. Walking further than the main tourist paved paths took me the length of the mountain top and to the highest point and also gave me views over the city and along the length of the mountain chain. Using a few of the information boards provided gave me an idea of where to find things on the city floor and what it was I was looking at which is always useful. It's certainly worth a visit to the top if you have clear skies to check out the views and just comtemplate the views and the meaning of life, or whatever.

I also took a trip to Robben Island which is 11km off the shore of Cape Town and went on the prison tour. It started with a bus tour around the island talking about it's uses over the years - from refueling stop for boats, to leper colony, to prison. And also showing some of the wildlife on the island, Springbok, Blesbok, African Penguins, Cormorants and other sea birds. At the end I also went along the penguin boardwalk and had a look at the breeding colony of birds there, most of which didn't seem bothered by our presence at all. On the tour there were also stops at one of the houses used for solitary confinement and the limestone quarry where prisoners were put to hard labour.

At the end of the bus trip we were dropped off at the prison and met by one of the ex-political prisoners who was held there for a time who was to be our guide. Our guide had been held there for 4 years and took us through several of the cell blocks, including the one where Nelson Mandela had been held. Listening to the stories and about life in the prison you realise just how much people there put up with in order to bring the change to their country that they have managed so far. There were many roadblocks in the way, but it's the strength of belief of many people that brought about the long awaited changes, and the determination to change things despite the opposition.

Another day trip took me down south along the peninsula to Simon's Town. There it was time for a wander around the town followed by some sitting on the beach and watching the clouds roll by (and waiting for the rain to disappear which it did after a little while). Just around the corner on Boulders beach I had a walk along the boardwalk that has been set up around the breeding colony of African Penguins. There were lots of birds there, with offspring of all ages, from in the egg still, to going through their final moult. But I have to say I got my best view when sitting on the beach around the corner and I had a group of penguins jump out of the water at my feet and then clamber up the rocks with two of them stopping, and posing, about 1m away from me. It's one of those moments where it's a case of who is watching who, but after checking each other out we each headed our own way.

Back in Cape Town, I've been wandering the city a bit more and doing a few chores before heading to Jo'burg tomorrow to meet the others I'll be working with for the next 5 weeks. Next stop is a private game reserve in the Kruger reserve biosphere where we'll be tracking and recording information about some of the radio collared carnivores on the reserve. Can't wait to get out of the city and actually see some animals. Let you know what I see when I get computer access again.
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