April 16 found us docked at Banjul, capital of The Gambia.
But before we get to that we have to tell you about something that happened 3 days earlier when we crossed the Equator for the fourth and last time. During his daily afternoon announcements the day before the Captain told us about a ship that was sailing in the Pacific on the eve of the first New Year of the 20th century. It seems that it was near the international date line at the time, so its captain decided to alter course a little so that midnight would find them straddling the spot where the Equator crosses the date line. At that moment half the ship was in Winter (above the equator) and half in Summer (below the equator). Half the ship was in the last day of December (on one side of the date line) and half the ship was in the first of January. But the really unique thing was that half the ship was in the 19th century and the other half in the 20th century.
Anyway, the Captain mentioned that we would be crossing the Prime Meridian as well as the Equator, but not at quite the same time. So he was later presented with a petition from some passengers requesting that he alter course so we could cross the point where these two lines intersect and he agreed to do so. It would be around 11:00 at night so the cruise director scheduled a “pajama party” in the Crow’s Nest to celebrate. In the end many were disappointed because the ship missed the mark by about 20 feet. But since the Amsterdam is more than 100 feet wide it seemed to us that if its GPS said it was within 20 feet then part of the ship must have passed over the spot. We have no evidence for this, but we prefer to believe that the cabin where we were asleep at the time passed smack over the intersection of the Equator and the Prime Meridian!
Of course, this intersection was nothing like that of the 19th century ship detailed above. Amsterdam was half in Winter and half in Summer, but that is true any time you cross any part of the Equator. The special thing about this particular intersection is that it is the only place on Earth that is zero degrees latitude and zero degrees longitude. So, as the Captain said, navigationally speaking this spot is the center of the world! This is pretty arbitrary, though, since the Prime Meridian is just a line on a map drawn in the late 19th century to pass through the observatory in Greenwich, England. In any event, the only thing to see there (even when it isn’t night out) is water. As you can imagine, then, there are no pictures.
Getting back to The Gambia, it is a tiny country that includes only the land on both sides of the Gambia river. Except for its seacoast Gambia is bordered entirely by Senegal, which surrounds it. Gambia became a British possession under the Versailles Treaty of 1783 and achieved independence in 1965. “The” was added to its name to avoid confusion with the sound-alike country of Zambia. Gambia’s first president held office for almost 30 years, then a military coup installed Yahya Jammeh as president. He held onto office for 22 years and was voted out in a surprise electoral upset in December, 2016 . A few days later he rejected the electoral result and vowed to hold onto power but a military incursion by several African nations finally forced him out in late January, 2017. So when we arrived Gambia was only 15 months into its first democratic government.
Banjul, the capital, is on an island at the mouth of the River Gambia and has a population of only about 35,000. Its name derives from a Mandinka word for bamboo, which grew plentifully here a few hundred years ago. After the British abolished slavery they built a fort on this island in 1816 to stop the deportation of slaves from the area, with mixed success. From where we were docked we had an expansive view of the port.
It took longer than expected to clear the ship for disembarkation so we had some time to watch the ferry traffic in the port. People of a certain age will remember LaVar Burton’s breakthrough role as Kunta Kinte in the 1970’s TV series Roots, based on Alex Haley’s book of the same name recounting the slave history of his family. In the series and in real life Haley’s presumed ancestor Kunta Kinteh was captured and sold into slavery in Gambia. Today there is a nearby island named for him and we saw a ferry named for him as well. A lot of people disembarked from these ferries, probably commuting to work in Banjul. An alternative way to cross the river or travel upriver is by pirogue, long thin boats we saw beyond the ferry dock to our right. At the end of the dock next to the ferry dock was a half sunken ship, which had apparently been there awhile since they had arranged floating lines around it.
We were scheduled for a bus excursion through the area in the afternoon so we caught the ship’s shuttle to the Albert Market in the center of town. It isn’t too far to walk but we were told that the area in between might not be safe. The Gambians have a reputation (well deserved in our small experience) for friendliness – Gambia is nicknamed the “Smiling Coast” – but we decided to play it safe in this unfamiliar territory and, in fact, some of the streets looked a little uncertain. They dropped us off in an alley at the back entrance to the market.
