We had such a nice time today, watching the paragliders taking off into the sunset from Signal Hill, and heading out toward the beach at Sea Point.
We watched a number of successful take-offs, and we have to assume the landings went just as well, although we couldn’t see them. It was fun to have the close-up view of people’s faces and body language as they ran as fast as they could, sometimes with a little help from the crew, and then became airborne.
After watching 7 or 8 takeoffs, I began to think that I might want to take a try at this!
Once the sun dropped below the horizon, it was time for the crews to pack up and go home. I would tag the paragliding company if I knew their name, so if anyone recognizes a familiar face or company logo, please comment.
It’s been a busy week. We rented a car, and that of course obligates us to get out and about. So – here are some of our fantastic destinations.
Sea Point is a suburb of Cape Town, and is just around the corner from we were are staying. We visited one afternoon just before sunset, and here’s how it looked. Gorgeous!
Personally, I’m not wild about cable car rides. The alternative is a 2 hour hike, which the official website describes as follows: The duration belies the strenuousness of the hike. The cable car it is!
Once the doors of the car are closed and it begins to climb slowly, the operator instructs the passengers to keep their hands off the windows, and to let go of the rail. These instructions seem counter-intuitive, and it is a struggle to obey. The operator needs to repeat the statement twice more: let go of the railings, because the floor will begin to rotate. It’s a bit disconcerting, but does provide spectacular views.
Once you arrive at the top, you are free to scamper all over the plateau. There are marked paths, sort of, and signs instructing visitors to remain inside the designated areas. Of course there were the free spirits who had not yet learned they were mere mortals. See photo below. Fortunately there were no accidents the day we were there, but we did pass a monument dedicated to all those who had died while hiking the mountain.
The views are breathtaking. Remember to click on the photos to enlarge them.
This is a sweet little coastal town which is home to a naval base, and has an active harbor. It has a number of nice restaurants on the water, and Dutch-inspired architecture.
This was another scenic spot on the water, plus it has seals!
There was a crazy man inviting tourists to get their picture taken with this giant beastie, or to be photographed feeding it. Clearly he doesn’t actually believe those warning signs about wild animals biting. This quick video captures the depth of the man’s insanity.
Chapman’s Peak Drive
I first drove Chapman’s Peak Drive in 1993, by myself, in a car with the steering wheel on the right and the stick shift on the left. At the time, it was not a toll road, and it also had not been improved to protect cars from falling rocks. There were minimal safety precautions, and if a car went off the edge, it stayed there – it was simply too difficult to retrieve it. The drive has been greatly upgraded. The views are breath-taking (in a good way) and I heartily recommend it as a stop on your Cape Town trip.
At nearly every scenic overlook and rest stop, one can find a couple of souvenir vendors. There are hand-carved figures made of wood and ostrich eggs, and spectacular beaded creations, all available for very little money. We make it a practice not to bargain too hard. A dollar either way doesn’t mean that much to us, but for some of the vendors, it is very important.
Cape of Good Hope
Table Mountain National Park is a vast piece of land that runs from the city of Cape Town all the way to the tip of the peninsula. We picked a sunny day to make the hour and a half trip. It was a bit breezy at sea level, but when we reached the peak where the lighthouse sits, the wind must have been gusting at 50 mph. Even though we were freezing, we didn’t want to leave – such views!
Alas, there wasn’t a baboon in sight. I had really talked them up to Craig, insisting that we take every energy bar and cough drop out of our bags, since they are, um, highly motivated by food. However, to make up for the lack of baboons, we were treated to the sight of an eland antelope – believed by some to the the world’s largest species of antelope. He was quite an impressive sight!
I get a thrill out of seeing the exotic animals in a new place. Okay, I get a thrill out of any animal, including dogs and sheep. Like this little billy goat with his beard waving in the breeze. And look at these goofy ostriches on a farm we spotted as we headed back to the city. So funny!
I saved the most fun critters for last. Boulders Beach is the home of the African Penguin. They have their very own sanctuary and are carefully protected. There are little huts for the penguins to nest in if they choose, and a beautiful clean beach for them to frolic on. In these pictures you can see the mature penguins, as well as the babies, which have fuzzy brown immature feathers.
In the next few days, we’ll be heading to Muizenberg Beach, known for its colorful changing cabins, and the wine region, for a tasting tour. Check back soon for more photos. And it’s almost time for the “one year on the road” blog entry. Yikes!
I’m so happy to be back in Cape Town, South Africa – this is my fourth visit, and I’m excited to have Craig meet my friends and see all the sights with me. We’ve been here ten days so far, and here’s what we’ve been up to.
