Cape Town and The Garden Route

20 09 2008

Posted by: Chris

Travel Dates : 6.30.08 – 7.6.08

Aaaahhhhhh–Africa!

We had a couple days of sunshine when we first arrived in Cape Town before the rains came (5 days straight), and used them to wander around the city and take a cable car up Table Mountain: a flat-topped mountain in the middle of town that afforded views down on the beautiful beaches and buildings of the city. Cape Town is situated almost right at the tip where the Indian and Pacific oceans collide, and the beauty eased the pain of leaving Buenos Aires.

The Aquarium in town has some of the freakiest creatures in the sea, in particular the behemoth crabs and a mantis-thing that is strong enough to break the glass if it so felt like. They also had Penguins which at first glance we assumed were fake until they started waddling around, and of course tons of cool looking fish.

Food here is a highlight, not necessarily a local cuisine but there are tons of high quality international restaurants. One of our favorite meals was at an Ethiopian Restaurant named Addis in Cape, which almost single-handedly got us to include Ethiopia on our trip. The food comes out on a giant pancake called injera which is used to soak up the sauces (no utensils). The second place was called Africa Cafe, a tourist spot that served traditional African dishes in a community feast setting. Top notch service as the women explained every dish in detail. Their face makeup and colorful clothing made it hard not to stare–the women here are gorgeous–and as I turned to Laura to make sure I wasn’t getting myself in trouble with my googly eyes, I realized she was staring too.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do besides eat during the rainy days so we moved onto what’s known as the Garden Route, a popular stretch along the southern coast. 1st stop was Outdshoorn where we got to ride Ostriches and later on, eat some too. To ride, they put a bag over the Ostrich’s head as you climb on back, grasp under their wings, and wrap your legs underneath. They remove the blindfold, slap it on the rear, and see how long you can stay on. Their eggs are huge and strong and could probably be used as projectile weapons if need be (Laura coincidentally sent a couple home, for what reasons I’ve yet to figure out). Their eyeballs are larger than their brains, which nominates these overgrown birds for “Dumbest Animal on the Planet” award.

We also took a day trip around the area to the Cango Caves, for anyone interested in gigantic caverns with uncomfortably small passageways. I’m still not sure how I fit through some of the holes in there(to quote Laura, I’m “about as limber as a beetle”).

Knysna (have fun pronouncing that) is a small coastal town with a great arts and craft scene. We lucked upon it during their annual oyster festival and being the New Orleans fan I am, we partook in a few varieties. Not much going on, but we had a great time checking out the local goods and we even bought a painting (kinda) that was shipped the cheapest way we could (maximum of 3 months…we shall see). Plettenberg Bay was next, a beach town that is popular with surfers. We don’t surf and the water is freezing right now, so we didn’t plan to stay long but Laura got pretty sick, and we laid low for a few days catching up on internet.  We also checked out Monkeyland and Birds of Paradise, two nature reserves where we saw tons of animals up close and got plenty of pictures.

Our last stop was Storms River, where we bungee jumped off the Bloukrans bridge. This is known as the “Highest Bungee Jump in the World” at a horrifying 216 meters high. The company was very professional and safe though, and our friend Bob had done it also. There isn’t much time to debate once they tie your feet together, as they quickly move you to the ledge where you are given a 3-count and “helped” down. You can tell the people who weren’t sure they wanted to jump because on “3” they bent their knees and then sorta just fell off the edge. Hey, it takes some nerve (and perhaps lack of intelligence) to stare down into a river 200 meters below and jump into a free-fall.

We got very frustrated with the local Hostel network here, most people would do and say anything to keep you in their hostel eating their food, drinking their beer, and taking their overpriced tours. It was a nightmare trying to get anyone to help us out with directions or explain how to get from place to place with public transport, they will tell you there is no way and that you have to take private shuttles (which they just happen to offer, of course). Some go as far as to say the food in town is unsanitary or tastes terrible. Lies. You can get around with a few notable hiccups here and there (Bloukrans Bridge being one of them) and it is easy and much cheaper, and the food excellent. Most importantly, you need to break away from the protected backpacker circuit because the locals are as friendly as people get. Helpful, happy, with huge grins and a genuine concern for making sure we were taken care of. Meeting South Africans is reason enough to visit.

There are of course still racial tensions in S. Africa, after all it hasn’t been all that long since the Apartheid era. People can’t thank Nelson Mandela enough for what he did. But you can’t ignore the gigantic disparity between rich and poor, and white and black. Much of the black population still lives in Townships, which are underdeveloped “urban living areas” outside of cites where non-whites were forcibly moved to during Apartheid. Crime is incredibly high and most wealthy whites we talked to, especially restaurant or store owners, generally felt afraid. Everything has locks even during the daytime, and you have to be buzzed into the stores. There is a constant tension, and many whites will talk about how the black ruled government is corrupt and running the country into the ground (these same people condemn the racist history and praise Mandela, one woman saying she and her husband “we’re there cutting the ribbon” at his inauguration). Certainly there is a huge white flight with many of the young and educated jetting off to Australia.

There’s a strange similarity between South Africa and the Southern US. A few times I wanted to smack someone (one kid in Plettenberg Bay especially) for the same types of “my daddy told me this, so I don’t need to form my own opinion” racism that can be found in parts of my hometown in Mississippi, and no doubt across the United States. But if we’ve learned one thing on this trip, it’s that people are the same everywhere: which means there are a lot of stupid people everywhere, and they generally are the ones that get quoted in the newspaper.  But: I also saw white and black eating together, working together, laughing and drinking together like there wasn’t a problem in the world. The times they are a’changing, many in South Africa are still fighting for a better country and are trying to repair the damage that’s been done and build an image of a “New South Africa.” Too early to tell what will happen, but count me as someone who’s planning to come backand see.

Click here to see pictures of Cape Town and the Garden Route at our Flickr Site***

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