Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cape Town: Yes you have a “confirmation”

Okay, Cape Town was great, but now that I’m home safe and my mom won’t have a heart attack here’s the low down. I arrived in Cape Town on the 26th of December, around noon. It was hot and I took a taxi to my hotel. There I had to ask my taxi driver to call the phone number on my printed confirmation as the gate was locked and the intercom was busted. I should have a photo here of the wires sticking it of the intercom, like the bomb in space camp the movie. You’ll just have to trust me. The ‘proprietor’ came outside and waved me away. She wouldn’t even let me in the gate. I was begging her just to let me in to talk about it and waving my Travelocity “Confirmation”. She was having none of it. After about 10 minutes of sweating, I finally convinced her to let me in, just to call another taxi (to where ?!?!?!). 30 minutes of nonsense later she finally admits that there is a room at least for that night. At this point, I’m glad to have a place to shower and drop my stuff while I go look for other accommodation. She goes to look for the keys for an hour or so and I unpack all the way and plan out my day.

Next stop is a 30 minute or so walk to the center of town, to the train station. My plan is take a lot of public transit as I don’t want to hire a car and drive on the other side of the road while I try to read a map on my own. The train goes most of the places I want to go, Simon’s Town to Boulder Beach to see the penguins and Newlands Stadium to see the cricket (West Indies v. South Africa). It’s on.

I head out into the sun with my Lonely Planet Cape Town. It failed to mention that no one takes the train except folks from the township, who look nothing like me. At one point close to the train station, a guy started asking pretty aggressively for my bag. I was nervous, but just said no. When someone else came around the corner, I figured I was saved and that that he would run off. Instead they colluded and both started pulling on my bag. I ran off and luckily they didn’t give chase. Still, I was rattled.

From there I went to the safest, most gentrified tourist trap on the map, the waterfront. I speed-walked there, looking over my shoulder the whole time. On the way I did stop to take this photo, which is maybe my favorite from the entire trip. I can’t explain it but my smart friend Amy (Yes, a Fullbright scholar) thinks maybe it is 3D Graffiti and I like that idea:

The waterfront was hot and crowded with tourists and harbor side restaurants and a mall.
I found a Mexican place and went inside to watch the Boxing Day cricket at the bar and have a castle beer. There I learned the cricket was in Port Elizabeth anyway, not Cape Town. (Think New Orleans not Sacramento) The ‘travel journal’ from this episode is in huge, messy, frantic letters. “26-Dec 6 PM. Cape Town Water Front: Scared. Very Scared. What have I done?!?!?! I am in a wack Mexican place and my B&B doesn’t have my reservation and this city is scary!”

It got a lot better from here. I took a taxi back to ‘my’ B&B and the attendants were gone but I realized it was a pretty good location, even if it did have no AC. Then I headed out for dinner and another Castle beer at what is now my favorite bar in Cape Town, Rafikis:

I like sitting out on the deck, reading the paper, and inside they are always showing the premier league. Reading the paper in South Africa, I learned that Walker Texas Ranger is on here too. Why? This is our most pervasive export. I also read the high school exam results. They publish them in the paper. Could you imagine if the SAT scores for your town were published in the paper every year? I was shocked. This apparently always proceeds several suicides, but no one seems to think a policy change is in order.
Day 2 in Cape Town I got up early and decided to climb Table Mountain, which (since my Dad asked) is 1086 meters high. This was a great walk and the most beautiful view I have ever seen. Here’s me pretty daunted prior to the walk up. Can you see how nervous I am?

View from the top

Me and Rene
View from the Top
For 50 more photos of Table Mountain from differing angles, be sure to check out my flickr account.

It was hot and a pretty demanding 75 minutes or so to the top. I met a really nice couple from Colorado who I walked up with, took the cable car down with, and they even gave me a lift home! I’ll look them up next time I’m in Colorado. It had rained recently and there were waterfalls percolating though the mountain on the walk up. The views from the top are stunning. It is probably the most beautiful place in the world. This was maybe the highlight of the trip. I had a great day.

The next day I set off for the official tourism office, to rectify the no accommodations situation. There I met Chanelle who helped me a lot.

When I told her I needed accommodations for New Years Eve in Cape Town 2 days before, she shot me a “girl, you crazy” look, but she decided to help me anyway. She called tons of places. She even called hotel penthouses for thousands of dollars a night. I was desperate. Then she found it. The Signal Hill Lodge. Reasonable price. Decent location. Room for 2 nights. I put down my deposit, made my reservation and received a second “confirmation”.