We’re staying in an Airbnb apartment in Zonnebloem, in the Cape Town City Bowl, right in the heart of things. We’re on the eighth floor, and although the place is very small and has a few flaws, I cannot fault the view. Lion’s Head on one side, the city on the other, and Table Mountain from the roof. We’ve been waiting for just the right day to take the cable car to the top of the mountain, but today isn’t it – there are gale force winds up there, and the park is closed.
We’ve been doing a lot of wandering around the city, going out every day for a little walk or coffee, maybe meeting up with friends for dinner and some music. Here are some of the distinctive sights and people we’ve bumped into.
This performance troupe was busking at the entrance to The Company’s Garden, a lovely botanical garden that dates its beginning to 1644. Their outfits and beadwork identified them as Xhosa. The girls kept the rhythm along with the drummer by stomping their feet, and making their ankle bracelets rattle. These were cleverly made of recycled aluminum cans.
In St. George’s Mall, we came upon a piece of the Berlin Wall that was gifted to Nelson Mandela in 1996. The inscription below the wall describes in detail the situation in East Berlin prior to the removal of this barrier. If you click on the photo it will enlarge so that you can read the plaque.
Here are photos of a couple of other interesting snippets of life in the City Bowl: a vintage arm-wrestling platform (the plaque shows very specific rules!), St. John’s Methodist Church, and some great street art.
We took a day trip to Robben Island, the notorious holding spot of political prisoners who were arrested during the apartheid regime. (If you are unfamiliar with the history of this policy of institutionalized racism, click here for a brief description. It is important to be familiar with apartheid and its abolition, as this is a key piece of the current situation in SA.)
Robben Island is 4.3 miles off the coast, and less than 2 square miles. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of a 27 year prison sentence on this island. Tours are conducted by former prisoners, when possible, or newly trained guides as the former prisoners age. Our guide on this day was jailed for 7 years, after being charged with terrorism, subversion and the like. He described to us the torture methods that were used during his interrogation, which I will spare you, and showed us a chart that itemized the food prisoners were given on a daily basis. This too was determined according to race, with Bantus, black people, receiving less than mixed race people. It is hard to comprehend the kind of intentional cruelty that went into every aspect of life on this island prison – indeed, toward all aspects of life in the whole country. Robben Island was closed in 1996, and has since been declared aSouth African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was a relief to get back on the ferry and return to shore. The launch point for the tour is the Victoria & Albert Waterfront. When I first visited Cape Town in the 90’s, it was just a couple of shops and a few restaurants. Now it is a jumping place – loads of shopping, restaurants, art, a kiddie train, outdoor sculptures, street performers, and more. It’s a fun place to spend an afternoon, especially on the off season, when it’s not too hot and crowded.
Right next to the waterfront is Oranjezicht City Farm Market, a foodie paradise. We nibbled our way through the place, and brought home lots of goodies as well. We were surprised to learn that the olives were grown locally. Plus flowers – so beautiful!
The beautiful protea is the national flower of South Africa
Thus far we have only been to one beach spot, to admire the sunset while waiting to meet a friend for dinner. Sea Point has a nice pavilion with plenty of seating, which is great for watching the waves and birds. We were fascinated by the paragliders sailing above the beach. Nope, not trying it! After sunset, we walked one block up hill from the beach to Mojo Market, which is a very fun place to get food and drink of any kind, plus there is live music several times a week.
I’ll be back soon with more of beautiful Cape Town. Meanwhile, I’m going to go plan a safari!
Guatemala is an endless tapestry of texture and color. The women for the most part wear the most beautifully colored outfits, and I never get tired of admiring the work that has gone into these fabrics.
This group of ladies were about to participate in a religious celebration. A statue of the Virgin Mary is carried through the streets. These women were the advance guard, so to speak, carrying flowers, icons, and incense burners. This type of clothing is for special occasions, clearly.
The cheerful lady in the front in the picture below reminds me of my grandmother, with her pleasant smile. Obviously, the gals were having a good time. You can see the smoke from the incense burners in the left rear of the photo.
The little kids here are so cute they’re killing me. The mothers and fathers expend so much effort to have the little ones shine. Some of these photos were snapped while the kids were going about their everyday business with mama; others were taken at a festival where the kids were going to be blessed in church and then have their portraits done. Sometimes people don’t like to have their photos taken, but on a day like a festival everyone is having fun and happy that you notice their beautiful children.
For the most part, only the females wear the traditional outfits. The boys are usually in jeans and T shirts, although in some of the villages the men still wear stunning handmade shirts and pants (to do some very dirty work!)
Here are some close-ups of the stunning designs. The two on the left are now tucked in my suitcase. Give me credit for great restraint – I wanted one of everything!
