Thursday, October 11, 2012

Blue Train, Victoria Falls and a Marathon August 2012

Pictures and Video at the bottom

The Blue Train - Today we take The Blue Train from Cape Town to Pretoria (just north of Johannesburg), the trip will take 30 hours, covering approximately 1,100 kilometers.

Upon our arrival we were greeted by name at the Blue Train departure lounge, they took our bags, hopefully we were not just robbed. I would love to know how they knew our names. The lounge was more like someone's living room than a departure lounge for a train, we were offered drinks and some breakfast treats. While in the lounge the food manager came by to ask about any food requirements, our butler stopped by to introduce himself, yes we get our very own butler.

Once we boarded we were shown to our suite / cabin, each rail car has 3 cabins, each cabin has a room with either 2 twins or one queen bed and a full bathroom, our room also had a full bath tub and shower. The train departed at 8:30 AM.

The train was elegant, all the walls were made of fine polished wood and all the accents were solid gold. Once we departed Margarite and I went to one of the two public lounges. The service was second to none. The train carried 62 passages and had 35 staff. We had our own butler (Albert), he took care of anything we needed, even if we did not realize we needed it. We had our own server at meals (Sydney), and Margarite had a personal chef because of her allergies (Esther).

At 10:30 AM we were served brunch in the dinning car. Brunch was served on fine china and silver. We had an appetizer of smoked salmon, soup was a vegetable purée, the main course for me was rack of lamb, and Margarite had kingklip (fish). All prepared to perfection.

As we left Cape Town we entered the wine region passing through some snow capped mountains. We then passed through 4 tunnels the last being 13 kilometers long. When we exited the tunnels we had gone from a lush mountainous area to dry high desert plains.

We stopped at a small village by the name of Matjiesfontein, we got a 10 minute tour of the village on an old London double-decker bus. The village was bought and created by a Scottish gentleman by the name of James Douglas Logan that wanted to have an oasis for travelers in this part of South Africa.

Once back on the train we were served high tea, which included some of the best pastries I have ever consumed, and consumed I did. Our cabin is at the front most part of the train. This is just perfect as no one walks past so it is very quiet. There are three public sitting areas, from our cabin walking toward the rear of the train the first public car we reach is the non-smoking lounge, next we come to the dining car. After the dining car we contined on to the last car which is the smoking lounge. From one end of the train to the other is over a quarter of a mile.

We found the smoking lounge to be empty, I guess not many smokers on this train, so we spent a lot of time in that car, it gave us a nice walk as well as a quiet place to read, and watch the world go by. The motto of the Blue Train is "A Window to the Soul of South Africa" and we had the best window there could be. As with every part of the Blue Train the service in the smoking lounge was impeccable.

We had chose the early seating for dinner, which was at 6:30 PM. At 6:00PM the train made a stop to refill the water tanks and get supplies. While we waited for our seating we got a tour of the engine car.

For dinner I had Beef Wellington and Margarite had Salmon. This was our first experience on the train of not being blown away. Do not get me wrong, our meals were very good, but they did not blow us away as the food had so far. My dessert made up for my dinner, it was a courant mouse very light and very, very, tasty.

Dinner was formal so I had to wear a jacket and tie. As I did not want to lug a jacket around Africa my plan was to buy one in Cape Town and then donate it before I headed back to Botswana. The first shop in Cape Town I stopped at I miss heard the price until I went to pay for a jacket, slacks, and shirt, in U.S. dollars the cost was $1,250.00 and that was after a 40% mark down. I never ran out of a store so fast, what were they thinking, I just fell off a turnip truck. I doubt I looked like I had $12.50 let alone $1,250.00 in my pocket.

The second shop was much better, a jacket and slacks for the equivalent of $60 U.S. dollars.

Margarite and I had been speaking and becoming friends with our lounge tender Oscar who happened to be my size. He was married with a daughter and had been interviewing for jobs on cruise ships. After dinner we walked down and gave him my jacket. I thought he was going to cry, he was so happy. He said it would be perfect for his interviews and church. It was used but Oscar did not care, and it fit Oscar better than it fit me.

Day 2

Sleeping was a little tough most rooms had 2 twin beds, we opted for a queen, all through the night the train would rock from side to side, it was not a restful night.

One huge negative was at 5:00 AM our room started to smell of cigarette smoke. What we realized later is the crews quarters were just in front of our cabin, and they must light up their cigarettes when they wake up, with our cabins being so close the odor from the smoke must of drifted into our cabin.

