Whilst we may have missed the Isle of Wight Festival (V's still gutted about missing the Red Hot Chilli Peppers..) we did go to a gig with Stefan & Naski in Jo'Burg. It was in aid of a charity - Artists against Violence and featured all the top names from South African music. It was organised by Johnny Clegg in aid of one of his backing singers who was recently killed during a hijack in Jo'Burg. Although we had not previously heard of any of the artists, we all enjoyed the concert, which included a real variety of performers, some very traditional african, and some quite western and acoustic, as well as 3 amazing male dancers who performed a funky routine. The black south africans have sure got rhythym. It was very moving and brought it home to us how south africans live with the consequences of violent crime. Luckily we didn't experience any of it - we generally found that if you were friendly and respectful of others, they would treat you the same.
Stefan took us to Pretoria to see the lovely Union Buildings - one of the homes of South African parliament (the other is in Cape Town). The buildings are sat on a hillside with beautiful manicured gardens and a view of the city. There was a huge new statue of Nelson Mandela that has recently been unveiled. Pretoria itself is fairly run down and there are few sights in the city centre, so we drove to the Voortrekker Monument 10 mins outside the city - again set on a hilltop and commanding amazing views. It was built to commemorate 'the Great Trek', made by the Africaneers in the 1800's to the escape the british.. The monument is immense and has a detailed carved freeze around the inside showing their journey and the various battles that ensued. There was also a very interesting museum.
Soon enough it was time to leave Stefan and Naski and their menagerie and head to Cape Town. We had hoped to travel overland by train (you know how Vanda loves her train trips..) but there were no tickets available so we had to fly. Whilst Cape Town is known to have wet and windy weather, especially in winter, we arrived to warm sunshine, with clear blue skies. We booked an apartment near the waterfront, and whilst our balcony overlooks a main road and the docks, it is nice and modern with all facilities to enable us to self cater (including a washing machine). The weather has continued to be kind to us and we were able to take the ferry to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, on our first morning. The first prisoner was sent here in the 1600's, a local was imprisoned for stealling his own cattle from the Dutch who had confiscated them. He was also one of the only people to escape the island. The trip takes an hour and then we had a guided tour around the prison with an ex prisoner. He was sentanced in 1975 to 18 years for terrorism. He explained how all the political prisoners were held together in the prison and how it was known as "the university", as they did lots of studying (unbeknown to the guards), with the educated teaching the less well educated. The prison had segregated parts for Blacks, Indians, Whites, Men and Women. There was different food for each group although it was the same each day. Many of the prisoners had to do hard labour in a lime stone quarry, even though they was little use for the stone they were made to move it, just for the sake of it! Our guide told us there were few beds when he first arrived and they laid on a blanket on the concrete floor until beds arrived some years later. We saw Nelson's small basic cell and then went on a bus tour of the island. The island was initially used as a leper colony and we went past a couple of cemeteries. The prisons were built by the prisoners (there were 3 in total) along with the houses used by the guards. All 3 prisons have now closed so the houses are now used to by the staff who run the tours on the island. There is no school on the island, so all the children have to commute to the mainland each day by ferry, weather dependant. We also did some wildlife spotting and saw 1000's of cormorants sat on rocks in the small harbour; a family of fur seals sun bathing; and an small african penguin on the beach. The boat skipper pointed out a whale too, but we missed seeing it unfortunately. The next day we headed to the main train station and bought tickets, for GBP1.50 each, to go to Simon's Town - a 1hr 20 min trip down the coast. The town is famous for having a resident colony of african penguins - also known as Jackass penguins for the noise they make. It was another lovely warm sunny day and we enjoyed the 3km walk from the station to the Boulders Bay national park where they have created wooden boardwalks so that the penguins aren't disturbed. It was amazing to be so close to the penquins, with their young, and they were not bothered by us. We walked past them nesting in the sand dunes; preening on the beach, and swimming in the sea. We were lucky to get there early, as after an hour the hoards arrived, so we made our escape. The town is very quaint with lovely colonial buildings built up the side of a steep hill - it reminded us of Ventnor, as there were also lots of cafes; antique shops; art galleries etc.. An idyllic spot on such a lovely sunny day. We stopped at a hair dressers for Craig to get his hair cut - the shops have a metal grill, and the hairdresser got her young son to unlock it so that we could enter. It's amazing that they need this level of security at a shop, when it's open! The hair dresser was more used to cutting african hair, but made a good job. She explained that she had been to college to learn how to cut all types of hair, but that he should be careful of getting his haircut in other places, as they may not know how to cut it! We were kept entertained by her 6 year old son, who was a right chatterbox, and explained how he had been to visit family in Nigeria, how he has relatives in the UK, and how he has buried pirate treasure.. He had a vivid sense of imagination and an answer for everything. His mum said that she was looking forward to him going back to school next week, and we could understand it - he wore us out after only half an hour!!