Teenagers everywhere are the same – gotta have a cell phone! Notice how the girls tuck them into their belts.
Different villages specialize in different kinds of embroidery, and those in the know can recognize a woman’s place of origin by the pattern of her skirt or top. One area creates the most beautiful birds! Yes, okay, we bought a couple of these too…
Craig asked me how to tell if the work was really done by hand, or rather made in a factory some where. I showed him how to turn it over, and check the back side for knots, etc.
Much of the stuff in the markets, although gorgeous and colorful, is made in China and sells for a small fraction of what the original handmade items go for. And the handmade items are, by American standards, extremely inexpensive!
In addition to those who embroider, there are skilled weavers who spend many hours a day in this posture, kneeling on the floor working on their backstrap looms. The tapestry that you see on the loom below takes about three months to complete. Ana has been working on this piece for about three weeks, eight hours a day. She says she doesn’t mind the long hours, though, because she enjoys her work. She is a stunningly talented craftswoman.
The piece below is one of Ana’s creations, and shows the national bird of Guatemala, the quetzal, woven in the bright colors favored by local people. And by certain tourists from Pennsylvania. Yup, bought that one too. We may not have a home, but when we do, it’s going to be breathtaking!
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is find a rooftop and climb up to it. A cliff or a high wall will do as well. This predilection first showed itself in Curacao, in the 70’s, when I discovered a cliff with a sheer drop into the Atlantic Ocean. My father nearly had a heart attack as I leaned over the edge to take a look.
When I went to Europe in the 90’s I discovered the time-honored tradition of climbing up to church roofs. The first one I scaled was the Duomo in Milan. This was the pre-digital age, so the photographic proof is somewhere in a storage unit parked near Philadelphia. But here’s someone else’s photo to show you why I loved it up there.
My father came along to chaperone, and the kids wouldn’t be left behind either, so we all scampered up the narrow winding staircase to reach the heights. No guardrails, no warning signs, just common sense to keep visitors from falling off. Hopefully.
One of my favorite high spots is Chateau Beynac in the Dordogne region in France. The entire castle is perched high up on a clifftop, the better to defend it from approaching enemies. One of the lookout towers comes with a warning sign regarding the high winds. Roughly translated, it says, “Parents should hold children firmly by the hand, as there is mortal danger of them blowing off.” You’ve been warned, people.
On our honeymoon, we took at trip to Greece and sailed to several Greek islands. On Rhodes, we climbed up the 200 steps to the top of the Acropolis, to admire the breathtaking views. I sat on top of the outside wall to relax and soak up the spectacular sights. He shrieked and grabbed my arm, terrified that I was going to fall over the edge. It was at that point I learned something new about my husband – he is very uncomfortable with heights.
As Craig and I have traveled, we’ve made it something of a specialty to squeeze through narrow passages and up steep stairways in order to enjoy some spectacular views. A church roof in Peru was an unexpected climb. Our elderly tour guide headed up the stairs; what else could we do but follow?
There are two wonderful high spots in Venice, right next to each other in Piazza San Marco. One is the church itself – you can go up to the upper logia, out onto a balcony, and join the four horses in looking out over the piazza. The other is the Campanile de San Marco, just a short distance away. While the overlook spot of the Basilica is maybe three or four stories high, the Campanile is a whopping 323 feet tall! There are no stairs, only an elevator, so it feels like cheating a bit. Until you’re at the top, and the massive bells begin to ring. It is a sound that vibrates your brain and ruptures your eardrums. A whole different kind of bodily abuse.
In Sao Miguel, the Azores, earlier this year, we climbed our first city hall. The last flight of stairs a very tight spiral, and the passage was so small that Craig ended up climbing sideways.
Here in Ecuador, we toured the Convento de San Diego, led by an energetic little woman, probably 15 years our senior, who delivered the entire lecture in Spanish. The artwork was so spectacular we didn’t really need to understand her words – her passion for the place communicated itself despite the language barrier. Toward the end of the tour she beckoned us to follow her up a small dark stairway, which we were thrilled to see opened onto the convent roof. Another small hole for Craig to shimmy through, and we were gazing out at the city of Quito.
Just a couple of days before we ended our month long visit to Quenca, we remembered the cathedral offered an opportunity for a nice view of town. In this case, it cost us a dollar admission to tackle the 150 steps. In case you’re wondering, my fitness tracker counted that as 10 floors.
Next week we’re on to Antigua, Guatemala. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for highest roof in town.
My grandmother said that the women in our family were born with gypsy shoes, meaning that we all love to travel. It’s absolutely true, and I appreciate her recognition of and encouragement of the impulse that compels my mother, my aunts, and my cousins to join me in wandering the world.
