Get Wonderfully Lost

November18th

View from Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa’s second largest city, Cape Town is a city of dualities. Composed of a number of neighborhoods in the Western Cape of South Africa, Cape Town has long represented a hub of European influence in Africa. The Cape of Good Hope was even named after the hope it inspired by opening up trade routes across the Indian and Atlantic Ocean. The city of Cape Town (and our experience in it!) walks the line between civilized and wild, modernizing and conserving, remembering the past without dwelling in it. Cape Town is a city that exists in the in-between.

From our home away from home, The Tarragon in Hout Bay, we explored this magnificent city full of cultural and natural sights and some of the friendliest people I have ever met!

A Day Hunt in Cape Town: Elements of Conservation

You’d hardly think that Hunting and Conservation go together, but one thing I learned while in Africa is that the people truly recognize how special nature is. They have a deep respect for the flora and fauna that surrounds them, and they incorporate this into their lifestyle and activities.

Hunting property in Wellington, South Africa

A rainbow of flowers. Wellington, South Africa

Joe of Cape Town Hunting Safaris met us promptly at The Tarragon at 7 am to begin our first day in Cape Town. We drove into Wellington, a relatively rural area northeast of Cape Town in the Western Cape Winelands. This being the beginning of springtime, fields were filled with flowers of every color, creating a speckled rainbow across the horizon. We arrived at the property of a gentleman named Frank, who welcomed us with some coffee near a warm hearth. Frank runs a conservation farm, where hunting of some species is allowed, while other species are fiercely protected.
Quagga (Cape) zebra. Wellington, South Africa

This conservation farm was one of eight participants in a program to bring back the extinct Quagga (Kwa-ha) Zebra, or Cape Zebra, which has dark stripes on the body against a brown background and light-colored legs. The farms that participate interbreed zebra to select for features of the quagga, and interbreeding continues. I spent the morning photographing these fascinating hybrids and their companions while Justin stalked and took an older springbok as his trophy.

We saw a variety of animals: Eland, Springbok, Bonte Buck, and Fallow Deer. Wellington, South Africa

We had an absolutely fantastic lunch, and it was here that I really realized what the hunting community is really made of: people who are passionate about wildlife, becoming one with nature, and truly appreciating nature. There was something primal about eating our freshly cooked lamb shanks that afternoon, savoring what the earth provides. Incidentally, nothing from our day went to waste and all the meat returned to the community.

The hunt! Wellington, South Africa

As an aside, I cannot say enough good things about Joe! He was extremely friendly, going out of his way to make sure that we saw as much of the Western Cape Winelands as possible, and even inviting us into his home towards the end of the day. I’m also happy to report that Joe’s friendliness is not the exception, but rather, the rule in Cape Town!

A Drive Down the Wild Side: Chapman’s Peak Drive, Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope

Chapman’s Peak Drive, Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Townians often say that you can experience the four seasons in one day in Cape Town…we found out that this was true. Any given day, it would be raining in one part of the city and bright and sunny in another, and our second day was no exception. We decided that since Hout Bay was dreary and rainy, we would drive down Chapman’s Peak Drive, a toll road that traverses mainly national park lands, and see what we would find.

Noordhoek’s Farm Village, Cape Town, South Africa

Our first stop was Noordhoek, a seaside town with one of Cape Town’s largest beaches, Long Beach. We had an amazing breakfast at the Noordhoek Farm Village Inn that had (what I would like to think was) an African twist on traditional French Toast and Eggs Benedict. After breakfast, we explored Long Beach, climbing on the multitude of rocks and enjoying its soft white sands.

Long Beach in Noordhoek. Cape Town, South Africa

Our drive continued into Table Mountain National Park, which is home to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. We had our first exposure to the fynbos ecosystem, part of the Cape Floral Kingdom (the richest ecosystem for its size in the world), which consists mainly of shrubs and hearty flora and similarly hearty fauna, such as lizards.

At Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town, South Africa

Our arrival at the Cape Point lighthouses (there are two) was marked by daydreams of past sailors using these important landmarks as guideposts on their trading journeys. Old buildings served as reminders of this historic site that symbolized the beginning of truly intercontinental trade. On the way to the Cape of Good Hope, the most South-Westerly point in Africa, we watched ostriches enjoy the sea breeze and the waves as they preened and ate.

Baboons in Table Mountain National Park. Cape Town, South Africa

Our time in Table Mountain National Park also marked our first wildlife encounter of the trip. Driving out of the national park, we see a family of baboons on the side of the road. There were several cars pulled over, include a conservation agent’s truck, so we also decide to pull over and take some photos. There were several baby baboons in the family (another advantage of visiting during springtime), and one large alpha male. This male begins to look into the conservation agent’s truck, but did not find anything interesting. He turns towards our car. We heard the agent yell something: “Blah blah blah, your car!” Ok [insert stupid tourist moment here]. We roll up our windows, assume that we were following his orders, and continue to take photos. The baboon circles the car and finds himself on the driver’s side. [We continue to take photos.]

