The Bettys Bay penguin colony, situated at Stony Point, is one of two mainland-based penguin colonies in Cape Town, South Africa. © Jean Robert
Originally published in January/February 2016
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At the far end of the world
Cape Town, on the southern coast of Africa, reminds a former Colorado resident of his old home, except for one thing—an ocean-sized infinity pool.
By Brendon Bosworth
If South African cities entered a beauty pageant, Cape Town would win without trying too hard. Framed by the majestic Table Mountain, rising above the point where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, the “mother city” is as photogenic as they come. But this town doesn’t rely just on its looks to stand apart.
After living in Boulder, Colo., for a few years, and spending time on Colorado’s Western Slope, I can see how my new hometown would appeal to Coloradans. One can easily hike or bike Table Mountain and afterward sip on beers from independent breweries in Cape Town restaurants unafraid to experiment with food and form.
What makes Cape Town home for me is something Colorado doesn’t have—an ocean that fluctuates between aquamarine and deep blue, and makes you feel like you’re at the end of the world.
There’s no more remote place on earth than a prison island, and that’s where I suggest visitors go first, for context.
As a child at school, I remember learning about the father of South Africa’s democracy, Nelson Mandela (“Madiba”) and the 18 years he spent as a political prisoner at Robben Island, just off the coast of Cape Town. As a child, 18 years seemed like eternity. As an adult it still does, especially after seeing the cold 8 x7 cell Madiba stayed in during his time at the former maximum-security prison.
To get to the prison, visitors ride an hour-long ferry and board blue buses that stop at historical points along the way, including the limestone quarry where prisoners once toiled in the hot sun. Our guide, Kgotso Ntsoelengoe, spent six years in jail on Robben Island. He talked about how Mandela and other influential members of the African National Congress used the prison as a “political school,” discussing the principles and policies that would guide the formation of democratic South Africa.
“What kept hope alive in this prison was the belief that freedom in our lifetime was possible,” Ntsoelengoe said.
In Cape Town, a larger-than-life mural of the former president adorns the Civic Centre, which houses municipal government offices. The building is not far from City Hall, where Mandela gave his first speech after being released from prison in 1990.
Cape Town’s graffiti artists have also paid tribute to the former president. One particularly impressive piece of art—a headshot of Mandela in shades of blue and black—stands outside Charly’s Bakery, a favorite spot for baked treats in the city’s eastern district. Written in red alongside it: “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.” Fitting words for Mandela, who was laid to rest in December 2013.
Art by night
Cape Town recently caught on to the idea of opening its art galleries late into the evening like Denver’s Santa Fe area does on “First Fridays.” But unlike the Mile High City, in Cape Town this happens on the first Thursdays of each month. The galleries stay open until 9 p.m.
On a Thursday night, I spent time at the contemporary Brundyn+ gallery to see Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda’s exhibition on the effects of colonialism on present-day Angola, the country north of South Africa’s northwestern neighbor Namibia. The show’s centerpiece was a photo collection based on a fictitious African NGO that gives aid to Europe, turning on its head the idea of Africa as a continent in constant need of charity from the Northern hemisphere.
Strolling down Church Street later in the evening, I noted how the city’s arts crowd has taken to the open street culture that “First Thursdays” promotes. Trendy hipsters flitted between the galleries, draining the last drops of complimentary wine from near empty bottles into foam cups. People congregated out on the street, where traders sold beaded jewelry beneath the glow of lights wrapped around trees, like Christmas lights.
Wine and history
Grapes are harvested at Delaire Graff Wine Estate atop Helshoogte Pass, near Stellenbosch, Cape Winelands (near Cape Town), South Africa. © Blaine Harrington III
Lovers of California’s Napa Valley will feel at home among Cape Town’s wine farms, most of which lie less than an hour out from the city. There are more than 200 wineries spread among the wine routes in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl. Driving through these areas, one weaves past farms that date back three centuries and maintain their classic Cape Dutch architecture—white-walled buildings with ornate gables and thatched roofs.
Like on Colorado’s Western slope, the wine regions bubble with festivals. One of the largest is a 10-day wine festival in the old-world town of Stellenbosch held in January, featuring top local restaurants and wineries. If there’s one thing I learned about living in Paonia during Cherry Days, it’s that folks on the Western Slope love a good street parade. Visitors from the Western Slope should then identify with the harvest parade in Stellenbosch that is replete with marching bands dressed in bright suits and tricked-out tractors.
