Travel Diaries with Sydra

Travel Diaries with Sydra

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When I told people I was headed to Cape Town, South Africa for a vacation, the normal response went something like this: ”Oh, you gotta be careful out there. My friend got mugged last year.” Or, ”Don’t be so flashy or you’ll wake up with your arms gone…(along with your shiny gold bracelet.) Being the daredevil that I am, I decided to go ahead anyway. Actually, I had no other option, seeing as how it was a birthday present from my brother and his wife.

We arrived in Cape Town to a beautiful, breezy afternoon. The best part about being on a vacation is wanting and being able to blend in. And what better way to blend in with the beyond cool culture of Cape Town than rent a guest house, as opposed to a hotel?  Located in Walmer Estate, we drove up a rather steep road and stopped at the apartment which is located on a very small hill. We were greeted at the door by Mr. H, manager of the hotel. Now, one of the best things in South Africa, according to me anyway, is the South African accent. A perfect blend of a bit of Dutch, Aussie (probably the extremely broad vowel pronunciation) and some very obvious British nuances. Apart from the beautiful mountains, the accent alone was enough to let me know that I had arrived in ”Sau-uth Aaafricuh.” The apartment was very spacious and personal. Everything we needed was there, including kitchen appliances. The very accommodating and kind-hearted Mr. H began giving us all the details about which places to eat, places to see. He made sure to tell us, three times in a row, to be, ”very careful in South Africa,”  and, ”best to stay indoors past 7 PM.”

I, along with my family, had been binging on cheese and crackers on the plane and we were  all quite frankly a little hungry and decided to order a pizza. Because of the huge Muslim population, there is halal food available  in every nook and cranny. Not a good choice, it turned out. After feeding ourselves the dreadful, crusty chicken fajita pizza, we went upstairs to see our rooms. From the fresh bed linen to the freshly-laundered towels to the beautiful views of the Waterfront and Table Bay Harbor from the balcony, it was much more than what we had expected. Our bedroom definitely exuded a very ‘homely’ sense, and I knew from there on that I was in the right place. The way we all quickly climbed into our beds, (and the most comfortable beds in the world, mind you) was a true testament to how tired we were from the long flight.

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   Walmer Estate on a cloudy day

 

I woke up the following day to the beautiful, soothing sound of November rain. If there’s one thing to know about us desert-dwellers, it is that we are nuts about the rain. I know I am. Mr H came in to inform us that he had fetched a driver for us as discussed the night before, which was very nice of him. The driver would take us places for the whole duration of our stay, and we could ring him up from wherever and whenever and he would come fetch us. When we were walking out the door, neither of us had the slightest idea as to how beautiful Cape Town actually was. And we could certainly not know just how friendly and beautiful the people actually would turn out to be. Most people picture South Africa to be somewhat of a blend between poverty, disease, hot climate and raging criminals. Although there persists a sense of civil unrest and political instability, but what country doesn’t have its share of dirty politics?

 

According to Junaid, our driver, a very reserved yet sharp man of Indian descent who had been a South African resident of 12+ years, the weather conditions weren’t safe enough for us to go to the top of Table Mountain, since the temperature rises as you go up. He then recommended the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, a typical tourist hot-spot. In contrast to the general feel of the city, the Waterfront  was one high-end spot, a slight reminiscent of Dubai, perhaps Victorian-Dubai. The place was evidently filled with up-beat people and street musicians. I happened to run into a local band playing a truly enchanting sound quiet alien to my ears, and without a second thought, I pulled out my colossal of a phone and began making a video of the very African beats of music. This enchanting group of musicians comprised of 3 young men of which two were singing and one was beating a bell-clad drum and two beautiful women, who were exotically dancing away to the tunes. There is something very warm about the people of South Africa, Capetonians rather, something that makes you want to get to know them better. Used to eating out at expensive hotels and restaurants back home, when you are in a place like Cape Town, you want to try out something very basic and very comforting, as well as appetizing. Which is why we thought it best to head down over to Fisherman’s Choice. The restaurant sits right on the waterfront and you get to go up to the counter as is the case with a good ole fish and chips shop, place your order, pay up and your food is soon brought to your table. There is a variety of exotic  fish like King Clip, Yellow Tale and Calamari. For about 80 rand, you get fried Hake with chips, onion rings and salad. I’m not a very big fan of sea food, so all I had was the onion rings and the salad, which was pretty amazing. The amazing views of the Harbor and the Table Mountain at sunset made this place all the more appealing in the crisp, cold weather. While walking back, I happened to see a game of cricket being played in the amphitheater, between Pakistan and South Africa, all the way from Dubai. Not a second of it made me nostalgic or home-sick, I was in Cape Town! There was nowhere else I had wanted to be in that moment.

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 Harbor – V & A Waterfront

 

It had been hovering around 15 degrees Celsius since we had gotten there, and it seemed as though the house had zero insulation, or maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t been in a weather as cold as that in over a year. Table Mountain was once again postponed to the next day. We decided to rent the Cape Town Red open-top bus for a well-organized drive around the city. Because of little to no visibility, the bus made a final stop over at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, situated just at the foot of Table Mountain and acclaimed to be one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. Kirstenbosch is world-renowned for its Indigenous plants. It felt as though most of the beauty possessed by Cape Town was combined in this lush, green haven of tranquility. Taking a stroll around what could possibly be only described as one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve been to, I could definitely see myself just laying there in the grass right under the stars. From the stone sculptures to the benches dedicated as memorials to people who frequented them often, everything around this place was spellbinding. We decided to drop by Moyo Kirstenbosch, an organic, African-themed restaurant. With the sun hiding behind the comfort of the clouds, it was a good decision to sit outside eat. I devoured my organic house salad with sunflower seeds under the cold breeze with the sun shining in all the right places, and began thinking about our next Capetonian adventure.

