Nestled up against the famous Table Mountain, Cape Town is as gorgeous as we’d been told. It is surrounded by ocean, has sandy beaches, whales and dolphins swimming by, an eclectic mix of people, colorful architecture and a convoluted history. What else can one want?
The ancient seafarers established the area to resupply their ships with food and fresh water, as they made their journey around the Cape of Good Hope and onto India and the Far East. Many of them fell in love with the area, hopped off the boat and never left. We understand why.
The city has a laid back vibe with a marvelous harbor, ocean views from everywhere, and a thriving downtown area. Table Mountain sits majestically above it all and is instantly recognizable for its incredibly flat top….hmm, like a table! It is a mecca for tourists and has a great year-round climate to attract sunshine worshippers from far and wide. Few North Americans make it to Cape Town. It is really a long way for a one to two week vacation. Many Europeans find the Cape area very appealing for holidaying however, so we fit right in.
Of course, not everything is perfect. Townships, aka slums in US vernacular, favellas in Brazilian Portuguese, are on the doorsteps of Cape Town. These communities of the poor were started during the Apartheid era when people were displaced from their homes, and forced into very crowded living conditions. More than 1.5 million people are estimated to call these jam-packed townships home. Any material that can be salvaged is used for shelter – wood, bricks, cinder blocks, metal, boxes….you get the idea. Even though the ANC (SA’s government) has put forth some efforts to incorporate and improve these areas, large numbers of illegal immigrates continue to build new townships and keep them well populated. In them schools, churches and restaurants have been established. It’s hard for us to get our head around this as there is absolutely no (legal) utility service to these communities. They are going without or tapping into power through some scary means. It blows us away that township living is a better way of life for so many. As in all countries, there are no easy answers on how to help the ultra poor.
We stayed in the Northern part of the city with an incredible view of downtown Cape Town. Kite surfers were everywhere and we spent many hours fascinated with the “big air” that these adventurers were getting with the strong winds that blow off the ocean.
We were told to make sure to go to the top of Table Mountain when the weather is clear, as the views are amazing. If the clouds are in it can be freezing cold. For 4 days we watched as fingers of clouds drifted over the mountain (we couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the fog that often consumes the Golden Gate Bridge), shrouding it in what the locals call the “table cloth”. It was a spectacular sight to see the weather change right before our eyes, but it kept us off the mountain until………we got a picture perfect day! We immediately took advantage and rode the cable car to the top and hiked around the area for hours and hours. The views were stunning …..
On another day the Cape of Good Hope, the most south western point of Africa, was our destination. The beaches along this stretch of the coast are wild and gorgeous. When we got to the Cape, the wind was whipping so ferociously that we literally had to power our way up to the lighthouse.
Although for us it was difficult to fathom, we contemplated the centuries of commerce that passed through this area from many European countries to the Far East. Thousands upon thousands of ships have used this passage. What merchandise hasn’t been transported through these waters? One evening we were honored to have dinner with a new friend of a new friend. Our Slovenian friend, Magedie, whom we met in the Galapagos Islands, introduced us through email to his best friend, Kevin. Kevin is a US Citizen from the Seattle area and now lives in Cape Town. It was nice to meet a Yank who knew the area and was willing to share his experience of being a local. Kevin is working for the University of Cape Town, and helps teachers in the local schools to embrace and learn new technology which they can incorporate into their lessons. We wrote about the Brain Drain phenomenon happening in South Africa. And although the country is losing more intelligent and resourceful people then it attracts, there are a few brave people willing to go against the tide and migrate to South Africa to try to make a difference. (And by the way, I just learned that my cousin who is educated in International Business, is living and working part time in SA.) We had a very interesting conversation about his work in the townships and his theories of when and how to teach young people English. His ideas were mind opening to say the least. Ask us about it sometime.
About 8 months into our multi-continent journey, we altered our itinerary so that we could spend more quality time in South Africa. We didn’t want to rush a country full of cultures far different than ours and one with political issues that make ours seem pale in comparison. Plus SA has big game and lots of small birds. It was a really wise decision. We started our trip promising each other not to rush, to spend time in each place and to get off the tourist path as often as we could. By making the tough decision to slow it down and not include Australia and New Zealand, we kept our word and felt more relaxed.
The four weeks we spent travelling in South Africa was the best mixture of nature, culture, history and adventure. If you want a highly diverse destination, South Africa is it. As we board our flight for the first leg of the trip home, we have an amalgamation of feelings. Sorrow that it’s mostly over, giddiness that we are about to spend 24 hours in Dubai, disbelief that we have to start thinking about jobs and absolutely, positively NO REGRETS! Goodbye SA and Cape Town; we’re better off for spending time with you! But Dubai awaits. And then on to the good ole US of A. Sigh.