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Published: April 23rd 2015
Lion's Head & Cable Car
View over Lion's Head and cargo ships in the mist off the shore.
Leaving was hard. For the first time in seven years, I had just spent a significant length of time with my parents – a chance to reconnect with them as a fully mature adult – and now I was leaving. Again. This time, for another two-and-a-half years.
It was different this time. This time, I will be travelling alone. This time, I will be travelling through some sketchy countries, dangerous countries. For two-and-a-half years.
It was daunting.
This time, I wasn’t excited - I was sad and apprehensive. I was leaving familiarity for the unknown. This time, it was harder to leave than expected.
What made things worse was the marathon journey to Cape Town. A 7-hour stopover in Melbourne, a one-hour one in Kuala Lumpur and a fifteen hour stopover
Thankfully, I had contacts in each city.
None other than my closest travel buddy Davies was in Melbourne – I had visited him just three months previously
. Dinner, drinks, a much-welcome shower and a chance to go over some last minute details with someone who has travelled about as much as I have – it was the perfect stopover. Then before I knew it, it was time to say
A beach with a stunning backdrop.
goodbye again. Leaving the familiar for the unknown.
My cousin Rachel and her family live in Dubai. I had visited her here back in 2008
A swim, a meal and a precious five hours of sleep – another perfect stopover. Then for the third time in thirty hours, it was time to say goodbye again. Leaving the familiar for the unknown.
The total travel time including stopovers clocked 52 hours
. I was exhausted.
My plan for my first night in Cape Town was simple – sleep.
Well, that was the plan.
In reality, I got talking to some fellow backpackers at the hostel and before I knew it, it was Hostel Night Out™. Really Derek? On the first night?
With Belgian girls Anse and Olivia, Canadian girl Jenny, and English guy Lewis, we hit a restaurant called Mama Africa which served African fare in an African environment – complete with African décor and an African band. Perfect, for my first night in Africa (not counting my trips to Egypt
)! It properly felt like I was in Africa.
I ordered bobotie
– African meatloaf. Delicious!
Everything was so cheap too. My meal including drinks was about £6 – beers were £1.67 each!
The colourful, historically Islamic neighbourhoood of Bo Kaap.
For the price of one beer in London, I can buy four beers here.
The restaurant is located on Long Street, Cape Town’s main nightlife drag that runs right through the heart of the city – it was along here that we continued on for a few more drinks. It was Olivia’s birthday so how could we not?
Olivia then promptly proceeds to yak out her birthday shot and the killer Robben Island Ice Teas – which were right up there with the strongest cocktails I had ever drunk – and shisha pipes promptly allowed my exhaustion to catch up with me, as I almost passed out right there in the bar.
We were looking for a club where the girls could dance but we couldn’t seem to find one – the half-empty bar we were in was not adequate. I was beyond caring at this stage – I needed to hit the hay, and so Jenny and I take off back to the hostel.
The next day, I begin my exploration of the city.
Almost right next to the hostel is the area of Bo Kaap – a hilly, cobblestoned district of brightly coloured houses. The area is
Our ex-inmate tour guide talks to us inside a communal cell in the prison on Robben Island.
also Cape Town’s traditional Islamic neighbourhood, Islam having arrived here with the “Cape Malays” (Indonesians, in fact) who were brought here by the Dutch as slaves.
I continue on to the most touristy part of Cape Town – the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, which is full of restaurants, bars, cafes and shopping malls. It was very lively.
I then walk past the gleaming Cape Town Stadium, built for the 2010 World Cup, to Green Point Park, a lovely, vast park space that includes an athletics stadium, a cricket club, a football club and a wildlife sanctuary within its confines.
The park leads me to the flash area of Green Point, which is right on the water of the Atlantic. I take the seaside promenade down to Sea Point, which in the glorious sunshine was a beautiful stroll.
I was keen to make it to Camps Bay, which was quite a distance to walk – but the perfect distance to cycle from, from Sea Point. So it was handy that there was a bike hire kiosk at Sea Point!
Passing the Clifton Beaches en route to Camps Bay, it was a brilliant cycle along the coast – some of the scenery
Clifton Beach #1
The 'Cape Riviera'.
is just stunning.
Camps Bay itself probably has one of the more spectacular backdrops for a beach – a palm tree lined promenade backed by the soaring mountain range of the Twelve Apostles.
I almost lost my feet when I dipped them in the water – it was freezing! It’s straight from the Antarctic apparently.
I have to say that the stunning cliff-side of the Clifton Beaches make this place the Riviera of the Cape.
This extravagant display of wealth is in stark contrast to the poverty-stricken slums of the Cape Flats, which I passed on the way into town from the airport – endless swathes of corrugated iron shacks. I found it hard to reconcile how such inequality could exist so close together – it disheartened me a bit, I must say.
