Cape Town, South Africa
Now I'm on my own in wonderful Cape Town. Glorious weather, fantastic restaurants and bars, (ostrich, thick tenderloin steaks, sea food and so on) very cheap, laid back, amazing beaches, mountains, vineyards; it’s one of the great cosmopolitan cities. The must see is the iconic giant mesa that is Table Mountain, although you can’t really miss it, as it provides the backdrop, protecting the Mother City. Strangely, photos don’t do it justice. Before the truckies depart we take the cable cars to the mountain’s flat top, for 360 degree views of the city, the numerous beaches, the busy harbour and Robben Island, the infamous prison that once held Nelson Mandela. There is an option to abseil down, but I think not.
As if the magic city itself isn’t enough, the Cape Peninsula offers a host of attractions. Past the brightly painted facades bathing boxes of Fish Hoek south to the Cape of Good Hope, which sadly, is not the southernmost tip of Africa after all. Antelope are grazing peacefully on the slopes here. The black and white beaches, on closer inspection are white sand, jam-packed with penguins waddling and turning somersaults in the water.
The truckies leave, but I’m not yet alone. I have a great little hotel on the beach at Bantry Bay and a hire car. I eat kingfish and chips by the harbour, along with the seals and a Pretorian called Johannes. And I still have other companions lined up. A South African friend has put me in touch with Ann Gail and Chris.
Ann Gail has a delightfully old fashioned town house and three cats, Sebastian, Sobranie and Tai-Lu, each with their own feeding bowl and scratching post.
Around Cape Town
To the east it’s an easy journey to the picturesque Winelands destinations, such as Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek. Ann Gail works in Paarl and provides a tour of the very modern and efficient, steel drummed wine estate. Picture perfect green and white colonial mansions, clapboard houses and cottage gardens. I’m aware I’m beginning to sound like a travel advert - it’s all so gorgeous, but the townships sprawling each side of the main highway are a sobering counterpoint. I’ve been warned to watch out for objects being thrown from the bridges. In fact I’ve been told by numerous people that I’m mad to even contemplate travelling round South Africa on my own. There have been countless media stories in the UK about tourists here being attacked and robbed, or worse.
Chris, originally South African and visiting his family for Christmas provides holiday romance. We spend two weeks around the city sampling its afro-chic delights and its numerous beautiful beaches before driving out for afew days at at Hermanus, a prime whale-watching location. It’s not whale season but I am lucky enough to catch a mother and calf motor past. The sea is stunningly azure, and inviting, but it's deceptive, the Atlantic currents are numbingly cold,
Romance number one fairly predictably bites the dust, as it transpires that Chris has been entertaining ‘an old friend from England’ in-between seeing me, and forgetting to tell me about her. ‘But it was a prior engagement so of course I felt obliged to sleep with her’. Ann Gail takes me to the cricket grounds, Concerts, the IMAX (suitably, the Lion King) and a New Year’s Eve concert in the Kirstenbosch Gardens. I wind a few South Africans up talking about rugby but duck if they mention cricket. And then depart gorgeous Cape Town for Lesotho.
My journey back to Zululand from Lesotho is far too eventful. The starter batteries on the much-too-little-prop-plane are refusing to comply. The pilot eventually announces that he will start the left one manually. This all sounds much too dangerous to me, but we make it to Jo’ burg, though very late. There is a stroke inducing transfer to my next plane and I get bundled into business class (not all bad) and arrive in Durban to find that whilst I’m there my luggage isn’t.
So, another late start in a hired VW. Maybe I am mad, driving in South Africa, on my own. It’s raining (again), and I’m fumbling with the map, along the Durban Highway and into mountain wilderness, 12 kilometres down a dirt road hill composed almost entirely of one foot deep mud. Over a rumble strip and the radio jolts. It’s dead. And the right windscreen wiper is stuck in middle of screen. Why the right one? Dusk fades into dark, and the cell phone signal disappears too. There is nothing moving in the African bush. Am I glad or not? Finally, slithering downhill to discover my isolated Zululand lodge. Survive! Luggage arrives. All’s well.
A thirty five year old American bond broker, pleasant face, six two (not bad then), girlfriend (um), Brian shares wine and jokes. Would I like to tour the battle fields with him tomorrow? It’ll save me driving.
Rorke's Drift is really interesting with its tiny church and museum. It’s even more entertaining trying to imagine Stanley and Michael re-enacting their scenes from the epic film Zulu. Over picnic lunch and in the car my chauffeur reveals his philosophies and dating etiquette. He is not in love with his girlfriend. Well he's not sure. They now live apart. She comes from Essex but is called Antonia, not Tracey. Dating in England is so much more complex than the States. In the UK girls put out quickly, you shag someone and then decide if you like them. In the States you have sex on the fifth date. If you're lucky the third. You might compromise on the fourth, but definitely the fifth. After that you're going steady. However, girls who have sex on a first date are sluts.
Back at the Lodge we drink champagne and giggle in the garden. Dinner is even louder.
“You're welcome to crash in my room tonight” Brian offers magnanimously. I decline (graciously of course).
“I don't do one night stands.”
He escorts me to my room. A slightly undignified fumble while I reinforce my answer. He departs muttering:
“Well a guy has to try doesn't he? “
“A case of too much information.”
As I’m drifting off my cell phone beeps.
DBL BED IN MY ROOM. THINK ABOUT IT.
The age of romance is not dead.
Brian departs, and I spend a lazy day by the pool, temporarily the only guest) and walking, escorted by three dogs and a pig. in between our slow ambles they manage to stampede a herd of cattle, and chase a troupe of monkeys. And then there's a lot more to visit. More battlefields, round hutted Zulu villages (the Valley of the Kings no less) and there’s a small private Game Park to see too. It's spring, so it’s full of lovely babies- impala, warthogs, and wobbly giraffes blinking in the grass.
Through velvety hills to Uhmlanga, north of Durban. I'd hoped for some beach time, but I haven't chosen my spot very well. The beach is disappointingly dirty and the roads are full of hitchhikers wandering all over the inside lanes. My bed and breakfast establishment is decidedly seedy. The fridge smells and I can't work out how to tun the TV off. So I turn the sound right down and put a towel over it.
Garden Route, South Africa
My epic South African journey ends with another iconic African destination. My car and I meander along the Garden Route, working my way back along the coast from Port Elisabeth to Cape Town. More stunning scenery from the thatched cottages of St Francis Bay, to Jeffries Bay with its Disneyesque bridge, to the tourist mecca that is Plettenberg Bay, the oyster bars of Knysna, and the aptly named Wilderness, with its beautiful Otter Trail, along the edge of the wild seashore, past the Storm River and a terrifying suspension bridge. I’m writing this overlooking the most amazing huge sandy beach, at Sedgefield. Here there's the Kingfisher Trail to tackle. I had calamari and crayfish by candlelight on the beach last night. And now it's time to go home.