First of all, I wanted to apologize for the delay in this post. Unfortunately the realities of taking classes on the ship really set in the past few days with exams and papers in almost all of my classes. Plus, Cape Town was too incredible of an experience to be squeezed in between studying and homework. Even though we spent 5 days there, longer than any of our previous ports, I still think I could have used another month to experience all Cape Town has to offer. I dont think Ive spoken to a person yet who didnt fall in love with South Africa in one way or another and I would honestly look into spending a year there after college, doing service work if I could find a way. My friend Caroline has already emailed the owner of a local vineyard in the hopes of getting an internship this summer.
We got into the port a little late the first day due to fog in the harbor and everyone scrambled to get off the ship in order to get some food and run some errands before a lot of FDPs headed out. Unlike most of our previous ports, the place we docked in Cape Town, The V&A waterfront, was not at all industrial and very tourist-friendly. You step off the ship and out of the port and there is a giant mall, along with restaurants, hotels, places to get taxis and an amphitheatre. This was a welcome change from the cranes and long walks we were used to. Since I had another MICE FDP in the afternoon I spent the morning walking around the area, stopping to use some internet and grab lunch at a local health food store. We all met up for MICE at 12:30 and walked over to the amphitheatre with our computers, cords, speakers, mics and gongs. For this performance we did all four pieces that the MICE had learned thusfar and it was a pretty cool experience. The amphitheatre was right in the middle of the outdoor square so there were plenty of people there to listen. We performed Sandprints, Anemoi (a piece that uses wind and voices), Squex (a piece that features squeaky toys) and That Which Is Bodiless Is Reflected Through Bodies. The last piece was new and ended up sounding really cool. We used synthesized noises, soprano sax, a gong and a number of bells and bowls, gradually building and then ending with a last hit on the gong. It was interesting to see the way the audience reacted to the songs since the MICE sound is very different from traditional music. But, it was pleasantly surprising that a lot of the locals seemed to really enjoy and appreciate the pieces and a bunch of them came up afterwards to ask about the music and how its made etc. After the show a bunch of us went to Mitchells, a local microbrewery, for some food and drinks. I met up with my friends back on the ship and we decided to go out for dinner at a place called Blue Pizza. It took us a while to find and we definitely got lost a few times, but between us and our cab driver Antonio we made it in time to eat some really delicious bacon and avocado pizza and have a few Savannas. After dinner we decided to go out to Long Street which is the main street for restaurants, shopping and nightlife in downtown Cape Town. We ended up at a club called Chrome which was playing a mix of R&B and House. We made friends with our bartender, Wessel, and had a great time dancing. After a good night Antonio picked us up and we headed back to the ship to sleep.
The next morning I didnt have any plans so my friend Caroline and I decided to spend the morning exploring the V&A. We shopped a little, went over to the clock tower and then decided to find an African place for lunch. I tried some Bobotie which is a traditional African dish with meat and a sweet and savory sauce. It was a little on the sweeter side but overall not too bad and I was glad I tried it. Caroline and I wanted to do something exciting in the afternoon so we flipped through one of the travel guides on the ship. I had seen something earlier about horseback riding so we called a few places and found one that could take us for the afternoon. We took a cab to Kommetjie which was about 35 minutes outside Cape Town. We were a few minutes early and so we took a walk around the farm while we waited. As it turns out the place was called Imhoff Farms and in addition to horseback riding they also had a natural foods restaurant and a store where they sold all their own homemade cheeses, breads, preserves and spice blends. Being a big foodie nerd I was in heaven since the ingredients were locally fresh and everything smelled great. I was able to taste some of the cheese and browse around the shop before we headed over to the stable. As far as horseback riding goes, Caroline and I were novices to say the least. We were put in a group with three other women- a mother and daughter from NYC and a 14 year old girl named Holly from England. They had a lot more experience riding than we did so once we walked the horses down to the beach they broke off to trot and canter while Caroline and I moved along at a leisurely pace. The coast was absolutely beautiful, with waves crashing on one side and mountains and valleys rolling off in the distance. There were surfers in the water a few other people walking dogs on the beach. It was peaceful and quiet with the waves crashing and the occasional conversation. For the most part it was a nice opportunity to think and enjoy the scenery. My horse Echo and I strolled along until it was time for all of us to head back to the barn. We hopped a cab back to the ship and got there just as the sun was setting and it was time for dinner.