The streets of central Cape Town are filled with jobless migrants who just loiter on street corners all day; I also witnessed more than a few people rummaging through rubbish bins for something to eat.
Walking along the Sea Point promenade, I was approached by a South Sudanese man who told me his life story – he had escaped here from fighting in his home country,
Originally the old Cape Town settlement's vegetable patch, it is now a manicured public park with Table Mountain as a spectacular backdrop.
which had claimed the lives of his family. All he wanted was some help, something to eat.
On the same walk, I was also approached by a white lady in weirdly-match clothing who also told me her life story – her one was that she had escaped an abusive relationship which had claimed the entire bottom row of her front teeth. Like the friendly but desperate South Sudanese man, the woman wasn’t after money – just a sandwich from the nearby kiosk.
I have been approached like this countless times on my travels and the general rule is not to help out as you don’t know what else you might get roped into – but I couldn’t refuse two people in the space of an hour. Both homeless, both with convincing stories and both just wanting something to eat. I’m OK with giving away food as people need to eat; money on the other hand, could go on drugs or alcohol addictions - anything. I could spare R28 (South African Rand) for a sandwich (£1.40), so I did.
From the struggles of the homeless, I then visited a place the next day that witnessed the struggles of one of
Green Point Park & Cape Town Stadium
A view of Cape Town's gleaming 2010 World Cup stadium from the wildlife sanctuary inside Green Point Park.
the most revered men in modern history – the hero of not just this nation, but of the world; one Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela spent 18 years imprisoned on Robben Island – but he was far from the only one to have served time there. The island has always been used as a prison and over the years it has served as a dumping ground for undesirables including political prisoners, criminals, lepers, and the mentally ill.
The tour of the island got off to a fairly inauspicious start – there would have been three busloads of people trying to get onto a tiny tugboat. It was standing room only.
Thankfully things got better once we got going – for a start we managed to see a whale swimming beside our boat – and we were given a run-down of the history of the island and the apartheid regime. I learned a lot of interesting and horrifying facts about both topics including; how all ‘coloured’ people had to carry booklets with them at all times and needed special passes to go into “white only” areas – like a passport to travel around your own city or country; the diplomatic isolation of
'White Only' Bench
An old bench from the apartheid era.
South Africa by the international community in response to the apartheid regime – most notably the protests against the 1982 Springbok tour of New Zealand after Maori players were banned from touring South Africa as part of the All Blacks; that Namibia was in fact part of South Africa and was also ruled by the apartheid regime – the Namibians are known as the “forgotten children” of apartheid; the fact that the kennels used to house the prison’s guard dogs were in fact bigger than the cells of the prisoners.
My tour group then had the privilege of a walking tour through the different blocks of the prison led by an ex-inmate. It seems somewhat perverse for someone who suffered so much on the island to then find himself working at the same place after release. It must also be cathartic for them in some way too I imagine.
My tour guide was VERY LOUD. It meant though that he was very clear as well – his stories from his own experiences really gave an inside perspective into what life was like as a prisoner on Robben Island. Apparently, the prisoners used to illegally communicate with prisoners in the other
City Hall & Grand Parade
The grand City Hall and Grand Parade in front of it - a huge square where Cape Town's World Cup Fan Fest was in 2010. It is also where many a political rally was held, including Nelson Mandela's first speech to the people on his release from prison.
blocks through messages hidden inside tennis balls hit over fences to other sections during exercise sessions.
Naturally, Mandela’s former cell got the most photos – it was a small yet significant space in the fight against racism and apartheid. It felt significant too.
Fittingly, we walked back to the pier from the prison and in effect retraced Mandela’s steps on his Long Walk To Freedom once he was released.
Once back on the mainland, I used the afternoon to explore the city centre.
As it was a Saturday, there weren’t many people around apart from the aforementioned loiterers - conditions perfect for a mugging. You have to be vigilant in major South African cities and I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder. The fact that one of my fellow hostellers had a knife pulled on him just outside the hostel was also playing on my mind. The whole time as I was walking around, I felt on edge…and sadly, this takes away from your enjoyment of the city. It was a little scary.
That night, it was Hostel Night Out™ #2.
Beers at the Beer House on Long Street (99 different craft beers in bottle and on
tap!) was swiftly followed by open mic karaoke at a karaoke bar. After a couple of shots to calm the nerves and add Dutch courage, we were all hammered and we were singing anything and everything. So much fun.
Not so fun, was getting up croaky-voiced the next day, after a wild night on the tiles. Actually, I lie – it was great fun because Jenny and I were still drunk! We were more than happy to converse and crack jokes with our fellow passengers on our tour to the Cape Of Good Hope.