Our friend, Albert. Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town, South Africa

We hear a noise, and all of a sudden the baboon is in the back seat! He had opened the car with one hand and swung himself in with the other – all within the time it took Justin to change the gears of the car! I scream (did I mention there was a baboon in the bad seat?). The baboon – we’ll call him Albert now that we’ve been acquainted – simply looks at us, as if asking, “So where are we going?” Justin motions towards Albert and makes a deep, loud sound – what I can only image meant “f*@$ you!” in baboon language because he was mad! He growled and hissed and showed his large canines. Ok, time to get out of the car; I’ll take my chances with the smaller baboons outside. Fortunately, the conservation agent made his way to our car, picked up a rock, and pretended to throw it at the baboon … sufficient to scare him away as he ran to the middle of the street, laid down, and sunbathed after his ordeal.

The conservation agent was trying to tell us to lock our car doors. Albert, like other primates, has opposable thumbs. Go figure. I feel compelled to mention at this point that there are signs everywhere that warn of the baboon – we just didn’t give these creatures enough credit!

The Finer Side of Cape Town: The Atlantic Seaboard

The V&A Waterfront. Cape Town, South Africa

The Victoria and Alfred (V&A) Waterfront was a great place for us to stop for a fresh seafood lunch. Constructed in the 1860s, renovated for the 2010 World Cup, this bustling harbor is a great place for people watching, shopping, and enjoying a relaxing afternoon. Blues and R&B music of several street bands and barks of sea lions filled the air as we walked around the harbor before heading down the Atlantic Seaboard.

Driving through the towns of Sea Point, Bantry Bay, and Camps Bay was, remarkably, very similar to driving along the California Coast. Beautiful homes lined the coast against the magnificent backdrop of the Twelve Apostles mountains to one side and the turquoise waters of the Atlantic to the other. Vibrant shops and cafes line the streets, making for a fantastic stop for a snack and drinks.

View of Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles from Camps Bay. Cape Town, South Africa

Continuing down the main road, Victoria Road, leads to panoramic views of amazing sunsets into the Atlantic Ocean. The fiery oranges, reds, yellows, and purples of these sunsets will literally take your breath away.

Beautiful sunsets into the Atlantic Ocean, seen from Victoria Road. Cape Town, South Africa

Table Mountain: Reaching New Heights

The Flying Dutchman rotating cable car and views from the top of Table Mountain. Cape Town, South Africa

Several Cape Townian friends had advised that we visit Table Mountain on the first nice day that we experience. I echo their advice for future travellers! Even though the sun might be shining at elevations below 3500 ft (1080 m), Table Mountain is often covered by a characteristic “Table Cloth”—a nice, dense patch of cloud that prevents The Flying Dutchman Cable Car from operating and often making trails up Table Mountain impassable.

Fynbos flora on top of Table Mountain. Cape Town, South Africa

Fortunately, our last day in Cape Town revealed the top of Table Mountain and an operating Flying Dutchman! Our time spent atop Table Mountain felt like watching Cape Town from a little space in heaven. The views of the City Bowl and Atlantic Seaboard are amazing, but I would advise bringing a windbreaker (thank you Justin!) or other warm clothing as it is difficult to enjoy these fantastic views if you are shivering. Fortunately there is a restaurant at the top, where you can enjoy something to warm you (some hot chocolate or wine) up in the sky.

While the top of Table Mountain seems more sparse than other parts of Cape Town, it offers a great glimpse of the hearty fynbos flora at work: several colorful flowers can be seen growing out of the rocks. Pools from rain and condensed fog cover the top and reflect the bright blue of the sky. The only sounds at the top is the wind blowing through the fynbos shrubs. And, like most of Africa, there are no guardrails and plenty of rocks to climb!

Cities of the Southern Peninsula: Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, and Simon’s Town

False Bay Cities: Simon’s Town with its Victorian architecture, Muizenberg’s colorful beach-houses, and whales in the waters of Kalk Bay. Cape Town, South Africa

While the beaches of Camps Bay probably get the most tourist attention in Cape Town, the cities of the False Bay coast are equally picturesque and have their own characters as well. I highly recommend a leisurely drive down the False Bay coast, if for no other reason than to visit the African Penguin colony in Simon’s Town!

Muizenberg is home to a large white-sand beach lined with vibrantly colored changing rooms. As we drove south, through Kalk Bay, we saw whales right off the coast, amongst a sea of sail boats. We sat by the road, watching an adult and juvenile whale surface and resurface, slapping their fins and tails while blowing plumes of ocean spray into the air.

Cute African Penguins at Boulder’s Beach! Cape Town, South Africa

We arrive at Simon’s Town to see the little creatures sporting permanent tuxedos: the African Penguins! These penguins are one of the few species found outside of the Antarctic Circle. And to my great enjoyment, they are relatively friendly and unafraid of humans. Their waddling, tail shaking, and generally curious demeanor thoroughly entertained me – enough to justify two visits to the Penguin colony during our time in Cape Town!

