Cape Town, South Africa

July 9 – 16, 2019

It’s been more than 3 months since I’ve reported about our travels. I kept thinking “I’ll find the time and inspiration soon” but neither has been happening much. Once we met up with family, all of our free or alone time vanished. Here is the record of our time in South Africa, divided in two parts – Cape Town and Kruger National Park.

Our 3 weeks in South Africa were Petra’s favorite part of the trip so far. I pushed for this trip harder than I wish I had to. Pedja was not up for this part of our journey, thinking that it would cost too much and that we were squeezing too many trips into a short period of time. If you ask him now what he thought of our time in South Africa, he would also rate it as one of the best parts of our trip so far.

At first, I thought that Pedja was right about the cost of such a journey. It turns out that safari vacations are the most expensive types of vacations in general. Organized private safari drives can cost almost $1000/person per night. I looked at options to go to Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, but they were all out of the question due to the cost. Then friends of ours mentioned Namibia and self-driving safaris but at first look, that seemed too risky for a family that didn’t really know much about real wilderness. Our next lucky break in this planning process was talking with our friend Rastko, who has been to more than 100 countries around the world, who said that his favorite city in the world was Cape Town. His recommendation was to incorporate a side trip to Cape Town, South Africa which gave us the starting point for this adventure.

I planned this trip in two parts – for us to arrive from Barcelona, spend a week in Cape Town, fly to Johannesburg to drive to Kruger National Park, and then fly from Johannesburg to Serbia.

Right from the get-go, we knew that having Nina on this journey would be an added level of risk we need to avoid. Nina can’t recognize sensitive or dangerous situations, would not know when to keep quiet (if close to a wild animal), and he cannot see far so viewing animals from a vehicle would be challenging for him, etc. We are lucky that Pedja’s parents were happy to have Nina stay with them while we ventured on without him. I dropped him off in Sabac, Serbia and Pedja, Petra, Maksim and I headed to South Africa on our first ever “Nina-free vacation”. It was a bit hard for me to admit afterwards how traveling without Nina was a needed break for all of us. He adds an added level of complexity, intensity, and some tension to our family dynamics, especially when traveling. We didn’t even fully understand this until he was not with us for this portion of the journey. It was a good decision to leave him in Serbia – he loved it there and we had an easier time without him.

It turns out we chose the best time of the year to be in South Africa. I can say with certainty that July/August is the best time to come visit this beautiful country – it’s not hot, there are not many (if any) mosquitoes, there is less greenery which means best animal viewing conditions, there are no rains (and flash flooding), no crowds, prices are lower, etc.

One interesting fact about visiting this country is that you must bring the kids’ birth certificates with you to board the plane to South Africa. Human trafficking is a big issue in South Africa and this is one of the ways the country is trying to protect children leaving or entering the country. I was lucky to come across this info before we left the US because if we got to the airport without having ‘unabridged’ birth certificates for Petra and Maksim, we wouldn’t have been allowed to board the plane to Cape Town (or leave the country from Johannesburg).

In Cape Town, we did all the touristy things, walked a lot, visited the waterfront, Sunday markets, and saw a great aquarium. We met new friends in South Africa. People there are friendly and especially accommodating to kids.

On the first night in Cape Town, we struck up a conversation with Andrew, US scientist working for the NIH at the university in Cape Town, who gave us an overview of ‘must-dos’ in Cape Town. He inspired us to hike up the Table Mountain, a prominent landmark overlooking Cape Town. We were “lucky” that the funicular that connects the city with the mountain was shut down for annual maintenance so we had to experience hiking up the mountain as well as coming down on foot afterwards. I was under false impression that there were no snakes at this time of the year so I was happy (and ignorant) as a clam and I enjoyed this experience to the fullest (despite hip issues). And yes, we didn’t see any snakes even though we heard a couple of days later that “heck yeah, there are snakes even in July” (another new friend just caught one in front of their house that same week) . Anyway, our journey up the mountain was a fantastic activity for the four of us, especially considering that we covered only 2km each way but with about 900m elevation gain.

One morning, on our way to the waterfront and weekend markets, we passed by two young men talking about some incident in Johannesburg that sounded more like a scene from an action movie than reality. In my typical chatty mode, I struck up a conversation with them, learning that they were the most interesting friends – one being a South African and a Hollywood movie director (that we should have heard of) and the other one, a real life inspiration for the main character of the first movie directed by the movie director. It turns out that the real life inspirational character was as chatty as I am and these two made our morning, giving us tips on what to do in Cape Town as well as Thailand where this fascinating young man was living for many years.

One evening, on our way back to our apartment, we were passing by a skateboard park and Maksim and I decided to stop by to see it. As we were standing there observing the skateboarders, we started a conversation with a couple watching their two sons skate. It turned out we hit it off immediately and before we knew it, Maksim was skateboarding with the boys and we were making plans to have dinner together that same night. Our new friends, Tina and Jacques, took us out for dinner to a fancy restaurant when it was confirmed that we were just meant to meet. I feel like we have met friends for life. Our boys were instant friends and my connection with Tina felt like we have known each other form previous lives. We ended up visiting them again the next day for a day on a beach in their hometown near Cape Town where we met some of their friends too. We also had another dinner together on our last night in Cape Town. Jacques, an avid surfer, inspired us to take family surf lessons in Muizenburg, the main surfing town near Cape Town. We arrived to Muizenburg dressed in winter gear (puff jackets, hats, etc.) and then entered the cold ocean for a couple of hours of fun surfing and swimming. We’ve concluded that surfing is fun but skiing is better. Meeting Tina and Jacque and their two boys has been a highlight of our time in South Africa. I’m certain we’ll cross paths again one day.

We’ve heard that one of the most beautiful drives in the world is the drive from Cape Town, around Cape Peninsula, to the south tip of Africa where the two oceans meet, and back to Cape Town. We were lucky to start this drive in Muizenburg and then continue in the clockwise direction around the peninsula, with making a few breathtaking stops along the way. We can now confirm that this is the most beautiful drive in the world and we highly recommend it.

In Cape Town, we also had the honor to meet up with Peleka, Snezana’s friend. The two met in Seattle back in the day when they were both Au Pairs. We’ve known Peleka for years but it was a special treat to see her on her home turf. She is one beautiful, authentic soul that deservingly carries the title of Snezana’s BFF.

One thing we didn’t do while in Cape Town was wine tasting. I hear it’s a “must do” activity when in this part of the world but we just didn’t have enough time for it. Any place we’ve seen so far, we left feeling that we would have to come back to experience it some more. Cape Town has definitely made that list, first of all to see Tina and Jacque again, but also to spend some more time in this region that is as friendly and beautiful as it can be.

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