Blog post – Cape town
Hello All! I’ve landed safely in South Africa, and after a 14 hr flight, I can safely say that airplane seats may not be one of the more comfortable creations of mankind. Cramped legs aside, South Africa is gorgeous! I flew into Johannesburg, then took a connecting flight into Cape Town, and the drive to the hotel where I’m staying was breathtaking. As you may know, the soccer World Cup was held all over South Africa last year, so the roads were amazing, and I was able to catch a glimpse of one of the stadiums used.
Cape Town was the first stop on the journey, and we started the program by visiting Robbsen Island, the prison where many of South Africa’s political prisoners were kept. About a 15 minute ferry ride from Cape Town, the island was originally barren, and has a long history of being used as a dumping ground of unwanted peoples. We toured the prison and island, and learned much of its history. As surreal as it was to see the prison cell where Nelson Mandela was kept for much of his 30 year confinement, our tour was guided by a former prisoner on the island, which added another layer of depth to the visit.
The next few days went by in a blur, it seems. We had class discussions on impressions of Cape Town and South Africa, presentations from South African higher education officials, and began to get a feel for the unique city. My overwhelming impression of Cape Town was one of dissonance. Although we were in Africa, Cape Town is labeled as an international city, and for good reason. There are Western style buildings and cars, and overall it felt hard to say that I was truly in Africa. Given the recent World Cup, it makes sense that the city would be more developed than other areas, and historically, Cape Town has been more of a destination for the world and a major draw for tourism in South Africa.
Our group got a chance to see just why Cape Town is celebrated, through a tour of the city. For my California friends, imagine driving along the Pacific near Malibu, with the vibrant blue ocean on one side, and gorgeous mansions built into the towering cliffs on the other. We passed by communities where international celebrities had homes, including Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith and Arnold Shchwaezeneggar, which should give some clue to how exclusive and beautiful the area was. On the way to our final destination, Cape Point, we even passed by baboons and ostriches on the road, and believe me, an ostrich is an animal you don’t want to cross in a dark alley! Something about that huge body and the powerful legs that can disembowel with a single kick is amazing…from a distance.
Cape Point was gorgeous! This is the spot where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, and I was able to climb to the top of the mountain to the lighthouse where as far as the eye can see is the ocean, clouds and the distant mountain peaks of South Africa. The pictures can’t do justice to the landscape, I highly recommend this as something to visit if you ever find yourself in Cape Town. Speaking of beautiful sights, I also got the chance to see the sunrise from Table Mountain, a mountain that was nearer to our hotel, and gave a breathtaking view of Cape Town itself.
As I mentioned earlier, Cape Town was a place of dissonance for me, and one of the last parts of our journey in the city was visiting a township, just a few miles away from the ocean front mansions. As a brief history lesson, townships are areas in South Africa where Black South Africans were forced to live during the apartheid years, and have become a symbol of both poverty and opportunity for change. In the township we visited, Langa, we were shown examples of the housing conditions under apartheid, where 12 families would be forced to live in a 6 room apartment, with 2 families per room. Under the post 1994 government, there has been renovation of the homes to be only 2 families per apartment. Even with the renovations, the townships were a marked contrast to the other part of South Africa we saw during the tour and while in Cape Town. Although apartheid was officially over in the early 90’s, the effects are still very visible in the townships and provided a reality check for me, because I can see how deep the scars were upon South Africa’s society. The township visit wasn’t all negative, as we were able to visit a community center where members of the township were able to both be trained in skills and provide support for members of the community. We were able to see young schoolchildren, on winter break, learning a song and dance routine to be performed in school when they return, and a skill training project where pottery making was being taught. The center allows the students and members of the community to sell their crafts, which ranges from pottery, to jewelry, repurposed art, and much more. (Even with a favorable exchange rate I’ve found it hard to resist spending every rand I have on the amazing jewelry and woodwork!) Townships aren’t limited to Cape Town, and though they are a distinctive mark of South Africa, I find that there is much to be studied about them.
Another amazing experience we had was visiting a vineyard on our last day in Cape Town. South Africa is known for its vineyards, and though its winter, being able to sample wine on the South African mountainside is an experience I will never forget!
After 5 days that flew by, we boarded a plane to Johannesburg to begin the next leg of our journey. There are so many experiences I have to share with you all, but I hope I’ve been able to give you glimpse into my journey so far!
(Some classmates and I on our way up to Table Mountain in Cape Town)