Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cape Town and the Final Send Off

I’m writing this blog post having just taken off from Johannesburg (aka, I just left Africa all together for the last time—but don’t worry, I’m coming back!). I can’t believe my time here has come to a close! I don’t wanna get to sappy here, but really where did the last seven weeks ago. Although Gabs wasn’t my favorite place in the world, it was the first place in Africa that I ever truly got to know, and for that it will truly always have a place in my heart. Another place in Africa that will always have a place in my heart? Cape Town. Let me take you back to this amazing place and tell you about all the wonderful things I got to see and do. I’ve got to come back one day, just to revisit all these places that have taken my breath over the last seven weeks. But for now, to Cape Town.

Day 1:
We left Gabs on Wednesday night after giving our last presentations for class and having had our farewell dinner the night before at our beloved Mokolodi Nature Reserve. We packed up our bags and waited for our driver to come get us. Now. He originally said he wanted to come get us to take us across the border to the Joburg Airport at 11pm with our flight scheduled to leave for Cape Town at 6am the next morning. However, we thought that was cutting it a bit close so we asked him if he could come get us at 9pm. Ofcourse he replied that he couldn’t make it by then, but assured us that he would be there between 9:30 and 10. Well, 10:15 rolls around and still no driver. So we called and called and finally he picks up and tells us that he’ll be there in five minutes. 15 minutes later he arrives and we are off. We cross the Botswana-South Africa border with ease and continue on our drive to the airport. Because I am supposedly the most bossy and stern of the group, I am elected to sit in the front seat with the driver which is fine because I had been planning to stay awake the whole drive anyway to make sure nothing went wrong. Our driver was very interesting, but he soon became exhausting. His name was Tim and his mother is from India and his dad from Bots, so he looks Indian but has a South African accent. He talked about his business ventures and his family life, but what really caught my attention was the fact that he lived in the Congo for five years. That’s right, MY Congo. So ofcourse I pestered him with questions and he seemed very intrigued at how interested I was in the country and the violence and it just made me want to visit there even more (sorry momma).

Finally we arrived at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg for our flight to Cape Town. Our plane took off with ease and soon I was looking over some of the most exquisite scenery I have ever seen in my life. Patches upon patches of greenery covered the land outside my window. It looked like a scene out of a movie set in Ireland except instead of rolling hills, huge mountain ranges would pop out of nowhere and soon disappear as quickly as they emerged. I knew I was going to love it in Cape Town immediately.

I had picked out the Backpacker where we would be staying in for three nights, called Atlantic Point Backpacker. I really hoped it was going to live up to its rave reviews in all the guide books I had read—it was rated top backpacker in Southern Africa in 2011 and 2012! It lived up to my expectation that’s for sure!

Common Area--wifi included!
Atlantic Point Backpacker!

Our 8 Person Female Dorm

After checking out our 8 person female dorm we set out to see the waterfront and we shocked by just how gorgeous our surroundings were. Literally mountains and water collided everywhere we looked. We couldn’t decide what Cape Town reminded us of so we decided that it is a mixture of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Chicago (in the downtown area) and sometimes Barcelona. We walked around and took pictures for a while and then went to buy our Robben Island tickets for Sunday morning and had lunch at a little restaurant next to a bridge looking over the iconic Table Mountain. We then took a bus tour around the city and up to Table Mountain. It’s called that because the top of the mountain is long and flat like a table. We took a cable car to the top of Table Mountain and spent two hours taking pictures and marveling at how tiny the city of Cape Town looked from that high up. After our first day of touring we were completely wiped so we had a quick bite and returned for an early night in at Atlantic Point.
Table Mountain from the Warf
Beautiful Cape Town from Table Mountain!

Truly on Top of Africa (in Cape Town)

Day 2:
Green Square Market
The next day we woke up early in anticipation of a good morning of shopping. We visited a place called the Green Square Market where we discovered rows and rows of stalls filled with wooden bowls, spoons and statues and scarves and jewelry galore. Lets just say we went a little crazy, even though we knew we’d have trouble fitting everything into our suitcase on our way home, we didn’t care. After spending way to much money on presents for all our friends and family we dropped our bags of at our backpackers and set out for our afternoon boat tour. We chose to take an hour and half boat tour on the Catamirand. This boat was a lot bumpier than we had anticipated but boy was the water gorgeous. It brought back memories of spending hours laying out on the boats in Thailand last summer. Feeling a little queezier than we had liked an hour and a half later we got of the boat and ventured down to Capes Bay—an area of gorgeous mountain-side houses and restaurants set right on the beachfront—to have our designated “nice” dinner of the trip. We found this cute little Italian place that our cab driver had recommended to us and had a three-hour dinner (though it really didn’t feel like it). I had probably the best meal of the last seven weeks there. I had been craving caprese salad for a while and what did they have on the menu? Fresh buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes! I also had asparagus and prawn risotto and delighted in my friends wondering what the heck I was talking about when trying to explain what Arborio rice was (haha Abigail and Lakin). Little did we know when we finished our yummy meal that our cab driver had been waiting outside the restaurant the whole time! We giggled and told him we had to stop over to the gelato shop next door before he could take us home. I had chocolate of course. Yum Yum.