Breakfast was just fantastic, I had Eggs Benedict and Margarite had eggs wrapped in smoked salmon.

As we continued our journey to Pretoria, we past a few towns, but most of what we saw was high desert plains. Our traveling speed was between 80 and 100 kilometers per hour. There was a GPS on the Television screen in each room, as well as a camera on the front of the train.

We would stop every once in a while, I assume this was to regulate traffic on the rails. About an hour outside of Johannesburg we stopped for 2 hours. It was explained that the stop was do to track maintenance, and a pilot was needed to take the train through the construction area, we had to wait our turn in the queue. While many passengers got irritated by this, Margarite and I enjoyed the extra few hours of being treated as if we were royalty.

Once in Pretoria, Albert packed our bags and delivered them to our driver. It had been arranged that a driver would meet us to take us to our hotel for the night, the Sheraton Pretoria.

The Sheraton was a historic building, I am not sure it's previous life, but the open style, granite columns, along with the magnificent tapestries on the grand walls were elegant and welcoming. We had a room that looked out toward the parliament building. Pretoria is the capital of South Africa.

Day 3

In the morning we had a driver pick us up for our flight to Victoria Falls which is on the boarder of Zimbabwe and Zambia, North of South Africa.

One interesting fact is Zimbabwe uses U.S. dollars as it's national currency. They switched to the dollar around 2007, at the time of the change Zimbabwe had such high rates of inflation that the smallest bill they had was a billion Zimbabwe dollar bill.

On our arrival at Victoria Falls another passenger on our flight asked if we were in Victoria Falls for the Marathon. We asked, what Marathon? He explained that on Sunday, (it was Friday), the Victoria Falls full and half marathon was taking place. This intrigued Margarite!

We had a driver take us to our hotel, we were staying at the Elephant Hills Hotel. The hotel was fine, but after the Blue Train I am not sure anything will ever measure up again.

The one negative of the Elephant Hills Hotels is that it is out of town, so you either have to wait for a shuttle or take a taxi to get to town (about 5 kilometers). It was 3:00 PM by the time we were checked in and settled. We went and met with the local travel company, Wild Horizons, to get an idea of what we should do while in Victoria Falls. We signed up for a white water rafting trip on the Zambezi River for the next day (Saturday). We wanted to find out more about the Marathon before we committed to anything else.

We took a cab to the Kingdom Hotel, which was the marathon hotel, this is also the hotel Grant had told us put human feces in the water so we stayed away from any liquids. We found out that we could still register for the marathon, so Margarite registered for the full marathon 26.2 miles and I registered for the half 13.1 miles.

We then walked down to the bridge that connects Zimbabwe to Zambia, we were staying on the Zimbabwe side. From the bridge you could see Victoria Falls. It is the dry season so the falls are at their smallest, though still spectacular. We walked across the bridge from Zimbabwe to Zambia. On the way back we stopped at the bungee jumping platform, this is the same platform that during New Years 2012 a women jumped and the bungee broke, some how the women lived. (see below video)

Once back our hotel we had dinner at the only Restaurant in the hotel, the food was a little less than desirable, but it did not make sense to go back to town just for dinner. Early to bed as we had an early wake up call for rafting.

Day 4

We got picked up from our hotel at 7:00 AM, there were two others from our hotel on the rafting trip, Rob and Andy, we found out later Rob would be running the Marathon and Andy the Half Marathon.

We had our rafting briefing at the rafting company, we learned a few safety tips, and some rafting techniques. We then took a 10 minute drive to the starting point of the trip. They dropped us off at the top of the gorge, the river was about 1,500 feet below. We had to climb down a very steep river gorge, in some places there were very steep steps and I use the term steps very loosely. In other places it was just loose rock. The climb down was not for the faint at heart, which there were some with us, a few never made it to the bottom.

Once down at the bottom we got in our boats and did a few drills. We found out there was a girl in our boat also doing the Half Marathon (Inge).

The river rafting was great. I have rafted 4 times prior to this trip, the New River in West Virginia, the Nile in Uganda, the Taylor River in Colorado, the Snake River in Idaho, and now the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. I would rate the Zambezi second to the Nile. We rafted down 19 rapids, only skipping one as it was rated a class 6. Of the 18 we rafted through 3 that were class 5 rapids, many had very technical sections. We flipped once, we are sure our guide, Colgate, wanted to flip us, for the thrill and some good pictures.

