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Postcards from South Africa

South Africa is presenting us with some of the best things that travel can offer. It is giving us stunning beauty, adventurous expeditions, enriching encounters with people of very different backgrounds and most of all intellectual stimulation and debate within and among ourselves. We will not dwell on the last element, but will just say that given this country’s history, its current political, economic and cultural state, we are challenged by our beliefs, questioning our assumptions and learning more about this country and ourselves than we expected to.

Our journey is taking us to three destinations in the Republic of South Africa. The first, Richards Bay at the northern edge of the country’s Indian Ocean shoreline, is a young town on the edge of the Shaka Zulu homelands. We were fortunate to host a tour that took us to the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. Having come from Tsavo National Park in Kenya, we were not sure that anything could ever exceed that experience. While the jury may be out on which offered more animals, more close encounters, one thing for sure was that we all saw some spectacular sights, had close encounters with some of the continent’s most exciting and sought-after large animals, and we had just a genuinely wonderful day out.

Both of us got pictures of and experienced close up the somewhat more common though certainly most intimidating white rhino. Denise met and photographed the very rare black rhino.

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The rare black rhino.

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A white rhino cooling off in the water.

We had fun with the baboons, were just about close enough to have petted zebra and again nearly rubbed elbows with the most graceful and elegant animal on the plain — the giraffe.

Durban provided a very different experience. This is an older city. There’s a lot of history here. There is a total stone building downtown infrastructure from the 18th century. Durban also has a very beautiful and much appreciated botanical garden. The “Indian Market” was really a colorful and fun place for aficionados of curry and indigenous crafts.

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The Indian Market.

The local fish and meat market proved once again to be insightful into the riches of the land and sea.

Durban offered a long and elegant stretch of beach that tempted us to give up the tour, get out the beach blanket and work on the tan. Long, perfectly formed curls of surf provided endless opportunity for the locals to catch a ride.

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Durban had a lot to offer and we only had a day, so our overview of this city left us wishing for a warm sunny day in the future when we can catch a wave, enjoy some lunch and bask in the golden sunshine.

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Durban’s soccer stadium.

The third and final stop in South Africa was Cape Town. The city is located at the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, and the difference in water temperatures seems to cause a rather persistent and stiff wind. Upon our arrival at the harbor we were greeted by 40-knot winds. The authorities shut down the harbor for eight hours, and we sat and waited for the wind to die down.

In the meantime we were treated to beautiful views of the city and Table Mountain, which is long and flatter than imaginable, and we were treated to a beautiful golden sunset.

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Tabletop Mountain at dusk.

Eventually, we got in that evening and in the morning we set off exploring this wonderful city.

Our first stop was the Alfred and Victoria waterfront development. Here, like in a few other fortunate cities, old warehouses and working piers have been turned into an urban destination of leisure for both local and traveler alike.

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A tribute to the country’s Nobel Prize winners can be found at the waterfront.

It was somewhat reminiscent of San Francisco’s and a little of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor — there are interesting and unique African craft and art shops along with a collection of rather upscale mall stores that most North Americans would immediately recognize. In addition, there were some excellent eateries available including a Paulaner German Bierhaus, an interesting-looking Italian restaurant, a couple of “meat” specialty restaurants that serve local game and an upscale Belgian restaurant featuring Flemish specialties and beers.

South Africa is generally and relatively inexpensive. One U.S. dollar is worth nine South African rands and prices are often 30 to 50 percent less than you might expect in North America and Europe. Restaurants were always a real bargain. We looked at renting a car for a day and were astonished to find that prices at a familiar international brand started at US$20 for the day.

The first full day in Cape Town gave Denise the opportunity to take a private tour with two other guests during the afternoon. They toured down the coast through picturesque towns and dramatic coastlines to the farthest tip of South Africa, the Cape of Good Hope.

The national parklands leading to the very tip are stunning, with low bush and wind-swept horizons The sea churns as boulders rise above the spray. At the tip we shared the views with baboons, who seemed oblivious to both the stunning vistas and the people — unless you happened to have food on your person.

On the return we visited Boulder Beach and the home of the only colony of African penguins. To see these little creatures strutting along the beach was a treat. The ride back up to Cape Town was enhanced by the late afternoon and early evening sunlight as the vistas changed color and hue from moment to moment, becoming even more beautiful than the last time you looked. The day was exquisite. The only disappointment was a broken camera during this gorgeous photo opportunity afternoon.

The city itself is awash in color, history and variations. The hop-on hop-off bus gives one the opportunity to experience downtown, the cable car to Tabletop Mountain, which looms over you from most places in the city, as well as many museums and the still-vacant and silent District 6, which was home to black South Africans who were forced to move out by the government in the 1960s. The bus is a great way to get a feel for this beautiful city and then to decide where to go back and visit the next time, and indeed there are many places.

We spent the afternoon enjoying the views and the beauty of the city from the harbor front as we experienced the cuisine and fine beers and wines while reminiscing about our lovely two days and knowing we will return again.

Cape Town is a city of both great natural beauty and wonderful man-made venues for enjoyment and entertainment. Our last day in Cape Town coincided with the national election. There was much anticipation or resignation — depending on your point of view — but now as we’re a few days beyond, there were few or no surprises.

One of the really understated aspects of a Holland America Grand World Voyage is the special enrichment programs that are offered. In this program, distinguished thinkers and leaders of the time present timely information, essential history, and stimulating opinion about the destinations we visit. Lectures on this current voyage have given us much to mentally work with while on this journey and even more to take home with us as we head into our final leg.

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