Monday, October 22, 2012

Cape Town, South Africa

I undoubtedly had high expectations for Cape Town, South Africa. When I first started talking about my Semester at Sea voyage, Cape Town was frequently the location that prompted the most envy from others. The natural landscape, opportunities for adventure, culture, people, and history certainly provided the potential for the best port on our itinerary. As our ship departed South Africa after 4 nights and 5 days in port, I felt as if Cape Town indeed emerged as one of the best ports of the voyage. I can’t particularly say what day was the best, although Day 4 certainly stands out, and I can’t particularly say what activity was the best, although the Lion’s Head hike stands out, and I can’t particular say what experience was the best, although the township visits stand out, but I can say that I fell in love with Cape Town, and the enthrallment started on the first day. Kim, Claire, and I went on a Semester at Sea trip to the Khayelitsha and Langa townships. In Khayelitsha we visited the Baphumelele orphanage. I was impressed to hear about the large number of volunteers from the township who help provide more direct care to each child. I was once again reminded of how small my problems seem upon viewing these children who faced a threatening risk of living a life without love or care if it weren't for the Baphumelele orphanage. We walked through the room of babies sleeping in their cribs, one of the houses where the older children live, and the school rooms where dozens of children were taking naps, some cutely cuddled up against each other. From the orphanage we went to the Langa township, where we rode bikes through the township, which was more fun than I can probably express. Our guide lived in the township, and as we rode our bikes we were greeted by smiles and what seemed like endless hellos from people he knew in the township. The township culture is lived outside. People don’t hide away in their homes, but instead live their lives outside with each other in a tight sense of community. As the sun started to lower behind Table Mountain in the distance, all the colors of the township came alive. We stopped by an area where a woman was carving sheep heads and cooking them over a barbecue  but I somewhat easily refrained from trying the sheep tongue. We also stopped at the Happy Feet Youth Project, an organization founded by our guide Siviwe in order to bring safety, joy, pride, mentorship, and empowerment to a rougher area of the township where he used to live, in shame as he said, since the area was associated with drugs, violence, and abandoned children. The younger children and teenagers performed a powerful gumboots dance, a type of traditional step dancing, which left us in awe of their talent. After the performance we played a fun and lively soccer game with some of the older kids. After the first game went to penalty kicks, we played 2 more games which also went to penalty kicks, most likely because scoring was difficult since we had to kick the soccer ball against a couple of concrete blocks in order to score a goal. The kids were talented and had good foot work, not a surprise given their dance moves. The little children were affectionate and often found one of us to hold their hand, hug them, or pick them up, and the same kids would always seem to find us again, quickly developing an attachment to us. They walked us back to our bus, all of them holding hands with someone. After we arrived back at the ship I went to dinner with a large group of our friends, but because the rain started to fall in between our outdoor umbrellas, a smaller group of us moved to another restaurant to seek more shelter. Kai, Brett, Henri, Kim, and I had a delicious dinner at the Waterfront, paired nicely with South African wine. Day 2 was unfortunately cold and rainy, but we made the most of it by going wine tasting in Stellenbosch. Henri kindly set up a driver for us, Faizal, who took us around for the day. Henri, Claire, Kim, Renee, and I spent most of our time at Spier, a warm and comfortable place where we tasted several wines along with meats and cheeses. We took our time and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of conversation, wine, and treats, while a hard rain fell outside. We stopped at one other winery before going into the town for coffee and food. We undoubtedly made the best out of day that kept us from being outside. Day 3 started with a walk to the Greenmarket Square with Claire, Kim, and Holly, where I found yet more bracelets, a common market purchase of mine. After lunch in the city center, we all went to the Waterfront before going different ways. Claire and I decided to ride one of the Hop-On Hop-Off buses. We went through the city, to the base of Table Mountain, and then over the other side to ride around Camps Bay and along the beaches. The drive was an enjoyable way to see more of Cape Town and end the day as the sun started to set, as the bay and beaches offer a beautiful coastline. The homes along the mountain descent of Camps Bay were a sight to see, and a sharp contrast from the poverty we saw two days earlier in the