Search Chasing Jessie

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cape Town or Bust!

Two days of drizzling farm work completed my 2 weeks of self-sustainable farm living in KwaZulu-Natal, and only 10 days remained in my 3.5 month South African journey.  The past 11.5 weeks, excepting a short trip to Joburg, have been filled with lots of work, sweat, and dirt, and I am relishing my next stop of pure-tourist vacation.  Cape Town or bust, baby!

With yawns plaguing my flight, I flew in to Cape Town well after 9:00 pm and only saw the city’s abundant lights casting the sky big and bright.  As I rode into the city in the comfort of a bus provided by my backpacker’s hostel, I looked around but saw very little.  New destinations always initially tire me with a certain level of concerned anxiety, regardless of my excitement at planning the trip.  Cape Town was no different, and watching my normal bedtime hour run by didn’t help.  Making small talk, the bus driver, a native Capetonian, told me, “Welcome!  If you’ve come looking for Africa, Africa is not here.  This is Cape Town; this is not Africa.”  I did not really know what he meant, but it didn’t too take long to figure it out.
The next morning I awoke early, well before the other 7 people in my 8-person dormitory room.  The sun was just starting to lift above the horizon as I stole a peak out of the window.  The next thing I saw was startling, the most majestic up-close vision seemingly within feet of my view.  This was what I saw:

View of Table Mountain from my room

Did I mention that my backpacker’s hostel, “The Backpack.” is the #1 rated backpacker’s in all of South Africa?  I had 10 nights booked here, and hoped it held up its end of the reputation. (It did!)

Protea, SA's national flower (here: Pincushion protea)
That first morning, I headed out early in search of a grocery store for breakfast fixings.  It took less than 10 minutes before I understood what the bus driver meant, “This is not Africa, this is Cape Town.”  The streets were bright, clean, and busy with modernity, urbanity, and a hint of cosmopolitan.  Cape Town was founded upon the soles of people from multiple continents; its diversity unrivaled.  Literally in 10 minutes, I felt safe and secure, much unlike Johannesburg, and walked confidently without looking over my shoulder constantly.  Granted, it was still not advisable to go out alone at night, but the day hours were blissful!

In these 10 short days, I saw so much:
  • Daylong wine tour in Stellenbosch that rivaled Napa Valley
  • Hiked to top of Table Mountain (1,087 meters / 3,563 feet) in 2.5 hours amid the native fynbos, an ecosystem of over 8,500 plant species
  • Traveled to the Cape of Good Hope and rode a bike through the national park!  And saw multiple southern right whales from the Cape Point lighthouse!
  • Saw African penguins in protected surroundings at Boulders Beach
  • Explored SA’s oldest official building, The Castle of Good Hope, completed in 1679 under Dutch rule
  • Basked in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens and photographed oodles of varieties of South Africa’s official flower, the protea (see Pincushion protea above)
  • Explored apartheid museums (District 6), strolled the V & A Waterfront, dined on fresh seafood and Cape Muslim food, ambled in the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood
  • Toured Robben Island, where famed political prisoners were held, including Nelson Mandela for nearly two decades
Nelson Mandela's solitary confinement cell
Robben Island housed multitudes of political prisoners (beginning 1961, social outcasts and other prisoners for 100s of years prior), and was meant to silence apartheid’s domestic critics.  It was effective for a very short time, and prisoner’s lives were unspeakably harsh.  By contrast, Alcatraz prisoners had it easy.  Prisoners could only send and receive one letter every six months, inmates were only given flimsy shorts and shirts for icy winters, and each slept on paper thin mats on the ground.  This treatment? Because they protested apartheid.  Eventually the last political prisoners were released in 1991, and in 1999 the island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  All of the prison tours are conducted by ex-political prisoners that share their remarkable tales.

I was told that one can buy anything and everything needed on the streets of South Africa.  In one day, I bought onions, avocados, sunglasses, and dental floss from street vendors.  I also could have had my hair done (yes, on the street, under a tent) and bought a feather duster.  In South Africa, there are 11 official languages; English is one of them, thankfully, and the street vendors expect negotiation.
African penguins at Boulders Beach
What a great city, and what a great vacation.  The only problem I noticed?  Much of the world that tours South Africa makes two primary stops: Cape Town, and a safari in Kruger National Park.  This typical tourist never really sees South Africa at all, just a bit of highbrow non-representative exposure to the country.  Obviously, that would be a dreamy vacation that I would never turn down, but there is so much more… and so much less.

For instance, when I left CARE, I left behind a few articles of clothing and 1 pair of tennis shoes to one of the local workers.  Leaving the farm, I left behind 2 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, and 1 more pair of tennis shoes to one of the local workers. He kept telling me I had divine mercy, and pointing up to the heavens as if I was angelic.  I thought he was intentionally exaggerating, but he was definitely and immensely grateful.  It is hard to understand the poverty that exists in South Africa; I have barely skimmed the surface.  It is incredible how little some people live with, or better stated, live without.  Can you imagine only having pre-paid electricity, or none at all, no cooking stove or refrigeration, public outhouses, and walking down the street with a bucket to fill up as your only form of “running water”?

 “When a traveler returneth home, let him not leave the countries where he hath traveled altogether behind him.”
Francois Bacon, Essays, 1597-1625

Nobel Square: Luthuli, Tutu, (Furman), de Klerk, Mandela

The colorful Bo-Kaap district
Taking a rest on the Table Mountain hike

See LOTS more pictures HERE (on Facebook)

No comments:

Post a Comment