Funny that of all the HD video I shot of elephants, penguins, rhinos, warthogs, hippos, crocs and exotic birds, that this would be my favorite video from the trip...

P.S. -- Jenn still wants a goat.

Africa - September 1, 2012

Can't believe we say goodbye to Africa today. Our flight isn't until 8pm, but the lovelies at The Backpack are letting us stow our things in a locked storage room so we can explore Cape Town one last time.

Pastries at Cape Town's Biscuit Mill Market.
First stop: Biscuit Mill Market. This restored mill in an up-and-coming section of town is packed every Saturday morning with dozens of chefs, baristas, and vendors selling every kind of gourmet, organic, fair-trade food imaginable.* We three feasted on breakfast crepes, then wandered from stall to stall drooling over pat├ęs, French pastries, Thai noodle dishes, hearty soups, local honey, and biltong. Bought several delicate, pastel macaroons for the road.**

Cape Town, seen from the Red Bus.
Following our cabbie's advice, we bought tickets for a Red Bus tour so we could spend the day checking out the entire city, hopping on and off whenever we wanted. Worked our way up to Table Mountain, which thankfully had emerged from the previous day's cloud shroud. Took a cable car 3,500 feet to the top,*** where we were rewarded with spectacular views of the city -- and a look at Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.****

Robben Island as seen from Table Mountain.
The diversity of plant life on the mountain is staggering. More then 2,200 species are found here, so many that this small area was named the Cape Floristic Region, one of only six scientifically-recognized floral kingdoms in the world.

After returning to earth, we boarded a bus back to the V&A Waterfront, where we had a final fabulous three-course meal at the 100-year-old Hildebrand Ristorante***** before heading to the airport.

After a twelve-hour flight from Cape Town, we have nine hours to play in London before beginning the final leg home. So we've fled Heathrow to walk about and visit the Tate Modern. Our wonderful tourmates Terry and Tamara were on the same flight, and they showed us the best Tube route to the museum. Highlights: Oskar Fischinger's multimedia piece, a canvas by my favorite artist Lee Krasner, and the total sensory overload of the Poetry & Dream gallery. What a fitting way to end our adventure, which so often felt like a dream.

Lee Krasner's "Gothic Landscape" at the Tate Modern.
Brad's footnotes:
* Columbusites, it was like our Market Days downtown on Saturdays, but on crack -- and with a bent toward exquisitely crafted foods over fresh veggies. Makeshift tables were made of old doors propped on sawhorses, just like in Bibb City!
** Biltong is like what we call jerky, but a bit softer and tangier, as there's vinegar in the curing. It's awesome. Kate talked a nice local man into selling us all of his warthog biltong with a conversation that started thusly:
Kate: Hi. We're from America. 
Man (with complete sarcasm): No! Really?
*** Proud of Jenn, who never puked despite both the car's glass walls and my comment that they should've also made the floor out of glass.
**** And left the prison a man of peace and a champion.
***** Thanks to the Hildrebrand, which fed us on credit despite the fact that stupid CitiBank appeared to put a "suspicious halt" on our MasterCard, despite the fact that we called ahead of the trip to tell them where we'd be. Trust no one on these matters, people.

Africa - August 31, 2012

Toilet Hippo pour la maison. Oh la la.
Uh oh. Brad has come down with a terrible fever. Last night was pretty worrisome, but thanks to three blankets and two boiling hot water bottles,* we made it through. It's rainy, cold, and windy outside, so all sightseeing plans have been thwarted, which is just as well. Brad stayed in bed while Kate and I checked out arts and crafts at the V&A Waterfront for a few hours.** Big score of the day to cheer Brad up: a hippo sculpture made out of aluminum cans so we can have our very own Toilet Hippo at home. He's sassy.

Lovely Kate at Charly's.
Brad's footnotes:
* I'm warm-natured, so this was the first time I needed to use one of these magical devices. Boiling water goes in, and it stayed roasty for, like, six hours.
** I was cranky that they abandoned me for lunch, without money or energy to walk about and find something. But then I remembered I had half of a giant muffin left from Charly's Bakery -- an awesome stop (and another recommendation from Toni at The Backpack) that I'd had enough energy for that morning.

Africa - August 30, 2012

Both cute and obnoxious.
Penguins! Watched a brilliant ocean sunrise, then walked to Boulders Beach to see a protected colony of African penguins. Adorable little critters, especially when they're calling like a pack of disgruntled donkeys.* Inquisitive too, waddling as close to you as they can while rotating their heads left and right, trying to figure you out.

Back to the guesthouse for yet another fabulous breakfast (can't...button...pants...), then drove an hour home to Cape Town proper. With help from our friend Toni at The Backpack, Kate arranged for a Cape Malay cooking tour this afternoon. Cape Malay culture is unique to Cape Town,** its roots going back to the Sumatran slaves taken from their homes by Dutch colonists. The cuisine incorporates a wonderful blend of sweet and savory -- dishes use garlic, ginger, chili, curry, fennel, cumin, coriander seed, bay leaf, cardamom, and lots of turmeric.