Amongst our crew were four Israeli girls, one of which had a hula hoop as a photo prop. Some people have gnomes, some have soft toys – this chick had a hula hoop. It was pretty cool though as she made videos strutting her stuff alongside bewildered bystanders at each stop on the tour.
Speaking of stops – the first was at a seal colony in the beautifully scenic surrounds of Hout Bay. Although seeing loads of seals was really cool, the scenery was probably better.
The scenery along most of the coast to our destinations was spectacular – this included Boulders, where we stopped
A pretty idyllic setting for a penguin colony.
off to visit a penguin colony. The African penguins were very cute as they waddled around although they would probably bite your finger off if you tried to pet one.
We also did some cycling in yet more scenic surrounds near the cape itself, while also spotting wild ostriches and baboons!
By the middle of the day, my drunkenness had worn off and I was almost comatose on the bus; by the time we got to the cape I was well and truly hungover and feeling like death. Not the best state of mind to be in when hiking up a steep path to the Cape Point lighthouse but the views at the top managed to stop me from throwing anything up.
It was no surprise that we took things easy that night.
I started my last day in Cape Town with a visit to the District 6 museum.
District 6 was a predominantly black and coloured working class neighbourhood on the fringe of the city that was a hive of activity and bustled with energy. The area wasn’t without its problems – it was overcrowded and had gang issues – but the community had been long-established and was
District 6 Museum
A large map on the ground floor of the District 6 museum along with roads signs of the area's old streets.
Then in the 1960s, the apartheid regime decided to make the area a ‘whites-only’ area; the authorities also sought to clean up the area by tearing down all the existing buildings and rebuilding everything according to a new urban plan.
This resulted in the forced removal of all the residents in District 6 along racial lines and the demolition of all of their homes, shops and livelihoods.
The legacy of the removals can still be seen today in the impoverished townships of the Cape Flats – where the majority of the District 6 residents were relocated to.
It was incredibly sad to think that something like this could happen; it was heart-breaking to read all the stories and see all the exhibits that regaled about how good life was in District 6 – and how it was all taken away.
That afternoon, I ticked off the last thing I needed to do in Cape Town – an ascent up Table Mountain.
Lording over the city, Table Mountain provides Cape Town’s stunningly characteristic backdrop – and the views from atop it are just as spectacular. I was a little lucky to get those views – the top was shrouded
About to begin my descent from the clouds atop Table Mountain.
in cloud but not enough to cover the view looking over the city. It made for an interesting walk along the ‘tables’ to MacClear’s Beacon – Table Mountain’s highest point – as the entire walk was spent enveloped in fog, as opposed to the blue sky and sunshine bathing the city.
Where I had taken the cable car up the mountain, I decided to descend it by foot. Walking downhill might not sound difficult – and the faces of those coming up the mountain while I went down it confirmed as much – but it was tougher than you might think. The descent was so steep that you had to clamber down like a crab to ensure you avoided a nasty fall.
It wasn’t easy and it took one and a half hours to complete. Cue sore thighs.
To end my stay in Cape Town, I went out with a couple of Americans for some good Thai food and good conversation. Chris and Raj were friends from their time in Nairobi (or “Nairobbery” as Lewis referred to it as) and were both out on karaoke night. We all clicked and saw the world in the same way and conversation
Hout Bay Marina
Hout Bay is further south along the Cape's Atlantic coast from Camps Bay.
flowed seamlessly from corruption and economics, to travel and Oktoberfest. It was really enjoyable to have some intellectually stimulating conversation with like-minded people.
And thus this was one reason I found myself sad to be leaving Cape Town – I had met loads of really cool people and had had a really good time here.
I can see why Cape Town is rated as a top tourist destination; there is lots to see and do, there are iconic sights, it is incredibly scenic, and the people here are friendly. I had done all the main things that I wanted to do, but I still felt I could’ve stayed another day or two.
The place has a cool vibe – with its setup and scenery, it reminds me in a lot of ways of Rio
, sans the exoticism, size and iconicity of Brazil’s tourist mecca.
The Backpack was a fantastic hostel – with its setup, bar and friendly staff, it is really conducive to meeting people. It has loads of communal chillout areas, spacious and secure rooms, helpful staff, and an awesome inclusive breakfast. The place always had a great atmosphere and was a one of the main reasons I
View From Cape Point
Overlooking the Cape Of Good Hope.
enjoyed my stay so much.
A couple of quirky observations;
- The power sockets here are weird. They’re like the three-hole British sockets except the holes are round instead of square. Due to this uniqueness, it isn’t covered by my (not so) universal adapter, rather annoyingly.
- There were loads and loads of German backpackers staying at the hostel.
And so my adventure in Cape Town has come to an end and my South African adventure is underway. Things aren’t as scary as I thought they might be and I am back in my travelling groove.
Next up, is the university/wine town of Stellenbosch before I move onto the Garden Route.
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