From Cape Point to Robben Island, from The Orient to the Jungle and Back to Paris
The tales of our adventure in South Africa will end Wednesday when we land very early in the morning in Paris, back to cold, winter gray, rainy days — the kind that make Paris, Paris. Meanwhile, when we left off last Wednesday, we had only gone through half the trip and half the adventure — with the most exciting parts to come. Hence, I apologize in advance for this unusually long missive. There’s simply too much to tell!
After easily surviving paragliding off Signal Hill and Erica’s climb up Lion’s Head Mountain onto precipices that would make any mother nervous, we took a full day, with friend Harry Hamburg behind the wheel of our right-hand drive rental car, to head south to “Le Cap de Bonne-Espérance” — The Cape of Good Hope (in Afrikaans, “Kaap die Goeie Hoop”). Along the way, we stopped at the quaint fishing village of Simon’s Town (named after Simon van der Stel, a governor of the Cape Colony), home to the South African Navy on False Bay on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula and the Indian Ocean. It was here over lunch that we were serenaded by a choral group of Africans that Erica convinced to pose for her.
The train tracks that terminate there from Cape Town were buried in sand having drifted up from the beaches and therefore the trains weren’t running that day. Not far down the road is Boulders Beach, a sheltered cove of inlets between granite boulders where a colony of African penguins have settled. Virtually on the verge of extinction, the “tuxedoed” birds are protected by the Cape Nature Conservation. Two birds bred there in 1982 have now yielded about 3,000 of them feeding on pilchards and anchovy. Tourists have the good fortune of visiting the colony by walking through a residential area to raised platforms that allow one to get up close without really disturbing them, although gawking, “ooing and ahing” and taking tons of photos.
The penguins are as adorable as they get. One cannot help but chuckle over their antics as they waddle about, dig holes to protect themselves from the wind, stand facing the sun like little statues, cuddle and kiss one another, run into the water for a quick dip and to feed on fish, and generally play as penguins do. I highly recommend adding this to your South African bucket list to warm your heart and make you giggle with delight. I warn you, the bucket list for South Africa is very full and getting more full the more you explore it.
A bit further down the road we entered the Table Mountain National Park, previously known as the Cape Peninsula National Park. It was here on the road to Cape Point that a family of baboons “attacked” our car; Erica wanting to open the windows or jump out to take photos while we screamed “NO, NO, NO!!!” They look cute and harmless, but they’re not, and there are signs everywhere warning the tourists. One of them climbed on the hood and stuck his face in the windshield, stared at me, then climbed down the back window. Erica had the wherewithal to video the scene and capture his escape; his long thin, pink “member” hanging down loosely as he slid down the rear windshield…all caught on video. Imagine our laughter — it erupted every time we thought about it or replayed the video.
The landscape at the Cape is dramatic and magnificent. Photos don’t quite do it justice. One can walk up the path or take the funicular, built as late as 1996 after realizing how few tourists ascended to the top on foot. Harry and I opted for that less physical solution to get to the base of the lighthouse while Erica trekked up. (Oh, to be young and fit!) From there to the top of the lighthouse is 121 steps — not that much considering the climb up to my Paris apartment is 70, but after the up and the down, my legs felt like rubberbands, wobbly and out of shape. After that, and on our way down to the point, a spot that has seen many shipwrecks thanks to the volatile windy weather coupled with the Bellows and Albatross Rocks, we spotted one lone ostrich busily feeding on the grass for a photo op.
The route back to Cape Town along the nine kilometer stretch of Chapman Peak’s Drive, a route with 114 curves, a 593-meter high mountain-edge road of spectacular vistas, was well worth the special detour. It landed us along the Atlantic Seaboard of beautiful villas and seaside cafés and restaurants. It was there, a spot reminiscent of the French Riviera, that we had dinner “al fresco” before heading home and…collapsing with exhaustion.
Thursday was our last day in the Mother City and last chance to do two things on our “bucket list”: visit the Zeitz Mocaa Contemporary African Art Museum and Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years in incarceration as a political prisoner.
The Zeitz Mocaa is a tall, masculine building at the V&A Waterfront with six floors of permanent and temporary exhibitions by African artists of substance. There is quite a lot of photography — perhaps more than most contemporary art museums, which indicates that many of the artists are young. The Zeitz MOCAA “collects, preserves, researches, and exhibits twenty-first century art from Africa and its Diaspora.” The work in the museum is powerful with strong messages of what life was like during and after Apartheid. The colors are bold and all in all, our impressions were that the art was masculine in nature, even if the artists were women. The museum impressed us as much as any other activity we had experienced in Cape Town.
To visit Robben Island, a boat leaves from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront three times a day — a 30-minute ride to the island, with a bus tour around the island to see the quarry where Mandela and the other prisoners worked, other buildings that supported the prison staff, and then tour through the prison itself where Mandela lived alone in a cell, with only himself contemplating the ability to forgive his captors. It’s here he wrote his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom” and secretly had it sent out of the prison to be published. Our tour guide was an ex-prisoner himself who told Erica he gives the tours to help him heal from his experience as a prisoner. We understood that he had taken Mandela’s ability to forgive to his own heart.
