Back before the “new normal” we had epic plans; Anna’s 40th birthday coincided with her having a conference in Cape Town, South Africa so after taking advice from several South African friends of ours here in Singapore, we decided to celebrate the occasion by exploring the southern region of the African continent properly — By going on safari. Planning a safari needs to be done well in advance so our mate, Guy Caywood, gave us a tip on an excellent travel agent, his friend Jess Miller at RedFoot Safaris and despite the actual trip taking place in June, 2020, we had everything planned in January of that year and just had to play the waiting game. That game played out a lot longer than expected when Covid hit, our plans being delayed in the end for two whole years, however, Jess kept up her end of the deal, maintaining all of our bookings and reservations, ultimately giving us a full itinerary at the beginning of this year that would have us kicking off our adventure at the end of June in South Africa, before spending more than a week on safari in Zimbabwe and Botswana, and then back to South Africa again for a night. As the date loomed nearer, it all became a bit surreal that this holiday might actually culminate into the adventure we had been anticipating for so long. We kept reading and rereading our detailed itinerary that Jess had put together for us on the lead up to this trip so to give you the proper details over the following entries I’ll use excerpts from that itinerary to begin each new leg. Let’s get this show on the road!
Saturday, June 25, 2022
We departed Singapore early in the morning and after a one hour layover in Johannesburg where we didn’t even get off the plane, were soon in Cape Town, South Africa, the city where we would begin this journey. Here’s the place Jess had put us for our time in town:
Day 1-4: Victoria & Alfred Hotel, Cape Town (Sat, 25 June to Tue, 28 June)
Resting at the confluence of the Indian and Atlantic oceans, situated between the slopes of the iconic Table Mountain and the glistening sapphire waters of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, the exceptionally scenic city of Cape Town is in a class of its own. Some cities boast rich culture, vibrant nightlife, a cosmopolitan atmosphere and extraordinary architecture, while others boast breathtaking landscapes and extraordinary natural wonders. Cape Town is fortunate to be blessed with all of these attractions and so much more. With its bustling harbour, world- class beaches, top-notch vineyards, and its mountainous surroundings brimming with diverse flora and fauna, Cape Town consistently captivates the hearts of all who visit.
Overnight: Victoria & Alfred Hotel
History and modern luxury merge to create ageless beauty at the Victoria & Alfred Hotel, which was built in 1904 as the North Quay Warehouse. This iconic establishment was named after Queen Victoria and her son, Prince Alfred who played an intrinsic role in the establishment of the Breakwater Basin – now the V&A Waterfront.
The hotel is located in the very heart of this internationally acclaimed destination and is a sophisticated retreat amid the buzz. It offers some of the most enviable views of Cape Town Harbour, Table Mountain and the slick city that stretches out at the foot of this Natural Wonder. Timeless elegance and personalised luxury are found at the award- winning Victoria & Alfred Hotel.
Attention to detail, its elegance and an outstanding reputation have set this hotel apart as one of Cape Town’s finestestablishments. A luxurious stay awaits at each of the 94 well-appointed, contemporary rooms, with views of the Alfred Basin, Table Mountain or the piazza. Warm personal service makes guests feel at home instantly.
Once we had landed and collected our luggage, a driver was waiting for us to take us to our home for the next four nights, V&A Waterfront Hotel, where we checked in, dumped our luggage in the room, showered, and then headed out to have a look at a huge, indoor food market across the street. As soon as we walked in we found a store selling enormous oysters that gave a 50% discount if you bought a bottle of wine so we got some of those, Anna had some of the wine, and I picked up a couple of local beers from a nearby stall. They may not have had the ‘OMG’ oysters, or even the ‘Super Giant’ ones listed on the menu in the pictures below, but what we received were still larger than my pint glass. Once done with the oysters we looked around inside and bought some assorted biltong, a kind of local version of jerky, followed by a walk around the Waterfront area, and then to a nearby mall so I could buy a sunhat for the safari and that’s when things took a bit of an odd turn. It was the middle of the afternoon and Anna was trying on dresses in a store so I was just sitting down outside the change-rooms when I began to feel a bit weird. At first I thought it was just an absence seizure, the type where I only have what is generally referred to as an ‘aura’ and then zone out for a bit, followed by a feeling of confusion, and then I’m relatively back to normal again. These occur every few weeks or so so I just sat there and waited for it to pass, but it seemed a little worse and lasted longer than usual, me having to really focus on the exit as we were getting up to leave and that is my last clear thought for some time. Anna has told me that I just went completely blank in the next store and made the weird noise I do before I have a proper tonic-clonic seizure so she had managed to lower me to the ground while we waited for a medic to arrive. It was all a bit odd, because I really only tend to have major seizures nocturnally and besides having a daytime seizure last year as a result of accidentally taking expired medication for a few days, hadn’t had one during the day in about eight or nine years. On a side-note, Anna contacted my neurologist who agrees it was probably due to a culmination of a substantial amount of stress and difficulty sleeping in recent times.
