Table Mountain stands guard over Cape Town, assessing everyone who enters the city. It’s much bigger than I imagined from looking at maps and photographs on the internet. It’s imposing, but not in a threatening way. It looks down on its people, protective and caring.
Cape Town is a beautiful city, surrounded by watchful mountains and clear green waters. The people are friendly, and although I was told to be careful with my handbag and my money I didn’t feel unsafe at any point, even when myself and my three friends were walking back to the apartment we’d rented quite late at night after dinner and a couple of drinks. I think as long as you’re sensible you’re no more at risk of being mugged or pick-pocketed than in any other tourist destination.
After a lovely dinner at a little Italian restaurant on Greenmarket Square we went for a wander around the local area and Long Street. The morning of our first full day in Cape Town was spent arranging tours and trips for the rest of our visit, including a trip to Botswana to go on safari in Chobe National Park and the Okavanga Delta (we were all so excited about this!). We then had our first Cape Town tour – to the townships that are on the outskirts of the city.
Visiting the townships was a very humbling experience. It really makes you appreciate what you have and how lucky you are to be born into the time and society you are. Langa (which means ‘sun’) township was the first place our guide Mzu took us. We went to a community centre where they have various projects set up for people to learn and make various things – such as pottery, sand paintings, and animals and jewellery made from wire and beads – which can then be sold to visitors. We each bought something small before being introduced to Tami, a local man with an amazing knowledge of the history of Langa, apartheid and South Africa. He led us around Langa, showing us the various types of accommodation people live in there and explaining the stories behind them.
One such story was that in one area most people used to live in wooden shacks, until one man decided to cook after he came home drunk and fell asleep leaving the fire burning. You can imagine what happened next. Unfortunately many people’s homes as well as a few lives were destroyed by the fire. The ‘short-term’ replacements for the ruined housing were cargo containers. These were adapted by adding two doors, two windows and a partition down the centre so two families could live there. Each family has one tiny room which functions as bedroom, living room and kitchen. The toilets for everyone are portaloos, the blue ones we’re used to seeing at festivals. Washing happens at the public tap.
Tami and Mzu then took us to one of the huts made of corrugated iron which served as a local pub of sorts. We all tried the locally brewed beer, which was served in one giant container and passed around everyone there. Traditionally it is brewed by the women and drunk by the men in social gathering places like that. The women can drink it too if they want, but they have their own place where they gather and socialise. We also tried one of the local dishes: sheep’s head. They have a saying about the different parts of the sheep’s head – you should eat the ears to become a good listener, the eyes to see well and the tongue to speak well, but don’t eat the brain as then you will think like a sheep and be stupid. I wasn’t quite brave enough to try the eyeball (Tami’s favourite part) but I ate some of the meat – it tasted very much like lamb.
Next Mzu drove us around and through Khayelitsha township, where he lives now. We stopped off to say ‘molo’ (which is Xhosa for hello to one person; ‘molweni’ means hello to more than one person) to his mother and have a guided tour of her little guesthouse before taking photos with Mzu and his mother. We took a short walk to Mzu’s home and office across the road where he showed us a book that he’s written called ‘Introducing Cape Town’s Townships’ (Mzu Lembeni) – and yes, I bought a copy which he signed for me: ‘Thank you very much for booking a township tour with us. Enkosi kakhulu (which means thank you very much in Xhosa), Cool bananas’.
That evening we ate in a fantastic restaurant called ‘Mama Africa’ – delicious African food and a great live band – before walking back to our apartment via a slightly longer route that took us past some lovely buildings and a little square with a few restaurants around it.
Wednesday morning was another early start – we were picked up by Mzu to take us to the Robben Island ferry at the waterfront. After the ferry ride over, we had a bus tour around Robben Island to see the village, the leper’s graveyard (it was a leper colony for many years before it was a prison), the lighthouse and some of the wildlife that lives there – we were lucky enough to see penguins, cormorants and two types of deer. There are actually four prisons on Robben Island, one of which was solely for Robert Sobukwe, a political prisoner who was in permanent isolation. We were given a tour of the main prison by a former inmate, who had also been a political prisoner for several years. Talking to him was fascinating, and gave a real insight into what life was like for the people imprisoned there.
Following a much longer and more rolling journey back to the mainland, we had a very enjoyable lunch at Hildebrand restaurant on the V&A waterfront. A lovely afternoon was spent on top of Table Mountain, wandering around, gazing at the amazing views, spotting various wild animals including a squirrel, two lizards, and lots of dassies (small, cute rodent-like animals, dassie is the Dutch word for badgers and surprisingly its closest relative is the African elephant).
On Thursday we took a tour to Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope and Simon’s Town, where the African penguins have permanent residence. On the way through Table Mountain National Park we saw four wild zebra, a wild ostrich & wild baboons. The afternoon consisted of wine tasting in Stellenbosch with a short wander around the town as well. On the way back to Cape Town there were ridiculous traffic jams as it was the opening of parliament that day and they closed all the roads for ‘security’, even though we were nowhere near parliament or the route the president would be taking into the city.
Our last day in the beautiful city that is Cape Town was mostly spent in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Sitting at the top of Kirstenbosch botanical gardens with Table Mountain at your back, you can see the whole of Cape Town spread out below you, all the way to the ocean. The view is stunning.
Next stop: Botswana…