Ardene Gardens, Claremont

At long last, a walk in the park!

I’ve been going a bit mad with this latest lockdown and the dogs haven’t had a proper run in ages. Most of our parks are either closed or dogs are not allowed or you need special dog permits, and all beaches in this region are off-limits. The mutts have been walked by my friend around the neighbourhood but they prefer running free, sniffing stuff, rolling in old bird poop, and chasing squirrels.

I heard Ardene Gardens were open so I met my son there for a walk. I hadn’t been there for many years which is a pity because it’s gorgeous.

Smack back in the middle of what is now suburbia and a busy commercial area, this large piece of land was bought for the princely sum of £740 (under a thousand dollars!) in 1845 by one Ralph Henry Ardene because he wanted to create a garden “with trees and plants from as many parts of the world as I can.” He did just that, asking everyone who came to the Cape to bring him seeds and plants. His son continued the tradition, travelling the world in search of plants.

A Norfolk Island Pine was brought from Australia and for a long time was the focal point of the gardens. It is said that every Norfolk Island pine in Cape Town is a descendant of this tree. This particular one died early last century, not long after Ardene junior himself, and at about the same time as the dwindling of the family fortune. The gardens were at risk of being lost, i.e. divided and developed, as this had become a thriving sought-after part of the Cape peninsula. Fortunately the City Council was urged to buy the land and now it’s a very popular place for walks, picnics, and wedding photographs. We saw large bits of shiny confetti scattered – this should not be permitted as it isn’t biodegradable.

The most awesome tree, but truly awesome in the real meaning of the word, is a Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla). This ancient and enormous specimen is claimed, in a book I have, to be one of the largest trees in Africa. I doubt that very much because there are baobabs that are much larger by far. What I suspect is meant is that it’s the largest cultivated exotic tree. Be that as it may, it is spectacular! The roots are spread out for more than 10 metres around the tree, with deep enough gaps between them to plant other things, and of course it’s very photogenic!

There is a natural spring, which apparently connects to the nearby Black River, and around which have been created several lovely ponds with ferns and other lush plants. The surface of the ponds is covered in scum and we saw only two ducks but no fish. The various little bridges across the ponds reminded me of Monet’s Garden at Giverny and there are even a few water lilies.

The gardens became neglected in the late 1980’s. In 2004, the Friends of the Arderne Gardens (FOTAG) was established as a public benefit organisation with the objective of working with the City of Cape Town to protect, preserve and promote the garden. The Liesbeek River Garden is another perfect example of citizens getting involved and filling in the gap when the City can’t do everything.

Although officially open during the current lockdown restrictions (with limits on numbers and no picnicking allowed) there was a ‘Closed’ sign at the entrance. This was strange because two employees sitting just inside the gate were quite happy to open up and let us in, saying that walking is permitted. Why the closed sign, I don’t know and didn’t ask. We saw only about 5 other people throughout our walk which was lovely.

Here is a full list of trees and a map here.

I was very conscious throughout our walk that the large hospital just over the road is buckling under the strain of Covid and here we were strolling in the park on a summer’s day as if nothing untoward was happening in the world around us.

My tourism business is in big trouble so I have created a crowdfunding campaign to help me continue to pay for my touring minibus. Here is the link below. Many thanks for any assistance and contribution, it is all much appreciated.

October, finally the Cape of Good Hope

As a tour guide in Cape Town I get to visit the Cape of Good Hope very often, sometimes several times in one week. I never get bored of it and after months of not going there I felt deprived. That is the National Park I missed most of all during lockdown. Even more frustrating is that it’s not far from where I live. I didn’t want to go there until they had opened the entire park so I waited until all sections were declared open. No one could explain why one or two roads might be less safe than others or why hiking was not permitted – we’re talking of a 7700 hectare park with very few people around – it doesn’t get any safer or more socially distant than that.

Anyway, as soon as it was fully open, Sheila and I shot off like bats out of hell to take advantage of this most wonderful and beloved place. We drove up and down all the side roads, enjoyed a picnic with barely a soul around and for once no baboons came to steal from us, and took many happy photos. We were especially grateful that there was no wind because when it blows down there, it blows – it’s the windiest place in South Africa.

The joy of having the park to ourselves was a double-edged sword : no crowds means no work and no income. It’s a horrible situation to be in – on the one hand I love the peace and quiet of having roads and places to ourselves, but at the same time it’s decimated my industry. I was quite emotional to see the empty parking lot which is usually full of coaches and smaller tourism vehicles.

Towards the end of October I ran away from home. The day started off very badly with the bank threatening to take my touring minibus because I had fallen behind on payments. They were refusing to discuss this with me – all calls and emails requesting a meeting were ignored, then one day they simply demanded it. I pointed out this was not permitted without going through a process and they temporarily backed off, but I knew I was in trouble.