I awoke on a bed in a medical area of the mall very confused, but eventually we were able to walk back to the hotel for some dinner. I wasn’t particularly hungry so I just ordered an appetiser and sparkling water while Anna ate normally and had a little more from that bottle of wine. Not exactly how I had planned to spend our Saturday night in Cape Town, but here are some of the sights we did get to experience:
Sunday, June 26, 2022
My brain was back in proper working order so we wanted to have a look at a few other areas of Cape Town. Our friends back home hadn’t been painting a particularly pretty picture of Johannesburg when we were chatting with them, the general consensus being that you don’t stop at the traffic lights when driving, because there is a decent chance you’ll get carjacked. I’ll get more into the details of Cape Town a bit later, but while everyone agreed it was a safer city, we were strongly advised that even if something seemed like it was just a few minutes walk away outside of our security-patrolled Waterfront district, it’s still best to catch a taxi or an Uber after dark, an impression that was confirmed as we were driven from the airport to our hotel, passing shacks made of plywood and metal, as well as little tent cities in open spaces.
Due to jet-lag we were up early enough for the complimentary breakfast, then our first stop was something we love to do in every new city, check out a local flea market. Sunday wasn’t the main day for the flea market near where we were staying so it was a little underwhelming, although I still managed find a couple of cool things while we braved the freezing wind. What we hadn’t expected when we arrived, however, was the big Malay influence in Cape Town, particularly when it came to food, as was evident in some of the selections we had seen in the food market and shopping mall the previous day, as well as some stalls at the flea market. Most of Anna’s older relatives, although racially Chinese and not Muslim, for the most part are originally from Malaysia and Anna had wanted to do some sort of guided tour around the city, leading her to discover the Bo-Kaap:
The Bo-Kaap (lit. “above the Cape” in Afrikaans) is an area of Cape Town, South Africa formerly known as the Malay Quarter. It is a former racially segregated area, situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city centre and is a historical centre of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town. The Nurul Islam Mosque, established in 1844, is located in the area.
Bo-Kaap is known for its brightly coloured homes and cobble stoned streets. The area is traditionally a multicultural neighbourhood, and 56.9% of its population identify as Muslim. According to the South African Heritage Resources Agency, the area contains the largest concentration of pre-1850 architecture in South Africa, and is the oldest surviving residential neighbourhood in Cape Town.
In 1760 Jan de Waal bought a block of land at the foot of Signal Hill, between Dorp and Wale Streets. A year later he obtained an adjacent parcel, extending his holding to Rose/Chiappini/Shortmarket Street. Starting in 1763, de Waal built several small “huurhuisjes” (rental houses) on this land, which he leased to his slaves. The first three are at 71 Wale Street (now the Bokaap Museum), above Buitengracht Street, and 42 Leeuwen Street respectively.
Skilled Muslim labourers called Mardijkers moved to the Cape from Southeast Asia and lived in the Bo-Kaap. Because the aboriginal tribes in the (Cape Town) area resisted the Dutch, slaves were initially imported from Malaysia, Indonesia and different parts of Africa, hence the name “Malay”. Most of the new residents were Muslim, and several mosques were built in the area. The first one was Auwal Mosque, in Dorp Street in 1794. Between 1790 and 1825 more housing in both the Cape Dutch and Cape Georgian styles was built for the expanding population of tradesmen, craftsmen, and artisans. More Muslims continued to move into the area, including a wave of political exiles from Java and Ceylon circa 1820. After the emancipation in 1834 and the arrival of liberated slaves, developers constructed numerous rows of narrow, deep huurhuisjes.
