Visit Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden with an expert guide on a tour exclusively designed for our group the garden has been named one of the top gardens in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine. Continue on to explore vibrant Cape Town and Cape Point, with a visit to the penguins at Boulders Beach. It's gonna be a big day! ... Just some small details abut South Africa: it has 9 provinces, 11 official languages, became a republic in 1961 and has a population of 57.7 million.
After breakfast our bus left with the 10 of us onboard (8 travellers, 1 guide and 1 bus driver). Our first stop was in the Malay quarters of Cape town where very bright coloured houses lined the streets. I asked myself how Malaysian peoples landed in Cape town and discovered it is pretty much a story of European settlers enslaving political exiles from the Dutch East Indies and transporting them to South Africa as cheap labor. It pretty much stared in 1652 when Van Riebeek arrived at the Cape to establish a trading post and supply station for ships travelling the Europe-East Indies route. Cheap labor was required by the Dutch settlers in order to produce enough food to fulfill the needs of the VOC (Dutch East India Company) as well as the Dutch settlement. Back in Dutch occupied Indonesia, the Indonesian Kingdom had just ended (early sixteenth century) and European military penetration and anti-Islamic persecution created resistance. The Dutch crushed the resistance and opponents of the Dutch were exiled to Cape of Good Hope. I understand the Afrikans language is really simplified Dutch and evolved so the slaves would be able to communicate with the Dutch. Cape Malay peoples follow Islamic living principles. The term "Cape Malay" (politically correct term would be Cape Muslim) loosely includes peoples from the Dutch East Indies, east Africa and Malaysia. Strictly speaking though 'Cape Malay" are Muslims who are descended from Eastern Malaysia. During our short stay in Malay quarters we saw many mosques, were educated on the historic significance of the homes which are hundreds of years old, how the exteriors of these homes cannot be changed (including doors and windows), the community is very close and everyone knows everyone. We stopped at a corner store where Gavin bought Koeksisters for us (basically an Afrikaner treat of fried dough infused with honey or syrup).
The history of European occupation leading to Apartheid:
From August 1487 to Dec 1488 The Portuguese sailor, Bartolomeu Dias voyaged to South Africa. He landed at Walvis Bay in Namibia on December 4th, 1487 and South Africa at the Cape of Good Hope Feb 3 1488. Dias apparently called the Cape Vabo Tormentosa (Cape of Torment) but King Joao changed the name to Cabo de Boa Esperanca - Cape of Good Hope. The land was occupied by smaller, copper colored people called Hottentots. There was a squirmish with the indigenous people and the Portuguese left. The first time the British passed around the Cape was in 1580 as Francis Drake rounded the Cape. Drake did not consider erecting the British flag (dumb ass Buccaneer LOL). Later in 1591 the English East India company stopped by on its way to the East still not erecting the British flag. In 1615 the English East India company dumped a small group of condemned prisoners at Table Bay, essentially as an experiment to determine if the area was habitable. The experiment flopped - three were rescued by a ship returning to England and eventually went to the gallows for stealing, three were picked up by an English vessel heading for India, some were killed by the Hottentots, some drowned and some were taken away on a Portuguese ship. In 1620 the English East India Company landed at Table Bay again and proclaimed the land at the top of Signal Hill. Nothing came of this proclamation back in England where it gathered dust and cobwebs. Finally in 1647 the Harleem of the Dutch East India Company shipwrecked in Table Bay. The castaways survived for more than a year with the help of the Hottentots. On return to Holland the leader of this group (Leendert Jansz) recommended a refreshment station be set up at the Cape. On April 6,1652 three ships anchored in Table Bay led by Jan Van Riebeeck and the rest is pretty much history. So essentially the Cape might have been Portuguese or even British but they missed opportunities to proclaim the land as theirs. Instead the Dutch almost 200 years later claimed the land as theirs. Eventually the British did take over in 1806 after two attempts in battles - The Battle of Muizenberg (hardly recorded in British history as a battle at all) and then the Battle of Baauwberg Strand. Both of these battles were a direct result of war between England and France (Holland was an ally of France and the British were not about to let France's ally maintain control of the important Cape). In 1814 the Dutch signed the Cape over to the British in a Treaty. The Dutch were compensated 2 million pounds for giving up South Africa. In 1931 South Africa abolished the powers of the British government and in 1934 the United Party was formed (a merger of the South African Party and the National Party). In 1939 this party split. In 1948 the National Party was formed. taking racial segregation further and using Canada's Indian Act as a framework ... Apartheid was born.
