Browsed by
Tag: Bad Travel Experiences

Penguins in Simon’s Town, or Learning the Hard Way

Penguins in Simon’s Town, or Learning the Hard Way

We started our day foiled. The Robben Island ferry had been canceled for a second time, even though the sun was shining. We didn’t have any other open days to reschedule, so we had to move something around. The weather seemed nice, so we decided to go to see the penguins in Simon’s Town.

Cape Town seemed warm on that Wednesday morning, so we changed into our Chacos and left our rain jackets at the hostel. We didn’t want to lug them around on a beautiful day. This, of course, is a surefire way to jinx your trip. Thinking about taking your rain jacket and then deciding not to almost always guarantees rain.

Getting to Simon’s Town, a small beach town near the city, is usually quite easy. Light rail trains leave regularly, and as long as you are on the correct line, you just take it to the end. We bought our tickets and then ran across the train station with one minute to spare, jumping on the noon train just as the doors closed. “We’re on the right train, right?” Will asked me. “Yes, the ticker said platform 1.”

Simon's Town 01

Will had read that the train takes about 1 hour. Our train seemed to stop for long periods of time, so we were only mildly concerned as we approached 90 minutes in our seats. Finally, we stopped at Fish Hoek and everyone got off except us. We knew there were at least two more stops, so we sat tight.

Fifteen minutes later, an older woman got on the train and asked us where it was going. “Simon’s Town” we said. “Oh, no. You are very far from Simon’s Town” She said. Panic started to brew. Did we get on the wrong train? Or was this lady just crazy? She was talking to herself…

Finally, we got a tip from another traveler who explained that they were doing work on the tracks and there were buses to take us on to Simon’s Town. Relieved, we hopped off the train and found the bus.

At this point we were quite hungry (we had planned to have lunch in Simon’s Town) and quite cold. Unfortunately, the rain had not stopped and the temperature had dropped.

Simon's Town Cape Town Travel

After a bus ride and a long walk, we came upon the center of Simon’s Town and its small, but excellent selection of waterfront seafood restaurants. I had the best shrimp of my life – butterflied and covered in something lemon and garlicy. Worth the unpredictable (and long) train ride.

We waited out some heavier rain in a tea shop, at which point I started cursing my Chacos and cold feet. We ducked into a shoe store, treated ourselves to some new socks, and continued on toward the penguins.

At first, I believed myself to be a genius for buying socks…until the rain got even harder and my feet got even wetter and colder. By the time we got to the Boulders Beach Penguin Colony, I was freaking out. I was so cold and so wet. Will tried to convince me that the penguins would be worth it, but I wouldn’t listen. He left me at a coffee shop down the street from the penguin reserve to wait out the rain.

About to order a hot drink, I realized that Will had all of our money. I ran after him and ended up walking to the penguin reserve as well.

Cape Town Penguins travel

We got into the reserve about 30 minutes before it closed. The penguins were out and about in full force – waddling around, making funny noises, and doing other hilarious penguin activities.

Cape Town Penguins 15

Cape Town Penguins 19

I ran around the boardwalk, trying to see everything quickly and enjoy as much as possible before running back to the covered area. All around us were people in raincoats, properly dressed for the weather, and enjoying themselves.

Cape Town Penguins 33

By the time we started the 3km walk back to the train station to get the bus, the rain had slowed down. We found a shared taxi to take us to the bus and the rest of the journey back to Cape Town was uneventful. Until we almost got robbed. For more on that, look here.

So what is the final word on Simon’s Town? The penguins are awesome, definitely worth the trip, as was the seafood.   Cape Town weather, however, is varied and unpredictable. This is not the trip to risk it. I learned a lesson in preparation the hard way – hopefully you won’t have to!

