I suppose a few words are called for on South Africa. It was a very good trip, if one of the busiest “holidays” I have had in a long time. I think we were still in bed at 09:30 on only one morning, and we were doing something for every one of the 10 days we were in the country which left us all a little drained by the time we got home. Full photos on flickr a little later, but here is a taster with some of my impressions for now.

The Rugby
Lions on tour, South Africa 2009.

2nd Lions tour test in Pretoria. Canon EOS 300D, SK.

The Lions tour of course was the main reason we were in South Africa. People felt we could have won the 2nd test, and were disappointed afterwards, but the final one was a great victory and was followed by quite a party in Sandton.

The Geography
After two days around Pretoria we flew to Cape Town and spent the next 5 days there. That gave us our best chance to part of South Africa. The city is famously dominated by the mountain, which isn’t really like Ben Bulben in my opinion
Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa.

Table Mountain over Cape Town. Canon EOS 300D, SK.

We stayed in an fabulous apartment overlooking the sea in the salubrious suburb of Camps Bay.
Camps Bay, Cape Town, South Africa.

View from our apartment. Canon EOS 300D, SK.

With our rental car that gave us a base to head off down to the Cape of Good Hope
SK on table mountain with the Cape behind him.

SK blocking the view of the Cape of Good Hope. Canon EOS 300D, SK.

…and off up into the wine region around Stellenbosch. I think the rest of the party had this as a hightlight of the trip, when we visited three wineries to sample their fares, and indulged ourselves with an excellent lunch as well.
Enjoying the wine region.

Enjoying the wines of South Africa. Canon EOS 300D, SK.

For all of this the weather was fabulous, with blue skies and balmy (for a South African Winter) 20°C days. We were lucky too as the previous week when the Lions had been there the weather was terrible.

The Wildlife
I think the thing I enjoyed most about South Africa was the wildlife. We didn’t make it on a safari, but our tour operator (the excellent Laura’s tours) has us staying in a private game sanctuary in Pretoria, where they bred lions, leopards, cheetahs and tigers (not native, but there you go) as well as some of the other less lethal African plains animals. This was a problem for me, as I am not a cat person and all night long you could hear the lions roaring, about 50m from our room. We did a tour and got to see that at least some of their Cheetahs were practically domesticated and were like great big house cats looking for a rub:
Cheetah wants a rub.

The Cheetah wants a rub. Canon EOS 300D, SK.

Mind you when we ran into one of their Tigers later eating he let us know that he was not so happy having his dinner interrupted.
Narked tiger

Tiger (thankfully) behind a wire fence. Canon EOS 300D, SK.

On our tour of the Cape we go to see (and wander amongst) Penguins at Boulders beach.
African Penguins

African Penguins. Canon EOS 300D, SK.

From the cape itself we were very lucky to spot some whales, the first time I have seen ones bigger than dolphins.
Whales from the Cape.

Whales from the Cape of Good Hope. Canon EOS 300D, SK.

The animals we got closest to (other than the Cheetahs and a playful lion cub), were the Baboons at the Cape. The buggers had the restaurant staked out and while I was there daringly stole the lunch from anyone that turned their back for a second. We were even warned that the thieving bastards would try and grab the food from your hands.
Thieving baboon.

Thieving baboon waits for his chance. Canon EOS 300D, SK.

This couple were advised not to sit down as the cheeky bugger on the right of the picture would have their pizza in seconds. Fortunately that was the only crime we saw in our time in South Africa. A subject which brings me on to…

Current Affairs and History
Before you go, you hear loads about the crime situation in South Africa. And when you are there it is never far from the front of your mind – certainly if you are a green tourist who doesn’t know what is and isn’t safe. We learned crime is a big problem in Pretoria and Jo’Burg. Everyone lives behind high walls and electric fences, and has stories of the number of times they have been robbed. We were told not to go anywhere on foot at night, not even the 200m from our hotel to Mandela square, in Sandton, possibly the wealthiest suburb in Africa. Cape Town was totally different, the usual big city rules apply there, and we could wander back from the bars and restaurants at night. You had to wonder how people can live their lives locked away like that though? When we got back Laura and I really appreciated how carefree our lives are in Dublin, where outside of a few deprived housing estates we can go nearly anywhere, anytime, and barbed wire is rare, let alone razor wire backed by 4 strand electric fences.

Everyone we talked to was very friendly, and happy to talk about their country. Some were worried about the future (their broken neighbour to the north keeps getting mentioned), but more talked about some of the recent emigrants returning home. And having brushed up on my recent South African history at the Apartheid museum I can see that while the country may have problems now, in the early 90′s there was a chance that it could have collapsed into something much much worse. And as I said to one nice local couple we had drinks with in Cape Town one night, there is a lot of good will out there towards South Africa.

I think it is a great country, and I want to get back at some stage in the future to see more of it.