After an amazing eight-day road trip along the Garden Route of South Africa, it was finally time to meet our new friends, Tara and Bella. Welcome to House sitting in South Africa Part 2. Whilst house sitting in Cape Town we would be taking care of Tara and Bella over Christmas and New Year. Their home was on Woodbridge Island, a gated island community on the north side of Capetown. It was just a short drive or an easy and cheap bus ride from downtown Capetown. But more importantly, it was just a few barefoot steps from the stunning Milnerton Beach.
We would be living upstairs in the house and Tara moved in with us right away. Bella wasn’t having any of it. She would be our best friend when it came to mealtime or walks on the beach, that was it. Apart from that she would sit downstairs alone hoping that her mom would soon come walking back through the door. We would cook downstairs and eat in the kitchen instead of on our lovely deck, just to keep her company.
I’m not sure what changed her mind but after six days she just wondered upstairs all by herself. After that, she never left my side for the next three weeks. Bella would sit at my feet whether I was inside or outside. She would follow me even if I just went to get another glass of wine. She would lie by the side of my bed the minute I went to bed (and she was a snorer). The crazy dog would even keep me company in the bathroom (no matter what I was doing in there)!
As some of you may notice in the picture above, Tara (on the left) has a penis. Yes Tara is actually a boy. Don’t ask me how she got the name.
With such a beautiful beach right outside of our backdoor it was not too hard to get motivated to take the dogs for a walk. I would go once around 7 am while Vanessa was still sleeping. Then usually one more time around 10 am when Vanessa was up. And once again in the evening right before happy hour, usually around 2- 3 hours of walks a day. Tara loved her tennis ball and would happily spend all day chasing it into the ice-cold waters of Capetown. Bella had no interest in swimming. She was like a vacuum cleaner on the beach. She was always making sure no scraps of food were left behind on the beach for anyone else.
Happy hour for the dogs was dinner time, really more like happy thirty seconds as fast as they ate. Happy hour for me was a nice cold beer or a glass of inexpensive local white wine. Vanessa would usually opt for the wine or a glass of delicious Amarula on ice. And always out on the deck while watching the sun go down over Table Mountain. This was a perfect end to most of our days in Capetown.
While Vanessa had had many warm Christmases growing up in Brazil, this was to be my first. After twenty plus snowy ones in Colorado, I was quite excited about it. For the last twenty years, being in the restaurant business in a ski resort, Christmas was all about working hard and making lots of money. This year would be a little different for me.
For Christmas eve we took a drive to nearby Bloubergstrand. After a quick wander on the beach, we headed for lunch at a restaurant that had been recommended to us. Crocodile pie and fish and chips is not your typical northern hemisphere Christmas meal. But let me tell you, it was quite delicious, especially with the sea breeze and ocean view. The small glass of wine you see in the picture was, unfortunately, all that I was allowed. They are very strict about drinking and driving in South Africa. There were many spot checks all over the city at this time of year. I couldn’t imagine a South African jail being a very fun place to spend Christmas.
To avoid that problem on Christmas Day we just stayed home walking with the dogs on the beach. And then for dinner, we cooked some amazing ostrich fillets for dinner, my new favorite steak! And unless you had made a reservation a long time ago, eating at home was your only choice. All the local restaurants were either closed or fully booked.
Now there were a few things we had to deal with on this sit we that we have never had to deal with anywhere else, and really hope we never have to deal with them again.
The first, not quite as serious as the second, was the wind. As we experienced on our drive here, the wind could blow so hard at this time of year. Sometimes it was hard to even open the car door it was blowing so hard. Some evenings when it was really blowing we could only walk on the beach with the wind at our back. It was just too painful to walk into the wind, it was like getting sandblasted. It was just not fun although it didn’t seem to bother the dogs so much.
The second, and one I’m sure most of you have heard about, was the drought Capetown had been experiencing for the last two years or so. We knew about it before arriving. I don’t think most people really take it seriously until they get here. The moment you stepped off the plane, you were greeted by many signs in the airport explaining the importance of saving water. In the bathrooms, there were signs advising you not to flush unless absolutely necessary. “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” was a well-known phrase in town at this time.
