After just over two weeks in the desert and the bush, we made our re-entry into civilization via Cape Town. We both found Cape Town to be visually stunning and politically fascinating. On the visual front, it’s a cosmopolitan city sandwiched between mountains and beautiful beaches. On the political front, the city is still dealing with the after-effects of apartheid policies, as well as current political struggles. We had many interesting conversations with taxi drivers, tour operators, and other locals, but we’re still eager to learn more and keep up with the country’s progress.
Cape Town is known for its unpredictable weather, so they say that when the sun is out and the winds are calm, you should not hesitate in visiting Table Mountain. So that’s exactly what we did on our first full day in Cape Town, which happened to be a brilliant day. Table Mountain forms the backdrop of the whole city and is named for its very flat and broad top. When the fog rolls in, it tumbles over the top of the mountain and is called a “tablecloth.” There are two ways to reach the top of Table Mountain. You can either climb it, which takes about 2.5 hours, or ride the cable-car, which takes about 3 minutes. We opted for the latter option. Since it was such a clear and sunny day, the views from the top were just beautiful.
We signed up for a half-day tour down to the Cape of Good Hope, which contrary to popular opinion, is not the southernmost point in Africa, nor is it actually where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. That honor belongs to a place called Cape Agulhas, which is slightly further south. But it is the southwesternmost point in Africa — and we have a photo with the sign to prove it. We also did a nice 15-minute climb up to the Cape Point lighthouse, which provided excellent views in all directions. Throughout the half-day tour, we saw whales along the beach, a colony of penguins, and even three baby ostriches.
Another highlight of our visit was a tour of Robben Island. This island is about seven kilometers from Cape Town and houses the prison where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held between 1961 and 1991. Mandela was here for 18 of his 27 years in prison. It is a very poignant and informative tour, part of which is guided by a former political prisoner. Unfortunately, we decided to visit Robben Island on a particularly windy day, so we had an extremely rocky boat ride in both directions through some extremely high swells. Quite an adventure. (I am concentrating on shuffling cards in the photo below — our strategy for diverting our focus from the rocky seas.)
On our final full day in Cape Town, we signed up for a Township Educational Tour that took us through several different townships, including Langa and Khayelitsha. We felt it was important to do this tour in order to see all sides of real life in Cape Town. In large part due to past apartheid policies, there are extreme disparities in wealth and living circumstances. Our small group tour was led by someone who grew up in Langa township and included visits to a traditional pub, government-issued housing, a pre-school, and the Philani Child Health & Nutrition Project. The tour was extremely eye-opening and informative. It is hard to believe that these townships and the glitzy beaches along the coast exist in the same city, let alone the same country.
We also had some great meals in Cape Town, which were not hard on our wallets thanks to the South African exchange rate that is soundly in our favor right now. A few highlights included: savory crepes at Harrie’s Pancakes, cob fish for me and ostrich fillet for Dan at Cafe Balducci, great burgers and an avocado/mint milkshake at Cafe Royale. In terms of atmosphere, though, my favorite was Mama Africa. Here, we enjoyed some traditional African food (bobotie and chicken curry), but the real highlight was an African rhythm band playing live in the bar.