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Diane's Trip Report Part I: Cape Town, Vic Falls, Little Vumbura, Singita

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Got back from the best trip of my life yesterday morning. Since I relied so heavily on the postings here in planning my trip, I want to thank everyone. And now for the trip report . . .

March 19: My husband and I set out for Africa with much excitement and nervousness. Neither of us like to fly and 15 hours from New York to JNB and then another 2 hours to Cape Town was not an exciting prospect for us. Luckily, we had saved enough miles to fly business class on South African Airways. We were supposed to fly on the new Airbus with lie-flat seats, but there was a last minute aircraft change to a 747. AN IMPORTANT WORD OF CAUTION: When flying from the US on South Afican airways, check many many times before the flight to make sure you still have good seat assignments. SAA is notorious for changing aircraft at the last minute and when they do so, they reassign all seats without notifying you. This happened to us twice; both times, my husband and I had to endure hassles just to sit together.

Surprisingly, the time flew by (thanks to a prescription of Ambien -- a must!!). We got to Cape Town at approx. 7pm the next day.
We could not believe how beautiful the city was. The landscape was spectacular.

We rented a car through Value Car Hire (valuecarhire.co.za). The prices were very good (R189 per day, includes insurance and all taxes) and the service perfect. A guy with a name board was waiting for us in the arrivals area. He took us to our car immediately (just feet away from the terminal) where we filled out the paperwork and were on our way. No lines at the counter, no irritating shuttle to the lot. It was great. Also, the fee to add an additional driver to the car was just R10 per day -- which is nothing! Much different from the US.

The car itself was not amazing. The brakes were really not good, so you had to be careful when driving. Once we got used to them, it was OK, but it was scary at first.

The guesthouse we stayed at was phenomenal. I had spent hours and hours researching hotels/guesthouses in Cape Town and for us, the choice was absolutely perfect. We stayed in Camps Bay at the Atlantic View. Check out the website at atlanticviewcapetown.com. I first heard of this through Selwyn -- this is the first of
many times I appreciated his advice here on the boards.

I won't describe it in detail because you can look at the website itself. It is chic, beautifully decorated, has exceptional service, and has unbelievable views. It seems to attract a youngish crowd -- almost all the guests were couples in their 30s (like us). I was worried about whether I would regret not being in the waterfront area, or another section of cape town proper. But once there, I was very happy I made the choice I did. The waterfront (although wonderful) has a very crowded, touristy vibe. I really enjoyed being in a beach town away from the city. The neighborhood of the Atlantic View is very upscale residential -- you feel like you are staying among residents -- not in a hotel.
Only negative to the Atlantic View is that you have to drive to everything (even the restaurants in Camps Bay -- which is an easy 5 min. drive down a hill). Also, the rooms are pretty small -- but you don't feel it because you have a wall of windows overlooking the ocean and sunsets.

Our first night, we had dinner at Blues in Camps Bay. It gets alot of press and is supossed to be one of the best restaurants there. Personally, I woudl not recommend this venue. The decor and views are great (hip and fun). The food was not excpetional, although very expensive, and the service downright awful (and I am not picky about restaurant service). Even though we had a reservation was had to wait 30 minutes for a table, service was very slow, they had run out of several things on the menu and, most shockingly, we got no napkins because they had "run out." What? At the prices they were charging, you start sewing more napkins. To sum up Blues: trendy and hip, yes. worth the price and attitude, absolutely not.

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    To continue:

    We had four full days in Cape Town -- barely enough time to do everything we wanted to do. 5 days would have been better; we just couldn't fit more days in.

    We had a full itinerary planned for the next day: Exploring Cape Point and ending with a sunset horseback ride on the beach at Noordhoek. But when we woke up and the weather was PERFECT with no clouds whatsoever, we decided to try and pack a morning cablecar ride up Table Mountain into our itinerary. We went up about 9:30 am (no line to speak of, although we had to park quite a distance from the entrance). The views were stupendous. If we had more time in Cape Town, we would have loved to hike up. But alas, when time is short, sacrifices must be made! Also, we followed everyone's advice that you must take advantage of cloudless, windless weather to do Table Mountain, because it is often cloudy. As it turned out, every single day we were there was absolutely perfect (high 70s, no wind, no rain). I later found out we were very lucky in this regard. Later in the trip, whenever we told South Africans that we spent time in Cape Town, they were always shocked that we had such good weather. I don't think I've ever visited another place where the weather was so great every day.