The craft market had kiosk after kiosk of wood carvings, masks, baskets and other interesting items. Nothing had a price on it; everything was about haggling. Many people enjoy that but we aren’t among them. You couldn’t just ask for a price either. The response was always “How much would you offer?” The vendors were aggressive in asking you to come in and look at their wares but they were always friendly and never curt or demanding. We bought a few things and learned some lessons about shopping in this environment.
After lunch we boarded the bus for our excursion. First stop was the National Museum, a small but interesting facility. No photography was permitted inside, which housed a large collection of vintage photographs and a room full of interesting musical instruments among other things. Outside were a number of bronze sculptures, one of which we understand is a likeness of former president Jammeh holding a baby that once stood at Arch 22, which we would see later.
We drove on to Bakau, crossing what we understand to be the River Gambia. On the way we passed the National Assembly building, a mosque and wetlands with mangroves and many birds.
We passed what we took to be the Bakau Craft Market on the way to the nearby Kachikally Crocodile Pool. This has been a pilgrimage site for several hundred years and women still come here to douse themselves with water from the pool as a fertility aid. You walk through a bit of forest to reach the crocodile pool. The most noteworthy item along this walk is a tall Beobab tree, although we also saw a crocodile that had somehow gotten himself far into a covered water trench. Apparently the crocodiles are permitted to run free as they like & are sometimes found in neighboring yards and on porches.
Kachikally is, obviously, a tourist attraction as well as a sacred site. Many of the crocodiles are said to be quite docile and well used to humans, but we don’t think we would test that. On the other hand, there is (or was) a well known crocodile here named Charlie, 70+ years old and 9 yards (feet?) long, who allows visitors to touch his back without a problem. We have read, though, that a number of different crocodiles play this role and all are referred to as Charlie. Be that as it may, there was a crocodile in a spot near the pool with a line of visitors waiting to pet him on the back. Mary took a pass, but Rick got in line & touched the crocodile. He was so still that we were unsure whether he was alive or dead until Mary saw him blink his eyes. I wouldn’t try this at home (or in Australia)!
Leaving Kachikally, we drove through Bakau’s somewhat desolate back streets to visit a school, which had a small library across the road. We also passed a vendor selling batik pictures, looking quite pretty as they blew in the wind.
We stopped for a local Julbrew beer in the courtyard of a guesthouse called “Smiling Coast.” Musicians were setting up for their show later in the evening. The beer was very good.
We drove to Serekunda, Gambia’s largest city with a population of 350,000, where we visited a batik and tie-dying workshop. Some workers were applying wax to a cloth in preparation for dying a batik picture.
We drove back to Banjul, passing a mosque and driving under Arch 22. The arch commemorates the coup of July 22, 1994, that put former president Jammeh into power for 22 years. Before Jammeh was ousted we couldn’t have driven under this arch because only the president himself was permitted to do that. A monument of an “unknown soldier” (that some think resembles Jammeh) used to sit in a traffic circle in front of the arch, but we think we saw it at the National Museum earlier today (shown above). The arch is more than 100 feet tall, one of the tallest buildings in Banjul, and is remarkably ugly, consisting of a triangular building on top of two groups of pillars. Some folks got out of the bus to photograph it but it was so ugly and was built to celebrate oppression, so we just waited on the bus. We did see it from the ship, however.
Our last stop was the Albert Market. The bus stopped in front of the market while the guide and about half the passengers went inside for a quick walk-through. We had been there this morning, of course, and it had been a long day so we elected to wait on the bus. Many of the Gambian women dress in very bright, colorful clothes. You have seen a few already, but a number walked by the bus in front of the market, some carrying items on their heads.
Back at the port a large impromptu market was set up along the dock in front of the ship. A group of women there were performing some lively song and dance.
We sailed away from Banjul as the sun was setting, with some boats still out in the water, and headed north for the short trip to neighboring Senegal.