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The Tree-lined Path at Kirstenbosch

It was extremely windy the next day and it was time to pull out the coats and put on a comfy pair of boots. We decided to take a scenic drive up the road to Signal Hill, and it was all that was needed to admire the sheer beauty that Cape Town possesses. The flora and fauna alongside the road to the hill was truly and breathtakingly beautiful.

The view looking out over the city from the top was, undoubtedly, the best I’d ever experienced. The spectacular views of Sea Point, Table Mountain and its surroundings as well as the football stadium add to its magnificent appeal. Much to my brother’s horror, I decided I wanted to go paragliding down Signal Hill while my sister-in-law cheered me on. The launch site usually depends on the wind d direction at the time, which was extremely high. From there on you move across to Lions Head right over the ocean. Unfortunately for me, the winds were a little bit higher than necessary to go paragliding that day, and my brother was beyond happy. His suicidal sister lived!

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Cape Town Stadium as seen from Signal Hill

On the drive down, we stopped by the surreal Camps Bay Beach, one of South Africa’s best. The glistening, tranquil  waters, the white sands and the amazing rock formation are what it’s precisely famous for. As we made our way into the beach, sitting on the beautiful rocks that kept the ocean from washing us away, it was time for some much-needed introspection. This was the place to be.

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”One cannot visit Cape Town and not visit Chapman’s peak,” said our driver as we drove toward the Chapman’s route. He said that there were about a hundred turns on the toll road that we took on our way to Cape Point. The reason why we went this way was because of the spectacular views, one we couldn’t miss. And now I know why. Chapman’s Peak Drive around Cape Point is not only an engineering feat, but also one of the most scenic drives in the world. There was a toll worth 30 R which later turned out to be well worth it. What’s more fascinating is the difference between the color of the waters. There were signs to look out for falling rocks and of course, baboons. We pulled over by the side of the cliff to admire the breathtakingly beautiful views. It had started to rain and it was by far the coldest I’d felt in Cape Town, perhaps it was the height factor. There were no safety railings on the edge, a drop down the cliff into the beautiful, green rocky ocean. If you are afraid of heights, turn around and climb back into your car, this isn’t for you. If you’re anything like me and would never miss out on scenic drives such as this, this is your heaven. The road is sometimes closed on account of landslides, and we were lucky enough to have arrived just in time, as it was pouring rain now and we had to get going soon. I tried to take in as much as I could of the breath-taking views in front of me. If heaven on earth had a name, it would be Chapman’s Peak.

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We were now taking a rather scenic drive down to Cape Point, the end of Africa, and the most southern point in all of Africa. The driver pulled over and we decided to get out and hike up the Cape of Good Hope, as there is a short hiker’s trail from the bottom leading all the way up to the top. The rugged landscape, while expansive, was beautiful and because of the high winds made it even more of a challenge. We were all aching to be at the place where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, but don’t mix. There is also a difference to be noted between Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, as pointed out by our guide. The former is the point where a ship begins to travel eastward rather than southward and is located over a hundred kilometer’s from Cape Town, while the latter is the mountainous area that surrounds Cape of Good Hope. As soon as we reached the Kaap die Goede Hoop, I had a sudden sense of accomplishment. While staring down the cliffs into the very rough ocean below me, I could truly see into the history behind it all.

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The Wooden Path to Cape of Good Hope

With only a day to go before my trip came to an end I never wanted to see, it was time to see the newest addition to the top natural wonders of the world – Table Mountain. We had survived the storm but there it was still a cold, November overcast afternoon. We had to queue about 20 minutes to purchase the tickets and hopped on the cable car. The cable car was built to accommodate around 50 odd people and rotated 260 degrees, ensuring each person on the car get stunning views on the way up as well as down Table Mountain. An entire tablecloth of clouds seemed to have descended on the top, and unfortunately there wasn’t much to see from up there. But the rush of being so high up and rotating in a box full of people was definitely one of the highlights. As we got out of the cable car, I had the sudden urge of pulling a Jack (of Jack and Rose) and screaming at the top of my lungs: ”I’m king of the world! Yay hey!” (Because Jack wouldn’t like being called a queen.) We stopped by the (relatively expensive) café on top of the Table Mountain and ordered lattes inside as it was now drizzling and too chilly to be sitting outside, as much as I would have liked that. We had finally made it!

Cape Town…in all its Glory

The best thing about Cape Town is its streets. There is a sense of belongingness to them, one that is hard to describe. I had always heard about Long Street before coming to Cape Town, and almost none of these stories do justice to what it truly is. The restaurants, the shops, the cafes and the flea markets, it is all just that – Cape Town. It was pouring down rain and as we stepped into a small café for shelter, I was immediately mesmerized by what could only be described as the most coolest café in the entire world. Yours Truly, in my head, was an American-themed café which served a latte so good I could drink it all day while I ferociously typed away on my laptop and listened to the sound of the soothing rain outside. What immediately caught my eye was the John Lennon quote engraved on the entrance, perfectly in keeping with the affability that the café so exuded.

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I woke up the following day to clear skies. South Africa was in agreement with my departure, and it made me melancholic, to say the least. In my heart, I was hoping we’d face terrible weather conditions, too dangerous to hop on a plane, but it was time to leave. The thing I love most about travel is that it is always a new experience. It’s a chance to experience new faces, new places while making beautiful, new memories. Having to try to absorb and make sense of it all is an exhilarating experience. I don’t think I picked up any Afrikaans while I was there, but the fact that I was constantly refreshed whenever a friendly native would walk right up to me and speak in that amazing South African accent which I so adored, I knew there would come a day when I would return to this beautiful city and take the time out to actually learn the language, because I didn’t have to learn to love Cape Town. I just knew.