Monday, February 25, 2008

Cape Town and Langa

After our longer-than-expected day on the beach, the next couple of days were dedicated to spending some time in Cape Town proper. We started out by wandering through a local market; Forest felt a hand tugging on her bag at one point, but we didn't actually lose anything, and that was the closest we came to any theft in our entire stay.

Our first goal was to see the Castle of Good Hope, a former British military fortification turned military history museum. During the Changing of the Guard, we witnessed what turned out to be the smallest cannon we've ever seen being fired. It might defend agains pigeons, but not much else. It was odd to be in a very European castle in Africa; I'm not sure anything similar exists on the continent.

Next, we walked over to the District Six Museum , which was first class. It put me much in mind of the National Civil Rights musem in Memphis, Tennessee, in style and content (if not size -- it's actually quite small). The original District Six residents, roughly 60,000 of them, had been forcibly evicted in the 1970s by the national and city governments in a blatantly and unapologetically racist move. The museum chronicles the lifestyle and culture of the former District Six, and presents a history of the removal and just-beginning re-population aof the area by some of the original residents. I believe all the volunteers and emplyees at the musem are former residents.

I have to say that the U.S. isn't always dramatically better. Though not as broad in scope or overtly racist in nature, California's Ellis Act evictions are not entirely dissimilar. Glass houses, stones, you know the saying. [Side note: I heard something about some other U.S city's historic forced evictions on NPR the other day, but can't remember the city and can't find the reference now -- anyone else know hear the article?]

We'd been previously introduced via email to some friends-of-friends that lived in Cape Town, Brett and Johann. We'd coordinated by phone once we arrived, and arranged to go out to dinner with them. They picked us up and we drove north of the city to the suburb of Blouberg, which to my mind looked like any modern suburb anywhere and was not particularly interesting in and of itself. The saving grace for Blouberg was the view; located at the closest land point to Robben Island, Mandela's home for much of his imprisonment, Blouberg has the postcard-standard view of Cape Town across the bay, with Table Mountain framing the city.

Johann took the next morning off from work to drive us around a bit, which was both unexpected and great for us. To top it off, he brought along a bottle of 20-year South African brandy for me to try, nicely chilled in a small cooler. Now that's a way to start the day!

Johann drove us up the flanks of Cape Town's Signal Hill to see the Noon Gun. Now *that* was a real cannon! The wind was blowing incredibly hard; in fact, Table Mountain was closed (again) because of it. We didn't at first think the gun would be all that interesting, but in fact all of us are glad we went, especially since it was something we'd probably have skipped if Johann hadn't wanted to take us. I couldn't believe how loud the thing was!

We spent some time wandering through the BoKapp Muslim neighborhood, which was quiet as many stores and restaurants were still cosed for the holiday week.

We also shopped and ate on Long Street, which surprisingly was reminiscent of portions of New Orleans.

We had to stop in to a Cuban Bar! Yes, it was kind of a Disney-fied Cuba, but still.

The following day we went on a tour of Langa, which depending on your standpoint and definitions is a township, community, neighborhood, or suburb. Regardless of terminology, the place was completely different than anywhere else we'd been, and probably more indicative of how far too many people live that anything else we'd seen on the trip.

To start the Langa tour we stopped in the Guga S'Thebe cultural center , which is kind of a artisan showcase, historical resource, and a community center for kids. We were fortunate to have several of the kids demonstrate a traditional gumboot dance . Yes, it's a show for tourists, but it had the advantage of being culturally relevant o the poerformers as well as being something they not only enjoyed doing, but were obviously taking pride in doing well.

As far as the actual Langa apartments, shacks, houses and other living quarters -- all were small, but those that we saw were neatly-maintained by their occupants. I suppose there's no room for a slob when sharing a place that small. For all the pride that people took in their individual homes, no matter how small or fragile, and their own personal appearance, which was never less than immaculate, the streets and alleys were another matter. Kids walked around broken glass and other garbage on bare feet, and everyone seemed to ignore the garbage cans in favor of the open grounds between the houses.

The saddest thing, in my mind, is that even in post apartheid South Africa, people are still living in those conditions. In many cases it's not because they're incredibly poor (though that's also a huge problem), but that no one will sell to them in the more-desireable parts of town. Students, doctors, lawyers, teachers, all were forced to live in housing that rivals the worst slums I've seen anywhere, even though many were holding down decent jobs and some even owned cars.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hello 2008!