Our big group split into a few smaller ones and some of my girlfriends and I decided we wanted to try some game for dinner. Bradee, Rosaly, Mischa, Agnes and I wandered over to a place called City Grill near the pier and ordered a bunch of interesting food. I got springbok, Rosaly got crocodile and Bradee got a giant skewer with kudu, warthog, ostrich, impala and venison sausage. All of us shared and tasted so everyone got to try all the meat. Some of it was a little gamey but most of it was delicious. The ostrich was really tender and the venison sausage was great as well. After dinner we headed back to the ship and most of my friends decided to turn in early. I wasnt tired and wanted to explore more of Cape Town so I joined up with some other friends to go out. We stopped at Mitchells for a drink and then headed to Long Street to a club called Bang Bang. Despite the questionable name, the club itself was really fun and relaxed. There was a DJ mixing house music and everyone had a good time just enjoying the songs and dancing. After a little while there we headed a couple blocks over to a place called Baghdad for some hookah. After some conversation, hookah and a little more dancing it was time to turn in, so we headed back to the ship.
The next day my friends Greg, Alicia, Caroline and I met up early to grab some breakfast before hiking Table Mountain. At 3,563 ft. Table Mountain is one of the largest landmarks in Cape Town. Its featured on the Cape Town flag and looks over almost the entire city. We took a cab up to the base and decided to hike the Platteklip Gorge route, which we thought would be a pretty easy and direct trail to the top. While we found that it was definitely a fairly direct route, it was not as easy as we expected. We started our ascent and were quickly met with a really steep trail. After taking a wrong turn and realizing that we were on our way to another, crazy hard route, we turned around and kept climbing. I can honestly say that climbing Table Mountain was one of the hardest and most rewarding things Ive done in a long time. It was also a glaring reminder that I am very out of shape. The trail was steep stone steps almost the entire way up and I thought my legs were going to fall off. Caroline and Alicia quickly sped ahead, leaving Greg and I to head up on our own. I honestly dont know what Greg and I would have done without each other but between the two of us we dragged ourselves up that mountain. We would pick a break point, hike to it and then stop to breathe and keep going. The views coming up the mountain were absolutely incredible. From the trail we could see all of Cape Town, the coastline and the two peaks on either side of Table Mountain Lions Head and Devils Peak. We appreciated the views on our constant breaks and it helped to look down and see the people at the bottom of the trail far below us and appreciate how far we had come. Par for the hike is usually 2.5 hours and we were able to make it up in two. When we finally got to the top I have to say that I was really proud of myself. We were so tired and sweaty and my legs were shaking but we didnt stop and the feeling of self-satisfaction was worth all the pain. The views from the top were equally breathtaking and we were able to take a break to eat lunch and take some pictures before taking the cable car back down the mountain.
After the hike I headed back to the ship to get ready for my SAS trip that night. We met at the pier at 6:30 to go into the townships for Township Music. I had heard about the townships from friends who has visited them the other days and I was excited and a little nervous to see them. As nice as the Cape Town I had previously seen was, I had yet to be exposed to the part where the majority of the citizens lived. As a result of Apartheid almost all of the black residents were forced into the townships and most of them live there to this day. There are three main townships in Cape Town and we were going get to see all of them. Our guide, Shy, was a 36 year old Xhosa man who lived in the Guguletu township. The Xhosa language is one of the few that speak with clicks and Shy tried to teach us a few Xhosa words. We did our best to get out the sounds and the clicks right, but to mixed results. Shy told us he had graduated from school and got his certification to do tourism. Our first stop was Langa, the smallest township. Driving into the townships for the first time, the first thing that strikes you is their size. There are houses upon houses upon houses; all two or four rooms and right next to each other. There are also trailers that house hair dressers, stands grilling meat and people in the streets everywhere. We were getting there at the end of the day on a Friday so everyone was outside. There were all these kids and when they saw our bus they all called and waved and got excited. We left Langa and headed toward Guguletu, another township which houses 70,000 people. Coming into Guguletu we got our first glimpse of the squatter camps. The people living in the squatter camps are on the list waiting for some of the government houses in the townships to open up, but the chances of them being able to actually move out of the shanties are slim. The houses they live in are made of iron sheeting, pieced together with weights on top to keep the roof down. There are literally shacks on top of shacks for acres. Large families all live together in the one room, some with running water and electricity, and some without. HIV is rampant in the townships with an infection rate of 1 in 4. Shy told us that in Guguletu alone they bury 200 people every weekend. After driving through Guguletu we were taken to a school/gym area and brought inside to learn some music. In the building we were met by a group of 5 young guys playing for us. They played marimbas, drums and cowbell and were led by Khaya, their director. Khaya walked us through the piece and showed us the instruments and then we were told to go over and learn the beats. The guys showed us each of the melodies on the marimbas and the drum rhythms and then Khaya told us it was our turn to play. We winged it and tried our best to imitate what we had learned and it didnt sound half bad. Then they took us into another room to drum. Each of us had a djembe and Khaya showed us beats to play. Khaya was a big guy with a booming voice and when he played the sound rang through the entire space. He split the beat into halves and we jammed for a little while he encouraged us in his booming voice. After drumming it was time to dance. We got into a circle and Khaya started this loud, strong call and response. He spoke his piece and we were supposed to respond with USUNTU!It took a few tries to get to the level of volume and aggressiveness that he wanted but eventually everyone in the group let go of their inhibitions and Khaya was happy. He started drumming a beat and started to teach us an African dance. It was a mens dance but since our group was mostly girls everyone learned the steps. We walked and sat low while moving our shoulders in time. After that we learned a womens dance and all the guys grabbed a drum to keep the beat. We learned a fast paced dance where we moved our chests, stepped left to right and then shoulder shook. Most of my friends can tell you that Im not exactly a good dancer (understatement) but everyone in the group just did their thing and had a good time. After the dancing we got back on the bus to go to dinner. They took us over to Khayelitsha, the last township, to a place called Soosys for a bbq.