The water temperature was cold but comfortable. The air temperature was warm, but not hot. We had a very nice group of people in our boat and our guide was excellent. What a great day on the river.

The entire trip was through a giant spectacular gorge, 1,500 feet deep, in some places the river was very narrow and the walls were just shear drops. There was some wild life along the river, baboons, monkeys, birds, and a few small crocodile.

At the finish of the trip we had to hike back to the top of the gorge. This hike was just as steep as on the way down the steps were made of rotted branches and stones. The guides could fly up these steps, many bare foot carrying the deflated rafts.

We had a simple lunch and then a 30 minute drive back to the hotel.

For the afternoon we hung at the pool and rested up for the big run.

Day 5 Marathon Day

The marathon started at 6:30 AM and the half marathon started at 7:00 AM. We took a taxi to the start arriving at 5:30 AM. We had heard there were about 300 people registered for the Marathon and 500 for the half. The two races followed the same course, with the Marathoners having to do most of the course twice.

The marathon started right on time, and they were off. There was a wheel chair race that started at 7:15 AM. There were 8 wheel chair entrants some in just regular wheel chairs not racing wheel chairs.

Andy, Inge, and I started at 7:00 AM on the dot. The course left the parking lot and headed across the bridge to Zambia. Inge was a bit ahead of us, Andy and I were running together. This was the first time I had run to another country, Zimbabwe to Zambia. The sunrise was beautiful coming up over the Zambezi River Gorge. We clicked our first mile at an 8:36 pace. Faster than I had planned to run, but it felt comfortable, plus it was mostly flat or down hill. We made the turn to cross back over the bridge, once back in Zimbabwe we had to deal with a truck convoy bring goods across the boarder. We hit mile two with a 8:28 pace. This mile was all flat so we had picked the pace up, my heart rate was elevated, but still in a comfortable place. As we left the bridge we started heading back up the gorge until we made a sharp right turn just as we crossed mile three at a pace of 8:22 even faster, plus a good part of that mile was uphill. I was very surprised at how well I felt. It had been weeks since I had done any serious exercise.

Our first water stop was at the 5 kilometer mark, just past 3 miles. They handed out sealed bags of water. I had never seen anything like this, it was great, you simply bite into the plastic and sucked the water out, no trying to drink out of a cup while you run. I grabbed two bags, one to poor over my head and one to drink. It was not hot yet, but heat was my biggest concern. I knew I had to keep my core temperature down if I wanted to finish.

As we started mile 4 we had armed guards running / guarding us, we were running through a national park where there are many types of animals that might decide a runner would make a good breakfast. The guards were there for our safety. Though mile 4 was slightly uphill we did an 8:07 mile. This was a bit fast for me and my heart rate was higher than I would like this early in the race. I talked to Andy about his goal since we were still running together. He said anything under 2 hours, but he would really like to finish at 1:50 or better. I knew we could slow down some and still hit 1:50. Plus if I kept this pace, I would not finish at all.

I did not know this at the time, but there were more hills to come. As we crossed mile 5 at a time of 8:28 we saw Rob, this was an out and back section so we could now see some of the Marathon runners. Mile 5 was a slight gradual uphill, mile 6 was mostly down hill we stayed relaxed and recovered doing mile 6 at a time of 8:28, my heart rate was back where I wanted it. Mile 7 was flat, we did mile 7 at a time of 8:12. We did hit some sand where we passed a wheel chair racer.

Unbelievable, fortunately she did have legs and was able to hobble and push her chair through the sand like she was using a walker. We wanted to help her, but knew that would disqualify her. Mile 8 was flat and we were fully recovered, we hit a time of 8:22. At the start of mile 9 they had coke (the soft drink) at the water stop, I had a nice big cup. I was feeling the miles and needed some energy.

Mile 9 was the start of the hill we had come down after seeing Rob. We did mile 9 at a time of 8:46. Mile 10 was a rolling hill with a sharp right turn our time was 8:39. We were catching Igne, but had to pick the pace up to hit a time of 1:50. We had about 3 miles to go and I now realized since we finished at an elevation higher than the start there would be more hills. Our 1:50 goal time was slipping away. As we passed Igne I started pushing them to pick it up, I did not want to leave them but knew we had to pick it up to hit 1:50.