I decided to run away. I grabbed Vida off we went, heading for a beautiful beach that I have been meaning to take her to. There are not many beaches here we can let dogs run free but Scarborough beach, next to the Cape of Good Hope on the opposite side of the peninsula to where I live, is one of them. We even stopped at a little restaurant in Scarborough where I shared a burger and fries with her. (She’s on diet now because someone on Facebook pointed out that lockdown had not been kind to her waistline either – she’s a bit of a Facebook sensation so I am grateful for her fans’ attention.).

It was a fabulous day and we didn’t want to come home, but we did, and I started toying with an idea of how to prevent the bank from taking my minibus, see below after photos.

Did you watch My Octopus Teacher? This is where it was filmed.

Pics above: no coaches in parking lot; no diners on restaurant terrace, no tour guides gossiping in front of snake sign. This is NOT how I know these sights!

One of my favourite views across False Bay from the restaurant terrace.

Pics above: The most south-western tip of Africa, ostriches courting dance and two locals being tourists.

Scarborough beach: Vida in her element and lots of space for running and walking safely!

Spring flowers from my garden

The tourism industry is still stuck in Covid-19 limbo and I’ve set up a fundraising campaign to try save my business from being destroyed by my bank. Here is the link and I thank you in advance for any contribution.

A plea for help to save a business

Well, that didn’t work out as planned. The Covid diary, that is.

When the virus poo hit the proverbial fan back in March this year, I read somewhere that one should keep a diary during lockdown because (a) it could last longer than expected and (b) we’ll forget details. So, I revived this blog and that was to be my diary.

It didn’t last long because after the first few weeks of baking and watching stats and Netflix and eating and eating, I hit a state of massive depression and realised that I was on the verge of turning my blog into a pity-party. So I stopped blogging.

Needless to say, I regret stopping because they were right – it did go on for bloody ever and I have forgotten many details. In these eight months, and counting, my household has seen despair, humour, love, anger and lots of food. We’ve run out of money, we’re not baking much anymore, we’ve spent autumn and winter staring at the four walls wondering if this is what life is all about.

Luckily, Spring came along – as it usually does after Winter, pandemic or no pandemic. The garden bloomed, the birds made loads of babies (yes, I became a bird watcher, lockdown does that to a person), and moods were lifted.

Christmas is almost upon us and I really have no idea where the time has gone. I haven’t worked in 8 months because there is still no tourism, even though borders are open. My target market is Europe but they’re back in lockdown for their second wave so not likely to be here any time soon.

So, this post is, after all, a pity-party because I need your help. I have not kept up the payments on my tourism vehicle and the bank is threatening to take it back. I have used up all my savings and I am desperate. So, the only way to keep my vehicle and save my business for when tourism starts again, is to crowdfund to pay the bank.

Here is the link to the crowdfunding site. The goal is in Euros which are almost 1-1 to the US dollar, and for South African rands it’s around 18 rand to 1 euro. So even 10 euros will make a difference. The payment button makes it seem as if only PayPal is accepted but it’s not; if you click on the PayPal button you’ll be taken to other options.

Thank you in advance and much love to all!

This is me with my son Paul. He’s a great lockdown cook and makes the best clafoutis in the world.
This is my friend Sheila. We ventured out last week to an art exhibition only to find it closed. We were rather annoyed because we had wasted petrol so we walked around the V&A Waterfront instead and took cheesy photos.
No blog post is complete without a photo of pets. Mine is the black one on the left, Vida, and the black and white one, Havana, is my son’s dog who lives with us.

Sharing the tourism love

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Last year the New York Times published a travel blog list of 52 places to visit and Cape Town was listed at number one. This is fabulous because of course the NYT is a publication with a huge following. This gave the tourism industry in South Africa something major to brag about and social media mentions must have ranked in the millions.

Today, another list gives the city of Durban the thumbs-up and everyone is crying into their morning coffee that Cape Town is ‘no longer the world’s favourite tourist city’. Huh?? How long was I in a coma for that I missed Cape Town receiving this award? It’s just lists of suggested places to visit!!

Wake up, people! We are NOT the centre of the universe! We receive a huge number of tourists and the stats show an increase year on year – all fabulous news because tourism is this city’s booming new growth industry (and I make my living from tourism!) but we have a long way to go before we beat the likes of Paris and Barcelona and New York and many others that have been popular tourist destinations for far longer than our mere 20 years.

We will grow from strength to strength but we have some work to do on the infrastructure and mechanism of tourism first:

– public transport is still not as handy and frequent as it should be, and it  doesn’t cover the entire region yet. You can’t even get a bus back from Kirstenbosch after the Sunday evening concerts.

– restaurants mostly offer excellent food but good service is not as consistent as it should be. Waiting on tables needs to be respected as a career, not a job for students.

– many wine estates close too early in summer. They’re ignoring the large number of visitors who might want to continue tasting wines between 5pm and 8pm when the sun sets.

