6 December 2012- Cape Town
Another lovely sunny day in Cape Town. I’m sitting on the verandah in the shade of the orange tree of the beautiful B&B we are staying at. We have just had our amazing breakfast that is offered here (Parker Cottage if anyone has plans to go to Cape Town soon, is a brilliant place to stay!). We have been in Cape Town since Sunday and have been indulging in the luxury of staying at a B&B, camping is all about 45 minutes from the city and this is one city we really wanted to have a look around so we have splurged on a central B & B, where landy is safely parked and we are able to walk most places. And indulgent it has been, sumptuous breakfast, a complementary wine tasting evening put on by the owners, fantastic friendly staff and even a bath!! Ahhhh…….
Anyway a quick catch up- we had a few days relaxing and mooching around Tsitsikamma NP enjoying being next to the sea and the beautiful views as well as a few walks. We are finding its not as easy to go walking here as it is in Australia so we must take the chance when we can. We then made our way further west along the Garden Route and stopped for a few nights at De Hoop Nature Reserve, which is again on the coast. We were able to see some eland and bontebok (buck) and went for a few short walks. De Hoops is one of the best land based whale watching places in the world, but the season has just finished so we were not lucky enough to see any. Despite it being very very windy (we were sick of it by the time we left) we enjoyed a walk on the dunes and beach, De Hoop has miles of white sand dunes leading right into the turquoise Indian Ocean.
We left De Hoop Sunday morning and made the 3.5 hour drive to Cape Town. It is in an amazing spot, beautifully set with a harbour and beaches, all the while being looked over by a large flat mountain, Table Mountain. Cape Town is one of those cities I have heard people rave about – so I have been looking forward to having a look. Our first impression (aside from a glimpse of Table Mountain as we approached) was driving on the highway (at a speed of about 90 km/hr) we drove for about 15 or 20 minutes all the while passing ‘townships’ as they are called, which are large areas that seem to be on the outskirts of every city in SA. They include some permanent housing (small houses built of concrete block) and also include miles of what is called informal housing but can only be described as shacks, tiny places patched together from corrugated iron, wood and seemingly whatever else can be used. Perhaps if you flew into Cape Town and took a taxi from the airport you wouldnt see this, Im not sure but its so obvious to me and I find it hard to reconcile with the rest of the city. Once you get into Cape Town, it is such a nice, vibrant city you could forget the townships on the edge (I have not been able to).
We have been busy bees in Cape Town, but this morning (after our phone date with Alice and Tom, so good to catch up!) we are lazing around. Olly is off to find some maps of Namibia and Botswana he has his eye on. Yesterday the day started with our amazing breakfast, up and ready to go up Table Mountain via the cable car. Nope… the mountain is often very windy and covered by ‘the tablecloth’ of clouds so the cable car and walks are closed regularly. Oh well…. off we went to see the BBC Wildlife photography exhibition (the same one we see every year in Sydney and happens to be here at the moment!) then we heard the cable car was opened so went back to the B&B to get ready and headed for the mountain. It was a hot sunny day and there was a fair que (as it had been closed in the morning) but they have water mist sprays on you while you wait! 🙂 The cable car is a massive round beast, fitting about 65 people and the floor rotates as you take the 5 minutes ride up, towards the top it seems as though you are going to swing into the side of mountain but the cable gets steeper and pulls you up and clear, just! People afraid of heights sit in the middle and look at the floor. Table Mountain must be the single biggest tourist thing in Cape Town but the great thing is as soon as you get to the top and walk 20 metres from the cable car and cafe you pretty much have the place to yourself! I was wondering as we waiting to get on what all the people dressed in skirts and sandals were planning to do when we got up there, turns out most people seem to go up look at the view, have a coffee and head down again. It was brilliant up there- of course amazing views across the city, all down the peninsula and out over to Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela among others were imprisoned for many years). We walked all along the mountain, the length of it, its beautiful up there and we forgot we were so close (in) a city. It reminded us of somewhere in Yorkshire Dales or the Scottish Highlands with heather spread out all over. The plant life up there is stunning and unique to the top of the mountain, short shrubs and flowers, all colours but subtly so- big smoky pink proteas, small creamy yellow and pink flowers, lovely. As we finished our walk and got back near the cable car, we were about to stop at the cafe for a cuppa when the ‘hooter’ went off. When you are are on Table Mountain and the hooter goes off it means dangerously strong winds are coming so you are to make your way to the cable car to go down, we were ready anyway so off we went to be whisked down the mountain again.
Aside from yesterday we have spent our days walking around looking at different areas of the city including the waterfront, the botanic gardens and the area we are staying in. We also went to the District Six museum. District 6 was a residential area of the inner city that was forcibly cleared during apartheid, people were literally forced to move- no option and no compensation. It was of course very controversial and created many difficulties and hardships for the people who lived there- loss of community and loss of dignity included. Apparently the museum is as much for the former residents as for people interested in the history. Not surprisingly it was moving and frustrating but also less expected, it was inspiring as well.