Mile 11 was a brutal uphill, and we had slowed to a time of 8:52. We had to make up time and it was all up hill, I picked up the pace hoping Andy and Igne would stay with me. They could not, mile 12 was 7:59 mostly uphill. I knew only one more mile and a few hundred meters. I just had to make a low 8 minute mile and I would hit 1:50. Those last 400 meters was brutal, flat but you had to weave around the grass field to get to the finish line 400 meters seemed like 400 miles. Mile 13 was 8:15 with a finish time of a few seconds over 1:50. I was very happy, Andy was right behind me at 1:52 and Igne behind him at 1:54.

For the marathon the loop was the same except they only crossed the bridge once. To make up for that, they had to run past the finish line about a mile and a half and then run back. Think about this you have run 23 miles you can see the finish line but instead of running to the finish line, you have to run past it on a flat isolated road just to run back and finish. Also the marathon course was 700 meters to long.

Margarite was the fourth women finisher with a time of 3:30 and Rob finished in 3:54.

A great day by all..

The afternoon was spent at the pool.

In the evening we took a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, what a beautiful sunset, from there we went to the after party, party for the Marathon, where I had a few to many drinks.

Day 6

Surprisingly Margarite and I had no soreness from our runs. We took the shuttle bus into town to do a little exploring. Town is not very big, mostly tourist type shops, no real restaurants to speak of. There are a few commercialized craft center. The tourist police advised us to go to the local craft bazaar. It was a few hundred meters past the commercial craft center.

Going down the dirt road we were not sure what we were getting ourselves into. There were 18 vendors, each had laid their wares out on the dirt floor. My guess is each vendor had a 10 x 10 piece of dirt, they called their shop. As we walked by, they would ask us to take our time and just look, "no pressure", they would say, until we would start to walk to the next shop, then it was all about price. "I will give you a great price", they would say.

Most of the items were hand carved from stone or local woods. The quality was exceptional. After much haggling Margarite bought a few items.

We took a taxi back to the hotel. The cost of a taxi from town to the hotel was $10.00. I gave the driver a $20.00, he quickly said he did not have change, and that I should get change from the hotel. I said, "Are you sure you do not have 10 dollars". He pulled out a wade of money and counted out $10.00 which was really $11.00. It was clear he did not know how to count. I try to explain he gave me to much money and I gave him the extra dollar back. Still not understanding his mistake he thought I was giving him a tip and thanked me for it.

At 11:00 AM we got picked up by our guide Innocence, we had scheduled him to take us to a local village. I wanted to compare the villages in Zimbabwe to our village in Botswana. The village we visited was 10 kilometers out of town. We stopped off at the local grocery and got some food staples, salt, sugar, corn meal, etc. to bring as gifts.

The village we visited was similar to my village before I had moved there over 6 years ago. The only electricity they had was very small solar panels, they used the solar panel to charge cell phones. Besides the solar panels and cell phones, there was no other electricity or electrical devices. They did have a few bore hole wells, for water, but the pumps were all manual. There was no sanitation what so ever, they thought the world was their bathroom.

The first family we visited were 4 siblings, an older brother and sister and their 2 younger brothers. They grow all their own crops and had chickens for eggs. About 50% of the children are orphans in this village, the main cause of death of the parents is AIDS.

The huts are of mud and wood construction, with thatched roofs.

The second family was a mother and father and their children along with some of the children's friends. The father was an artist. While we were there he was painting some art work on the outside walls of the main hut.

The last family we visited was a grandmother and her granddaughter. The grandmother was weaving a straw basket, that she felt would take over a month to complete.

All three families were very gracious to show us their homes, and share their lives with us. The second family had chickens, but also had a few goats and cows.

They were all very appreciative of the food we brought.

After visiting the village we had Innocence, drop us off at the Victoria Falls Hotel. The Victoria Falls Hotel was the first hotel in Victoria Falls, it was originally a hostel for the workers building the railroad bridge over the Zambezi River, connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe. The hotel has come a long way since it's days as a hostel. A grand hotel, reminiscent of the days when Zimbabwe was a British Colony, with it large white pillars, and grand court yards. We had a very nice lunch at the hotel, while watching the falls in the distance.

After lunch we took a walk down to the falls to get a better look, we had been in Victoria Falls for three days now, and had not really taken a good look at the falls, one of the seven wonders of the world.

