Published: May 12th 2011May 12th 2011
Thursday 4-7 to Sunday 4-10
Today we headed to Cape Town, but first, we made a stop over in Franschhoek for some wine and cheese tasting. The Western Cape is known for its wine country and Franschhoek was a cute little wine-tourist town – lots of picturesque vineyards and white Victorian buildings. It was very reminiscent of Solvang in Southern California. The wine was less than spectacular – although the shiraz was really good. We also hopped onto a tour of a local chocolate factory where not only did they teach us about chocolate, but gave us loads of free samples and even made some fresh milk chocolate and hazelnut bon bons for us. Delicious!! And surprisingly enough – I didn’t get a migraine from the aged cheese, the red wine or the chocolate!! It’s a migraine miracle! (Or at least it was until we went to a restaurant and the cigarette smoke gave me a raging headache for 2 days. Ugh, miracle over.)
We drove into Cape Town and it was really cool to see the silhouette of Table Mountain looming over the city. Our first venture into the city was to find dinner and a movie – and
we were not disappointed! A local movie chain (oddly enough called Labia Theaters – how do they not know what that word means?!) had an amazing deal where you get dinner for two at a local restaurant and two movie tickets all for R75, which comes out to about $11! How great is that?! So we totally took advantage of that while in town and went to go see “True Grit” and “Bad Lieutenant.” The first movie was good (Jeff Bridges is great) but what the hell was “Bad Lieutenant”?! I realize Nicholas Cage action movies are low grade to begin with, but this thing got an 87% rating on RottenTomatoes – how is that even possible?! It was soooooooooooooooooooooooo bad!! SO BAD! I’m still reeling from the atrociousness of the dialogue and the utterly horrific acting. Ugh! It was friggin’ awful and quite painful to sit through.
On our first full day in Cape Town, we wandered around the waterfront and visited a museum about Robben Island (where Mandela and other political leaders were held). I had no idea that the prisoners had their own Fifa accredited soccer league. [Nick Note: Actually it was accredited by FIFA because
of apartheid FIFA banned the South African soccer federation from their tournaments, and as a protest they recognized the small league in Robben Island.] We headed into the city to see the countries oldest European fortress, the Castle of Good Hope. Built by the Dutch in the 1600s and taken over by the British in the 1800s; the tour mostly consisted of visiting the various torture chambers. Which normally I would find very interesting, but at this time seemed a little creepy considering apartheid and white supremacy were the law of the land in the not so distant past. [Nick Note: Since S.A. stopped apartheid not that long ago, 1992, there is an obvious and HUGE disparity based on race there. When we’d go eat at a nice restaurant in Cape Town there would not be a single black person except for the occasional trinket seller (who might have been beaten and chased down by the black security guard for bothering the dinner patrons).]
The old city hall building was beautiful, as was St. George’s Cathedral, which had a small exhibit in the basement on Desmond Tutu’s Rainbow Nation march. The historical apartheid tour continued as we headed to
the District 6 Museum. District 6 was a predominantly black neighborhood in the 1960-1980s that was surrounded by wealthier, more powerful white neighborhoods. In an attempt to remove this “black spot” in the city (that’s literally what these neighborhoods were called) and make way for more privileged whites to move in, all residents were forcibly evicted from their homes, houses and shops completely demolished, and residents relocated to the townships (shanty towns) on the outskirts of Cape Town. By the time apartheid ended in 1992, the neighborhood had been completely demolished and hundreds of families uprooted but the District 6 area still remains undeveloped. There are plans to rebuild or make a memorial, but right now it still lies empty and a nearby museum has been erected to house artifacts found in the rubble, and display family photos and mementos to honor those that were forcibly removed. It was a really well done museum. Draws a lot of parallels between apartheid and the U.S. civil rights movement.
We then headed even further back into history and visited the sight of the old “slave tree” where, as its name suggests, incoming slaves were auctioned off by the Dutch settlers. Located
oddly enough in front of the mother church of the New Dutch Reformed Church, there’s no longer a tree, but a commemorative plaque in what is now a traffic median. We also visited the Slave Museum, housed in an old building that was originally used as a holding cell for the slaves. It later became a district courthouse and is now a museum, chronicling slavery not only in South Africa, but also current slavery and human traffic trade. Very sobering.
We took a stroll passed the Parliament House, which sadly was closed, and walked through the Company Gardens – former sight of the Dutch East India Company’s vegetable garden when Cape Town was just a resupply outpost on the way to Java. We finished the day with a beautiful sunset over the Atlantic Ocean on Lion’s Rump Hill, followed by yet another (sad) attempt at Mexican food abroad. (Oh crispy tacos, how I miss you.)
