I will be traveling to South Africa with five other intrepid ladies, and then to Zimbabwe with three of the ladies. We will be experiencing African culture and food, seeing the incredible beauty of the continent and enjoying wonderful company!
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  • Day 1

    May 6 - Off to South Africa!

    May 6 in Canada ⋅ ☀️ 10 °C

    The big day is here! I am travelling to South Africa on a tour led by travel agent extraordinaire, Colette Trabucco of Creative Travel and Tours. Her bunk mate will be Sylvia, and mine will be Sandy. Sisters Sue and Deb complete the group of six.

    Today, Colette, Sylvia, Sandy and I are flying together today. Sue and Deb will join us in South Africa after their adventures in Egypt. Our flight from Toronto to Washington left from Pearson at 10:00 a.m. We arrived without any trouble at Dulles International Airport. We immediately hit the business class lounge and had lunch in the lovely restaurant here. There is plenty of food and wine here to help us wile away our 7-hour layover..

    The flight to Cape Town is 14.5 hours. If all goes well, we will arrive mid-afternoon tomorrow. South Africa is six hours ahead of Ontario time.

    With many thanks to Wikipedia, here is some interesting information about South Africa:

    South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa, (population 60 million) is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) of coastline that stretches along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans; to the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and to the east and northeast by Mozambique and Eswatini. It also completely enclaves the country Lesotho. It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World, and the second-most populous country located entirely south of the equator, after Tanzania. South Africa is a biodiversity hotspot, with unique biomes, plant and animal life.

    About 80% of the population are Black South Africans. The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European (White South Africans), Asian (Indian South Africans and Chinese South Africans), and multiracial (Coloured South Africans) ancestry. South Africa is a multiethnic society encompassing a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions. Its pluralistic makeup is reflected in the constitution's recognition of 11 official languages, the fourth-highest number in the world. According to the 2011 census, the two most spoken first languages are Zulu (22.7%) and Xhosa (16.0%). The two next ones are of European origin: Afrikaans (13.5%) developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most Coloured and White South Africans; English (9.6%) reflects the legacy of British colonialism and is commonly used in public and commercial life.

    The country is one of the few in Africa never to have had a coup d'état, and regular elections have been held for almost a century. However, the vast majority of Black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994. During the 20th century, the black majority sought to claim more rights from the dominant white minority, which played a large role in the country's recent history and politics. The National Party imposed apartheid in 1948, institutionalising previous racial segregation. After a long and sometimes violent struggle by the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid activists both inside and outside the country, the repeal of discriminatory laws began in the mid-1980s. Since 1994, all ethnic and linguistic groups have held political representation in the country's liberal democracy, which comprises a parliamentary republic and nine provinces. South Africa is often referred to as the "rainbow nation" to describe the country's multicultural diversity, especially in the wake of apartheid.

    South Africa is a middle power in international affairs; it maintains significant regional influence and is a member of both the Commonwealth of Nations and the G20. It is a developing country, ranking 109th on the Human Development Index, the 7th highest on the continent. It has been classified by the World Bank as a newly industrialised country and has the second-largest economy and the most industrialized, technologically advanced economy in Africa overall as well as the 39th-largest economy in the world. South Africa has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa.
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  • Day 1

    May 6 - Flying the Friendly Skies

    May 6 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    About 5:30 p.m., it was finally time to head to our departure gate. Sandy and I had timed it earlier as being a 10-minute walk which wasn't bad. But we got offered a ride on one of the golf carts, so never being ones to turn down a new experience, we hopped on and laughed all the way to the departure gate.

    While at the gate, the pilot for the plane sidled up to us (must have picked out the four most gorgeous ladies in the crowd of 300 people) and told us to come up the cockpit for a visit once we boarded. And he was serious about it! We were flying United Airlines to Cape Town.

    So, as soon as we got to our seats, we dumped our gear and headed to the cockpit. We got to sit in the pilot’s seat and pose with the crew. We giggled our way through the experience. Then one of the crew opened up a door and let us go up to pilot sleeping quarters. Now there’s a part of a plane you never get to see. Kudos to United for being so warm and welcoming. Their motto is “Fly the Friendly Skies” – now we see why!
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  • Day 2

    May 7 - We've arrived in Capetown

    May 7 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Click on the big picture and then scroll through to see the rest of the pics in more detail and to be able to read the captions.

