Cape Town - City of contrasts
Trip Start Sep 13, 2010
8Trip End Oct 03, 2010
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Where I stayed
Cape Royal Hotel
Our guide Jaco arranged another nature and rock art drive Thursday morning. The sun was shining, the hike was invigorating and the rock art was outstanding. Jaco is leaving Bushmans Kloof at the end of this season, to return to his family farm. We compared notes on growing peppers and he wants pictures of the implement we use to remove the plastic mulch. As a little difference between South Africa and Kentucky, he said they had to guard their produce crops because of theft.
Arriving in Cape Town, we stayed at the Cape Royal Hotel near the waterfront and directly across the road from the venue for the World Cup recently held. A beautiful city with many contrasts (sights, culture and social). Lot's of choices of dining but it is not safe to walk the streets after dark, so cab rides only. For all you lovers of food, we have tried the Afircan cuisine and some of the wild game is excellent.
Our Cape Town experience was centered around Laura who served as our guide for 3 days. Laura was recommended by Christina, our Portland, OR based travel agent. Laura is black, native to South Africa, experienced the apartheid struggles (including having a brother who was a political prisoner), lives in one of the "locations" called Guguletu Township, is very active in her community and seems to be known throughout Cape Town. Unbelievable knowledge and commitment to equality and improving her community through education.
Our first day (Friday) spent with Laura encompassed a whirlwind tour around the perimeter of Cape Town including a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain with spectacular views of the city, stops at the Cape of Good Hope, the penguin colony and many other places too numerous to mention.
The second day (Saturday) was a day to remember. Laura took us on a tour of two of the Cape Town townships. The term townships (called "locations" by some) refers to areas designated by the government in 1948 under the Group Areas Act in which they moved the blacks to designated areas and issued a "dom pas" (dumb pass) to every black citizen restricting their movement and entry into the cities. Not a pretty part of world history but the townships continued to exist and grow after the end of apartheid in 1991. Today they are large areas with many homes represented as shantytowns, some as government housing and now developing a small middle class of professional blacks. Unemployment runs extremely high, alcohol use is high and HIV is a plague. Interestingly, drugs in the black townships are not a problem but is a growing problem in the "coloured" townships which are occupied by descendents of the Malaysian slaves. The religion in these areas is predominantly Muslim, which forbids alcohol, so they have turned to drugs.
In Langa Township, Laura took us to the hostel in which her father lived after Laura was born in her home village (1000 kilometers from Cape Town) and subsequently became Laura's first home. The hostel housed only men at that time and now houses 18 families in 6 rooms with a common area for eating. Electricity is purchased in advance by the minute, water is available in the eating area and bathrooms are outside. While conditions are very bad by our standards, the rooms were neat, not many possessions and everyone we met had a smile.
We traveled from Langa Township to Guguletu Township where Laura lives in a modest but one of the nicer homes in the township. Laura has arranged and partially financed 9 scholarships for kids in the township, her son is in graduate school at MIT in Boston, and she has set up programs to reward attendance and performance for the kids in grade schools. With a laugh that is infectious and an energy level that will not stop, she is one powerful force in her community. And it is obvious that she is known and respected thoughout the townships because she is greeted with hugs from so many people.
On Saturday afternoon, we took the ferry ride from the Cape Town harbor to Robben Island, the site of the prison at which political prioners were held during the conflict over the end of apartheid. Nelson Mandela was the most famous prisoner and Laura had a brother (Soto Ndukwana)also incarcerated. Our prison guide was was a former prisoner and it is apparent that this site represents a big symbol of the history of South Africa.
I made a ton of notes on the history of the conditions before apartheid ended and the changes since. This is not the time or place to do all of the reflecting that is derived from this experience but the day with Laura in the townships, seeing the conditions that thousands live in, the spirit these people have to move on to another era and the big problems they have to overcome would cause anyone to be thankful for what we have and maybe become a little more like a Laura.
Sunday was our wrap up day in Cape Town. We moved to the other extreme with a short visit to downtown Cape Town, viewing the parliament buildings, visiting some beautiful wineries, having lunch in a winery owned by the Graff jewelry family, a drive through Stellenbush, the first town established in South Africa and then being brought back to reality with a drive past South Africa's largest township, Khayalithsa, which is the home to over 1 million residents and it seems like miles of shacks as you drive down the road.
Overall, Cape Town is a city of contrasts. It has beautiful sights and lots of activities and is equivalent to some of the famous cities of Europe. It is home to important pieces of South African history and it has all of the social issues you might expect after years of apartheid and all the difficulties of undoing it. Crime is high, corruption in government is high, alcoholism is high, HIV is high, unemployment is astronomical and best of all, enthusiasm appears high.
Tomorrow we are off to another game safari in Kasane, Botswana in the Chobe National Forest. We have some long flights ahead of us and I have to get my camera batteries charged for another round of wildlife photos.