I am not going to lie—preparing for Africa has been our most daunting task to date. For us getting ready has become more of a mental state than the actual organization of the trip. We are only really able to focus on the day-to-day…where we are at that exact moment. How are we going to get there? What are we going to eat? Where will we stay? What are the activities we can’t miss? And of course, how much will it cost? This type of travel has its ups and downs. We get to be totally spontaneous. We get to stay the extra day or leave early. We do exactly what we want with every day—no obligations. On the downside, this approach has many holes. The excitement of reaching a new destination is accompanied by anxiety…anxiety for all of the above. Are we going to be forced to pay an arm and a leg for accommodations? How many hostels will we have to visit before we can get a room? Where are the “no-go” areas the hostel mentioned? Are we in one right now?
With many of our destinations, there was a certain level of comfort feeling that we weren’t the Lewis and Clark’s of Central or South America. We could go on the recommendations of other travelers and follow the trail. This may be an exaggeration but Africa just feels different. I know people who have gone to Kenya on safari or climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I even have a friend that lives in Johannesburg. Still, the idea of people battling for (and against) their governments, the potential of land mines left from old civil wars, the commonality of diseases like HIV/AIDS and Malaria, sparsely available tourist information and questionable transportation…not to mention almost non-existent internet all contributed to our self-doubt. Could we do it on our own? In addition, the Lonely Planet recommended 6 months for a trip we hope to complete in a little over two. Ugh…
Either way, we were going. The plane flight was booked months in advance and we were not about to throw away ANOTHER ticket. And then we landed in Cape Town, after a memorable flight where the Gods of the Sea shaved our captain’s head while crossing the equator (never seen that before).
Cape Town served as a great introduction to Africa. It’s nothing like the Africa I envisioned, but it was what we needed to build our confidence. We stayed at a busy hostel (booked in advance, what?!?!) right in the middle of town in hopes of meeting travelers that may have traveled North to South and to collect every single flyer/pamphlet/advertisement that we could find. Thanks to my dad’s love of everything swimming and fitness, we met some fellow swimmers and local Capetonians while in London who offered to meet up once we arrived.
We had a small window to meet our new friends, Lesley and her daughter Maddy, as they were both leaving the following day. What we didn’t realize was that they would give us not only a free lunch, but the best advice we received in Cape Town – go to Table Mountain RIGHT NOW. Table Mountain is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and the dominating feature of the Cape Town skyline. It’s supposedly 260 million years old and resembles a flat-topped mountain that was pushed straight up out of the water. We rode the cable car to the top while the weather was perfect.
We could see in every direction. It was like walking in the clouds.
At the top, we also ran into an animal called a dassie, which looks like an overgrown guinea pig (yum – see the Lima post), but happens to call the elephant its closest relative.
Little did we know, the afternoon we visited was the only chance we would have had to see Table Mountain without its “table cloth,” when a mist covers the top and flows down around the entire mountain blocking it from view.
Based on a little in-flight research and some great emails from my good friend, Hanni, who now lives in Johannesburg, we pieced together a tentative itinerary. Get the most out of Cape Town during crap weather by seeing: Table Mountain – the oldest mountain on earth, the District 6 Museum – recounts the relocation of an entire community during Apartheid, the Water Front – an active shipping harbor that has been developed into a tourist attraction, Robben Island – where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, Long St. – where all the fashion and nightlife is located, and the Green Point Stadium – where the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was played. With only 4 days to see all of this and plan our route to Johannesburg, we got started right away.
The subject of Apartheid has been difficult for me and Joshua. One reason is because (albeit embarrassing), we know so little about it even though it was present in Africa until the early 1990’s. The other reason is that discrimination, segregation, and human rights’ violations are such sensitive topics to bring up in conversation. The District 6 Museum came highly recommended as it captures what it was like for those that lived in this community during the forced removals of the 1960’s. Essentially, the government felt that District 6 was a slum, and they could make it better if they tore the whole thing down and rebuilt it, but they never did. Lives, relationships, and communities were destroyed. After leaving the museum, however, we had more questions than answers. The museum contained so many stories, photos and memories, but it didn’t follow a story or timeline, so we struggled to put together the whole picture.
I hoped to squeeze in a tour of Robben Island for the afternoon, but tours were sold out for two weeks. We settled for a visit to the museum near the dock and a walk along the Water Front. The Water Front houses restaurants and shopping…not unlike others we’ve seen. The nice thing was that it was close to the soccer stadium so we made our way in that direction. The stadium was stunning from the top of Table Mountain, and then as we got closer it almost looked like it was just covered in mesh. We heard they were building it to the very last minute before the 2010 World Cup. Outside of game days, it draws people because it is surrounded by fields for everything from cricket to tennis to golf.
In a total tourist move, we spent an evening at Mama Africa’s, located directly across from our hostel. It is a restaurant serving traditional foods with live music. We got treated to new flavors and rhythms during our luxuriously long meal.
Since the rain was still coming down, as it had been for several days, we jumped on a City Sightseeing Bus (big red one) the following day. It was nice to get to see the city from a warm, dry bus. We did get out for some wine tasting in Constantia (also good for warming up). We didn’t get to see the beautiful views touted by local residents due to the weather, but I think that also scared away the troublesome baboons (like guatis in Argentina and aggressive raccoons in the US).
We finished up our tour of the city in Hout’s Bay for delicious sea food.
We accomplished almost everything on our list and scheduled to pick up our rental car the following morning for our next adventure in South Africa (too much confidence?).
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Magical place isn’t it?!?!?