The falls are very long, wide, straight across, at the bottom of the falls the water flows into the narrow river. Being the winter time, and the dry season, the river is low, still the falls are very powerful. The views from the Zimbabwe side are breath taking. We spent an hour walking the falls taking in the views from many different angles.

We took a taxi from the falls back to the hotel, the fare for this ride was $15.00. During the ride the taxi was stopped for a random inspection he was sited and fined for bald tires and a smashed windshield. The fine was $5.00. We gave him $5.00 to cover the fine.

Day 7

Our hotel has a beautiful golf course so we decided to take a walk and check it out before we headed to the airport for our flight to Johannesburg. It was an interesting walk seeing, wart hogs, impalas and even a crocodile roam the fairways of the golf course.

Our flight to Johannesburg was uneventful. We decided to get a hotel at the airport, we would be heading back home tomorrow but had nothing planed for the night.

Day 8

Margarite had a flight out back to the states at 9:00 PM and I was heading on a flight to Botswana a little after that. We had to pick the bikes up from De Wet's house sometime during the day but did not have a set schedule.

We decided to visit Constitution Hill, Constitution Hill is currently where the Constitution Court is located. The Constitution Court is similar to the Supreme Court in the United States. The location of Constitution Hill was originally a prison that housed both criminals and political prisoners, one prison for men and another for women. The tour was very enlightening as to how brutal the South African prison system was to it's people, some of which the only crime they committed was being black.

The location to build the Constitution Court on the grounds of the prison, was so the dark past will always be a reminder for the future.

After our tour we had lunch with De Wet and his wife and picked our bikes up. Remember 31 days ago we arrived in South Africa for the Tour De Tuli.

Margarite took off for New York, she has some work to finish at the United Nations, I headed back to Botswana.

I have a feeling I will be announcing some big news about my village in Botswana in the next few weeks.





Monday, October 1, 2012

Cape Town, South Africa August 2012

All Pictures are at the bottom of the post

Flying to Cape Town from Johannesburg, the plan is to spend a week in the area touring and exploring. If all goes well we will be having a late lunch when we arrive with Theo Pauw, one of our teammates from the Tour de Tuli.

We arrived in Cape Town at 11:15 AM, we found a taxi that agreed to shuttle us to several stops for 8 ZAR (1 U.S. dollar). We had to pick our apartment key up at the property managers office, Stop 1. Next, we dropped our bags off at our apartment, which is in the Icon building, located between the water front and the central business district, part of the city bowl, Stop 2. We got a great deal on the apartment as there had been a couple of murders recently so rents were lowered.

Stop 3 is the Old Biscuit Mill,located in the Woodstock section of Cape Town. The Old Biscuit Mill is a revitalization project that Theo along with a few investors have been working on for the past 7 years. They have created a mixed use, both retail, and office from old industrial buildings. Most of the business are small privately owned and geared toward the creative side of the brain. Currently a big project going on is the renovation for a brand new University in the Old Biscuit Mill.

We had lunch at The Test Kitchen,one of Theo's partners joined us, Francisca (Fran), she will be the CEO/DEAN a new University, which is called "Cape Town Creative Academy" it will be opening in 2013. During lunch Theo explained what there was to do and see in the Cape Town area, he also gave us a list of some restaurants to try. After our three hour lunch and several bottles of wine we took our trusty taxi back to our apartment.

Once at our apartment we realized we needed to do some food shopping. One cool thing about staying in an apartment compared to a hotel is you get to see how the locals live. The first order of business find a grocery store. There was some retail space in our apartment building, which included a gourmet grocery, this would be our back up plan for food.

We ventured out on to the streets of Cape Town, we had been told by Americans, that Cape Town was not a safe walking town, Theo felt even though there was a lot of community policing it was best to stay on main streets.

As we walked we asked where a grocery might be. We were directed to a Pick & Pay. It was 5:25 PM, the store was pure chaos. We found out a lot of people shop on there way home from work. The quality of the food had a bit to be desired so we got some staples (not the ones in my leg) and bid farewell to the Pick & Pay.

On our return to our apartment we stopped at the Gourmet Market for salads and snacks. We had an early start to the day with a late lunch so dinner would be some light food in our apartment.

Day 2

Exploring Cape Town - we headed over to the Water Front, we wanted to take the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus to get the lay of the land. Most major cities have these buses, we discovered them in Istanbul, and found it was a quick way to learn a city.