    The overnight flight (14.5) hours from Washington to Cape Town was great – very little turbulence, lots of choose from on the entertainment screen (I watched “The Whale” with an Oscar-winning performance from Brendan Fraser), good food and actually some sleep (at least for me) in our lie-flat seats.

    We arrived in Cape Town to lovely sunshine, blue skies and warm temperatures. This is just the beginning of autumn here in South Africa.

    We got through passport control with no problems, then retrieved our bags and found our representative from Thompson Tours. He guided us to our driver who whisked us to the Victoria and Albert Hotel. Along the way, we saw the dichotomy of South Africa – lovely houses on one side of the highway with mini-villages of corrugated steel huts on the other side of the road. There was a minor hiccup with our reservation – Colette and Sylvia will be at a sister hotel not far away for tonight; they will transfer here tomorrow night (then it became two nights). In my room with Sandy, the bed was made up as one king-sized bed. Nope. Housekeeping came and decamped us to two singles with one end-table moved in between the beds. Colette sent us champagne - we thought it was from the management as an apology for not getting the reservation correct the first time!

    We rendezvoused about 6:30 p.m. and explored the charming waterfront area of Cape Town. There are lots of little shops and artisan boutiques that we will explore tomorrow. We saw two children’s choirs performing. So charming! We found a lovely restaurant by the water and dined al fresco. Great fish and chips! We called it a night shortly after 8:00 p.m. Sylvia and Colette came back to our room for a look around our digs and for a celebratory glass of champagne.

    Our plan for tomorrow is to meet for breakfast and map out the day from there. All we have on the agenda is a dinner reservation at 6:30 p.m. Pickup is at 5:30 p.m. Lots of time to explore this vibrant city.
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  • Day 3

    May 8 - Table Mountain

    May 8 in South Africa ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    So, our plan to meet for breakfast at 8:30 a.m. didn’t quite pan out. Colette messaged us at 8:50 a.m. wondering where we were. I was still fast asleep, and Sandy was wondering who was messaging us at about 3:00 a.m. because she hadn’t adjusted the time on her watch! Boy, did we move fast. We hustled across the street and up the steep stairs and ramps to the Queen Victoria Hotel where Colette and Sylvia are ensconced. We fueled up on lots of coffee and a hearty breakfast (great chocolate croissants) and worked out a plan for the day. We planned to go to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 17 years. But the first available ferry was at 1:00 p.m. which would have not given us enough time since we had a pickup time for our dinner reservation at 5:30 p.m. So, we changed course. Colette rearranged our tickets from tomorrow to today for the Hop On Hop Off bus. We wanted, at some time on our stay here, to get to the top of Table Mountain. It is often shrouded in fog, so given that the day was clear, we made Table Mountain our first stop on the bus.

    From my good friend Wikipedia:

    Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa. It is a significant tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top. Table Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in South Africa, attracting 4.2 million people every year for various activities. The mountain has 8,200 plant species, of which around 80% are fynbos, meaning fine bush. It forms part of the Table Mountain National Park, and part of the lands formerly ranged by Khoe-speaking clans, such as the !Uriǁʼaes (the "High Clan"). It is home to a large array of mostly endemic fauna and flora.

    We hopped on the cable car which took us straight to the top of mountain. The floor of the car rotates so everyone gets a view great view. The views from the top of the mountain are spectacular. We could see the beaches, the city, the shipping channels, and all the way out to the ocean. What a glorious place to spend time!
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  • Day 3

    May 8 - Down at the beach

    May 8 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    We jumped back on the bus and drank in the views along the ocean. We jumped off at Camps Bay to see that views and to have an afternoon drink. I had a Pink Virgin Mohito. I am stepping out! The beach is lovely – we could have drunk in those views for hours. There are lots of vendors selling handmade (probably) products – there were some nice, unique pieces that the other ladies bought. I’m on the hunt for fabrics.

    We jumped on the bus again and it took us back to the hotel with plenty of time to clean up and get ready for our evening adventure – see the next footprint.
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  • Day 3

    May 8 - A fabulous dinner experience!