On April 10 we were in Luanda, a port that is rarely visited by cruise ships (we could only find one other cruise ship scheduled to stop here this year). Angola has a long history and it isn’t pretty. It was a Portuguese colony for some 400 years (with a 7 year hiatus of Dutch rule) and for 250 years they used Luanda as a hub for the slave trade, especially to Brazil. It obtained independence in 1975 and immediately fell into a civil war that lasted until 2002. They are still recovering from that civil war. Today Luanda is one of the most expensive cities in the world and its plentiful oil reserves have created a class of very wealthy folks, both Angolan and foreign, who can afford to live here. But most of its 6 million residents are quite poor and have trouble making ends meet in this expensive economy.
When reading up about Luanda before the trip the main theme of advice was that this was a dangerous place to visit. Avoid walking the streets by yourself, and taking pictures of most places is forbidden with possible confiscation of your camera. This was reinforced by Barbara, the port guide, who presented a long list of safety admonitions, including not only avoiding drinking the local water but avoiding even touching it. After this we received a letter from the Captain repeating many of these same admonitions, along with an additional warning to be skeptical of anyone who speaks good English!
As you can imagine, the question everyone was asking after all this was: why are we even stopping here?
As it turned out this port was interesting and not unpleasant at all (at least for most folks). It seems that the Angolans would like to have more cruise business so they were very welcoming. We heard of no one who had a problem with the police & several police were on the dock when we left enthusiastically waving goodbye. No one tried to interfere with taking pictures; in fact we heard that on one of the tour busses the guide was taking pictures as much as the passengers. So maybe things are slowly improving here for visitors.
With this port’s reputation for being dangerous, it seemed before we arrived that the only safe options were to take a HAL tour (expensive & short) or stay on the ship. We travel to see new parts of the world and sure didn’t want to just stay on the ship all day. So we signed up for a HAL bus tour. As it happened, we saw a number of passengers who went out on their own and walked all the way to the fort (between one and two miles) without problem. Several small buses made up our excursion & we travelled together in a caravan with a police & ambulance(!) escort.
Our first stop was about a third of the way along the Marginal. This is the long expanse of waterfront between the port and the Fortaleza, a large fort on a hill across the bay. The Angolans are in the middle of a 15 year project to upgrade this area. The first part, completed in 2012, is a concrete path along the waterfront with its edge descending into the water, a number of small foot bridges and very colorful gardens along the way. There was a noticeable police presence (just for cruise ship day? we don’t know) and it felt very safe. The slanted concrete leading to the water was not safe; we heard that two people fell in (despite Barbara’s warning not to touch the water) and one had to be rescued by police.
Tracking the Marginal across from the water is one of the city’s main streets. On the other side of it were some pretty drab looking buildings. Maybe the redevelopment plan will get to them later. We suspect that while the Marginal park appears to be safe for visitors, walking a few blocks into the area across the street might be asking for trouble. We heard later that one passenger was accosted in that area and was rescued by local folks. Of course, he was carrying a lot of expensive looking camera equipment, despite the captain’s warning, so his running into trouble shouldn’t really be surprising.
A block or so from the Marginal, just past the blue building below, is a small 17th century Portuguese church that is often featured as one of the sights in this city. But we didn’t see it. Luanda lacks a professional tourist infrastructure so our tour was kind of ad hoc. The guides were recruited from other day jobs, mostly because they could speak English. Our guide normally worked as a translator, not a tour guide. So they are amateurs. She walked with a few of the passengers in our bus to see this church but because she never said a word about it to the rest of us we didn’t know it was there until we saw them crossing the street on their return. Very frustrating, but that is pretty representative of the current state of Luanda’s facilities for travelers.
Boarding the buses we drove along the Marginal, past the Fortaleza and out onto the Ilha do Cabo. We passed the pink National Bank of Angola (a local landmark), the monument to the unknown soldier, and the Largo de Baleizao, a plaza laid out in 1765 that served as a slave market.
No longer an island since it was connected to the mainland by a bridge, the Ilha is a 5 mile long sandy outcropping, no more than 550 yards wide at its widest point, that separates the bay from the ocean and makes it one of the largest ports in Africa. It is a popular beach spot and houses many bars and restaurants popular with Angolans. No one was swimming today, but we saw many people along the road. At the end of the Ilha was a candy colored lighthouse.
We drove back to the first stop across the bridge to the mainland, the Fortaleza de Sao Miguel (St Michael Fort). First erected in 1576 it was improved over the centuries through 1916. It has served as a slave depot, a prison and a museum. During the Angolan war for independence between 1961 and 1975 the Portuguese used it as their central military command post.
