You know that giddy feeling you get when you find an airfare that is almost too good to be true? In most cases you move on once you've uncovered the extreme layovers and inhumane departure and arrival times, right? Not if you are a Senior Nomad! What have we got but time? So we booked our very affordable flight on Qatar Airlines from Paris to Cape Town via Doha, Qatar (where we spent four interesting days) knowing in advance we had lift-off from Doha at 2:45 am. We have been at airports in the middle of the night a few times now, and whether arriving or departing, there is an "other-wordly" feeling about being in a vast, nearly empty space where only hours ago thousands of people were standing in security lines. The stores are closed, the food vendors are mopping up, and you can hear your footsteps echo as you take that long walk down the gateway. Unless you are in Doha!
The Doha airport claims to be one of top airports in the world featuring a multi-million dollar art collection, dazzling duty-free and high end shopping, and state-of-the-art passenger facilities. I was disappointed I would be unable to browse the galleries and the myriad of luxury boutiques during the two hours we'd have before departure. I assumed we'd be heading for one of the clusters of leather sleeping chairs dotted through out the airport. But when we rolled through the doors it was like arriving at Grand Central Station during rush hour! The departures board was jammed with flights to all corners of the globe and there were hundreds of people of all stripes going about their business. The check-in lines were long, the security lines were really long, and the immigration lines were even longer. It took us almost our entire two hours just to get to the gate - so I wouldn't have had time for a fantasy shopping trip anyway - but I certainly could have otherwise.
Qatar airlines deserves its ranking as one of the top two airlines in the world. We had plenty of legroom and the free food and beverages were a nice change. And the inflight entertainment included over 3,000 options - Movies, TV Box Sets, Audio, Games and much more. But since it was my birthday, I insisted Michael watch Trolls with me before we went to sleep. I'd already watched it on the way to Doha (and now I am revealing my true self) I loved it. I could watch it again right now.
We arrived in Cape Town a little bleary-eyed and were very thankful our Airbnb host Anabella was at the airport to meet us. She showed us the best parts of the city as she drove us to our first home in Africa. Which felt more like our first home in America. I say that because Cape Town seemed a lot like any other bustling modern city - except it has a very distinctive mountain looming over it on one side, a sparkling harbor on the other - and most everyone spoke with a unique accent. We were told many times that you won't find much of Africa in this city - that comes later when you venture north. And, by the way, enjoy this while you can, because there is nowhere else like it on the continent.
It is possible that we will be in this part of the world well into June, so we were in no hurry to jump from civilization to fending off wildlife overnight. We purposely booked a two-week stay in the city so we could relax and find our feet. However, without really knowing the best place to book an Airbnb in Cape Town, Michael used one of his favorite search techniques. He put the meeting point address for the free walking tours in the Airbnb destination box and began the search there. This works really well, because the tours always start in the center of the city, and obviously within walking distance of a the most important sites.
We found a very nice apartment in a great location for exploring the best of Cape Town as well as enjoying our own little neighborhood of Green Point. Here's a link to our Airbnb. We could walk a mile to the bustling center of town in one direction, and half that distance to the Victoria & Albert waterfront area where shopping could become a full-time occupation. It is also the departure point for tours of Robben Island (more on that, later).
There was a great grocery store just down the hill called Woolworths (Woolies for short) - a popular chain here. It doesn't have anything to do with the Woolworths of our youth in America, but does have ties to Marks & Spencer - a British icon. I love most everything about M&S so I was happy with the many British foodstuffs and the high quality of everything in the store.
I had a much needed haircut at the salon down the street that turned out to be one of my best, and it came with a mind-altering 15 minute head, back and shoulder massage during the shampoo process. All for just $30. if you are in Cape Town and need such a service go to Spoilt in Green Point. And nearby Shift for excellent coffee and muffins.
As our Senior Nomad mantra states "We are not on vacation" so we didn't rush around like mad trying to "see it all". But we did manage to fill up the schedule. Highlights included a trip to the top of Table Mountain via the gondola. The best bit was the floor of the car slowly turns 360 degrees so everyone got an amazing view of the city far, far below. And it distracted us from contemplated that fact you are dangling high above sheer rock cliffs. We took two informative free walking tours - one historical and the other through the bohemian Bo-Kapp neighborhood, with it's rainbow colored houses and Cape Malay restaurants. I visited the Two Oceans Aquarium and we walked our legs to their maximum capabilities.
