We’d had a long think about places and in the end, planning for a January holiday means that you need to think far flung, for the chance of anywhere with sun, if of course sun is a desirable thing. By the time January actually arrived, after several of the wettest, darkest months I’ve ever known, it absolutely was.
Mark was bizarrely keen on Canada, and couldn’t really understand my reticence about going in the depths of the Canadian winter… when neither of us ski. That idea was reluctantly sacked off. By him. I was delighted not to be going somewhere freezing.
The planning therefore started in earnest. I’ve had for a bit of an obsession about using Jack’s Flight Club deals for a while now. I paid for the ‘premium’ membership last year and therefore have been absolutely bombarded with amazing deals to all sorts of obscure corners of the globe. However, apart from a few advance planning deals, the issue arises that when one has a ‘responsible’ job, generally it’s frowned upon to drop sticks immediately, or 2 weeks in advance, which most of these deals require you to do.
One such cracking deal looked extremely attractive at first… The Comoros Islands.
Somewhere I hadn’t been… tick
Remote and sunny… tick
Bloggably obscure… tick
Further research on these tiny islands off the coast of Kenya however, revealed that they weren’t probably going to provide the easy-going break we were after, not least because there seemed to only be one guest house on the islands, oh, and their somewhat feisty penal code regarding same sex relationships. Never mind. I’m sure my NEXT year of premium membershp will yield rewards!
South Africa ended up looking like a great shout. It’s only slight failing was that I’d been there before and therefore couldn’t notch up another country on my arcane travel challenge list. (46 countries so far… proper visits only, have to leave the airport)
We watched flight prices like a hawk around the ‘sweet spot’ of 2 months-six weeks in. This is a game of nerves as when you keep watch they really do fluctuate wildly- Sometimes it seemed like our only option was going to be a £750 return plus baggage via Frankfurt, and then the next Great White Hope would be a horrific 19-24hr marathon via Nairobi with Kenya Airways. In its defence however, it hovered around a bargainous £500-£550 return including baggage for the duration of our raptor-like observations.
As ever, screenscrapers like Momondo, Hopper and Google Flights are your friends. Play with dates, set loads of alerts, and DON’T PANIC since good stuff always comes around (this doesn’t apply, naturally, to Christmas week flights, Mecca flights at Hajj time etc…)
In the end, waiting for the BA Black Friday sale turned out to be a good tactic. Nah, a shot of genius. Suddenly, from seeing BA flights around the £700 mark PLUS baggage, Mark found a few deals, direct to Cape Town from Heathrow, INCLUDING baggage and INCLUDING 2 weeks car hire, for £600 each. This really was too good to be true and we snapped it up, nearly immediately. Notwithstanding his lurgy/loss of voice and trying to arrange it via WhatsApp.
Sadly this meant that we did slightly fail ourselves by not noticing the ‘alternative flight’ option buried right in the midst of weird indirect routes, but offering Premium Economy on the A380 for only £30 each extra via Jo’Burg. Next time maybe…
Nevertheless we packed the bags and got ready for a much-needed 2 week dose of sunshine. Since there were 2 of us and we were coming from deepest darkest Somerset, none of the train/bus options really worked, so in the end it was decided that driving to Heathrow and leaving my beautiful car at the mercy of the Holiday Inn car park worked out better at £56 for the 2 weeks. Sorted. Good to remember- although the Uber back from the airport is a hair raising £20 for a 5 min trip!
Things never go quite according to plan. On the morning of our departure Mark rang to announce that he wasn’t 100%. Stuff about calling 111, dark mutterings about going to the surgery… Eeek. (I’d done the maths and was going to ditch him if he couldn’t make the flight) Nonetheless we decided to press on. Not too fast, however since halfway to Bridgwater I found that 2 tonnes of Volvo was starting to adopt a slight sideways attitude through the corners. Sure enough, just before Holford I came across someone from my yoga class, facing the wrong way in a rather crumpled car. Having checked he was ok, and now noticing the sheets of ice coating the road, I pressed on rather more gingerly. The old man in the car behind me clearly didn’t see either the crumpled car or the ice rink costing the road as reasons for prudence, and promptly overtook me out of the village. Sadly all of my willing him to lightly spin the car (Not to crash in flames, I’m no monster) didn’t come to pass and he continued on his merry way.
Reader, we made it.
I wouldn’t say that it would rate on Mark’s 100 top flights, and it definitely wasn’t at the top of my BA hitlist, however we did pass off the 12 hours without major incident. The aviation geek in me badly wanted to take one of the last opportunities to fly on a BA 747 as they will be retired in the not-too-distant, however our flight on G-CIVJ, one of the oldest in the fleet, made clear that this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, with duct tape on the toilet, ancient IFE and a general air of deep creakiness.
There’s something about the proportions of the Boeing 747 that’s just… right, in a way that the A380 never really managed to achieve. I genuinely find them beautiful planes, with a really purposeful look. Rumbling down the runway you really get an idea of its bulk, and I personally still find it magical that we’re able to fling 400 tonnes into the air like that. Witchcraft, I tell you.
400 tonnes of totally packed, 100% occupied plane. We’d completely failed at every point to secure decent/improved seats so 6 foot of me and 6 foot 7 of him were stuffed unceremoniously into the back of the plane. This was not a comfy flight. Early conflict arose with the rotund German lady in front of him who sneakily went for full recline as soon as we stood up to use the facilities- It was left to me to restore international relations since otherwise he genuinely wouldn’t have been able to fit.