We spent most of our visit on the ramparts looking at the panoramic views of the city and the bay. We were told later that there are a couple of rooms with old Portuguese tile walls worth seeing but, true to form, our amateur guide didn’t tell us about them.
On the ocean side of the fort was a neighborhood with a lake or inlet where fishermen were plying their trade. Some of the houses don’t look too shabby, but we were told this is a poor neighborhood.
In the central courtyard on the first floor of the fort was a row of large statues. From left to right the first three are Diogo Cao (the first Portuguese to step on Angolan soil), Paulo Dias de Novais (founder of Luanda), and Salvador Correia de Sa (governor of Angola). Outside the walls was a giant statue of a 17th century African queen named Njinga, widely celebrated here and in Brazil for standing up to the Portuguese (although she also sold some 200,000 people to their slave traders). Inside the fort is a bust of Jose Mendes de Carvalho, a celebrated fighter in the war for independence who was killed in 1968. The front gate includes pictures of fighters from the civil war or the war of independence on the left and resisters to Portuguese slavers on the right.
We had one more stop after leaving the Fortaleza, the Mausoleum of Dr Antonio Agostinho Neto, Angola’s first president. He died in Moscow in 1979 after a cancer operation and the Russians made a start on building this monument in 1981. They soon abandoned it and it finally opened only in 2012, completed by Brazilian and then South Korean companies. Inside is supposed to be his sarcophagus, but we were only allowed to view the outside from the gates. This is a soaring, if somewhat ugly, metal monument shaped like a rocket, visible all over Luanda. There was a bust of Dr Neto in the Fortaleza. Behind the mausoleum one could see the shiny pink dome of the new National Assembly building opened at the end of 2015, looking a little like the Capitol building in Washington.
After our excursion bus returned to the ship we walked out to a market that had been set up in a square outside the port gates. Locals were selling mostly clothing and paintings. We bought a little something (remember, this is one of the world’s most expensive cities!) then walked back to the ship for the sail away.
As we sailed out of the harbor the hillside on the starboard (right) side of the ship was covered with hovels, slums that are called musseques in Angola. Luanda was a town of about 60,000 in 1940 and grew to about 475,000 by 1970. But during the 40 years of the war for independence and the civil war tremendous numbers of refugees fled from the strife in the countryside to the relative safety of Luanda. Today the city has some 6 million inhabitants and a very large percentage of them, mostly former refugees and their descendants, live in these musseques that surround the city. For a country so rich in oil revenue it is quite a sight. Maybe after they finish building the high rise office buildings in the city center for the oil companies they will do something to improve the lot of these people. On top of the hill were many nice looking houses and modern buildings, while along the water line in front of the musseques stood long lines of huge oil tanks.
As we pulled out past a long cliff extending to the sea looking very red in the late afternoon light, we saw a rainbow. Bidding Angola farewell, we headed out for five restful sea days on our way north.
Before sunrise on April 7 we docked in Walvis Bay, Namibia. A colony of Germany from 1885, what is now Namibia was incorporated into the British Union of South Africa after World War I. Namibia gained independence in 1990 but did not gain dominion over Walvis Bay until 1994. This was because Walvis Bay is the only deep water harbor in this part of Africa; it was once a haven for the whaling industry. Thus its name, which means Whale Bay.
Eastern Namibia is a very dry place, home to the Namib Desert which is one of the driest in the world. We set out today on a 4X4 expedition that would take us through some of this desert area. We met our driver on the pier; ours was one of a number of individual cars apparently recruited from among the locals that would travel together for this expedition. We were lucky in that our driver spoke very good English. It was a very cloudy & gray morning, although the weather greatly improved throughout the day.
Our first stop was at the Walvis Bay Lagoon, home to a large number of flamingos as well as other birds that migrate here on a regular basis. Flamingos are naturally gray & get their pink color from a dye in the tiny shrimp & algae they eat. You may notice that some of these flamingos seem to be off the standard diet. They submerge their heads in the water to eat because their bills are built upside down: the scooping section is on the top. They are quite something to see en masse, but you can better appreciate their graceful lines individually or in small groups.