All households in the city were on serious water restrictions. 87 liters per day per person was your allowance. If you went over this on a regular basis you would have an automatic shut off placed on your house. Talk about Day Zero could be heard everywhere. On the news, in the street, and most people were taking it very seriously. This would be the day when the city’s dams got so low that all municipal water would be shut off. People would then have to go to public stations with their plastic jugs to get their 20 liters a day ration of water. It is sad that many of the city’s poorer people who live in the townships couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. They have to do this every day of their lives anyway as many of them have no running water in their homes. In fact some of them seemed happy about Day Zero coming so maybe other people would then understand how the other half has to live.
The dreaded Day Zero was forecast to be in April at the time. The date was constantly changing depending on rain and consumption levels. It is not until faced with this situation that you realize how much water we actually use and waste on a daily basis. We were trained by the homeowners on how to reduce our consumption and it really wasn’t such a big deal.
We would have a tub between our legs in the shower to catch any wastewater. Any saved water would then be used to flush the toilet at a later time. You take consecutive showers so as not to waste so much water while waiting for it to get hot. The government was encouraging people to take only two minute showers. They were even distributing free CD’s of two-minute shower songs. The same would go for hand washing, tooth brushing, and dishwashing. All water would be collected in tubs and used to water any plants that were still surviving. Vanessa and I even went as far as sharing cereal bowls and juice glasses for breakfast to save on dishwashing.
I’ve never had a problem with it but Vanessa finally learned that it is not a crime to wear the same clothes for a few days in a row. In fact, it was kind of the in thing to do these days.
The city had also taken drastic actions in public areas. Most public bathrooms were closed and those that did remain open had no hand washing facilities, just hand sanitizer. Most public swimming pools were closed down and the few that remained open had swimwear restrictions. Only Speedos were allowed for men as swim shorts would soak up too much water.
All hotels had removed the drain plugs from all bathtubs, no baths allowed, only showers. All guests were informed that their sheets would not be washed during their stay unless requested. Trust me, you really didn’t want to be that asshole standing at the front desk asking for fresh linens every day!
I am a big golfer, but I had no desire to play any of the courses I saw there. They were so dry ( and not to mention the wind). I’m amazed at how they even stayed open during this time.
Six weeks later on the day we left Capetown, the water restrictions were knocked down to 50 liters per day. When you put your mind to it, you would be amazed how easy it really is to live like this. On our drive out of the city, we just happened to drive by the biggest dam they have. It was so low you just have to wonder if it will ever return to full capacity. If so, how long will it take?
As bad as the last few paragraphs may have made things sound, Capetown soon became of our our favorite places we have house sat to date. Many of our days were spent at home relaxing on our deck in between long walks on the beautiful sandy beach at our doorstep. We did manage to get out and explore the city quite a bit as well as the surrounding areas that are famous for their wines. The homeowners had left us their car to get around, a nice compact Honda Jazz. It was perfect for getting around a busy city. And even better for finding a parking spot at the busy beaches over the holidays.
As in many places around the world, Christmas and New Years is peak season. Capetown is no exception and things can get very crowded. We were fortunate enough not to have to pay for a place to stay. Hotel prices in Capetown skyrocket at this time of year. Our beach at the house would get crowded. Crowded enough that we would sometimes have to put the dogs on a leash. If not, Bella would start sniffing out everyone’s picnic leftovers, sometimes while they were still eating. Tara was sure to pee on somebody’s towel while they were swimming if we weren’t looking.
The more popular beaches in the area were so much busier than ours. The day after Christmas we headed out to Camps Bay, and so did everyone else so it seemed. We got there early enough to still be able to find a parking spot, and walked the short few blocks down to the beach. I was thirsty so I decided to stop by the Pick n Pay supermarket on the beach road. I stayed thirsty for a while longer. The supermarket had a line to get in with security guards at the entrance letting one out, one in. It probably would have taken me an hour to buy a bottle of water. When we left later in the afternoon there had to be well over a hundred people in line!
