Cape Town

Friday 29th & Saturday 30th March

If I ever thought a trip to Cape Town was a chance to get away and relax, I was seriously deluding myself.  On the evening of Good Friday, after a day-long bus journey and flight, I arrived at The Backpack – voted the best backpackers in South Africa and 2nd on the continent.  The first person I saw was Lisa, a girl I knew from Swaziland who is now working at The Backpack.  Arriving two minutes behind me was Mpho, another friend from Swaziland, while sitting up in the bar I spotted Cathal also from, you guessed it, Swaziland.

My friend Hayley had also put me in contact with Jerome, a crazy, French kiteboarder, whose vocabulary largely consisted of “Allellallela” and “Chakalaka”, and who happened to be staying in the neighbouring Zebra backpackers.  Hayley had met Jerome on her previous trip to Cape Town, and thought he might be a good contact for some kitesurfing shenanigans.  Jerome gave me all of about 12 hours to settle in (just enough time to sleep) before dragging me out onto the cold, windy waters of Langerbaan lagoon, about an hour North of Cape Town.

Having only ever kited in waves, my introduction to flat water kiting was extremely gratifying, and I was instantly going upwind and switching (almost) effortlessly while watching the 20cm deep water rush beneath me.  As we made our way back to Cape Town on dusk, the clouds had engulfed Table Mountain like a wrapped present, and rays of sunlight were shooting perfectly from its summit.  The only way to top off a day like this was with a crispy cold beer with Jerome (my first drink in 6 weeks), Mexican Chimichangas at the Fat Cactus, then an expedition into the ugly, drunken mayhem of Long Street with Cathal.  Hello Cape Town!

sun rays tbln mtn

Sunday 31st March

I awoke this morning to my first clear view of Table Mountain, and immediately scrambled out of bed in search of someone to climb it with me.  Alas, they were all hung over.  So, instead, I took up Jerome’s offer to join him, Sergio and Elene at Guguletu township and the infamous Mzoli’s Meat Bar for their weekly Sunday afternoon session.  A shed, sandwiched with several hundred people, all wiggling their butts to pop African beats made it rather reminiscent of Swaziland’s Tinkers nightclub – minus the sexual harassment.

Regulars knew to bring their own food and iceboxes packed with beverages, while the rest of us had to venture to one of the township’s stores for beers and queue for hours at one of the street braai stands for a tray brimming with greasy, salty, hot, delicious meat.  As the afternoon wore on, the smattering of white people slowly left and were replaced with Africans from the local area, bringing the atmosphere to a whole new level of vibrancy.

Mzoli's

Mzoli’s

Before Mzoli’s closed in early evening, we departed and made our way to see Goldfish, a local band playing at The Grand Cafe on V&A Waterfront.  The Grand Cafe’s contrast to Mzoli’s was a shock to the system.  Set on the white sandy banks of Cape Town’s waterfront, the drinks were expensive, the furnishings were luxurious, and the crowd was white and dripping with money.  While Goldfish provided some awesome dancing material, it was hard to beat the energy of Guguletu.

Monday 1st April

For a city where so much of the lifestyle is centred on the outdoors, what does one do in Cape Town when it rains?  It’s a good question and one that I struggled to answer when I awoke on Monday.  Not content to sit in the backpackers all day, I decided to hire a car and head to Cape Point in the hope that the weather down there was somehow different.  I managed to round up Jerome, and another of the Zebra inmates, Juanjo to play tour guide for me.  Juanjo is a Spanish-born, multi-lingual, professional chef / artist / djembe drummer / tour guide with a fascinating life story of international adventures that kept me entertained most of the day.

My zebra bros

My zebra bros

While the clouds prevented much (any!) view of the coastline along the drive, a sliver of sunshine broke through on our arrival at the most South-Western tip of Africa.  We stopped to check out the lighthouse before being blown back into the car, then stopped to watch the baboons grooming each other rather excitedly, then relaxed for some time at The Cape of Good Hope.  Here we gazed at the glassy ocean and smooth waves wash over white sandy beaches, coral carcasses, rock pools filled with anemones, scores of mussel-covered boulders, and mountains of kelp that resembled bicycle inner tubes.  Then it was up to Cape Point, where I had a chance to reflect on the expanse of blue and sheer cliffs that separated me from my home country.