We drove north along the coast to Swakopmund, a town founded by Germans in the 19th century. It is supposed to be interesting but we just drove through it on our way to the desert.
The area we visited next is called the Valley of the Moon because of its stark and craggy landscape. We stopped on a promontory and walked around.
On this hill were a large number of Singing Rocks. They look like ordinary boulders, but if you strike some of them with a metal object they emit a musical note like a bell. Each rock has its own tone, probably reflecting its size and the amount of iron it contains. Some of our fellow passengers had a hard time tearing themselves away from playing the rocks to look at the rest of the area.
We descended into the dry bed of the Swakopmund river and drove through the valley for a while. The bumpy drive made photography pretty dicey. There were quite a few impressive rock formations we passed on the way. The weird looking lights in the sky are reflections on the car’s window.
We stopped at a spot known as the Lichen Koppie, a little hill with various colored lichens growing on rocks. They were very flat and drab looking but when one of the guides poured a little water on them from a cup they suddenly unfurled into leafy plants. It was quite startling in the suddenness of the transformation. Apparently this is their lifestyle, shrunken and dry most of the time waiting for just a little moisture to really come alive. Below are some before and after pictures.
Nearby were some desert plants, one looking dead (but not we think) and one with tiny flowers on long stalks.
Next they took us to see a most unusual and interesting plant called Welwitschia. It only grows in this part of West Africa and is known to live upwards of 2000 years, even though it looks like its already almost dead. On the way we passed some more interesting rock formations.
The plant is named after a guy named Welwitsch (how else would it get a name like that), its first European discoverer. It has a deep taproot, maybe 10 – 15 feet depending on age, and only two leaves, which get divided into multiple strands by weather. There are male and female plants, each with distinctive reproductive parts growing up from the middle. A small bug (looks like a beetle but isn’t) called the Welwitshia Bug is often found in the plants and some think it is instrumental in fertilization. We were told the plants we visited were more than 500 years old.
As mentioned above in one of the photo captions, many of the mountain ridges are topped by black rocks that we were told were a mineral, perhaps basalt.
We stopped for lunch at a place in the desert called Goanikontes Oasis. Native people inhabited this oasis in the 18th century (Goanikontes is a Nama word meaning “the place where you can remove your fur coat,” although its hard to imagine why anyone would even have a fur coat in this hot environment). In 1848 Europeans first established a farm here. It is still a farm but also a restaurant and a lodging. We ate at picnic tables under the trees, the most memorable item being Kudu lasagna. You may recall that we ate kudu at the safari lodge, but it was better in this form because the ground kudu isn’t as tough. A peacock walked among the tables while we ate.
Pens of animals were near the picnic tables, notably goats and llamas, and the palm trees in the desert landscape were also interesting.
On the way back to town we stopped at a desert viewpoint. Quite a vista with a mountain in the background.
Our last stop was at “Dune 7,” reputedly the largest sand dune in Namibia and one of the tallest in the world. It is also a recreation area with a parking lot and people cooking on grills. Some folks climbed up the more than 1200 feet to the top, then sat down and slid down to the bottom.
You probably will not be surprised to hear that we did not climb up there. But Rick did climb a smaller portion on the side of the dune that some folks were using as a less steep path to the top. Although smaller it was still a challenging climb through sand.
On the ship that night there was a song and dance performance by a group of young Namibians. It was interesting and the performers put a lot into it; it would probably have seemed much better if we had not just seen the South African group (at least in the opinion of Rick, who liked the South African group better than Mary did).
This was a taxing, though very interesting, day out in the heat of the desert, and as we went to bed we were grateful to have two sea days before our next West African port.
Since we had missed most of the first day in Cape Town April 4 was our day to explore the town. But first we had to explore the ship. You may recall that the HAL bigwigs boarded at Reunion Island to sail as far as Cape Town. It seems that while we were away they threw a big party throughout the ship, complete with plentiful singing, dancing & drinking. The ship’s public areas were decorated with groups of long glass tubes lighted with different colors that were intended, we were told, to emulate South African kraals, enclosures for domestic animals surrounded by thorn tree trunks and branches (the word “corral” apparently has the same root). Whether they looked like kraals we don’t know, but they were very colorful. We were told that the ship’s personnel had been busy constructing these for most of the cruise, with several humorous difficulties along the way. They were later dismantled and given to local folks somewhere in West Africa. Because we had missed the party Hal left in our room a bottle of South African wine decorated with shorter versions of the colored pipes (the wine bottle is shown in two parts because they wouldn’t stitch together correctly into a single picture).
