Cradle of Humankind

Wednesday was our first full day in Johannesburg. We have a fairly short list of things to do here so we’re going to be playing it by ear somewhat. One thing we had come across in our research was the Sterkfontein Cave Complex, and the Cradle of Humankind Museum at Maropeng. Google Maps advised it was a 45 minute drive away so we decided to give it a try.

We went to the caves first as the website advised it got busier as the day wore on, and arrived there in time for the 11am tour. Ishbel was absolutely delighted to get her first ever experience of a discount for seniors. Now that she’s over 60, she qualifies. She was even more delighted when the lady in the ticket office assumed I would also be entitled and I had to vigorously defend my youthful right to pay full whack. My boyish good looks may well be on the wane.

Everyone on the tour as issued with a hairnet, to prevent transfer of hair-dwelling bugs, and a crash helmet. It felt like overkill, but I was glad of it the couple of times my head bumped against the roof. There was a long staircase to descend into the caves and a reasonable full size walk for most of the way. Towards the end, there was a section that required quite a bit of stooping and some crawling, so the warnings at the start about claustrophobia should be taken seriously. We were glad to get to the end and the upward section back to the surface.

IMG_2933There have been quite a number of hominid fossils discovered in the caves over the years, and our guide was very knowledgeable in discussing both the palaeontology and geology of the area. I assumed he must have had a geology degree, but he didn’t. Very impressive.

After the caves, we went to Maropeng where they have an excellent exhibition on a recent (2013) archaeology/palaeontology dig where they found bones of 15 individuals from a hitherto unknown hominid species. They also had a display of the various hominids that have been known to exist over geological time. Well worth seeing.


After completing our tour, we had a cold drink. Temperature was in the 30s, so we were feeling the heat. Thereafter, we headed back to our apartment in Jozi, which I believe is the locals’ preferred abbreviation rather than Joburg. Ishbel has been navigating on this trip and has been doing a pretty good job, despite the sometimes difficult to follow road signage we’ve encountered. We decided to come back via 7th Street here in Melville, which seems to be the restaurant hub for the area. It certainly looked like wall to wall restaurants as we drove down it. We decided for tonight to start slow and take the easy walk to an Italian restaurant in 4th avenue, which is only three blocks away. We had a nice pizza – thin crust is the preferred base over here. Afterwards, we had a nightcap in a Mexican bar/restaurant just along the road from there before calling it a night.

Wine and Flights

Monday was our last full day in Franschhoek and we had already booked our driver from Thursday and Friday night (Hannes) to take us on a tour of wineries for the day, finishing with a late lunch at Roca, the restaurant in the Dieu Donne vineyard. I’m not sure how your Monday mornings are shaping up these days, but if it’s better than this one, I’d be surprised.

We set off at 10:30 and headed out of town on the road towards Stellenbosch and Paarl to visit Vrede en Lust vineyard. The tasting they offered us was a remarkable 6 wines for ZAR 50 per head. One thing that comes as a constant surprise is the opportunity to sit outside, drinking wine in the warm summer sunshine, and admiring the Christmas decorations. Jarring. But pleasant.


We took our time enjoying the three whites and three reds they provided then headed back to the car. When I say we took our time, I was surprised to find that we had been there for an hour and a half.

Next stop was intended to be Rupert and Rothschild, but it was closed. Hannes knew I was fond of the occasional beer, so he offered to take us to a winery that had both wine and beer. And chocolate. The Spice Route farm near Paarl has a number of different tasting experiences available but, in the end, we plumped for a dozen different amazing chocolates for ZAR 20 per head, and went straight on to the five wines for ZAR 40 per head. We burned up another hour here, so we were running out of time to do anything else. Nevertheless, we squeezed in a quick visit to Fairview. We felt we had already managed a lot of wine at our stops so far, but we hadn’t had any cheese! Fairview is a renowned South African cheese maker and, despite the splendid wines on offer elsewhere, this was by far the busiest venue we visited today.


We paid ZAR 20 to enjoy 6 cheeses, each of which was excellent but the standout was the garlic goats cheese. We bought a small amount of that in case we decided on a late supper that evening after our lunch.

On to Roca, where we enjoyed an excellent lunch and where, I think, we redeemed ourselves for the instagram generation. I had free range, deboned, Mozambican chicken with roasted vegetables, peri-peri sauce, and hand-cut chips.