    May 8 in South Africa ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    We had a dinner reservation for 6:30 p.m. at the Gold Restaurant that offers an authentic African experience. Our server was Olga who hails from Rwanda. We enjoyed a dinner with 14 different foods while we were entertained with music, song, and dance. Yes, the wine flowed freely! We were each given a bongo drum and we followed along with some basic rhythms. We had our faces painted with delicate flowers. Near the end of the evening, Colette was serenaded with song for her birthday a few days ago and given a free drink. Then I was serenaded because I have a new grandchild coming on Friday. Free drink for me too. It was a night to remember. Such fun!Read more

  • Day 4

    May 9 - Robben Island

    May 9 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    Up at 6:30 a.m. Breakfast at 7:15 a.m. At the ferry terminal by 8:30 a.m. Our destination today is Robben Island.

    From Wikipedia:

    Robben Island is an island in Table Bay, 6.9 kilometres west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, north of Cape Town, South Africa. Robben Island is roughly oval in shape, with an area of just under two square miles. It is flat and only a few metres above sea level, as a result of an ancient erosion event. It was fortified and used as a prison from the late-seventeenth century until 1996, after the end of apartheid.

    Political activist and lawyer Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on the island for 18 of the 27 years of his imprisonment before the fall of apartheid and introduction of full, multi-racial democracy. He was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and was elected in 1994 as President of South Africa, becoming the country's first black president and serving one term from 1994–1999. In addition, the majority of prisoners were detained here for political reasons. Two other former inmates of Robben Island, in addition to Mandela, have been elected to the presidency since the late-1990s: Kgalema Motlanthe (2008–2009) and Jacob Zuma (2009–2018).

    Robben Island is a South African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    The island has had many different purposes at first - as a refueling station, and then as sheep grazing land. Around the end of the 17th century, it began to be used for incarceration of political prisoners. It was also used as a leper colony in the 1800 and 1900s. During WWII, two fortified guns were installed to protect Cape Town. From 1961, Robben Island was used by the South African government as a prison for political prisoners and convicted criminals. The maximum-security prison for political prisoners closed in 1991. The medium security prison for criminal prisoners was closed five years later. The original colony of African penguins on the island was completely exterminated by 1800, But, since 1983, a new colony has been established there, and the modern island is again an important breeding area for the species.

    After a half-hour relatively smooth ride, we arrived at the island and were ushered onto buses organized by the language spoken by the guide. We toured around the island. Especially poignant were the leper graves and the limestone quarry where prisoners mined limestone and then moved it from one spot to another, only to move it back the next day.

    We were then greeted for our tour of the buildings by our guide, Jama. He was a political prisoner on Robben Island from 1977-1982 when he was a young man in his 20s. We toured the spartan buildings. It’s impossible to imagine the deplorable conditions that the prisoners survived. Only with Red Cross influence did they get upgraded to beds from sleeping mats on the floor in the late 1970s.

    The ultimate sight was Nelson Mandela’s cell where he spent 18 years on Robben Island. He spent a total of 27 years in captivity. His cell wasn’t marked or denoted in any special way - Jama pointed it out to us. Mandela insisted on being thought of as just the same as everyone else there. He and others helped to organize educational sessions for the prisoners, many of whom arrived as illiterate, and left as university-educated people.

    Amid growing domestic and international pressure and fears of racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released Mandela in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk led efforts to negotiate an end to apartheid, which resulted in the 1994 multiracial general election in which Mandela led the ANC to victory and became president.

    The entire experience of visiting Robben Island was very thought-provoking and humbling. We can never properly fathom the fortitude and patience and the inner strength that these prisoners endured, all in the name of bettering mankind.

    We saw a seal basking in the warm sunshine on the pier as we exited the ferry. Cool! Then we took a look at the painted hippos in the courtyard. Poaching to harvest rhino horns as almost decimated the rhino population in South Africa.

    When we got back, we found, to our delight that Colette and Sylvia have finally been relocated to this hotel (the Victoria and Albert). As a reward for their cooperation, they have a room with a gorgeous view of the harbour. Sandy’s and my room has a stunning view of the parking lot.