People have lived in what is now South Africa for well over 10,000 years. The first Europeans to colonize it were the Dutch in 1652. Their purpose was to establish a re-provisioning station for their ships headed to the Dutch East Indies. It was taken over by the British in 1806. In 1834 Britain abolished slavery throughout its empire, including in South Africa. Resisting this, the Boers (mostly descendants of the early Dutch settlers) then moved north into the frontier and established two new states: Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
At the end of the 19th century the Boer War was fought between the British and the Boers. The British were badly outfought at first but eventually overpowered the Boers. However many Boer fighters continued in a guerilla campaign. The British then established concentration camps in which they placed the families of the Boer guerillas, many of whose homesteads they also burned down. Conditions were dire in the concentration camps and the death rate, including mostly women & children, was quite high.
After World War II the country instituted the apartheid system, which brutally repressed nonwhite residents. This lasted until 1994, when Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were released and the first democratic elections, in which adults of every ethnicity could vote, were held. Nelson Mandela was elected the first president of democratic South Africa.
A day and a half is not nearly enough time to explore Cape Town. We decided to take the Hop On Hop Off bus and go to the top of Table Mountain, a huge flat mountain in the center of town that can be seen for many miles out to sea. To catch the bus we had to walk to Victoria and Alfred waterfront (not a typo, Prince Alfred was one of Victoria’s sons), Cape Town’s original harbor but much too small for modern ships. This took about 20 minutes, walking past the old red clocktower (built in 1882) and over a swinging bridge. There are a lot of interesting stores at the waterfront, in particular one that had almost life size sculptures of African animals made of various media. Mary was taken with a large elephant made entirely of strings of tiny beads.
We sat on the open top level of the bus as it drove through the city from the waterfront. We passed the dry dock, where a Chinese ship was being refurbished. Then we drove through the downtown area, passing many interesting old buildings that we can’t identify. Much of the city near the harbor was built on reclaimed land.
Leaving the downtown area, the bus drove up the foothills toward the lower cable car terminal for Table Mountain. Even at this level we began to see impressive vistas over the city to the water.
Many people live on the lower levels of Table Mountain in order to obtain a view similar to this. But to preserve the mountain’s beauty a line was established beyond which it is illegal to build. One developer found a way to violate the purpose of this law without contravening its wording, building a complex of three residential towers in the 1960’s that sit below the line but rise 17 stories to a height well above it. There is always someone! Predictably, the Disa Park towers are unpopular with the locals (other than the folks who live in them), who call the buildings the “toilet rolls” or the “tampons.”
From the lower cable car terminal the one on top of the mountain looks very tiny and the cable car is suspended very high in the air. The floor of the cable car rotates so everyone has a chance to see the view in all directions. In particular, you get a very good view of the complex rock formations on the side of the mountain as you rise past them. We were the first in line at the door to the cable car but people pushed & shoved past in all directions. Unnecessary since the floor rotates, but we did get a place by the window. We were very lucky that it was such a clear day as the cable car stops running when it is cloudy (frequent).
Upon reaching the top the first thing to do is walk along the edge of the mountain overlooking the city & gape at the stunning views.
Despite its rocky appearance, Table Mountain is rich in flora & fauna. The mountain hosts close to 1500 varieties of plants . . . more than in the entire United Kingdom.
As for fauna, we saw lizards & birds & Dassies (an animal that looks like a rodent but actually is the closest related species to the elephant). Sadly, the only Dassie we were able to photograph (they are quick & pretty much wanted no part of us) refused to look in our direction.
The top of the mountain has many hiking trails & a lot of people were using them while we were there.
We walked around the mountain top as well, greatly enjoying the views. From the back you could see out along the cape & from one side you could see the beach communities.
We went back to the cable car terminal, which now had about a half hour line to go down the mountain. Eventually we made it down and re-boarded the HOHO bus which then continued its route through the beach communities we had seen from above.
