South Africa revisited

Tired and bedraggled, we arrived out our airport hotel late at night, after a long and arduous flight from Sydney, a long and arduous wait at JoBurg passport control and a two-hour shuttle flight to Cape Town.   With his low muscle tone, Sam found it a real challenge to sit upright for such a long time.  The next morning, rested and breakfasted, we grabbed our rental car and emerged onto the freeway into town. Sam noticed with glee his old friend, the different font of the South African road speed limit signs.

‘They still have a one hundred and twenty!’

It was a trip of catch-ups and reminiscence. We drove to the same Cape Town hostel where we had spent a week just short of two years ago. The staff would do a double take, have a quizzical look at the two of us, and then it would dawn on them. ‘Oh, I remember you now.’ With Benison accompanying us, she was able to meet some of the people she had, until now, only heard or read about.

Lee, the hostel owner, had a chat with Sam in front of the video camera, to contrast with how he had managed this same exercise on our earlier trip. He fired question after question at her in a conversation I had to stop in the end. I thought back to how hard he had found this sort of thing a couple of years ago.

Lee was stunned. ‘He couldn’t talk anything like that before. He couldn’t even  keep still.’

The three of us cruised around Cape Town, visiting parks and shopping districts and orientating  ourselves. We bought Sam some shoes in a shopping centre in the city. The staff seemed somewhat bemused and it took us a while to realise it was because white people rarely entered their shop. Sam unsuccessfully hunted for Tintin books in bookstores and happily lunched at McDonalds, knowing there would be no other opportunities later in the trip.

It was so much more relaxed. Sam was calm, even happy to be here.  Sam and I had much less to do, and of course this time Benison was here to help. A planned trip up Table Mountain was aborted the next day when much needed rain set in over the drought-stricken city.

Still, we didn’t want to be too slack. We headed out of town, driving down the peninsula to Simon’s Town and the Cape of Good Hope, before heading east along the Indian Ocean coastline towards the Garden Route. Crawling around the outskirts of Cape Town in terrible peak hour traffic, we passed the vast townships, overcrowded, filthy, and ramshackle tin and rubbish. Young men, those lucky enough to have employment, jumped out of the tray of ‘bakkies’ – South African for utility vehicles – as they screeched to a halt on the side of the motorway, before risking their lives running across the mad traffic to their respective homes.

I had badly underestimated how long it would take to get to Hermanus, our planned destination, and a tense couple of hours ensued with me driving in the dark, unfamiliar with local driving customs, which basically centre around taking risks that I wouldn’t dream of doing. By and large, Africans seem to interpret traffic rules as guidelines.  We finally made it and ate bad pizza for dinner in our accommodation, overlooking the wild Indian ocean crashing onto the beautiful rocky coastline.

The next day we cruised around the beachside town, and feasted on the remarkably good and  cheap South African food and wine. I took Sam and Benison back to an Indian eatery and spice shop Sam and I had visited previously. Shareen, who owned the shop and had shown us such kindness back in 2015, remembered us instantly, though she couldn’t believe how much Sam had grown.

The next day we headed up to the renowned wine district of Stellenbosch. With the university town founded in the 17th century, she reeked of history and charm. It was Easter and the well-to-do of the Western Cape cruised tree-lined streets and browsed the gift-shops, cafes and bars. It was cold and overcast, and with Afrikaans the dominant language on the street, it was like we’d stumbled into a ritzy Dutch town transplanted to Southern Africa.

That night we dined in the restaurant at the Hotel Stellenbosch, our charming three-hundred-year-old accommodation for the night.

Sam scanned the menu, then looked up at us with a slightly pained expression on his face. ‘There is nothing here I want to eat.’

‘Yes, there is,’ I said. ‘What about the Monster Burger?’

Then it dawned on Benison and me.

‘Sam, it’s not a burger made from monsters. “Monster” just means it’s big.’

‘Oh,’ said Sam, with visible relief. When his monster-sized beef burger arrived he happily chowed it down.

The following morning, heading out of town and towards the airport, we stopped in to a winery and tasted some of the truly excellent, and cheap, range on offer. We bought a couple of bottles, looking forward to consuming them when we arrived in Namibia.

Unfortunately, we forgot that you can’t take liquids in your carry-on luggage.  Reluctantly, we relinquished our wine at the airport, the SA  customs officers pleased to receive an unexpected Easter present.

Oh well. Off to Namibia.