    Our two other travelers, Sue and Deb are arriving this evening from Egypt. We’ll be happy to have our little group all together. Our actual organized tour begins tomorrow.
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  • Day 4

    May 9 - Victoria and Albert Wharf

    May 9 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Sylvia headed out to do some shopping, and Sandy and I went out too. Colette was meeting with Liz who will be our guide for the next leg of our adventure.
    Sandy and I headed for a huge warehouse that houses artisans of all ilks – leatherworkers, jewellery makers, clothing makers, painters, etc. The selection is delightful and the bright colours of Africa shine through in their works. I got a little beaded Christmas tree ornament. Beading is a hugely popular craft here. The earliest African bead jewellery dates back to 10,000 BCE, originating in Libya. The tribes that are most known for their exquisite, beaded creations are the Zulu, Masai, Pokot and Turkana tribe. I'm on the hunt for Shweshwe fabrics. According to historians, the name 'shweshwe' derives from its royal influencer, King Moshoeshoe. In 1858, Germans arrived at the Eastern Cape. They too brought indigo cloth. Xhosa women attending German missionaries adopted shweshwe and it gradually spread throughout the Xhosa people.I found fabrics but they were in 2-meter bundles. I'm looking for 1/2 meter pieces to use in quilting. The hunt continues. Price per meter is about one-third of the price I would pay in Canada so I hope I can find some smaller pieces.

    The Victoria and Albert Wharf area of Cape Town is a hugely popular area for music, dining, entertainment, shopping and just generally enjoying the waterfront. There is a designated busker station almost under our hotel window so we get music server times a day. Not a good room for napping! Sandy and I walked around drinking in the lovely warm sunshine. It’s warm without being humid or too hot to move. Hope we get lots more of these types of days! I liked the cool metal sculptures so enjoy the pictures of those!

    Sue and Deb have arrived safely! Dinner tonight is at 6:30 p.m. We’re going to try the Scottish pub we found on Sunday night. It’s got a very extensive menu. Should be something for everyone there. Yum!
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  • Day 5

    May 10 - Exploring Wine Country

    May 10 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    We woke up to find the city shrouded in thick fog, so we didn’t get to enjoy the lovely harbour and mountains while we ate breakfast, but the food was great and our party of now six had lots to talk about. Promptly at 8:30 a.m., we met our tour guide, Liz. We piled into the van and headed east towards wine country. By 9:00 a.m., all the fog had burned off and we had clear skies and full sun. We passed through the suburbs of Cape Town – while the houses and gardens got larger, the traffic going into the city got thicker. Just like at home.

    Our first stop was at a winery called Fairview near the town of Paarl (“Pearl”). We had a tasting of six wines (whites, rosés and reds), each with a different cheese. There were some real winners in both categories.

    From there, we headed to Franschhoek (“French Corner”). French settlers came here in the 17th and 18th centuries, and as much as the Dutch don’t like to admit it, the French were a tremendous help in developing the area's wine industry into the world-class force that it is today. Our stop was at Dieu Donné Vineyards (“God Given”). Here, in a stunning setting overlooking the valley and the mountains, we did a sampling of three wines along with chocolate. I think we were close to heaven! We could have sat there all day on this spectacularly warm, clear, calm day.

    But there was more to see and do so off we went. Next destination – Stellenbosch, located about 50 kms east of Cape Town. The town was founded in 1679 by the Governor of the Cape Colony, Simon van der Stel, who named it after himself – Stellenbosch means "(van der) Stel's Bush". It is the second-oldest established town in South Africa, after Cape Town. Population is about 25,000 plus the thousands of students at Stellenbosch University which is famous for its faculties of Engineering, Commerce, Science and Arts.

    The main aim here was to shop. There were several streets full of artisan shops featuring handicrafts, paintings, fabric wares, jewellery, clothing, statues, figurines, wooden wares and so much more. I did find some Schweschwe fabric, but it was already made up into placemats. At least I got to show the others what I was talking about. There were some major purchases to show off while we had a refreshing drink about 2:00 p.m. South Africa has a big problem with rolling electrical blackouts. Many places have a backup generator that will give enough power to run key items like the billing system and the refrigerators, but not much more. So, at one point, the staff couldn’t make drinks that required the blender. And the hand dryer in the washroom wouldn’t work. Made me appreciate Ontario Hydro. How’s that for a weird thought?

    One interesting thing I saw - the shoes Nelson Mandela was wearing when he walked off Robben Island in 1990. We were just on Robben Island yesterday.