The side of the mountain facing the beach is called the “twelve apostles” because of the row of massive buttresses. You don’t have to count . . . there aren’t 12 buttresses, although there were twelve apostles.
As the bus took us back to the city we passed the Green Point Lighthouse which has been operating in this spot since 1824. We also passed the football (soccer) stadium. We stayed on the bus back into town for some shopping. We looked through the Pan African Market, which had a plethora of vendors selling every kind of African art. Unfortunately, we were the only shoppers there, no prices were marked (it’s all about haggling) and the vendors were pretty aggressive marketers. We left there and walked to the open-air Greenmarket Square. This was also filled with vendors selling all kinds of African items from kiosks, but there were quite a few shoppers here and the atmosphere was more relaxed. So we did make some purchases here.
We walked all the way back to Victoria and Alfred Wharf. At the wharf is Nobel Square, an open space with statues of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners (l-r): Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela. All were involved in the elimination of apartheid and the construction of a democratic political system.
We understand that this square is often used as an open performance space. On this afternoon we saw a delightful singing and dancing performance by a group of young people wearing colorful clothes and some with painted faces. They were quite energetic and very entertaining.
We stopped for a very late lunch at an outdoor café right by the water in front of the Victoria and Alfred mall. It was, thankfully, a beautiful day and we had a wonderful view of the harbor and of Table Mountain from our table. At one point a seagull flew in and sat on a post by our table, just as if he were one of the party. After a while he became disgusted with our failure to drop any crumbs and flew away.
We walked back to the ship, passing a sculpture of a sort of robot version of the Incredible Hulk and an artists’ foundry topped by a family of bronze warthogs. It seems there is always something interesting to see in this city.
We went to the upper deck of the ship to catch the view of the mountains in the setting sun. We were not disappointed. Table Mountain is big enough to have its own weather system. It is often covered with a low cloud creeping over the edge, which is known as the table cloth. We were lucky it wasn’t there when we were on the mountain (some other HAL passengers weren’t so lucky). A cloud was there this evening, but it was mostly over Devil’s Peak, and barely covering the top edge of Table Mountain. This was pretty dramatic in the setting sun.
After dinner there was a local group singing and dancing in the Queen’s Lounge. Their show was a review of South African song and dance through its history. One of their songs would be familiar to most Americans. It dates back to the 1930’s and is called “Mbube,” the Zulu word for lion. It was first recorded in the United States by the Weavers, with Pete Seeger, as “Wimoweh” and then in 1961 it was a number one hit for a teen group called The Tokens (with an English chorus added) under the name “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” It was also later included in the soundtrack of “The Lion King.” We heard this a number of times in South Africa, even on the HOHO bus soundtrack. As an aside, when Rick was in high school at Fairview High in Dayton, Ohio, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was played over the loudspeaker every morning for a week before the football game against the rival Meadowdale Lions.
Anyway, getting back on track, the show was extremely energetic and upbeat with a group of musicians who all could play most of the instruments, which included a number of marimbas.
You may be wondering why our two days in Cape Town are combined in one post. The third day, April 5, was a little short since sail away was at 5:00, and we decided to spend most of it at Victoria & Alfred waterfront exploring all the shops. Therefore, little to tell and very few additional pictures.
We walked to the waterfront over the swinging bridge, just like yesterday. In the parking lot outside the cruise terminal we encountered an interesting small bird with a grand name: Greater Crested Tern.
At the waterfront we saw a building we had noticed from the bus the day before that had a tower with a long pole on top with a red ball around it. Built in 1894 this was used to signal the exact time to ships in the old harbor. Sort of like the ball dropping in New York on New Year’s Eve, this ball would slide down the pole at exactly noon every day. While we visited a lot of shops with really interesting artifacts in all price ranges, from cheap tacky souvenirs to expensive works of art, we did most of our shopping in a large mall of shops called The Watershed. It was actually a lot of fun.
We returned to the ship for the sail away. True to form, Cape Town bade us farewell with a memorable image as we headed out to sea.