I really like being somewhere else for new years eve. It's one of those holidays that seems to let a lot of people down but when you are somewhere else it is always exciting, fun and different. We really didn't have a plan this year which we were all fine with. After a big day driving to the Cape and seeing penguins and amazing views we thought we would head to the V&A waterfront, grab a snack at a bar and watch the crowds. So after getting ready and having Dayne make us cocktails we started calling for a cab- just like anywhere it was going to take hours. And then we found a card in the apartment for Ernest cab. Within 15 minutes he was outside our gate and taking us to the Waterfront! Ernest cab would become our best find in Cape Town- picking us up later that night with only a 20 min wait and telling the lines of people he was our private cab, always knowing where places were, waiting for us while we went into shops, getting us to the front of the 2 hour queue at Table Mountain and doing multiple trips to the airport.

We rang in the new year with thousands of others listening to fireworks and
playing with our noise makers and being very warm and happy that we were outside! Oh and we snuck into a private party after and drank free champagne :)

We had lots of advice from friends and friends of friends about Cape Town- what to do, what to be careful of and what to see. Everyone told us to get out to the beaches as they are beautiful. No one told us that Jan 1st is the day that black people celebrate by going to all the beaches (it was only 10 years ago that they weren't allowed on the beach) and making it an all day festival. Of course that doesn't mean that you can't go too- and we did- it just made for quite an interesting day! The crowds were so thick and the roads were completely at a stand still. There were lines for shared cabs that were over 1 mile long. And not an inch of beach, sidewalk, grass, etc was free of people, kids, blankets, lawn chairs, picnics and umbrellas.

We decided to wait for traffic to die down by heading out for a nice sundowner at a beautiful hotel south of the beaches called The Twelve Apostles Hotel.

The view and the cocktails were great however the traffic never did die down so by the time we got all the way back to our apartment it was late and we all decided that Nando's peri peri chicken and some E television was in order!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cape Town and Surrounding Areas, Part 1

When we drove into Cape Town, we didn't really know what to expect. The few glimpses we'd seen when flying over it before heading to Franschhoek weren't especially promising...townships, "informal settlements", slums, whatever you want to call them, were everywhere. From the air, the glitter of trash made it look almost like there were little ice puddles strewn over the streets and yards.

The drive in was a little more encouraging, at least once we got in towards the city center. Other than being our first in-city experience driving on the opposite side of the car and street, it didn't seem any harder to navigate than many other places we've been. We had made arrangements to stay in a small apartment in the Seapoint neighborhood, along the northwest shore of the city, facing the Atlantic Ocean. We found our apartment without too much difficulty, though after the lux accommodations we'd had in Franschhoek it was a bit of a letdown. Cheap though!!

[A small aside here, just because it doesn't really fit anywhere else. While in Cape Town, at one point I bought a local paper. I should have either kept it or taken a picture, but I forgot to do so. The price was printed across the top, of course, much like it is anywhere else. It cost 4 or 5 Rand, I think, (less than a US dollar) but the more interesting thing was the Zimbabwean price printed there as well -- Z$1,200,000. Yes, you read that right. Hyper-inflation is going crazy in that country, as the megalomaniacal Mugabe continues to wreak havoc on the economy, environment, and international standing of SA's northern neighbor. I had the privilege of being able to spend 3 weeks in Zimbabwe in 1999; it's really sad to know that almost every animal I saw then is dead now, because of a starving populace.]

We'd arrived fairly late in the evening. Forest was tired, so Wendy and I took a brief walk along the seawall that night, and stopped into a hotel bar for a quick bite and a drink before turning in. We noticed that one of the bartenders had his hand wrapped up; Wendy asked if he'd broken it. No, it turns out he was stabbed through the hand so he could be robbed!!! More than anything else we experienced on the entire trip, that single statement made me realize how potentially dangerous parts of the city were.

The next day, New Year's Eve, we were off to the Cape of Good Hope. After a crazy drive through the mountain roads,

and a stop to see penguins (they're funny!!!),

we entered the barrenness of the Cape. Wow, it was hot. Everything was washed out from the bright light; even the ostriches were a kind of dusty grey, and hard to see except that they were big moving blobs on an otherwise desolate landscape.

The Cape of Good Hope itself, and nearby Cape Point, were fabulous. There was a distinct line in the ocean where the warm Indian hit the cold Atlantic waters. Of course, being a major tourist destination, there was both a funicular (which we skipped, for once) and a pole with distances to major destinations.

Then it was back to Cape Town in preparation for New Year's Eve celebrations! [coming next post...]

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