Monday, November 28, 2011

sawubona recap

Durban week was fantastic, definitely the more "unusual" part of the trip. This was mostly by design, since we wanted a more easy-going, relaxing week to start the trip and we had the luxury of the house, though I think the regions inherently suggest this type of itinerary. Cape Town was definitely as advertised, a ridiculously beautiful setting, incredible flora, and Boulder's Beach is one of the nicest beaches I've seen, even without the penguins. I would have loved more time there (like forever!) and it seems like a fantastic place to live year-round.

In the Durban area we focused on what we missed in Cape Town, exploring the indigenous African culture and seeing big game. We spent a night at the Simunye Lodge north of Eshowe, where you head into the hillside to meet Zulus, learn about Zulu culture, and sleep in a tourist version of a Zulu hut. Some of it was clearly for our benefit, but it also felt quite authentic and didn't have the Shakaland vibe at all. We spent a day at Umfolozi and had great luck for a single outing (including male and female lions just off the road), before finishing in St Lucia where we saw hippos and crocs. St Lucia seemed like a great place but we had pretty bad weather (cold and rainy) so we didn't really get a chance to experience it.

I was intrigued about Durban because of the mixture of Indian and African influences, but downtown was too big and messy to be easily accessible and we only spent an hour or so exploring it. That might have been the only time we felt insecure at all, very slight though and more "uncomfortable" than anything else. I don't have much to compare it to since we didn't tour Johannesburg at all and haven't spent any time in other African cities, but it definitely wasn't like the harassment you can get in Egypt or India.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Hi guys! Just wanted to quickly check in... Today we went to wine country, about an hour out of town into the valley, mostly since one of the vineyards has a cheetah outreach program that breeds and raises cheetahs you can pet. Turns out you basically just stroke the back of a sleeping cheetah, which I guess is about as close as you want your kids to get to a cheetah but didn't really qualify as the "cheetah encounter" they advertise. It was hot and Nate and Aya were not at their finest, and Davi just preferred watching the cheetahs roam around ("more cat, more cat"). All was not lost though, the vineyard restaurant was in a beautiful setting with a nice, small playground that we all enjoyed, and for some reason the PR rep at the vineyard decided we should be in her photo shoot so she asked if she could bring us lunch and wine and take our picture. Uh, yes, you can do that.

En route we passed the first real shanty town we've seen, Khayelitsha, it is absolutely insane that these things are real, permanent electrified tin roofed huts for hundreds of thousands of people going on and on as far as you can see. You basically just drive by the setting of District 9 on your way to the lovely vineyard with the restaurant that sources its own produce and livestock. Kids didn't seem to notice it.

Anyhow, we had to have a second look at the penguins and now we're in a rush to get the kids to bed, so... over and out. We leave tomorrow for the northeastern, more "African" part of the country, we hope to meet some Zulu descendants and have a brief safari. Not sure how easy internet access will be so if you don't hear from us, assume we haven't been eaten by lions and we'll see you next week!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

penguins, baboons, and golfers, oh my

We've been unofficially judging Cape Town's road signs and today's "Look for penguins under your car" narrowly nudged out "Baboons!" for front-runner (also in the running: "Watch for golfers"). The penguins are a colony of African penguins that really shouldn't be here, apparently 25 years ago two of them made landfall and there's over 2,000 of them packed in now (I guess including under your car). There's a viewing platform on one section of the beach with a platform full of tourists, but there's also an area further down that hardly anyone was at where on a good day you can swim with a penguin. We didn't get quite that lucky but we did get one random penguin who waddled right down the footpath, across the beach, and up to his nest, all while being chased by Nate and Aya... It's just a really funny experience to be lounging at the beach and then say "There goes a penguin!".

The baboons inhabit a few parks in the interior mountains, including the national park at the tip of the cape where we saw a family of them. We were told to keep the windows rolled up and that they will actually open your car door if you leave it unlocked. Yes, these baboons will carjack you. We also spotted some zebra later on and got out of the car to make sure Davi could see and to photograph them, then thought that maybe the baboons send the zebra to lure tourists out of the cars so they can carjack them. Fortunately or unfortunately the image of the baboons driving away in our car, giving us the finger, was only in our imagination and made us all laugh quite a bit. Aya added that our car would have been particularly good for them since the baby baboon could have sat in Davi's car seat!

There's also a city here, we visited the main downtown area on Sunday, some nice mid-1800s British buildings and churches but nothing quite so exciting as baboons and penguins. Tomorrow we'll take the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain and visit "The World of Birds", which is famous for its squirrel monkeys and should consider a new name.

Our house is in a beach town about 20 miles from the downtown area towards the tip of the cape, in a really, amazingly beautiful setting, a 270 degree bay surrounded by huge mountains. Having a house has really blurred the transition from real life to vacation in a weird way, almost like we're in some alternate reality where you drive on the wrong side of the road and you say "Yees" instead of "Yes", but very familiar like we never left home. Somehow we avoided jet lag and sleeping hasn't been an issue, Nate and Aya have their own room (and similarly spend their only hour of the day with no arguing after lights-out) and Davi has her own room, so that's helped. Davi's having a great time and seems to enjoy the traveling experience as much as the rest of us.