New year, new continent, but where to start?

If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers. Nelson Mandela.

Having heard so much, over many years, about the country of South Africa it seemed a worthy place to start my journey in the continent of Africa. In addition, one of my neighbours, back in the UK, used to live here, he has waxed lyrical about the country for months and months. Thank you Gary, I doubt I would have done it without your help and enthusiasm.

Nothing could prepare me for Cape Town, it is a mind blowing city (for all the right reasons). I knew I was going to fall in love with it the moment I landed. Super friendly staff at the airport guided me through customs and made a concerted effort to ensure that my passage was both swift, comfortable and SAFE. Although the temperature probe placed on my forehead was a little disconcerting. Even the Uber driver was outstanding; he was super courteous and a wonderful ambassador for his city. The icing on the cake was when he insisted on waiting for me until I was safely encased inside the grounds of my high security Guesthouse.

Every property in Cape Town has security gates and electrified fencing along the tops of their high walls. Security (and safety) is obviously paramount on people’s minds. It’s something I have been reminded about constantly since I arrived in South Africa.

I had planned to stay in Cape Town (CT) for three nights, it quickly became apparent that this was far too short a time. My guest house (Altona Lodge) was awesome. At £30 a night (including breakfast) it was also excellent value for money. It has a great location, in a ‘safe’ part of town, close to great restaurants and a beautiful park. I ended up extending to 5-nights.

Day one was spent recovering from the 11-hour flight (Birmingham- Amsterdam – Cape Town) and the chance to formulate a plan, not an easy thing to do as it turned out – South Africa has so much to see and so much to do.

On my second day, filled with bags of energy and a hunger to explore I decided to climb Table Top mountain. By 9am it was already 25 deg C. Walking to the start of the trail I passed hoards of people who were queuing to get on the cable car. I snuggly walked past the long queues and made my way to the start of the trail, a 25 minutes walk away.

At the start of the climb I passed a young lady who was obviously preparing herself for the hike with some mind boggling leg stretches. I said good morning and wished her good luck.

The start of the hike was relatively easy but that quickly changed. I decided it might be wise to slow down the pace. It wasn’t very long before the young lady caught up with me. She also realised it was better to slow down. We matched each others pace and during frequent breaks shared a few words. It took us 2.5 hours to get to the top. It turned out to be a gruelling climb in the severe heat, by now 30 deg C.

My new companion and I spent an hour or so exploring the top of the mountain – taking in the incredible views across the city. This gave me the opportunity to discover that Bakesh was an air hostess (with Turkish Airlines) who lived in Istanbul. She gets a certain number of heavily discounted flights each year and had decided to endure the 11-hour flight and spend a few days in Cape Town. I was going to take the cable car back down but decided to join Bakesh on the hike back down.

The following three days were spent recovering from the ‘day before’! Taking it easy on the city tour bus – hopping on and off at various locations along the way. Every muscle in my body was in agony!

There are three routes on the city tour bus (red, blue, and yellow) so it made sense to buy the heavily discounted three day pass costing £20. The tour bus proved to be an excellent way to get a feel for the city and to learn about its history – thanks to the onboard multilingual commentary.

The list of things to see and do in CT is mind blowing. Some of the highlights (for me) included:

Kirstenboch botanical gardens, the city walking tour, the museums, the beaches, the harbour boat trip, the canal boat trip. I only managed to scratch the surface of things to do in CT. I honestly believe you could spend two weeks here and not get bored.

I did not have time for Roben Island, the wine tours, the penguins at Boulders Beach, or a visit to Cape Point. All great reasons to come back sometime in the near future.

Having agonised over whether to take a local bus, the BazBus or to drive along the garden route myself, I finally plucked up the courage and booked a hire car.

Next stage: The Garden Route – Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.

The original clock tower – Cape Town harbour.

Table Top Mountain – a constant back drop in Cape Town.

The last bit of the climb up Table Top mountain.

Enjoying a welcome break at the top.

Spectacular views across the city.

Our guide at the Botanical Gardens.

Even the Botanical Gardens have Table Top mountain as a back drop.

A section of the Berlin Wall in the historic centre of Cape Town.

The man himself – Nelson Mandela.

About Richard Griffith

My first independent travel experience was a trip to Israel, in 1997, it was here that I caught the 'travel' bug! In 2001 I took an 8-month sabbatical and traveled around South East Asia. Since then I have managed to visit most of Eastern Europe along with India, Bangladesh, and a few other destinations in between. I love travel and I love meeting new people.
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