We made it to Cape Town!
In general keeping with our tardy blog posts, this news is a little overdue. We reached Cape Town at the start of December and tucked Ambi away in storage in Stellenbosch. On 12th December I flew home and after watching my plane take off from the top of Table Mountain, Harry flew to Australia for Christmas with his family.
I’ll attempt to keep this post brief and round off the last few exciting experiences that we had towards the end of our journey. Continue reading to hear about… Citrusdal’s hot springs, visiting Robben Island the day before Mandela died, getting caught in a blizzard on top of Table Mountain, becoming honoured guests at the Appletise factory, visiting Cape Aghulas, urging a very unhappy Ambi to crawl her way into storage and the sadness with which I left such a magnificent continent.
As you may remember from the end of the last post (if your remarkable stamina got you to the end…), we entered South Africa via the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the North West. The roads were long, but beautifully tarmacked so we quickly covered the distance to Citrusdaal near the West Coast where we were eager to visit ‘The Baths’ that Carlos and Susie (that lovely couple we met in the Okovango Delta) had recommended. It felt like we were there to traditionally ‘take the waters’. There was no rush, no 2-hour time limit and a never-ending supply of mineral-filled hot water. We stayed in a lofty attic of a charming Victorian bathhouse at a reduced rate because there were bats nesting in the roof. We had free reign of all the areas: two large pools, one cool and refreshing the other hot and steamy, a warm mountain rock pool up a steep hill and private jaccuzi baths that one could fill at leisure from an industrial sized tap that only spurted naturally hot mineral water. Oh, and a trampoline! My inner child was so happy. This special place was the perfect remedy for our stiff limbs that had stooped inside Ambi for almost a year. We will always remember it, however, because Harry got stung by a scorpion.
Late at night while I was working on the last blog post distracted intermittently by the squeaking bats, Harry was outside having an epiphany sparked by the Orion Nebula, barefoot, in a rocky garden. Over the sound of the bats came a yelp of shock. I raised my head momentarily pondering the bleak possibility of Harry tripping down the wonky steps, and carried on typing. Seconds later he hopped in frantically pointing at his foot, shrieking “I’ve been stung by a scorpion! I’ve been stung by a scorpion!” I could see blood dripping from his foot, “Lie down, stay still, I’ll go and get the medical kit…” There was so much shock and adrenalin pumping round his body that he seemed quite unable to sit still and was still hopping around yelping when I returned, covered in dust, having had to dive, in the dark, into Ambi’s deepest, dustiest cupboard to retrieve the medical bag.
I insisted that he sit down, and I took a look at his foot. It looked entirely normal, no swelling, no redness. The skin on the sole was so thick and tough after a lot of barefoot meandering throughout Africa that I would like to see a scorpion try and get his stinger through it. “Are you actually in pain!?” I tentatively asked. “I don’t know!” he responded, still surging with adrenaline. “It doesn’t look that bad… Did the scorpion have big pincers and a small tail or the other way round?” The one thing we had been told to remember about scorpions is that the ones with big pincers, small tail are practically harmless and small pincers, big tail can be deadly. It was about then that I realised it was the other foot dripping with blood, “Erm, how did you do that!?” “Oh, I didn’t realise… I must have cut it on a rock running in.” He had been so shocked to have been victim to a scorpion sting less bothersome than the nasty bee sting I had suffered that day, that he failed to notice that his other toe was almost dangling off and bleeding openly onto the floor. Good that I brought the medical kit in… I bandaged it up and then we went outside, shoes on, armed with torch and camera, to find the pesky scorpion. We saw four big black beasties, and one that seemed to be eating a smaller brown version. I couldn’t bear to look at them for long, scroll down quickly if you feel the same!
Chez Grand Daddy
Cape Town reputably being one of the coolest cities in the world, we sought out a suitably snazzy place to spend a few of our last nights on the continent. The Grand Daddy hotel right in the centre of town boasts ten old Airstream trailers on the roof, each interior designed by a different artist with a different theme. We chose to sample a few. One night was in Goldilocks, in a cutsie haven of blue and white check, with three different-sized chairs to sit in and three different-sized bowls to eat from. Harry was quite upset that the trailer did not include a bear costume, as the website had suggested… The next night we were John and Yoko in a Beatles themed trailer complete with guitar and tambourine and a guestbook containing lots of raunchy comments describing in detail what previous guests had got up to. Our favourite was ‘Love of Lace’ with a predominantly pink and black theme with everything trimmed with frills and tassels.
We had not realised however, that staying on the coolest rooftop in Cape Town meant having various hip events going on outside our door. One night was a vintage fair, another a Christian film festival and another a red carpet fashion show. During the latter evening I happened to be dining with Cloe, a beautiful South African girl I had met in Malawi, while Harry, buried in lacy cushions, shamelessly peered through the curtains at the catwalk models strutting their stuff.
