Travels with V
Cape Province, South Africa
Land of milk and honey
Part 1 – Cape Town
Cape Town with iconic silhouette of the Table mountain in the background. Main city of the Cape Province and one of the places you should visit in your life. And here in one of the richest cities in Africa the contrast to Windhoek or any other Namibian town couldn’t be greater. Here the center with tall buildings is a significant part of the city, here traffic runs smoothly on expressways, and here the weather is warm but it’s not hot.
Seen from the air Cape Town looks like a shiny modern megacity, but on the ground the perspective is a little different. People live in tents or makeshift huts on the sidewalks. Beggars and mentally unstable people, both black and white, circle the streets, and the general advice is to always take a taxi if you want to go somewhere. Even in daytime. Like most cities Cape Town attracts young and desperately poor people who seek possibilities in the shining city.
Our hotel is in what you might call midtown. Actually a little too mid one might say. The street outside is a pedestrian street, but there is a lot of noise, screams and crashes from down there, particularly in the evenings. But we do as we’re told and grab a taxi to Waterfront, an area that was once mooring for big ships. Cape Town was at that time the natural stop-over for all sea traffic between Europe and Asia. But when the Suez canal opened the place fell into disrepair. Then a few years ago a project to renew and upgrade started, and today it’s a busy tourist area with a giant supermarket, lots of bars and restaurants and an aquarium. Great for sauntering!
Right around the corner from our hotel we find an oasis, the narrow but long and lush Botanical Garden. At the sides are pompous palaces that were administration buildings, many now transformed into galleries and museums. The park is full of unafraid squirrels approaching from all directions begging for food. Strangely we also find a statue of the infamous colonialist Cecil Rhodes here. Why don’t they just demolish it?
You just have to get up on that mountain. The Table mountain. There are two ways, one being an arduous climb up a narrow path, some people actually do this. Or you can go the easy way with the cable car, a circular thing that rotates while ascending. You queue for tickets first and then you queue for the ride, but eventually you get up there. Go early in the morning when the queues are shorter. But don’t go at all if the top is in a cloud, then all you will see is mist.
Circa two kilometers west from where we stay there is a very picturesque district called Bo-Kaap. With colourful low houses and a small-town atmosphere, climbing up the slopes of Signal Hill. This is the area the apartheid laws reserved for people, many of them decendants of slaves from Asia. And this is still a part of town that is dominated by them, a large number being of islamic faith. These asians have created their own culture in the city. “Cape Malay” for instance is a distinct type of food with exciting spices and Asian touch.
By a miracle Bo-Kaap avoided the demolition that hit its neighbour District Six, where an ethnic cleansing took place. The inhabitants were evicted and moved to townships, and their houses were demolished with the aim of creating an “all-white” city. Only one building i District Six was spared, a little church where there is now a museum depicting the lives and tragical fate of the original inhabitants.
Walking around in the city you’ll meet groups of young people performing, singing and dancing. Their peformances are enormously colourful and strong, rooted in the traditions of countless generations before them. It’s joyful and prod and it makes you happy to listen to and watch.
We leave the city on a couple of tours in the Cape Province. We taste wines in beautiful Stellenbosch, we are on an overnight visit to a so called “Game park” and watch lots of wildlife. And we visit a township. In the next chapter!
Top 5 in our Cape Town:
- See: Table mountain, and Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was inprisoned. Waterfront with many shops, restaurants and bars. Bo-Kaap has colourful houses and spicy Cape Malay food. Slave Lodge, a museum over the history of black South Africa.
- Stay: We went for Holiday Inn midtown, but next time we’ll pick something further north, in Waterfront or Gereenpoint. Also consider some nights in Stellenbosch or Camps Bay.
- Eat: Gorgeous George was our waterhole, and lunches are always great in Time Out Market in Waterfront. But our best meal was in a lodge far east in the province.
- Risks: All tourists are are told to be cautious, all big cities in SA have a horriffic murder rate. Always take a taxi when going somewhere, especially after dark.
- Do: *A trip to Stellenbosch vineyards. Lots of tours to choose from, but for the best wines go on your own. *A Garden Tour along the the beautiful coast south and east towards the Indian ocean. * A Township tour, But pick one that’s recommended, they can be expensive and stressful.