We bought a 2 day sight seeing bus ticket which included an additional wine tour. So the next day we jumped aboard the bus and went to the Kirstenbosch Botanial Gardens on the way to the vineyards. The weather was a bit british in the morning (cloudy and drizzly) but we enjoyed wandering around the gardens, and spotted an eagle owl sat in a tree. The gardens reminded us of Ventnor Botanical Gardens (it's sounding like we could have just gone to Ventnor..?!) with the addition of a canopy walkway. The snake shaped wooden and metal walkway reaches a height of 18m and was constructed last year - it was a little disconcerting that there was so much movement when you walked along it, and Vanda was keen to get back on the ground.. The gardens are nestled at the base of Table Mountain, and the views would have been stunning if the weather had been clearer. Never mind. Back on the bus and next stop the oldest Vineyard in South Africa - Groot Constantia. It was orinigally set up by a dutchman and the manor house and cellar are very dutch colonial style. We had a short tour before enjoying tasting 5 of their wines. They provided a spitoon, but we didn't need it! Next stop was Eagle's Nest vineyard - a much smaller concern where we had to sign in the visitor book at the security desk, before going to their tasting room. They only had 1 white wine, so Vanda enjoyed a full glass of that (a nice Sauvignon Blanc) whilst Craig enjoyed tastings of 5 of their wines.. The weather had cleared into another sunny day, and the bus trip back took us through stunning scenery. We hadn't realised that Cape Town is ringed by mountains, and the coastal road hugs the side of the mountain, with stunning coves and beaches dotted along it. The small bays to the south of the city house the rich and famous, with stunning seaside properties clinging to the hillsides, with stunning views, and expensive price tags. The modern blocks of apartments are interspersed with renovated art-deco blocks, opposite wide pavements and promenades - it's seems a world away from Jo'Burg and more like Brighton.
The next day we made use of the bus tour again to get to the cable car station for Table Mountain. Again, we had lovely weather with clear blue skies and the weather conditions for the mountain were good. It seems that the cable car is often cancelled due to bad weather, so again, we were very lucky. The cable car carries 64 people, and has a rotating floor so that everyone gets chance of a good view and the opportunity to take photos out of the open windows.. The trip only takes 3-4 minutes but it is a very steep climb, and Vanda wasn't so keen on the movement of going up, and going around at the same time, but she was very brave!.. The views from the top were stunning.. There are a number of walks you can do, and each gives you stunning views of the other peaks, the coast line, the city, and the range of mountains in the distance. Truly stunning. We enjoyed an hour and a half walking around, and watching the cute rock hyrax (brown rabbit like creatures also k/a dassies). Back on the bus for another scenic trip before we enjoyed a walk along the promenade enjoying the sea air. The bus ticket included a short trip on a canal boat which took us near to our apartment, so we made the use of the ticket. Instead of cooking in, we walked back to the waterfront, and watched the sunset over the ocean, before enjoying a lovely meal at a harbour front restuarant. A group of "a capella" singers serenaded us - a true african sound and experience.
The location of the apartment is ideal as we can walk to the waterfront, with shopping malls, cafes and restaurants, as well as the main city centre. We have had beggars come up to us, and we wouldn't walk around after dark, but generally it is a safe place. Interestingly, the ground floor of the apartment block has a car showroom for very expensive cars, including Daimlar, Lamborghini & Bentley, including one registered in the UK! The views all around are stunning and we have been very lucky with the weather. There seems to have been a lot of investment in Cape Town, with historic buildings being renovated and put to new use, rather than being ripped down and replaced. The main street 'Long Street' has some amazing balconied buildings - reminding us of the wild west films. Apparently some of them used to be brothels in the old days, so that may be why!
We have enjoyed catering for ourselves, and both enjoyed ostrich steaks (free range of course!) and roasted veggies last night.
Tomorrow we join our overland africa trip. 42 nights on a truck!
Love to all.