There is something in South Africa very different from Europe or the Americas. Perhaps it’s discovering ones courage or something similar. The sparkle of the South African diamond has won over many a heart in an engagement ring. The vineyards outside Cape Town have crossed many a wine glass abroad. The surf town of Durban makes waves and the big five safaris are a travel magazine favorite. This place of nature, of tribal communities, and great natural challenges calls out to explore it. Sandra from Australia traveled here with her husband via the Queen Mary 2 Cruise in early 2014. She recommends trying springbok steak and bunnychow, two common local dishes of the region. These are some of the journals and photography from her journey.
DIAMOND FACTORY TOUR
“We came upon a large upmarket glitzy showroom with many diamond jewellery items in gleaming display cabinets, with hovering staff ready to show you. The lady with us was quite stylishly dressed and informed us she was a high- end fashion jewellery buyer direct from Paris. Scattered couches had animal skins draped on them. It was like an Aladdin’s cave after a highly discreet entrance that was tough to find. We were shown into a museum type workroom with the manager, who gave us a very interesting 25 minute talk all about how diamonds were cut, faceted and polished. He demonstrated intricate machines, some still in use today.”
“We began to climb the lower slopes of Table Mountain and passed ‘Loenvoot House’ which means ‘foot of the lion’. The last lion was shot in 1842. The slopes of Table Mountain looked grey and rather barren from below, but are actually a World Heritage Flora Reserve with a huge diverse flora area in which 69% of species are only found here!”
“Each cable car carries 65 people and are round with support cables weighing 18 tonnes and 1200 metres long. The counterweight system is 134 tonnes each and each car carries 4000 litres of water for ballast as it can get pretty windy up there. The highest point of Table Mountain is 1085 metres high. The outer perimeter of the car rotates around slowly to allow everyone a chance to take photos and get some breeze. Tourists are quick to board, get best vantage points and even get aggressive. Often the ‘oldies’ are the worst!”
“We journeyed past extensive stretches of the shanty towns that spread back up the sloping bases of nearby hills. Seeing these caused palpable dismayed reactions from those of us not used to seeing these conditions and cameras and IPads were put into use. These areas house nigh on a million people living in cramped, tiny one or two room shacks of rusty corrugated sheets of iron, tarps and bricks piled haphazardly as walls. Roofs were held down with tyres, tarps, half a car body or even part of an old boat.”
“Children played in the dusty tracks too narrow to be called streets. Miles and miles of black electric wiring festooned the rooftops. They looked like great circus tent guy ropes radiating out from many central poles each one connected to about 50 shacks. One huge fire trap. Reminded me of the old beach shacks at Wedge Island back home, but these certainly didn’t have the carefree holiday ambience that is there. These were people eking out an existence and living in squalor. Rubbish lay in piles high as a man’s waist and floated in nearby waterways, that were of a stagnant green colour.”
“There are two classes of people in South Africa- the wealthy and the very poor. The government is trying to help by building extensive estates of government housing and people are gradually being moved into these identical featureless row after row of better housing. The mammoth task of moving them is daunting and taking a long time. The sheer numbers of poor, largely unemployed, often illiterate peoples is a huge political challenge. The newer houses are of about 2-3 rooms and have no garden space.”
“Stellenbosch is a university town of some 120,000 inhabitants, and home to the springboks. It is a picturesque and charming town with oak tree lined streets. Mainly white and cream Cape Dutch architecture spots narrow roads, some with old thatched roofs and cobbled gutters. A town very rich in history. Many of its streets are rolling with fairly deep ditches to deal with heavy rainfall runoff. Available in the mix of retail shops are artisan eateries, art galleries, souvenir stores, bakeries/patisserie, tapas and boutique beers shops. The university is an exclusive and advanced learning institution.”
“We were facing the Valley of a Thousand Hills outlook. The many ridges, mounds, rolling slopes and smaller hills gave it its name. We were greeted with the traditional ‘Sawubona’ and a troupe of about 15 dancers in full ceremonial costume led by a guide in khaki safari clothes began the show. He spoke with the curious ‘knocking’ sound they make….of course we just had to try it later! It is like a phonetic ‘Q’ from the back of the tongue. Some interesting facts- A Zulu warrior who was held in superior regard could take several wives for various functions such as child rearing, sleeping, and cooking. Married women wore this heavy intricate beaded head dress of about 4 kgs weight, woven into their hair for years-it wasn’t taken out and they slept on wooden pillows. (They like the creature comforts now though!)”
Thanks very much to Sandra for her contribution in this guest post.