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Taking a toddler to Cape Town

Guava the size of giant sea pods, melt in the mouth peaches, the sweetest, coral coloured mango and butternut squash to die for… the first time I stumbled into a Cape Town supermarket, I knew I was a long way from home. Everything was fresh, organic and beautiful to eat. The way supermarkets used to be when I was a child. My taste buds could live again. This was only the beginning of our South Africa trip, which has left my family and I hooked forever.

When I told my friends that I was going to Cape Town, with my 1 year old and three year old, the head shakes I received were amazing. I was bombarded with questions about, “HOW long is the flight?” “Isn’t it all just wine valley’s, shark diving and excursions to Robyn Island, not exactly ‘child friendly’?” or “is it safe?”.

Conversations returned quickly to which Disney Park is best and where the ALL YOU CAN EAT buffet’s are. There seemed to be a gap for families that didn’t want to simply climb aboard the Disney train or trudge around a caravan park because of FFWK (Fear of Flying with Kids) The excesses of Florida left me cold and camping isn’t a bad holiday if the British weather is kind. But let’s be truthful it isn’t kind very often. So we opted for Springboks, instead of Mickey’s. And in dark, mid February we left the grey skies behind, hoping to find blue….

South Africa is a second home for most of my family. They returned from long and frequent trips, with a faraway look, reminiscing in exotic detail of mouthwatering delights, of 5 star service at ’60’s prices. They sighed of lush, green wine valley’s, beach perfection, safari’s galore, and with the ethnic diversity of a metropolitan university and the sport passion of an Olympian dream. For my first trip I wasn’t convinced. I was like an adolescent being shown around a museum. People had overindulged me. I could sort of appreciate the place, understand it’s relevance, but I could always think of other places I’d rather be. That was only the first time I went. Part of a younger couple, affluent then and SANS ENFANTS.

My adoration for South Africa is so great now, that is it always in my thoughts. It is my lost love. I cannot hear the National Anthem sung, without welling up. I taste a certain wine and I am transported. I can gaze at a photograph of my family there for hours. It is that special. I have an aunt who wears two watches, one with UK time, one with South African time.

How glad I am, that I ignored my fears and shunned the negative comments of lesser explorers and decided to take my family 6000 miles away to the southern hemisphere.

One of the best kept secrets about the travel to SA is the mere 2 hour time zone difference with the UK, (your kids wake up the first day thinking they are having breakfast slightly later than usual). For Europeans jet lag doesn’t exist. Parents also don’t appreciate that many of the flights to Cape Town are night flights. There AND back. A non parent, will not understand the sheer brilliance of this, in the same way that Calpol is like another word from a foreign language.

The flight is a lengthy. My one year old (15 months to be exact) is now lightening speed. Billy Whizz has nothing on him. He doesn’t know how to walk, just run. My three year old is capable of having the tantrums of a ‘terrible two’ – and then some. But having sensibly raced them around the garden for several hours in the afternoon, given them warm, Costa Coffee milk from the Departure Lounge, our tykes were away in the land of nod before their belts were buckled. My husband and I, joyously ate our dinner, watched our movies, drank our wine and savoured the sheer pleasure of an aircraft’s silence, whilst our young offspring slept like peaceful angels. 11 hours later, light peeping through the shutters, and we were almost within touching distance of our goal and it was only then the babes sleepily woke. Bliss.

We stood in Cape Town airport feeling the warmth of a summer climate penetrate our wintery bones. The airport is large enough for internationals but small enough to get around quickly. Within jig time we were in our hire car, driving towards a foreboding Table Mountain in search of our new home.

We had opted to rent a 3 bedroomed colonial house with pool, built on a hillside in Hout Bay, a very Boho Chic, small seaside town with clear sandy beach, and dramatic, mountainous landscape.

Any mother who has taken kids abroad has one common fear. Is it going to be like home? In other words, spending 3 weeks, cleaning toilets, ironing clothes and mopping floors. The usual stuff but with a suntan.

I was introduced when we arrived to Angelina, a beautiful African woman, with 2 children of her own, who became my saviour. Angelina was the housekeeper. Instead of stressing about the ironing and cleaning, this wonderful woman made it possible to devote our time to more important pursuits; plotting the next park to visit, the next beach to play on, and where to eat fresh pancakes for breakfast. For any mother, it was a dream come true.

A concern for us, was the safety of our babies when we were over there. Like everyone, we have grown up hearing of violence and crime in South Africa, but within minutes of arriving, all this abated. Apartheid is abolished. Many black Africans still live in poverty but things have changed enormously, even since our first trip. I felt safer wandering around the roads, beaches and cool shopping malls, then I do where we live back home.

