We have returned to Cape Town (Kaapstad in Afrikaans). We have definitely put our little Dutch knowledge to use. We even had to use it to find a garden (Tuin) yesterday.
I am sitting here in the Internet Cafe in Stellenbosch after a nice fish lunch. I love the calamari! We also saw the Vergelegen wine estate with lovely gardens. Just don't ask me how to pronounce it. We're heading on to Fransehhoek later this afternoon.
We have seen and experienced so much, I don't know where to start. A week ago we were still in Springbok. We spent a day in the Skilpad area of Namaqua National Park. Yes, it does mean tortoise and we actually did see one. We have seen several crossing the road both in Namaqualand and the West Coast National Park. It brings a whole new meaning to speed bump. To get to Skilpad, we traveled about an hour to Kamiskroon and then headed on a red dirt road for about 30km. We came over the hill and it was a carpet of gold. The area consisted of two 6KM trails and a circular 'Tourist road' for driving. We spent hours just meandering amid the flowers. There was a slight breeze and it was dizzying to watch the flowers swaying in the wind. We spent most of the day enjoying the vistas.
The next day we got up at the crack of dawn to met Piet, our guide and driver for a very long day trip to the Richtersveld National Park. We met him at 7am and climbed into his trusty Toyota Land Rover. The Richtersveld is located in the far Northestern board of South Africal along the Orange River bording Namibia. It is a series of Mountains with a unique landscape. A wide variety of plants grow only in this area. It is also a place of mystery and solitude. It took us 3 1/2 hours by tarred and dirt road to reach the park gate. Along the way we passed small villages and nomadic huts while flying along the dirt roads at 60mph.
Once in the park, the roads became rougher and Piet had to shift into 4-wheel drive. I was certain I'd be sore the next day from bumpy road but I wasn't. Soon we came across one of the rarest plants in SA, the halfman or Pachypodium namaquanum. These spiny tree-like succulents are topped with a rosette of leaves and eerily, they bend towards the north. They look like men in the shadows. The road got even rougher and rougher at times the Land Rover slowly crawled over the rocks. Around 2pm we made it to the Orange River and stopped. Piet provided a tasty lunch for us. We relaxed before heading on. Along the way, we saw huge clumps of Hoodia and Euphorbia succulents along the steep cliffs. It was also very hot and dry - in the mid 90's. As the shadows lengthened, the vistas became magical. We exited out over Helsgoot Pass (spelling?) which meand Hell's Gate. It lived up to its name. It was covered with a unique aloe which was burnt red by the intense sun and they looked like flames of fire in the setting sun. At 5:30 we left the park and started the long drive back to Springbok where we stumbled into bed after thanking Piet for a wonderful day.
Next we moved on to our next stop; Nieuwoudtville - the bulb capital of the world. Over 35-40% of the worlds geophytes (bulbs) are found in the area on the Bokkeveld plateau. We spent three nights at a wonderful farm guest house called De Lande. It is part of Papsuilsfontein Farm and it is run by Mariette Van Wyn who is a wonderful hostess. She made us feel so welcome and we quickly became friends. We spent the days searching for wild gladolias, sparaxis and other bulbs. Evenings were spent at dinner with the other guests. We also had a chance to get a tour by Neil MacGregor. He has become an ecological spokesperson and is very astute. Over the years he has been able to farm while respecting and conserving the natural flora. He is a true man of vision.
The weather turned and a hot dry wind blew from the North. It was over 90 degrees and we could see the flowers wilting fast.
Our time had come to an end and we headed back to Cape Town. The weather also changed and it was a rainy drive back. Quite a contrast from the day before. With George's good navigation, we found the Clarkia Guest Cottage; our home for the next 6 days.
Suzanne, the owner, gave us a quick tour. Then it was off to the Woolworth's, the local upscale supoermarket for supplies. We got breakfast makings and a pasta dinner. There were many prepacked meals similar to what can be found in Holland and England. The two different things are the supermarkets are often located in Malls and they don't seel beer or other liquor in the supermarket. You have to go to a liquor store for beer.
Our first day back in Cape Town was rainy. The streets in Cape Town and Newlands area are narrow and very stressful driving. Especially for someone not used to driving on the left. Add on wet streets and no ability to see the white line. But we made it out and drove to the Karoo Botanical Garden in sunny Worchester. We went through a tunnel and on the other side found baboons running across the freeway. Some just sat on the railings and looked at the mountains. We also stopped in Paarl for lunch and a wine tasting at Fairview. They are the makers of "Goats Do Roam" wines. They have several other labels and some very good wines. We also tasted some cheese also made at the winery including goat cheese. :)
Well, it is only a few more days in Cape Town. Tuesday we head for Namibia. We will be pulling out the shorts since the temps have been in the mid 30's (or upper 90 degrees!) in Windhoek. I'll try to check in but I'm not certain if I'll be able to get a chance in the desert. But who knows.