It was hard to believe that after 8 months on the road, we were now starting the last leg of our trip. We were headed to South Africa, the former homeland of Monsieur and one of our favourite places to visit. This was my third visit to South Africa and we were both quite excited to share this incredible place with our kids.
The first stop on our 2.5 week stay was Cape Town. Known as The Mother City, Cape Town is one of the three capital cities in South Africa, acting as the legislative capital. Its also a city near and dear to Monsieur’s heart having spent most of his childhood summers on the beaches here learning to Body Surf and taking in the waves.
We booked ourselves an Airbnb in the seaside neighbourhood of Bantry Bay overlooking the Atlantic side of the Cape. Bantry Bay is just a 15-20 minute drive south of the CBD of Cape Town and the famous V&A Waterfront. Its a great jumping off point to explore the Cape as there is so much to see.
We booked a direct flight from Frankfurt to Cape Town flying 12 hours through the night arriving mid-morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Monsieur was all primed to drive on the left side of the road after our stay in the UK. Navigating from the airport to Bantry Bay was relatively easily between Google Maps and Monsieur’s memory, though much has changed since our last visit here 13 years ago.
After dropping our bags at the rental house and cleaning up a bit, we took a drive to visit our cousins L & H down in Kommetjie (pronounced coma-key). We took the kids through the enclave of Clifton Beach, through the stunning Camps Bay with a view of the incredible Twelve Apostle mountain peaks and over the famous Chapman’s Peak. The latter a vertiginous cliff-top, seaside drive towards Cape Point on the Cape of Good Hope.
L gave us some directions to stop at their local beach in Kommetjie before we were expected at their house. This wild beach with a fabulous break was full of after work surfers. It was amazing to see this wild beach so close to a big city like Cape Town. Perhaps this is part of the Cape Town charm. You have such wild and tumultuous natural spaces like this juxtaposed so closely with a world class, global city. Littered with bull kelp and plenty of salty sea spray, Kommetjie is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help but marvel that if this were in North America, there would be skyscraper hotels lining this beach, not rows of quaint beach cottages and surf shacks.
Our second day in Cape Town was devoted to a walk down memory lane for Monsieur and Granny. We took a drive over the north end of Table Mountain, past the Rhodes Memorial and on to Muizenberg (pronounced Mu-zen-berg). A small surf town overlooking False Bay and depending on who you ask, the Indian Ocean side of Cape Point. Technically, the southern most point of Africa is actually Cape Agulhas located southeast from Cape Town. However, the romantic division between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans continues to be the Cape of Good Hope.
Driving through Muizenberg, Monsieur and Granny noted many changes but were amazed and at how little had changed at all. South Africa is not a country where infrastructure improvements happen with any speed at all. Instead we found a beach with several of its famous, colourful beach boxes falling down in disrepair.
While it was the middle of winter it was a sunny day and the surf was breaking in False Bay, so there were plenty of folks beachside to catch a wave including a large gang of would-be surfers from the Muizenberg Surf Emporium gathered for a class. Much too cold and great white shark-y for our tastes, we popped into the shop instead to collect some surf-enirs (see what I did there) for friends back home.
For lunch, we headed south along False Bay towards Kalk Bay. We stopped at a fish and chips shop right on the wharf called Kalkys. Nothing fancy, it was order at the counter and sit at picnic tables. Kalkys clientele was definitely the fishermen coming off the boat, so there was no excuse for frozen fish here. There was plenty of selection of locally caught seafood; snoek, hake, calamari, prawns and even octopus.
Filled to the gullet with fried food, we continued driving south towards Simon’s Town – home of the South African Navy and on to Boulders Beach. Boulders is home to a colony of endangered African Penguins and offers a fantastic visitor experience with boardwalks through the massive granite boulders, along the beach to best view the birds. We were all happy to see the funny little penguins up close and waddling around and get our first taste of South African wildlife.
That evening we were treated to another yummy home cooked dinner, this time with Monsieur’s Auntie T. The main reason we added South Africa to our trip was so we could visit Auntie T and help her celebrate her 80th birthday which had been postponed a year due to Covid. Auntie T lives in the V&A Waterfront and took us on a walk to visit her resident seal colony. V&A Waterfront is a genius bit of development with several cool hotels, a vast shopping complex, an aquarium, a food market, a fabulous local craft and products market just to name a few of the attractions. Auntie T is our Queen of Cape Town having lived here her whole life, serving as a Counsellor and Mayor of the city in the 90s. She has a fantastic knowledge of the city and we made a plan to visit some art studios with her the following day.
Leaving the kids at the Airbnb with wifi and devices, Monsieur, Granny and I headed out on an adventure with Auntie T. She first took us to visit the ceramics studio of her friend Clementina van der Walt. Unfortunately Clementina was away on holiday in of all places, Canada. We were sad to miss her, but we did enjoy visiting with her apprentice Adonis N’sele Mumpango. He is from the Congo and was working on some of his own ceramic pieces drawing on Congolese artistic traditions. It was a lovely visit, I just wished that some of his pieces were finished so we could take one home!
