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12. Jul, 2010

Capital of Cool – Cape Town

Capital of Cool – Cape Town

Third post from Cape Town, and the last. We squeezed in a lot to our last night and morning in Cape Town. After returning late from Robben Island, we headed straight out to dinner with our new friends, Kim and Dumi, who we had met while tasting wine a few days previously in Franschhoek. Kim had offered to choose the restaurant and asked if we had any preferences. Ninfa had one basic requirement – African, African, African. Kim and Dumi didn’t disappoint and we met in Marco’s African restaurant just off Buitengracht St, nearby the colourful district of Bo Kaap.

Dumi, Tony, Ninfa and Kim - International Wine Tasters Club

Danger on the dancefloor!

Last day in Cape Town - feeling blue in Bo Kaap

At dinner, we went for the traditional African specialities. Ninfa had a chakalaka salad made of diced onions, tomatoes and spicy peppers, while I opted for the Impala steak which tastes like steak, but a little milder flavour and very tender, which was absolutely delicious. Kim opted for liver, and confirmed her position as the sole person at the table who thinks liver is a delicacy and not a throwaway. Dumi chose the wine, a rich red from the Hartenburg estate and we had no trouble getting through two of those. The restaurant has a band and dancers perform throughout the night, and young and old, black and white, were grooving at their tables all during the meal. The band was made up of marimba, percussion and steel drums, and the three dancers were moving as if their whole bodies were made of elastic. At the end of the meal, myself and Dumi got up to show the ladies that what they can do, the boys can do … not quite as well. But it was a lot of fun. We hit it off brilliantly with Kim and Dumi, and we were really sorry we would not have the chance to hang out with them more and get to know them better.

It's cool for cats in Bo Kaap

Bo Kaap - residential kaleidoscope

The next morning, we drove down for a quick look at some of the trendy shops on Long St. Long St is full of boutiques, fashion stores and cool cafes, and shows a trendy and hip capital which is not scared to walk on the wild side. I bought a new baseball cap, and a pair of cheap shades, as I had left my beloved black and yellow Wayfarers somewhere in Bloemfontein. One of the hardest things when you’re travelling is retaining all your possessions. Being in a different place everyday, and rarely sleeping in the same bed two nights in a row provides all too much opportunity for parting company with your sunglasses, driving licence, torch, travel towel … As well as that, it gives you the feeling of what it must be like to be a fugitive on the run, not that we’ve done anything bad … yet! So far, Ninfa hasn’t lost anything, but this is pure coincidence.

Ninfa picks her favourite colour in Bo Kaap

Street Art on Long St.

Our last stop in Cape Town was to Bo Kaap, which we had seen in loads of postcards and guide books. Bo Kaap is home to Cape Town’s Muslim population. Its steep streets are lined with the brightly-coloured facades of residential housing. The colours are gorgeous, and shine brightly in the clear sunlight, and we coud have spent hours there taking photos, but the clock was ticking and we had to get on the road to Struisbaai, and Cape Agulhas, Africa’s southern-most point. So we bid farewell to colourful Bo Kaap, to cool Cape Town, to new friends, but taking with us some excellent memories that we’ll keep for a long time.

11. Jul, 2010

Robben Island and Table Mountain

Robben Island and Table Mountain

Cape Town from Robben Island

The day after the Spain vs Portugal game in Cape Town was beautiful, so we couldn’t believe it when the staff told us that all the ferries to Robben Island were cancelled due to rough seas. We were about to get annoyed when they told us that they couldn’t rebook us for the next day, as it was already full. Robben Island was one of the things we were anticipating the most in Cape Town, so to be told we would not be able to visit it was a huge disappointment. We explained that the next day was our last day, and the agent eventually agreed to book us on one of the tours – relief, if the weather improved.

Cable Car to Table Mountain

Ninfa high in the clouds, Cape Point in the distance

If the weather wasn’t good enough to sail in, it was ideal for another of Cape Town’s highlights – Table Mountain. Table Mountain rises 1,086m above sea level. By the time we had reorganised our Robben Island tour, we arrived just in time to get one of the last cable cars to the top at around 5pm. The cable car has a rotating floor so everybody on board gets a 360 degree view as we climb up. As you rise, you see Table Bay open out below you, and just near the top the cable car rises above the ridge that joins Lion’s Head to Table Mountain, and the whole of False Bay opens out on the other side, to the oohs and ahhs of everyone on board. It gets cold on top of Table Mountain, and it wasn’t a good idea to be wearing shorts anymore, but we still enjoyed watching the sun set over Cape Town, looking out over the city to Signal Hill, Lion’s Head and further offshore, the elusive Robben Island.

Cape Town from the foot of Table Mountain

Ninfa, with Lion's Head and Robben Island

Cape Town has a number of highly recommended restaurants, but that night we took it easy back at the apartment we were renting. It was such a novelty to be able to stay at home and cook that we couldn’t resist staying in. We’ve been on the road for three months, and it’s the first time we’ve been in a proper kitchen since we left.

