Embracing the beauty of the beaches, the mountains, and the people.
In June 2017 we spent 15 days in South Africa.
June 24-26 – Travel! It takes a long time to get to Cape Town from Chicago. I’ve done some long flights but this was exceptional. Here are some tips on a long flight: 1. Get this neck pillow, it’s the best and there are 1,000 ways you can wear it (no one paid me to say this); eye masks and ear plugs are also pretty awesome when it comes to flying. 2. Bring snacks – seriously airplane food is kind of the worst. 3. I am now old enough to require compression socks; I found this out on the trip.
June 26 – After seemingly 1,000 hours of flying we arrived in Cape Town, found our friends who took a different flight, and picked up our rental car. We found out the hard way that you should ALWAYS get an automatic shift in Cape Town. Not only do you need to drive on the wrong side of the road and car but the hills are insane and you’ll break down 5 minutes from your Airbnb.
I will say this about our car rental, the employee who we called to help us not only dropped us off at our Airbnb (taking 2 trips to get us all there) but also drove around Camps Bay to find us at a coffee shop so we could sign for the new car he brought us.
June 27 – We all get up fairly early, and headed to “the center” which is what IES Abroad calls it’s offices in each city they are located. One cool perk of working for IES Abroad is that there are centers all over the world where the staff there can give me tips on what to do and give me a local’s perspective. After a visit with the director we stopped at Bo Kaap–a neighborhood with really rich culture and beautiful buildings. Following a quick dinner we started our first trip up Lion’s Head. Lion’s Head is a small mountain in Cape Town, it’s about an hour and 45 min hike up and is fairly easy to do; it’s popular to go up at dusk with a bottle of wine and hike down with a headlamp!
June 28 – Cape Town’s history is really interesting and really is currently dealing with a lot of similar issues to the U.S. On day 5 we took a walking tour through downtown and were able to see and hear about the colonization of Cape Town and how it is effecting the culture today. Later we walked through the Kirstenbosch gardens, one of the great botanic gardens of the world; we head back there day 8 for the trailhead up Table mountain.
June 29 – This day was interesting; we started out head to the V&A Waterfront because we had tickets to tour Robben Island but though the day was beautiful and it didn’t seem to have even a breeze the fairy boat was cancelled due to strong winds. This is really normal and you should make sure 1. book in advance and 2. have a backup date and time so you can reschedule. So with that cancelled we did a little shopping and I was picked up by a taxi to tour/photograph some of IES Internships new housing options and a tour of the University of Cape Town campus. In the evening IES Internships had an event to celebrate it’s first semester in operation and we gladly tagged along for the party!
June 30 – The one day it rained we drove about an hour outside of Cape Town to visit a few wineries. It’s not very well advertised but South Africa has amazing wine (and sells it super cheap at the grocery store, like $2 a bottle). The first one we visited also had an olive oil tasting which I really recommend. I don’t think I realized how different olive oils can taste until we did that.
July 1 – We finally had the perfect hiking day! Depending on which route you take up and how much you explore around, the Table Mountain hike can take between 2 and 6 hours. We took the longer route that starts in Kirstenbosch garden and head up and across the mountain. We also hiked over to Maclear’s Beacon before heading to the cable cars.
The experience is really awesome; you hike through all types of terrain, starting in a forest-y environment with waterfalls through to rock and boulder scrambling and ending up on the flat rock top of the mountain. The weirdest part for me was that you hike alone and rarely see anyone for the first 2-3 hours and then because of the cable car you start seeing tons of people, some in dresses and suits, at the top!
July 2 – We got up early the next day to drive outside of Cape Town to a few of the smaller towns and Cape Point. First we visited Boulder beach, a beach where you can hang out with penguins! We bopped around a bit there, the penguins were all nesting so we couldn’t really get close but we did get to see a ton of baby penguins with their families.
Cape Point is like the tip of South Africa and it has a little bit of hiking with beautiful scenery. There are just a ton of baboons at the point; they are super scary and will grab any food you have right out of your hands. We also saw wild ostriches which were huge and amazing. Our last stop on the way back to Cape Town was Simon’s Town, a small fishing village which was super cute and fun to walk around in.
July 3 – Back at Robben Island the weather was good enough to sail out to the island this time and I made sure to take a Dramamine because I get pretty motion sick on planes and boats. The island was really cool and the our tour guide (like most of them) was a former prisoner so we got to hear his story as well. The forgiveness and redemption that happened there is just unbelievable and inspiring to hear. After returning from the island we headed to Signal Hill which is just a quick drive up and has more beautiful views.
July 4 – It was our last day in Cape Town so we took one last hike up Lion’s Head to watch the sun rise. When our alarm went off we weren’t sure it was going to be worth it but we got up and drove to the trailhead. I’ve never seen a thing so beautiful. The sun coming up over the ocean and hitting the side of Table mountain is a wonder. It is 100% worth the early wake up call! After hiking back down we got coffee and took the cable car back up Table mountain one last time as well. Cape Town is such an interesting city because everywhere you look there is something beautiful to see.
July 5 – We left Cape Town to finish our trip with a safari on a private reserve, Africa On Foot, near Kruger National Park. The safari was perfect at this point on our trip. Meals and itinerary decided for you, time to relax, and a much slower pace while still being really exciting. We only had two half days and one full day on safari and we probably should have planned a few more to be able to see more animals but it’s fairly expensive and I’m sure there are cheaper ways to go (you can rent your own car and drive through Kruger on your own I think) but when it comes to wild, man eating animals I want professionals involved.
On the first day we got there just in time to drop our stuff and hop on a jeep, I say on because it’s just a big open vehicle. Our guide was awesome and I can’t tell you all the things we saw but giraffes were involved and I love them; we also tracked a lion but didn’t get to see one. In the evening we had dinner and drinks and some honey badgers harassed the kitchen staff!
July 6 – Our first full safari day we got up early, had breakfast, and headed out on a bush walk. This particular safari is interesting because it’s one of few that will take visitors out walking in the wild. The only downside of walking is that you don’t get to cover as much ground as if you were driving, but it is much more up close and personal to be in a formation with guides in the lead and end, carrying weapons I’m sure would just slow down anything that wanted to eat us. We ended up in the middle of a huge heard of Cape buffalo which look to me just like water buffalo, but I’m told there is a difference.
When we returned to camp we had lunch and had a bit of rest time before heading back out on the jeep to look at more animals and have a snack and drinks at the watering hole; a literal watering hole not a bar called “the watering hole”. I think it was this day that we saw a rhino and elephant, huge and gross and kind of scary.
Later in the evening we would go out on a night safari and I don’t know how he did it but our guide would find the smallest little nocturnal monkey in a tree a mile away while driving while I looked all around and saw……..nothing.
July 7 – Our last time out on safari we opted to drive rather than walk so we could maybe see a lion, we never did and Brian is very sad about that but we saw a ton of things and if you are planning a trip to Africa anywhere near a safari place you should do it! We left in the afternoon to fly back to Cape Town and began another 1,000 hour flight home.