Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Friday, March 27, 2015

1 Cape Town, South Africa

Maybe we did not book smart but the flight from Toronto to Cape Town, via London Heathrow, took a long time. We had too much time with the layover time at Heathrow. Not enough to explore London. We just vegetated at the airport. We left Toronto at 10 PM on a Friday and arrived in Cape Town at 7 AM on Sunday. Both flights were solidly booked, no room to spread out.

My first impression of Cape Town?  Great !

A limo service driver helped us find an inexpensive way to get to our pre-booked hotel. He helped even though he did not get our fare. He was a nice guy smiled easily and did not ask for a tip. 

Three Cities Inn on Green Market Square
We took the red Sportline Shuttle service for 270 Rand for both of us from the airport to “The Three Cities Inn” directly on the Green Market Square. The location of the hotel is ideal. I had the hotel pre booked and the online rate was $ US 64/night without breakfast. Checking in at the front desk would have been double the price. It really paid off to book on line. The hotel is an older hotel but refurbished in 2011 and has all the amenities one needs. For breakfast we went a few steps outside the hotel and prices were reasonable. Breakfast can be had for 50 Rand ($US 5.-). Dinners are between 150 to 200 Rand per portion, which is on the high side. Carol and I were very happy with the location, the service and the room itself. I would recommend this hotel to anybody visiting Cape Town.

To get an overview of the whole of Cape Town we booked a trip on the Hop on/Hop off bus that circles the city. The main office and stop was just behind the hotel on famous Long Street. It was very easy to use and well organized by the bus company. We took the red tour the first day and the yellow and blue line the next day.
All are good routes. The red route gives you the whole of the city, the yellow tour the inner city and the blue tour the suburban surroundings. Carol was impressed with the yellow tour. I enjoyed the blue tour. Yet to stop at the most interesting places and to combine the Table Mountain cable car and the Waterfront, the red line is the right tour.

Table Mountain
View of Cape Town from the Top of Table Mountain
So we got off the red line and took the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. It was a great trip. Not just because of the cable car ride but also because of the Table Top. The views from the top are spectacular. Cape Town lies in the middle of an ancient volcano. Surrounding the caldera are the oldest mountains in the world. Steep granite cliffs surround the bowl of the city. The law forbids any buildings to exceed a certain proximity to the cliffs so the mountains look and are  pristine. The total range, including Table Top, Devil’s Peak, Lions Head and Signal Mountain is a National Park. It's very steep and rugged terrain is preserved in its natural state. While the Table Top, viewed from within the bowl of the city looks totally flat, just like a Table, the actual physical top is strewn with boulders and overgrown with vegetation. The flora is colorful and abundant. I knew none of the flowers, all are native and a delight to the eyes. Maybe we were lucky to be here at the right time of year for the gala performance of the blossoms. I can only tell you it was a fantastic show stopper.
Fat, Tailless Squirrels 

You can walk the huge area on top of the mountain range. The park service has installed walkways and they sure come in handy. The terrain is very rough and littered with ancient boulders. Some estimates describe these mountains as about 500 million years old. Compare that to the Alps in Europe which are “only” 35 million years old. South Africa, especially Cape Town, has been around for eons.

Cape of Good Hope from Table Mountain
The San and/or the Khoi were the tribes the Dutch and the Portuguese met when they settled here around the years 1500 to 1600. One of the first to land in Cape Town was Portuguese Bartolomeu Dias in 1486. Vasco da Gama named the “Cape of Good Hope” (because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of a sea route to India and the East) in the year 1497.

The first permanent settlement in Cape Town was on April 6, 1652 by the Dutchman Jan van Riebeck. He set up a fort for the Dutch East India Trading Company and soon every European ship going to India or Asia used this harbor as a supply stop over. Trade was active, including slavery.

Not much is known about the indigenous people since no written records existed before the Europeans arrived. The San were the original hunters and gatherers and some are still living their old live style in the more rural areas in South Africa. San is still spoken today and is one of the many languages one can hear.