The water front was a mix of industrial ship and fish factories, interlaced with shops, restaurants, craft markets, as well as tourist attractions such as an aquarium. We were told the designers of the Cape Town Water Front, visited the San Francisco Wharf, and Sydney Harbor for their inspiration, but I felt it resembled the Baltimore Inner Harbor the most. On our walk we saw a sea lion doing a little ballet in the Harbor.

We took the Red-Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, the tour covered most of the city, including Table Mountain, and many of the beach communities.

It is winter time in Cape Town, which means cold, rainy, foggy weather. It was nice to see some clouds and rain on our arrival after 3 weeks of the most pure blue skies during the day, and unbelievable star filled skies at night.

We must be very lucky as we woke up to rain, which quickly cleared for the open air bus ride, it poured again during lunch, and then the sun returned as soon as we were through and ventured back outside.

Our next stop was a tour of Robben Island, NOT, there were signs saying the tour was sold out until the 25th of August. Robben Island is an island 10 kilometers off the coast of Cape Town which housed many political prisoners including Nelson Mandela. The prison and Island are now a museum.

We inquired at the ticket counter and explained we would be leaving Cape Town on the 22nd of August, they explained the had a cancellation and we could take the tour on Sunday at 10:00 AM.

Change of plans, instead of Robben Island we would visit the Jewish Museum and Holocaust Museum. Many Jew immigrated to South Africa (Cape Town) in the early 1900's, many migrated inland when gold and diamonds were discovered in the interior of South Africa. During the dark era of Apartheid, the Jews took the side of the black minority, many time being actively involved in the both peaceful and not so peaceful demonstrations. When blacks were prosecuted only Jewish lawyers were willing to defend them. There was some hypocrisy to this as many Jewish mine owners exploited the black miners during Apartheid.

I would highly recommend both the Jewish and Holocaust Museum as a must see when in Cape Town.

It was 5:00 PM when we completed the museums, we decided to walk through the Company Gardens,these gardens were created by the Dutch East Indian Shipping Company to supply vegetables to the passing ships. They have since been converted to beautiful flower gardens, including a large raised garden. Being it was winter time the gardens were very nice, but clearly did not show off their true beauty. There was a large statue of Jan Smut an early General and Prime-minister of South Africa. After a full day of touring we were tired and decided another dinner of snacks in the apartment. One of these days we will try one of the restaurants Theo recommended.

Day 3

We woke up to just a beautiful morning. Sunny with just a little haze, 50 degrees Fahrenheit and climbing. It is hard to believe it is winter. We decided since it was such a beautiful day we would hike Table Mountain. Table Mountain is a mountain that forms the back drop of Cape Town. Table Mountain is flat at the top, causing it to resemble a giant table. We were not sure of the route to climb the mountain, but figured it must be near the base. We left our apartment and headed up Lower Long Street, to Long Street, to Upper Long Street, during this walk we slowly rose from sea level to a few hundred feet above sea level. At the end of Upper Long we followed the windy road that lead to the cable tram building about midway up the mountain. At this point the traffic on the road was getting heavy and not so safe.

We found a dirt road we thought might be safer, there were lots of wild flowers on this road, a much better and more beautiful route. We followed this road for about a mile when we realized it was not going in the right direction, we were in fact heading back down the mountain. Margarite said she could see the road above us, and decided to bush whack a direct path. After many changes in direction, climbing rocks, crossing gullies, and getting scratched by a few sticker bushes we made it to the correct road. From the road we could see other hikers and the trail head for the path to the top of Table Mountain.

The sign at the trail head said two and a half hours to the top. This seemed a little crazy to us, we could see the top, though very steep, it did not appear to be very far away. Margarite asked another hiker how long the hike should take. His response, "I can do it in an hour and fifteen minutes, but I am very fit, most people take two to two and a half hours." I think this got Margarite's competitive juices flowing. The trail was a mix of very steep walking paths and large steps made from mismatched boulders. We started the hike at 11:00 AM and got to the top of the cable car tram at 12:00 PM. One hour exactly, crushing the other hikers time by 15 minutes. The hike up was just breath taking, as we climbed the morning haze burned off and the cityscape became clearer and clearer.

We decided to take the cable tram down to save time and get the full experience. Once back at the parking lot we found the dirt road we were on earlier and took it all the way down going through some very exclusive neighborhoods. Once back on Upper Long we stopped at one of the many boutique restaurants for a great well deserved lunch.

