Monday, August 6, 2012

Cape Town Region: Wine, Penguins and a Beautiful City

Welcome to the Cape Town region of South Africa.  Cape Town is the most popular tourist destination in the entire continent of Africa.  After spending a few days in the region, it's easy to see why.  Click the link to read more about our visit to the Cape Town region.

No matter where you are in Cape Town, the towering sight of Table Mountain greets you.  Above is the view of Table Mountain as we approached the city in our rental car.  Below is a view of the foothills leading up to Table Mountain from the Cape Town waterfront.  Table Mountain would be visible on the upper-left side of the photo, but it is covered by clouds.  The frequent cloud cover over Table Mountain is known locally as the "table cloth."

Nick and Beth spent a day at the top of Table Mountain while Shane and I went to the U.S. Embassy to add pages to our passports (Shane and I spent a week in Cape Town in 2003, and we went to the top of Table Mountain then).  The photos above and below from Nick shows how the city of Cape Town is wedged between the mountains and the sea.  Cape Town is located near the southern tip of Africa, and the city's beaches enjoy waves from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean.  The many beaches and mountains give Cape Town one of the most beautiful settings of any major world city.
Above is another view from the top of Table Mountain.  Visible in the distance is Robbin Island, which was a prison during South Africa's Apartheid era.  Nelson Mandela spent most of his 27 years of imprisonment at Robbin Island, which now is a museum.

Of course, Mandela was eventually released from prison and soon became the first person ever elected president of South Africa in a fully representative democratic election.  Mandela is the South African equivalent of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln rolled into one.  While we were in Cape Town, Mandela celebrated his 94th birthday, and it was clear that he is still revered in the country.  Above is a photo of a Cape Town church with a message of thanks to Mandela, who is also affectionately known in South Africa by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba.  Also above is a photo of statues of the four South African winners of the Nobel Peace Prize (Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, F.W. DeClerk, and Nelson Mandela), along with two people who have not won a Nobel prize--I'll let you guess which is which.

Another reason Cape Town is so popular is that it is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, and it (along with its fellow South African city of Johannesburg) has the most developed infrastructure of any city in Africa.  Being a "developed" city means something different to each of us, as shown in the above photos.  For instance, Nick was impressed with the multiple ads for the American television show, Leverage--in which Nick once appeared as "the guy in the background holding a piece of paper."  For me, I was impressed with the availability of a healthy burrito and the availability of Hot Wheels advertising my hometown Indianapolis 500.  Beth was impressed with ... well, maybe South Africa is not so advanced after all.

Despite all of the impressive signs of advanced development in Cape Town, and South Africa as a whole, there also are many shantytowns located just outside the city, which serve as a visible reminder that there still exists much poverty in South Africa.  There are fewer people living in poverty in South Africa now than when I first visited in 2003--and even the poor townships have seen living conditions improve with the addition of power-lines and satellite dishes--but it is clear that there still is a very wide gap between rich and poor in South Africa.

The region south of Cape Town is known as the Cape of Good Hope, and it features some warning signs that you don't normally see in the United States.

Sure enough we saw plenty of baboons walking along the roads.  Thankfully, we didn't find any penguins under our car.


We did see plenty of penguins playing on Boulders Beach, where a colony of 30,000 penguins live.  This is one of the most accessible places in the world to view penguins in the wild.  Penguins are flightless birds who are well adapted to living near the sea.  But much more fun than watching them swim is watching them waddle about on land.  Below are a couple of videos of these adorable critters on land.

After having our encounters with the penguins, we hopped back in the car and--after making sure no penguins where hiding underneath--we drove to the nearby town of Stellenbosch.  Stellenbosch is the largest wine growing region in South Africa, a country that produces over one billion liters of wine annually.

The Stellenbosch area features well-drained, hilly terrain and a Mediterranean climate which is ideal for viticulture and wine-making.  I'm no wine connoisseur like Nick and Shane, but I certainly appreciated the beauty of the area.

I also appreciated the very nice colonial estate/guesthouse where we stayed.   Above is a video showing the main areas in the house, including the indoor and outdoor dining areas, the pool room, and the cozy living room with a nice fireplace.  For most of our stay, we had the entire house to ourselves.

We spent a couple of pleasant days touring wine-making operations and attending wine tastings.  I served as the designated driver during these two days.  When I told one of the wine-tasting guides that I would not be drinking because I was the designated driver for my three friends, she said with a deadly serious expression: "You need to find better friends."

The wine-tasting-guide could not have been more wrong.  I'm extremely fortunate to be traveling with great friends, who also are great fun--especially with a couple of glasses of wine in them.  Above are a couple of photos and one video taken when they were feeling the effects of some fine South African wine.

Not only am I traveling with great friends, but I'm fortunate enough to have great family and friends reading this blog.  Thanks for reading!  Cheers!

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