This edition of Hello from… takes us to South Africa. Where Denise had a chance to learn to play the djembe, try vet kook in Cape Town and road trip up the coast with friends. You’re going to love this post!
What was the first thing you did once you arrived in Cape Town?
The first thing I did when I arrived in Cape Town was meet up with my friend from Saudi who picked me up from the airport. The best thing about this trip and my trip to India was that I was there with people who knew the country and the area where I was visiting. My experience was 60% tourist and 40% following people who were actual natives of the place. I had genuine tour guides that gave me an incredibly enriching experience because I got a socio-political perspective of South Africa and Cape Town in particular, as well as the view of a typical tourist.
You learned to play drums when you visited the Gold Restaurant. What was your favorite part of the experience?
My favorite part of learning to play a djembe was hearing the whole lot of us playing together. I have a ‘thing’ for drums. I always have. So, this activity was right up my alley. Our teacher was hilarious. He would give you a look if you went off beat or if you were early or late hitting the drum. He did it in such a way that you would at yourself. By the end of the thirty-minute lesson we could all drum on beat and it was cool to hear about 50 people drumming together in unison. It made a powerful sound. Again, I love drums.
What was the first traditional South African dish you tried?
The first traditional South African dish I tried was a vet koek (pronounced vette kook). It was a small deep fried bun that looked like a doughnut with the jelly in the middle but instead of jelly there was a ground beef mixture. Basically a more flavorful sloppy Joe filling in a closed bun of fried dough. It was absolutely divine. I mean seriously. I only had one. I couldn’t do it to myself and have more than that.
Tell me about your visit to the Boulders Beach Penguins Sanctuary.
My first few days in South Africa were spent with my friend and colleague, Liz and her sisters. It was their idea to take me to see the penguins. I didn’t even know that penguins lived in Africa. I’d never seen a real live penguin so I was excited. Penguins are very cute but what I didn’t realize is how pungent those little creatures could be. Let’s just say that you smelled them before you saw them. The smell wasn’t unbearable and after a while you’re so busy watching the penguins that you don’t even notice it anymore. I liked the sanctuary because you got a chance to see the animals without disturbing them. Liz was telling me that years back people were able to go to this section of the beach and actually swim with the penguins. It’s not like that now, you can’t get very close at all, but it’s still worth a visit. They have people on hand to tell you about the penguins, the sanctuary and how the animals are treated as well as to answer your questions. The penguins pretty much ignore you so when I got a selfie with one penguin raising its flippers like it was saying hello, I thought it was particularly cool.
What was like it road tripping up the coast?
It was just gorgeous. There were fragrant yellow flowers in bloom, picturesque countryside’s, and grazing livestock. I can’t express enough how beautiful it was.
Did you rent a car or take other transportation?
I took other transportation. From my fourth day in South Africa to the end of my trip I was with my other friend and colleague, Zayaan (There are a lot of people from South Africa working at my university in Saudi). The road trip was with her and her family. There were eleven of us and we caravanned up the coast in three cars making frequent stops to shop and sightsee. When I wasn’t sleeping (we were up super early) I was dancing to the music the car, having good conversation, or snapping pictures of the landscapes we passed. The trip was between 5 and 6 hours of actual driving time depending on traffic. Cars in South Africa have their steering wheels on the right side and they drive on the left side of the road. So, if that’s not a driving scenario you’re used to I would not advise driving in South Africa.
Would you recommend the Pine Lake Marina Resort?
I would definitely recommend a visit to Pine Lake. Keep in mind that South Africa is below the Equator. Therefore our summer is their winter. Though the area was pretty chilly there were many activities to do at and around the resort. At the resort they had sports, billiards, a spa, swimming, paddle boating and areas where guests could bring their own equipment for water sports. Pine Lake Resort is conveniently located about 20 minutes from Knysna, 4 hours from Port Elizabeth and right off its property there is a quaint small town with quirky shops that close early and a wonderful coffee house called Nibbles that stays open until a reasonable time. Go! You’ll have a blast.
So jealous of your visit to the Knysna Elephant Sanctuary and Knysna Heads…
Tell me about your favorite part of the experience. Elephants are my favorite animals. This was my first time seeing them in real life and I find they are just the epitome of cool. Elephants are fun to be around because they have these humorous personalities but at the same time you just know this is an elephant and he’s cool but be nice because he’s an elephant and he is HUGE. Like, I knew they were big to begin with but knowing is one thing, seeing and feeling is quite another. My favorite part of the experience was being in their space. I got to feed them and touch them. Walking next to an elephant is almost reverential because here is this huge beast and you’re walking beside it with absolutely no fear but you respect the fact that it can crush you in a heartbeat. Yeah, elephants are awesome.
What did you love the most about Cape Town?
What I loved most about Cape Town was its extreme beauty. Don’t get me wrong; there is poverty, rampant crime and real, tangible remnants of the apartheid era. However, this country, this town, has a beauty like no other. I have been to a lot of places and never have I been to a more stunning place than Cape Town. Everywhere you look there is something to take a picture of. Mountains, beaches, wildlife, people, art- everything in Cape Town is a picture. Everything.
Out of all the places you visited during your trip, what did you love the most?
When you asked this question it really made me think. Traveling this summer has been amazing. It was especially nice to see my friends from home and spend time with them in different countries. But, seeing them also made me long for home more than I have since I’ve been away. I’m not really a person who does homesickness. I’ve lived on my own for years but never this far away from everyone I know and love. Realizing this, the places I loved the most in Cape Town were my friends’ houses. I enjoyed being in their homes and spending time with their families and I can’t wait to get back to my own.
For someone going to South Africa for the first time what are the must see sites?
My time in South Africa was mostly spent in Cape Town and Knysna. I can’t speak to must see places in the whole country of South Africa but the must see places in Cape Town are Table Mountain, The 12 Apostles, Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak, Cape Point (where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet but don’t mix), the waterfront, Bo Kaap, Gold Restaurant, Simons Town, Kalk Bay and any of the beaches. Also, keep an eye out for street art. It’s all over the place in Cape Town and you’ll be mad if you don’t take a photograph of each one. In Knysna I recommend the Elephant Sanctuary and The Heads. There is so much to do in South Africa it’s almost impossible to see it all in one trip. That just means you have to go back… This country is on my must revisit list for sure!
Thanks so much for sharing about your travels, Denise. Looking forward to your next adventure!
Note: All photos in this post are by Denise Winston.