There was one museum left on our must do list, the Slave Museum. After lunch we headed over, about a mile walk from where we had lunch.

The Slave Museum / Salve Lodge is housed in a building that was originally the slave lodge. The Dutch India Company would house their slaves in this building. The museum was 10% about the slave history of South Africa, one of the most interesting facts was that almost all of the slaves in South Africa, were imported from other places. The other 90% of the museum was dedicated to South Africa history, interesting stuff, but most of it we had seen at other museums. For this reason I would not recommend the Slave Museum.

We decided tonight was the night to try one of Theo's recommendations for dinner. Margarite was in the mood for Sushi, with 90% of the fish consumed in South Africa coming from Cape Town we figured this is the town, Theo had recommended Wakame for Sushi. It was just perfect some of the freshest sushi we had ever had. Our waiter, Sinbad was over the top great, even making sure we had a cab home after dinner.

We had planned to walk, to dinner and from dinner, but our hotel security felt it would not be safe. While we have had no issues with crime, beside your normal pan handlers, we heeded the guards advice and took a taxi. I think the guards are on edge with the recent murders in the building.

Day 4

Another gorgeous day. Theo had laid out a few day trips we should take. One was to the Cape of Good Hope, he recommended doing this on a clear day. I got a car from Avis and we were off, ALMOST!

It was Saturday morning, and we remembered that The Old Biscuit Mill had it's organic market on Saturday mornings so we headed over to the market. What a great market, about 10% crafts, 50% prepared foods, from pizza, to smoothies, and 40% fresh foods, from olives, to fresh fruits. The quality and choices were fantastic. Everybody offered samples so I had a second breakfast made up of free samples.

After the market we were on our way to the Cape of Good Hope. We headed down the West Coast passing some of the most expensive houses lining the coast of Cape Town (Gold Coast). The waves and ocean were crystal clear with the bright sunshine overhead. We stopped a few times to take pictures.

We stopped at a small fishing village, Hout Bay. Many that work in Cape Town call Hout Bay home. We walked around the wharf area, before continuing our trek to the Cape of Good Hope.

From Hout Bay we went over Chapmans Peak, a beautiful cliff side drive along the coast with great views, I highly recommend this route.

Once at the Cape we hiked out to Cape Point this is the location of the light house and also the most Western and Southern part of Africa. As we faced South to our right was Cape of Good Hope, which is the most Eastern Southern point of Africa. Some people think this is where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, this is not correct, they meet further north and east of this Cape.

We left the Cape and headed up the East side of the peninsula. We stopped at a small roadside Restaurant in Scarbough for a late lunch.

Our next stop was to see the African Penguins, we were not certain where they could be viewed, fortunately there were signs for Boulder Park and the Penguin viewing area. The area was just south of the town of Simon. Watching the Penguins play on the beach and swim in the ocean was very entertaining. It was getting late so we continued north back into Cape Town.

We have a big day tomorrow so it is early to bed.

Day 5

Today we will tour Robben Island. Robbins Island is 10 kilometers off the coast of Cape Town. Robben Island was originally a leopard colony, after which it was changed to a prison, both for criminals and political dissidents. Robben Island got it's name from the Dutch. In Dutch robben means seal, there are a lot of seals on Robben Island.

The weather was overcast with a little rain, perfect atmosphere for today's tour. We took a ferry out to the Island, the tour started with a bus ride around the island, during it's peak Robben Island had about 1,000 residents to support the prison, there is a small town on the island that is not part of the prison. Currently 300 people live on the island these are people that support the museum. After the tour of the island we took the Prison tour. Our guide for the prison was an ex-inmate (political prisoner). This made the tour very real, when our guide explained what happened in the prison he was talking from experience. Robben Island was were Nelson Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years of his imprisonment. Our Tour Guide served a 7 year sentence on Robben Island.

He explained a little of his history, it started in 1979 when he was 19, just a year older than me. He joined the ANC (African National Congress) to help fight the Apartheid government. His journey took him to Angola for some training, traveling through Botswana. He was eventually arrested for not carrying his pass-book. During Apartheid all blacks had to carry a passbook (like a passport) at all times, if you were black and you were found without your passbook, you were sentenced to 6 months in prison without a trial. After the 6 months our guide was charged with leaving and entering the country illegally. This was why he was sentenced to the 7 years on Robben Island.

