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South Africa – April 2008

The Kiwi and I went to visit our friends, Dave and Bianca, in their home country, South Africa.  We were so busy anticipating seeing our dear friends again, that we didn’t spend time contemplating the country we were visiting.  Yes, we wanted to do safari, of course we were going to visit Cape Town, not enough time for Garden Route so we will do the winelands… and so on but not really stopping to consider what we were going to see….

Absolutely breathtaking landscapes.

The Amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre

What a country! The drive up to Kruger showed us just some of the variety of landscapes this country hosts.  Sheer cliff faces, high plains, flat, dry, arid red land, thick forests …

Then there is the fantastic opportunity to see animals which in my world are usually confined to tiny square footage enclosures, behind bars for people to gawk at in zoos.  How wonderful to see Lions, Elephants (although we actually didn’t see that many of them!), Hyenas, Hippos (ears just peeking out of the water!), mild panic as a Rhino looks right at us and none too happily while we freak out quietly that there is no way to escape it should he charge to cute baby Zebra and the awkward yet graceful Giraffe and the like in their own habitat! I am not naturally an animal lover, but to see these animals in the bush getting on with their natural instinct is so satisfying and peaceful, unless you are the buffalo the Lions are eating for dinner! 

On the way back from Kruger we stopped off at the Three Rondavels.  Amazing colours of rocks peek through the foliage with a river winding its way round the feet of these rock masses.  Stunning.

Then off to Bourke’s Luck Potholes, God’s Window which was a bit smudged that day – a haze teased us of the magnificent views you would normally see from there on a clear day stretching for miles.

Then on to Drakensberg – seriously, I feel it’s one of those places you should see before you die!  We went for a walk through the gorge into the arms of the amphitheatre. Such magnificence!

Then you get to Cape Town, and what a city!  Quite refreshing to be able to stretch the legs and get walking about the place, for a start.

Table Mountain.  It’s HUGE! You hear people talk of going up the cable car to Table Mountain and you see the photos and postcards and know it’s a large lump of rock… but I had no idea just how LARGE!  We could have spent days up there walking around! It’s amazing, it’s own big landscape of flora and fauna in a wee Kingdom of its own up in the clouds.  The table cloth chased us up the mountain, as it stealthily moved in over the harbour and up the slopes and then receded so we got the best of both worlds up there.

Of course, you then go to District Six museum and you are reminded that although it is a beautiful country, man, it’s had and still has it’s problems.  To think of how people have been treated over the years just makes you wonder at how appalling mankind can be, and how deluded. The contrast between rich and poor, even just comfortable and poor in this country can break your heart as children ask you to buy something they have made or ask for food because they are hungry.  No social security there, no guarantee of a council house and the “dole” to keep them going…  And yet they still have smile for you.

Then a trip to Robben Island, Nelson Mandela’s prison home for a time, and probably more importantly but less known and talked about, the enforced home of Robert M Sobukwe, who was founding president of the Pan Africanist Congress.  After the Sharpville Massacre the PAC and the ANC were banned. Sobukwe was considered so dangerous a special act of parliament was passed in order to detain him on Robben Island.   John Vorster, then minister of the country, said of Sobukwe, ‘He is a man with magnetic personality, great organising ability and a divine sense of mission.’ Vorster said he intended detaining Sobukwe ‘until this side of eternity’. Sobukwe was kept in insolation, as they were so terrified of what he might achieve given contact with others.  He studied by correspondence to gain an Economics degree.

Onwards to Route 62 to see breathtaking mountain ranges – Switzerland, eat your heart out!  And on to the winelands… yuuuuum!  We had fabulous food at both Rubens and Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek.  They could teach a few of the “nice” restaurants in the UK a thing or to about dining.  And of course the wine…. mmmmm.

We visited Haute Cabriere, where Mrs von Arnim took the tour in place of her husband as he was unwell.  She has learnt the art of cracking open a bottle of their Pierre Jourdan champagne (ok, sparkling wine) with a sabre – rather impressive party trick! That’s where the “lets crack open a bottle” came from, back in the day when you had a sabre in your pocket!

Beautiful scenery, good food and great wine…. bliss!

The flight back to Johannesburg took us up the country in the late afternoon, as the sun cast shadows across the red terracotta coloured earth.  Flying over the sheer mountains, then across the flat, desolate and vast Karoo onward to pass plains then sprawling metropolis and to townships.  What a country….!

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