Franschhoek is a small town that traces its heritage to the French Huguenots who fled persecution and arrived in the region at the end of the 17th century. My partner and I slipped into the timeless appeal of La Petite Ferme. Sitting at the restaurant’s balcony, overlooking the green lawn and not so distant mountains, we sipped on a crisp sauvignon blanc that awakened taste buds I never knew existed. Our Thai fishcake starter arrived, with the cakes atop a piquant orange sauce, garnished with a fresh cilantro and red onion mix. A spicy arrabbiata risotto, thick with Parmesan cheese, and a rich melanzane parmigiana followed for mains. Our late lunch stretched into early evening and we watched the sky turn pink from the lawn, lying on our backs on the soft grass, the sound of tables being set for dinner in the background.
Day tripping south
I always like to take visitors on a day trip to the Cape Point Nature Reserve, a protected area at the southwestern tip of the Cape Peninsula, about 37 miles from the city. The reserve is home to more than 250 bird species along with zebra, eland (antelope) and ostrich, which roam its quieter realms. Chacma baboons, charismatic primates that will readily swipe unattended picnic food, also frequent the area. They are unafraid to clamber onto the hoods of parked cars and photobomb many an Instagram shot.
During the spring and summer months, the park lights up with hues of yellow, pink and red, as different types of proteas – striking plants with cone-like flowers and waxy petals – ignite the landscape. At the actual Cape Point itself, a rocky finger that extends into the icy ocean, an old lighthouse, painted white and black, with a red roof, sits above the jagged rocks. Standing up there, peering out onto the limitless ocean, it feels like you’re at the end of the world. But since it’s a popular viewpoint, the tour buses that bring others keen for the same view will remind you you’re not. For a more immersive understanding of the reserve’s allure, it’s best to get to the more secluded beaches or onto the hiking trails, where there’s a better chance of seeing wildlife.
The lazy drive to Cape Point is enjoyable in its own right. A morning check-in at Olympia Café in Kalk Bay, a charming village with a main road lined with stores selling hippie fashion, bric-a-brac oddities, and vintage clothing, comes recommended. The small café is always busy but tables open up quickly. The chefs fry tasty breakfasts, like fluffy omelettes stuffed with Brie, fresh rocket and avocado, just feet away from the tables.
Further along the coastal road, after the naval town of Simon’s Town, is a strip of protected beachfront property taken up by Cape Town’s resident colony of African penguins. At Boulders Beach, the quirky birds waddle around on the sand and nest in burrows right next to the wooden boardwalk running along the beach’s perimeter. Dassies—little hairy mammals that look like a cross between a prairie dog and a guinea pig—can also be seen hopping around the rocks.
Great Whites up close
Shark-cage diving is big business in Gansbaai, a coastal hamlet on the eastern tip of False Bay, known as the “Great White capital of the world.” The sharks are attracted to the 60,000-plus Cape fur seal colony living on nearby Dyer Island, something of a drive-through joint for hungry sharks.
On a sunny winter morning, I joined a group of mostly American tourists on a shark-cage diving trip. After a safety briefing with Lalo Saidy, an ex-Colorado resident and straight-talking diver who has been working with sharks in South Africa for many years, we cruised out to the dive site, only about 20 minutes from shore. Saidy’s main point—“don’t stick your hands outside of the cage”—played in my mind as the boat skimmed over the calm morning sea.
Floating in the cage next to five other people, I was shivering, despite being clad in a thick diving wetsuit. The smell of fetid fish rising from the water, a result of the chum thrown in to attract sharks, made my stomach turn. But when divemaster Bobby shouted, “go down,” I pushed under with everyone else. Below the surface, a few feet away from my mask-clad face, a Great White, about six feet long, swam past the metal bars of the cage. It was so close I could see the scars on the side of its grey head. With Bobby luring the shark toward the boat with a fish head attached to the rope, we saw the shark make a handful of approaches before it tired of the game and moved off. Later, a second shark would arrive.
Shark-cage diving is on top of the list for people like Dhruv Jaggia, a 25-year-old New Yorker accompanying me on the trip. “In pop culture they’ve got a notorious reputation,” he said. “The chance to get up close is exhilarating.”
Yes, it is exhilarating, here at the end of the world. As much as I miss Colorado, I’m in Cape Town to stay.
Brendon Bosworth is a Cape Town travel writer who once lived in Boulder and Paonia, Colo.
Need to know
Electronics: South Africa electrical outlets require different plug points than those in the U.S. Adapters are available at most AAA Colorado retail stores (see page 11).
Keeping in touch: Cape Town’s hotels and coffee shops are generally well equipped with wireless internet. Download Skype for your tablet or laptop to stay in touch with folks back home for free. To save on mobile phone fees, buy a local sim card in Cape Town for your phone and buy prepaid airtime as you need to avoid international roaming charges.
Driving: Be prepared to drive on the left-hand side of the road and calculate speeds and distances in kilometers instead of miles. Manual transmission is the norm for South African rental cars. If you can’t or won’t drive stick, ask for an automatic when renting a car. Unlike the U.S., gas stations aren’t self-service; an attendant will fill up the tank, put air in the tires and clean the windshield. Tip them a few rands to say thanks.