Inspiring Tolerance: Robben Island and Cape Town’s Townships

Robben Island

The Robben Island lighthouse and views of Cape Town. Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa

Our visit to Robben Island was truly inspiring. The community of Cape Town makes a considerable effort to remind itself and its visitors that it was only in 1994 when apartheid was formally ended, and there is still much work ahead in the way of tolerance and true equal opportunity.

The first part of our tour was conducted by the grandson of an ex-political prisoner at Robben Island. The use of the island for society’s undesired was not new: prior to its use as a prison for political anti-apartheid activists, Robben Island was home to lepers and convicts. The beautiful views of Cape Town were bittersweet, marred by the island’s troubling past. The quarry where hard labor was required of the prisoners still remains; a rock pile created by the last prisoners as they were released exists as a reminder of the solidarity created behind the barbed wire of The University, the nickname for the prison.

Tour of the Maximum Security Prison and a glimpse of Nelson Mandela’s cell. Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa

The second part of our tour was led by an ex-political prisoner who was held on Robben Island from 1985 until its closing in 1992. This man currently lives on the island, alongside some of the ex-guards to teach future generations about tolerance. He walked us through the maximum security prison halls, with clean shiny floors, scratched with struggles from the past. Hearing his description of the inhumane treatment of the prisoners, the staged photos, the meager conditions, and the grueling work required of these individuals was truly sobering. As we walked by the cells in D-Section, where Nelson Mandela was held, you could almost feel eyes watching you through the bars.

Our guide ended our conversation with a statement that still rings true everywhere: it is truly amazing that human beings are still doing this to each other. While he admitted that South Africa is still early in its journey towards tolerance, he was proud of what his country has accomplished so far and was hopeful about what could be accomplished in the future. His attitude of teaching tolerance without dwelling on the injustices that he faced was remarkable and stands as a model – for South Africans and the rest of us.

District Six and Townships

District Six Museum. Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town’s townships, communities of either Black people or Coloured (mixed backgrounds of Malay, White, and Black) people, were the reminder of the journey ahead towards equal opportunity. We began with our guide, Ludumo, the son of a minister and township resident, touring the District Six Museum. District Six was once a vibrant community of primarily Black people. During the 1970s, the apartheid government ruled that District Six was to be designated for Whites only. Blacks were evicted, businesses were demolished, and land was left empty for decades – even now, some of the land is still empty. The District Six Museum was established to honor the events that took place and provide an outlet for the displaced community. I was particularly moved by a long cloth banner that is hung from the ceiling: notes from former residents of the District Six are sewn into it, as thread and needle are even more permanent than the most permanent of markers.

Langa Township. Cape Town, South Africa

The Black community that was displaced from the District Six and similar neighborhoods were forced to relocate to the Cape Flats in informal settlements known as townships. Currently, these communities are still composed of Black people residing in formal housing (mostly government-built) and emigrant Black people residing in informal housing built from available materials, such as corrugated metal and scrap wood. We visited three such townships: Langa, Nyanga, and Khayelitsha.

Langa Township. Cape Town, South Africa

As we drove through the streets of these townships, the poverty was undeniable. Much of the government housing is left incomplete, either due to lack of interest or retaliation for losses in money as many residents steal electricity and other utilities. A vicious cycle seems to take place: enough people steal or waste so that those who are willing to pay cannot get the support they need. The opportunity to own anything was small, but there seemed to be a reluctance to pursue a better opportunity if it meant separation from the community (real or perceived). For example, newly built homes are unoccupied (for over a year and counting) because of a reluctance to be the first to occupy: why am I entitled above others for this housing?

Nyanga and Khayelitsha Townships. Cape Town, South Africa

Bathrooms, shared outhouses, are located on the outskirts of town. Small businesses populate the paved sidewalks. And though the poverty was evident, we saw satellite dishes peeking out over drying laundry. Perhaps this was a sign of a successful person – this was the most he was comfortable showing to the world without risking possible ostracism. Beliefs seemed to be a mixture of Christianity and local beliefs: medicine men were an integral part of the culture and bones hung from several houses to scare off evil spirits.

Inga Educare pre-school in Langa Township. Cape Town, South Africa

We visited a pre-school for about 35 children, ages 2-5. Started several years ago by a woman in an abandoned shipping container, the school is now in a permanent building. Allowing children to be better prepared for primary school and freeing up parents to work, the school is an example of steady improvement in the townships. We were also invited to visit a center specifically for the education and support of women. Considering that the incidence of rape in the townships is 3 in 4 (yes that’s about 75% of women living in townships will be raped once in their lifetime), seeing a center where women could seek refuge, learn childcare, and craft-making was yet another example of improvement in a long journey ahead.

Women’s Empowerment Center in Nyanga Township. Cape Town, South Africa

Seeing Cape Town’s and South Africa’s journey through its racial tensions gave me a greater understanding for the potential of human change. I truly believe that the people of Cape Town are learning from their past without dwelling on it; they are existing in the in-between.

1 Comment

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