IMG_2920 2

Ishbel went adventurous and had a medium ostrich fillet with pommes puree, young vegetables and a creamy peppercorn sauce.


To follow, Ishbel had the vanilla creme brulee with wild berry puree and strawberry sorbet and I went for the cheese board.

Also, if you remember how I raved about the Chocolate Block wine when we arrived in Franschhoek last Thursday, I’m delighted to have ticked that particular box at Monday’s lunch.


I was so delighted, I even sent a gloating Whatsapp to friends back home, which was unworthy of me. Sorry Dims.

After lunch, we drifted back to the hotel in a stupor and made a half-hearted attempt at packing for the following day’s flight. Our Johannesburg flight was leaving Cape Town at 12:20, so we needed to get a reasonably early start on the one hour drive, but it wasn’t a desperate rush. What we did find was that, once again, BA decided we had too many flights on our booking to allow us to check in online. This feels like a fundamental flaw in how they market and sell round-the-world tickets. But I’m still not paying an extra 70 quid a head to book a seat.

Anyway, as Tuesday dawned, we had an early breakfast and headed to the airport to return our Toyota Corolla, which had served us well, and check in for the flight. It all turned out well enough and we were in 2E and 2F. Not what I’d have chosen if I’d had access to the seat selections earlier, but at least we were next to each other.

The flight was uneventful, and we arrived in Johannesburg on time. We made our way over to Avis, which is much closer than at Cape Town, but really badly signposted. They try to make you go down and up in an escalator to bypass the airport road, but since we had trolleys, this was impossible. Eventually, we just went straight out the front door and across the road, which was nice and easy.

As with Cape Town, we had booked a small car and, as with Cape Town, they upgraded us. This time to a Nissan Almera. If you intend travelling like this, it is definitely worthwhile joining the Avis Preferred, or whatever loyalty program is offered by your preferred renter. It definitely makes a difference, both in length of queue and type of car.

Anyway, we picked up the car very easily. I had also rented a mobile hotspot from them, We don’t have free data access here, so this is a cost efficient way of accessing the net and using phones as SatNav solutions. This got us to our AirBnB in Melville, Johannesburg in a fairly straightforward fashion. We settled in and did a quick grocery shopping. Thanks to the business class on the plane, we had enjoyed a substantial lunch so we got some cold meats for a light supper plus, of course, the wherewithal for a pot of tea.

We’re two flights in to the journey and now the Johannesburg adventure starts. Keep checking in for the updates.



A hike and a beer

Sunday dawned brighter and warmer than the previous couple of days. Importantly, we could see the peaks surrounding the valley unshrouded by cloud. This meant our plan to postpone our hike at Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve from Friday until today was a good one. Temperature at the valley floor after breakfast was around 23°C but it had dropped at least 5° by the time we reached the top of our hike. We walked the Vista trail which is only about 2.5km, but has an elevation change of 275m, so it’s a brisk climb but worth it for the views, illustrated in the picture above.

After the walk, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before a late lunch. We found the previous day that, between the substantial breakfast omelettes and the late lunch, we weren’t in any mood for dinner. We’ve been having only two meals a day most of the time we’ve been on the road, but usually breakfast and dinner. Breakfast and lunch seems to be equally adequate.

As we turned up the farm road that leads to our hotel, I noticed something in the road that, ridiculous as it seems, looked like a cooked prawn. Until it scampered across the road a little. Then it looked like a scampering cooked prawn. Until it took to the air, and became a flying cooked prawn. Ishbel managed a close up photo of it so it looked less prawn-like in HD.

DSC_0129 Despite its obvious red colour, this beast is called the Green Milkwood Locust.

After a much needed shower, we headed back into town for lunch at the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery. We had stopped in here on Thursday night for a beer and I had enjoyed their Pale Ale so much that we decided to head back there for a refreshing pint and some lunch.


Lunch was simple but pleasant enough fare: burrito for Ishbel and quesadilla for me. One thing we noticed as we sat on the terrace was the vast number of motor bikes that came through town in the afternoon and early evening. The road over the pass is hugely popular with recreational bikers and the town is filled with them every weekend.