The brightly coloured facades are attributed to an expression of freedom by the new homeowners, as all the houses were painted white while on lease, although it appears that the tradition of brightly coloured homes began in the late 20th century, rather than earlier.
We safely passed through Church Square and arrived at the City Centre, where the tour was to begin and met up with our young guide as the others in the group slowly arrived. As the tour began it soon became clear that, not only was our guide a little condescending, but he seemed to completely whitewash the history of the area, all the while downplaying the whole ‘slavery’ aspect, so much so that a black woman from London stormed off after a couple of minutes when he compared slaves to backpackers. To be fair, she left before the selective retelling of history really even began, but our ignorant tour guide aside, I got some great photos of a truly beautiful district that speak for themselves:
Once we were done with our tour it still wasn’t dark yet so we decided to walk over to an area where there were some bars, however, Anna was still trapped in her Singaporean safety bubble, completely disregarding me and the group of extremely dodgy guys leering at her as I tried to get her to cross the road, opting to just grab her by the wrist and pull her across. We eventually made it safely to the pub after passing a group of teenaged boys, one of whom asked, “You’ve got a spare R200 [US$11.75] for me, haven’t you?”, not bothering to pursue the matter any further when I completely ignored him. We first stopped off at one bar, but as it got later the wind got substantially colder, however, it starts getting dark before 6:00pm at this time in this part of the world and it was still too early for dinner so we opted for an indoor bar for one or two more. Our tour guide had said we were only about a 10-minute walk from our hotel, but we heeded the advice of everyone else to whom we had spoken and it was a good idea too; not only did we pass some very sketchy looking places and people, but over the course of our time in Cape Town we would come to realise that when people in these parts say “10-minute walk”, it can actually mean anything up to an hour.
Once back at the hotel, Anna decided she wanted to thank the paramedic from the previous afternoon so she grabbed a couple of blocks of chocolate that she had bought and headed to the mall to give them to him, the two of them discussing events and my bizarre actions and behaviour from yesterday of which I had no recollection. When that uncomfortable little reunion was over, we went out to find somewhere for dinner, taking in a breathtaking sunset along the way. After watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown based in Johannesburg before we commenced this little journey, it became abundantly clear that I wanted to try a smilie, described thusly:
Smiley is a traditional South African dish featuring sheep’s head as the key ingredient. The sheep heads are actually butcher’s leftovers which are broiled (usually in large drums), and the fur is then singed with metal rods, while the animal’s lips pull back to reveal a grotesque smile, hence the name smiley.
The head is served with a bit of salt, and the meat can easily be ripped off with your hands because it’s so tender. It is said that the tongue, eyes, cheeks, and brains are the most flavorful parts of smiley. The head is typically served whole, but it can also be cut up and used in stews.
Unfortunately there was nowhere in our immediate, gentrified vicinity serving smilies so we decided to eat at a nearby place called Karibu for some African-inspired food instead, as well as some Malay fare, us opting for a special platter of predominantly game meat, but mark my words, I was going to do everything in my power to eat a smilie on this trip. The meal was great, but simply too much food to finish so we went out for a couple more drinks after, but jet-lag, or possibly a meat-coma, was starting to kick in, particularly for Anna, however, I insisted she stay out until at least 11:00pm so she wouldn’t be wide awake at 5:00am the following morning.
Here’s a bit of what made up the rest of that evening, including Unathi, the paramedic:
Monday, June 27, 2022
Anna’s birthday was here and, although we initially were supposed to be doing this for her 40th, at least we managed to finally be in the right spot two years later. Her plan for today was to take a decent tour around this city so I guess now would be the time to give a proper rundown on Cape Town:
Cape Town is one of South Africa’s three capital cities, serving as the seat of the Parliament of South Africa. It is the legislative capital of the country, the oldest city in the country, and the second largest (after Johannesburg). Colloquially named the Mother City, it is the largest city of the Western Cape province, and is managed by the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality. The other two capitals are Pretoria, the executive capital, located in Gauteng, where the Presidency is based, and Bloemfontein, the judicial capital in the Free State, where the Supreme Court of Appeal is located.
