Cape Town was a lovely, genteel, and easy place to dip our toes into whirling South Africa. We stayed in the center of town, a neighborhood that was bustling by day and mostly empty by night, walked much of the city, took one of those tourist buses, ate Cape Malay food, and generally had a very nice time interrupted only briefly by jetlag and a touch of malaise. And boy, was it strange to hear so much English again after over five months in Latin America!
I don't want to talk too much about the scars left by apartheid, but they're certainly visible in Cape Town. From the still nearly empty District Six, once a vibrant mixed neighborhood until the government razed it to allow settlement by Whites (which never materialized) to the shantytowns you'll see on the way to the airport, and the benches market "Whites Only" left near the courthouse as a somber reminder, this ugly history is never too far off. But modern Cape Town is a lovely place, with refreshing ocean breezes, lots of lovely fynbos, and attractive new developments, that we very much enjoyed visiting.
There are historical sites to visit, like the Castle of Good Hope, built by the Dutch in the late 1600s to defend Cape Town (though defense never much happened there).
The place is full of incredibly detailed exhibitions on the history of this area of South Africa, mostly the military history; multiple wars against the Zulu in the 17 and 1800s and the Anglo-Boer Wars of the turn of the last century take precedence. As a person who is sadly unfamiliar with much of this history (despite taking a course solely on South Africa taught by a visiting professor when I was in college) I found the level of information so thorough as to be overwhelming. Must read more of everything!
I did like the Cape Dutch table that seated 100, though.
Perhaps Cape Town's most interesting neighborhood from both a cultural and photographic perspective is the Bo-Kaap, long the home of Cape Town's Coloured community (Coloured being an apartheid-era designation reserved for people who didn't fit into the categories of Black or White - for the most part, South and Southeast Asian people). The homes are brightly painted and the area is heavily Muslim.
It's a great place to try some Cape Malay food, which seems to be an amalgamation of indian and Malaysian that is often quite sweet. Lots of mutton, lots of stews.
This sign left us no wiser as to what "worsies" are - later research reveals them to be some sort of sausage.
While in Cape Town, we did something we rarely do. You know those bright red, double-decker tourist buses that make their lumbering way in a circular route around many of the world's great cities? They're almost always ridiculously overpriced, but in Cape Town they were (almost) cheap and we hopped aboard. The experience was actually really enjoyable, with headphones streaming historical and cultural patter in 16 languages, and the buses were quite convenient as well. The Red Line took us around to the ritzier suburbs, where joggers made their way along seaside promenades and attractive folks lunched at sidewalk cafes. The seaside here is stunning, with steep slopes cascading down from the omnipresent Table Mountain.
The bus also dropped us at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a shiny new development in the port full of fancy shopping and dining destinations. It's a very nice repurposing of what was once a purely industrial area, and we saw similar projects throughout South Africa.
Nobel Square is a popular place for pictures, with its statues of South Africa's four Nobel Peace Prize winners, all of whom I'd just read about in Nelson Mandela's autobiography. I was very excited to pose in the middle, between Archbishop Tutu and President FW de Klerk. I think I fit in rather nicely.
The waterfront is also home to the amazing Two Oceans Aquarium. I've loved aquariums ever since I was a child (my parents tell stories of a young me hammering my way through crowds at the Shedd Aquarium, squealing "DE FISS, DE FISS!") and this one is truly one of the best we've visited.
They had a clownfish exhibit you could climb into.
We remade our acquaintance with the Longhorn Cowfish, whom we hadn't visited for several years.
And Logan took about eleventy=hundred pictures of penguins, gliding gracefully through the water and looking ridiculously ungainly on land.
I think he'd still be there if I hadn't insisted we move on.
The aquarium also recreated many native environments, including this kelp forest - kelp forests can be found just off many of Cape Town's beaches and are a rich ecosystem for all sorts of fish.
The area where the aquarium most impressed me was in their treatment of endangered sea life. Exhibits taught children (and their parents) methods for conserving water and reducing trash output, and every single fish exhibit detailed conservation status and whether the fish populations were healthy enough that fishing could happen.
This was something we saw all over South Africa; the country seems to be passionate about conservation in a way we mostly aren't in the United States. At home, we've politicized the issue to an unhealthy and selfish degree.
We also visited the Cape Town Jewish Museum, which is housed partly in an old synagogue. There's a recreation of an Eastern European shtetl, as well as information about South Africa's prominent Jewish citizens. This is an exhibit about "Zapiro", one of South Africa's most famous political cartoonists and an avid chronicler of Nelson Mandela.
And, saving the most iconic for last - TABLE MOUNTAIN! Its immense, flat-topped silhouette lurks over Cape Town and can be seen from just about anywhere along the Cape. They even light it up at night.
There's a super high speed technological marvel of a cable car for you to ride, too - the round car makes a complete revolution on the way up, (the floor turns independently of the walls!) so you get a view up to the mountain and a view back down to the city. The bottom of the car is full of water as ballast!
It's windy up there and really surprisingly flat. I don't think i've been on a flat-topped mountain before. It seems awfully big to be called a mesa.
Apparently the weather can change rather quickly, and there are warning signs that if you hear the siren you are to immediately make your way back to the cable car to head down.
There isn't a lot of wildlife atop Table Mountain, unless you count all sorts of people, but if you're a birder you'll have a lot of fun. We did find a large, lazy colony of dassies, otherwise known as the rock hyrax. They're very cute, and surprisingly, their closest relative is the elephant! You can sort of see vestigial trunklets on them, and they walk on their toes just like their immense cousins.
I'm nominating these little dudes as the laziest animal alive. That one in the middle doesn't even look comfortable! Just too lazy to move. -Logan
Cape Town, you were truly lovely - thanks for introducing us to South Africa! I hope we'll be back. And when we return, I hope you've sorted out the municipal workers' strike that took over the entire country just before we left Cape Town, because the blowing trash piles were pretty unpleasant.
(Please note that this might be the last post for a bit - we're going to be in rural Tanzania for a week, in Mto wa Mbu, and I don't expect we'll be getting a lot of posts up from there! Writing, hopefully yes; posting likely no.)