A Travel Buddy From Home

Trip Start Sep 30, 2006
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Trip End Jan 16, 2010


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Flag of South Africa  ,
Sunday, December 31, 2006

Landing back in South Africa the day after Christmas, I get an email from my pal Heidi from home saying she has booked herself on a plane to Africa! I am stoked and within a few minutes everyone in the hostel knows my friend from America is on her way. We get ready for the big greeting and a big party is about to be under way, at 10am. When Heidi arrives we hang out by the pool, check out our room, and make sure she makes it through her jet lag by going down to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront for lunch. South Africa has incredibly tasty cheap food and fantastic wine, so we indulge and then book ourselves on a sail boat for a sunset cruise out on the harbor. The day is deliciously warm without being too hot, and other than the drunk man from Jo'burg trying to be a little too friendly with me, the boat is the perfect place to spend the afternoon, looking back at Table Mountain from the sea. The next day we walk down town to haggle in Cape Town's markets, with Heidi buying loads and me next to nothing. A traveller can't be weighed down with too many treasures, and I had already bought some trinkets in Namibia. But it was fun watching Heidi bargain and buy from the locals. We walked up along colorful Long Street where we decide to have some drinks and snacks and do some people watching. We have a beer at Mama Africa's, a great local restaurant and get ourselves organized for the rest of the week. We have a wonderful chat with a local business woman and it's not the first time I hear a South African talk about missing Nelson Mandela's leadership. I hope they are able to find solid leadership soon. The country has such amazing potential and all the natural and human resources it needs right in its own country. After lots of pondering and debating about its merits, we book a trip to Cape Town's black townships, which turned out to be one of the best parts of our journey through the city, giving us hope and fond memories of the people there. We first go to the District 6 Museum, which tells the story of how the black people were forcibly removed from their neighborhoods and all their homes were destroyed. We also learned that every South African had identity cards identifying them as black, white or colored. This was unfathomable to us and we were saddened by the suffering of the people and the unravelling of their community. We met the female brew master at the shibbeen, the pub where all the men come to drink - females aren't allowed - and take an honorary sip from the recycled paint can/social pint. The beer tastes like it isn't quite finished yet, with a hint of aluminum from the can, but with no storage or aging facilities, the townsfolk have to drink it right after it's brewed. The township is alive with people, and people making businesses in everything from cardboard boxes to truck beds to empty shipping containers. I think those steel containers must make for an insanely hot beauty shop, but people seem to make the most of their surroundings. We visit a family in their home with about 12 people living in an area for 4, and are told that the government is rebuilding many of the houses in the townships as part of their commitment to providing more equitable housing to its citizens. A shy little girl of 7 befriends me and teaches me a local dance, which I try and all the other kids come to watch. We laugh and dance some more while other people shop at the market set up on the vacant lot. We also visit a brightly painted center founded by a Swedish woman which employs local women as weavers and provides daycare to their children. A shop sells the women's work and all the profits go right back into the community. One of the best stories we learn of was of an Irish businessman who financed land for over 200 homes and provided Irish volunteers to build them. So that neighborhood flies the Irish flag in appreciation for their contribution. We have a fantastic morning and think about what we've learned and what if anything we can do to help these people, as millions of Cape Town's residents live in townships. While very beautiful, Cape Town is a very divided between rich and poor, and the equity issue will need to be addressed to solve the crime problems that nag the city. I never felt unsafe here, but there is a feeling that at any moment unrest could materialize. On the other hand, the country is so beautiful and its potential so untapped, there is a feeling that South Africa could develop into one of the richest countries on earth. I will be following closely to see what happens here, as it is one of the places on my travels I really fell in love with. All the people I met here were charming and wonderful. I hope they can all enjoy a land of peace and plenty for their children. Next we visit a game reserve and see some rhinos, giraffes, hippos, lions and pose with the cheetahs. We take a tour to Cape Point and ride bikes through the Cape of Good Hope National Park and enjoy the incredible views. We manage to escape the baboons and get an eyeful of wild mountain zebras. On New Year's Eve day we visit a few of South Africa's famed wine estates and by the end of the day our van is a laughing machine. We spend the night down at the waterfront listening to live music of questionable merit until we crash a private party where we hear some groovin' reggae. We end up welcoming New Year's Day down at the docks, sleep until noon and decide that Table Mountain is the place to spend the holiday, where we end up staying to see the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. A perfect way to start the New Year.
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