In my own travels, oddly, I have been to the northernmost spot in Africa, and the southernmost, but I haven’t spent any time at all visiting the rest of the gigantic African continent. In our extended journey this year, we plan to head for Cape Town, and then work our way north to Madagascar and Ethiopia on the east coast. Tanzania is located right between these two destinations – excellent.
You see, part of our plan includes the goal of winning a contest. Yes, this piece that is masquerading as a blog entry is also a contest entry, which I am hoping will get me a trip to Tanzania. And not just any trip, but a luxury safari adventure with Yellow Zebra Safaris. Go check out the Yellow Zebra Travel site. You can read the terrific story of how they got their name, and you can drool over the fabulous trips. In fact, follow this link to the safari in Tanzania, so that if I win, you can plan to come with Craig and me! https://yellowzebrasafaris.com/us/tanzania/
My travel partner Craig and I take great delight in planning our trips, spending hours discussing destinations, and researching options for flights, lodging, and activities. We decided upon Morocco a couple of years ago for sentimental reasons – at the start of our romance, when we pledged to one another that we would travel the world together, I gave Craig a photo book on Morocco. The seed was planted that day, and now it was time for the promise to be fulfilled.
Arriving in Morocco felt like being transported to another plane of existence. Nothing was familiar; the people, the smell in the air, the language – I was completely off balance. It was wonderful.
Clearly, I could prattle on at great length about Morocco. Here are just a few of the exploits in which we participated, that made this trip so phenomenal.
Rode a camel. Do you know how tall a camel is? Once you climb on his back, and he stands up, you are very far from the ground. Plus, you don’t have reins. Either your camel handler leads the way, or the camel does.
Slept in a tent, under seven blankets, in the Sahara Desert. No explanation needed, as long as you understand how cold a desert is in January.
Got mugged by a henna hustler. By the time I got my hand back from Fatima, I had a very cool design trailing up my arm. She wanted $40 for the un-asked for art. I gave her two; she gave me an evil look and disappeared.
Slept in a cave. Hotel, that is. All the rooms were dug into the side of a hill. No windows, but we were snug as a bug. In the Todra Gorge area, the views are spectacular. Look for décor items made from Jurassic era fossils.
Nearly slept in a car in a snowstorm in the Atlas Mountains. Perhaps a miscalculation on the part of our guide, we ended up high in the mountains when it started to snow. The plow didn’t create a path wide enough for the large vehicles headed in both directions, so there we sat. Thank goodness for well prepared local travelers with shovels.
Saw snake handlers in Marrakesh, in Jemma el Fina Square. Mostly from the safe distance of a rooftop café, because although it’s fascinating, who wants to walk around with cobras?
Slept in a kasbah, underneath a stork’s nest. When we went to bed in the ancient structure, the nest was empty. By the time we awoke the next morning, the storks had returned to Aït Benhaddou. (Fun fact: storks communicate by clacking their beaks together.)
Had a huge riad all to ourselves. “You are the king and queen, and this is your palace,” our host said as he welcomed us. The royal treatment in a breath-taking restored mansion.
Met the last comb-maker in Fez. When he dies or retires, the souk will no longer be named after his profession.
Stood out as the only foreigners in Essaouira. This small seaside community is not a big tourist draw, at least in January, but it is captivating in its own right. Ladies, remember to cover your heads – it will make life easier.
Sat for hours in the rooftop café called Aladdin, staring at the Blue City. Chefchaouen pulled us in with its stunning paint job – no one is quite sure why everyone favors cobalt blue, although there are various theories. It really doesn’t matter, though. The sense of serenity the color imparts is reason enough.
Bought a pair of handmade shoes, in bright yellow leather with pointy toes. The shoemaker just happened to be working on a large order of said yellow shoes, for the cabinet ministers’ traditional outfits. And he just happened to have a pair in my size. What else could I do but buy them? It was fate.
There is so much to say about this enthralling country. So many wonderful sights, so many lovely people. But don’t take my word for it – you need to go yourself and encounter the character and spirit of The Daughter of the Desert. It’s a big wonderful world out there, and life is too short to stay in one place. Pack a bag, get those gypsy shoes on, and get going!
When I woke up for the third morning in a row with the room spinning around my head, I knew it was time to do something. I figured it was the altitude – Cuenca, where we’ve been staying for the last week, is at 8, 333 feet elevation – but I didn’t know how to make it stop. And believe me, it’s very disconcerting when you try to get up to go to the bathroom and the walls just won’t stay still.
