Charming Cape Town

Cape Town 209 We settled in for almost five full days in Cape Town, and spent most of the time with our relatives Caroline Hazard (Elizabeth’s sister) and Jim Goedhart.  It was fabulous to see them and get caught up, a real highlight of our stay anywhere.  They live in Seattle, where we’ll be living in the fall, so we had even more than usual to catch up on.

Cape Town 016 On our first full day in Cape Town, we explored the coast south of the city, and made it to Cape Point.  The most striking thing about the drive was how absolutely stunning the coastline is around Cape Town.  We passed through many rustic towns and long expanses of completely undeveloped coast.  It was inspiring to see this much beauty here in South Africa.

Cape Town 113 We also got to see the African Penguin, which was a real treat. We’ve now seen penguins in four different continents (Australia, South America, Antarctica, and Africa), and it’s a real favorite of ours.  We had a great picnic lunch on the beach where the penguins hang out, and really had a great time there.

Cape Town 040 We also saw some great wildlife in this area, including some spectacular birds, like the Orange-breasted Sunbird and the Cape Sugarbird.  These birds are the closest thing to a hummingbird you can find in Africa.  Many of the animals here are endemic to the Cape and it made it fun to see wildlife we’ll never have a chance to see elsewhere. 

Cape Town 217 On our drive back, we stopped by Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, one of the world’s truly great botanical gardens.  The land was given to the community by Cecil Rhodes, and everything about the grounds is immaculate and fascinating.  We walked throughout the grounds, and learned a lot about the botany of South Africa.

Cape Town 127 We ran into our first real batch of lousy weather in Cape Town, after nine months of almost uninterrupted sunshine.  So we can’t really complain.  But our top priority was to go to the top of Table Mountain, and by our fourth day there, we were beginning to think it didn’t really exist.  We didn’t have non-stop rain, but it was pretty soggy, perhaps a good “warm-up” for Seattle.  We shifted our game plan, and focused on more indoors-oriented things, including a fairly pedestrian aquarium.

Cape Town 136 We spent one day exploring Cape Town’s District 6 Museum and some of the local townships.  District 6 was once a thriving multi-racial community where everyone seemed to co-exist peacefully.  Tragically, the South African government, during apartheid rule, razed the community, and re-located all inhabitants to “racially pure” locations.  Since the community had many mixed-race families, that meant sending the father to one location, the mother to a second, and the children to yet a third location.  There is now a museum dedicated to District 6 telling the story of this tragedy. 

Cape Town 160 We then visited a couple of Cape Town’s townships, which are the acutely poor areas of Cape Town.  We saw row after row of shacks without running water, electricity, or heat.  The juxtaposition of the charm of Cape Town, and its affluence, with these surviving townships would have been shocking to us if we hadn’t seen it before in places like Charleston, South Carolina, or Boston, Massachusetts.

Cape Town 253 We also met with some of the local entrepreneurs, including a gentleman named “Golden” who has developed a business making flowers out of discarded cans, a group of enterprising men and women who have formed a company called Street Wires, who make animals from beads and thin wire, and a group of women who take the remnants from a local tee-shirt factory and turn them into fine blankets, aprons, and table clothes.  It’s clear that such entrepreneurial businesses have the potential to transform the poorest areas of a place like Cape Town.

Cape Town 178 The sun broke through on our last full day in Cape Town.  In the morning, we took a boat to Robben Island, where there once stood one of South Africa’s most imposing jails.  The conditions there were incredibly harsh.  And prisoners, even if they could break out of their cell, faced frigid water, a long swim, and Great White Sharks if they wanted to get to the mainland.  Needless to say, no escapes were recorded in recent history.  We saw the jail cell of Nelson Mandela, who was at this prison for sixteen years (over half of the twenty-six years he spent in jail), and got a tour of the prison from a former political prisoner, who told of his experience in the prison from 1986-91. 

Cape Town 204 In the afternoon, we were able — at long last — to make our way to the top of world-famous Table Mountain.  Table Mountain can only be accessed in two ways — by foot or by cable car.  Given our schedule, walking wasn’t an option, so we bought our tickets and were waiting in line for the next cable car.  They have a fairly modern system, with circular cars holding 65 people that rotate 360 degrees on the ascent and descent.  After a twenty minute wait, our group was waiting for the next car when . . .

Cape Town 004 Much to our amazement, the cable cars froze in their tracks.  After waiting fifteen minutes, we decided this wasn’t our day and left.  The two groups suspended in place ended up being stranded in mid-air for almost an hour (!!!) before they could be moved to the termination points.  And all subsequent ascents were canceled for the day.  So we shifted gears, headed to a couple of the lower nearby vista points, and headed back to pack for the airport.  We figured that we now have a great rationale for returning to Cape Town.

Cape Town 282 We, especially our kids, had been searching for the Cape Dwarf Chameleon during our time in Cape Town, without success.  On the last morning, we got a great surprise when our fabulous guide, Craig Barrowman (highly recommended), showed up at our hotel with a Cape Dwarf he had somehow tracked down the night before (not easy at all!!).  Our kids were on cloud nine, and had a blast with this little reptile for the rest of the day.

Cape Town 134 We really loved Cape Town, despite the weather.  Our relatives Jim and Caroline spent a day exploring nearby wine country, and also loved that.  There’s a lot to do here, it’s a charming city, especially beautiful in the sunlight, and one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

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