We sat and ate our stone baked pizza in a restaurant, next to a black family and our children ran around getting into mischief together. Hout Bay Sunday craft market, a fabulous colourful array of paintings, carvings, ostrich eggs and dazzling beads, was full of black and white shoppers haggling for deals. Everyone likes to think they are getting a bargain, no matter where they are from.

Although our children were too young for safaris the animals in Africa are endless, respected and within easy reach. The seals and whales are frequent tourists, the fabulous leopard park in the wine valley, pony trek’s on snow white beaches and secret mountain trails, monkey’s frolicking with the toucan’s in World of Birds, the Cape Town aquarium is one of the best in the world. We never ran out of places.

Angelina was always happy to earn extra money babysitting, something that we can seldom afford at home or in the overpriced European hotels. This was one of the best parts of the trip; for a few hours in the evenings, we were a couple again. But unlike our first trip, appreciated our new found independence with a fervour that never existed in our pre-baby years. We did what any couple travelling to South Africa does, we ate in the impeccable, under priced restaurants, we wandered holding hands instead of pushing buggies. We had grown up time. All whilst our babies were cared for and sleeping in a home from home. We were frequent evening visitors to the Mecca of restaurants, Camps Bay. We drank our ice cold Sundowners, in a place where they should have been sipped – watching the amber sun, slowly melt down into the Atlantic.

Our daytimes were filled in beautiful outdoor café’s watching our children in huge playgrounds built in soft sand, whilst the sun danced on their faces. We nibbled on fluffy scones, baked minutes before, dined on delicate fish, brought from line to table that day. They were happy, we were happy. They watched the penguins at Boulders Beach nesting in the wild rocks, they swam in the crystal waters with nimble, giggling African children, we picnicked at Boschendal under avenues of trees, they rode on camels whose owner treated the beasts like newborn babies, they built giant sandcastles on the 7 mile long, pink Noord Hoek beach whilst Chapman’s Peak beckoned mightily in the distance. They watched monkey cavort near the Cape of Good Hope. They cuddled tiny rabbits, balls of fluff at a petting farm. The ate their home made ice creams playing in Kirstenbosch. They stood next to tortoise that were archaic, the size of small houses at a bird sanctuary. They climbed the jungle gym inside a wineries garden whilst my husband and I tasted the crisp, Sauvignon Blanc on grapes that were grown just a few feet away.

I bought food for our fridge from Woolworths, the equivalent of Marks and Spencer. Everything was familiar, easy and relaxed. I expected to be buying beef jerky from the supermarkets instead I could buy organic, cottage pie and blush, sparkling wine, grown within a stone’s throw and less money than a pint in a pub back home.

Even the children’s channel helped to keep our 3 year old entertained when the sun got too hot and our boy was napping. This was without a shadow of a doubt, the most, relaxed, heart-warming, heartbreaking trip imaginable…

Heartbreaking, because that is what it did to us, having to return. So much so, that on our drive to the airport, my husband asked me if I wanted him to turn the car around and stay. Sanity reluctantly prevailed and within hours the kids were sleeping again, buckled and tired but sun kissed and happy. Everyone has a favourite holiday. We all savour like the fine wine you have been drinking and feel sad and melancholy when you return. This trip was like that. But times it by a hundred.

Where else on earth, can you enjoy pure, white power sand, on Llandudno Beach, watching the beautiful Brazilian surfers glide in and out of the waves like white quills on an aqua parchment, yet only a few miles away you can be breathing the air on Table Mountain, devouring the views of the world. Space Mountain, it ‘ant. Every day the sun shines. Every evening it sets behind the mountains like a majestic Lord, whilst you sip the fabulous wines, or turn down the succulent Springbok on the barbecue. You don’t need to cook your barbecue food under an umbrella here.

For our last meal we ate at Dunes, a local favourite place built in a huge sand dune, full of swings and benches, whilst the sea roars in the distance. The kids dart and race in the sand with other like minded rebels, the adults watch peacefully whilst the calamari melts in the mouth and the chill out music plays, all at the price of a McDonald’s back home.

I commented how friendly and happy all the mum’s are. Women are serene here, they TALK to perfect strangers with a gentle ease – a tradition long since lost in our rain sodden country. My husband smiled sadly and said he had never known me to be so relaxed, simply playing with my babies, enjoying their company without stress. I guess Angelina was a big factor in making that happen. But then the orange sunsets, the glorious cuisine, the green, perfect golf course of Steenberg, the fabulous stretches of beach without another being in sight, the countless play areas in the shade that my children clung like monkeys for hours, made it the most perfect family holiday I can imagine. Not a burger in sight.

I spend at least some part of every day daydreaming, about Cape Town. I can still taste the juicy mango grown fresh, feel the sun stroke my face, hear my children giggling. I know my heart is still waiting for me there, wondering when my family and I will return.

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