The San were mostly replaced by the Khoikhoi (Khoi). The Dutch named the Khoi people Hottentots, a derogatory term, stemming from the sound of the Khoi language to Dutch ears.  The Khoi, migrating in groups from Botswana centuries ago and replacing the San people, are herdsmen. The large pastured fields (Veld) were ideal for such endeavors. While the Europeans used this land for agriculture and husbandry, the Khoi were exclusively herdsmen. The Khoi followed a migratory route depending on the seasons to let their animals graze. With the Europeans dividing up and “owning and buying“ land; and defending those acquisitions, warfare ensued  and ultimately the Khoi were pushed into servitude.

African warfare, the Bantu attacking the Khoi for their animals and food, only made things worse. The Bantu are multi heritage people from the Niger/Congo area and West Sub-Saharan areas of Africa. There are over 650 different Bantu languages. While they have some words in common, they are distinct languages.

Africa is complicated. Migration is and always has been part of Africa. The European immigration to Africa was just part of the picture. Before the Europeans arrived, Africa was changing and adapting all the time within the African continent. Europe just added their own flavor to the mixed soup we call Africa today.

Different ideas, different life style, different cultures and heritage still resonate throughout Africa today, CapeTown is a perfect example of the modern African way of life. Sure mistakes were made, sure mistakes will be made, yet South Africa seems to be on the right track to at least deal with the complicated viewpoints of all the cultures. It is not easy. An example is the tax system here in South Africa. While every person with an official job must pay taxes and the taxes are withheld from each paycheck, only about 7 million people pay regular taxes out of an estimated population of 55 million people living in South Africa. I say estimated population because with the constant influx of migratory people from all other countries in Africa, the population swells and dwindles like the tides. There is a constant coming and going back.

Shanty Town in the Suburbs of Cape Town
People from other African nations slap together some corrugated boxes; some sticks and a sheet metal roof and live there. They live in poverty in hopes of a better life. A better life than they have in their home county. Looking at these conditions can be heart wrenching and pluck the strings of pity. Yet what those people need is not pity, all they need is to be given a chance to find meaningful employment or a way to earn a living. Empower them to earn some money and they will outgrow their poverty in a flash. Those people are not stupid. Most speak a few languages. All are hard workers, putting in long working hours each day. All they need is to be given a chance.

South Africa is aware of all of this and is dealing with the situation the best way they know how. After apartheid ended in 1994 (it was a gradual process but officially ended with the National election in 1994 when all races were allowed to vote), life began to improve for each citizen of this country. While the U.S. deals in a largely Latin American influx of immigrants (legal and illegal) South Africa has many more immigrants from anyplace in all of Africa.

While the problems seem insurmountable; South Africa deals with them one at a time. Instead of buying efficient street cleaning machines, the town hires people with a broom to clean the gutters. For touristy areas, security forces are employed that keep the citizens and tourists safe. Instead of having people beg, stalls can be set up in certain areas with certain rules so people can hock their wares. The city tries to let the people have their dignity. Yes, there is poverty but what would you do if literally millions needed help at once? Cape Town is doing a great job in helping Africa. All of us could help if, instead of buying Made in China, we would buy Made in Africa.

One can see all these issues on a visit to Cape Town with open eyes.While I played the tourist, riding the red line on the double Decker hop on/off bus, I see things.

A Gated Community
I also saw the good life; the exquisite suburban neighborhoods. The houses are so large, so fancy that any American would drool at the sight. The backdrop of the mountain ridges, pristine and protected by law, a fantastic climate with moderate temperatures, gives these areas a look of superb wealth. No wonder most of those premises are gated, alarmed and protected from intruders. The stunning display of wealth, helped by the amazing display of vegetation with colors, textures and shapes in abundance, creates a vision of Paradise. And that is me saying it, me who has a lot, has seen a lot and is not at all envious. I can just image how this must look like to someone who comes from other parts of Africa and now lives in a shack.
Cape Town is a modern city. It is full of cars, traffic, public transport and multi cultural people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds. There are tons of restaurants, bars and parks. Any kind of entertainment is available. Come see for yourself. Cape Town was voted to be the city to see for 2014. Carol and I listened to them and we are glad we did.  GREAT town!

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