We got to see where the prisoners lived, the less important prisoners lived in group cells where they had to sleep on the floor. The quality of food was set depending on their race with the blacks getting the worst foods. If you were of some status, you had your own cell still sleeping on the cement floor. The cell was barely large enough for a person to lay down in.

The prisoners were forced to work in a quarry on the island. There was a small cave in this quarry and the prisoners would hide in the cave and hold classes. The educated prisoners would teach the less educated prisoners. This way the prisoners would come out of prison better educated then when they went in.

All communications from the outside world with the prisoners was censored, sometimes a letter would only have the greeting and the salutation, with the entire contents of the letter removed.

Hearing the stories being told by a person only one year older than me, that lived through this torture, really had an impact.

After Robben Island, we headed to Hout Bay, Theo's friend and business partner Francisca (Fran) Gebert recently moved to Hout Bay and she invited us for a visit. Her house was built into the hillside of Hout Bay, giving great panoramic views of the ocean, beaches, and opposite hill side.

As I mentioned Fran is in the process of opening an Academy in Cape Town, the name is Cape Town Creative Academy. The Academy will be opening in January 2013. We are very excited for Fran. We had a great visit catching up, and talking about a lot of the cultural history of South Africa. What a great time.

Day 6

A lot of people think that the Cape of Good Hope is where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, but this is not true. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet at the Cape of Hangklip. Today that is our destination. We drove 60 kilometers east out of Cape Town on the N2, then headed southeast toward Gordon's Bay. We followed this road all the way to the Cape of Hangklip. The road follows the cliff lined coast. Once at Hangklip we hiked out to the point where the oceans meet.

After our short hike we continued our drive to Hermanus. The route we followed is known as the coastal whale route, as this is the routes that the migrating whales are known to take when they migrate from the cold waters of Antarctica to the warmer waters of South Africa.

Hermanus was originally a large fishing village, it is now a well known beach vacation destination with great restaurants and shops. We toured a few of the museums, Harbor, Photo, and Whale Museum. After the museums we had a nice lunch.

From Hermanus we headed back to Cape Town taking the inland route crossing the mountains via the Sir Lowrey Pass with it's incredible views.

Tonight will be dining out . We went to a restaurant called Planet, in the Mount Nelson Hotel. It was a fantastic experience. Our host Emanuel, recently graduated from the local hospitality university. Emanuel could not have been more accommodating to Margarite's food allergies. The food from appetizer to dessert was a 15 on a scale of 1 to 10. The decor was elegant yet casual, well lit, and very comfortable.

What a great experience, one of the best restaurants I have ever been to.

Day 7

This is our last full day in Cape Town, the day looks as if will be rainy or at least overcast. On our agenda today is Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, and the wine country.

Kirstenbosch is a fantastic botanical garden. The focus of the gardens is indigenous plants of South Africa. Built into the northern base of Table Mountain. The paths of the gardens serpentine up and down the side of the mountain. Each section had very descriptive explanations of the importance of the types of plants and their effect on the eco-system of South Africa.

They even had a section on weeds, and how plants in one part of the word could be weeds in another part of the world, creating havoc on the environment. It was overcast and raining when we arrived at the gardens, but about halfway through our visit the clouds cleared and the sun came out.

From Kirstenbosch we headed north west to the wine lands, both Margarite and I are huge wine drinkers and this was a very important part of our trip. There are two major villages for wine in South Africa, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. In our quest to find the perfect South African wine we first headed to Stellenbosch. The drive was just great passing vineyard after vineyard of perfectly manicured grape vines.

As we entered Stellenbosch we noticed the fuel gage on our car was below empty. We all know wine is a fuel, but not for our little car, so the search for a petrol station was on. After we fueled the car we forgot all about our search for the perfect wine and headed for Franschhoek as it was getting close to lunch time and we had been given some restaurant recommendations in Franschhoek. It was beautiful drive from Stellenbosch to Franschhoek. The village of Franschhoek is cute with many restaurants and craft shops. We had a very nice meal at Rueben's.

On the drive home, about 20 kilometers from Cape Town the skies opened up and the rain started again, that is when we remembered our quest for the finest wine. It was getting late so we continued into Cape Town and returned the rental car, no wine for us.

We had dinner at Roberto's a restaurant just a few blocks up from our apartment on Long Street. The Chef was originally from Portugal and the food was influenced by his heritage. What a lovely place.

Tomorrow we take the Blue Train to Pretoria for our next adventure.