Me, on a chilly Table Mountain

Sunset on Table Mountain

On the morning of our last day in Cape Town, the weather was again beautiful. We made our now daily trip to the V&A Waterfront to see if the boat was running to Robben Island, and jackpot! Shortly after the boat left, we realised why it had been cancelled the two previous days. On a calm day like today, the swell of the sea in Table Bay is huge. No wonder the Cape of Good Hope has caused so many shipwrecks in the past. Across the bay we saw anchored cargo ships drop halfway out of sight as the waves rolled them and us around.

From the port in Robben Island, we were picked up by bus and given a tour of the island. Our first stop was to the solitary confinement section which had previously housed Robert Sobukwe. Robert Sobukwe was the leader of the Pan African Congress in the 1960′s-1970′s. He had a reputation for charisma and being a wonderful communicator, and was seen as such a threat by the Apartheid government that they passed a “Sobukwe Law” which allowed for the indefinite detention of political suspects without trial. After a PAC policy of burning their “Dom-passes” (literally “stupid-pass” that all non-whites were obliged to carry), Sobukwe was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for over 4 years during which time he was not permitted to speak or be spoken to. The strategy was to destroy that which was strongest in Sobukwe, and it worked. At the end of his time on Robben Island, Sobukwe was a sick man, psychologically drained and lacking the ability to speak properly as his vocal chords had decayed due to lack of use. Of all that I heard and saw in our tour of Robben Island, this angered and saddened me most.

Solitary Confinement Area of Robert Sobukwe

Robben Island Prison Tower

A former inmate gives his own personal account

Further along the island, we saw the lime pit where the prisoners were brought to slave as manual labour, using basic tools and sometimes only their bare hands to quarry the lime from the ground and break it. There was no use for the lime being quarried; it was simply a meaningless exercise, and a weapon in the hands of the Apartheid regime designed to break the prisoners both physically and mentally. To add to this, he prisoners were denied any protective equipment which severely damaged their health. In fact, the toxicity of the lime almost blinded Nelson Mandela, but in an operation to save his sight, his tear ducts were ruined, and as a result he is unable to shed a tear. There is a small cave in the quarry which became known as the University of Robben Island, as it was the only place where the prisoners could gather, and there they educated each other in topics ranging from the most basic literacy skills to some of the most advanced theories in politics and history.

From here we went to the prison buildings. There, we were greeted by a former prisoner of Robben Island. Our guide, whose name I forget, was emprisoned there for five years in the 1980′s, and gave us accounts of his daily life in Robben Island. He told us of the physical and verbal abuse the prisoners suffered as well as the harsh living conditions. He then guided us around the prison, and to B-Section, which was the area which housed the most “dangerous” political prisoners, including Mandela. On the way, I caught a glimpse of the football pitch where the prisoners played matches. The prisoners set up the Makana Football Association, and ran a league which helped maintain morale and foster understanding between the rival anti-apartheid political parties. Jacob Zuma, the current South African president was a referee, but so far in this World Cup, he’s remained in the stands – will he referee the World Cup Final perhaps?

Robben Island football pitch - Makana FA

B-Section prison cells from the prison yard

We were then led through to the B-Section cells, and the cell itself which housed Nelson Mandela for 18 years from 1964-1982. It’s a very poignant moment, and again makes you marvel at his strength and that of his fellow prisoners in overcoming this terrible hardship and to never have lost hope.

All the staff live on Robben Island, and there is a primary school for the young children. Our guide, the former prisoner, told us that he lives on the island, as do some of the former prison guards. He told us that not all prison guards were the same, and that some of them had treated the prisoners humanely. I still could not fathom the possibility of living side by side with my former captor, but this is exactly the challenge that South Africans have been able to overcome so successfully since the fall of Apartheid. Our guide did confide that on some days Robben Island is the last place he wants to be, and he feels he cannot face the prison, but that he is driven by the goal of showing the world what must be avoided, and to live as an example of reconciliation and not revenge.

Robben Island

Gateway to Robben Island Prison

If I could complain about anything about the tour, it would be the fact that it was too crowded. Even our guide told us that due to the previous days’ cancellation and the high demand, the groups contained twice the number of people that they would normally have. As a result it was a little rushed, especially when viewing the cells. Another thing was the delay getting back to the mainland. For some reason the boatmen had gone on strike for part of the day, resulting in over an hour delay to our return trip, and two hours for the tour before us. But in the end, these were small nuisances in comparison to the wonderful experience we had been able to witness.

Madiba's Prison Cell

On the boat back, we were able to appreciate beautiful views of Cape Town, nestling in the outstretched arms of Table Mountain which sweep down to the sea. The contrast of the natural beauty of Table Bay, compared to the human tragedy and subsequent triumph on Robben Island, underlined Cape Town as an amazing city with two treasures which reward all the senses.

“Today when I look at Robben Island, I see it as a celebration of the struggle and a symbol of the finest qualities of the human spirit, rather than as a monument to the brutal tyranny and oppression of apartheid. It is true that Robben Island was once a place of darkness, but out of that darkness has come a wonderful brightness, a light so powerful that it could not be hidden behind prison walls…“ – Nelson Mandela

09. Jul, 2010

Cape Crusaders – Cape Town

Cape Crusaders – Cape Town

Cape Town - Where to from here?

