Jan 21 – Feb 11, 2020
If you want to jump to the motorcycle stuff, skip ahead to “Day 1”
January 21-22 – Tuesday & Wednesday
Lifetime milestones. We all have them, although we don’t always manage to properly celebrate them. Last year, my husband Dan thoughtfully brought up the fact that 2020 would be “a big birthday year!” for me, and if I wanted to, I could plan something special. Taking the cue, I arranged for a two week guided motorcycle tour through South Africa.
Go big or stay home, right?
After intensive research, planning and reservations, it was finally time to go. Cat care had been arranged, our bags were packed, and it was time to head to the airport. Our “pile of bags” looked daunting: one checked bag was purely for our motorcycle gear (including boots), one checked bag was for our clothes, and then we each had a (not quite full) carry-on for our helmets and electronics. Honest: we normally travel much lighter!
The cats and cat sitters had been introduced and it was obvious that the cats wouldn’t miss us much at all
Our flight was an overnight, direct flight to Cape Town, putting us in South Africa at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am. Our hotel, the Onomo, had arranged someone to meet us at the airport and drive us the twenty kilometers to town. I was happy that someone else was driving us through the chaos of the morning commute. Cape Town city drivers are crazy! And the numerous shuttle vans had their own set of road rules, none of which resembled anything like anything I’d seen before – even in Mexico.
The chaos didn’t end when we reached Cape Town: our hotel was situated directly on Greenmarket Square where dozens of refugees had taken shelter near the Central Methodist Mission. Bypassing the haphazardly built cardboard and tarp shelters, we dragged our bags inside to the reception desk. I was immensely thankful that the hotel already had a room ready for us: I had been prepared (or at least expecting) to stash our bags with reception and then be tossed out immediately back onto the streets of the city.
The Onomo Hotel
A room with a view
Market stalls from above
What about the “motorcycle” part of this tour, you ask? That was yet to come! It was Wednesday morning and the tour didn’t start until Sunday. In planning this trip, I thought that it would be a nice treat to have a few days to explore the Cape Town region before we got on the motorcycles and started to explore the rest of the country. Besides, the airline’s schedule only had direct flights on certain days, so using this excuse, I managed to extend the entire holiday by a few days. Sneaky, but that’s an advantage to planning your own holiday trips.
* * *
After a comfortably long nap in our room, we headed out to see what Cape Town had to offer. We meandered around for a little bit, eventually coming across “The Company’s Garden”. The park, as it is now, was first built as a resupply point for the trade route that rounded the tip of Africa between Europe and the East. Ships sent by the Dutch East India Company would stop by after months at sea and stock up on fresh produce grown in the garden — hence, “The Company’s Garden”:
“Before the end of 1652, the land across the river was cultivated. Gradually the garden was shifted and extended towards the mountain. By 1660 it lay entirely to the west of the Fresh River. In the rectangle today formed by Adderley, Longmarket, St. George’s and Church Streets was the medicine-garden, occupying about 18 hectares of land. It must have coincided more or less with the lower part of the present gardens and was enclosed by a thick hedge of ash trees.
By 1670 the Town gradually began to take shape, expanding in the direction of Table Mountain, which affected the lower end of the Gardens. Up to 1679 the garden was used exclusively to supply the needs of visiting ships for fruit and vegetables, but the arrival of Simon van der Stel brought about a gradual change. The free burghers and the Company’s garden at Newlands now produced so much that the garden in the town was no longer essential as an orchard and vegetable garden. Consequently Simon van der Stel converted it into a botanical and ornamental garden, and Willem Adriaan van der Stel continued this policy.”
It was a beautiful park and a pleasant introduction to Cape Town.
Art near the entrance to The Company’s Garden
Big trees in the park
Table Mountain behind the clouds
There was no jet lag on this trip: Cape Town was only one hour ahead of Swiss time. But lunch time was upon us and we decided to find somewhere to fill our bellies. This search lead us along various streets and gave us a show of the variety of architecture. Because of the colonisation by the Dutch hundreds of years ago, many buildings had a distinctly northern European flair. In fact, I rather felt like I was in Amsterdam – minus the canals, of course.
Lunch was ok. We ended up eating a lot of fried foods, which was probably not the best choice. Even so, it was tasty and kept us going while we explored more of the city
Colorful hillside homes
We had explored “the city” side of the city. Now it was time to see what the waterfront area had in store for us. In planning this trip, I had considered getting our hotel on the waterfront, as that’s where the tourists generally congregate. But it is also just that reason that I chose the more “colorful” Greenmarket Square location. Not realizing, of course, just how colorful it would be.
The waterfront was a thirty minute walk in the opposite direction of The Company’s Garden, and we started walking!
Cape Town was much more modern than I had expected, with tall, clean sky scrapers that didn’t fit in with my preconceived notions. Not that I really had formed many notions before coming here. But the city felt “good”; I had the impression that its recent growth was continuing, and that there could be a positive future for the residents.
As we got near the waterfront, we reached a marina area that was full of very nice, very expensive looking homes. It was fascinating to see the complete variety of living conditions in such a small area.
The red “Clock Tower” from 1882
Seal of approval
Cape Town has gone through an extensive urban renewal, with the vast Victoria & Alfred Waterfront being the focal point. It is an extensive complex of outdoor spaces, museums, restaurants and attractions that makes it the most-visited region of South Africa. Dan and I were both impressed by the variety and quality of the businesses there, as well as the plethora of eating opportunities. I can see why this neighborhood is so popular.
We had barely scratched the surface of the waterfront region before heading back to our hotel for the evening. Uber was quite popular in the city and I was happy not have to walk the distance back to our hotel. It had been a very full – and long – first day in South Africa.
Some of the many refugee shelters put up around the market area
The Market outside our hotel clears out completely in the evening, only to be rebuilt every morning