Cycling and cheetahs and wine, oh my

It would be easy to laze around on a trip like this and become increasingly indolent. If you weren’t travelling with Ishbel, that is. So it was that, for Saturday we agreed that we would do a tour of some of the wineries for which Franschhoek is justifiably famous. To get round those wineries closest to town, we decided to rent a couple of bicycles. After picking up our laundry at the appointed time, we made our way along to Franschhoek Cycles, where we had arranged our rentals the previous day. We were supplied with a carefully annotated map, a couple of helmets and, of course, a bike each.

Off we set along the mostly flat main road to our first target: Grande Provence. The driveway up to the main estate buildings is picturesque, rolling through the vineyards that provide the harvest for their wines. Their buildings include a large art gallery but also something of a surprise: a cheetah sanctuary. As we arrived and saw the signs, it was obvious that we would be seeing the cheetahs before anything else.

At the Cheetah Outreach Centre, they also offer what they call ”encounters” where you can enter the enclosure and get up close to an animal. This held no attraction for me but Ishbel liked the sound of it. 


The outreach centre takes in animals from captive breeding programs and supports the maintenance of a DNA database that identifies breeding opportunities to maintain a diverse gene pool.

After that, we deserved a wine tasting and duly partook of three of the vineyard’s finest tipples.  Once that was done, it was back on the bikes and a quick 5km back through town and out the other side to La Bri estate. La Bri offers some interesting pairings, so we each tried a different one. Ishbel had three wines paired with Turkish Delight and I had three paired with chocolate. Very nice.

Just a short ride back towards town and we stopped at La Couronne. We only had a two wine tasting here as we still had to get all the way back through town again as we had decided that we liked the look of Mont Rochelle for lunch. Mont Rochelle is a vineyard and hotel owned by Richard Branson. How do I know this? He doesn’t exactly make a secret of it…


We decided we were somewhat underdressed for the gourmet restaurant on the estate but had a very nice lunch on the terrace of Country Kitchen, their more casual option. Interestingly, this is the first place in South Africa where we had access to free wi-fi without actually being a paying guest. It’s odd when something that you now take for granted at home becomes a bit of a luxury.

After lunch, we decided we should hand back the bikes while we were still sober, and headed back to relax at the hotel.

A stroll through Franschhoek’s history

I had awoken during the night to the sound of heavy rainfall outside so it was no surprise to find that Friday morning was overcast and drizzly as we made our way to the breakfast room at our hotel. While the temperature may have been a little cool, I’m not convinced it justified the roaring log fire at breakfast. We took a table as far away from it as possible and enjoyed our omelettes and multiple pots of tea.

We had intended driving back up Franschhoek pass to Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve to hike one of their trails, but looking up from the floor of the valley, we could see the surrounding peaks swathed in cloud. Weather is due to improve steadily, so we decided to postpone that activity till Sunday, leaving us at a loose end for the day.

It’s important to be pragmatic when travelling for eight months with a single suitcase. Any opportunity for laundry should be leapt upon, and Franschhoek has La Laundry which offers service washes, so we decided to try to locate that. We ended up parking at the wrong end of town, so had to walk all the way through to find it. Then all the way back to the car. Once we got there, we decided we should visit the local museum, which includes the Huguenot monument (pictured above) and where we became considerably better educated on the history of this area.

Franschhoek used to be called Olifants Hoek, or Elephant’s Corner, because cow elephants used to make their way over the surrounding mountains to calf in the protected valley. Early white settlers arrived here in the 17th century and recognised the agriculture opportunities afforded by the fertile valley floor.

In France, at the same time, protestants were being persecuted and denied their right to worship. These French protestants were known as Huguenots. As a result of continuous persecution, many fled France forefeiting all property and possessions. A number of those refugees arrived in the Netherlands, where their faith was supported but where they encountered severe economic hardship. Much like religious and economic refugees of today, really. So it was that, when the representative of the Dutch East India Company here in South Africa pleaded for more settlers to farm these lands and deliver provisions to the Company’s ships, the settlers that were delivered were, ultimately, around 300 Huguenots. Those Huguenots who settled in Elephant’s Corner and began farming here retained their native language for a considerable period of time. Thus the area came to be known as French Corner, or Franschhoek. And, of course, the French included vines in their planting so the Franschhoek wine industry was born.