Our second stop on the Auntie T adventure brought us to one of my most favourite places in Cape Town, MonkeyBiz. Founded in 2000 by Barbara Jackson, Shirley Fintz and Mathapelo Ngaka the goal of MonkeyBiz is “economic upliftment”. They hire people, many women who can’t find other employment, to work as artists creating traditional beadwork. They can work from home and are empowered by the MonkeyBiz community to seek financial independence. Initially they started with the mandate to hire HIV positive women who struggled to find work. Its now expanded to employ all genders who need a helping hand. The beadwork is incredible and much more elaborate than any other tourist trap beadwork I’ve seen. Each piece from MonkeyBiz is a one-of-a-kind piece of art.
We first visited MonkeyBiz in 2004 in their studio in the BoKaap. When we returned in 2008, they had opened a stand alone shop just down the street. Covid was not kind to MonkeyBiz and they were now relocated into a studio space shared with famous South African table wear designer Carroll Boyes in an industrial park. Carroll was partners with Barbara Jackson, both have since passed away but the incredible synergy between the two brands remains and you can find MonkeyBiz pieces in Carroll’s stores around the world.
To me, MonkeyBiz is an inspiring story. Three women came together to address an issue in society, with poverty alleviation as a mandate but also encouraging and promoting the locally acquired cultural artistry. Its fascinating to see how they have evolved and we were very happy to be in a position where we could help support them in a small way by buying some more pieces – this time some very sweet Christmas decorations.
On our fourth day in the Mother City, we picked up our young cousin L who happens to be around the same age as The Little Kid. We took all the kids over to the V&A Waterfront. Our plan was a stop to pick up some safari supplies and some cozy pj pants for the Little Kid. We did all that and Monsieur insisted that for lunch we have Steers Burgers. With apartheid, many brands left or boycotted South Africa, leaving the country to develop its own homegrown cache of products and brands. This is why any city with a sizeable South African community can easily sustain a shop selling all the favourites; Mrs. Ball’s Chutney, Flings Snacks, Jelly Tots and always biltong (South African dried meat) to name a few. Steers is the South African McDonald’s but with a slightly better reputation. It was a dirty fast food lunch, but it was one we could only get there so Monsieur was very happy!
After lunch, we walked with the kids over to see The Watershed Market. A fantastic collection of over 150 artisans selling arts, crafts and other local products. We loved getting a look at some of the fantastic African carvings, bead work, baskets and canvases. We loved this indoor spot to shop for great souvenirs and African artwork. The other great place in Cape Town for this sort of shopping is downtown at Green Market Square. Also an amazing destination for African handicrafts, but somehow the Watershed was a little less chaotic and feels safer.
That evening we had planned to meet L & H for dinner at a steak house in Camps Bay. It was a well timed plan as there was a scheduled power outage between 8-10pm. Load shedding is a fact of life across South Africa at the moment. The crumbling power infrastructure has left the country with not enough power to go around to the 60 million plus residents so scheduled power outages are necessary to stretch the limited supply. The restaurant was packed as flashlight carrying residents made the decision to eat out since there would be no power to cook with at home. Most restaurants have generators to kick in when the load shedding occurs. Around 8pm the power went off in the restaurant and seconds later the generator kicked in and powered everything back up. We would hardly have noticed besides the fact that it was so dark outside. We preferred to languish over dinner rather than brave the roads with all the traffic lights out.
The real highlight over dinner was meeting Tonda. Tonda was the manager of the restaurant and a member of Xhosa tribe. She is a firecracker of energy and joy. We immediately fell in love and were absolutely smitten when she took one look at the Little Kid and sized them up perfectly.
“Can you tell me where the washroom is?” The Little asked.
”Well,” said Tonda “You go outside and turn left. There you’ll see a big tree. You squat there!”
The Little turned as pale as can be. “This IS Africa.” Tonda boomed.
The Little burst into laughter, as did all of us. Then Tonda taught us a little Xhosa, an amazing language with 3 separate click sounds. A fabulous cultural experience right there in that steak house in the dark. We were super grateful that Tonda was so willing to share with us.
Our final day in Cape Town was a busy one. Our cousin R invited us to have lunch with her and her daughter M in Kalk Bay. We met at the eclectic, yet delicious Olympia Cafe. It was good that we ate a solid meal, because we needed it for the next stop. Conveniently located just upstairs from the cafe is Kalk Bay Modern. Another haven for impeccable locally made art, jewelry and other handicrafts it was a feast for the soul. From fabulous embroidered tapestries to contemporary Bushman art to captivating canvases, Kalk Bay Modern was teeming with amazing original pieces. We were most taken with Patrick Makumbe, a Zimbabwean artist who’s work captures such humanity through colour and subject. What a treat to visit such a great incubator of Southern African art and artists.
Finally, to close out our amazing stay in Cape Town we hosted dinner for all our local family in the Airbnb. Our fabulous host connected us with Nicole who cooked one of the best meals of our trip. Believe me I’ll be first in line when Nicole finally publishes her cookbook. It was out of this world. We were very happy that we could have all 10 cousins, Auntie T and all of us for a feast. It was fun to host again, especially with Nicole cheffing it up in the kitchen so I didn’t have to lift a finger!
We were sad to say farewell to Cape Town. We had so much fun getting to know our Capetonian family better and were thrilled to see a different side of the city. In the chilly, rainy and wintry weather we were able to explore the more artistic nooks and crannies rather than our usual beaches and wineries. Although we did wish we had more time so we could show the kids some of the very old wineries of Constantia and the stunning landscapes of Paarl and Franschhoek. We decided that next time we needed to allow more time and return for the summer/ fall months when we could take better advantage of the amazing landscape.