Cape Town is ranked as a Beta world city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network. The city is known for its harbour, for its natural setting in the Cape Floristic Region, and for landmarks such as Table Mountain and Cape Point. Cape Town is home to 66% of the Western Cape’s population. In 2014, Cape Town was named the best place in the world to visit by both The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph.
Located on the shore of Table Bay, the City Bowl area of Cape Town, is the oldest urban area in the Western Cape, with a significant cultural heritage. It was founded by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) as a supply station for Dutch ships sailing to East Africa, India, and the Far East. Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival on 6 April 1652 established the VOC Cape Colony, the first permanent European settlement in South Africa. Cape Town outgrew its original purpose as the first European outpost at the Castle of Good Hope, becoming the economic and cultural hub of the Cape Colony. Until the Witwatersrand Gold Rush and the development of Johannesburg, Cape Town was the largest city in southern Africa.
The city has a long coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, which includes False Bay, and extends to the Hottentots Holland mountains in the East. The Table Mountain National Park is within the city boundaries and there are several other nature reserves and marine protected areas within and adjacent to the city, protecting the diverse terrestrial and marine natural environment.
It turns out our friends’ advice was correct because, despite that link claiming that Cape Town was named as the best place in the world to visit by both The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph in 2014, let’s not ignore this little tidbit:
In recent years, the city has struggled with drugs, a surge in violent drug-related crime and more recently gang violence. In the Cape Flats alone, there were approximately 100,000 people in over 130 different gangs in 2018. While there are some alliances, this multitude and division is also cause for conflict between groups. At the same time, the economy has grown due to the boom in the tourism and the real estate industries. With a Gini coefficient of 0.58, Cape Town had the lowest inequality rate in South Africa in 2012. Since July 2019 widespread violent crime in poorer gang dominated areas of greater Cape Town has resulted in an ongoing military presence in these neighbourhoods. Cape Town had the highest murder rate among large South African cities at 77 murders per 100,000 people in the period April 2018 to March 2019, with 3157 murders mostly occurring in poor townships created under the apartheid regime. In 2022 the Mexican Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice ranked Cape Town as one of the 50 most violent cities in the world.
Cool, it came in at #11 so now we’ve visited the cities ranked numbers 4, 7, 11, 15, 41, and 50 on that list of the world’s most violent cities (written is Spanish) and that’s not even including our time spent volunteering in rural Honduras, a country that was at one point the murder capital of the world!
Anyway, we planned to take the Hop On-Hop Off bus tour and it commenced right near where we were staying so we probably didn’t have to worry about getting killed. The blue and the blue and red perforated lines were where we would be traveling that morning and afternoon (click that link to find a larger version of the map):
Traveling through the city took a while, but the audio tour made it quite interesting and even gave us some ideas for the following day, but this was Anna’s birthday and even though it was still only 11:00am, when we finally reached stop #21 we hopped off to change onto the wine tour. The first and only stop on that little detour for us, Groot Constatia (#25 on the map), was where Anna decided to hop off, not only because it is South Africa’s oldest producing wine farm, but also because it was a Monday morning and she had read that it would definitely be open. Once we had arrived we walked down a path through a long field with a stream surrounded by ducks and entered the winery. Mornings in Cape Town this time of year are generally quite cold, but it was warmer than the previous couple of days so we pulled up an outdoor seat and did a tasting of three different wines. I’m aware that South Africa is known for having some great wineries, however, I know nothing about wine and whenever we were told tasting notes and that type of thing, I simply didn’t get it. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, I just guess I’ll just never be a sommelier any time soon.
After the winery we were back on the bus and the next stop was Hout Bay, a picturesque little harbour town, but we would need to pass the township of Imizamo Yethu first:
The 18 hectares (44 acres) area supports 20,000 people, with many of these living in cramped and squalid conditions with no plumbing, roads or any discernible infrastructure for sustainable living. This is in sharp contrast to the affluence of residences in much of Hout Bay. In addition to much middle-income housing for local South Africans, there are also a number of multi-million rand mansions, luxurious holiday homes and some small wine estates. As of 2007, political differences between the Democratic Alliance and African National Congress have hampered the building of houses for the residents of Imizamo Yethu.