That was quite enough history for one day, so we made our way off to one of the places recommended by our hotel, Babylonstoren, a vineyard with a lovely garden. We had a stroll through the garden and Ishbel encountered the wild animal she’d been itching to see since we got here: a tortoise.


After that success, we headed back to the hotel to play our instruments and get ready for dinner. Despite our friend (you know who you are, Jeannine) recommending a non-existent restaurant the previous day, we gave her one more chance and booked what she describes as her favourite place in the whole world, La Petite Ferme. She has travelled extensively so this was high praise. And the restaurant lived up to the hype. It is in a beautiful situation, partway up the Franschhoek Pass road with a broad, open outlook across the valley. Time for another of Ishbel’s panoramic shots…


The food was amazing. I had the Slow Roasted Pulled Lamb, with all kinds of funky accompaniments and Ishbel had the Southern Chicken Drums with equally interesting accoutrements. Every time I describe a meal, I realise how unworthy I am of the Instagram generation as I keep forgetting to take pictures of the food in its pristine condition on arrival. I will try to do better in future.

I can’t let the day pass without mentioning the passing of Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks. The band produced immaculate pop songs during the punk revolution of the seventies. Ishbel went with her sister Marjory to see the re-formed group in Brighton 2 years ago. I couldn’t go as I was off watching football somewhere so the last time I saw them live was 40 years ago at the Loch Lomond Festival, where they were third on the bill of the second day, behind the Average White Band and the Boomtown Rats.

Watch the pop genius at work here. 


One week over, thirty-five to go

As Thursday dawns in Hermanus, we realise that we have completed our first full week on the road. We will be travelling for 36 weeks in total, returning to the UK on 8th August next year, so we’ve used a mere 2.77777% of our journey time.

Sadly, our hotel breakfast this morning did not include whales. We re-packed and loaded the car. All of our luggage fits just about perfectly in the boot of the Toyota Corolla that Avis provided at Cape Town airport. We re-fuelled the car for the drive, at a cost of 83p per litre, and set out for our next stop in Franschhoek.

We took the scenic route to get here, passing through the town of Caledon, which, despite its Wikipedia page,  is not at all scenic. It has a lot of heavy industry and a fringe of shanty towns which, presumably, supply much of the labour. Otherwise the route itself was very pretty. The drive across the Franschhoek pass (Ishbel’s panoramic shot above) and down into the town was amazing, with lots of hairpin bends and outlook points over the valley below.

We came in to the town past the Huguenot Monument, which dominates one end of the Main St, and parked in the centre. Almost the first thing that greeted us was a wine display.

IMG_2896The Chocolate Block is a magnificent wine and an excellent accompaniment to the food in Waitrose’s Steak and Oyster bar in Canary Wharf. Don’t ask how I know this. I just do. I was disappointed to learn that the winery that produces this little stunner, Boekenhoutskloof, is only open for tastings twice a week, at 11am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We arrived too late on the Thursday to visit, and leave too early on Tuesday. We’ll just have to make do with one or two of the other 45 wineries around town.

To get to our hotel here, Val d’Or Estate, we had to drive all the way through town and a couple of kilometres further on. Franschhoek is very much geared towards tourism and all of the hotels and guest houses are very well signposted so we had no trouble finding the turn off. We unpacked, settled in to our enormous room, and enjoyed a glass or two from the complimentary bottle of wine provided to us on arrival. There’s no restaurant here, so reception made a booking for us at a restaurant recommended by a friend who has visited the area regularly. They also arranged a driver to take us there and back.

The driver arrived promptly at 6:45 to get us into town for our 7:00 reservation. We told him the name of the restaurant, Dutch East. “It’s gone”, he said. I was surprised that it should have disappeared in the three hours since our booking had been made, but it transpires that a new restaurant has opened up in the same space, and with the same phone number. It’s called Bovine, and obviously specialises in beef.  He gave us a brief tour of other restaurant possibilities but we decided to honour our reservation and eat there. It was very good, with Ishbel having the lamb belly, and me, the fillet steak. They also offered a wine flight which we both had.


This was the premium flight, since the standard selection had no reds.