    After Table Mountain, we drove down the Cape Point peninsula. Since time was limited (was had to be at the beach for the horseback ride by 4:45), we had to prioritize. I was most excited to see the penguins, so we went to Boulders Beach first. It didn't disappoint. So thrilling to see hundreds of penguins -- many of which were still nesting on their eggs. We spent a lot of time there and went to every vantage point within the park to see them. From there, we went to Cape Point. This was fairly rushed (we spent only 45 minutes there), but it was enough time if you don't plan to do much hiking. The views were gorgeous. And it was fun to see the baboons. If you go, do NOT walk with food in the parking lot. It will be stolen right out of your hands by the baboons. We saw a baboon steal an ice cream cone from the hands of a crying 6 year old girl.

    We ended the afternon with a sunset horseback ride on Noordhoek Beach. Noordhoek Beach is amazing -- it is the widest beach I have ever been to. They let you ride the horses along the edge of the water -- at sunset it is gorgeous and romantic. It was a real highlight. And relatively inexpensive (it was about $30 for a 2 1/2 hour ride).

    If you want to do this, there are 2 main entities that run rides: Imhoff Farms and Sleepy Hollow Stables (Selwyn, correct me if I'm wrong). We went with Sleepy Hollow, which I would not recommend due to its lack of professionalism. Imhoff Farms has got to be better. The ride was great for us, but it left 1/2 hour late and most importantly, there was an incident that was not handled well: There were 6 people on the ride, one of which was am Austrian woman with no riding experience. They put her on a horse that will only ride at the back of the line and gets upset if it is too near other horses. This meant that the inexperienced woman had to ride at the back, far away from the guide, who was at the front. Unfortunately, toward the end of the ride, her horse got too close to mine and her horse threw her off! When I turned around to look, she was off her horse, her back was on the sand, but her foot was still stuck in the holster and she was frantically trying to get it out, fearing that the horse could at any moment drag her!! She finally managed to get her foot free (after at least 5-10 scary seconds). The guide's response was to yell at the horse and put the terrified poor woman BACK ON THE SAME HORSE with instructions to stay way way at the back (away from everyone else).

    To sum it up, riding on the beach was spectacular, but I would not recommend this outfit to anyone inexperienced or nervous about riding.

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    Also, I would highly recommend doing the Chapman's Peak drive on the way to Cape Point. It is spectacular and just recently reopened after months (years?) of road improvements. It is also surprisingly wide and easy to drive. I expected the drive to be more harrowing and winding. It's really not. It's nothing like driving on the Amalfi Coast or on California's Highway 1 (both somewhat frightening, in my opinion).

    That night we ate at Theo's in Camps Bay. Much much better than Blues. It is a great steakhouse and reasonably priced, with great water views. Recommended.

    March 22: Day Two in Cape Town:

    On our second day, we went to the winelands. We decided to spend the day in Franschoek, taking a circuitous route (via Sir Lowry's Pass) to get there. The scenery was amazing. One minute you feel like you're in Spain, the next, like you're in the Western US, the next like you're in Provence. So varied and so spectacular. We very much enjoyed stolling through the delightful town of Franschoek, and doing a wine testing at Boschendal nearby (the grounds are impressive -- the wines we thought were less so).

    From there, we did a township tour of Kayamandi -- which is right outside Stellenbosch. This was a heartrending, emotional, informative, and extremely worthwhile tour. We had asked Selwyn (tour operator extraordinaire and frequent poster here) if he would be willing to give us a tour of this township. He was already booked for this day, but suggested that we go with a resident and community leader of Kayamandi -- Mr. Mzwaki Ntoyakme. We agreed and what an experience it was. It was a personal, private tour. We saw the inside of dwellings (including "shacks" with no indoor plumbing), a church, a school, a youth center, and met lots of beautiful, friendly residents. This was very much a highlight.
    The tour ended with a surprise, which I will not spoil for those who do the same tour in the future, but I will say that it is emotional, uplifting, and inspiring. Thanks Selwyn and Mzwaki!!

    I will say one thing about the tour that I have not seen mentioned here, but I think I should say. If you go, know that you will be deluged by lots of little children (maybe 5 years old?) who will all reach out for your hands and arms to hold. If you don't have children or are not used to being around children, or are a bit of a germ-a-phobe (like me) this can be somewhat uncomfortable, as you really have zero personal space. (My husband and I have no kids (yet) and I am not a real "touchy" person). Anyway, at the risk of sounding anti-child (which I'm absolutely not), I thought I'd mention this so you can be prepared for lots and lots of hand-holding and gentle grabbing of arms and legs. The kids were delightful and LOVE to get their photos taken.

