Vineyard Hotel and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa
How come vacations never seem like vacations at the beginning? Get up at 5:00a. Brave traffic to catch a 10:30a flight from Denver to Atlanta two days after Thanksgiving. Three and a half hour flight. Three hour layover in the cold, aseptic international terminal in Atlanta. Fifteen hour flight to Johannesburg (during which the seat wouldn't recline). Three hour layover. Two hour connection on to Cape Town. Get in at 9:30p. Rent a car. Drive 20km to the hotel on the wrong side of the road — after being awake for 33+ hours. Relaxed? Not a chance. But, ... after a lifetime on the bucket list, we were in Africa!
We had reservations that first night at the Vineyard Hotel, just a stone's throw from the slopes of Table Mountain where we planned to visit the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens the next morning. Though we certainly hadn't reserved one, we ended up in one of the beautiful Mountain View Suites. Bit of a tragedy, actually. We got in at 10:30 at night and were dead to the world a half hour later. We didn't wake up until 10:30 the next morning, by which point we'd already overslept checkout by half an hour. No time to sip coffee and enjoy the view. No time for a leisurely breakfast. Pack up. Head out.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are kind of like Disney World for plants, complete with dark misty grottos and walkways suspended in the treetops. And rather importantly for a couple of folks the morning after a fifteen hour flight, they have a coffeeshop.
From wide cobblestone walkways with views of Table Mountain to dark, narrow footpaths nestled deep in the forest, the gardens have a bit of everything. They are definitely one of the places we could have spent another day — or two or three — though there were many such places on the trip.
In addition to an abundance of flora, the botanical gardens are also known for their world class birding. We spotted numerous species in the few hours that we were. A small number of examples can be found just below.
After spending a fair portion of the morning at the botanical gardens, it seemed we probably ought to get started toward our home for the next couple of days, a mountain lodge outside of the tiny, rural town of Botrivier, about an hour southeast of Cape Town. That said, we wanted to see if we might be able to swing by the penguin colony at Boulders Beach on the way and then, perhaps, take a more interesting drive east across Cape Town than the M2. We started toward Boulders Beach on the eastern flank of the Cape Peninsula, but the late start and rush-hour traffic soon made it apparent we weren't going to make it, at least not and arrive in Botrivier before dark. As such, we turned back and headed on across the southern end of the Cape Flats, across the top of False Bay.
The income disparity we saw on that short drive was both greater, and more evident, than we typically saw elsewhere in Africa. In fact, South Africa has one of the greatest levels of income disparity of any country on earth. The lower slopes of Table Mountain, say in the Bishopscourt region around the botanical gardens, are crossed with narrow tree-lined drives. Most homes have a pool and many have private tennis courts as well. Just a few miles to the southeast are the Cape Flats. A low-lying region that became home to many of the non-white residents of Cape Town during apartheid as they were forced out of more central areas of the city. One of the things that we didn't get to do while there was to take a tour of one of the townships in the Flats, to learn more about the history of the region and ongoing socioeconomic issues. From what we understand, such tours can be arranged with reputable guides and done very safely. Definitely on the list for next time.