As we ordered dessert, the restaurant started preparing for load shedding as another power cut was imminent. I wanted to use my Revolut card to pay so I asked for the bill immediately before the power went off. During power cuts, shops and services take payment in the charming old school way by swiping your card in a machine with carbonless copy paper to take an impression of the raised numbers on its face or, of course, cash. Interestingly, the Revolut doesn’t have embossed numbers so that method doesn’t work for it. By the time dessert arrived, we were fully candlelit in the restaurant and the lights were off all across town.

After dinner, we took a little stroll along the main street and noticed that there were some places still lit. We were tempted in to the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery, who obviously had a generator to ensure conditions could be maintained in their brewing room. I had a really good pale ale in there before we asked them to contact our driver who arrived promptly to pick us up and return us to Val d’Or. On the way home, we negotiated an inclusive deal for him to take us to our restaurant for the next night, and to give us a five hour winery tour on Monday. All that to look forward to in the coming days.

Whales for breakfast

As mentioned previously, our Hermanus hotel is right on the coast. We had a lovely sea view from our room and breakfast was served in the restaurant which, provided you got a good table, also had an uninterrupted view over the ocean. Thus it was on Wednesday that we went down for breakfast and, as the first pot of tea arrived (one pot is never enough), so did the whales. We delayed our breakfast for ten minutes as we popped across the road on to the cliffs to watch two whales in the same cove where we had seen them on our first day. There were a couple of early start whale-watching boats beyond the whales but they were viewing them from further away than our own shoreline vantage point. Eventually the whales disappeared and we returned to enjoy breakfast with smiles on our faces.

After breakfast, we took a walk into town and wandered into a couple of the art galleries that are a staple of tourist towns around the world. Equally universal are the outrageous price tags you find on the works there. Perhaps they think that tourists who like art will be bad at arithmetic and won’t realise that the sterling equivalent of that price is close to £3,000. We smiled sagely, feigned interest and then, as tabloid reporters used to say, we made our excuses and left.

Ishbel decided that the small hotel pool had lost its charm and set about researching an opportunity for an oceanic swim. She found that there was a Blue Flag beach just along the road, so we headed over there. Grotto Beach is at the start of an extensive range of white sand beaches along Walker Bay. With a water temperature of 16C I wimped out, but Ishbel went for it, striding off into the breakers for an invigorating swim. There was a stiff breeze blowing and the sand was so fine that it got everywhere.

After Ishbel got out of the water, dried off and changed, we headed back towards Hermanus but took a detour into Fernkloof Nature Reserve. We did one of the shorter hiking trails there. Not much by way of animals, but we did encounter a red locust.


We then relaxed for the rest of the day and played our instruments, as we have been doing most days. In the evening, we walked into town to have dinner overlooking the water but first took a walk along the cliff path to Roman Rock. We had seen signs to it and it had piqued our curiosity, Ishbel even going so far as to investigate how far south the Romans had made it. Not this far south was the answer. Intrigued as to how it got its name, we thought we’d take a look in case it looked like a centurion’s helmet, or a laurel wreath. It looked like a rock, so we’re none the wiser.

We had dinner in a place called Coco’s. A number of restaurants were vying for our business, but Coco’s had the advantage of upstairs windows looking straight out to sea. I had fish and chips and Ishbel had a burger, both of which were good. After that, a stroll back to Hermanus for our last night in the hotel before heading off to Franschhoek.

Some sweet day I’ll make her mine…

Well done if you got the reference to the Manfred Mann song Pretty Flamingo since that was our big new fauna experience for Tuesday. We started the day with a brisk walk to the New Harbour to build an appetite for breakfast. The harbour is a working one and not what you could realistically describe as picturesque. It’s a small industrial estate with a couple of whale watching tours for the visitors. After breakfast, we came to realise that we find ourselves in Hermanus in what is probably the off-season for them. The main whale watching season is over and we’re not at the height of the summer. We’re headed to Franschhoek on Thursday, which is in the heart of wine country, so we’re saving our wine tours until then. That leaves a somewhat limited range of options with which to amuse ourselves locally.

Ishbel to the rescue, though. She discovered that there was a salt pan along the road in Vermont which is home to a range of bird life, including flamingos. Off we duly went to see what we could spot. After parking up at the salt pan, we spotted flamingos at the far side of the water so started along the path around the shore. We encountered a local who was out walking his dog and asked if it was possible to get around to the side that the flamingos were on. Apparently that side was all private property and the route was fenced off by the owners. He also said we should have been there a month or two ago as there were 200-300 flamingos then. The message here is, if you want peak flamingos and whales, come to Hermanus in October. There were still around a dozen flamingos there, a mix of lesser and greater flamingos. That’s a greater flamingo pictured above. There were also a number of occupied grey heron nests on the water. A successful trip.