Cape Town lies on a peninsula of land which the Portuguese originally named the “Cape of Storms” in the 15th century, but subsequently changed it to the “Cabo da Boa Esperanca”, or the Cape of Good Hope, at their optimism of opening a trade route to the east. Bartolomeo Dias and Vasco da Gama were the first to succeed in traversing this treachorous stretch of sea, but it was the Dutch who established the port of Cape Town. Under the dramatic shadow of Table Mountain, it grew in importance as a last stopping point before the eastern destinations, and a staging point to await the favourable conditions to successfully pass by the south-western tip of Africa and beyond.

Familiar Face at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront

The V&A Waterfront

Although we did not welcome the fact, it was perhaps fitting therefore that our first day in Cape Town should greet us no more with the resplendent winter sunshine of the previous weeks, but rather a gusting, stormy morning, living up to its original name. From our accommodation on the steep foothills of windswept Table Mountain, we headed straight to the port and one of Cape Town’s most famous landmarks, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. We had booked to take a tour to Robben Island, the infamous long-term prison home of Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners during the dark years of Apartheid. When we arrived, there was a crowd of people queueing to rearrange their tours as all boats had been cancelled due to the rough seas. We had no choice but to follow their example, and rebooked for the following day.

A Makarapa for all Nations

Why didn't Ireland qualify - practicing my penalty technique

The Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront

We quickly changed our plans therefore, and decided to stick to terra firma and explore the Cape by car, heading just south of Cape Town to Simon’s Bay, where once the British had established their colonial naval base. The area retains much of its colonial buildings and is a pleasant drive despite retaining much of the British weather also. We continued to Fishhoek which was recommended to us by a Swiss fan at our last World Cup game in Bloemfontein. Fishhoek has a little port with a number of restaurants near the Harbour House. We ran from the car and got soaked in the process, but regained our spirits over generous portions of battered hake, calamari, prawns and chips, helped down by a couple of bottles of dry cider – delicious!

We sheltered for a while more, hoping for some better weather to blow in, but to no avail. Nonetheless, we continued further along the coast to Boulder Beach, which is renowned for its penguin colony. Of all the colonies in Africa, the penguins are undoubtedly the most peaceful, but even they were put off by the bad weather, sheltering and shivering in the bushes along the beach. They’re really cute, and we found it hard to resist the temptation to reach out and bring a few home with us in the car.

View from Chapman's Peak on the Cape of Good Hope

One of the locals at Boulder Beach

We drove on further south, along winding coastal roads, alternating between long sandy beaches, and steep cliffs plunging down into the waves crashing against their rocky feet. All along the road there are signs warning people not to feed the baboons, as they can become aggressive, but they appeared anything but as they strolled across the streets in the sleepy seaside villages. We decided not to enter to drive to the tip of Cape Point as it was 75R each to enter, and it was such a bad day we were only going to watch from the car anyway, but as a result we missed out on some famous photo shots at the Cape Point. Instead we rounded the Cape and drove north back to Cape Town along a spectacular mountain pass called Chapman’s Peak which hugged the side of the cliffs around Hout’s Bay. We also passed through Camps Bay and Clifton, Cape Town’s chic suburbs which lies on the southern side of Table Mountain, and took a quick drive past the new stadium to which we were returning later that night for the round of 16 match between Spain and Portugal. Each of the suburbs were more beautiful than the previous, and all within a short drive to the big city of Cape Town. In fact, despite being a big city, Cape Town itself has a permanent feel of spaciousness and a relaxed pace, which make you feel immediately at home, and made us want to put down our backpacks and settle down for a much longer stay.

C'mon Spain and Portugal!

As far as the World Cup was concerned, Cape Town was rewriting the rulebook as well. Between the FanFest and the stadium, they had drawn a 2.5km Fan Walk which would guide supporters to the stadium, with various local entertainers lining the route. The atmosphere was great with drummers, facepainters, singers and dancers all along the way. It also gave us a chance to see some of the crazy costumes that some of the supporters wear; a group of English fans (wrong match!) won our vote with their zebra suits and fez hats, although we also liked the Spanish fans with their banner “There’s only one Ronaldo, and he’s Brazilian!”

The match itself turned out to be a fairly one-sided affair with Spain dominating possession (as is their habit) and Portugal failing to provide any real clear-cut chances. So next stop for Spain is Johannesburg against Paraguay, but although we have tickets, we won’t be following them the 1,500km there. Yes, Cape Town is a much bigger attraction than a World Cup quarter-final, and that just about says it all. As a result, we’ll take the coastal route all the way from the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape and we’ll rejoin the winners of the quarter-final in the port city of Durban for the semi-final. The stakes are getting higher in the competition, and its continuing to be a fantastic tournament!

Singing and Dancing on the FanWalk in Cape Town

Marimba Band at the V&A Waterfront


More news on Cape Town and the Western Cape in our next post. Ayoba!

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