Up bright and early the next day, we took a boat over to Robben Island to tour South Africa’s most infamous apartheid prison. I didn’t realize that Robben Island had actually been used as a prison by the Dutch since the late 1600s.
There are multiple grave yards, not only of former prisoners, but also of the former leper colony that was confined to the island in the mid-1800s. Our tour guide, a former apartheid inmate himself (5 years in the 1980s), told us that they are still discovering unmarked graves all over the island and there’s no telling how many people died there. It was actually pretty cool to get a tour of the prison from a former political prisoner – his first hand stories lent a sense of pride and respect to what he sees as not a monument to apartheid and oppression, but a testament to the political will and strength of his people. Reading “The Covenant” while driving around South Africa and staying in affluent neighborhoods really gave us a skewed glimpse of South Africa. Almost all business owners were white, while their workers were black and there were very few blacks visible in town that weren’t part of the service industry. We felt bad that we were only seeing one side of South Africa and witnessing such a stark contrast and separation, both geographically and economically, between the two races. I realize apartheid was abolished less than 20
years ago, and there are many parallels one can draw from the inequality in South Africa and many black neighborhoods in the U.S. But I have never seen anything like the townships here in South Africa, the largest of which was outside of Cape Town and stretched along the highway for what seemed like miles! Row after row of small, crumbling wooden and metal shacks, stacked side by side in unsanitary, unsafe, and impoverished conditions. [Nick Note: What is striking is not so much that the shanty towns were so poor, as there are places in India that were just as bad. What is striking is how close they are to the white areas of town which are so nice. In India it was not so obviously racial (since it’s based on the caste system) and there was a little bit of blurring between the poor and rich neighborhoods, but here the boundary was clear, as the shanty towns are walled in so as to help the white Afrikaners forget about them.] I wish we had had the opportunity to tour the townships when we had the chance, to talk to more Africans and not just Afrikaners. The nagging guilt
of being a privileged white person seems to be more unpleasant here than anywhere else we’ve been.
To experience the coastal life here, we took our friend Trent’s suggestion and drove down along the small beach towns along the eastern edge of the cape to visit Simon’s Town, where they have a native African penguin population! This was Nick’s first time ever to see penguins in the wild and the perfect time too, as there were many newborn chicks, all covered in their fluffy brown down feathers. Soooo cute! (Wish you could have been there Greg Richardson.) [Nick Note: Oh Greg it was amazing, I’ll never forget my first penguins! There were lots of Moms with kids ranging from cute and cuddly newborns to the rowdy and grey-feathered teenagers.]
Sadly, we weren’t able to check out the Cape of Good Hope due to inclement weather, but we did end up driving all the way around the cape to the backside of Table Mountain and checking out the dramatic coastline. The beaches were beautiful and I was reluctant to leave them. The water was ice cold (possibly colder than L.A., which seems almost unfathomable), so no swimming for us,
but it was great to just lounge around in the warm sun and read a book on the soft sandy beach. Table Mountain was another beast all together! I have never felt more out of shape than trying to climb Platteklip Gorge. It was only an hour & a half climb, but it was a ridiculously vertical climb over huge rocks in the hot afternoon sun. It was pathetic – I got overheated within 30 minutes and had to takes breaks the entire way up. Ugh, it was a good hike but man do I need a gym. Once on top of the mountain, there were great views overlooking the Cape and the Atlantic. Fortunately, there was a cable car back down to the parking lot, so the decent was much more manageable than the climb. ;o) [Nick Note: We got really lucky because we had a very clear day and apparently the top of Table Mountain is almost always cloudy.]
Cape Town to Stellenbosch: did some laundry, checked internet, printed boarding passes, and visited the post office – all before noon! We were very industrious today. For our last night in South Africa, we decided to
splurge and treat ourselves to a fancy buffet dinner and show for some real South African food (which I have yet to try in 3 weeks of being here!) and traditional music and dancing. Sadly, our luck for experiencing South African culture continues to run short. The food was good but there was no show or musical performance (seriously?!). At least the food was good. I definitely don’t like oxtail or mealie pap (cornmeal mush) but I certainly went back for seconds on bobotie and blesbuck! Bobotie was like a sweet & savory meatloaf (minus the ketchup and breadcrumbs) cooked in a cast iron pot. And blesbuck, which ever antelope that is, was ridiculously good! So succulent and flavorful; I have discovered yet another delicious animal I like to eat :o)
There are more photos below