Read, Write, Run, Roam

South Africa

Mosque on Sunday: Auwal Mosque, Cape Town

For my last post on South Africa (sob!) I’m highlighting the Auwal Mosque in Cape Town. It was established in 1794* and is the oldest mosque in South Africa.

While the Dutch history in South Africa is well-known, people may not realize that there is a strong Muslim history in Cape Town. About 200 Muslim political exiles were in the Cape Town area between 1652 and 1795, and the religion was popularized through the  63,000 slaves imported from Indonesia, India, Zanzibar, and other places between the mid-17th and early 19th centuries. (This history also explains our delight at finding good curries in South Africa.) In 1804, freedom of religion was permitted, and people could openly worship at the mosque.

Auwal Mosque is located in the Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town. Bo-Kaap was once zoned exclusively for Cape Muslims under the Group Areas Act of 1950. Today, the area is mixed and gentrifying, but remains unique for its cobblestone streets and colorful buildings.

It also led to an unexpected find: a fantastic spice store. Houses of worship are spiritual places, but a good spice store is heaven for RHOB.

*The dates are inconsistent-I’ve read 1794, 1798 (when I suspect construction began) and 1804 (when religious freedom was permitted).


The Lion (and RHOB) Sleep Tonight: Sightseeing in Kruger National Park, South Africa

What do you do when a birthday trip to Egypt goes haywire, leaving you with less than a week to plan a short trip to Kruger National Park—on a budget?

First, we tried to do it ourselves. Then, we panicked. Finally, we called travel agency Africa Direct, who set us up with the amazing Carol Anne at Amber Africa tours for a special birthday safari trip. So on RHOB’s birthday, at 4:15 am, (Muz had a little problem with the alarm clock) we headed out for a two-day tour of Kruger.

Two days for a Kruger safari is ambitious or insane, depending on whom you talk to. The park is the size of Israel, and a week is recommended to see all of its nooks, crannies, and critters. And this time of year, the summer grasses conceal animals lying within three feet of a car. We were warned that we might not see many animals during our trip, but to keep our eyes and minds open about the park.

We could not have been given better advice. We thought we’d see a few animals that day, but within the first hour, we spotted about twelve hyenas walking down the road. Other cars stopped, took photos, and sped on to find the “Big 5.” But Carol Anne suggested we wait and watch them hunt.

The hunt soon became gruesome as they turned on a member of their own group, mortally wounding him. It’s not called “the wild” without reason. As disturbing as that was, it was an unforgettable experience.

Fratricide

Another unforgettable moment came when we stopped at a watering hole and were asked to simply wait and see what happened. In short order, we saw zebras and gnus go to the water, only to be pushed out by a huge herd of elephants, followed by several giraffe. We accused Carol Anne of orchestrating these animals, but she just laughed and said she wish she could.

Water for Elephants

When we weren’t seeing large mammals, Carol Anne was sharing her passion for the park and its inhabitants. Learning about the ecosystem gave us a great appreciation for how all creatures survive there, big and small.

But let’s face it: most people want to see a lion, and we were no exception. We did get our wish: there was a big buffalo kill, and lions were protecting the meat until they were ready to feast. But the lions were sleepy, full, and easily hidden in the tall grass. Even though we didn’t get a clear view, it was fascinating to watch them appear and disappear in the grass.

Most people in the park seemed to race around from site to site, hoping for a glimpse of a certain animal before moving on to the next item on their “Kruger List.” While that’s understandable, we were happy to let the park show us what it wanted to—and saw some incredible things as a result. It was an unforgettable birthday. After nineteen hours of game viewing/celebrating, I understood just how sleepy those lions were.

I was as tired as these painted dogs...


Church on Sunday: Dutch Reformed Church, Franschhoek, South Africa

Though I’m back under the grey skies of Belgrade in winter, I had to post this summery photo of the Dutch Reformed Church in Franschhoek, South Africa. The Dutch Reform Church was built in 1846, and is reportedly the oldest building in town.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much information about the church, but the town was settled in 1688 with the help of French Huguenots. The Huguenots arrived (with the help of the Dutch) after they were expelled from France by Louis XIV because of their Protestant faith. Louis’ loss soon became South Africa’s gain: the Huguenots brought their knowledge of winemaking and love for great food, and Franschhoek is now known for its incredible wineries and fine restaurants.

Of course, we couldn’t just rely on our guidebook for this information, so we had to sample the ginger chocolates at Huguenot Fine Chocolates, explore wineries and have lunch at the amazing La Petite Ferme. The service was gracious, the food was outstanding, and the wine was worthy of yet-another-cheesy-photo:

Religious freedom was never more delicious.

You can’t say RHOB doesn’t do her research.


From Kafana Tables to Table Mountain: Cape Town, South Africa

We had plans to go to Egypt, but let’s just say that became a bad idea. So we cancelled our Egypt tickets and asked where our frequent flyer miles would take us. The answer? South Africa. Frenzied planning and several flights later, we arrived in Cape Town.

As we flew into Cape Town, we couldn’t help but notice Table Mountain. Its unique shape can be seen from much of the city, and it’s rumored to be one of the oldest mountains in the world.

We wanted to go to the top, but our short (2-day) stay in Cape Town meant that a hike up would have taken up most of our time. Luckily, we had another option: the Cableway! Even if you’re a hard-core hiker, the cable car is a fun way to travel. It moves up to 10 meters per second, and the floor of the car rotates 360 degrees so you can get views of the entire area. Plus, if you buy a ticket after 6pm, you receive a half price discount.

Not for the acrophobic

Though the mountaintop restaurant area can be crowded, the numerous pathways make it easier to feel like you’re alone. Until you discover that you’re not alone, that is. We spotted a rock hyrax spying on us.

We started to walk toward it and realized that we were practically on top of another hyrax. This one was a little less shy. In fact, another hiker practically stepped on him accidentally. I have a feeling that they’re not the brightest animals in the kingdom.

Less shy but more goofy-looking

After he performed for us, we decided to watch the sunset on the other side of the mountain. The mountain has a shop that sells food and wine (gotta love capitalism) and Muz surprised me with some champagne to toast the sunset.

Afterward, we went back down the mountain to soak in the Cape Town skyline from above.

It was a great way to end our Capetown stay. The next morning, we travelled to Kruger National Park.