Having been told repeatedly that we have to see Cape Town, we decide to take the plunge and fly down to the Mother city for a few days. On the flight over we watched the flat planes of central South Africa turn to rippling mountain ranges of the south. Our first glimpse of this part of the country as we drove into Cape Town was the ramshackle tangle of tin and mud making up the small homes of the slums. Gradually petering out and making way for the spectacular view of Table Mountain. One of the world’s seven natural wonders, which was voted in a recent attempt to compile a list decided by the people of the world.
We were dropped off at our first airbnb right in the center of town and were welcomed by our host Andrew. His home was absolutely gorgeous with a sweet little courtyard and rooftop balcony. He was only dropping in from work so with a quick tour and advise to visit Table Mountain via the gondola he departed.
It’s lunchtime so we headed into town past an awesome piece by A.dub which becomes a familiar landmark near our temporary home. The first thing we noticed about the Mother City is the spectacular backdrop of Table Mountain and the Lions Head surrounding the city. The streets had a comfortable feel and a diverse range of people. Everywhere we went had street cleaners, parking attendants and public safety officers.
One of the beautiful things about the area we were staying in was the Islamic call to prayer. Their haunting song became familiar as it woke us at first light every morning and carried us through the last light of the evenings.
Taking an uber, our main means of transport other than walking, we headed up to Table mountain’s gondola. A giant round carriage with windows curved all around, the floor of the gondola rotates 360 degrees so you can take in the whole view.
When we reached the summit we were greeted by another old friend from Israel, the Dassie! They were everywhere close to the the shops and cafe at the summit and were far from shy. Apparently, according to many signs around the park, the Dassie is the closest living relative to the Elephant.
We decided to trek around the top of the mountain and were astonished by the diverse range of habitats. There was swampland, home to many singing frogs, grasslands and dry rocky brush.
The views were spectacular, encompassing the city, ocean and mountain ranges in the distance.
Although the beauty of the landscape could not surpass that of wifey….
After returning exhausted to base camp we had the pleasure of meeting our other housemate, Khai, a law student from the US who is living in Cape Town interning with an NGO monitoring the parliament. That evening Andrew suggested we all head out to dinner at a lovely French restaurant. As we came to realise, there was a big French influence in Cape Town. A lot of French restaurants and a thriving wine industry. During the early settler days and the beginnings of Afrikaner culture a large group of French Protestants (Huguenots) fled France and settled in South Africa. They assimilated into the Afrikaner culture of the time and influenced the development of the southern cape. The restaurant was lovely and was made all the more interesting by the power blackout as we dined by candlelight and discussed out worlds.
Blackouts were fairly common all over South Africa. The power stations and infrastructure have not been updated in a long time and are beginning to break down. They are unable to provide enough power to the whole population and have set up a system of ‘load shedding’. This simply means that they cut of power to an area for a period of time, usually one to two hours, and then cycle to the next area. These outages are supposed to be regulated and scheduled precisely, but the reality can be far more random and inconvenient.
The next day we followed Andrew’s advice and went to an area called Woodstock. Well on its way to full gentrification the area was once a poor arty neighbourhood and is now filled with design firms, boutique shops and amazing restaurants. It was a vibrant area and there was a great complex of shops, restaurants and galleries built inside an old biscuit mill. The highlight for us was the pottery of Majolandile Dyalvane. We met the artist and chatted a little about his technique and career as a potter and his work is amazing. We particularly liked his ‘scarification’ series which used traditional body scarification techniques and designs.
Walking back through the edges of the city from Woodstock we found makeshift shanties under bridges and the edges of the road, populated by emaciated people and smelling of human excrement. These areas are testimant to the epidemic of ‘nyaope,’ a cheap drug cocktail comprised of heroin, marijuana and other elements like rat poison, cleaning detergents and even crushed-up pills used in treatments of AIDS patients. The drug is sold at around $2 per hit and is horrendously addictive. When we first arrived in South Africa Melissa had told us about this problem, but it was very confronting seeing the effects of the addiction up close.
Cape Town is also home to the National Gallery and Museum of South Africa, so as we meandered around and explored the city, history and art was at the top of our to do list. The museum had a great exhibition on traditional rock art and some fantastic taxidermy. We never realised just how many types of antelope exist.
From there we visited the National Art gallery and were greeted straight away by this amazing ceramic work by Jane Alexander called the Butcher Boys. It was life-size and amazingly emotive and detailed.
One of the exhibitions there was a collaboration between indigenous South African and Australian artists centered around the SKA telescope project. The SKA project is an international initiative to build the worlds largest radio telescope, co-located in South Africa and Australia, to probe the depths of space. The artworks embody traditional stories inspired by a shared sky.
The most profoundly amazing work we saw that day was definitely The Refusal of Time by William Kentridge. We couldn’t believe our luck, Kentridge is one of our favorite artists and there we were seeing his latest work in his home country. An audio, sculptural and video installation comprising of a giant kinetic “breathing machine” in the center of the room surrounded by a five channel video projected around the walls on large canvases and speaker cones blasting an intense and beautiful soundtrack. A deeply moving experience.
Andrew, being the ever helpful host suggested we do the dawn climb of the Lions Head. Emmily was a little dubious of the early hour and exersion but he assured us that if we did it we would thank him later. He was right.
For our last day in Cape Town we decided to visit the glorious World of Birds! As you can see, Dotahn was excited.
The World of Birds is a wildlife sanctuary, predominantly made up of rescue birds. We saw as many signs groveling to the public about the need for the sanctuary as we did birds, and there were a lot of birds. The owls tried to sleep as we walked through their habitats in our unintentionally stompy way and we ventured upon the ever rare intermediate waltz lessons for vultures.
We paid homage to the true king of butts whose butt was a complex and bulbous appendage which threatened to engulf us and the world around us. Monkeys and meerkats played in their cages and an albino squirrel foraged on the forest floor.
Emmily quickly became a favourite plaything for the squirrel monkeys.
And there were guinea pigs!
Thanks Cape Town, it has been a blast.