Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Noordhoek Beach: The Start of Our Africa Adventure

Sam and I and the boys left for Cape Town, South Africa on July 1 from Washington, DC.  After an eight-hour flight to Dakar, Senegal, followed by a one-hour stop on the ground (though we couldn't leave the plane), another eight-hour flight to Johannesburg and a two-hour flight to Cape Town, we arrived, 28 hours later.  Unbelievably, everyone was in good shape, good spirits, somewhat rested, and completely mesmerized by the in-flight movie selection on the seat back in front of them.  Mason watched Yogi Bear twice, separated by some other nameless movie, and I caught up on recent blockbusters: Argo, which interested me after my own time in Shiraz, Iran, and some pointless movie with Will Farrell called The Champion.

In the darkness of a South African winter we drove to the beachfront village of Noordhoek, this pristine suburb 30 minutes from Cape Town where the village green was enclosed by a white picket fence and the fields of well-fed horses in pastures thick with green grass--it looked like Ireland in the summer--were ridden along the beach in front of our house.  We had arranged a home swap here about a year ago with a Belgian/British family named the Williams; they will be coming our house in San Miguel some time next year.  Their place was perfect: all clapboard and white with grey accents and black leather chairs, a wood-burning stove (it's cold here in July), and a bunch of bedrooms with shutters looking out on the windswept nature preserve and horse corrals separating the house from wide Noordhoek Beach.

We spent a week here, driving carefully on the left side around the Cape peninsula, visiting the vineyards, seeing penguins, climbing the peak of Cape Point, swimming in the freezing waters of Boulder Beach, and eating the most incredible foods along the way, namely hake and chips.  Twice we had lunch at The Food Barn, a rather staid name for one of the most fantastic restaurants we've ever been to. Because it was winter the chef offered everything on the menu half priced. It was almost embarrassing how inexpensive it was for one of the best meals I've ever eaten.  Highlight? The mussel fritters in galangal cream and tomato sauce, five of them for exactly $3.10. The boys dined on rib eye with pea and chorizo risotto, lamb chops in a garlic cream sauce, trios of sorbet.  Mason was delighted by the palate cleanser of guava ice, something he'd never been offered before (they don't usually do that at Pollo Feliz in San Miguel).  The wine was served not by the glass, but by the individual carafe, and the list was a great introduction to some of the Cape's best vineyards.  The most expensive one on the menu? About $5.  Most were between $2 and $3. 

The week was sensational.  And it was perfect to have a week to ourselves before heading into the big city of Cape Town to meet up with friends who would be coming on safari with us.

Night One in Simbavati: Life in the Bush

The conditioner is waiting to set in my hair as I wash under a marula tree in the middle of a South African winter when the first waterbuck walks by. Buck naked I stand with instant hot water and bottles of luxury hair products supplied by my Simbavati safari lodge in a silver dish mounted to the wall of my outdoor shower.  I now know it's a waterbuck after this morning's game drive: he (with the big horns) is also known as a toilet-seat antelope for the tell-tale white ring circling his rump.  Soon a baby appears, his bushy tail swinging happily as he trots after mom.  Then there are three, then five more, crossing the dried yellow grass upon which my tent sits.  Inside this canvas "hotel" room my sheets are ironed and there's an enormous bathtub with stacks of fresh white towels and a bottle of Olive and Honey linen spray.  Are you kidding me?  This was supposed to be the budget safari but there's nothing low-rent about it at all, especially not the wildlife grazing in the dry river bed beyond my wooden deck with its two leather camp chairs and mini bar of delicious, cheap white wines.

Mason bathed in said soaking tub last night, the foam bubbles rising nearly to his neck.  Though he pronounced the body wash flavor of olive and honey "nasty," he came out smelling like something I'd want to eat on sourdough, and he told me that he, in fact, felt "really good."  We're one day into our nearly two-week safari with 20 friends from San Miguel and beyond.  The reaction when we arrived last night, 11 hours along a panoramic but rather tiring ride from Johannesburg, was utter amazement.  A fire was waiting in the pit in the center of the deck overlooking the river bed; the table was set with linens and candles, silverware and fancy glasses. Hot towels and mango drinks in flutes were handed to us when we walked in.  The kids got bamboo sticks with marshmallows to roast.  When the two hippos started walking along the tall grass off the dining deck it was like everything we ever wanted was coming true.