Gavin briefly reviewed the history of Apartheid in South Africa for us. It is hard to be brief on this topic I would say. I also refer to a book called the South African Story by Ron McGregor which Gavin bought me which is incredible and answers all things South African. Apartheid is most obviously a topic that not many like to talk about and can be a very volatile topic. I will say in my humble opinion that it doesn't matter which country you are from you will find stories of European settlers proclaiming land in the Other Worlds and hence various stories of how people were disadvantaged and affected. It has happened in Canada where we are going through our Truth and Reconciliation. So, here it goes ... in 1795 Dutch rule ended and the British took over. The British declared everyone equal. The Dutch broke away and moved inland. In 1835 Slavery was abolished. Apartheid truly has a long history in South Africa despite the fact you may learn it began in 1948. I feel the National Party, resurrected in 1934, was instrumental in the official implementation of Apartheid. At the time poor whites were competing with blacks for jobs in the cities. Apartheid resulted in segregation based on skin color - whites in one area, blacks in another area and coloreds in another area. There were two aspects of apartheid - petty and grand. The petty apartheid really did not seriously impact daily life and provided inconveniences while grand apartheid disadvantaged people immensely and had negative consequences for the disadvantaged in the end. Disadvantaged people lost out on good education and voting rights (just a few examples). Eventually South Africa became bankrupt largely due to sanctions implemented by other countries. Eventually the government was forced to abolish apartheid. Abolishment began in 1990. I do not profess to be a professor on this topic and refer you to readings on the topic for more details so you can learn more on the topic and form your own opinions.
We passed Desmond Tutu's church, a building used as a Slave Lodge centuries ago and the Dutch reform church where 8 governors are buried. Gavin explained the streets are often closed down for film shoots as this is cheaper than shooting in Europe (go figure 'cause getting here is not cheaper and takes bloody forever!!!). We stopped just outside of the Castle of Good Hope built in 1666-1679. The castle was originally on the coastline but is now inland due to land reclamation. Hotels in the area have pumps set up to pump water out from their lower floors. Gavin showed us City Hall and the site where Nelson Mandela delivered his speech in 1990 when he was released from prison. We also saw a flower market site that was 100 years old (of course the original people are not there but flowers are still being sold there). We saw the parade ground where decades ago slaves,fruits and veggies were sold. I really can't imagine what life was life back then. Can you? District 6 is an inner-city residential area that was originally established by freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers, immigrants. It was decimated by apartheid. Now, if you can prove your family lived there you can get social concessions such as the ability to move back and be taught how to run a business, or even receive a pay out. A lot of this reminds me of the current Truth and Reconciliation activity in Canada.
Today is the Day of the Vow or Reconciliation day and tomorrow is the stat holiday. It seems the day is celebrated for two reasons -The day of the Vow on Dec 16, 1864 when the Zulus were defeated by the Afrikaners (Voortrekker) at the Battle of Blood River and also the Day of Reconcilation when apartheid ended. It seems Dec 16th is significant for both factions and is really a great day to pick for such a national holiday! Yet again there is talk of a stat holiday just like this in Canada.
Gavin described some indigenous cultures such as the Zulus, Swazi and Xhosas. It appears the Swazis may be a Misogynistic culture since the women go down on hands and knees to present food to the men. I'm just saying ... Gavin told us the Swazis and Zulus are similar. The Xhosas believe in a circumcision right of passage ceremony at 16 years of age that may result in maiming and hospitalization. Yikes!!! The boys are expected to live in the bush and fight the elements at this time and are not considered a man if they land up in the hospital.
We learned about Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for 27 years for political activism. 18 of these years were in Robben island (1964-1982), 6 years in Pollsmoor prison (1982-1988) and 2 years in Victor Verster Prison (1988-1990). Mandela was a Xhosa and a member of the Thembu Royal family. When he was released civil war was a reality but Mandela felt people needed to move forward rather than retaliate. Before the end of apartheid, South Africa was bankrupt and sanctions were in place by many countries. South Africa was basically forced into giving up Apartheid.
Poverty, Homelessness and markets:
There are 57 million people in South Africa. 15,000 people became homeless last year alone due to fires in townships (a very rampant problem because of the close quarters, materials used and lack of electricity leading to combustible modes for lighting). Homeless people are offered social grants with mandatory counselling but due to the counselling many do not take up the offers. There are vast pop up markets everywhere. The men erect and dismantle the kiosks daily and the women operate the kiosks during the day. It is mandatory the kiosk is completely removed daily otherwise squatting would be rampant. People will do anything to earn a meager living. Electricity and food is expensive. more than 50% of the people live below 1000 Rand per month (100 Cdn per month). School kids get 1 meal per day at school.
