If you had asked me what I expected before I flew into Cape Town, I would truthfully have said “I don’t know.” But arriving in blouse and hiking boots still imbued with the red dust of the Zambian bush, I was definitely not prepared for the cosmopolitan city that met me, closer in many ways to New York than to Livingstone.
Initially, I only intended to stay in Cape Town for a few days, get my feet under me, see a few sites, and move on; I’m usually not much of one for cities. But I ended up staying for over a week, and I want to go back. I was playing tourist, something I have mixed feelings about, but ended up falling for the city.
I played a leisurely tourist, even using the red double-decker City Tours buses. (In my defense, they are a bargain price, very convenient transport – hop on, hop off all around the city – and even the locals recommended them as a good way to see the city.)
The city under a morning sea mist
You would think that flying into a major historical port, I might have thought I’d encounter the familiarity of an active port. You would be wrong. It never even occurred to me. (This, more than almost anything else in Cape Town, caught me by surprise.)
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is the place to be, if you a rich tourist who wants to see the same upscale shopping center you can find anywhere in the world. The marina is home to the same expensive yachts you can find anywhere. (I ended up spending unfortunately much time here, largely through my own inability to efficiently navigate public transport.)
The city of Cape Town is defined by the mass of Table Mountain in the center. The source of the fresh water that was the impetus for the Dutch to found a colony here in the 17th century, the mountain is still at the heart of the city, literally and metaphorically.
I’m usually not much of one for botanical gardens, but I was very impressed with the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Partly because this was my first exposure to the unique biology of the Cape region, partly because they have the largest collection of cycads in the world, and mostly because they are stunningly beautiful.
A mini-South Africa, showcasing the varied botanical ecologies of the country.
The best (and cheapest) way to get around the city: take the minibuses! Drivers will pack twenty-five people into what is technically a 15-passenger van. Makes for a quite a ride.
The transit hub, on the roof of the train station, is always busy.
Hiking to the top!
The hike up (one of many routes) is demanding, but short – 700m elevation gain over 3km. And it affords beautiful views.
I regret nothing.
In 1968, the apartheid government declared the multi-ethnic, inner city District 6 as Whites Only land. Over the next 14 years, the government forcibly removed the people living there, shifting most of them to the underdeveloped Cape Flats township some 25 km away. To prevent people returning to their homes, the government proceeded to raze the most of the housing. The residents fought to prevent redevelopment of the land. Today, much of the district, just outside of the city center, sits empty, a stark reminder of painful, and all too recent, history.
In 1994, with the fall of apartheid, the District 6 museum was founded. Housed in the old Methodist church, one of the few buildings left standing, the museum is both a living memorial and an active part of the community.
The street signs commemorating places no longer extant.
I found the museum very moving. It feels (and is) more a community’s attempt to heal from tragedy, a work of living art, than a traditional museum.
Stark reminders of the violence still sadly present in the city, and the country.