Because of its location and the overcrowding, Imizamo Yethu is vulnerable to hazards like floods and fires. A particularly devastating fire broke out on March 11, 2017, fanned by dry weather and high winds. Hundreds of families were left homeless and there was an outpouring of support from across Cape Town to help the victims.
Those population statistics are from 10 years ago, there are claims that as many as 33,600 people now live in Imizamo Yethu, and the help and charity work for the residents, particularly children, as well as for victims of the 2017 fire, still continues to this day. It was possible to do a guided walking tour by one of the residents there, but that would’ve been a pretty depressing way to spend a special day so we decided to skip Imizamo Yethu and head to the Bay for lunch, although I did snap a couple of photos from the bus. We got off the bus at Hout Bay and had a look around the area, including the forts and encountering an enormous sea lion being pimped out for photos, before stopping at Mariner’s Wharf for lunch. The food was great, but it was kind of amusing when we asked our waiter, dressed as a sailor, what came with the lobster thermidor. There aren’t many Chinese people in Cape Town so when the waiter told us it comes with rice, a colleague whom we assume was his manager and the general workplace bully looked at Anna, then at the waiter and yelled, “Of course she wants rice!”. It was a little difficult to stifle our laughter, but I think we managed well enough. Anyway, a quick look at what we had seen up until that point:
Three glasses of wine before noon and another with lunch meant that Anna was going to have a snooze for the rest of the bus trip that followed the coast and took us through some of the more affluent beachside suburbs of Cape Town, but it was a good thing, because she would need that energy for dinner. On a recommendation from Guy, I had booked a restaurant called Belly of the Beast almost two months in advance. In fact, I had to set my alarm on the morning of May 1 while we were in the Philippines to make the reservation, because the restaurant only seats 24 people and they get snapped up within minutes of being released.
Once back at our hotel, Anna continued her Nanna-nap for another hour or so, before getting dressed up for dinner, but first we wanted to go up to the top of the nearby Silo Hotel for a pre-dinner drink and to take in another one of those incredible sunsets, this time a little higher up. The rooftop bar at the Silo is usually reserved for guests, but there still wasn’t an overabundance of tourists so we were allowed up there and had it all to ourselves until it was time to leave and the view was stunning. Before long, however, it was time to take an Uber to Belly of the Beast for Anna’s birthday dinner:
Chef’s Anouchka Horn and Neil Swart. We offer a tasting menu for lunch and dinner in our 24 seater restaurant.
There are no menu options or set amount of courses. All you do is show up and trust us to satisfy with our seasonal fare.
We source from local sustainable producers and use every part of the animal. You can expect some dishes that might test your boundaries, but we always balance our menu so that everyone will enjoy the experience.
The 24 seats make for a very personal dining experience, as we do everything from cooking to serving our food.
It definitely was as good as it sounds, but I can’t remember what we ate and obviously by that description there’s no menu to share, but I do know we were served by a guy called Tim, which made Anna’s night.
Here’s how we wrapped up Anna’s birthday, including some from dinner (a couple of them a tad blurry) so we can try and recall what we ate:
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
It was our last full day in Cape Town for this leg of our trip so Anna planned to fill it to the brim! We had had multiple older, black drivers tell us about what it was like growing up under apartheid, stories about them being taken from their homes and forcibly relocated, that type of thing and one location kept getting mentioned; District Six, how great it was, and how much they missed it:
The area was named in 1966 as the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town. The area began to grow after the freeing of the enslaved in 1833. By the turn of the century it was already a lively community made up of former slaves, artisans, merchants and other immigrants, as well as many Malay people brought to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company during its administration of the Cape Colony. It was home to almost a tenth of the city of Cape Town’s population, which numbered over 1,700–1,900 families.
After World War II, during the earlier part of the Apartheid Era, District Six was relatively cosmopolitan. Situated within sight of the docks, its residents were largely classified as coloured under the Population Registration Act, 1950 and included a substantial number of coloured Muslims, called Cape Malays. There were also a number of black Xhosa residents and a smaller number of Afrikaners, English-speaking whites, and Indians. In the 1960/70’s large slum areas were demolished as part of the apartheid movement which the Cape Town municipality at the time had written into law by way of the Group Areas Act (1950). This however did not come into enforcement until 1966 when District Six was declared a ‘whites only’ area, the year demolition began. New buildings soon arose from the ashes of the demolished homes and apartments.