    After the township tour, and also at Selwyn's excellent suggestion, we had dinner at Moyo (a 10 minute drive away). What a place! The setting, entertainment, and food were phenomenal. So romantic, sitting under the stars, sipping wine by a fire, and listening to wonderful african music. This is not to be missed!

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    Thanks, for the great trip report,so far.We were there in Sep.and your report is bringing it all back again.I love the way you describe Kayamandi.I couldn't put into words how I felt about this place,but you did a very good job.It holds such a special place in my heart.I am glad to hear that Mzwaki is still there and hopefully doing well.

    I am looking forward to the rest of your report. Again Thanks!

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    Diane, thanks for the warning about aircraft change and seat assignment! The one time SAA gave us seats other than the ones we thought we had, it was just a rotten experience, and I don't want to repeat it.

    Also thanks for the car rental info. We'll look into that company.

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    Liz -- I certainly know how desperate I was to get info about Botswana. I'll get to it shortly, but just know that I only have WONDERFUL things to say -- record amounts of water, wonderful weather, lots of wildlife, and the most beautiful sunsets I've seen in my life (just a preview). But for now -- the third day at Cape Town:


    Days Three and Four were spent exploring Cape Town. On day three, we first went to the Waterfront to book a tour of Robben Island for the following morning. If you want to do a morning tour, you should definitely get tickets the day before, as the early tours get sold out.

    Then, we spent the day strolling in the Waterfront, shopping, going to Greenmarket Square, and wandering wandering wandering. Again, perfect weather. The Company Gardens are a must see -- it's a lovely walk. We ended up at the Mount Nelson Hotel by 3:00 for high tea. Another great experience. The grounds of the hotel are beautiful and it all feels so so civilized. As an American, the high tea experience is especially fun -- it all seems so Jane Austen in Africa. And my husband makes a great Mr. Darcy.

    That evening, we ate at a pizza place in Camps Bay -- The highlight was that there was an international beach volleyball tournament in Camps Bay that week and all the players ate at the pizza place -- Primi Piati (??) -- something like that. Nothing like hot young male volleyball players to get your appetite going. :)

    On our final day, we spent the morning at Robben Island. They do a very nice tour. I had been trying to get my husband to read A Long Walk to Freedom for some time, but I think he was scared of its length. After visiting Robben Island, he is now excited to finally read it.

    I was always somewhat surprised everytime I heard a South African speak of Mandela -- he is almost viewed as deity there by so many. So widely respected. Without exception, everyone I met there spoke of him with unbridled praise (granted, I had a small sampling). In the US, such naked admiration of political figures is almost unheard of. There is so much cynicism. It was refreshing to see people so engaged in politics and to see hope in it.

    After Robben Island, we did a tour of the Bo-Kaap with Banu-Tanu Tours -- it was recommended by Frommers (are we allowed to mention the competition of Fodors here??). Although the stroll through the Bo-Kaap was fun and visually interesting, I didn't like the "tour guide" so much. It was a local resident who was well known in the community -- but the "tour" consisted of a walk with her telling personal stories that had only marginal relevance to what we were seeing. It ended at her home, where she treated us to a traditional Cape Malay tea. I was glad I saw the Bo-Kaap, but was not overwhelmingly happy with the tour experience. It was just sort of weird.

    From there, we did more shopping (I finally got myself a zebra skin rug which I've wanted for forever) and ended with dinner at the Waterfront at a place I highly recommend: Belthazar. Great food, great service. And it was really nice to be at the Waterfront in the evening. It's a different feel from the daytime. The lights are quite beautiful.

    And so ended our wonderful stay in Cape Town.

    I don't know if we'll be back, but I want to. Next time, I'll hike up Table Mountain, hike in the Cape Point National Park, and spend more time relaxing. It would be tempting to go in the time of year when you can see whales, but the weather in March was simply too good to give up.

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    Diane,

    I typed your township visit report and showed it to Mzwake yesterday. he beamed from ear to ear and felt so proud of what you had to say. I also showed your report to the "surprise event" :) people at the end of your visit and they too were extremely happy with all you writings.

    Many thanks for all the good and nice words.

    Very proudly part of the wonderful ((r)) nation of South Africa

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