Tipping: In restaurants, 10 percent is standard; 15 percent will put a real smile on your server’s face.
Safety: It is not a good idea to walk around with loads of cash on you. Don’t hitchhike.
Sunsets: It’s a 45-minute hike up Lion’s Head, one of the mountain peaks overlooking the city centre and ocean, with a stellar view of the sun sinking over the sea. For a less strenuous option drive to Signal Hill, below Lion’s Head, with a look-out point with space for picnicking. On some evenings you can watch paragliders launch off Signal Hill.
By Clark Norton
Because Australia and New Zealand are so far away from the U.S.—and much of the rest of the world—many tours incorporate both countries into their itineraries. And it makes sense for other reasons as well: each island nation was settled by the British, each has a vibrant longtime indigenous culture, each sports a version of English that sometimes defies translation, each serves up some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet—and each firmly believes that it is the more superior of the two.
In fact, during my travels in both countries, I’ve often noticed that Aussies and Kiwis (as New Zealanders are known) have quite a friendly—and sometimes not-so-friendly—rivalry going. And for all the things they have in common, their differences are what stand out in my mind.
Australia, the big brother of the two—it comprises its own continent, after all—boasts the bigger, world-class cities (Sydney, Melbourne); the seemingly endless, golden-sand beaches; the vast Outback; and a weird menagerie of wildlife (kangaroos, koalas, wombats, platypuses). Many Aussies I have met are among the most outgoing, adventurous, and widely traveled people on earth – yet, away from the big coastal cities, I’ve encountered more of a frontier mentality, a strong sense of isolationism and pride in their “tidy towns.”
New Zealand, the little brother—just don’t call Kiwis that to their faces—is even more remote than Australia, but its people keep up with world affairs as though they were in the thick of it all. Its three islands are best known for their knockout mountain-lake-fjord scenery, as captured luxuriantly in the Lord of the Rings films. Rather than kangaroos, New Zealand has sheep — which, it’s long been said, outnumber people there. And Kiwis, in my experience, are more reserved than Aussies – except when it comes to defending their homeland against taunts from “big brother.” Then they can mix it up with anyone — including their neighbors across the Tasman Sea.
An Argentine gaucho cook barbecues steaks on a long grill, at a ranch in Buenos Aires, Argentina. © Eduardo Longoni/Corbis
By Larry Olmsted
Famous for their love of red meat, Argentineans put away two and half times as much beef per capita as Americans—and we rank among the world’s biggest steak eaters. But unlike our Wild West, Argentina’s cowboy culture has been preserved, thanks to its insistence on grass-fed beef ranging free on the pampas, managed by gauchos with their distinctive flat hats. Many visitors take trips into the countryside to see ranches, but one of Buenos Aires’ best kept secrets is its huge gaucho fair, La Feria De Mataderos, held each Sunday from fall through spring. This lets you see cowboy culture up close, with more than 300 stalls featuring handmade gaucho crafts such as elaborately decorated knives, the rebenque, a traditional leather whip, and bolos, alongside silverware, blankets, mate (tea) drinking gourds and every sort of leather product. Argentinean snacks like empanadas are available, and there are live gaucho horsemanship demonstrations, such as attempting to spear a tiny hanging ring while galloping full speed. This is the biggest fair, but the city loves its Sunday ferias, and there are versions in popular tourist neighborhoods such as San Telmo, La Boca, Puerto Madera and Recoleta, with similar crafts and food but more antiques and less pure gaucho focus.
The best thing about gaucho culture is that you can taste it literally—no city in the world is more famous for its steakhouses, as integral a part of a visit as sushi in Tokyo. Unlike the U.S., beef is always cooked over an open wood fire, even in the finest restaurants, and the grilled dinner, or asado, is rarely just one thing, but rather a procession of salads, starters, and various cuts of meat, with lots of small sides and sauces—most famously chimichurri. The best example of the backyard asado in restaurant form is at La Cabrera, a mini-empire of three eateries in Palermo, the city’s version of Greenwich Village, famed for its parade of side dishes. After ordering your choice of grilled beef entrée, waiters quickly cover every inch of the table with included extras. Three small dishes chosen to pair with your selected meat accompany every order, then a waiter arrives with a toolbox-like rack of about 20 more miniature choices for you to pick from. Finally, family-style portions of creamed spinach, pearl onions and potatoes appear for sharing. Other spots include Parilla La Dorita, with five locations in different neighborhoods, known for quality, value and three meat samplers. The upscale white tablecloth classic is La Brigada, the city’s Temple of Beef, where waiters carve steaks tableside with spoons to demonstrate tenderness. La Brigada also has a standout version of the traditional appetizer provoleta, a slab of fire grilled cheese. Despite its formality, thanks to the exchange rate this is about the most reasonable high-end steakhouse you will ever visit.