Government officials gave four primary reasons for the removals. In accordance with apartheid philosophy, it stated that interracial interaction bred conflict, necessitating the separation of the races. They deemed District Six a slum, fit only for clearance, not rehabilitation. They also portrayed the area as crime-ridden and dangerous; they claimed that the district was a vice den, full of immoral activities like gambling, drinking, and prostitution. Though these were the official reasons, most residents believed that the government sought the land because of its proximity to the city centre, Table Mountain, and the harbour.
On 11 February 1966, the government declared District Six a whites-only area under the Group Areas Act, with removals starting in 1968. About 30,000 people living in the specific group area were affected. In 1966, the City Engineer, Dr S.S.Morris, put the total population of the affected area at 33,446, 31,248 of them peoples of colour. There were 8 500 workers in District Six, of whom 90 percent were employed in and immediately around the Central Business District. At the time of proclamation there were 3,695 properties, 2076 (56 percent) owned by whites, 948 (26 percent) owned by coloured people and 671 (18 percent) by Indians. But whites made up only one percent of the resident population, coloured people 94 percent and Indians 4 percent. The government’s plan for District Six, finally unveiled in 1971, was considered excessive even for that time of economic boom. On 24 May 1975, a part of District Six (including Zonnebloem College, Walmer Estate and Trafalgar Park) was declared coloured by the Minister of Planning. Most of the approximately 20,000 people removed from their homes were moved to townships on the Cape Flats.
By 1982, more than 60,000 people had been relocated to a Cape Flats township complex roughly 25 kilometres away. The old houses were bulldozed. The only buildings left standing were places of worship. International and local pressure made redevelopment difficult for the government, however. The Cape Technikon (now Cape Peninsula University of Technology) was built on a portion of District Six which the government renamed Zonnebloem. Apart from this and some police housing units, the area was left undeveloped.
It’s an awful, but fascinating story so we decided to visit the District Six Museum that morning. The museum, although not that large, made District Six look like a fun and vibrant community back in the day so I’ll just let some photos do the talking, as well as some of the more miserable aspects of its history:
After the museum we walked around a local craft market, but it wasn’t really for us so we grabbed a bite to eat and then embarked on next mission; we figured we hadn’t been getting much exercising due to walking around in a lot of areas not being all that safe so we decided to climb the Lion’s Head, a mountain with a peak 669 metres (2,195 ft) above sea level. Hey, we bought hiking boots for this trip, might as well try them, as well as my new sunglasses and terrible sunhat out. Our guide arrived at our hotel to drive us to the Lion’s Head and once there we hiked and climbed for about an hour and half to the summit and about the same amount of time back down, our guide realising he had lost his sunglasses along the way and then constantly stopping to look for them again as we descended.
Once we had returned and showered we had a drink or two and then headed back around near to Hout Bay for dinner on a recommendation from a couple of Anna’s colleagues who had just returned from Cape Town, a place called La Colombe, followed by a reservation she had made at a nearby jazz bar. Anna had had no idea what I had planned for her birthday the previous night so I thought that was going to be the best we would eat while we were away, but it turns out I got upstaged, because La Colombe is often ranked among the best restaurants in the world! The food was incredible, and we laughed as an American couple on the next table said that they only wanted vegetarian options, because they had been eating too much meat lately. Not really that kind of restaurant. The service took quite a while so we didn’t make our reservation at the bar, but that may have been a blessing in disguise, because Anna kind of overdid it on the wine at the restaurant, squinting to read a number plate on a vehicle to see if it was our ride home when it was actually a police car, and then jokingly referring to me as her “colonial master” once we were in our Uber, something the driver fortunately chose to disregard.
Some scenes from our final afternoon and evening on this stop in Cape Town, including the obligatory food shots:
Well, that’s it for the South African leg of this long-awaited trip, stay tuned for part two when things get exciting as we travel to Zimbabwe and Botswana, because that’s when the safari properly begins! And I might even get to try a smilie…