What an amazing trip! After staying a few days with my host family I really got to enjoy Cape Town. Everyone I was meeting kept telling me you go on vacation in Cape Town and you go to work in Johannesberg. They all were right; I definitely picked the right place to vacation in Africa! Between the beautiful beaches and pleasent weather (it was around 85 – 90 F with a nice breeze the whole time I was there) I was in heaven.
Cape Town reminded me a great deal of Los Angeles minus the smog and with a lot more European stylings. Everyone was well dressed, but I didn’t see much riff raff (Perhaps I was the riff raff!). The entire town had a kind of worldly elegance that I really enjoyed. The two main languages there are English and Afrikaans, which is a variation of Dutch so I could understand pretty much everything.
I can’t believe how great the people I was staying with were. The first few days I needed to get groceries from the local market, which turned out to be a kind of African version of Kroger or Ralphs known affectionately as Pick N Pay, and my hosts drove me there and wherever else I needed to go. Michelle, the one who initiated the entire travel-to-Africa Operation, had grown up in Cape Town with her parents and sister so she was savvy on what to do and not to do around town. She guided me through all the lingo as well, because apparently a lot of things have a much cooler name in South Africa. In a nutshell:
In my recent trips I have found it much more fun and advantageous to live with locals rather then booking a hotel. You save money, meet some incredible people, and actually get the full experience of living in the location you are visiting. Kind of a “dive on in” approach to travel.
I took full advantage of the sunshine and headed for the beach a couple of the days I was there. It was so nice to hit the sand and just relax. The water was freezing to all the locals, but seeing as I swim in Lake Michigan back home every summer ( which is notoriously cold all year round ) I had no trouble with a little swimming. I was a little skittish though, seeing as there were Jellyfish washed up all over on shore. Getting stung would have been a pretty awful experience!
It was very clear everywhere I went that there was a population of people with no money and no adequate housing that existed alongside everyone else. I know that there are homeless people in the United States in most major cities, but the level of it in Cape Town really kind of surprised me. All along the boardwalk were people sleeping under palm trees and asking for change, driving by in crowded taxis honking at you to jump on so they could make a fare, or standing at road intersections selling funny papers and news for anything they could get. These are the same people who live in the townships all around Cape Town with no running water or electricity. It was evident to everyone that this is just the way things are in South Africa; something that stuck in place following the apartheid era or even prior to that.
I love that they watch Rugby instead of American football, and luckily Michelle’s husband Johnny knew all about it. One of the best things about it is that it seldom stops. In Football there is so much dead air in between plays it is super easy for me to lose interest. Rugby is nonstop and extremely brutal and hence fun to watch. I hope when I go back to South Africa this Fall I can make it in time for the big Super Rugby goings on they have every year around September and October. As for their other major sport, Cricket, I still have no idea what the hell is going on. As far as I know it is Baseball with a circular field and a lot more rules I have yet to understand. I spent probably two to three hours watching it on television while I was there unable to understand what was going on.
Its important to note that South Africa watches all American TV shows, but two years in the past. That’s why my season of Survivor was only on last year; they have a delay from all the rights and licensing on what shows they get over there (I would assume). It was funny to see Dr. Phil on TV talking about Paris Hilton going to jail like it had just happened. I also got to see a little of Dexter, Season 2 which what I had missed back home. Weird!
I was only in front of the TV when there wasn’t adventuring to do, and there was plenty of that! The second day I was there Michelle mentioned there was a big red bus that takes visitors on tours of Cape Town and its was only 120R ( $17.26 ). Believe me when I say that was a steal! For 17 bucks I got to travel all over the city visiting the Waterfront, Downtown Cape Town, one of the oldest Vineyards in Africa, and a few beautiful beaches in Hout Bay and Camps Bay. There was an offer to also visit the township in Hout Bay but I decided against it just because it was starting to get late and I didn’t want to venture in there alone. A little too much adventure for one trip.
Michelle’s father wanted to know if I would go hiking with him up in the mountains around Cape Town, and I couldn’t pass up the offer! ( Have I mentioned how cool my host family is? ) He was one of the organizers of a weekly group that makes hikes and climbs up all the peaks around Table Mountain and that night was their first Full Moon climb up to Devil’s Peak. Devil’s Peak apparently got its name from a tale about a pirate named Van Hunks challenging the Devil to a Tobacco smoking competition on the top, because the peak always has some sinister looking clouds spiraling off of it. Pretty awesome that I get to climb this thing at night! Unfortuneatly as we made it up the rocky face it got increasingly windy and we could only venture alongside the peak to an area known as the Saddleback (a lower area between Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain that resembled a horses sadle). Still, the view of the glowing city below and the full moon creeping up over Devil’s Peak was incredible to say the least.
