The Hendersons A couple of days in Cape Town
An Unforgettable African Adventure
Thursday, March 15 - Back to Cape Town
There is a beach near Cape Town which is home to African penguins - one of only a few beaches where these fellows have chosen to live. It is on the peninsula south of Cape Town, so we had to drive through the city to get there. I don't think any of us realized how big Cape Town is - in excess of four million people. There is a lot of construction, much of it in preparation for the 2010 World Cup. This is supposed to be a crowning jewel event for all of Africa - the first World Cup ever and the South Africans do love their soccer. I suppose all of the construction helps the unemployment problem, but I have to wonder who is paying for all of it.
At any rate, it took a fair amount of time to get to the penguin beach because of the traffic. Once we got there, we parked the car, guarded by one of the self-appointed parking wardens - he looks after your car in exchange for a tip. First we had lunch at a nice seaside restaurant, then walked to the penguin beach. There were hundreds of these smallish penguins - much smaller than the Emperor Penguins of "March of the Penguins" fame. They were fun to watch - their walk is so ungainly.
That done, we headed into town to find our apartment. We had rented a self-catering apartment on Kloof Street, which is one of the main streets in town. It took a little doing, but we found our lodging and met the owner there (Robyn). The apartment was nice enough, and the location good, although I couldn't see that it rated the four stars it had been awarded.
We drove into the center of town and returned our rental car. Driving in Cape Town is a bit of a challenge (not as bad as Rome, but still challenging). We wanted to see Green Market Square, which was close to the car rental place. We didn't know that things close down at about 5:30 and there isn't a lot to see or do in downtown Cape Town that late. We also missed the market by one block. Oh well, the walk did us good. On the way back to the apartment, we stopped at the Seattle Coffee Company for a drink. This is the second Seattle Coffee Company we've encountered in our travels - the first was in Auckland.
We rested for a bit, then walked a few blocks to the Cafe Paradiso. Dinner was good - not great - Jay had springbok shank which looked quite good, and Tom and I had lamb shank, which was also good. No dessert tonight, we've done enough of that for a while.
That night Tom and I had the worst sleep we've ever had in all of our travels - the beds were terrible - they were nothing but box springs with a bit of a pad over them. We tossed and turned all night and felt as if we had springs poking into our flesh. We were not happy.
Friday, March 16 - Cape Town
One of the first items on our agenda was to get in touch with Robyn and tell her that the beds were not acceptable. Problem is, Cape Town is heavily booked this time of year, so if we were going to be forced to move, we wouldn't know where. At first, Robyn was not very sympathetic, but Tom was very firm with her. She went over to the apartment (we had left for the day) and called us on our cell phone - she claimed to have no idea that the beds were in that condition and would replace them right away (the new beds were better, but they still were this strange affair of box springs and a pad - I've never seen anything like that before).
We had a light breakfast at a bakery, then took a cab to Clock Tower Square, where the ferry to Robben Island departs. This is the place where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 27 years. As it turned out, we couldn't get a booking to the island, so we looked around the museum for a while, then decided to board the Hop On Hop Off bus. While we were waiting for the bus to arrive, Tom stopped in an Internet Cafe. He checked our e-mail and found a message from my brother that my mother had started refusing food and drink and was not expected to last through the weekend. This wasn't a complete surprise, my mother was 99 years old and had become very frail, demented and was suffering from degenerative joint disease so badly that her hospice nurse had started giving her morphine to alleviate the pain.
At any rate, we took the Hop On Hop Off bus around the city, getting off at the cable car that goes to the top of Table Mountain. What a wonderful view - no wonder Cape Town is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Interestingly, there were signs posted that if there was a warning horn 'tooting' to go to the shelter immediately as high winds were approaching. They must be fearsome. Table Mountain is home to many little dassies - they look sort of like small beavers without the tails - they are classified as the nearest relative to the elephant, but I think whoever did the classification was on drugs.
We had a sandwich while up on the mountain, then headed back down. The cable cars are really interesting - the floor rotates, so everyone gets to see all of the scenery while going up or down - usually cable cars are stationary, so only the people who have gotten on first get the best views.
Back on the Hop On Hop Off bus, we were shown the very posh Camps' Bay area - it, as well as the other neighborhoods on the waterfront in Cape Town, are very beautiful, exclusive and expensive. The guide was quoting the prices of some of the houses - while not comparable to oceanfront property in many parts of the US, they are still extremely expensive and I find the contrast between those owned by the super-wealthy (many of them Europeans and Arabs) and the living conditions in the townships or settlements very disturbing.
We departed the bus at the Green Market Square - a sort of African flea market - many of the stalls had the same goods, but it was colorful and noisy and rather fun.
We took a cab back to our apartment, relaxed for a while, then walked across the street for dinner at Amigo's - it was rather indifferent food, but the location was right!
We have learned a lot about South Africa even though we have been here only a week. The government is said to be very corrupt, with politicians lining their pockets and living lavishly while there are huge portions of the population living in terrible conditions. There is a problem with illegal immigrants pouring into the country from countries which are even worse off - most particularly Zimbabwe where the President Robert Mugabe has embarked on a campaign to purge whites from the country (Zimbabwe used to be called the Bread Basket of Africa, now the people cannot raise enough food to feed their own population). HIV-AIDS is a huge problem in South Africa - the largest population in the world of infected people lives in this country. Within the past ten years there has been an epidemic of tuberculosis, particularly among those already weakened from HIV-AIDS. One of the myths surrounding HIV-AIDS is that if an infected man has sex with a virgin, he will be cured - the result is rape of girls and babies as young as six months. It turns the stomach and the President, Mbeki, recently got into hot water because he denied that there was a problem. He also advocated natural, herbal remedies as a cure to AIDS.
I was extremely surprised to learn that education is not free - even the poorest have to pay to have their children attend school, so many children don't go to school - the illiteracy rate is very high. Unemployment officially is about 40%, but there is a large underground economy, so no one truly knows what the rate is. Security is said to be very difficult - there is a lot of violent crime, particularly, I was told, among the Colored (people of mixed race) who have formed gangs and are engaged in drug trade. Mbeki got into more hot water recently when he denied the security problem and said that if whites didn't feel safe, they should leave the country. This country could and should be a paradise, but with all the problems, I feel that it is a country balanced as delicately as a knife on edge - one movement and it will tip over. But which way? The "president in waiting" a Zulu named Zuma seems to be certain of winning the next election, but he has also gotten into trouble for allegedly raping a woman and also having unprotected sex with an HIV positive woman. He proclaimed that it was OK because afterwards he took a shower. What an example among all the people who look up to him. There is a lot of superstition among the Natives and the Witch Doctor still holds sway in the more remote parts of the country. What way hither, South Africa?