Ciao,

Elizabeth

How We Were Almost Robbed: The Cape Town ATM Scam

How We Were Almost Robbed: The Cape Town ATM Scam

I had read about ATM scams being a problem in Cape Town, but as we disembarked the train from Simon’s Town, exhausted and cold, I didn’t remember any of the precautions I was supposed to. The ABSA ATM looked legit enough – it was your usual bank-attached, two kiosk, ATM.

I imaged an ATM scam happening at dingier, sketchier, not as centrally located ATM. Looking back, I guess the bus/train station is a usual place for theft, so we shouldn’t be too surprised it happened there.

As we entered the ATM, another man entered after us. I stood to the back, since Will was the one taking out cash. I saw the other man was holding 40 Rand like he was going to make a deposit – which was weird because 40 Rand is about $3.50. Two other men also entered the ATM – I thought to myself “we got here just before the rush.”

Will finished his transaction, and I walked past the men to leave. As we got to the door, the first man called out “wait! You have to cancel your transaction. You left it open. You have to put your card back in, or someone can take your money.”

Will turned to look at the ATM. It was flashing two options. He tapped the screen and then went to put his card back in. “You have to hold it up, sir. You have to hold the end up and put it in. Just tap it.” The man said. Will tried to insert the card as instructed but it would not go into the machine. “Let me show you,” said the man, and he put his hand on Will’s card. Will yanked the card away.

Will went back and forth with this man for a moment, the man offering help and Will keeping his card away from him. The next man in line chimed in, “He’s right. You have to cancel your transaction. Just put your card in, but you have to hold it up.” Will tried again. “No, you will break your card. Let me show you.” The second man reached for Will’s card and Will yanked it away.

“I think it’s canceled, let’s just go.” Will said. He motioned to the next man in line to do his business. “They’re right,” the third man said. “I wanted to make a deposit, but now I can’t because you haven’t canceled your transaction.” Will tried it one more time, again unable to insert the card. The THIRD man offered to help and put his hand on the card to take it. Again, Will yanked it away, stating firmly “I don’t need help.”

Suddenly, all three men disappeared. All I heard was a flip phone hitting the glass and breaking on the sidewalk.

Cape Town ATM Scam travel

“You’ve been robbed!” called a short man in a trenchcoat, holding a briefcase and a walkie-talkie. He said he was police (a CCID officer), observed we were being hassled, and had just called security from around the corner. I was initially a little suspicious, because the logo on his jacket was neon green, but indeed, the CCID is an arm of law enforcement in Cape Town.

It turns out we were not robbed. If you are still in physical possession of your debit card, the thieves can’t access your money. The police assured us that the men had our PIN – apparently there are ways for cell phones to read your PIN just by being in close proximity. But without the actual debit card, the PIN is worthless.

Cape Town ATM Scam travel

We were lucky. Many people aren’t. We ended up at the police station later that night to fill out a report, file attempted theft charges, and ID two men who were caught. Unfortunately, there were several other tourist couples at the station filing actual theft reports – they were not as lucky as we were.  Hopefully our story will help others avoid similar situations.  Be careful out there, and never let anyone touch your card!

Ciao,

Elizabeth

The featured photo was taken from this Southern Courier article.

Sorry, I Just Didn’t Like Valparaiso

Sorry, I Just Didn’t Like Valparaiso

Listen, I know everyone loves Valparaiso.  It’s trendy, romantic, filled with street art and hilltop views and fully endorsed by Pablo Neruda himself. When we told people we were going to Santiago, the response again and again from fellow travelers was, “oh, make sure you get to Valparaiso.” But here’s the thing.  I just didn’t like Valparaiso.

There were some specific activities in Valparaiso that I absolutely loved. Among them were visiting La Sebastiana (Pablo Neruda’s house), tasting several Carmeneres at Antonia’s Wine Boutique, and enjoying churros and chocolate at one of the many adorable sweet shops. Unfortunately, these things could not overtake the things I hated: the dirtiness of the streets, the graffiti on every building (not the street art, that’s different), and a bad run in with another guest at the hostel.

