Never before have our feet tread upon the African continent, but this is where we now are, and will be, for the next four and a half months. Over the past 14 years we've travelled Asia extensively, and this year we decided it was time for change. Africa seemed like a good change. After a very long flight we arrived in Cape Town in the southwestern-most tip of South Africa. For someone who's never been to Africa before, no other city could break you in more gently than Cape Town. Due to a date cancellation of our original overland camping trip, we had 12 days to explore Cape Town- far more time than we ever like to spend in a city, but we soon discovered that Cape Town is so much more than just a city.
Our first couple of days were spent jumping from office to office sorting out visas for our upcoming visit to Namibia as well as attempting to get an extension on a South African one (note: if you are Korean and want to spend more than 30 days in South Africa, get your visa BEFORE you come). When not dealing with bureaucratic bullsh!t we walked… and walked a lot! We walked through the colourful old Muslim section, Bo-Kaap, and walked to the V&A Waterfront- a lively place of art, food and shops. We walked throughout the CBD and walked through Woodstock and District Six. We walked up and down Long Street probably a dozen times. We walked through the Company's Gardens and we walked up Lion's Head. Then we got a bus pass!
One thing we also did during our first few days in Cape Town was take the City Sightseeing Bus (the “Red Bus”) which is a great way to orientate yourself to the city and it's surrounds. Touristy, yes, but fun and informative too. It does a very handy circuit through the city and outskirts as well. Camps Bay, Clifton, Sea Point, Hout Bay, Kirstenbosch and Constantia (as well as many more) are all included stops along its routes, and you can get on and off as you please.
One of the things that make Cape Town such an enjoyable place to walk around is its architecture- a blend of styles left behind by each colonial period with a few home-grown treats in between. Dutch, Victorian, and more than its fair share of art-deco buildings can all be admired in Cape Town. But the pièce de résistance of Cape Town has to be its iconic Table Mountain. Visible in one form or another from nearly everywhere on the Cape, it's a mountain, a national park, and one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature (of which we have now been to 5). It even has its own plant kingdom (1 of only 6 in the whole world)- the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is home to more than 2,200 species of flowering plants alone. It also supports a huge array of wildlife (over 300 species of birds), from penguins and ostriches to zebras and klipspringers- Table Mountain NP has it all. But it is its dramatic beauty that makes the mountain so special. On one side the mountain appears completely flat on top, hence its 'table' name. The backside however reveals an altogether different mountain as the “Twelve Apostles” drop dramatically into the Atlantic Ocean. The native Khoi inhabitants referred to the mountain as 'Hoerikwaggo' which meant 'mountain in the sea'- a name very fitting if looking at it from Bloubergstrand. It is also a hiker's paradise with hundreds of kilometers of trails winding their way around and on top of the mountain and all the way out towards Cape Point. For those not up to the task of climbing to the peak, there's a really cool cable car that rotates 360 degrees as it whisks you to the summit. Without a doubt, a visit to Cape Town would not be complete without a visit to Table Mountain.
On one day we rented a car and drove out to Camps Bay and along the Atlantic coast via the stunning Chapman's Peak Drive and on to Cape Point (a part of Table Mountain NP) and the Cape of Good Hope. The views along this drive are breathtaking and a highly reccommended route to take. We then carried on to Simon's Town and Boulders Beach to visit the resident penguin colony- a feast for all the senses!
Another day we devoted to the more sinister history of Cape Town- the Cape Town under apartheid rule which uprooted tens of thousands of blacks and coloured people from their homes in District Six and other areas and relocated them to the townships of the Cape Flats. The District Six museum is a good starting point to collect information and stories from the former residents followed by a walk through the now barren spaces of District Six itself. After that we took a tour through two of the largest and oldest townships in Cape Town; Langa and Gugulethu. Our guide that day brought us to his own home in Langa (a closet-sized room actually) which he shared with eight of his family members. The washroom in the building was a one sink, one toilet affair that was shared with all of its 40 residents. It was a harsh and sombre reality that this still exists today. But the people of the townships are proud of what they have and strong for what they've endured, and if you ask them you will hear the same answer over and over again- they wouldn't want to live anywhere else. This doesn't mean that they wouldn't like to upgrade their living standards, it simply means that the townships are their home, their community, their support systems, and no one will ever take that from them again. My only advice to anyone taking these township tours is this: make sure that the tour you're signing up for benefits the townships you're visiting- not all tour companies give back to the communities they visit, and try to support the communities first hand while you're there. This doesn't mean giving handouts to begging children (in fact you should never do this) or even buying handicrafts you don't want, it simply means try buying your water or drinks from a local shop or eating at a local restaurant. We had the most amazing braai at a local restaurant in Gugulethu run by the sweetest woman. Just saying!
Before coming to South Africa we were inundated with warnings and statistics on how dangerous of a place it can be. Having never been to Africa before we listened and were somewhat apprehensive about our upcoming travels. But after arriving in Cape Town (a city with a staggering annual homicide rate of over 2,200) we were soon relieved at what we saw and as soon as we dropped our guards we were exposed to all the good and beauty the city had to offer. But Cape Town is more than just a city- it's the mountains, the scenery, the greenery, the outdoor activities, the views, the beaches, the flora and fauna and the coastlines. Then there are the vibrant neighbourhoods, the waterfront, the architecture, the food, the wine, the people, the good times. Cape Town is a beautiful city full of beautiful people. Drop your guard and embrace this city and you will be rewarded. It is a destination in itself. We had 12 days to discover Cape Town and I think we got to know it fairly well, but we left it wanting more. Luckily we have a few more days to spend here before we fly home in June.