– we are not being marketed properly! No-one seems to know how and where the budget is spent and SA Tourism is often accused of not doing a good job.

– the perception that crime is a deterrent. It isn’t really but it only takes a few people to spread a negative perception that tourists are all in danger. Yes, our crime rate is high but no, tourists are not in any specific danger if they just take common-sense precautions, as they should in all major cities.

– the industry is not regulated properly, if at all, and government is not seen as taking it as seriously as it should. A closer look at working conditions and the labour laws would be a good start.

– things that can’t be helped: we’re far away! Far from everywhere, the end of the world, air fares are therefore high, you can’t really nip down here for a week’s holiday.

So let’s not freak out at one list suddenly mentioning Durban as a great place – it is fabulous, we’re not losing anything, and we can share the tourists with that city (where the water is warm enough to swim in) .. and others, like Johannesburg where the country’s only Apartheid Museum is located, and the Kruger National Park which is the world’s most fabulous natural park for game viewing, and the Garden Route which is so aptly named, and the Wild Coast which is still wild and wonderful, and the West Coast which bursts into flower annually and isn’t built-up, and and and …

I was shocked to see how quick some people were to share this article with comments that almost gleefully highlight Cape Town’s omission from the list instead of being happy that Durban gets recognition. South Africans are often accused of self-loathing and this seems to show something like that.

Here’s the blog entry where Durban is mentioned. Note how Cuba is number 2 on the list. Does that make it the world’s second most popular city? I think not! Check out how they compiled the list here. It’s opinion-based for suggested destinations, not a list of places most visited. So Cape Town has never been the world’s favourite tourist city to visit and Durban is still not the world’s 7th most popular tourist city to visit – as one person on Twitter was adamant to state as ‘fact’.

And here are world tourism rankings – actual stats that show which places get the most visitors.

Perspective, okay?

cape of good hope

 

 

What it means to live in Cape Town

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I’ve recently had to face the fact that there are still people in this city of over 3 million inhabitants who don’t realise that this is a top tourist destination. We are no longer a city of apartheid or Nelson Mandela’s prison, or the bottom of Africa, we are primarily a major tourist destination. Tourism is our main industry. In 2012 the number of visitors to South Africa grew by more than double the global average. Very few tourists come to this country without making Cape Town a part of their trip – we are a ‘must see’ kinda place.

This makes us both special and a bit crowded in peak season. It means if you don’t like crowds or queuing for a restaurant table or parking far from your destination, you’d better get out of town for that time.  Do what the Parisians do in August: rent a country house. Or just stay here and absorb it.  What’s important is that all Capetonians should be very aware of just how important tourism is for the city. Instead of hating the crowds, be grateful and be proud!

And act like the ambassador that you are. Every citizen has the ability to cause a visitor to go home with a good memory.  Make space, be helpful, be nice, and smile smile smile. Tourists come here for scenery and thrills but they also come to see us, the people – that’s what it means to live here.

As we prepare for the season and the arrivals I’m excited because it’s my business but I want to urge everyone to visit the popular attractions, NOW, before the crowds get here, so that you can also appreciate what’s on your very doorstep.

  • Go to Cape Point with the family and a picnic basket, spend the day exploring all the side roads and beaches and ship wrecks and zebras and antelope.
  • Take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. It’s free for locals over 18 on your birthday (bring your ID) and check the Cableway website regularly for summer specials – last summer the sunset special was half-price. A beautiful bonus, by any standard!
  • Visit a nature reserve, look closely at the fynbos, take hundreds of photographs. It’s the world’s richest yet smallest plant kingdom and it’s all ours.
  • Go to the Company’s Garden, look at the oldest planted tree, visit the SA National Museum, lie on the lawn and watch people having their wedding photos taken.
  • Go see the penguins at Boulders Beach, swim with them, buy an ice cream from the little hole-in-the-wall kiosk (it’s the best of the lot).
  • Drive over Chapman’s Peak, have a wine tasting and picnic at Cape Point Vineyards in Noodhoek.
  • Walk the boardwalk at Kommetjie and see how shiny and clean Slangkop lighthouse is after its recent clean-up.
  • Walk the entire length of the promenade from Saunders Rocks to Mouille Point, and back again – cycling is now permitted, too. Look at the pavillion to see the changes to the pool.
  • Drive to Blouberg, or take the new MyCity bus, and walk that promenade, take hundreds of photos of Table Mountain and then some more at Blue Peter over sundowners.
  • Have a picnic at a wine estate, or at the Green Point Urban Park, or Kirstenbosch on a Sunday before attending an open-air concert.

Just do it!  Take photos, hundreds of them, and tell me in the comments box below what you intend doing this summer to experience your own city.

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Come on man, the water’s great!

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Chapman’s Peak Drive, breathtaking, photogenic.

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Sunsets aren’t always about colour.

Disclaimer

A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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