Cape 1

Cape 2

As the ray of sunlight retreated back into the clouds, we made our way back towards Cape Town, stopping at Simon’s Town for a picnic lunch with lounging penguins.  Light drops of rain eventually told us to move on, and ultimately prevented us from making any more stops at the peninsula’s (apparently) stunning beaches.  While not the best day to visit the Cape, I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a rainy day in CT, seeing some amazing sights and getting to chill with Jerome and Juanjo, who would become my fun-time companions for the rest of my trip.

The day was topped off perfectly by joining friends of friends, Bert, Armita and Romy for a plate of Baby Calamari in Chilli Orange Butter at Quay 4 restaurant on the Waterfront.  Ah-mazing!

Tuesday 2nd April

Another day of cloudy, cold weather did not bode well for my trip to Gansbaai where I would spend half an hour plunged in the icy Atlantic waters in the hope of coming eye-to-eye with a Great White.  God must have heard my cries because the sun came out in full force as the boat left the dock and in 15 minutes we were staring down at the world’s most feared ocean creature.  Diving with sharks has long been on the top of my list for things to do before I die, not to obtain some adrenaline rush or fight any fear factor, but because I have always thought these animals to be so incredibly majestic and elegant that I just wanted to get close to them out of sheer awe.  In this regard, I was not disappointed.

As I watched them from the deck and from below the water, they swam effortlessly and almost lethargically toward the lures.  Maybe they were just tired of this daily charade or maybe their portrayal as mean hunting machines is heavily overstated and misguided.  When it was my turn to enter the cage, the sharks had seemingly found something else more interesting to investigate, so I spent 20 minutes fighting the biting 14.5oC cold water before finally getting a brief glimpse of what I had come to see: a 4 metre giant coming at me with mouth open and all teeth bared before swiftly turning and swimming past me 10cm from my face.  If I had stuck my fingers out of the cage, I could have stroked his scarred but shiny skin.  If only I could have spent more time with them.

Shark 2

Back in Cape Town, I spent the evening with my Zebra brothers (Jerome, Juanjo and Sergio) enjoying Juanjo’s famous home-cooked paella and discussing my sudden urge to paint.  Cape Town does crazy things to a person.

Wednesday 3rd April

Sunshine and clear skies ensured a successful climb up Table Mountain, although warnings of gale force winds did threaten the expedition.  I had managed to convince Lisa, who is not known for her athletic prowess, to accompany me to the top via the common Platterklip Gorge route.  With plenty of stops “to take photos”, we made it to the top in 3 easy hours and were rewarded with stunning, stunning views.  Furthermore, as the day had warmed up the wind had dropped, meaning we could now descend in a far lazier fashion via the cable car.

Table mountain (34)

In the afternoon, I was invited by Juanjo to accompany him, his adorable 2 year-old daughter Iris, and Jerome for a trip to the city’s hidden farm.  Just five minutes’ walk from the City Centre, the leafy suburban street lined with McMansions morphed into a gravel road where chickens, goats, pigs and rabbits hopped around happily among a chaotic burst of edible vegetation.  On the property were three shacks housing a bunch of families and orphans who managed this amazing hidden gem.  Such finds in concrete landscapes make me very happy.

As evening approached, I joined my Zebra brothers at Greenmarket Square for a free concert featuring a selection of artists from the upcoming Cape Town Jazz Festival.  I spent the next 6 hours dancing away in the open air to the Jimmy Dludlu and UK outfit the Brand New Heavies.  Africa must be teaching something about dance because as the night drew on, I was pulled into circles of dancing Xhosa women, attracting more and more compliments about the Mulungu dancing the African way.

Thursday 4th April

Sometimes I wonder if I ever learn.  After my day of hiking and dancing yesterday, I had unthinkingly signed myself up for an early morning climb to Lion’s Head.  This time, I was accompanied by Sanni, a German friend of a friend of a friend who is now living in CT.  A much quicker climb (1 hour) but harder and completely vertical in some places, the views from the top rapidly faded my early morning grumbles.  Sitting out on the rocks and staring into the abyss, dassies, bees, birds hovered around and stared back at me.