We spent most of one day in a township on a township tour. It was something we knew was an option but I was really unsure how I felt about it- there is something unsettling and voyeuristic about poverty tourism as such. I did some research to find a tour we felt comfortable with (they don’t make a profit from the tour, the money goes into the community as they do other profit making tours around the city) and a person local to the township is the guide. Im so glad we did it, we both really appreciated it and somewhat surprisingly really enjoyed it. We met our guide, Zwai, near the township and he told us to follow him so we drove behind him as he cycled into the township to pick up our bikes and leave Landy there safely. We picked up our bikes from a local guy, who has a workshop in a shipping container and is part of what is called the Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) which ships second hand bikes to SA where local people can own their own business fixing up bicycles and hiring or selling them to people in townships (who need to get around but of course there are very few cars in the townships). They also have programs for local kids to learn how to fix the bikes. So after Morgan got us sorted on our bikes Zwai gave us some history of the township, how it came to be and some pointers (please dont give children money or sweets) off we went. It was something we could have never done on our own- I mean of course strictly speaking you can go into a township on your own but it would not be necessarily wise and even if you did you wouldn’t get the insight you do with someone who lives there, he introduced us to people etc. At no time did it feel like we were there to ‘see the poor people and shacks’ instead it felt like visiting a community.
Zwai took us to a creche where we hung out with the 4-5 year olds, they absolutely mobbed us! Olly read them a story of a polar bear (the only book they had in english) and that calmed some of them down although at all times there were about 5 or 6 stroking my hair, they seemed to love my hair and freckles! They thought the rabbits in the story were baboon, I guess they are more familiar than rabbits! So cute they were. We also saw the library and few programs for young people (including learning how to refurbish old thrown out furniture to beautiful pieces that are sold). We had a quick look at the school and clinic and heard some of the wonderful things happening in the community. I certainly dont want to romanticise the township though. Zwai focused little on the troubles probably because he lives there and no doubt because its not needed- its so obvious. The clinic was a new building with 2 doctors and 3 nurses but they have to deal with the 60,000 plus people living there. The land the library is on was purchased and the library started by a visiting American man who went back to the states with his SA wife and raised money to start a number of programs in the township. The government does provide books and computers but again there are so many people living there a two room library seems inadequate.
Zwai took us to a very local restaurant where we were greeted by some fat dogs who get all the left overs and had a look at the big slabs of raw meat for Olly to choose from. He choose some beef which was thrown on a plastic plate and added to the line of meat to be cooked on the roaring fire. We left the bikes there and went walking into an area of informal houses. They are literally thrown together with whatever is found and are practically on top of one another with small (far too narrow to cycle through) dirt pathways between them. If we had gone on our own we would still be trying to find our way out. Zwai said it took him two years to learn all the paths when he arrived in the area! Children seemed to appear out of nowhere, barefoot with round faces smiling up at us and following us, sometimes holding our hands, and at times slinging themselves around our legs excitedly chatting away, others shyly peeked their heads out of their homes as we went past. Zwai told us his first childhood memories of seeing a white face and how frightening it was for him (he is prob now in his late 20’s or early 30s). It sounds silly but I guess maybe I thought people would be sad looking or hard looking, people are just people, getting on with life- washing, chatting, kids playing, adults doing household jobs etc. I wont say they are all happy because I have no idea how happy they are- I suppose some are and some are not like everyone else but they are certainly just getting on with life. They dont have much choice. Every place has electricity and there are communal water taps where people take buckets to fill when they need water to take back to their place. There are also communal toilets (think portaloos). I couldnt help but think of the risk of fire and of course hygiene challenges. The area where everyone throws water when finished with it was a stagnant pool of absolute stench. Sure enough, yesterday in the paper there was a story about a fire in a local township where hundreds of dwellings were destroyed and several deaths, its a constant threat as it can rip though the informal houses so quickly and people would have almost no hope of getting out.
After our walk we went back to Zwai’s favourite lunch spot, where Ollys giant hunk of meat awaited us, along with pap (corn based staple used to bulk up meals) and some creamy salad which we poured over our pap. We sat there with some local guys (taxis drivers having their lunch, a big plastic bag of cooked and very fatty meat mopped up with a loaf of bread). They told us they heard “you guys like meat with no fat??!! Where do you get your flavour from!?” We sat eating and chatting about all sorts and off they went. People were pretty curious about Australia -what is it like, what is the weather like etc. We were able to meet and speak to people our privileged, easy travels would never have us cross paths with. I love things like that- people are people the world over. The day was fun, interesting, humbling and sobering but somehow not sad. The vast majority of people in this beautiful, complex and contradictory country live in similar places and we got the smallest of a peak into it. The single biggest thing that stays with me is that these areas are the direct result of apartheid and this country will struggle with the consequences of that time for many many years to come yet. Apparently the government is working to move people from informal housing into blocks of units (a massive massive job!!) which is of course much more secure, each place has its own water and toilet, so is a great improvement but of course housing wont solve come of the challenges of the community.
Cape Town is a great city- so much happening and so much on the door step but I find it hard to only see the shiny parts. Me being me it would be impossible to not notice the social and political aspect of things (and impossible not to include some of it here!) Its our last day here, we are off tomorrow, down the peninsula to Boulders Beach (hopefully to see penguins!!!) and then further along to the Cape of Good Hope, we will only spend the day down there before starting to head to the north to Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park which borders Namibia and Botswana (and in fact spills into Botswana, its a rare case of a NP crossing borders) and encompasses part of the vast Kalahari. After a few days there we are off to Namibia!
As Christmas gets closer we are both thinking of family and friend and missing everyone.