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My South Africa Odyssey

By: Professor Judy Salwen

Aboard World Airlines, flying to South Africa, thoughts of the country filled my mind: the melodic folk songs of Marais and Miranda ("Zulu Warrior" and "Marching to Pretoria"); encounters with gracious South African Jews who had emigrated to America; and, reports of the beauty of the country and the massive collections of game under government protection. It was with great anticipation, therefore, that I looked forward to twelve days in the southernmost country on the African continent.

I divided my stay almost equally between the western and eastern cape region, selecting Cape Town as my western touring base. The Cape Sun Inter-Continental, Cape Town, served as my western touring home away from home.

Located in the center of Cape Town, it was convenient to everything: the Nico Theatre, where I was invited to a masterful performance of "Les Miserables" performed by an Australian and South African cast, as talented as the performers I had seen in New York; the Jewish Museum; and, the impressive synagogue. Just as important, the Cape Sun is a full-service entity, where I was able to enjoy buffet breakfasts and dinners, with an abundance of vegetarian dishes, fruits and breads. The Hotel housed a health club where I exercised on the treadmill during my stay. My room, a spacious, comfortable unit, was the ideal place to renew my weary body after a long days' tour of the picturesque Cape Town region. As if that wasn't enough, from the window of my room, I had full view of Cape Town's famous Table Mountain. Impressionist painters would have loved it. I did!

From the Cape Sun Inter- Continental, I made several excursions, the first an all-day Hylton Ross Cape Point and Peninsula tour, conducted by Charl, a capable, articulate chauffeur-guide. We drove along the coast, witnessed sea and sand making loving contact, the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meeting majestically at one point. Remaining days, I selected to go with another tour company, Mother City Tours, and enjoyed the expertise of Dirk Havenga, as my chauffeur-guide, for two days. Dirk drove us around Cape Town city; to the West Coast Ostrich Ranch, where I learned about ostrich breeding, and purchased several hand-painted ostrich eggs to bring home as gifts; to historical Shellenbosch and its impressive university; and to two wineries for wine tastings. The day before I left Cape Town, I joined Mother City Tours for an all-day trip to the rugged and beautiful west coast's private nature reserve, situated within the West Coast National Park, and between the lagoon and the sea.

Lucia Civolani, a travel agent with Specialized Tours, a Cape Town travel agency that works with the South African Tourist Board, helped with advice and arrangements, and guided me into worthwhile selections in seeing Cape Town, and environs. Her phone number, in Capt Town, is (021) 253259.

The second half of my trip was spent on the eastern cape, and I flew from Cape Town to the lovely city of Port Elizabeth, en route to Shamwari Lodge and its Game Reserve and Halyards Resort Hotel in Port Alfred. In Port Elizabeth, I had the good fortune of visiting the Port Elizabeth Hebrew Congregation where I received a warm welcome.

Built in 1955, this orthodox synagogue, in its prime, twenty years ago, catered to the religious needs of 600 families, approximately 5,000 Jews. Today, the congregation is attended by 456 families, approximately 1,000 Jews. Downsizing is the result of emigration to Australia, America and Israel. Many young people have left for Cape town, seeking work and a more active social life. Intermarriage took its toll, too. I was told that many young men left South Africa for two reasons: they did not want to be inducted into military service at age 18, with possibilities of taking action against other countrymen, and during the apartheid period, they were reminded of Naziism, which they loathed. Their elders would often follow them, to live near their children.

In addition to the huge, beautiful synagogue, there is a day school with primary through high school grades. A large social center for weddings and other functions is part of the Congregation, too.

Next stop: Shamwari Game Reserve, fifty minutes by car from Port Elizabeth. This malaria-free game reserve, in the heart of the east bushveld, I preferred to the famous Kruger Park. The fact that I did not have to endure weeks of malaria pills, that Shamwari (meaning friend) is less tourism congested, and that it is near Cape Town, rather than Johannesburg, made visiting Shamari extremely attractive.

Shamari Lodge consisted of six, five star African style thatched huts, accommodating 12 people maximum, and was extremely comfortable and spacious. On the grounds was a pool, a dining room featuring African-European meals, under the supervision of a master culinary chef, Alicia, whose African barbecue complemented deliciously prepared pastas, salads, vegetables, breads, fruits and desserts. The international clientele and services of two rangers rounded out my worthwhile stay. I took full advantage of the services of Antony, senior ranger, and made three, three hour drives in a Land Rover, into the Shamwari Game Reserve, where Antony was quick to point out elephant, rhino, lions, giraffes, zebras and antelope. The last morning at Shamwari, under Antony's protection (which included a covered rifle), three other guests and I walked the bush, for two years, spotting plenty of birds--but, no animals. Shamwari is highly recommended!

From Shamwari, I visited her sister resort, the Halyards Resort Hotel, a short drive from Shamwari, and situated on the marina of the Kowie River. Spending a day at Halyards provided the opportunity for me to unwind before my long flight home.

It also provided me with the chance to see another part of the eastern cape that is extremely beautiful. Many people combine Shamwari and the Halyards because they are so different, and yet both are so comfortable and scenic. At Halyards, as I said, I was able to wind down, after the excitingly active Bushveld visit at Shamwari. Then, when I felt energetic again, Halyards' management took me on a drive along the sand dunes, where sea and sand imprinted an indelible memory, and for a boat ride on the Kowie River. A staff member also chauffeured me to a pineapple farm and two antique stops. My room was spacious and the meals excellent. The fish was tastefully prepared and the vegetables, fruits, desserts and breads delicious.

There is much about South Africa in transition, and I'm pleased to have visited in the infant years of the NEW South Africa (as it is known). I will long remember its beauty and its people...and it's welcome!

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