    Liz dropped us back at the hotel about 3:30 p.m., and we thought we’d have a couple of hours to ourselves before meeting for dinner at 6:45 p.m. We were barely in our room when Colette messaged, “Grab a glass and come down.” Sandy and I beetled down with drinking glasses in hand. While we were out, a huge charcuterie tray and two bottles of wine had been delivered to Colette and Sylvia’s room. By whom? We didn’t know, but that didn’t stop us from sitting back and enjoying nibblies and drinks as we watched the action on the harbour (seals frolicking, dragon boat training).

    Dinner tonight is at Sevruga Restaurant nearby. From their website: “Sevruga Restaurant invites you to come and partake in our ever-evolving passion project. Step into a space, where the moment is yours to shape. A delectable seafood and grill menu, with Asian fusion flavours at its core, boasting an accompaniment of exquisite summer cocktails and crisp wines. No two visits are the same. Nor should they be.” This should be interesting!
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  • Day 6

    May 11 - Table Mountain National Park

    May 11 in South Africa ⋅ 🌬 16 °C

    We knew the day was going to be rainy, and Liz had adjusted the schedule to take that into account. Despite the rain, the view of the harbour and the mountain was clear. We headed out at 8:30 a.m. and drove downtown to the Greenmarket Square where every morning, traders lug carts loaded with wares to the square to set up, and by the time the rest of the city awakes the cobbled square is a bustling market filled with curios, food, buskers, jewellery, clothing, and nick-nacks. However, due to the rain, the vendors were still setting up when we arrived. Because there had been some serious shopping done in Stellenbosch yesterday, we all decided that it was okay to skip the market.

    Instead, Liz gave us a little driving tour of the city. Especially poignant was the site of Nelson Mandela’s speech on May 9, 1994, just after he had been elected president of South Africa. South Africa had been in the grip of apartheid from 1948 to 1994.
    We saw the church of Archbishop Tutu. We saw the castle that was built to protect the city (not that it was ever in danger of invasion), but the area around it has been taken over as a tent city which doesn’t help to draw tourists.

    The other site that struck us deeply was District Six, a former inner-city residential area where over 60,000 of its inhabitants were forcibly removed during the 1970s by the apartheid regime. The area of District Six is now partly divided between the suburbs of Walmer Estate, Zonnebloem, and Lower Vrede, while the rest is generally undeveloped land. This undeveloped land is being used by homeless people while government representatives debate the best use of this prime site located close to the city centre, Table Mountain and the harbour.

    From Cape Town, we began to head south along the ocean side, down through Sea Point and Camps Bay (where we were on the Hop On Hop Off bus on Monday) to Hout Bay. It was pretty wet in Hout Bay, so we just did a quick pit stop, looked at the seal that is kept captive to lure tourists for photos, and jumped back on the bus.

    The drive along the coast offers fabulous views, even in the rain. The road hugs the the edge of the cliffs and in some cases is carved out of the cliff, just wide enough for two lanes of traffic. It's very much like the Amalfi Coast of Italy.

    We followed Chapman’s Peak Drive to our ultimate destination was Table Mountain National Park which was proclaimed on 29 May 1998, for the purpose of protecting the natural environment of the Table Mountain Chain, and in particular the rare fynbos vegetation. The park is managed by South African National Parks. The property is included as part of the UNESCO Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site.
    We entered the park and began traveling on the winding road down to the southern tip of this peninsula. And soon, the excitement began. We saw baboons – a whole troop of them! They come down from the trees on the mountain to graze in an area for 3-4 days, and then move on to another area. We saw baby baboons hanging onto their mothers.

    Then we saw ostriches – a male and a female, on the Atlantic Ocean side. This made for much more dramatic photos than if they had been against a vegetation backdrop. (The male was closer and easier to photograph.)

    And to complete the trifecta, we saw eland. From www.awf.org - The cow-like eland is the world’s largest antelope. However, it has the endurance to maintain a trot indefinitely and can jump a 1.5 meter (4 feet) fence from a standstill. Both males and females have horns that spiral tightly, though female horns tend to be longer and thinner. Usually fawn or tawny-colored, they turn gray or bluish-gray as they get older; the oldest animals become almost black. A tuft of black hair grows out of the male’s prominent dewlap, the loose fold of skin that hangs down from the neck. Adult males also have a mat of hair on the forehead that grows longer and denser as the animal ages.
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