Again I was elated. Crisis averted. Then, now thoroughly put off my public transit idea, I booked all these door-to-door tours. I booked a tour the Cape of Good Hope, Boulder Beach, Robben Island, a Wine tour and a Township tour. I also met up with a friend of Jesse’s for Sushi dinner. Liesl was super nice and we had a great evening. All was well.

After my sushi dinner, I got home to a hand written note on my door. Signal Hill had called. Actually, they were overbooked, and couldn’t help me, and wouldn’t give me a refund, but had found me some other accommodations with “John”.


I left the next morning at 7:30 for my tour to the Cape of Good Hope. Boulder Beach and Robben Island. The penguins were super cute.

The cells where Mandela spent 18 years were spare and some how cold even on a hot summer day. The guides are former political prisoners on the island. The island is huge and filled with rabbits and springboks that were brought over for the wardens to hunt. There is still a community of former wardens and former prisoners who live together on the island, with shops, a primary school and a church.

Mandela's Cell

The next day was a wine tour which was an awful lot like a Yarra valley wine tour or a Hamptons wine tour. The best bit was when I skipped out of the tour to visit this Cheeta outreach center. This was one of the highlights of my life:
He was super soft and super chill, and reportedly not sedated. I’m pictured here with Maya who was also on the wine tour. She was cool and from Lebanon. I don’t have any photos of them dragging me away from this area, screaming, but I know you can picture it yourselves.

The next day was the 31st and the day I was scheduled to move in with “John”. Needless to say, I was a little nervous. This super nice guy came to pick me up. He drove the long way to show me the beautiful beaches of Camps Bay before taking me to Sea Point Beach. To my surprise, the place he took me too was gorgeous. It was an ocean front two bedroom apartment that was beautifully furnished. Here’s some photos from the balcony:

I was only lucky enough to have it because it was reserved by some other flake that has done something weird with her reservation. This place is a short bike ride to the Stadium for 2010. I will be going back and we will need bikes because, the traffic was terrible, without any world cup. The place was a 30-second walk to the beach, and as I had done most of my touring, I was due for a couple of days of basking on the sand. The new place also had this incredible sideways elevator:
I just had one tour remaining. The Township tour was mind blowing in a lot of ways. It’s hard to imagine a bus load of Japanese tourists surviving getting bussed through the Detroit projects, but everyone we saw waved and was very friendly. I made sure to reserve with tour operators owned and based in the townships. There’s not a lot of industry there for the 1.5 million or so people, so any work is important. There were very crowded conditions, water taps that vast numbers had to share. Complex webs of extension cords from generators to ‘houses’. ‘Houses’ made out of every possible material. I went to a B&B based in the township and a tiny day care for 50 children under 6. What none of these pictures can demonstrate is how far in every direction these homes stretched. It was vast. Every 5th house or so is some informal cash food store. I went to a pottery art project in the township and bought some souvenirs. I saw goats grazing, and some good looking barbeque, which was maybe, come to think of it, a before and after advert.

After the tour, I went home to hang out in my huge, plush pad, which served as a stark contrast. For new years I watched movies on cable and made some pasta. After an ocean side run, I spent the 1st on the lounging beach and tried breakfast at this place which disappointed me just as much as it was teed up to:
Also check out the pool by the beach on New Year’s Day:
On the 2nd I flew home. For some reason the Johannesburg Airport was flooded (!), so I got stuck waiting in Jo’Burg for my flight to Sydney for 7 hours. That was booooring. I listened to 7 This American Life episodes.

The flight home was surprisingly pleasant. I sat next to a 9 year old boy from Melbourne who was in to the NBA (he was a Nuggets fan!) and I drank champagne and watched the Darjeeling Limited,which was awesome. Francis is basically me. I will be taking a laminated itinerary everywhere I go from here on out. Look out.

That was the trip and now I’m back in the full on Melbourne summer. I’m trying out for Team Box again and hanging out with Amanda, Joy and Hussey who are all in a state of flux (moving homes). Next up I’ll be going to some Cricket (20/Twenty), Sufjan, and the Australian open. Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

oh my gosh, and you were calling and telling me all was well....
i have had a nervous breakdown.
and you are home ...!!!!!!!
stay safe

mama said...

Well courts, we've shared some great moments together recently - perving on sufjan and being ssshhh'd at the tennis - wish i could've been there on the mountain, beach and beer-drinking balcony with you!!!

Anonymous said...

Allison and I are thinking about going to Tanzania this summer, then heading down the coast and ending up at Cape Town, so thanks for the inside look at what to see (and what to avoid)!