Today is my third full day in Cape Town, but my very first blog entry. I guess that means I’m already behind, but I prefer to think that I’m just adapting very quickly to African Time. Seriously, though — the Wikipedia article is a little bit critical, but the pace of life really does seem different here, and I think that’s one of the things that I love about it. I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear that the slower pace suits me 🙂
I arrived in Cape Town on Monday afternoon after a really nice day in London on Sunday, and went directly to my hostel, where I decided to take a quick nap, which turned into sleeping through the night (if you consider waking up at 4am “through the night). Waking up at 4am is actually kind of nice, though. I unpacked, read for a while, downloaded Lonely Planet – Cape Town on my Kindle, and left around 7am to make my way to the beach.
On my way to the bus station, it occurred to me that 7am might be a little bit early for the beach, so I found my way to the Company’s Garden, which is a public park / garden built in the seventeenth century by the Dutch East India Company, and sat there for a few hours with coffee and a book.
I also had my first confrontation with African wildlife in the Garden — specifically, a squirrel who actually jumped up on the bench next to me. The squirrels in the Garden were apparently imported from North America by Cecil Rhodes, but they must have some sort of deal with the people here, because unlike New York squirrels, they are not scared of people at all.
Once I had been sufficiently intimidated by the squirrels, I found the bus station and took a bus to Camp’s Bay, which is a beach town about a 15 minute drive outside of the city center. It was a perfect sunny day, and I spent the rest of the day at the beach, which was beautiful.
Yesterday, I did Lonely Planet’s self-guided walking tour of Cape Town. The central part of the city is not that big and is easy to walk in a day. Thankfully, it’s a grid, which means I am actually learning my way around instead of just getting lost all the time like I normally do in a new city.
Some of the sights on the walking tour were:
The Castle of Good Hope (an important military base for the Dutch during their war with the British, as far as I could understand from the signs — I got there right when it opened at 9am and didn’t think it was worth waiting for the 10:30 tour).
The first synagogue in Cape Town. It was built by the first Jews to arrive in Cape Town, who I think were British, but subsequently there was a large influx of Lithuanian Jews and they built a larger synagogue next door and turned the first one into a museum. The museum included some interesting videos talking about the roles that Jews took during Apartheid, which were split. The only member of the South African parliament to consistently vote against Apartheid was Jewish, as were more than half of the white men arrested with Nelson Mandela and several members of his legal team [insert Jewish lawyer joke]. But Jews were considered white under Apartheid and some of the community was happy to reap the benefits.
The old City Hall building, across from the Grand Parade, where Nelson Mandela gave his first speech after being released from prison.
The Slave Lodge, which was where slaves lived at the height of the slave trade in Cape Town. The Dutch who settled in Cape Town wanted to trade with the local population so they didn’t try to enslave them (how generous); instead they brought slaves in from Indonesia, India, and East Africa.
The District Six Museum. District Six was a predominantly black and coloured neighborhood in the early years of Apartheid, but was eventually declared to be a white area. The residents were evicted or “relocated” to townships outside of the city, and most of the neighborhood’s buildings were destroyed. The museum is in a building that used to be the neighborhood’s church, and was started by former residents of District Six to document their memories of the neighborhood as it was and their experiences of being relocated. It was both disturbing and amazing to see.
The last stop on the tour was Bo-Kaap, which is a small neighborhood adjacent to the central part of Cape Town. It has narrow, hilly cobblestone roads and very brightly-colored homes, so it’s a pretty place to walk around. The people who live there are mostly Indian or Cape Malay.
Finally, Lonely Planet wisely suggests completing the walking tour at a really cute wine bar, which was a great way to wrap up the day just in time for my rockin’ jet-lag bedtime of 8pm.