The Pink City
A local man with a camel in front of the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) in Jaipur, India. © Blaine Harrington III
By Blaine Harrington III
Jaipur, known as the Pink City, is the capital of India’s desert Rajasthan state. The image that most people think of when they think of India is most likely Rajasthan. Camels can not only be seen crossing the desert, but also pulling carts through cities and down roadways.
If you come to India for the first time, you are likely to come to Jaipur, as it is part of what is called the “Golden Triangle,” a tourist route between Delhi, the Taj Mahal in Agra and Jaipur. It’s a good place to start, but if like me, India gets into your soul, you’ll find yourself returning to reach more distant parts of the sub-continent like Darjeeling in the Himalayas (to the north) and Kerala and Tamil Nadu states (to the far south, along the Arabian Sea).
Jaipur has many beautiful monuments, which are all must-sees, including the Amber Palace and Fort; the Hawa Mahal (aka Palace of the Winds), the City Palace and the Jantar Mantar; a collection of 19 architectural astronomical instruments on a huge scale.
Both the Amber Palace and Jantar Mantar are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
I always like to get my bearings when visiting a new place. The best way I find is to take a stroll through the city center. A good place to start is Johari Bazar Road, where you walk amongst street vendors and markets selling fresh produce. Passing Surajpol Bazar Road, you’ll come to the Hawa Mahal. It is basically a false front (like on a movie set), meant to only be seen from the front. Its windows were constructed to offer the king’s courtesans a vantage point, behind stone-carved screens, from which to watch the activities taking place in the bazaar below.
Nearby is the City Palace, a complex of beautiful buildings that was the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur.
To me, the most important and beautiful place to see in Jaipur is the Amber Palace and Fort. Six miles outside the city, the palace sits atop a mountain. I’ve been there a number of times, and until my last visit, I always walked to the top. I finally decided to try the optional elephant ride. It is actually a stunning way to arrive and the ride is great fun. The elephants plodding slowly up the road give you a great vantage point to see the adjacent countryside and a tremendous view of the palace as you stride through its gates.
The palace contains four courtyards, laid out on different levels. My favorite is the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors), which contains forty pillars, all covered with a thousand pieces of mirrors.
From great heights to seaside cliffs
Travelers view the Inca Ruins at the Machu Picchu archaeological site, Peru. © Blaine Harrington III
By Larry Olmsted
There is good reason why the postcard-perfect ruins of Machu Picchu make every travel “Bucket List,” and to see them in person inevitably brings the shock and awe of “how did they do that?” The ruins are an entire city, not a monument, built on the most precipitous spot imaginable, a jagged shark tooth peak sticking high into the air above the valley all that stone was somehow brought up from. But as incredible as the site is, there is a lot more to a trip to Machu Picchu than just Machu Picchu, which for most visitors remains a half-day field trip from the gateway town of Aguas Calientes below.
In recent years the exploration opportunities around Aguas Calientes have boomed, and adventure-centric lodges like Inkaterra have added many guided regional excursions. This is about the only place on earth you can still see the Spectacled Bear, once common in the Andes, now nearly extinct and in a protected sanctuary nearby. Hikes in the lush Mandor Valley are like something out of Jurassic Park, with orchids, waterfalls and rare speckle-faced parrots. A trek up little-visited Putukusi offers a new vantage point to see the fabled ruins from directly across the valley, while a hike up even higher Wayna Picchu lets you look directly down on the Lost City, a view few enjoy.
While the Andes are the world’s second highest mountain range and full of hiking options, most visitors to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador spend the majority of their time on boats, the best way to get around the archipelago and see a lot of the aquatic wildlife. But this makes time ashore extra valuable, and a great place to stretch your legs is the Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado reserve on San Cristobal Island. The giant San Cristobal tortoise is one of 11 species endemic to the Galapagos, and threatened with extinction, which is why it’s worth visiting this protected preserve and strolling the kilometer long nature path to see them. Turtles are raised here from eggs, and there is also a breeding center and laboratory.
It was Darwin who put the islands on the world tourism map as a must-visit for its incredible and diverse ecosystem, and he was immortalized through Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island, a Galapagos highlight. The horseshoe island is a collapsed volcano, so the towering sea cliffs that ring the bay overlook salt water on both sides. Nicknamed Bird Island for its incredible avian diversity, visitors ascend Prince Phillip’s Steps, a steep rock path up the cliffs, which passes through an active seabird colony, and while the cliffs are less than a hundred feet high, the vantage point from the top is among the most dramatic in a destination filled with wonder at every turn.