Lions Head (6)

Peering down at the white sandy beaches and azure ocean, I yearned to get close to that water.  So, back at the backpackers, I met Dylan who invited me to Clifton’s Beach for the afternoon.  Sadly, the icy cold Atlantic prevented enjoyment of said azure ocean, but digging my feet into the warm sand, watching boys offer umbrellas to sunbathers, listening to the rhymes of beach boys selling “Iced lolly to make you jolly”, and observing a photographic shoot of pregnant clothing (as far as I could tell) allowed for contentment to set in.

Clifton Beach (3)

That evening, I took a moment to myself and dined on Prawn and Lychee Green Curry at Saigon restaurant, before joining the Zebra boys for a birthday party at one of Juanjo’s friend’s apartments.  This party made me feel highly inadequate as everybody there spoke around 4 languages fluently and as we sat around chatting they would effortlessly flip between Spanish, French, English and Portuguese.  Damn them!

Friday 5th April

Having barely ventured into Cape Town city, I decided to spend the day wandering the inner city streets.  I meandered through Company Gardens stopping to play with the pesky squirrels, wove in between the stalls of crafts at Greenmarket Square, then stumbled upon Streetwires and Monkeybiz – two fair-trade companies selling handicrafts.  In the name of research, I made a number of purchases before heading towards the waterfront where I did some more handicraft research before attacking the food market and all its taste sensations – thyme infused balsamic vinegar with a hint of horseradish, baobab and aloe juice, sweet potato and beetroot crepe………. It was then back towards home via the colourful Malaysia quarters of Bo Kaap.

Bo kaap (5)

This left me with just enough time to rest before hitting the first night of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival – the real reason for coming to Cape Town.  Up there with shark diving, the Jazz Festival has also held a high position in my life’s must-dos, thanks to a reputation that has traversed the Indian Ocean.  Perhaps my expectations were a little too high for while the festival was great, it wasn’t mind-blowing.  Still, it was so good to sink my soul into some classic jazz from the likes of Auriol Hayes and Afrika Mkhize; get dancing to headliners Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club and Brand New Heavies; and be spellbound by up-and-coming Pu2ma, the political voice of Thandiswa Mazwai, and the not-at-all jazzy sounds of Netherland’s hip hop indie artists, Chef’Special.

Saturday 6th April

Cloud cover once again threatened my day’s activities, but I persevered and jumped on the city’s touristy (but actually really good) Hop On Hop Off double decker bus to make my way to Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens.  Featuring only native plants, it was easy to get lost among the proteas and grasses and after a lazy two hours re-emerged from the depths of green to continue my city bus tour.

I followed the route around to Camps Bay where I alighted for a quick lunch break overlooking the beach, then continued on to Greenmarket Square where the sun had thankfully re-emerged.  Here, Juanjo was helping to conduct a street-side Djembe drumming lesson with passersby.  I had no option but to join them. Two hours later, when my hands were getting red and the beat in my head was getting jumbled, I rushed off to my second night of the Jazz Festival.

Any chance of sleep on my final night in CT was dashed by messages from the Zebro bros to meet them at Jimmy Jimmalo’s – a tiny shabeen down an alleyway off Long Street.  When I entered, all eyes were on me as the only white female in the place, but in usual African style I was immediately welcomed.  Clearly, Jimmy Jimmalo’s is a hangout for the local African community, where people can bring their instruments and jam, where others can have dance-offs on the 2m2 dancefloor, and where regulars introduce themselves with the words “One Love”.  Juanjo brought his drums, while Jerome and I boogied away until the wee hours.

When I say wee hours, I mean wee hours.  I made it back to my backpackers at 5:20am, just in time to grab my bag and jump on the 5:30am taxi to the airport, for the 8am flight to Johannesburg, and the 12pm bus to Swaziland.

Cape Town, you exhilarated me, and you exhausted me.  Allellallela!

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Categories: Exploring | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Cape Town

  1. Tim

    I need a lie down now.

    I had to laugh at this,”Diving with sharks has long been on the top of my list for things to do before I die”. While I agree with your sentiments about the profound elegance of sharks, the few times I’ve been diving I have been quite happy not to appreciate this first hand.

  2. Fiona

    Sounds like you haven’t slowed down at all Isabel!! Good onya!!

  3. Awesome as always, Isabel

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