Where in the world would you find a place where the mountains meet the ocean, where the pulsating beat of the drums makes you sway and nouvelle cuisines are prepared with a twist, the wines are world class, the air you breathe is fresh and clean and you can look above and actually see the stars, where nature and wildlife are all around, where heritage and modernity meld together and the countryside is stunningly beautiful – the only place that comes to mind is Cape Town.
Having worked with Unicef for a number of years, I have had the opportunity to visit South Africa on numerous occasions, and enjoyed working in a number of African countries, albeit sometimes in hairy situations. So when my husband informed me about the TIE Charter Member Retreat in Cape Town, I jumped at the opportunity of accompanying him on this trip. Cape Town to me is one of the best cities in the world! On all parameters (natural beauty, man-made structures, cleanliness, friendliness, music, food, dance and culture) it rates at the top.
The journey from Kolkata via Dubai to Cape Town was special when we flew over South Africa. Do take a window seat as the aerial scenery of the Ocean and the surrounding mountains is fabulous.
We lodged at the beautiful, luxurious and iconic Table Top Hotel which provides a vista to the famous Table Top Mountain from most of its rooms. The Hotel is also connected to the V&A Mall and Waterfront. The Mall has a section exclusively for African arts and crafts − ‘The Watershed’ which is a must if you are picking up any locally crafted products. Incidentally the Johannesburg Airport from where we departed has the best African product shop called Out of Africa which has a branch at the Waterfront too. Recommended buys are the painted Ostrich eggs, bronze figurines, aesthetically made dolls, ceramic plates, African masks, costume jewelry and much more. If you are interested in picking up the famous blue-hued Tanzanite jewelry, call Jewel Africa, which will provide you with safe transportation back to your hotel after your purchase.
With time on hand we spent a few hours walking through the Waterfront area. Stopping to hear the numerous bands busking along the water’s edge, some playing jazz, others singing modern show tunes in acapella and still others, dancing to local African beats. As you walk by, absorbing the profusion of sights and sounds, the wonderful aroma of the various cuisines on offer at the touristy restaurants wafts through assailing your olfactory senses. There is frenetic activity as people are constantly getting on and off boats which offer short tours as well as dinner-cruises, there are children playing with each other or taking the toy train rides through the area, people stopping to gawk at the spectacular ocean front. Having spent time walking through the area, window shopping at the Watershed, we headed back to our Hotel and to the evening’s activities.
TIE had organized an evening of song and African music preceded by a talk by the Mayor of Cape Town who spoke eloquently about the plethora of business opportunities which Cape Town offered, especially for start-ups in the area. A sit-down dinner at the Table Bay Hotel, accompanied with African musicians, rounded off the evening’s activities.
On the following day we had a fairly packed sight-seeing schedule and I accompanied a number of the TIE diehards and their wives, re-seeing the Cape Area and doing the touristy thing again.
Being the end of winter, August experiences some rainfall in the Cape Area and our day began with a chilling breeze and drizzle when we drove through the scenic route of curves and bends to Chapman’s Peak and arrived at Camp’s Bay. The view of the Twelve Apostles and the Lion’s Head is never tiring, and after spending a half-hour admiring the scenery we drove straight to Seal Island. The ship ride to the Island was choppy and windy and although we managed to get a good look at the seals basking in the sun, we did not stop here and once we docked on dry land we continued our journey to Cape Point, a world heritage site.
On route were the rugged mountains viewed through the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean with ostriches and zebras in the wild. The funicular to Cape Point saves those that do not want to climb up but the view from the old lighthouse is definitely worth it. Some cheeky baboons grabbed a soda from an unaware tourist and another came dangerously close to grabbing an elderly lady’s sweater. From here we drove onto the Cape of Good Hope: ‘The Most South-Western Point of the African Continent’ and a big photo-op for tourists.
Having had a good view of the Cape we proceeded along the coastal rode through Nature Preserve to Boulders Beach where a large group of African Penguins have made their home. The paths along the shore have been designed to enable humans to view the penguins without upsetting the natural habitat. By now we were all famished and were driven to The Greek Fisherman for a much needed-late lunch where we shared beers and a pre-fixe menu which included Tzatziki with caviar, hummus and bread, a spinach and cheese pie/calamari and fish combo, vegetarian moussaka and a Greek Orange and Yoghurt dessert. By the time we arrived back to our hotel it was already 6 pm and we had to exclude our trip to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in order to ready ourselves for the evening’s activities organized at the Gold Restaurant.