The largest township, Khayelitsha is home to 1.3 million people. We walked into Soosys and it was clear that we stuck out like sore thumbs. We had been warned over and over never to go into the townships, especially at night, and while we were safe with our group it was clear that we didnt exactly belong. But, despite our awkwardness everyone we met was really friendly as we sat down to eat some dinner. We had an African bbq with a first course of tripe, pap and bread and then grilled meat, sausage, baked beans/lentils and rice. All of the food was tasty and even the tripe wasnt bad. The guys from the music lesson were there and after dinner we all went outside to hear them play. The guys played some songs and we all hung out outside with the locals who had come to Soosys to drink and hang out. At first it was a little like a middle school dance with all of us on one side and the locals on the other but we got to talking to a few of them and had a good time. I talked to a few girls my age who live in the townships and a guy who had visited the Semester at Sea ship a few years ago with Desmond Tutu when he worked for the Amy Biehl foundation. We all danced to the music and the guys passed us the djembes so we could play with them for a few songs. When it was time to go we said goodbye to the guys and got back on the bus with Shy to head back to the ship. Shy talked to us more about the townships and gave us each a Xhosa name. Mine was Andiswah which means grow prouder. As we drove he stressed to us that it was important for us to take our experience and share it with others; to talk about the townships and make sure that our friends and families know about them and the people there. Despite living in conditions that most Americans would shudder at, the people we met in the townships were not defeated people. Everyone that we came in contact with, even after being forced back by Apartheid and a disappointing government under Mbeki, continue to be hardworking, generous and open people. Its honestly hard to do the experience justice with words, but I was touched by community I encountered in the townships and I hope I can back if ever possible. SAS works with so many organizations that do service projects in the townships Habitat for Humanity, The Amy Biehl Foundation, Operation Hunger and I hope that someday Ill have the opportunity to get involved with one of them and spend more time in South Africa.
After getting back from the townships I was physically and emotionally exhausted after a long day and I clocked out. The next morning we got up and Greg, Alicia and I had planned to go on a wine tour. I met up with my friend Justin at breakfast and he and another friend from MICE, Brandon joined us for the day. We got a cab around 11 and after stopping for a quick snack our cab driver started the trip out to Stellenbosch. South Africa has a big wine industry and the vineyards are some of the most beautiful areas outside of Cape Town. For only a few hundred Rand a taxi will take you out for the day to a few different vineyards where they offer wine tastings and food. We had heard about one vineyard called Spier that our friends had visited the previous day which had cheetahs that you could pet so we decided to go there first. This ended up being the best decision of the day. We arrived at Spier to find that they were having their annual harvest festival. Upon buying entrance tickets we were given a complimentary wine glass and a card with stamps to taste 5 wines. We walked in to find a beautiful sprawling lawn with tents and giant white pillows on the ground to lounge on. There were tables with wine to taste, a bbq, a live band and lots of games for families. There were families everywhere parents chatting and drinking wine, kids with faces painted like spiderman, a playground, a pond and a little brook with a bridge. The sun was out and the weather was beautiful. There are few things I love more than wine and festivals so I was pretty much in heaven. We all got some wines to taste and lounged on the pillows enjoying the scenery. I watched families playing and kids enjoying the games. We tasted a few wines, and really enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and the Chenin Blanc. Unfortunately were not allowed to bring alcohol back on the ship or I probably would have brought home quite a bit of wine. The other big feature aside from tasting was the 4 barrels they had set up which you could climb into and stop grapes, I Love Lucy style. After seeing a few kids do it Brandon, Greg, Alicia and I decided to roll up our pants and give it a try. The grapes were really smushy and felt really strange but fun to feel them under my feet and between my toes. The band was playing New York, New York and we stomped and smooshed and danced in our little barrels. So fun. After hosing off the grapes we decided it was time for lunch. We got in line for the bbq and ordered some burgers and steak sandwiches. The steak was so good all wrapped up in a soft roll with caramelized onions. We finished with some white wine and cupcakes and I was pretty much euphoric. We grabbed a bunch of wine grapes to snack on for the road and decided to visit the cheetah before heading to our next stop. There was a bit of a wait to pet the cheetah so we admired from afar and took some pictures. The cheetahs were so peaceful and gentle to humans. It was kind of incredible to see them interacting with their trainers, looking almost like oversized housecats.
