Part 1: Introduction – Pretoria & Cape Town

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Our September 2016 trip to Southern Africa had four parts to it:

A few days in Pretoria to catch up with family followed by a short CapeTown stay for some local sightseeing and to run the CapeTown Marathon. Which was unfinished business from the year before. Just like the previous time we experienced simply outstanding weather in the Cape, and got lucky when the Table Mountain Cable Car re-opened for business after being inoperative for several consecutive days due to high wind conditions.

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About a week in Mashatu in the Tuli Block of Botswana, for a 3-night WalkMashatu walking safari with our friend Stuart Quinn and an additional few days on a more conventional safari at nearby Mashatu Tented Camp. This was a return visit in both respects and underscored our already high opinion of the quality of the walking safari as well as the superb game-viewing we experienced.

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Several days at MalaMala Game Reserve in the southern Sabi Sand Reserve of South Africa, adjacent to Kruger National Park. MalaMala is one of our favorite big game viewing destinations and once again it delivered big-time with some of the best and most intense predator viewing we had ever experienced anywhere in Africa.

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An additional week or so checking out a bunch of new (to me) safari properties elsewhere in the Sabi Sand Reserve and inside Kruger Park. It was educational in more ways than one as I had plenty of opportunity to re-acquaint myself with the Park itself and to learn about some less costly options inside the park, in private concessions.

Houston to Pretoria in 22 hours

For the third time this year, I crossed the Atlantic in one of Delta’s Boeing 777’s – this time in row 48D – an aisle seat towards the back of the plane. All in all a pleasant flight with palatable meals, friendly flight attendants and timely departure and arrival. Can one really ask for much more nowadays, in coach?

Despite getting several hours sleep en route the flight is a killer simply because of the duration which is in excess of 16 hours, non-stop. The average human body simply cannot deal effectively with moving across 7+ time-zones at more than 500 miles per hour, at least not in terms of adjusting its circadian cycle. So not surprisingly, Kathy and I were zombie-like by the time we sat down to dinner at 131 on Herbert Baker, our accommodation for the next couple of nights in Pretoria.

This small boutique hotel is well located on a quiet street which follows the contour line of one of Pretoria’s many hills. Tucked away securely behind an imposing security fence, it has pretty nice views over the Groenkloof area. That night, our late dinner was a choice of grilled lamb chops or a salmon cutlet with a champagne sauce. Both were perfectly prepared and nicely presented. We lingered over coffee, dessert and an Amarula nightcap, trying to postpone having to go to bed at what would be 4 p.m. Houston time.

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If safety is high on your list of priorities, 131 on Baker is ultra-secure and ideal for a night or two prior to taking the Blue Train or Rovos Rail from Pretoria to Cape Town, or elsewhere.   We were led to believe that several heads of state had stayed there at one or another time.  It is easy to see why.  The next few days were spent catching up with family; in addition to some lovey home cooking ( thanks Mom!) we enjoyed dinner at the Hillside Tavern one night.  It was excellent as always – the T-Bone steak being their specialty.

From Pretoria we drove to Johannesburg for an overnight in Rosebank at the Monarch Hotel on Oxford Street.  It is a convenient location with the Gautrain station right opposite the street and an easy walk to Rosebank Mall as well as The Zone.   A good location for a night or two in Johannesburg.

1000 Miles South to Cape Town

Driving to Oliver Tambo International from Rosebank is tricky particularly when you are in a tiny, underpowered car negotiating your way around dozens of large trucks and having to contend with South Africa’s aggressive driving environment.  The route itself is circuitous if you want to stay on multi-lane freeways:  North on the M1 back towards Pretoria, then the N3 east towards Durban, branching off on the R24 to the airport.  From there it was – as always – a 2 hour flight covering the 1,000 miles south to CapeTown .

Picking up our rental car from Bidvest was surprisingly quick; barely 20 minutes after landing in Cape Town we were in our serviced apartment on the Victoria and Albert Waterfront.  It had four bedrooms – 3 with en-suite bathrooms;  one with a safe.  Plus a gas range, microwave and washer and dryer.   An easy 6-minute walk to the waterfront.   Dinner at Baia was excellent as always – the three of us enjoyed  abalone,  line fish of the day (Dorado) and their superb grilled Langoustines.

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Friday September 16th – Cape Winelands

On what turned out to be a rainy and windy day we drove to the Stellenbosch wine region for a wine tasting at Spier Winery followed by a delicious lunch at Eight- their farm to table restaurant.  Our choices included chicken pot pie, penne pasta and chicken and avocado salad.  Except for the fact that we had to ask them to temporarily halt some noisy road repairs, the lunch was excellent.

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In the afternoon I did a site inspection at One and Only Hotel in Cape Town followed by dinner at Reuben’s.  We enjoyed line fish, Springbok (venison) and duck and by all accounts everyone liked their food a lot.

Saturday September 17th – Kirstenbosch

 

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This morning we checked in on the Table Mountain cable car but it was not operating due to high wind.  So instead we spent the morning at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden which was superb as always – there is hardly a better time of the year to visit the place than September.  The protea garden, cycad amphitheater with its life-size tin statues of dinosaurs and the Boomslang canopy walkway were among the highlights.  There were huge swathes of flowering daisies which make an astonishing display with their color and diversity.  Kirstenbosch is a jewel of a place.  Always something to see, always clean and a wonderful family-friendly environment.

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Do not leave it off your list of things to see in Cape Town!  That evening, we returned to Meloncino, a reliably good spot at the V&A Waterfront for Italian fare – for some pre-marathon carbo-loading.  A delightful spot with great food.

September 18th – Sanlam Cape Town Marathon – 42.2 km/26.2 mi.

I finally successfully ran and completed the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon.  At 5 hours+ it was far from my best marathon time ever but it didn’t really matter. It was about putting myself on the line in a grueling event which tests one’s limits of endurance at the best of times. On this particular day I felt fine early on but things went pear-shaped in a hurry with the sun beating down on us on from a brilliantly blue cloudless sky. As early as 9:50 a.m. the temperature spiked to 80 Fahrenheit and even to 85F later that morning.

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Overall I would give the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon a B+ rating.   It might have been an A were it not for the congested course.  We were on top of each other for practically the entire first half and then some.   Surprisingly, only water and Coca-Cola were available on the course.  It really would have been preferable to have Gatorade or a similar sports drink on hand.

Somewhat diabolically the course design left the hilliest parts of the marathon for late in the race, in the Gardens area.  I started cramping badly around the 36 kilometer mark with about 6 km (4 miles) to go. Having stuck with a very efficient and very entertaining 5-hour pace group for practically the entire race, it was disheartening to lose them just a few miles from the finish line.  Sometimes you just don’t have anything left.  A few minutes past 12 noon I finally made my extremely weary way to the end, collected my medal, enjoyed a cold Coke and a coffee.  And then proceeded to slowly hobble back to the apartment.

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While I had been running around Cape Town, the rest of the party went in a couple of different directions:  Arpad and Lisa took the Cable Car up to the summit of Table Mountain, while Kathy and Valerie got an Uber driver to take them all the way to Boulders Beach to see the endemic African Penguins.

A couple of hours later we re-assembled, somehow managed to get all our luggage into the vehicle (it was a minibus) and then we were on our way to Cape Town airport.  Just like a few days previously, it was almost exactly a 2-hour flight to Johannesburg with 300+ passengers in an Airbus A300-600 with SAA. Overnight was at the CityLodge ORTI, convenient if nothing else, and the next day we would be off to Botswana.

Continue to Part 2


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