Pretoria to Cape Town: Part II: Christmas In Africa

9:46 AM Jmo 0 Comments

(Part I of my Cape Town to Pretoria road trip can be found: here )

     This was my first official coast-to-coast, border-to-border, road trip. I've road-tripped before, but only in my home country North to South. That being said, I fear that it will be hard to top this one based on newbie-excitement and variety alone. The ecological diversity that takes place within this country's borders is stunning. The rugged hills that sprouted up from a virtual dessert reminded me of California. It's vibrant and saturated colors reminded me of the Cambodian countryside marsh. And its quirky roadside vegetation, paired with the occasional curious ostrich, connected me back to old memories of Australia. Onward!

These are now my new favorite trees.  It's official. hehe

     Along with diving in and properly exploring and experiencing this amazingly colorful country, was the end goal of reaching Hermanus to have Christmas at Chris' Dad's holiday home. That being the ultimate finish line, I was already incredibly spoiled. 
     Hermanus is a little resort-esque town just South East of Cape Town. Driving past the karoo our surroundings quickly turned the corner from Antie Em's farm in the Wizard of Oz straight on to the technicolor of Munchkin Land. (Ok, that might be a bit much.. but just saying, "It was beautiful.", doesn't exactly cut it sometimes.) The desert of the karoo disappeared and lush, colorful, wine fields took over. But, plainly said, the wine country just outside of Hermanus and Stellenbosch was beautiful. Never having been to Napa Valley or the wine fields of France, I'd never seen anything like it. Rows and rows of grapes in between valleys and windy roads trailed us all the way to the end. I was getting thirsty.

     When we arrived into Hermanus it was obvious that this was a "holiday town". It just had that vibe. Little shops and galleries, wine tasting cafes, touristy oceanic excursion outposts, and sculptures of the town's mascot, a whale, seemed to pop up everywhere. It was definitely picturesque. But. I felt slightly intimidated. This town looked like it had some deep pockets. And the budget-backpacker in me was cringing. Thankfully we had a place to stay with Chris' father, but if you're looking to stay here as a backpacker don't be so quick to judge as I was! I did a little bit of research and there are some budget friendly hostels in Hermanus for around $15USD a night! Not bad for a holiday-home town nestled in wine country! And, if you do find yourself this far South... I highly recommend you pass on through Cape Town and spend a few lazy days at this whale watchers hot spot. 
(Note: December is extremely high season for holiday goers in SA. Try to avoid these times. Besides, you'll miss whale watching season if you do!)

"Downtown" Hermanus. Stunning!

     The beaches of Hermanus are quite vast and beautiful. The main beach was impossibly empty because of how broad and far-reaching it was. This was great for privacy and that "private-beach" feel, but this also invited along the huge gusts of wind in replace of a typical beach crowd. Forget sun burn, expect sandburn. There were days when we had to turn right around and head back to the car and pray that a few showers would detach the sand granules from our scalp. From a geographical perspective, this would be highly expected. You're on the Southern cape of Africa for crying out loud! Don't expect a calm sea. Expect huge waves and churning tides... and the great whites lurking beneath. I guess this serves as a metaphor for South Africa in general. The beauty of its landscape is always juxtaposed with the unrest within in it.  

     Some areas of the beach tapered off into more brushlike seasides and reminded me a bit of Maine or Scotland with their orange moss and purple flowers. These areas were beautiful to walk along and hike; therefore, we spent the greater part of our time there. Hiking is a must when visiting. The trails are fairly moderate and, once you do make the top of a ridge, you are rewarded with incredible views of the cape below. 
     We mostly cooked at home, so I have few restaurants to report on unfortunately, but don't let that be a subtle sign. Hermanus is full of them. And what ones we did try were lovely. I've yet to eat a bad meal since I've arrived in SA. (The food... ohhh, the food~)

     Now. Back to that it being "Christmas" thing. I realize this post is coming to you later. It's not exactly 'Christmas-In-July-late', but it's pretty darn late. But so much has happened here in South Africa since that it's been hard to keep up, hence the backlog and 2-3 posts per week in an attempt to catch up. My time since in SA has been set to rapid fire speed and in an attempt to take it all in I quote Ferris Beuller: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss is."


