After a positively unbelievable 2 months in Southern Africa that included scenic coastal road trips, over-indulgence in wine country, a few sweaty hikes with beautiful views, history lessons, safaris through some truly incredible national parks and private reserves, a bit of paddling, a lot of walking, and an unbelievable amount of driving, not to mention lions, cheetahs, elephants, buffalo, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, sharks, meerkats, and penguins… I’m finally headed back to Cape Town to celebrate my 24th revolution around the sun and reminisce on the trip of a lifetime. And while I’m pretty sure the expression “once in a lifetime” implies “once”, this trip is instantly worthy of repeating. I’ll definitely be back, Africa, just you wait!
Getting there: If you don’t have a car, just take a quick Uber from central Cape Town to the Gardens, which are located around the east side of Table Mountain.
What to do: Spend the afternoon wandering around the gardens and exploring the incredible variety of native flora; hike Table Mountain via several different tracks originating in the Gardens; attend one of the garden concerts; or grab a blanket, pack an esky full of drinks and nibbles, and enjoy a picnic lunch in one the South Africa’s most beautiful settings.
Top tips: Buy a map for R5 upon entry; the Gardens are actually enormous, and it’s easy to miss entire sections (or just get lost).
Waking up in my comfy bed at Highlanders, feeling more than a little groggy from the lack of sleep and also possibly the wine, I pack my things into my locker and eat breakfast out front of the truck for the last time. Not having to pack up a tent means a much shorter morning routine for me, so it’s not long at all before we are cruising along and pretty much all passed out until arriving in Cape Town around 11am. It’s actually really nice to be back in this city, which feels sort of familiar to me just from the week I spent here last month. And, of course, the sprawling views during the whole drive don’t hurt either.
After checking into the hostel and emptying everything off the bus (which is no small feat, so it takes a lot longer than I just made it sound), Kerri, Nicole, and I hop into an Uber to check Nicole into her apartment in the city, nip off to lunch, and then come back to her room to get ready. It was my original birthday request that we hike Table Mountain via the Skeleton Gorge and Smuts Track, but it’s already late in the afternoon and we are worried about being caught in the dark, so we settle instead for a sunset concert in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens that actually turns out to be amazing. (Of course, we have no idea who Fokofpolisiekar are when we buy the tickets, but we soon learn that they are a very popular Afrikaans rock band whose name literally means “Fuck Off Police Car”, so it promises to be a thrilling evening.)
Arriving at the Gardens, we don’t manage to find any of the other girls at our previously designated meeting spot, which is bound to happen when no one has a working phone. Eventually, we just head inside and stake out a good spot on the grass from which to watch all the on-stage theatrics. Not too long after our arrival, we see Kate and Tess coming up the path, carrying with them a huge variety of cheese, crackers, and deli meats for our little picnic, and then a bit later also see Di and Grace approaching from the opposite side.
Cheese in hand (how life was meant to be lived), good music pumping across the grass, and probably the most scenic setting for a concert I’ve ever been to all make for an amazing night. It’s over far too soon, but we happily just sit on the grass and talk after the music finishes, not ready to leave. The girls have apparently been passing a card around to sign for my birthday (I must be the most oblivious person ever, because I saw nothing), and Kate and Tess even picked out a few little gifts for me at the market from everyone, which they give me now. I am actually beside myself with how sweet this gesture is. It’s seriously so amazing the effort that everyone has made into making today a special birthday for me, and I feel like I almost might cry happy tears all over the focacia and hummus. I do manage to stave off any waterworks, but still, I’m pretty happy as we walk out of the Gardens. I fully expected to be spending my birthday alone before I met all these amazing people, but now I can’t imagine it any other way.
Full from all the cheese and dip, we decide to go for dessert rather than dinner in Camps Bay, which involves an Uber ride across the city. The waterfront is sadly not as impressive in the pitch black as it is in the day, but everyone still enjoys the area and we find a really great dessert spot overlooking the beach. After a few cakes and assorted bits, we divide ourselves into 2 Ubers for the ride back and say goodbye. I’ll be seeing everyone else tomorrow for some market shopping and our tour of Robben Island, but I have to say a big goodbye to Nicole, wishing her plenty of Great Whites on her shark dive tomorrow. Seeing as she only lives a few hours away, I’m sure we will be seeing more of each other in the future, but it’s still sad to think that I’ll soon be waking up much farther than 5m away from all the girls. I truly couldn’t ask for a better group of friends to make in Africa, and they honestly made today one of my best birthdays yet.