Table Mountain’s Tablecloth
Table Mountain is probably the most distinctive backdrop to any city in the world. It first loomed into view as we came down the highway from Citrusdaal, and took us by surprise. In December, it is often shrouded in a ‘tablecloth’ of cloud and mist, and we waited for a day of good weather to make the climb. It is now possible to take the cable car up, but Harry insisted that it would be embarrassing to say one had visited table Mountain but not made the climb oneself. We chose our route (the shortest and steepest) and teamed up with a friendly Polish chap name Jarek on the way. It was a lot colder than expected, especially on turning a corner into the full force of the wind and mist. I regretted not bringing enough layers. As we reached the plateau, the weather worsened and we could barely see each other, let alone the expansive view over the city. A man came to tell us that the last cable car down for the day (due to bad weather) was leaving in five minutes. Harry was keen to trundle down the other side; but the cold got the better of me and I shamefully took the cable car.
It worked out quite miraculously as Harry enjoyed Jarek’s company and I met two lovely American girls in the cable car who I walked into the city with (making me feel less bad about not walking from the top.) They had also been in Malawi so had met a few of the characters I had become friends with during my time there and to my delight, they were intrigued to try Ethiopian food. I had been trying to steer Harry into an Ethiopian restaurant since Ethiopia, but the injera had not made such an impression on him. We found an Ethiopian restaurant that resembled a jungle and were surprised when the waiter ushered us to a low table in a lofty mezzanine accessed by a narrow rickety ladder. Not quite as authentic as in Ethiopia, but the food was yummy and suitably covered in berber chilli powder.
While staying in Cape Town we could not forego a visit to Robben Island where Mandela was held prisoner for 19 of his 27 year sentence. We had been warned that the tourist ferry and buses around the island give you a very limited amount of time to explore, so we booked two tickets each so that we could get a later ferry back. As accustomed as we had become to having poorly informed guides at attractions like this, the ex-prisoner who showed us around gave us a fascinating insight into what life was like as a captive on Robben Island and shared personal stories from his own experience.
I was unimpressed however by the lack of initiative of other tourists as they queued to see Mandela’s cell and all take the same photo, then filed on and off the buses without exploring the rest of the buildings. We stood in the yard where the famous posed photo of the prisoners working was taken and peered into Mandela’s cell, a bare box room with a small blanket and a bucket. One of the most interesting parts of the tour was to the cave near the lime mine where Mandela and other more senior political prisoners shared news and taught the younger inmates whilst chained together in pairs.
We enjoyed creating our own dramatisation of a prisoner and his beloved visitor in the row of sound proof cubicles in the Visitor’s Centre and then took a walk around the surprisingly large island, taking temporary refuge in the humble mosque when it rained briefly. There was a strange sense of desolation on the island, many derelict, disused buildings and we weren’t sure whether we were actually allowed to be out exploring or not. Nature had regained these parts of the island, flooding the buildings and strangling them with vegetation; penguins nesting under the bushes and seagulls in the rafters. We even saw a couple of what seemed to be deer (?) cantering through the trees.
We were delighted to find the African Penguin colony, and in search of a couple of big shipwrecks to the north of the island, we forged on, rather unwelcome, into a seagull breeding colony. I was stupidly convinced at the time that we should just follow the path through quickly, but as the great birds started swooping intimidatingly closer and closer to our heads, we retreated. One of the most surprising sights on Robben Island was the plethora of tortoises. We saw no less than 6 of them crossing the paths, slowly and steadily. The north of the island is so infrequently visited, we were alone with the shipwrecks, tortoises and a plethora of wonderful Abalone shells.
Little were we to know that only the next day, Mandela would take his last breath. We were sat in our decadent Love of Lace trailer with a buoyant Canadian couple we had met over dinner when I had a strange urge around midnight to check to BBC news, perhaps I was missing home. And there it was, all other news seemed irrelevant, Mandela had died. None of us really knew what to say or whether it was appropriate to carry on laughing and joking as we had been, after a few morose minutes, we did anyway. A few people have asked what it was like to be in South Africa at the time of Mandela’s passing. We retreated to the countryside the next day so were not caught up in festivities in the streets of Cape Town. All of the billboards showed a face of Mandela and there were many handmade signs saying RIP Madipa; people paying their own respects. Flags were at half mast, but everybody seemed to be celebrating the life of their hero, as one should when a great man lives to a great age. Harry felt it keenest when, in lots of little corners, small silences were held, with only a few people in attendance.
