How to Avoid a Postcard Holiday in South Africa
During the summer of 2014, I met Silas through a coworker when I went to a party. Since leaving South Africa, Silas and I have kept in touch through Facebook. He is a free-spirited individual whose photography captures the true essence of South Africa and he knows Cape Town and the surrounding area well. I’m excited to share some of Silas’ invaluable insight with the travelJewels community!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m originally from Kwa-Zulu-Natal but I lived in Johannesburg for most of my life. I’ve been living in Cape Town for the past four years. My occupation is a Freelance Creative, sort of like consulting in the creative sense.
What do you like to do?
I like to travel quite a bit around town, so I just get on the train and explore. Instead of going to the beach in Cape Town, I like to go at least an hour or two away to Strand. I love general exploration and trying to find different parts of the city that I haven’t explored before. In Cape Town, I like to explore forests and waterfalls. You’d be surprised at what you can find. I found a waterfall in Simon’s Town the other day – it’s the most random place to find a waterfall.
What are some of your favorite places/areas to eat authentic South African food?
Timbuktu. Well, for more African dishes, this is a nice Ethiopian place on Long Street. They have two locations that are very different aesthetically, but the food is the same.
Mama Hawu. You will probably pay about 20-40 rand for a plate of food. The most amazing thing about Mama Hawu is that it is a melting pot of Africa, because there are people with all kinds of African backgrounds and they cater to all those dishes. It’s hidden on Long Street, so it’s hard to find. But if you do slip into it, I highly recommend you go.
Kalk Bay. This is a community big on fishing. You can get traditional fish and chips there.
Boo-Kaap. Great place to eat traditional Coloured cuisine. It’s a nice tight-knit community so you can just ask around for restaurants and you will find a treat.
What are your favorite things to do in South Africa?
Joburg used to have a bad rep for being a grimy place, but the city has kind of evolved and has creative energy it didn’t have five years ago. They created these districts in the city. It’s a big city, so it’s not tightknit, but they spaced these districts in such a way around the city that it will make a good weekend trip. You could go to Braamfontein, which is basically the food and social hub. It’s a good space to be in, there are always things happening there. There are also culture stores, so if you are looking for clothes or artsy stuff, things that youth or people in the creative culture are into, that’s the place to find that kind of stuff. Not too far from that, about five minutes away, there’s a district called Maboneng district. It has a nice young pulse with markets, private theaters, art galleries. It’s just a very vibey part of town, close to the hub. And of course you want to check out Soweto.
Bulungula is an amazing place to try out. You go off the main road and drive for a good two hours to get to your destination. When you get there, it isn’t a resort but it’s a place where people can stay and book a room or two. It’s community owned and run. You are surrounded by kids from the neighborhood. The mothers of the community cook for you and serve you breakfast and lunch. You live in the hut houses. You never feel like you are on a resort or some fancy place, you feel like you are chilling with the community and spending time with family. They have a lot of open land where you could walk for kilometers on end. Everyone is friendly and welcoming. They herd cows on the beach, which is crazy. So you will just be chilling and a cow is there. It kind of reminds you that there are places out there in South Africa that haven’t quite been taken over yet and still belong to the people. It is nothing fancy, but it’s well worth it.
We went to Graaff-Reinet a couple of months ago to do a project where they are actually building a South African Flag using Cacti. Graaff-Reinet has the world’s biggest cacti farm. They are growing all these cacti with different variations and building a flag that you will be able to see from space. It’s massive. It’s a sleepy little town, very quaint and welcoming, and there are so many beautiful views. There’s a valley there called the Valley of Desolation. They have really high points that show you views for kilometers upon kilometers. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in South Africa. It’s a four hour drive from Cape Town. It is an interesting community - everyone is aware of how they live and they have a sense of community and pride in their town. It’s one of my favorite places.
Hermanus. This is a great place for whale watching spots. It’s one of the most beautiful towns on the Western Cape. There are people who blow large horns to signal that the whales are coming. It attracts many people.
Langebaan. This is a nice getaway about an hour and a half outside of Cape Town. You can go there and rent a house for dirt cheap, like 200 rand a night. There’s a beautiful lagoon there with a lot for wildlife and wild birds. It would be a nice weekend getaway. It’s a very photographic place.
Pietermaritzburg.This is a more popular town, but it is also quite relaxed and calm. It’s an hour outside of Durban. It has a lot of hills and valleys. It gets very misty out there, giving it a nice romantic air about it.
What are your favorite South African sayings that you suggest all visitors learn?
I think people should learn the difference between shame (sympathy) and the word shame, which we use to describe pretty much everything. You can see the cutest dog in the world and you will be like “Aww, shame”, but it’s not a bad thing, we use the word shame for both good and bad things. So it’s important to learn the difference. But you will pick up on that once you get here.
South Africans love the phrase now now. If I’m 15 minutes to a hour away from your house and you ask what time I’ll get there and I’ll say I’ll be there now now . Now now for us is code for, "I’m on my way don’t stress me!"
You will also hear Ya a lot. It’s our version of yes and yeah. We just round it off to ya. It’s universal across all South African cultures.
What are the things that make you really proud to be South African?
I would say the sense of community. There are about eleven official cultures in this country and we still find a way to understand each other. That makes me proud because me being half Pedi and half Zulu, I came to a place like Cape Town that’s predominantly Afrikaans and Xhosa and, by law, I shouldn’t fit in here and should feel out of place but I somehow get the Xhosa culture, even though I didn’t grow up around it. Even from a young age, you learn about other cultures because we grow up in such a melting pot society. You learn other languages even though you don’t speak them at home. If you ever find yourself surrounded by people that aren’t the ones you grew up with, you still always find your home somehow.
People are always willing to be hospitable. I find South Africans to be very friendly people, very welcoming and accommodating, especially to people from outside. If someone ever had to visit here, I think they will have more good stories to take away from the South African experience than any bad. That makes me proud to be South African.
What are your tourist pet peeves?
Tourists need to stop walking like tourists! It’s the craziest thing. And where do tourists get their clothes? You can see them a mile away. They always wear the same khaki shorts and socks up to their knees. And they always walk in packs, like they are looking for a water hole.
My advice is that if you want to go explore a new place, try to blend in as much as possible so you don’t stick out. That's not because people are trying to take advantage of tourists. It’s a matter of branching out. Go explore the place on your own. Find things to do. Meet locals. Get out and really get to know the place. You don’t want to come back and realize that your holiday was just a postcard the entire time.
When you first arrive, find tours related to something you like. If you are into bird watching and want to see exotic birds that nestle in Blouberg, then find something related to that and through that you will get in touch with locals familiar with the area. These are the right people to show you the best possible and organic experience. Find people that can accommodate your interests and show you around and from that build on those relationships. You will be surprised by what you find and the people you meet and the friends you end up making.
Any final thoughts for our readers?
Try and get out as much as you can. The city is great, but try to see as much as you can. Get on the bus, take a taxi, get on the train. There are many interesting things in the city, but a lot of the beauty that I found were generally within a 30-40 minute drive or train ride or bus ride out of the city where the true gems are.