A robot is the traffic light, a garage is where you park your vehicle and a Petro station is where you fuel up your vehicle. Unlike Canada where a garage can have many meanings - where you park your car, where you fuel up or even where your car is repaired. I am lost with the robot though Gavin. WTHeck? The city bowl is everything below the mountain.
Miscellaneous things we learned
We learned that Cape town residential areas can be incredibly windy and prime real estate is in the less windy areas. Property can go for a wide range of prices. We also learned on December 3 1967, Christian Barnard performed the first heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital. The first patient lived 18 days. In 1969 the surgery was attempted on another patient who lived for 19 months.
Our next stop was Kirstenbosch Gardens where we enjoyed a tour of the gardens by an expert guide. Kirstenbosch officially started at the point where Castle Rock looms in the background. It is 528 hectares of cultivated gardens and nature reserve with a collection of South African plants, some rare and endangered. The gardens are HUGE! It is considered one of the great botanical gardens of the world and was established in 1913 after a speech in Parliament 2years earlier by a botanical professor. Since the 1660s the land changed hands many times, first managed by Jan van Riebeek who planted Wild Almonds and brambles to protect the Dutch colony nearby (van Riebeek's hedge is a provincial heritage site within the gardens). In the 18th century J.K. Kirsten managed the land (hence the name Kirsten). Eventually the land was purchased by Cecil John Rhodes in 1895. This is the Cecil Rhodes of De Beers diamond company fame which he created when he was just 18 years old. Rhodes also founded Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), was considered the wealthiest man in the world, founded the Rhodes scholarship and Rhodes university and was the 7th Prime minister of the Cape Colony. The land became a very run down pig farm and eventually Rhodes bequeathed the land to the Nation upon his death in 1902. From that point onward the gardens were cultivated and cared for extensively and now includes 7 gardens of which many are theme gardens such as Fynbos gardens, Fragrance garden, Useful plants garden etc. 90% of the plants are indigenous to South Africa. One could spend days and days going through all of the gardens and taking everything in. The public can also enjoy summer sunset concerts on Sunday evenings from late November to early April. How awesome would that be! We learned and saw lots in the gardens: pine and eucalyptus trees from Australia, the area tends to get more rain that other areas, the skunky smell was from a porcupine that ran through the gardens, Agapanthus everywhere - a beautiful plant with blue, royal blue or white blossoms,silver trees that are derived from the Protea family that flowers in late August or September and has soft leaves, sugar birds, moles (darn things!), cat's tail asparagus, thatching reeds, real geranium, pin cushion, southern BoBo birds, Protea gardens, Cancer bush, wild cannabis, aloe ferox (the best therapy for burns over aloe vera ... valuable information for a pharmacist), Cape aloe, wild gardenia which flowers then develops a fruit that elephants eat, a 104 year old yellow wood tree which is the National tree, Cyclads, a 105 year old Ginkgo tree, flea and tick repellant bushes, a hadada ibis which can detect earthworms in soil from vibrations, boardwalk over a tree canopy, an elephant tree, a 358 year od tree that may have been a wild almond, South Africa has 1/3 of the world's succulents, a wild pepper tree with lots of bees all over it, bird of paradise that had bloomed, a golden bird of paradise than Mandela planted, fig trees, learned oak trees were brought to South Africa for the purpose of making oak barrels but the oak trees grew too quickly (apparently that is a disadvantage for an oak barrel??), a Zulu hut, botanical plants with all sorts of uses such as plants for ear aches and ear infections, South Africa has 10% of the world's plants on only 2.5% of the world's land surface. I have to say I was overwhelmed at the wealth of plants in this country. After our tour of the gardens we met with Philip, his daughter Lynne and Daphne's brother Gerhard and his wife Pam to visit Daphne's final resting place. This was at the creek running through the Extinction garden. Many tears were shed!! I am still amazed we were able to bring mom to Daphne's final resting place. Daphne left on a trip to visit Africa 9 years ago and she passed shortly after arriving. I feel mom was never able to say goodbye to Daphne and she was extremely close to her. Much of this day was due to fate and it was really accommodating of our guide Gavin to let us have a 1/2 hour in the Gardens to do this. This was absolutely incredible since we did not know when we left on Dec 10 that this would ever be possible. We did not know where Daphne's final resting place was let alone that our tour would take us to these gardens.