The Sweet Aromas of Appletise
Whilst most tourists go to Stellenbosch to visit the famous vineyards, we escaped the city and headed East towards Elgin. We had a rare appointment at the Appletise Factory, the home of the fizzy drink Harry had loved since his early childhood. On arrival the manager greeted us and decked us out in white lab coats, hair nets and ear plugs. A factory of international standards, the camera was forbidden and we had to sign disclaimers agreeing to keep the secrets of Appletise’s magic ‘Muthi’. I was impressed by Harry’s ability to ask so many detailed questions and appear overtly enthusiastic about the process of cleaning bottles, sticking labels on them, mashing apples, extracting the ether, infusing the pulp with carbon etc. I was quite mesmerised watching the neat lines of bottles twirling their way along conveyor belts, and laughed when one machine began to malfunction quite dramatically: A small lake of Appletise was forming on the floor around an industrious mechanic desperately trying to fix it. Every now and then he extracted a crumpled Appletise bottle from the machine and threw it over his shoulder.
Just after the carbonator there was a huge tub of cans that had been either too full or too empty as they continued on the line and were being trashed. With the encouragement of the production manager we helped ourselves to a couple of cans. Crucially this was to be Harry’s first taste of Appletise before pasteurisation. It was incredible. Harry was overjoyed to have seen the source of his addiction and to have learnt exactly what goes into making his only source of vitamins in early youth.
We still didn’t feel we had quite reached a final destination. Cape Aghulas, Africa’s southernmost point was the new target and we enjoyed a lovely lunch in Hermanus on the way. We were unlucky to have missed perhaps the last mother and calf whales of the season in the bay only the day before. Constantly scanning the water as we took the coastal road, we accepted that we were too late for whale-watching and saw it as a reason to come back. There were more seals to greet us at Cape Aghulas along with a very friendly lady working in the light house who mentioned that our favourite British cyclists, Tim and Sharon who we met in northern Kenya, had passed that way a few months before us (on bikes!!) They are now cycling from the Southernmost point of South America up to north America… www.north2northcycletour.wordpress.com Go team GB!
For our treasured last night in Ambi, we parked as close to the Southernmost tip as we could, about 20 yards North. The temperature of the sea was noticeably different on one side to the other, where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean.
Ambi’s Last Struggle
We planned to tuck Ambi away into storage near Stellenbosch, hire a car and then have a relaxing last few nights at Camp’s Bay Retreat, another recommended haunt from a fellow traveller. However, half way into our journey from Cape Agulhas to Stellenbosch she began to express reluctance to go anywhere. Harry checked underneath and discovered that the half-shaft was disconnecting from the front diff! Amid unnerving clunking and grinding sounds, Harry managed to encourage her to Stellenbosch where we bedded down for the night. The following morning we went looking for a mechanic. We were out of luck, all the Land Rover specialists were fully booked before Christmas and then closing for a month. This resulted in the last terrible bout of stress trying to decide what to do with her. We pulled into another less-reliable looking mechanic’s and thankfully, they helped Harry get the half-shaft sorted. We wanted to enjoy our last few days and not worry about more mechanics, so we tucked her away with Duncan at African Overlanders and asked him to deliver her to Roverland for due care and attention in our absence.
We bolted the grill between the cabin and the back, sorted through the food cupboards, tucked away the valuables and tightly tied down a huge tarpaulin over the roof. I hugged her across the bonnet and couldn’t help but shed a few tears. She had been my home for almost a year, and I loved her. I felt like a tortoise leaving her shell behind. With just a rucksack each, we drove away in a hire car and left all worries about Ambi’s well-being behind. The trip had ended now, the remainder was just a holiday.
We enjoyed our stay at Camp’s Bay Retreat immensely. An 18th Century Dutch manor house, the main building was ordained with old hunting trophies and the gardens were lusciously overgrown with stepping stones leading to mysterious curiosities. An old swimming pool set with stone pillars at each end now played home to numerous spawning frogs and another path lead further down to a meticulously organised herb garden. On the morning before my flight, we had breakfast on a veranda overlooking the ocean and I tried to savour the sounds of the birds, the smell of the bougainvillaea and the magical feel of the whole continent.
It felt very strange to be leaving without Harry. When the plane took off, it was as if I’d left my heart on the ground and I was filled with a sudden emptiness. Why was I leaving? I loved this continent and knew I wanted to come back already. It was a sad day. After depositing me at the airport, I later discovered that Harry had climbed table mountain again and watched my Emirates plane fly north into the distance.
We both want to extend a huge thank you to everybody who has been reading our blog and supporting us in our adventure from back home. It has been a hugely exciting, challenging, surreal experience and it now feels very strange to be back in the homeland. Was it all a dream!?
We are in fact nipping over to Cape Town for a week on 1st March to collect Ambi from the mechanics and make sure she is in tip top condition and also deal with some documentation problems for shipping her home. She’ll be packed into a container aboard ship at the end of March and hopefully arrive in Southampton in good time for the classic British summer festival season!
To wrap up our admin I will be producing some sort of photo book with snippets from the blog, if anyone would like one please let me know! A post about Malawi and Temwa is also on the editing table…
Thank you, esteemed readers, you have been an exquisite audience.
Stay classy. Over and Out.
Anneka and Harry xxx