It was still quite dark out when we were awakened on April 3, our departure day from Camp Shawu. We had originally been scheduled for a morning game drive before leaving for the airport, but the night before there were several calls from the main lodge giving mixed signals. When we went to bed we were told there would be a truncated one hour game drive before departure, but 3 of our group decided not to go. Now we were told that our game drive would take us to the main lodge and the other 3 would be brought in a second car with all of our luggage. But in the end we were told that there would be no game drive at all and all seven of us would be driven directly to the main lodge. Such confusion (not to mention irritation).
We had, of course, gotten up well before dawn each morning at the camp but this was the first morning in which we were still there to see the sun rise over the lake. It was really worth seeing.
As the sun rose above the mountains we went out on the veranda for some final pictures before departure. We noticed that the trees at the end of the lake were filled with egrets at first light, probably from fear of crocodiles (or maybe just fear of the dark).
After all the mixed signals about the morning’s activities it was finally decided by the folks at the main lodge that we would have to skip even the truncated game drive and come there right away. This was a disappointment to those of us planning to go on the game drive, but we all climbed into the safari vehicle and Safiso headed out to the road to the main lodge. But we hadn’t gone more than 5 or 10 minutes before we were stopped by a group of four male lions stretched out across the road.
We had heard them howling during the night & Safiso said they were probably feeling lazy because they had enjoyed a good meal. They looked quite beautiful, sometimes almost glowing in the early morning sun.
These guys were seriously relaxed & couldn’t have cared less about our being there. It must be good to be at the very top of the food chain and not have to be afraid of anyone else. After we had been there a little while most of them lay down & went to sleep.
Safiso had sent out a call to other safari vehicles about the lion spotting. We couldn’t do anything to rouse the lions before the others had a chance to get there and it was a much longer drive if we turned around and went a different way. Eventually a number of other vehicles showed up, most on the other side of the lions. None of this disturbed them however.
Before we left the ship Rick had been claiming that he would take a picture of Robert with a lion on the safari. So while we waited he did so! Not what we might have hoped, since the lion wasn’t close and wouldn’t look in our direction. But a picture of Robert and the lion it is, just as promised.
By the way, take a look at the zoomed shot of the lion in the fourth picture below. He appears to have one dark blue and one yellow eye. Just like Washington Nats’ ace Max Scherzer! I wonder if he can pitch? This condition is called Heterochromia Iridum.
Just when Safiso was about to turn around and take the long road to the main lodge for fear of missing our flight the lions grudgingly stood up and walked into the grass to the left of the road. They lay there in the tall grass, some watching us and some not, while we finally were finally able to continue our journey.
We made it back without further incident to the main lodge where we were given a sumptuous buffet breakfast. Then we headed out to the airport in buses that were not quite as uncomfortable as the ones that brought us from Maputo. It was a pretty long drive & we did see a number of animals but the bus was too bouncy and the windows too small to get decent pictures for the most part. When we crossed the river there was a Cape Buffalo lounging on the shore, the only one we had seen with its face turned toward us. It was on the other side of the bus so we couldn’t get a picture, but our friend Mike shared one with us.
One more thing before we leave Kruger National Park. Here are some of the flowers we saw during our stay, some in the wild and some at the lodges. Actually, there were surprisingly few actual blooms considering all the bush area we passed through.
The flight to Cape Town was uneventful. Unfortunately we were seated on the aisle next to a wing, so we were unable to see anything of the South African countryside during the flight. Not a typo . . . we were both on the aisle, one in front of the other, and we were not the only couple separated like that. We have never experienced anything like that on an airline before. There was a meal served, but it was cold (like just out of the refrigerator). This wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a sandwich, but Rick’s meal was meat and noodles, cold and clammy. If you know Rick you will not be surprised that he ate it anyway.
We made it back to the ship in late afternoon, but we were pretty tired so we didn’t go anywhere. It turned out that when the ship arrived in Cape Town that morning a cargo ship that had been there a few days was docked overlapping Amsterdam’s docking location by a few feet. So Amsterdam had to sail around in circles for a few hours before its berth was cleared for docking. The Captain was beside himself & declared that he had never seen anything like it in his long career at sea.
After dinner we went up to deck 6 to see Cape Town at night. It was well lit and made for some nice pictures. Tomorrow we would venture out and see what is there.