After visiting the cats we got back in the cab and our driver started towards Franschhoek, another wine town further near the mountains. On the way we stopped to try and fine a geocache, but after looking in a few hollow trees and under some bushes we left empty handed. Spirits werent dampened though as we drove through Paarl and arrived at the second vineyard called Boschendal. We filled out our wine cards, got some cheese to taste and sat down underneath this beautiful big oak tree that shaded the wine bar and all the tables under this soft dappled light. We all tried 5 wines and I had a selection of really delicious fruity white wines along with one red and one really tasty sparkling wine. After having our fill of wine and cheese it was time to head back to Cape Town. Greg and Alicia had plans to attend a birthday party that night but Brandon, Justin and I decided to go into downtown Cape Town to Green Market Square which houses a craft market. The market was closing so we walked around a little, bartered and bought some crafts before heading back to the ship. A bunch of our friends had eaten at a restaurant called Mama Africa on Long Street which has good food and live music so we stopped there on the way home to make reservations for dinner later. After a quick change and snacks on the ship Justin and I headed out to go to a phone café before meeting Brandon for dinner. We were able to make some phone calls home and it was great to talk to my parents and hear their voices. We got to Mama Africa and it was packed. We stayed at the bar for a little while they got our table together and listened to the live band playing marimbas, drums and singing. The singer performed a version of La Donna e Mobile which sounded really cool accompanied by the African instruments. We got seated and had a nice meal with the sounds of the band in the background. I had hung out with Justin and Brandon in MICE and enjoyed going on the wine tour with them earlier that day but it was nice to have a good meal and a conversation and get to know them better. After dinner we decided to go to Bagdad next door for some hookah and then to Chrome to dance. As it was our last night in Cape Town we wanted to make the most of it and we had a great time going out, talking and dancing with more friends that we met up with along Long Street from the ship. The boys had a big hike up the other side of Table Mountain planned for the next morning so we headed back to the ship to get some sleep after an amazing day.
The following morning was our last in Cape Town and I spent most of it getting errands done and buying things at V&A that I would need before Asia. My friends Taylor, Rosaly and I met up on Long Street to check out Green Market Square and stopped for a really great Mexican lunch at an outdoor café. We sat in the sun, swapped stories and had some delicious enchiladas. Spending so much time together on ship and traveling in port makes the friendships that you have on SAS particularly meaningful and it was nice to spend the day with friends just hanging out and enjoying the surroundings. We headed back to V&A and hopped on the internet one last time before getting back on the ship to sail to Mauritius.
Before Cape Town and Namibia I had never really given much thought to traveling in Africa. My travel aspirations never strayed below the Sahara and I thought of Africa mostly as a place for safaris or hunting. However, after visiting, I am already dying to come back and to see more of Africa. I want to travel to Kenya, safari in Northern SA and see the tribes that still live peacefully and simply in the bush. In Africa I was able to meet people who were struggling to make ends meet but who still approached their situation with determination and hope. South Africa has struggled for a long time to try and be an example for the rest of Africa of a thriving post-colonial democracy. It hasnt been easy to say the least but with their elections coming up in April everyone is hopeful for a new post-Mbeki government. The world cup in South Africa is roughly 460 days away and will give SA a chance to showcase itself on the world stage. It is a country filled with so much beauty and so many different cultures and spending five days there allowed me only to scratch the surface. One of our interport lecturers said to us that South Africa is the world inside a single countryand he was right. Im so thankful for the time I was able to spend there and I can only hope that if I dont get the chance to come back that I can keep my experiences in SA with me as a reminder of the challenges, joys and juxtaposition that exist everywhere we go.
I know that this was a mini novella and I hope that you took snack breaks, but I promise to be up to date with everything soon and maybe try to break things into more bite-sized chunks for next time.
Mauritius and Sea Olympics to come soon but until then,