On the way back from the gardens Gavin informed us we were driving through Constantia which consists of 4 estate areas. Constantia was s a beautiful valley area behind Table Mountain. The wines from Constanta were legendary - it is legend that Napoleon asked for a glass of this wine on his death bed. Today Constantia is Cape town's most desirable residential area with vineyards continuing to be a part of the landscape.
Gavin talked about the wine industry and how the wine industry was launched, Apparently the Dutch were good at making beer but not so good at making wine. Apparently Cape wine was only used in emergencies when the supply ships from France had not arrived. Enter the Hugenots (French Protestants) who were fleeing persecution in France. In 1685 the Dutch East India Company offered land to the Huguenots who were prepared to settle at the Cape. South Africia is now ranked 8th in the world for wine production at 1 billion litres per year. The wine industry is very central to activities I think - for example there are food markets at vineyards. Gavin told us in the olden days people would get paid in wine and many people were born with FASD. He explained that a pop sack is a wine box and you can get some really good wines in boxes now.
More trivia - Gavin explained how the Dutch cut down most of the trees in Hout bay, I'm guessing it was used for heating or cooking?
Gavin explained the school system and that education was not free. There are black schools, colored schools, mixed schools and subsidized schools. Private schools cost 250,000 Rand per year (about $25,000 Cdn per year) and public schools cost 40,000 Rand per year.
We headed to Chapman's peak past canons and a tower/fort which apparently protected the bay. The drive was a climb up at 9 km and had 114 curves. We went through a toll station which cost 45Rand. We drove through half tunnels through the mountains, ceilings of rock and heard a story of a man who drove his car off the road in 1988 and lived to tell about it. Later he was enlisted for a Mercedes commercial. Gavin told us about the shark spotters on the peak. These are employees who watch for sharks in the bay. if the red flag is up they have indeed spotted a shark in the bay, a black flag is they are not sure and a green flag is good to go. It was vey windy at the peak and we heard stories of people being swept off the walk ... we had to be very careful.
We headed for Simon's town and learned of dog friendly restaurants and dog/cat hotels. Gavin told us about Nuisance the only dog to ever be enlisted in the Royal Navy. Nuisance was a very friendly Great Dane owned by the fellow that ran the United Service Institute which was the hangout most favoured by sailors. The sailors would feed him and even give him beer. Of course Nuisance loved the sailors and would follow them everywhere. He would escort sailors safely back to their bunks and even travel on the train to Cape town with them. The sailors would hide him from the ticket inspector. Railway officials demanded the dog be controlled or else be put down. The Commander received many letters on the topic and he eventually had Nuisance enlisted so he could travel for free. "Just Nuisance" signed his papers with his paw mark. Eventually Nuisance was promoted to Able Seaman so he was entitled to free rations. Nuisance's duties included raising morale and fund raising. Nuisance got married as a stunt for raising war funds. Nuisance however had a significant rap sheet including riding the train without his pass, losing his collar, sleeping in a Petty Officer's bed etc. In 1944 Nuisance was discharged from the Navy due to poor health. He had been in a car accident and suffered a thrombosis which was slowly paralyzing him. Sadly on April 1st 1944 Nuisance was put down. The next day he was laid to rest with full military honours. His grave is in Red Hill behind town. We stopped by the statue of Nuisance on our way to lunch and gave him a big pat.
Boulder's Beach on False Bay:
We headed to Boulder's beach to see the African Penguins which are on the verge of extinction. There is a Jackass penguin, called such because of the jackass donkey sounds it makes. We walked a boardwalk and we right amongst the penguins. To be honest Rik and I have seen lots and lots of penguins but this was the first for penguins with eggs. When we were in Antarctica we saw (and smelled) a billion zillion penguins but no eggs - the Antarctica babies were pretty much grown, moulting and getting ready to fly the coop. The African penguins lay two eggs - 1 female and 1 male ...interesting. the coast line is very rocky but believe it or not we saw several snorkellers in the water. It must be cold! We saw Cormorant birds with the penguins and were advised there are 4 types of Cormorants (Google tells me otherwise - there are 40 types, but maybe South Africa has 4 types?). The interesting thing is we saw penguins at all sorts of stages - some preparing a nest, some brooding and some moulting (and yes 2 were being"romantic"). We were told this isn't really the season to lay eggs ... global warming I presume?? January is apparently egg laying season so we are close but off by weeks. We were also told they lay eggs at different times because of the age of the penguin. We also saw gulls eating the penguin eggs. Bad birds!