So, it was clear that I needed some professional help. But how to choose a doctor in a foreign country? Where I don’t speak the language. Oh, and it’s Sunday.
Google to the rescue. After hubby researched, we decided that the local ER was the place for me. And off we went.
The trip itself was uneventful and successful. What I am going to carry on about are the prices. Cab ride each way – $1.50. Twenty minute ER visit with the on-call doctor, and the usual check-up – $32.00. Two prescriptions, filled in the hospital pharmacy – $2.32. I must be in the twilight zone!
For years now, people have asked Craig and me how we can afford to go on these great trips. (Photo at left: Ayvalik, Turkey.) My standard answer was that we don’t do anything else – don’t go out to eat, don’t go to movies and shows, don’t buy new cars. You get the idea. Plus we worked our tails off. This trip of a lifetime is another extension of our philosophy. We’re retired now, so the working part is behind us, but we still search hard for ways to make our money go as far as possible.
Which brings me to Ecuador. Ecuador is making life very easy for us these days. The US dollar is the Ecuadorian monetary unit, and the electrical current is the same as ours, so no conversions of any kind are required. I’ve really saved some brain cells with this knowledge!
Now, let me quote you some prices. For starters, gas is $1.48/gallon. Yes, really. I have no idea why, but every station we’ve passed sells Extra (regular to you and me) at that price.
Wait, let me go on. Ladies – get this. I went to a hair salon the other day, and got a cut and color, eyebrow wax, and mani-pedi for – drumroll, please – $40. And people here don’t expect tips, either!
Last week we stayed in a very nice hotel in Cuenca, in the old part of town, near all the cathedrals. $33 a night, including breakfast. Today we moved into our efficiency apartment where we’ll stay for the month of September, and we’re paying just under $500, including internet and other utilities. A house-cleaner will cost us another $5 a week.
Last night Craig and I went out to eat. We had a steak dinner (me) and a chicken stew (him.) Then we went wild and had a couple of cocktails ($5 each!) and split a dessert. The tab was 27 bucks, and there was live music too.
For grocery shopping, you have a choice of the unfortunately-named Supermaxi grocery store, or one of the many mercados, the markets. The mercados are a vegetarian’s dream, with stalls overflowing with gorgeous fresh produce on an entire floor. Of course, the lower floor would then be that same person’s worst nightmare, with slabs of raw meat and various body parts everywhere. And wow, is it cheap! (I’m sending Craig tomorrow. He’s way taller than everybody in town, so it will be a piece of cake for him to negotiate the crowded aisles.)
Ecuador also promotes itself as a medical tourism destination. We decided to check it out, and scheduled a dentist visit for Craig. A cleaning cost $30, and even though he needed an extraction, the $35 price tag made the whole thing a lot less painful.
This week’s adventure has been traveling the Avenue of the Volcanoes, and what a ride it’s been!
Drivers in Ecuador tend to be on the aggressive side – no more so in Italy or some other spots, but it takes some getting used to. Especially since we are riding around in a pathetically under-powered little Chevy something. Many of the uphill climbs have been accomplished in second gear, and that’s on a highway. Switchback curves and steep inclines are the order of the day, and I found myself spending a lot of time hanging onto what some cultures refer to as the “Oh Jesus!” strap above the door frame.
Yes, this is a two way road, and that is indeed a bus barreling at us.
When we left Hacienda Cuisin, we thought it would be fun to take the scenic route. Who wants to spend time on the highway, when you can ride through the country? The fact we hadn’t counted on was that the country roads are paved with cobblestones, if at all. Oh, our poor rental car.
Notice the ETA? 51 minutes to go 14 miles. And that was actually a bit optimistic.
Google maps confidently proclaimed that we were on exactly the right road, even though it showed we were driving through outer space. Just as we were despairing of ever reaching our destination, we spotted it, sitting high upon a hill, with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and two volcanoes. But spotting it was an altogether different matter from getting to it. That took another 15 minutes on more cobblestones. By the end of the day, I thought I was experiencing shaken baby syndrome.
I must say, though, Hacienda de Los Morteños is stunning. The builders were clever enough to capitalize on the views – there are huge windows in every room, whether it be restaurant, common lounging area, or individual guest rooms. Our room faced east, and it was impossible to sleep past sunrise. It was a glorious way to start the day.
Hacienda de Los Morteños, named after the blueberry-like bushes in the area.
After our visit to the luxury hacienda, we decided to economize with a stay in a hostel. We blended right in with the backpacker crowd, as you can imagine. Hostal Tatia Cristobal is sparkling clean, quaint and friendly, and for $34 a night they feed us breakfast and dinner! Plus it’s got llamas!!