Our first night here, we had eaten in the restaurant attached to the hotel, The Heritage Cottage. Ishbel had a nice confit duck leg and I had enjoyed a surf and turf which featured an exquisite piece of fillet which apparently originated in Mozambique. While that meal was delicious, we thought we’d go for something a little more down to earth. I attempted some research and was surprised to discover that a lot of the restaurants here only open for dinner on the weekends. Eventually, we settled on an Italian called Fabio’s, partly because of its proximity to the hotel.

Power cuts were expected again that evening so we decided to eat reasonably early. As a novelty, we shared a plate of springbok carpaccio as a starter, while Ishbel ordered penne puttanesca and I had the chorizo and prawn risotto as mains. The carpaccio was fine and Ishbel’s pasta was good. My risotto was awful. The prawns were overcooked and rubbery, the chorizo wasn’t chorizo, and the rice was watery rather than creamy as it should be. We won’t be going back there.

After dinner, we decided to take a walk along the front. There was quite a wind blowing in from the sea and the temperature had dropped a few degrees. However, almost the first thing we saw when we got to the shore was a whale jumping in the bay. Again, there were two whales together and they cavorted around for about 15 minutes. We’ll be happy if we maintain our whale a day average while we’re here.

Whale season is over…

Planning for eight months of travel to places where, for the most part, you’ve never been before is a bit of a guessing game. You’re never sure how long will be too much or too little in each stopping point. The major flight stopping off points are cast in stone at the point of booking but the additional side trips could be left more flexible. Except for the fact that I like to know what I’m doing and when I’m doing it. So, as mentioned in a previous post, the first month and a half of accommodation were booked well before we left the UK.

Thus it was that we left Cape Town on Monday. I had booked three nights in a hotel in Hermanus, a former whaling village and now resort town famed for its whale watching opportunities. We had been warned that we were approaching the end of the season as Southern Right Whales make their way to Antarctica for the summer but we were already booked for Hermanus so we were going. There’s a direct route from Cape Town down the N2 and on to the R43. Looking at the map, however, there is a coastal route that goes around the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, so we decided to try that.

We took the N2 until the turn off for the R44 then hit the coast at Gordon’s Bay before turning on to what turned out to be a magnificent drive. It had been raining for most of the drive out of Cape Town but it had dried up by now, although it was still overcast. The road itself had obviously been recently resurfaced and its sweeping bends and elevated viewpoints, thanks to it having been hewn out of the cliffs, were a joy to drive. One point to note is the number of small, and larger, rocks that had fallen on to the road. We may have encountered a higher incidence of these because of the heavy overnight rain.

On the way along the road, we saw numerous baboons amusing themselves and had to be careful to avoid some of their rambunctiousness as juveniles rolled into the road during their play-fighting.


On to Hermanus, and we arrived at the hotel at around 1:30. We knew we were a little early for standard check-in time but the manager told us that the room was almost ready. If we wanted, we could pop across the road from the hotel and see the whale that was in the cove there until the room was ready. We decided that was a great idea, and watched the whale (Ishbel’s photo at the top of the page) and her calf for around 20 minutes. The whales made their way off, presumably antarctic-bound, and we returned to the hotel to get our room.

The South African electricity supply company, Eskom, has been undertaking a round of what they call “load shedding” which means regional power cuts. This happened a couple of times while we were in Cape Town and Hermanus was in the middle of a load shed event when we arrived here. We realised this was the case on the way in as all the traffic lights were out. Despite encountering what sometimes seems like manic driving on the part of some locals under normal circumstances, behaviour at non-working traffic lights was courteous and practical with each section of the 4-way junction moving in turn. It meant for some slow progress but it was very safe.

After checking in and a little unpacking, we went for a walk into town. On our walk, we encountered the nearest living relative to the elephant: the Rock Hyrax, known locally as the Dassie.


The elephant, hyrax and manatee share a common ancestor. These are three animals that have clearly taken very different evolutionary paths.