Rollin' roti. Yeah, that's right.
Nizaam Peck with Impeckable Travel and Tours took us to the home of Faldela Tolker, who taught us to make falooda, spicy chili bites, roti, chicken curry, tomato & onion sambal, and samosas. I'm glad I didn't know beforehand that cooking with Faldela was listed here as one of the Top 10 Cooking Experiences Around the World; otherwise, I would have been self-conscious as my poorly-rolled roti dough broke over and over again in front of her.***

Faldela was born in District Six, and as we ate together, we learned much about race relations in South Africa, both before and after Mandela's release from prison. It's horrifying to imagine that only twenty years ago, we would have all been arrested for conspiracy, just for eating a meal with friends of mixed races.

After lunch, Nizaam took us to the Atlas Spice Shop, where I bought so many bags of spices that I had to give away some of my clothes to make room in the backpack.**** Pretty sure I have my priorities straight.

Bo Kaap district, known for its Cape Malay cuisine.
We raced to Auwal Mosque, the oldest mosque in Cape Town, right as the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer was being sung. Kate and I quickly wrapped our heads in scarves so we could see the interior before prayers began. A young cleric ran over to where we stood, graciously offering an overview of the building's architecture as well as a brief history of Islam in the region.***** You could tell he was genuinely happy to have the chance to explain his religion to westerners, and I wished more folks at home could see what we've seen today.

Brad's footnotes: 
* It was actually called the Jackass Penguin for a while.
** Definitely unique, but closely related to Indian cuisine (despite the "Malaysia" implication).
*** Faldela told Jenn to let me make the roti in our house. Not a reflection on Jenn's work, which was just fine, so much as an acknowledgement of my mad skillz.
**** The place sells curry, coriander, tarragon -- all the stuff we get in the tiny little glass bottles on the spice rack -- in giant bulk barrels, like trail mix at Fresh Market. It smelled awesome, at least if you didn't feel like crap because you were unknowingly coming down with the African Death Flu.
***** He didn't offer. He saw our guide explaining stuff to us and good-naturedly interrupted and took over. He was very excited to find outsiders curious about his religion, and dude was super-nice. He shook my hand as we left and apologetically kept telling Kate and Jenn, "I'm not allowed to touch you, but it's only because we respect you so much."

Africa - August 29, 2012

Not sure how, but we managed to eat the lovely, complimentary farmhouse breakfast. Then loaded up the Eggmobile and headed south to Hermanus for the Cape's best viewing of right whales.

The coast of Hermanus.
Spectacular two-hour drive along white-knuckle-inducing mountainous curves. (South Africa has yet to discover the benefit of guard rails.)* Shortly after arrival, Kate spotted the first of two right whales we would see in Hermanus. Disappointed that we didn't catch one fully breached out of the water, but it was thrilling just to see fins and know they were there.

Fins to the left, fins to the right...
Drove another two hours to Simon's Town,** where we stayed at the hilltop Whale View Manor.*** The fast pace of the trip was starting to catch up with us, and no one wanted to brave the drizzly, windy night in search of dinner. So the angelic guesthouse staff made us bacon and tomahto sandwiches, lit a fire in the common room, and made us feel at home as we searched for whales through the giant picture window until the sun vanished. Turned in early to the sound of the Atlantic crashing into the rocks below.

Brad's footnotes:
* Kate took the first shift, which I figured would be scenic and easy after the hectic bit of Cape Town I'd done the day before. The narrow hairpins were just as nerve wracking as the congested city, I think, though the views were far better.
** We'd hoped to get far enough east, past Hermanus, to dip our toes in the Indian Ocean for the first time before turning back toward Cape Town, but there wasn't time. Sigh.
*** This place was magical. Fairyland, Part Deux. Waterfall in the backyard, patio with a lovely garden up the mountain behind the rooms, and a ridiculous Mediterranean-style view out the front.

Africa - August 28, 2012

Enjoyed an early breakfast of French toast while staring at Table Mountain from The Backpack's cafe, then rented a tiny Eggmobile to drive around the peninsula for a couple of days.

Klein Waterval estate
The view from our room in Franschhoek.
First stop on the driving tour: Franschhoek.* Upon arrival at the Klein Waterval estate, Kate decided we were actually eaten by lions several days ago, and this is our version of heaven, a la an episode of Lost. Brad's and my room is a suite with an upstairs bedroom loft, clawfoot tub in the ultra-clean bathroom, and French doors that open onto a brick patio overlooking a field of grapevines. The owners' adorable long-leg Jack Russell terriers frolic on the grounds, and black-headed herons hang out in nearby trees. And did I mention the babbling brook behind our room or the wild-growing calla lilies?

Following Toni's advice (co-owner of The Backpack), we lunched at Solm's Delta, the only wine farm here that allows its workers to be part-owners, and they source ingredients locally for the restaurant.** We started off lunch with a sampler of tapas -- bloukaas tert (bleu cheese tart), makataan konfit (melon jam), mini boerewors roll with chakalaka and koolslaai (sausage with veggie relish and cole slaw), marinated olives, mini bokkam salad (smoked, dried mullet) with dried pear and exotic baby leaves, Delta vegetable pancake, Droewors and bees biltong (jerky) with homemade blatjang (chutney).