It was a hot day and needless to say, the beach was packed like we have never seen it before. The main part of the beach is fine white sand and nice blue water. It was kind of like the color of your balls when you get out of the water! It was so cold your feet would get cold just walking on the wet sand! In Capetown, the water is colder in summer than it is in winter, or at least it feels that way. This is due to the water from melting icebergs in Antarctica flowing this way. This part of the beach was full of white people lying flat out on their towels, staring at their smartphones, getting sunburnt and becoming future skin cancer victims. Coast guard boats were lined up of the shore waiting to save people who couldn’t handle the cold water. Almost every day we would hear on the radio in the car about victims on the different beaches in the area.
The other end of the beach was full of huge boulders and cliffs and many hidden tidal pools. This area was full, and I mean full, of black people with their tents and braai’s all fired up. The kids were having a great time swimming in the warmer waters of the sun heated tidal pools. The adults sat around eating and just having a good time. I know which side of the beach I thought was more fun and friendly! It is worth noting that alcohol is not allowed on any of the beaches in Capetown. Or most of the country. Groups of police were constantly making the rounds and checking peoples coolers for anything illegal. We never saw anyone get busted, most of them seemed content just to enjoy the day with friends and family.
There are so many other great attractions around Capetown other than the beaches. We chose to wait until later in our stay and after New Years to visit most of them, just to avoid the crowds. I will talk about them in more detail in a future post.
Of course, we knew that New Years Eve was going to be insanely busy everywhere. Anyway, we foolishly decided to venture out anyway with the intention of being home before midnight as Tara was terrified of fireworks. We headed by bus down to the V & A Waterfront, a huge shopping, dining, and entertainment complex.
The minute we arrived I knew this was a dumb idea but we ventured in anyway looking for something to eat. There were people everywhere inside the mall as it had started raining outside. The rain would normally be a great thing in Capetown, but it could have waited for another day.
The lines to get in the restaurants were ridiculous, and there is no shortage of restaurants there. We gave up on that idea and headed to the nearby “foodie” market. Here we managed to find a dirty table and get a pizza and a “bunny chow” for dinner. We followed it with waffles and ice cream for dessert and a cold beer to wash it all down. By this time I was ready to go home. I would rather sit on the deck with the dogs, drink a nice bottle of wine and watch the fireworks from there. And that’s exactly what we did. Happy New year!
Little did we know it but the start of the New Year would also become the start of “House Sitting in South Africa Part 3” . Another house sitter named Mary had seen some of my photos on Facebook. As she was house sitting nearby she asked if we would like to meet up one day.
We agreed to meet up on January 2nd and go to the Capetown street Carnival in downtown. The parade was supposed to start at noon, yeah right! We met her outside the tourist office on Long Street near the parade route. We got a map of the parade route from the tourist office. It was recommended getting a viewing spot by 1pm as the parade would take a while to get here. That was an understatement! Anyway, the parade turned out to be a complete waste of our time. Probably the most pathetic carnival parade I have ever seen. Never the less, we still had an interesting day with our new friend Mary.
Mary was house sitting by herself in Simonstown, a small town on the coast south of Capetown. She had no animals to look after but was really just making the house look lived in for security reasons. The owners housekeeper had taken a break to visit her family for the holidays. The owners rarely spent any time there themselves. That morning before she came to meet us, Mary got a call from the homeowners ( who she had never actually met). They told her that the housekeeper had a family emergency and wouldn’t be able to return on Jan 10th. This was the day Mary was due to leave. Mary mentioned the sad phone call and asked us if we had any interest in taking over from her when she headed home. Our current house sit finished on the same day we would need to start there. As we hadn’t made any further plans yet we agreed to talk to the homeowner. This sit didn’t come with a car meaning we would have to rent one.
After talking with the owner we agreed to help them out for a week. The next day she called again asking if we could do two weeks. After looking and seeing how inexpensive rental cars were, we agreed to the two weeks and were soon on our way to Simonstown. To cut a long story short, our one month stay in South Africa was about to turn into three!!! More about that in another post!