In town, I found a barber shop where I decided to get a beard trim. Ishbel didn’t accuse me of being a manatee, but she did use the term walrus-y in describing my magnificent mustachios so a trim was probably due. Lorenzo’s barber shop did a brilliant job and I should be fine for a few weeks before Ishbel starts again with the marine mammal comparisons.


Greatness and Darkness

Our Sunday started early. We were booked on the 9am ferry to Robben Island so we breakfasted in the flat then drove down to the Waterfront. The area was dead quiet at that time, so we parked easily in the Ulundi garage and made our way to the Nelson Mandela Gateway to catch the boat. We got there by 8:30 and boarding was just starting. It was an easy 30 minute crossing to the island, where we disembarked and were loaded on to buses. Our bus went direct to the main gate of the prison, which took 5 minutes at most, where we disembarked and were greeted by our guide for  the prison tour, Sipho Msomi.

Sipho was a fascinating guide. In 1984, at the age of 22, he was arrested by the South African Secret Police together with 5 of his colleagues. He was held in solitary confinement and periodically tortured for 5 months before coming to trial. At trial, he discovered that one of his friends had died in captivity. He and his surviving four friends were found guilty. Sipho was sentenced to five years on Robben Island for three separate crimes: being a member of the African National Congress; recruiting others to be members of the ANC; campaigning on behalf of the ANC. Although Mandela (whose cell is pictured above) had already been moved to prison on the mainland by the time of Sipho’s arrival, many more of South Africa’s future political leaders remained on Robben Island. Sipho’s knowledge of the history of the place together with his first hand experience of incarceration made this one of the most informative and inspiring tours I’ve ever taken. I highly recommend this to anyone.

Back on the buses after the prison tour, we circumnavigated the island, seeing some of the other structures such as the mosque which was built for moslems taken prisoner by the Dutch East India Company when they were quelling rebellion in Indonesia. We also saw the Robert Sobukwe house where a leading figure in the early anti-apartheid movement and founder of the Pan Africanist Congress was imprisoned. He was kept in solitary confinement on the island and was thought so dangerous that the government passed a law specifically to keep him locked up.

After the boat trip back, we wandered around the commercial hotspot that is the V&A Waterfront. Knowing that you’re on the road for eight months is very liberating when it comes to shopping. You’re just not in the market for anything, unless you’re willing to throw away something you already have to make room for it.

We headed back to the apartment and cooked dinner. Since this was to be our last night in Cape Town, we decided to try to see some live music. Google didn’t seem all that informative about possibilities, but we eventually decided to go to a bar called The Dubliner on Long Street, a seven minute walk from our apartment. We had a couple of beers there and listened to a band comprised of two guitars and a drum machine playing rock hits of the 70s, 80s and 90s. The closest this got to an authentic African experience was when they played Toto’s “Africa”.

More entertaining was the ever expanding street party taking place right outside. There seemed to be a regular procession of minivans with the side sliding door opened, full of young men and women drinking cans of lager and dancing while other dancers kept pace with them along the street. They seemed to be having a lot of fun. I asked the bouncer if this was a regular occurrence. Apparently it happens on special occasions, like end of term or the start of a season. Today’s special occasion was that Cape Town’s Christmas lights were turned on. It sounded to me like they didn’t need much to decide it was a special occasion. The bouncer agreed that any excuse would do.

When we decided to head back to the flat, the bouncer offered to get us a taxi but we were so close and the street so crowded that I thought it better to just walk. We hadn’t gone far when three young men got around us and asked if we wanted marijuana. Some hands came towards me and I knocked them away and hustled the pair of us away from the main drag. The street was quieter here and we made steady progress towards the flat. We were walking hand in hand when Ishbel shouted “Brian!” I hadn’t really paid attention to the youth as he was approaching us but he was now bounding away across the road and down a side street.

“What happened?”, I asked.

“I’m not sure”, Ishbel answered. She then realised that he had tried to rip the small gold chain from her neck.

The kid had ghosted off into the night and the chain and its wearer were undamaged, so we just headed back to the flat at pace and with hyper sensitivity to other people.

We had, of course, been warned about the possible dangers of street crime and, with hindsight, we should probably have taken a taxi at that time of night. It’s possible to get complacent when you’ve gone through your entire life without encountering street crime, which is pretty much true for both of us. We won’t be complacent again.