Nonetheless, we achieved the prime aim of the flight, and arrived on time at the right airport. Picking up bags and hire car was an absolute breeze (apart from Mark nearly expiring at the desk) and within half an hour I was gingerly steering Percy the Polo out onto the N2 towards Cape Town… Straight into a humungous traffic jam.
Bugger. Nonetheless it did provide an interesting introduction to the still deeply divided country that South Africa is. Flash Mercedes SUV’s side by side with the numerous, and largely suicidal, minibuses bringing the almost exclusively black workers in from the townships to work in the city and ‘bakkies’ filled with workers too. Social history in a traffic jam…
We stayed in an AirBnB for our 4 nights in Cape Town and, by and large, this worked out to be a good option. I did have to chuckle at the disparity between its evocative name and publicity shots, and the actual setting.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Harbouredge Apartments”:
Oh how lovely, look at the dappled sunlight reflecting off the harbour onto the windows. We should make a booking immediately!
NOWHERE NEAR THE EDGE OF THE HARBOUR
HARK AT THE ROAD!
On the upside, it meant we got to see a piece of Cape Town history- The Foreshore Freeway bridge, which has stood un completed since construction ground to a halt in 1977. It’s just… there. Still nobody can decide what to do with it. A magnificent and lesser-spotted African White Elephant. A slightly unconventional landmark, but a landmark nonetheless. Apart from the somewhat intense view, it was otherwise quite a pleasant flat, and for £50 a night where it was, a comparative bargain.
We’d managed to cover quite a bit of ground on Day 1- Due to not being able to check in until 3pm, we had a considerable amount of time to kill, heading up to the very Miami Beach-like golden sand of Camps Bay, and the more local attraction of the Cape Quarter centre for a spot of lunch.
I formulated dinner from the local supermarket- Which led to an early observation of the fact that, on the whole, it’s about the same price to just go out and eat. Which is a welcome backup fact when you’re trying to be slightly good and have a self-catering kitchen to make you feel guilty!
Day 2 dawned, and Mark’s new lurgy was in full effect, so I took the opportunity to head out on my tod for what I really love doing on holiday- Just walking, checking things out and learning the area. And hopefully not getting murdered.
My attempt to get to the V and A waterfront was cut short quickly and unceremoniously when I realised that the only apparent way seemed to involve crossing 2 major motorways and then some seriously sketchy underpasses. Instead I headed up into De Waterkant to have a mooch.
It’s an interesting area, with a strong commercial heart, loads of bars and various shopping experiences, however on the other side, as you head up towards the uninhabited/able steep hillside you find some really lovely old Cape architecture, relaxed bars and coffee shops and a generally upscale air.
Morning coffee was taken at a bar where I was served by a Congolese guy. It always fascinates me how the winds of economic pressure, opportunity and sheer fortune cause people to wash up on such far shores. I enjoyed a great chat with him about this, language and the world.
The next day we were set on activities. After a not-too-early start we headed down to Simon’s Town, and more pertinently, Boulders Beach, to get our holiday penguin quota. Strangely enough I was the more keen of us for this, damaged by a childhood love of Pingu. Noot noot!
Boulders Beach is fantastic, and it’s well worth the visit (and the slightly chunky Park entrance fee) to see these little dudes going about their business. Sadly you’re restricted to boardwalks amongst the colony, with dire warnings about pecking, however Internet research suggests that actually, if you go onto the public beach next door (also requires payment of park fee) you can sneak closer to them…
It is, however, a bit of a one trick pony, so unless you were planning to spend the remainder of the day sunning yourself on the adjacent beach, it’s a matter of a couple of hours tops.
What at the time seemed like a historic steak lunch was taken at the Boulders Bay guesthouse’s breezy upper deck, and we pressed on southwards to Cape Point, the very end of Africa. This is within a National Park so again requires a relatively chunky park fee to be paid. It’s also a surprisingly long drive from Boulders, followed by a long drive in the park.
I found Cape Point lighthouse, and the nearby Cape of Good Hope, quite awe-inspiring. In front of you, thousands of miles of ocean, and then America. An incredible wind blowing in uninterrupted from the miles of ocean, and towering waves crashing against its base. You can just about make out the new lighthouse right at the tip- I’ve seen reports about a ridge path which goes right to the end, however I think it’s no longer in use, as I saw a small group of young Germans going no further than the old lighthouse- And they DEFINITELY would have gone further, if they could have. I definitely wouldn’t. With the combination of gale force winds and very big drops, I already had a touch of wobbly leg.
I used still-struggling Mark as my excuse to take the “Flying Dutchman” funicular up to the top. In my defence, I did walk back down though!
On the return journey we saw a huge gathering of kitesurfers, presumably pretty stoked about the howling wind, and amusingly a few wild ostrich, doing general ostrich-style stuff.
The drive home ended up being a fairly long one, since I have a thing about circular routes, and hate covering the same ground twice, so we had to drive up the Atlantic Ocean coast on the way back. Unfortunately, since roads aren’t always direct, this isn’t nearly as simple as it appeared, namely ‘Keep the sea on the left’, so we had a few wrong turns.
Happily though, this led us to one of our best wrong turns of the trip, Chapman’s Peak Drive. It’s a toll road, but worth every cent of the 50 Rand fee. Absolutely stunning, particularly in the luscious golden light of the evening.
(You can, obviously climb Chapman’s Peak too, but the road’s the rather less strenuous way to enjoy the incredible vistas). Rolling back to our apartment was a delight, with dinner provided by Uber Eats- Not in any way local but astonishingly cheap.