We arrived on Saturday around noon to find the city rainy and 10 degrees colder than Santiago.  Determined to love Valparaiso, I remained upbeat as we checked into our hostel and set out to find some lunch.

Valparaiso Street Art 1

En route, we gingerly danced between the puddles and ridiculous amount of dog poop that filled the sidewalks.  The rain made the slimy streets worse, and it was hard to enjoy the stroll. We finally found a place called Mastadon that specializes in Chorillana, a dish invented in Valparaiso. A little heavy, but fully embraceable by a couple of Americans.

Valparaiso Chorrillana

As night fell, the rain stopped, and we found a route with less dog poop – up a cobblestone street to this adorable corner:

Valparaiso Streets 06

We located Antonia’s Wine Boutique, recommended to us by an Australian couple we met in San Pedro.  We opened the place up at 9pm, tasting an incredible Carmenere.  The owner/host chatted with us about what type of wines we like and brought us a complimentary meat and cheese platter.  We had a great view of street art and the rolling blocks of colorful houses.  Things were looking up.

Valparaiso Street 20

Back at the hostel, Will and I passed out on our hostel bunk beds at midnight.

Around 5am, I awoke to someone shaking me. I opened my eyes to the lights on and a 20-somthing girl yelling at me in Spanish.  The bunk bed was very low, so I couldn’t sit up, just lay there being yelled at.  When she took a breath, I said “I don’t speak Spanish,” to which she responded “English then, speak! Speak!” Will and I finally gathered that she thought the bed I was sleeping in was her bed.  After she continued to yell at a staff member for another 10 minutes, and took several photos of me in the bed, she was finally ushered out of the room.

Here’s what happened: When you stay in a hostel dorm, most hostels record which bed you claim. For example: Bed 3 – Elizabeth, Bed 4 -Will. This hostel does not record which beds are claimed, so they can’t tell you which ones are available when you check in. It’s just guessing.

This girl thought she claimed the same bed I had claimed. I checked in first (and went to bed 5 hours earlier) so I don’t feel bad about keeping the bed. Additionally, there were two more free beds in the room, available for claiming when she arrived back from the bar. This is how a hostel works. You take a free bed. You certainly don’t shake a stranger awake. If you have a problem you go talk to the staff person at the desk.

The girl was with an older gentleman who generally looked mortified. Later, the hostel staff tried to act like the girl was sorry, but didn’t know how to say it in English.   It was evident from her demeanor that she was not sorry in the least. Was I hurt? No. Was I pissed? Yes. Will wanted to confront her in Spanish, but I suggested we just get an early start and vamos.

So we headed to Plaseo 21 de Mayo – another enthusiastic recommendation from our Australian friends in San Pedro. We took a tram to the top of the hill and looked out. The harbor full of shipping containers just wasn’t enough to lift my morning funk.

Plaseo 21 de Mayo 03

Although this view was nicer.

Plaseo 21 de Mayo 10

The sky looked like it would hold out against the rain, so we decided to walk across downtown to La Sebastiana. On the way, we took note of the street art (while trying not to step in dog poop- seriously, it’s everywhere).

Valparaiso Street Art 02

Valparaiso Street Art 04

Valparaiso Street Art 03

Finally we reached Pablo Neruda’s house. Here you can see Neruda’s morning view as he awoke.

Valpariaso La Sebastiana 12

We ended our afternoon with churros and chocolate on our favorite cobblestoned corner before catching the bus back to Santiago.

Valparaiso Churros and Chocolate

I know, I know. The incident at the hostel and the weather were not Valparaiso’s fault. Perhaps I went in with expectations that were too high. Perhaps the dirty streets (I saw a roadkill rat blocking a street drain) prevented me from feeling the romance of the city. Perhaps I simply prefer the urban style of Santiago.  In any case – there are wonderful things to do in Valparaiso… it just wasn’t the city for me.

Ciao,

Elizabeth