A few years ago, back when I was in India, a friend of mine had gone on a safari trip to South Africa with her colleagues. Being a travel enthusiast, we had talked a lot about her experiences on the trip. She had been extremely excited about it and had told me tons of things about where all she had been and what all she had experienced. Once, in the middle of one of those one-way conversations, I had stopped her and asked her to rewind a second. What she had just said was that she had seen the Milky Way with her naked eyes in the middle of the night. That one thought blew my mind and, at that moment, I knew that I wanted to do the same one day. It took me three years, months of planning, some serious hurdles and 18 hours on flight to make that one dream come true. All these amazing thoughts and that sense of pride and satisfaction were going through my mind as I stood in the immigration line at Cape Town Airport. Someone tapped my shoulder and brought me back to reality. It was a huge lady dressed in airport security officials who randomly asked me for my passport in the middle of line. She gave me couple of odd looks and then it happened: “Sir, could you please come with me”, she said and I thought, “Welcome to South Africa, Mr Chhaparia”.
I had an incredibly hectic itinerary planned for this trip since I had decided to visit South Africa and the neighbouring islands of Madagascar and Mauritius within the two-week holiday. I don’t know what I was thinking when I had planned it but this was going to be one of the most hectic trips I had ever planned. Everything was planned to the T and there was no room for mistakes. Travelling in Europe is a different experience because one can predetermine what to expect and what is the max that can go wrong. This time, I had expanded my horizon to a whole new level. I had been warned about the security concerns in South Africa by everyone who knew anything about the country but none of their warnings had made me think twice about achieving my dream.
Cape Town was my first stop on this journey, and it turned out to be a ridiculously handsome city. I can’t recall anything which that city doesn’t have to offer. Mountains, beaches, wildlife, winery, adventure sports, diving, climbing; you name it and Cape Town has it. ‘Cape’, as the locals name the city, is a great city to start your adventure in before getting deeper into the country. Sheltered between the Table Bay and the Table Mountain, it’s the perfect rainbow city for the rainbow nation. The best time to visit the city is in October – November or February – March. There are a lot of local holidays in December and people from other cities like Johannesburg come to CT for holidays and the city is packed with locals.
Back to the Airport security room: I was waiting for my turn as the other similarly ‘randomly’ selected people. I was questioned for about an hour about my trip, my origin country and other unrelated questions which were all very new to me. Thankfully, I had been carrying all my travel papers and booking documents (Read more tips here) with me so I had no major difficulty. Looking at my itinerary, the immigration officer told me with a smile, “Sir, you are really brave if you are going to do all this alone.” Going with what I had heard about the security concerns in South Africa, I was able to make sense of why she would say so. I walked out of Cape Town Airport and headed directly to my hostel. I usually go for couch-surfing hosts but I wanted little change this time and decided to choose a hostel.
My hostel was called the ‘Ashanti Lodge’ (10 £ pp). It was extraordinarily clean and well located and I congratulated myself about the good decision. Being located right in the centre of the city with an in-house swimming pool (very uncommon in hostels), it was the perfect place to stay. The first thing that I did was to get a local sim card so that I could enable internet on my phone. Yes, it’s arguable about whether one should use much technology on a trip or not but being in a totally unexpected country I decided not to take chances. I got a local sim with 2 GB of internet data for 250 Rand (12 £), which would be enough for my 10-day trip in South Africa.
I had had a long flight and a really rough start at the airport but I freshened up by mid day and was ready to take on the city right away. I met a couch surfer, Astrid in the city. She was visiting from Istanbul and would be travelling in the city for the next few days. She told me about this place called the ‘Old Biscuit Factory’ in Woodstock Street. It was an old factory now converted into a flea market and food junction. The place was quite upbeat even during mid day and was flooded with people. We walked around and managed to secure a place to eat something before we left. That is where I got to try out the infamous ‘Rooibos Ice tea’ of SA (cost 20 rand i.e. 1£). Astrid was carrying a French guide book with her and had told me about this special tea, so it was nice to finally have it. Astrid moved into the same hostel as me that evening and together we planned a guided tour of the city coast. (I will talk about it in my next post.)
They say that in Cape Town, you don’t get to decide what you will be doing for the day but it’s the wind which decides. Whenever the coastal winds get high, the entire city comes to a stop. All the activities and major tourist attractions come to a striking halt. I visited the famous colourful houses of ‘Bo Kaap’ in the city. I wanted to trek the famous Table Mountain but due to the lack of time and me being a little tired, I decided to take the cable car to the top of the table mountain with another couch Surfer friend from Austria, Joyce. We had had a few discussions on CS before the trip and met up in the city to go to the mountain. The cable car ticket was about 240 rand (12£) both ways. I have been on many cable cars in my life but this was by far, the most different experience. It felt as if I was watching a film. We reached the top and the view was just too good to be put into words. I have included the pictures of that view in this post to do some justice to what I saw from up there. I was standing on the top of the world and it was one of the most thrilling experiences in my life. The wind was unstoppable and we couldn’t get enough of the stunning scenery from up there. Half the mountain was covered in clouds, making things very interesting. Joyce decided to stay there to witness the sunset but I was tired after the long day and came down. I decided to go back and rest in the hostel as the next day was going to be very long.
As far as the transportation within the city is concerned, Uber was a life saver. It was cheap and very safe to travel in. The drivers were kind enough to give us tips about the places to go and areas to avoid. Uber in South Africa does not accept cash payment so make sure that your card is working when you plan to visit South Africa. My first day in the city was very productive. Covering the famous Table Mountain was a major tick off my checklist. I have a lot of memories and information from my trip which I will be sharing with everyone so stay tuned and let the wild adventures begin.