Gold’s, an African-themed restaurant provided the perfect venue for the evening’s activities which began with a wonderful interactive djembe drumming session which we all participated in. Following a few traditional and highly entertaining dances, we were left spell bound by a talk given by Nelson Mandela’s former secretary – Ms. Zelda Le Grange who shared her memories of her time spent with Mandela. She began by informing us that she was a ‘rascist’ herself when she went to interview for a position in Mandela’s office having been told by her father that the ‘terrorist’ Mandela was released from prison. However, after being with Mandela she soon evolved into a rationalist. The audience learnt of Mandela’ strong principles of what was appropriate behavior even as a Head of State and the loving and generous human being whom she served. When Mandela was about to be released from prison, his fellow inmates urged him to destroy the ‘whites’ to which his response was that then, we become exactly like them − those who we opposed our entire lives. Here was a man imprisoned for 27 years who showed not only great restraint but humanity even for his oppressors!
On the following day we spent the morning driving through Cape Town itself which is a delight as you will get to see the myriad forms of architecture. Historic Cape Town displays the styles of its colonial masters which include French, Dutch, German and Victorian styles where the buildings have been well-maintained and preserved. Driving through to other areas of the city, learning about the city’s history, you will also notice multi-colored structures more reflective of African panache particularly in the Malay Quarter.
The afternoon was spent on a half-day trip to Robben Island which is a must for all visitors to understand the sacrifices made by a number of South African ‘political prisoners’, the most famous being Mr. Nelson Mandela who spent 18 of his 27 years here. The small and confined spaces shared by the prisoners, their working conditions in the quarries and life in general are relayed well by former inmates. And yet, President Mandela had once mentioned to his shocked secretary that “sometimes I miss prison” just for the time it “afforded me to think!”
The final night in Cape Town was a black tie affair at the Westin Hotel ballroom which began with a TIE Awards Ceremony, followed by a sit down dinner accompanied by African songs and dances which culminated into a wild party where everyone got onto the dance floor dancing the night away to the bhangra beats of a leading DJ.
Other Highly Recommended Sights include: driving through the picturesque Garden Route to Stellenbosch (South Africa’s wine capital) and Franschoek (its gourmet capital), to spend a couple of days at the vineyards for a wine, cellar and cheese tasting tour at any one of their world-class estates. The Dutch established towns are excellent examples of well-preserved Cape Dutch architecture displaying beautiful manor homes and homesteads with high ceilings and white washed walls. We had done this on a previous trip and returned home with several bottles of some excellent wines.
The city is also famously known for Table Mountain, which has recently been named one of the world’s new seven wonders of nature. Taking a ride to the top of Table Mountain in the modern cable car allows for a breath-taking bird’s eye view of the city, beaches as well as geographic lay of the land.
If you are braver than most and would like a close encounter of the underwater kind – you can try your hand at diving with Great White Sharks in Gansbaai, an once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is a thrill without fear as it is a completely safe dive within a shark cage.
If you are going to visit one of the Game Reserves like we did with Kruger you need an additional 4-5 days there. However, if you do not have the time, a couple of days to nearby Inverdoorn Game Reserve then is a must. The Reserve offers luxury safari lodgings and a chance to experience seeing the Big Five – The African lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo and rhino, at close quarters.
Finally among the many other activities and sights, golf maniacs can take advantage of the world-class golf courses around the city as a number of the TIE delegates did.
A visit to Cape Town should be on everyone’s bucket list as this city never, ever disappoints one. Its natural beauty, foliage, game reserves, food, cultural activities, wines and people all make it a fabulous holiday destination.
Time of year to go: South Africa, with its sub-tropical climate, experiences almost 300 days of sunshine each year. The best time for outdoor activities is between late spring (around October/November) and beginning-autumn (late March/early June).
Where in the world would you find a place where the mountains meet the ocean, where the pulsating beat of the drums makes you sway and nouvelle cuisines are prepared with a twist, the wines are world class, the air you breathe is fresh and clean and you can look above and actually see the stars, where nature and wild
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