Goodbye Cape Town on Friday morning was our theme song as we boarded a plane to Lanseria, to be picked up by a driver and taken to The Orient Hotel. With a serious drought taking place in Cape Town, we learned how to take showers using only dripping water into a bucket so as not to waste a single drop, flush only when necessary and use sanitizer to “wash” our hands whenever possible. This was not the case at The Orient Hotel which afforded no shortage of water for luxurious baths about which we were dreaming (and then of which we took advantage).
Words cannot fully describe the oasis upon which we landed at The Orient Hotel. Owners, Cobus Du Plessis and Mari Dartnall have spared no expense nor attention to detail to make this oriental temple a luxurious world within the wilds of South Africa. After giving us a tour of the hotel and the grounds, the famous kitchen of their award-winning restaurant, The Mosaic, as well as our suite of rooms which included a salon and a terrace, a bathroom with both a shower and large claw-foot tub, Erica and I strolled the grounds and out the gates to commune on foot (not possible on safari) with the gazelles, zebras and giraffes that roam there freely. We had to keep pinching ourselves as we were only a few feet away from these wild and magnificent animals. Two giraffes stood side-by-side as we did, a stone’s throw away, staring at us — me, thinking that they were wondering who we were and what were we doing there?
Cobus and Mari joined us in the hotel’s “Champagne Bar” for what else, but champagne (the finest, of course) and conversation. That was just the prelude before Erica and I were escorted to a table in one of the private dining rooms of The Mosaic Restaurant for a 12-course extravaganza meal accompanied by both paired wines and non-alcoholic drinks that took four hours to enjoy from beginning to end. We were given printed booklets that described every aspect and morsel of the meal written in Chantel’s prose and asked which of the three main courses we would prefer. How was it possible to even begin to make a choice — we wanted it all! The staff, trained for years to perfection, flurried around us taking care of every wish and whim.
Each dish, was more magnificent than the next, not only in presentation, but in taste. “Chantel combines her classical French training with her love of nature and is well known for creating the art of nature on her plates, with delightful botanical dishes.” The tiniest of flowers adorned each treasure. Even the plates were designed to match the presentations. The dessert, the almost last serving to arrive at the table, at the point we were bursting at the seams, might have been the most beautiful of all, if not one of the most delicious — a plate that looked like a galaxy of planets. We dug into each dish, even though we hated spoiling the beauty of each artistic “food painting.”
This gastronomic overload was the first time indulging outside of the strict diet I’ve been on and it was worth every extra calorie, from the six different breads accompanied by five different flavors of butters to the final petit fours after dessert and coffee. In all my years of dining out, regardless of how many stars a restaurant has or not, nothing even comes close to what we experienced at Chantel Dartnall’s capable chef’s hands.
The next morning we begged Mari and Chantel to put us to work so we wouldn’t have to leave, but of course, our flight to Hoedspruit awaited us where we were to be picked up by someone from Camp Jabulani, a family-owned and managed private luxury safari lodge located within the private Kapama Game Reserve, literally across the road from the Hoedspruit airport and in close proximity to the Kruger National Park in the scenic Mpumalanga region.
“Luxury” is too mild a word to describe the overwhelming sumptuousness of the facility and friendliness of the staff. We were met by a handsome, young ranger, taken by jeep on dirt roads to the “camp,” already getting a glimpse of some of the wild animals along the way, then given a briefing about the facility. That was before being escorted to our suite over a suspension bridge and down raked-to-perfection sand paths to a building the size of a large Paris apartment, entirely made of glass and wood and stone, outfitted with every comfort afforded kings and queens. We were awe struck — simply awestruck. Is this how a safari is supposed to be? We wondered, and thought not for the usual tourist. As it turns out, we were the only guests at Camp Jabulani, and were treated royally by the entire staff with all attention on us…down to the chef, Alex, preparing for us whatever we desired.
As we were having lunch at an outdoor table overlooking a pond, a tiny Blue Waxbill flew directly into the window of the camp and crashed on the ground. Erica picked him and up and held him in her hand, as he appeared to have died, but was still breathing. She stroked him and “nursed” him back to consciousness until he finally woke up, stood up on her hand, pooped on it and then flew away. Meanwhile at the pond, monkeys were playing and having a raucous time.
Once settled in and satiated, Tiger, the chief elephant tamer, invited us to meet Jabulani himself, the elephant after whom the camp is named…up close and in person. The story goes that the 23-year old elephant was abandoned and left orphaned at the tender age of four months and was hand-reared by founder Lente Roode with her team at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC). He started it all — and now an entire herd of orphaned elephants living at one of the leading private research and breeding facilities for endangered species in the country.
Tiger taught us how to feed Jabalani into his snout — and he was gentle and sweet. We petted his skin and learned a lot about elephants and the herd, then once we had gotten to know each other better, we met another one of the herd’s patriarchs — Sebakwe, an older and even larger elephant. He was born in Zimbabwe and has become a very famous elephant, as he’s the subject of several documentaries for Amarula Cream Liqueur and is the elephant pictured on their advertising and labels. Amarula is world renowned, made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree, that I had the pleasure of tasting during an afternoon “Safari Sunset” — drinks and snacks out in the middle of the bush that same afternoon.
After getting to know both Jabulani and Sebakwe, André the ranger took us on a safari into the reserve to see the animals. Traveling the dirt roads that twist and turn through the bush, we got up close and observed impala and deer, kudus, wildebeest and buffalo, z