Later in the week we had a chance to ascend Lions Head, a tall rounded peak that is a lot closer to town. Michelle’s father mentioned numerous times how popular it was becoming as a tourist attraction and as we were climbing up it was easy to see how popular it was. We passed nearly fifty people making our way to the top only to find another hundred on top looking out at the sunset with their cameras. Believe me though, Lions Head may have been my favorite climb just because it was so rugged! Imagine a baby holding a box of miss-matched rocks and then turning it all upside down and dumping them in a heap. That’s kind of what Lions Head looks like on top, a pile of giant boulders with perilous cliffs on every other side. At one point it was only two meters wide with some pretty steep drops on either side.
On one of the last days I was there my mountain guide got me up early and took me to climb the iconic Table Mountain which overlooks Cape Town. After starting up a bit he decided it would be too windy to continue, as it is a 2 hour hike to the summit and it is too painful to try and climb back down. It’s better to take the Cable Tram down then descend, but with the wind as strong as it was they wouldn’t be running it. So instead of that we snaked around the lower paths and made our way to a cave overlooking downtown and past a babbling stream coming right down the face of the mountain.
By the time we descended back to our car the wind had died down and the Tram was running! We walked over to the Tram and used Michelle’s Dad’s park pass to get a lift to the top. Good lord I am scared of heights when I am not in control of the situation! I can be on a cliff overhang hanging on by my fingertips and feel more comfortable then I was inside that giant glass ball on cables. When we got to the top we explored all the way back to the trail we would have taken up, and witnessed a few startling 300 – 500 foot cliffs! Table Mountain was super flat on top, hence its name, but every side of it was insanely steep (not bad for a mountain situated at 3,558 feet). It was incredible!
On Saturday Johnny had off from work and Michelle’s father took us to Cape Point, the southern most end of Africa. Along the way I got to see other regions of Cape Town including Boulder Bay which is a natural reserve for Penguins! The cute little guys pretty much chill out on the beach, make babies, and got for a swim all day long. Not a pretty bad lifestyle, and they have really nice tuxedos! I had never seen penguins in the wild before, and they seemed a lot healthier then penguins I have seen in captivity.
Cape Point was incredibly beautiful because of its extremes. It literally was the end of the earth; a jagged rock cliff that gets smaller and smaller until it crashes into the ocean below. On one side of it the sun was bright and the air was calm; but, once you rounded to the other side you were met with sharp winds swelling upwards from the sea and clouds blowing past you. One of the coolest things about it was False Bay, a kind of optical illusion the land played on you. If you looked out the East side of Cape Point it appeared as if you were looking at a bay with a mountainous shore a few miles away. In actuality the mountains were many many miles away and it wasn’t a bay at all but rather a great swath of open ocean! Sailors in years past would enter the “bay” believing they were safe from storms at sea, but really were sailing into a “False Bay”! Duhn duhn duhn!
After coming back from our adventure ( Michelle’s dad tried to get me to ride an ostrich on the way home, long story! ) Michelle and Johnny prepared a Braai and cooked a lot of food for us and the rest of the family. Michelle’s sister Wendy was there as well as some of Michelle’s friends and we all decided to go out dancing. So far nobody outside of Wendy and Michelle had recognized me as the Survivor Guy. When we got to a nightclub in downtown Cape Town immediately the girl behind the bar had another person at the bar identify me! “Are you that dumb guy from Survivor? That guy just said you look like him, and I think you are him!” Thank god the only person in the country to recognize me was in control of the alcohol! I told her I was, and she got me a free shot and made sure to pay attention to me whenever I made my way to the bar. After a ton of horrible drunk dancing ( at least on my part ) Michelle was able to safely drive us home, with much swearing and sputtering.
I really can’t wait to go back to Cape Town and am even considering living there if I can find a decent job and a place to stay. Its stunningly beautiful and the people are all so wonderful; I really couldn’t imagine a better place to be for a few years of my life. I am planning on going back this fall and looking at my options.
If you have ever thought about traveling but never mustered up the courage or time to do it I suggest you reconsider. I was really scared prior to coming, but have really fallen in love with Africa over the course of just seven days. Seven days that felt a hell of a lot longer!