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Published: September 23rd 2015
Red, Blue, Purple and Yellow... Those are the colours of the open-top bus routes around Cape Town. A two-day pass, printed on a tatty piece of paper, gives unlimited travel for R270 each. The yellow route is a short circuit around the Central Business District. The red route takes a longer loop around the mountains. The blue route is even longer; it hits all of the outlying suburbs before joining the red route as it hugs the coast on its way back into town. The purple route is a spur off the blue route for those who want to taste wine in the oldest centre of viticulture in Africa.
On the first day we took the train into town and arrived just in time for the "free" walking tour of Cape Town which was included in the ticket for the bus. It turns out this is not free at all but is done on a tip only basis. We were led around the city by Liz, our tour guide. She didn't seem at all confident leading a tour and kept forgetting her script. The tour might have been useful for us if we hadn't already wandered around the city or
if we didn't know any South African history. There were a few interesting snippets though around the history of slavery in Cape Town and the release of Mandela on the Grand Parade. Also it was interesting to discover that Cape Town has a piece of the Berlin Wall. I would only really recommend the tour if it is the first thing you do in Cape Town.
After a quick lunch we boarded the bus for the first time. We decided to do the Red Tour which took us first up the slopes of Table Mountain (where we got drenched in the rain) and then down to Camps Bay. We got off the bus at Camps Bay to have a walk on the beach with an icecream. I'd first had Sinnful icecream three years ago on my first trip to Cape Town and it was one of my favourite memories. I was disappointed to find that they had rebranded themselves as 'Addictions' and cheapened their product in the process. So we strolled on the beach with a mediocre icecream and enjoyed the appearance of the day's first glimmer of sunshine. On the beach we were accosted by people wanting to
sell us art works or telling us we had won something on a scratch-card. Most strangely of all was two very non-photogenic men enquiring how much we would pay them to take a photo of them carrying a bucket.
We got back on the bus to continue our loop of the costal front of Cape Town. This is the part of Cape Town that I really don't like. From Camps Bay the road proceeds through Clifton, Bantry Bay, Sea Point and Green Point - past the carbuncle which is Cape Town's stadium - and then comes out at the Waterfront. This whole area is a seaside resort for millionaires who compete to build the ugliest multi-story housing they can. Generally they have a car park on top and then a glass lift, or their own funicular railway, to take them to the bottom of the cliff face where they have a swimming pool. They have devastated the beautiful cliff-top views with these hideous monstrosities.
We disembarked at the Waterfront where we had a complimentary harbour cruise awaiting us. We arrived at the jetty for the cruise only to be told that we had just missed the boat and
the next one would be in half an hour. That didn't seem too bad to us and we were happy to wait. However, the man speaking to us then said he was bored and would take us out on a private cruise. At this point an irrational fear bubbled up that this friendly uniformed man was actually some kind of pirate who would abandon us on an isolated island after stealing all of our stuff. It didn't take much to suppress this weird thought. We got on the boat and were duly taken around the harbour, past working docks and moored fishing boats, around harbour patrols and pilots (all named after grapes) and then back to the docks. Our driver kindly pointed out things that might interest us. The highlight was seeing a seal eating an octopus from ten yards away. He also showed us nesting cormorants and what would have been the best view of Table Mountain from the harbour... if the mountain had been visible that day.
We were sad to finish our private cruise but we were tired and ready to go home. We caught the bus back to the city centre, walked to the station
and took the train back to Pinelands. Our carriage was crowded with security guards who had just got off their shift. We didn't realise just how crowded the rest of the train was until we arrived in Pinelands. We pushed our way out of the carriage and onto the platform which was densely packed with people who had not managed to catch the train. The doors in Metro class were bulging with people so there was no hope of them closing. People were climbing up between the carriages and clinging on to whatever piping or cabling they could find. As the train pulled out we saw that there were two people clinging on to the back face of the train too. Once the platform was clear a group of frustrated commuters jumped down onto the tracks and crossed over to the opposite side. We were cringing, worrying about what could happen. It was a relief to leave the station.
Next day we caught the train into town again. This time we jumped onto the Blue Route. This took us straight out of the city on the usually scenic De Waal Drive. Unfortunately the weather was so poor that we
could hardly see the edge of the road and there was no chance of looking down to the vista of the harbour and CBD. Despite the rain we sat upstairs on an already wet seat - we were already so drenched that a little more didn't make a difference.
The bus took us first to Kirstenbosch and then to Constantia where we alighted to catch the Purple Route bus for a tour of the winelands. This took us first to Groot Constantia, the former residence of Simon can der Stel, the first governor of the Cape Colony. Here we got off and explored the grounds a bit before having the driest and most tasteless scone in the cafe. Not impressed, we jumped back on the bus and finished the loop before getting on the Blue Route bus again.
A couple of stops later we were the only people to get off for the tour of Imizamo Yethu, a township near Hout Bay. "Mandela Park", as Imizamo Yethu is known by its residents, is a fascinating place which is worthy of its own blog entry so I'm not going to say any more about it right now. We thought
that the other passengers really missed out. After our tour the bus took us to Hout Bay and then back via the same route as the Red Tour, through the decadent "elegance" of Camps Bay and Clifton and in to town.
We didn't manage to take the Yellow Route around the city centre or do the walking tour of Bo Kaap but we had crammed a lot in to our two days on the buses. We would highly recommend the experience and encourage anyone visiting the city to do it, even if it is raining.
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