We are back home from our whirlwind two week tour of South Africa! Sitting on the couch in a jet lag funk seems a good time to share some images and thoughts from our excursion. We saw, felt, and learned so much—some things we anticipated, and some we didn't. What shocked us the most was the palpable race and class rift, especially in Cape Town and the Western Cape. It was clear that even though it's been 22 years since the fall of apartheid, South Africa is still very much a divided country.
It's also a gorgeous one. I tried a new experiment on this trip and did not take my DSLR with me. We shot all of our photos on my Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and edited them in VSCO. The winter light down there had a perpetual golden quality to it that was a blast to work with. Even at high noon, the sun was so low that it felt like late afternoon, which led to some dramatic sunsets.
In general, South Africa was everything and also nothing at all like we expected.
Oh my goodness, Cape Town. We didn't spend nearly enough time there. After finally seeing Table Mountain firsthand, it was obvious why the city has a rep as one of the most naturally beautiful in the world.
We crammed a ton into three days. We strolled through the Bo Kaap, Cape Town's brightly painted, historically Muslim neighborhood; made friends with penguins on Boulders Beach; rode a tram to the top of Table Mountain; discovered dozens of exotic plants in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden; tasted local wine in Stellenbosch; and watched a sunset from the Cape of Good Hope. We also ate some really delicious food at Kloof Street House and Societi Bistro, where we tried ostrich for the first time and learned that the "rocket" we kept eating in our salads was actually arugula.
Even though we had so many other beautiful places in mind for the rest of the trip, it was super hard to leave Cape Town. We will absolutely be back there.
The 500 mile stretch of scenic road along the southernmost coast of Africa, from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, is apparently known as the Garden Route. We had no idea it was a thing until we started to plan this trip. In the summer the area is supposed to be crawling with beachgoers from Johannesburg and Cape Town, but since we were there in early winter, we shared most places with the locals.
We had little to no expectations about this part of the country, so it was great to just drive around and explore. The road took us to a national antelope park in Swellendam; a primate sanctuary in Plettenberg Bay; a long, gorgeous stretch of the Indian Ocean in Knysna; and a hillside trail through a jungle in Tsisikamma where we had a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a pack of baboons. (The highways are plastered with signs warning tourists how dangerous baboons are. So that was fun!)
We were blown away by the diversity of the plant life and wildlife all over the place, especially for the wintertime. Where someone in the U.S. might expect to see one kind of crow or pigeon, we saw a dozen varieties of similar birds, some bright blue, some bright yellow. The flowers were also gorgeous and plentiful. Must be why it's called the Garden Route!
Addo Elephant Park & Port Elizabeth
The last leg of our trip was one we most looked forward to. We camped out in a small hut for three nights inside Addo Elephant National Park, which was as awesome as it sounds. Every night a family of elephants would come drink at the waterhole just outside our door. During the day we were lucky to see so many of the 500+ native elephants that we lost count. We searched fruitlessly for lions, but we did find dozens of zebra, antelope, bontebok, buffalo, and warthog, plus some ostrich, vervet monkeys, caracal, fox, meerkat, hare, and even an owl while we were on a guided evening safari. It was the real life Lion King.
We closed out our travels in Port Elizabeth, an Eastern Cape city with a huge shipping port and a factory on every corner. PE was not highly recommended—the locals all joked that we couldn't be planning to stay for more than a day. Yes, the city had plainly high poverty levels and an industrial vibe, but it also had an unexpected beauty in its many beaches and nature reserve south of town, Cape Recife.
We are no closer to mastering the South African English accent than we were before we left—best comparison I can think of is mild Australian with a dash of British—but we did come back home with a new appreciation of life in the U.S. Most of our buildings are not in danger of falling down. We don't see a lot of people hitching rides on the side of the highway because there are no other means of transportation. And luckily, our current president isn't accused of corruption. (Side note: please do not vote for Trump.)
On another note, all of the people we met were super nice. They always encouraged us to come back, to bring our friends, and to support their country, which in our eyes, is unlike any other.