     Now, I can only compare Christmas in South Africa to Christmas in The United States or South Korea because those are the only two places I've lived. For the most part, they were similar. But, like with most things, it's the differences that always stand out. That being said, here are a few differences:

Christmas In SA VS Christmas In USA:

1. "Christmas Is Only One Day, Jess!": 
     Christmas happens on Christmas Day. Not the day before, not the weekend before, not throughout a season... Christmas Day is on Christmas Day. Simply that. I was often told how "Christmassey" I was, or how excited I seemed to be about the Christmas season because I kept referring to whatever day it was in December as "Christmas". I was poked fun at a bit and it took me while to understand why. In The States it's common to have Christmas parties or events weekends leading up to the big day. But here, not so much. It's fairly low key and, respectively, only celebrated December, 25th. 
     On Christmas Eve I pushed for, and cooked (with Chris' help), a mini feast for my host family just because that day is special and celebrated big back home. Once again, I was poked at a bit. But hey, whatevz. 

2. Forget About Commercialization: 
     That's right. No Black Friday, no advertising being shoved down your throats starting the beginning of October... and thank goodness! What comes with a low key Christmas is low key advertising. This allows you to revel in what the holiday really should be. It should be about being with family rather than being with complete strangers in line at a Toys R Us. 
     Sure, there are a few decorations in a few shops... but home decorations, from what I saw, were minimal as well. My host family insisted on putting up their decorations for me and for me alone as they hadn't done it in years. I wore my childlike badge of honor with pride as I hung up my ornaments. Maybe I reignited an old tradition? 
     But! Instead of putting up the ornaments and garland on a pine tree... it was a mini baobab tree! (Baobabs are trees native to Africa, can get pretty huge, and have large, thick, trunks.) Adorable.

The baobab Christmas tree; complete with Michigan ornament.

3. Paper Hats, Crackers, & Minstrels:
     Now, these are somethings I'm thinking of adopting into my family traditions back home. Taking a nod to British heritage, many South Africans crack party favors before dinner, dig out their little toys, read the jokes and put on colorful paper hats. It was cute, whimsical, and bestowed upon everyone at the table a little childlike fun.
     But! Perhaps the most amazing thing about spending Christmas down in Hermanus, South Africa were the "minstrels" that played throughout the neighborhood late Christmas Eve and Christmas afternoon. A group of locals, with trombones, guitars, saxaphones, etc., walked through the city streets playing Christmas carols. Maybe this is just a Hermanus thing? Even so, it was great and I haven't really experienced anything like that aside from a parade or organized event. It was beautiful. Children came out, barefoot, from their homes to watch, some people danced in the streets... I loved it! This, this should happen more!

South African "Christmas Carolers". Such a great tradition!

4. "Holiday Time" Means A Month Off of Work : 
     Falling in line with a more European way of things, South Africans enjoy their holiday time and tend to take advantage of it. Businesses close down, people go away or go home, but one thing is certain: Holidays are staples. Some businesses closed for the entire holiday season only to reopen mid January! I actually met many people in South Africa who fell into this category and I applaud it. More time off! Enjoy life! Work hard, play harder!

5. It's like, Soooo Chill Man:
     Low key, dressed down, and relaxed, Christmas in South Africa is a at the beach. (I apologize for the pun but this post was just aching for a beach pun.) It's actually a traveling dream since everyone is encouraged to take a break and do so. So, if you're ever inclined to skip the snow, Africa is calling and has a glass of wine waiting for you.

     Spending Christmas in South Africa was both surreal and swept clean of familiar Christmas nostalgia. Though I'd spent the last two Christmases away from home, the third  one felt particularly "away". The last two Christmas seasons I'd spent in South Korea with a plethora of snow, cold, and expats ready and willing to go to great lengths for atrocious holiday sweaters. But here, I had to trade in my red and green for pastels and bright fuchsia. The town centre had a few holiday signs and I did spot a Santa hat or two, but nothing compared to the tinsel thrown around The States. In a way, it was nice that it didn't feel like Christmas. I'd just left home again and was already feeling a bit under the weather about it. A little disconnect was welcome. If that makes sense...
     It was a privilege, and quite the cultural switch-up, spending Christmas here. Of course I missed my family (desperately at times), but this was a warm place holder. Of course, it was lovely to meet everyone and spend time at the sea. I can't complain. Ever. Really, I can't. But I can stand on my soapbox here and rave about homesickness. And perhaps three Christmases away from home was enough. It may be time to break this streak.

 Have you ever spent Christmas abroad? Where? 
Homesickness? How did you cope?
I'd love to hear from you!

Merry Christmas From Africa~!

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