Lunch was at Bertha's restaurant where mom and I shared 1 KILO of prawns. Insane!!
Gavin shared a lot of information about baboons. There are 11 troops of baboons in Table Mountain National Park. Apparently baboons are terrified of snakes, hence Gavin carries a rubber snake in his backpack (aka bag of tricks). Baboons are so afraid of snakes they will crap themselves when they see one. When Gavin holds the rubber snake up the baboons run away. When Gavin holds his slingshot up the baboons run away. People are trained to be baboon monitors. If there is a problematic baboon they catch him and move him out. The females are tarts - they will have intercourse many times and then when it is time to mate, she will mate with the alpha male. We saw lots of baboon on the drive around the point. Our first sighting there was pretty exciting because we saw baby baboons hanging on moms and also riding on their backs.
Savin told us Seal island along the coast is a great breeding ground for Great White Sharks. There are 1000 different species of plants in the reserve. Fire is essential, they let the fire go in order to pop seeds.
Cape point reserve, Cape of Good Hope and Cape of Good Hope Lighthouse.
The Cape of Good Hope is not the true most southern point of South Africa (that title is reserved for Cape Agulhas which we saw on Dec 14). Cape Hope is however at the most southern tip of the Cape peninsula. The first European to reach this Cape was Bartolomeu Dias, a Portuguese, on March 12 1488. We enjoyed our first trip ever on a funicular to the top and then walked further to the lighthouse area. At the viewpoint we learned It was only 600 km to Antartica from this point ... Interesting. This was the first lighthouse built in the late 1850's. Unfortunately after an ocean liner sank below the lighthouse in 1911 this lighthouse was decommissioned - it was too high up and it's beam was obscured by mist and water and foul weather. A new lighthouse was built in 1911. When the mist rolls in there are deceptive images in the distance - southern right whales, ghost ships etc. Gavin told us there are shark nets just 1 km out. Along the way we stopped for a photo op at the Cape of Good Hope landmark 34.3568 degrees S, 18.470 degrees E. I believe Rick and I have been to many southerly points of continents./countries now - Cape Agulhas in South Africa, Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, South East Cape - Tasmania, Antarctic circle,
The Flying Dutchmen
In the 17th century a ship called the Flying Dutchmen rounded the Cape of Good Hope and disappeared. Apparently this ship is known to haunt these waters. Pirates of the Caribbean anyone?
Ostrich egg anyone?
We made a quick stop at an Ostrich farm for Lester who wanted to bring an Ostrich egg back to Singapore. Crazy kid. I checked out the Ostriches in pens and was quite amazed by their feet. They are truly dinosaur like. I then headed to the shop where Lester was busy buying his egg. He paid 180 Rand for the egg and 30 Rand for the box to store it in. One Ostrich egg is the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs and it takes 3 hours to hard boil the egg (2 hours for soft boiled). The yolk is very yellow and very rich and the egg is good for only 3 weeks at room temperature. The farm also sold Ostrich skin products which were MIGHTY expensive. Apparently ostrich meat is very lean. An employee explained how the skin is prepared and the smooth side of the handbag would be carried closest to the lady. The crocodile bags were UNBELIEVABLY expensive. * insert shocked emoji here* Products sold included shoes, handbags ... you name it.
We headed back to our hotel. Gavin shared more information. Along the way we saw tons of windsurfers.
Vehicle safety and insurance
70% of the vehicles on the road are not insured. If you don't have liability insurance and you hit and kill someone it is automatic go to jail, do not pass go. A lot of vehicles are not road worthy. Tourist vehicles were actually decommissioned and swapped out with safer vehicles. A lot of vehicles are diving sideways down the road - they are collectively called cockroaches. Inspectors are paid off to get a vehicle inspection passed. 15 people can be killed in one week and long weekends are horrible with up to 1000 people killed. Unbelievable! People drive 120 km/hr on freeways.
We passed the prison and the gardens - prisoners tend the gardens to supply food for the prison.
Kings and what not
OMG the next segment is mind boggling. South Africa recognizes 7 royal families. This was paired down from 13 to 7 by President Zuma in 2010. These leaders are all pad salary by the South African government.
Durban area has a king who is Zulu. He is paid by the government and has 6 wives. Swaziland's king has over 1000 children - imagine that estate when he passes!
We finally made it back to our hotel and met up shortly aferwards at at Pub restaurant called The Tiger's Milk. The service was very painful. Stat holiday painful I guess. We finally ate, headed to our room and went to bed.
It was a long day at the office.