I returned from a vacation to South Africa recently and for weeks after, I dreamt about my experience. The dreams are not direct reflections of my time there, but in the way of dreams, they are evocative of my overall experience. When I wake, there is a moment when I am not sure where I am, at home or back in the lodge.
The trip to South Africa was a birthday present from my husband. Earlier this year, he reminded me that this was the year for a milestone birthday, and that I should think about what I’d like to do for it. Typically, I tried to defer making a decision. Anyone who knows my husband understands that this strategy could not last for long. He suggested a few possible vacation locations and said I should pick one. I thought about it and decided I should go for the one place that seemed so very far from our regular life – Africa. Naturally, this choice involved a lot of research, and eventually we got a plan for travelling to South Africa, making a tour of the country.
A significant part of this kind of experience is the journey. We live in the Seattle area, so travel to South Africa is not an easy or quick thing to schedule. Our plan called for us to take a trip to Dubai, then connecting to Cape Town. Seattle to Dubai took about 14 hours. Dubai to Cape Town took another 8 hours. Unfortunately for me, I had a lot of trouble sleeping on the plane. I normally have trouble sleeping on planes. I don’t know if it is the sound, the vibration, the seat, or some other factor, but the most I can manage is a light doze for about a half hour at a time. During the flight to Dubai, I dozed for about an hour, total. The airline, Emirates, has great “lie flat” seats, and they even provide a “mattress” (something like a light futon), but even with the eye mask, I just couldn’t fall asleep. I was so glad when we got to Dubai, because our long layover made it possible to get a hotel room where we could catch a few Z’s.
I have to say that this first leg of our trip was pretty great on Emirates. The seats were pretty comfortable, the food was good, the wine was good, and they have a really nice in-seat entertainment system (ICE – Information, Communication, Entertainment) that beats most in-flight options elsewhere. The ambience is really nice. They have a “sky” ceiling that shows something like constellation patterns when the cabin lights are dimmed, and (at least in business class) they even provide sound cancelling headphones for watching the ICE.
The Dubai airport was amazing. We landed at what I thought was a pretty early hour (around 7pm) but the area was empty. Everything was closed. We followed the signs to where we thought we needed to go, but needed to ask a few people for additional info. The airport is HUGE! It is also very modern and kind of glitzy. It was a bit intimidating. We finally figured out where to go and went outside to catch the shuttle to our hotel. Wow! Leaving the air-conditioned airport, we were saturated with heat and humidity. After a few hours of sleep, we headed back to the airport. Again – wow! Even at around 2:00 am, it was hot and humid. Unbelievable.
The flight to Cape Town took about 9 hours. By this time, I was able to get a nap in. Thank goodness! Leg 2 on Emirates wasn’t quite as stellar as leg 1. The remote for the ICE kept recycling, making it harder to it use the system (but I managed). The in-seat massage control didn’t work for my system, but it did for my husband. Meaning that HE could control the massage on my side. How odd!
Finally in Cape Town, we were met by a driver who took us to the Cape Grace Hotel. The weather was very much like it is here in Seattle; kind of drizzly, overcast, and cool. It was a good thing we brought clothes for slightly cool weather. Unfortunately, the weather precluded us doing some of the things we’d hoped to do in Cape Town – go to the top of Table Mountain, visit Robben Island. Sad, but that’s how things fall out, sometimes. We still got to do quite a lot. We visited lots of historical sites, and many local sights.
Our day tour took us to Hout Bay. We stopped at an outdoor flea market to look at some of the local wares. As we perused the various stalls, the wind came up, and suddenly there was a torrential rain, and we were standing in the open without even an umbrella. A friendly vendor invited us into her covered stall, and we spent a good 15 – 20 minutes chatting with her. Then squall passed and the sun came out as though nothing had happened. Naturally we bought some of her wares, but our real souvenir was the time we spent sheltering with a local and chatting.
One highlight was our visit to Simon’s Town. We are big-time penguin lovers. It is one of the things that we have in common that drew us together many years ago (small, but true). We really looked forward to the opportunity to see penguins in the wild. Simon’s Town hosts a colony of penguins. As we moved toward the beach area where the penguins live, we noticed a number of local houses that have barriers set against the penguins. Apparently, the penguins are mischievous, getting into garages, sheds, and whatever. As enchanting as they are for us visitors, they become tiresome for the local residents.
Cape of Good Hope
We made the trip to the Cape of Good Hope and we climbed to the old lighthouse at Cape Point.
Later, we went to the Kirstenbosch Gardens. We didn’t have too much time to spend there, but it was wonderful!
After this, we went to the Winelands, to visit some of South Africa’s wineries.
Our driver was a very knowledgeable, and took us to some of the best wineries in the area. We thought that he probably took us to the best one first, but all were very good. We had the chance to taste local wines. We also had lunch at a wonderful restaurant, located in the midst of one of those vineyards.
After our winery tours, we went to our accommodation for the next few nights, La Residence. What a fabulous place! It was like time-travelling back nearly a century to stay at someone’s luxurious mansion for a weekend. Our room was very lux, very comfortable. It was like a dream. The bed had sheets of real linen – the type you have to iron. Even the bathroom was amazingly plush.
There were peacocks on the grounds, and a wonderful lake with an little island. It was like a daydream. I wish we spent longer there, it was so delightful.
The first part of our trip was so special! It was like a world away, and yet somewhat familiar. There was just enough of the strange to make it a bit exotic, but not so unfamiliar that we felt completely alien. All the people we met were wonderful – helpful and friendly. I know that no country is universally wonderful, but our experience in South Africa made us feel such warmth toward the people, even if it was based only on the few we interacted with.