By Philip Sheldon, CEO
In May 2013 I spent two weeks exploring the colorful, vast country of South Africa, the Rainbow Nation. After apartheid ended, Nelson Mandela gave his country this new nickname as they embarked on their new course that welcomed every citizen to take part. Like a kaleidoscope, it is a land of many colors, landscapes, and people. There are times when we see all components blended together, and other times when each is quite distinct – and beautiful in its unique way.
South Africa is proud of its port cities, especially Cape Town, the southeastern-most port of the Atlantic Ocean, and Durban, facing the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean. These two cities are bustling with native African, Dutch, and English traditions, as well as reflecting the cultures of those who have settled here from around the world. Cape Town has a Malay Quarter with Malay-inspired foods and colors at every turn. In Durban, every buffet features a wide variety of Indian cuisine. One of the most popular street dishes in Durban is Bunny Chow: a rich chicken curry served inside a thick bread bowl – originally made for the ethnic Indian caddies of Durban’s elite golf courses who didn’t have time to return to town for their short lunch breaks. In a continuing twist of human migration, Bunny Chow has even come to Key West; served from a food truck by warm and friendly South Africans who’ve relocated to our tiny island!
The Rainbow Nation is also reflected in the arts, which celebrate the mix of cultural influences here. In the 60s and 70s Miriam Makeba introduced North American listeners to popular song rhythms of South Africa, and Paul Simon enlightened Americans about traditional African vocal music when he joined with South African singers for his Graceland album. At the height of apartheid this album reminded the world of the hope and exuberant joy that South Africans had for their land and people.
One of my favorite experiences in Cape Town was attending an amazing ballet performance. Most captivating was watching the trust and joy with which the prima ballerina and the lead male dancer embraced the emotions of their performance. She had been Cape Town’s star a decade ago, but had retired to Singapore, and returned only to reprise the role for which Cape Town arts aficionados best remembered her. The young man opposite her was discovered in the corps de ballet in London, invited to Cape Town, and nurtured to bring out his inspiring talent.
At the other end of the spectrum, during a travel conference in Durban we were treated to a drum performance. I had never seen this kind of arrangement where several percussion instruments each sang in its own voice, creating a fascinating blend of sounds.
Even Justin Bieber had a stadium performance in Cape Town, which I missed by just two days!
My experience in South Africa was also defined by its multifarious and vivid landscape. Magnificent Table Mountain welcomed me to the country, when I woke up to a view of the immense rocky features of the mountain framed by a bright blue sky and the relatively low-rise skyline of downtown Cape Town.
I visited the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian and Atlantic Ocean waters crash together at the tip of the continent.
An iconic journey aboard the Blue Train to Johannesburg and Pretoria took us through the lush vineyards and fields of the Winelands region, and through the vast desert of the Karoo.
We visited the vast Sabi Sands private game reserve just west of Kruger National Park, South Africa’s best known natural environment. This area is known for frequent sightings of the “Big Five” (lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and African buffalo), and we were thrilled to see giraffes, impala, zebras, wild dogs, African wildcats and other animals taken straight from the pages of those picture books we all read as children.
All too quickly I was settled into my seat on South African Airways for the non-stop flight from Johannesburg to New York. As I sipped from my class of Pinotage, my new favorite South African wine vintage, I smiled with the memories of the unforgettable Rainbow Nation and started dreaming of my next adventure there!
Interested in visiting South Africa? Click here to read about our South African Tours.