South Africa: Cape Town
Thursday brought the sad realizition that I had to leave the glory of safari. So after one last early game ride, I reluctantly boarded a taxi back to the real world. I had a conference in Cape Town to attend.As if the bush itself was crying out “don’t leave me!” our progress out of the park was impeded almost immediately by a giraffe crossing right in front of us on its way to a watering hole. Though time was short — and though my good cameras were no longer within reach — I insisted that we stop. The giraffe approached the water, looked around to check its safety, then bent down low to drink.
By odd coincidence, I had been told just that morning how rare it is to witness giraffes drinking. But no one had told me how strikingly beautiful it is. I was already sorry to be leaving, and with this new sight I almost told the driver to go back to the lodge. After all, how could Cape Town possibly offer anything but a bitter reminder that I was no longer on safari?
I resisted the urge to return, though, bade a mental farewell to the giraffe and her friends, and told the taxi driver to continue onward to O.R. Tambo international airport.
To say that I am a spoiled traveler is an understatement. I fly a lot, almost always on Delta, and Delta tends to treat me well. My flight from Joburg to Cape Town was on the African discount airline Kulula Air, and that had me worried. But it turned out okay.I landed too late to see much of Cape Town that evening. Then the power went out around sunset, because South Africa doesn’t have enough electricity. Rolling blackouts are common. (In Orwellian fashion, these are described as “load shedding.” It’s not that they’ve run out of power, you see. They just have too much load, so they shed some of it from time to time.) Unlike in Joburg, where four-hour outages are common, this one was set to last less than three.
So there I was in a dark, unlit, foreign city, far away from the bush. I did have a spectacular view from my hosts’ apartment, but there were no giraffes.
I lucked out that night, with delightful hosts who took me to one of the best meals of my life, at La Colombe. (If you’re in Africa, anywhere in Africa, stop by — no matter how long the flight. It’s worth it.) The conversation matched the food, and made for a superb evening.
The next day I got to see a bit of the city, and I have to say, Cape Town is truly beautiful, with majestic mountains and sweeping vistas, striking architecture and verdant vegetation, rolling hills and waves exploding against a magnificent shoreline. The only thing missing, really, were the giraffes. And the elephants. And the zebras and the lions. And the rest of the glory of raw nature.
That afternoon I headed out of town to the conference venue, my second in South Africa. It was at another hotel, the Protea, in a lovely region called Stellenbosch. While offering lots of outdoor space and a picturesque countryside view, it was less resort-like than the Indaba. And there were still no giraffes.
But the people more than made up for it. I may have been in a pedestrian, suburban conference center, but the right company can make that an extraordinary experience, too.