If you missed my previous but one blog you may not know that I have just returned from a fantastic trip to South Africa. In all honesty I was not expecting much from this country but in reality I was overwhelmed by the people and the country.
My day began at Heathrow where I met 8 fellow travel agents all who were going to share in this amazing experience and in all honesty you could not have asked for a better bunch of people. We were being hosted by South African Tourism who wanted to showcase their amazing country and my goodness they certainly did and then some! all we knew was that we were meeting at Terminal 3 for a 9.30pm flight to somewhere in South Africa and as it was being sponsored by British Airways we knew it was either Cape Town or Johannesburg. We soon had it confirmed – Cape Town here we come. I was so excited as this was the area I wanted to go to and with visions of Table Mountain and Robben Island in my head we were in the air.
The flight to Cape Town is a direct route with BA and can cost anywhere from £700 to £1200 per person return. South Africa’s winter runs from 1st June to 31st August and we visited 10th June -21st June. Cape Town has recently undergone a serious drought and is in fact still not up to full capacity in its reservoirs however this does not mean that water is turned off in hotels it just means as a tourist you have to be aware of the situation and rather than taking a bath it is better to shower.
On arrival at Cape Town airport we met our host from the South African Tourist board who I can only describe as one of life’s treasures, Mr Erick van Zyl, who over the next few days would fill us with stories of old Africa and new Africa and draw us in with his soothing tones whilst relating the most unbelievable stories including encouraging me to look for Knysna seahorses for twenty minutes before I realised he was joking!. He was an absolute credit to the tourist board and to South Africa and I cannot thank him enough for looking after us so well.
We were expecting after an 11 hour and 30 minute flight to be taken to our hotel to freshen up but not a chance we were quickly bundled into a mini bus to start our tour and this was the way it was to go for the next ten days. As I tell my family often – its not a holiday it was work and this time was no different even though it was fun.
Our first day was spent meeting two extremely inspirational people and the first of these was a gentleman called Juma Mkwela. Juma is an artist with a huge heart and he has become a much loved member of the local community with his gardens, street art and other uplifting projects that he runs in Khayelitsha. This is the biggest township in Cape Town with over 4 million people living here. There are different levels of housing here depending on what you can afford and all are helped by the government. The better houses can take 3 – 15 years to get.
We were helping Juma with one of his projects which was street art and we helped him paint a corrugated building, which was to be a new business, with a Rhino which also reminds the locals that the animals are their heritage and they have to do all they can to protect them.
The building was near a local kindergarten and we were lucky enough to be bale to go inside and play with the children. The kindergarten was open from 6am – 6pm and the children were given one meal whilst there. If parents could afford to pay they did but if not the Kindergarten had local lottery funding. As a group we also had a collection and gave just over 1000 Rand which is around £55 and this would be enough to fill the Kerosene lamps for the winter months for the nursery. In appreciation the staff sang to us.
We were then taken to meet our next inspirational person, Abigail Mbalo, who runs a restaurant called 4roomed eKasi culture which is how many families used to live in just four rooms. Abigail had been a contestant on MasterChef and had got through to the last ten before she went out in a blaze of glory when she burnt her sugar.
She had moved out of the township many years ago after attending university and becoming a contestant but her love of cooking had drawn her back in. Her restaurant embodies the food of the township and she has actually moved back into the township with her family and now trains local men and women in catering. Like Juma she believes in giving back to her community and believes that anything is possible.
Apart from the amazing food one of the loveliest moments was when were told that the bowl that we had our salad in was a gift that we could take home. It had been made by a local community group and was finished off with an inspirational quote from a previous diner. Mine was inscribed with, “Be the change you want to see in the world”, and in return we had to leave a quote for the next dish and diner. My quote was something that I always tell my children when they are scared of doing something, ” The only regrets in life should be the things that you have tried not the things that you haven’t”.
You would think by this stage we would have been exhausted and ready for bed but we were honestly having so much fun we could hardly believe that we had not slept. Our next stop was back into the heart of the township and to a local community restaurant called Village House. Juma then showed us other pieces of artwork from other groups and were joined by the local children who were desperate to hold our hands and skip through the streets ahead of us shouting come this way as they ran. They were so friendly and cheerful it really did make me think about the material things in life and what is the most important thing!
After our tour we finally went to check in to our hotel, Tsogo Sun Square City Bowl, where we had 20 minutes to get changed ready for dinner.
Dinner was at a local restaurant called Gold. Here we were to enjoy an evening of local food, including Cape Malay cuisine, live entertainment and a lesson in how to play the djemne. Dinner was served a selection of dishes that you all helped yourself to and including the entertainment was just 400 Rand per person which is around £22.
Make sure you read my next blog covering Helicopters, Penguins and Prisoners!!