We also connected with two different locals - first a delightful woman named Judy that our friend Daniel works with at Marriott, and the other, a fellow retired traveler, named Joseph, who read we were coming to Cape Town in a recent blog and wanted to get together. Judy and her friend Rose took us out for an entire day of driving down the Cape to Simons Town where we frolicked with Penguins at Boulders Beach, then on to lunch at a stunning vineyard, and finally up and over Chapman's Peak and along a winding coastal road back home.
Joseph was staying at his favorite Airbnb just down the coast from us in Camps Bay, sometimes called the St-Tropez of Africa. He and his host Vaughan treated us to an incredible Indian feast and gave us great insights into life in South Africa. Joseph had also kindly had two copies of our book, Your Keys, Our Home which he asked us to sign for each of them.
Also under "living local" we attended a football match about a half hour's drive outside the city. We arrived early with the idea of buying tickets at the gate, but it turned out they didn't sell them at the stadium. We had heard enough stories about muggings and pick pockets that we were more guarded than usual, so fortunately we'd asked our driver to wait to see if we could buy tickets before leaving us in a sketchy area. We were ready to return home disappointed when a very nice older gentleman overheard our plight and pulled two tickets from his pocket and invited us to be his guests! Just another example of the kindness of strangers and the good fortune that seems to follow the Senior Nomads. We sent our driver on his way making certain he'd be back to collect us after the match.
We were patted down before entering the almost empty stadium with our new friend Aubrey and found ourselves in the best seats in the house - squarely on the midfield line about half way up the stands. Over the next hour the area filled in around us with "Ultras" - those being the hard core fans of the Ajax Cape Town home team. They where decked out in red and white from head to toe and came bearing horns, drums, flags, banners, and a "ready to rumble" attitude. We were very conspicuous as almost the only two white people - and let's make that "senior" white people in the thick of this most ardent fan section. But everyone around was very nice (when they weren't chanting and screaming at the refs) and helped us follow the match. There was a lot of drama on and off the field - and the whole thing was played without a clock or a scoreboard! It seemed they were supposed to be replaced during a stadium upgrade two years ago, but they still haven't shown up. No one seemed surprised since that sort of thing that happens all over Africa.
Carnival Cape Town took place on the Saturday night of our last weekend in the city. Unlike the traditional pre-Lent celebration, this festival celebrates Emancipation Day – the day on which the slaves were freed in South Africa, in the 1830s. The parade route passed very close to our house so we joined the crowds. We were able to jostle our way close enough to see a few of the elaborate floats and gyrating dancers, but mostly enjoyed the party atmosphere and some excellent ice cream.
On Sunday we spend the day touring both Robben Island and the mainland prison where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his life. We were able to have private access to several places, including the house where he spend his final 15 months as a prisoner because we were on an Airbnb Experience tour with Mandela's former chef and warder Jack Swart. It was a unique opportunity to hear first-hand stories from someone who know that great man personally.
We moved out of the city center on Monday and are now settled in a tranquil hillside Airbnb, in the small beach town of Fish Hoek where we have a panoramic view of the sea and the mountains.
On our first night we were mesmerized by a thunder and lighting storm that swept across False Bay. The downside is the "hillside". it is a long slog on foot from town (especially with loaded grocery bags) up the hill and then steep stairs - but there is also a funicular you can use once you signed an indemnity document. That reminded us that hills and stairs are good for you!
This is also shark country. At the nearby beaches a siren wails when sharks lurking near the shore are spotted by lookout rangers high up the mountain. Everyone scrambles out of the water until the "All Clear" alert sounds. I think I'll use the pool.Our engaging host Lesley not only created this stellar Airbnb below her equally amazing house, she is a photo journalist and runs an Eco-friendly adventure outfit called Shark Warrior Adventure Center and is a shark conservationist. Last night she hosted us for delicious dinner with her neighbors and family. Another great example of how hosts become friends.Next week we move to Airbnb #133 just three miles from where we are now to the nearby village of Kalk Bay. Then we head north to Johannesburg on an overnight train. That's where we will find things get a bit grittier and a place where we have been warned repeatedly to be extra cautious regarding personal safety. Yikes. From there we are working our way to Durban and then off on Safari! Michael has us booked all the way through May now, so next time I'll post the itinerary.
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads