We would be in Cape Town for four days. I was looking forward to Robben Island, The Winelands, and Diamonds (because they are a girl’s best friend!). We would also go to the top of Table Mountain and experience the winds of The Cape of Good Hope.
Day one had us boating to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years. I still had not slept from my grueling journey to South Africa. On the 7-mile boat ride to the island, the lull of the engine and the gentle waves were just enough to put me out and sleep came easily.
Being named a World Heritage site in 1999, the island has somewhat of a gloomy history. Through the years it has been the home of leper colonies, housing for the insane, and a maximum, then minimum-security prison. The last prisoner left the island in 1991. Today, Robben Island is a museum that focuses on its most famous prisoner, Nelson Mandela who was held as a political prisoner.
CAPE TOWN CITY TOUR:
First up on the day’s itinerary was the “Company Gardens”, a botanical wonderland in the center of busy Cape Town. With the hustle-bustle of Cape Town, the garden is a quiet sanctuary. Originally built in the 1650s by European settlers, its purpose was to grow vegetation which was then used to stock the incoming trade ships. Today it’s an outdoor botanical garden. Gorgeous, peaceful, and full of color!
The oldest pear tree in South Africa still thrives in the gardens. It is estimated that it was planted in 1652. There is also a rose garden that was planted in 1929 which still has some of the original bushes growing and producing.
On our way to the Company Garden, we passed by one of the famous, yet unnatural landmarks in Cape Town- the Unfinished Highway. In the early 1960s, the city was going under modernization efforts and expanding into the bay. Part of this project included adding highways to improve the infrastructure in what the planners thought would bring an influx of tourists. By 1977, however, without any explanation, the highway construction stopped and has remained stopped since.
From the garden, we moved on to Table Mountain which is completely flat, like a table. On one side is Devil’s Peak and on the opposite side is Lion’s Head. Some brave soles hike to the top but my group took the cable car. The gondolas carry up to 65 people.
We were told that because of the notoriously strong winds of Cape Town, each gondola carries about 10,000 gallons of water. The water stabilizes the cars and prevents rocking as they transport passengers up and down the mountain. Once on top, you have amazing views overlooking Cape Town, Table Bay, Lion’s Head, and Robben Island to the north, and the Atlantic to the west and south. Standing up top and looking out, you also have an impressive view of the stadium built for the 2010 World Cup tournament. During our time at Table Mountain, the guide explained that the mountain served an important part in the early days of shipping. The mountain was used as a landmark to warn sailors that they were approaching the Cape of Good Hope.
THE CAPE OF GOOD HOPE:
It is a common misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is at the southernmost point in Africa. But, if you follow the western side of the African coastline from the equator, the Cape of Good Hope marks the point where a ship begins to travel more eastward than southward. Because of the geography and the currents of the water (Atlantic meeting the Indian Ocean), the area is plagued with, often very strong winds. It is for this reason, that in 1488, Bartolomeu Dias, referred to the Cape of Good Hope as the Cape of Storms. During this period, there were many ships lost on their spice routes from the storms and winds as they sailed around the Cape.
At the Cape of Good Hope, we were entertained by the penguins. The African Penguins who are indigenous to South Africa are referred to as Jackass Penguins. Funny name? Yes, I think so. They are named this way because the sound they make is that of a heehaw; similar to a jackass.
Day 3 saw us driving about an hour out from Cape Town to South Africa’s Winelands region. The Europeans were among the first to settle this area. The three main areas where you will find the wineries form a triangle and are known as the regions of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, and Paarl. Wine tasting is part of the program but what was surprising was that food was also part of the program! After the winery tour and tasting, we had free time to roam the property. Lush and green, it was very relaxing and a perfect way to end my time in Cape Town. An elaborate table for the group was set under the towering trees of the grounds and a meal fit for royalty was served and it was fantastic!
ONE MORE STOP? ARE THERE REALLY DIAMONDS IN CAPE TOWN?
On the way back to the hotel, the guide announced a special stop. We were on our way to the De Beers showroom in Cape Town where we would have the opportunity to watch diamond workers take raw stones, cut and polish them and make them ready to set into beautiful jewelry. Of course, we would also have ample time to shop in the showroom!
I did opt to tour the workshop and found it fascinating.
The planning stage is of utmost importance in the process of the final stone/s.It is in this stage that the cutter will figure out the best possible shapes of the diamond to eliminate as little waste as possible and maximize the outcome of the rough stone. Then the stone is mapped so the cutter has a pattern to work with.
The next step sees the cutter “sawing” the rough diamond into separate pieces. After the diamond has been split, the edges are rounded. this is done by placing two diamonds against each to smooth out the rough edges. Next, the facets are created. This is done by placing the diamond on a rotating arm and using a spinning wheel to polish and create the facets. Finally, the diamond is inspected to make sure it meets the quality standards.
There is more to taking a diamond from the rough and making it into a gleaming stone but this is the basic process. Each manufacturer has a process similar to what I have outlined above and each has its quality standards. The process is slow and tedious and the cutters spend countless hours on each stone. Honestly, I had never really given the process much thought but again, found it very interesting.
LEAVING CAPE TOWN AND PREPARING FOR SAFARI:
After three glorious days in Cape Town, the next day we would be flying out for a three-week safari at Kruger National Park. Cape Town had been wonderful, but honestly, I was looking forward to the next three weeks. If I only knew what I would be in store for, I would never have slept that night!
Until next time, friends, remember, “To Travel is to Live”!