townships. The sharp contrast of rich and poor is clearly evident in Cape Town and isn’t always easy to process or accept. For the evening a large group of us went out for dinner on Long Street, and afterwards, Don, Erika, Jake, Holly, Kim, Claire, and her friend Marion visiting from Johannesburg continued the evening at Mama Africa, where we had drinks and listened to some fun live African music. Day 4 started with a church service back in the Langa township. Siviwe was once again our guide, and before arriving at the church we first stopped inside a home, where he explained to us how multiple families often live in one home. The overwhelming number of people sharing a small place is another explanation of why the township culture is lived outside. When we arrived at the church, the choir already had the room filled with life and several people greeted us and guided us to open seats. Many students who attended said that even the liveliest of Baptist churches back in the United States weren't as vibrant as this church in the Langa township. We also had time to visit the Happy Feet Youth Project, and since this was my second visit, I recognized several of the children and had fun talking with them again. The older and younger children both performed for us. Instead of playing soccer afterwards, we spent time with all of the kids, who were always looking for hands to hold and people to hug. All of the children are surprisingly affectionate and comfortable bonding with us, asking us to pick them up and throwing their arms around us. Upon returning to the ship, Henri once again arranged for Faizal to drive us on a ride down to Cape Point. Faizal first drove Henri, Claire, Marion, Jake, and I to Simon’s Town, where we had coffee and muffins before walking around to view the penguins cutely bobbling around upright on two feet. From there we went to Cape Point for a stunning view of the ocean from on top of the cliffs. I had previously seen aerial views of Cape Point, and to stand on top looking around at the panoramic view definitely breathed life into me. Our drive somehow became even more scenic in an embarrassment of riches as we went to the Cape of Good Hope, where waves crashed up against the rocks, the sun began to set along the horizon, and we joyfully walked around on the rocks that make up the coastline. I pictured myself on a map, thinking about where I was in the world, and felt a tangible sense of wonder at awe at the experience I am currently living. I am obviously blessed to visit numerous countries and all of the beauty this world possesses, and I felt grateful to be alive and witnessing such beauty. We also saw wild ostriches directly in front of us as we drove along the road, switching lanes to make room and stopping to see them up close. The road then led us along a hillside, looking across the water at Hout Bay while the fading sun started to shift Cape Town from day into night. The buildings at the foothills of Hout Bay magically came to light as the sky grew darker, creating a brilliant contrast of the rolling dark mountains and the twinkling lights. I stayed there as long as I could to watch this transformation, once again feeling a tangible sense of life. I will forever be drawn to sunsets and the drastic change of light that occurs. A memorable day ended with a memorable dinner in Hout Bay, at a charming seafood restaurant where we took our time eating and drinking, being present with one another and fully living out our day together. The next day, our fifth and last day, Claire, Marion, and I hoped to take the cable car up Table Mountain, but strong winds despite the clear day, once again closed the cable car. Instead, we decided to hike Lion’s Head, a brilliant decision, after a lunch on Long Street. The Lion’s Head hike is one of the best hikes I have been on, as you hike in a circle around the mountain, getting a complete view of Cape Town, including the city, Table Mountain, the Twelve Apostles, Camps Bay, the beaches, the ocean, Robben Island, the townships, and the mountains surrounding the city, allowing us to look upon the country we began to fall in love with during the past 5 days. The hike to the summit was definitely a workout on a hot day, but the view provided a beautiful reward. Before heading back to the ship we went to the Waterfront for a drink, a nice ending and sendoff to quite possibly one of the best ports on our itinerary. I now clearly understand why people were envious of my visit to Cape Town, and their envy should inspire them to visit a country rich with history, inspiring people, and beautiful scenery. As we watched South Africa slowly fade away as the MV Explorer departed to cross the South Atlantic on a 10-day crossing to Argentina, I thought about how far we had come, from Canada to Europe, through Africa, and now on the way to South America, and I didn't quite believe that this whole experience was really happening.  


  1. Submit this to Cape Town's tourism department. I like the non-intentional (or maybe intentional) Springsteen reference.

  2. And uhhhhh, and uh that literally destroys my worth forever. In your eyesights, O great non-dopedoer