Day 3:
Wine Tasting!
Our third day in Cape Town was designated as a wine day. We had all read about Stellenbosch and all the beautiful wineries and wines available to us, so we knew it was something we couldn’t pass up. Especially since we are all legal in Africa! And since we were in Africa, something had to go wrong or else it wouldn’t really be an African Adventure. When we got downstairs that morning at 9am to meet our wine guide for the day he wasn’t there. So we waited a half and hour and then had the girl at the front desk call to inquire about what the hold up was. Turns out that the tour guide remembered us booking a tour a few days ago but he had gotten busy later that day and forgot to put our booking in the system and so the tour had started without us. No worries though, the guide quickly arranged for a taxi to pick us up and soon we meet up with the seven other members of our wine tour group. We immediately were escorted to the first area of wine tasting and I quickly realized that Sauvignon Blanc is my cup of tea (vos of vino?). We toured a second winery where I bought my first bottle of wine! I really hope it survives the trip home to the States wrapped in t-shirts. At the third vineyard we got to do a cheese tasting after tasting their selection of wines and I actually found a type of feta cheese that I enjoyed. I still don’t like Gouda and blue cheese still repulses me. By the fourth winery all of us were a little sleepy and not that drunk and the people at the vineyards kept asking why we weren’t talking or being more rowdy. At this point I really felt my body telling me that it’s time to slow down and get some rest. But unfortunately we had a Robben Island tour the next morning. So we said goodbye to our friendly guide and headed out for our last dinner in Cape Town. What was our meal? Sushi!! Oh how I’d missed it, though I must say it didn’t compare to Sunda or Roka Akor’s sushi (both of which I recommended to all my friends when they come visit me or my city in the future).

Day 4:
For our final morning in Cape Town we visited Robben Island by ferry and learned all about the quarters and land where Nelson Mandela spent 26 years of his life as a prisoner from 1964 to 1982 for speaking out against Apartheid. We first took a tour around the island by bus where we learned about Robert Sobukewe, the Sharpeville Massacre and the only privately owned building still standing on the Island that is a church that housed all the leprosy victims way back when. We then walked around the actual prison grounds where Mandela’s cell is by a former prisoner named Jama who was at Robben Island from 1977 to 1982; he was incarcerated for organizing protests at his high school after the Soweto Massacre in 1976.
The Gate to Robben Island

Nelson Mandela's Prison Cell

A Group Cell
Each prison section—there are seven, A, B, C, D, E and F—has single and group cells. Section B was where Nelson Mandela spent his sentencing and Section C was used for solitary confinement. The group cells housed some 30 odd inmates and until 1978, none of the prisoners had beds but rather, slept on two folded mats and each got three blankets. Think about it. Mandela spent his first 14 years in prison without a bed, in a cell that we concluded to be about 6.5 ft in width by 9 ft in length. We learned that the inmates were allowed to play sports on Saturdays and created clubs and teams and played against each other in matches. People in Section D, where our tour guide was held, were allowed to write and receive one letter a month and receive one visitor a month. We were then taken to see Mandela’s actual cell which was really interesting to see in person, though I was disappointed that we couldn’t actually go into his cell, or any one for that matter. I think people would be able to get a better sense of just how confined these prisoners were on the Island if they could stand inside the space that people spent decades of their lives in. We also saw Mandela’s garden where he hid his manuscript called A Long Walk to Freedom, that he started writing while on the Island. He managed to smuggle most of the manuscript out when he was freed in 1982. The last political prisoners on Robben Island were released in 1991 and common law prisoners began to arrive to take their place. Robben Island closed for good in 1996 and today there lives a small but vibrant community there.

After our Robben Island tour we went back to our backpacker to check out and pay the rest of our bill in cash (they prefer it that way). After we had called our taxi for the airport we learned that our flight was already delayed an hour. Unfortunately the one time a taxi chose to show up on time we didn’t actually leave to need yet. But since we had called one, we had to take the taxi then to the airport even though our flight wasn’t due to leave for another 3.5 hours. When we got to the airport our flight had been pushed back yet another hour. We sat and waited for a while and ate an early dinner at the only restaurant or eatery in the entire airport. We also then found out that not only would we be leaving three hours later than anticipated but the actual flight journey would take an extra hour because we would be flying in a propeller plane. But finally we got on the plane and it took off, rumbling and all. We arrived back in Gabs at around 10:30pm and I still had to pack all my stuff for my flight back to Joburg the next day at 4:20 pm.

You know I love travelling, but getting home one night and turning around to fly back to the exact same airport was a bit much, but I did it in the name of seeing more places in Africa and to experience as much as possible. I’m so thankful for my friends who were willing to see more of Africa with me, I couldn’t have imagined a better group of gals to travel with and I know we’ll meet up again in America before we know it! From shared annoyances to cry-laughing fits at dinner, Cape Town was a blast!

The End:
Well, that’s it. I’ve finally set foot in Africa and I’m more addicted than ever. More than anything I wanted to travel to Africa to prove to myself that I could feel comfortable half way around the world and I did. I loved eating the street food, walking around the clinics and learning to take the combis. Travelling to new places by bus was interesting to say the least, but it gave my experience such a unique flavor that I wouldn’t change a single thing (no, not even that 12 hour bus ride to Victoria Falls). Now that I’m flying over North Africa back to the States, I wish I didn’t have to leave, though I’m excited to share all my stories in person with my friends and family. From Gabs, Serowe and Kanye to Zimbabwe, Joburg and Cape Town I’m now sure more than ever that Africa is where I belong.

To Africa, for Africa. I’ll be seeing you soon.

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