Kate and Jenn at Solm's Delta.
For the main course, Brad and I each ordered Cape linefish topped with a suurlemoen pelargonium crust, served with a crushed potato and crab meat salad, enhanced with slow-roasted tomato and olive dressing. Kate's gorgeous meal was grilled calamari, shrimp & mullet paella with sauteed aubergine and tomato, served with a sitrus boegoe pesto sauce and tamatiekonfyt.

After lunch, we wandered over to the farm's museum, which had preserved the building's original foundation from the 1600s under a Plexiglas floor. We learned of a nearby cave with petroglyphs (not open to the public, dangit***), and interpretive signs explained how the lineage of a dominant local family is tied to the bastard children of one of their slaves.

Enjoyed a lovely wine tasting at a garden bistro table overlooking the mountains and vineyards. Highlight: bubbly Shiraz. Chatted with the maitre d' before leaving and found out the farm supports the education of ~100 kids, and the other landowners harbor resentment because Solms Delta is raising living standards for farm workers. So very glad we came here.

Back to the hotel to watch the sun set over the vineyards from our cozy living room. Then dinner at Le Quartier Francais****, a restaurant repeatedly voted one of the top 50 in the world. Hands down, this was the best meal I've ever had. EVER. The restaurant itself is completely unpretentious and eclectic, with textured walls, abstract art, and industrial lighting. On the menu:

*A whimsical appetizer in the shape of a campfire
*Beetroot, buttermilk labne, dill and cucumber granita
*Curry dusted cob, yellow dahl, kale, braised spices, confit tomato
*Klein karoo springbok loin, kamut, sorghum, rainbor carrots, celeriac
*Klein rivier gruyere, pressed rusk, mebos custard, currants, pickled onion
*Baobab, coconut, honeybush, caramel
*Cake and spook asem

I might have giggled with joy throughout the meal. Brad will tell you I teared up at the first bite of my coconut-honeybush-caramel dessert, but this can't be proven.***** It was, in a word, ridonkulous.

Waddled back to the car, trying not to explode all over the Eggmobile on the way back to the hotel. Crawled into bed under a down comforter, loosened the mosquito-net canopy, and drifted to sleep gazing at the thatched roof. Kate's right -- this is Fairyland.
Dessert at The Quartier Francais Tasting Room. What happened was this: They brought out what looked like a giant ball of ice cream. It was actually a delicate shell of some sort of coconut compote, which melted when the server poured hot caramel over it to reveal actual ice cream under the shell. Like Jenn said, ridonkulous.

Brad's footnotes:
* Dutch for "French Town," for a place in South Africa. It was the trifecta of confusion. The best beer we found in all three African nations was Windhoek, also a Dutch word and the name of the capital of Namibia.
** This "let the workers earn the land" mentality doesn't seem to be a universally popular direction, which we found an unsettling example of passive racism that's still present here and there, and more so in the countryside than in the cities.
*** We were totally going to go there, too.
**** Actually, most people know our venue as The Tasting Room, which is inside the Quartier Francais. It's got more limited seating and is spendier, but we found it completely comfortable and unpretentious. And yes, the best meal ever.
***** She and Kate both cried, and I have a photo. I did spontaneously burst into laughter once, too, and harbor no shame or regret for said action.

Africa - August 27, 2012

Proved once again that I am the Magnet for Civil Unrest.* Spent the whole day traveling, flying from Zim to Jo'burg, then Jo'burg to Cape Town, only to discover on arrival that a political strike had shut down the airport. Our airport shuttle driver suggested we find a comfy spot at a restaurant for another hour until police finished clearing the burning tires from the road to Cape Town. Sigh.

Lion's Head, as seen from The Backpack hostel.
Eventually made it to The Backpack without any trouble. If you're ever in Cape Town, go immediately to The Backpack. The hostel staff worked late until we made it through the strike and could register; they're a member of Fair Trade in Tourism; and they collect donations for all sorts of phenomenal community projects.** And they make a mean bowl of soup on a cold, windy night. These are my people.

We three jumped with joy at the sight of our rooms, complete with plush pillows and blankets, hot water bottles***, clean bathrooms, and personal tea kettles. It takes so little to make you feel at home, but most folks don't make the effort. We will definitely stay here again when we return to Cape Town later this week. After eight days of primitive camping, I think I've died and gone to heaven.

Brad's footnotes:
* Jenn's referring mostly to our Peru trip here, which also had us arriving at an airport to find striking transportation workers and no way out. But I'm also fairly certain she can now be blamed, karmic-ally, for the bomb threat we witnessed at the Charles de Gaulle.
** We soon discovered that co-owner, Toni, was a fellow foodie, which proved rich to us later, you'll see.
*** These became the most valuable to me, after I started fevering (Not malaria. OK, maybe not malaria...) and the weather turned very cold.