Thursday, June 2, 2011

Two Rainy, Touristy Days at the Bottom of Africa

"Should have gone up Table Mountain when I had the chance," I grumbled to myself as I contemplated the bleak weather forecast.

Rain, wind, rain. And chilly! I shivered at night under a thin comforter, wore my fleece to bed, wrapped my toes in a towel. There was no heater in my room at Cape Town Backpackers.

I thought about doing a shark dive, but I couldn't sort out the ethics. Are shark dives okay? Are they not okay? They're certainly cheap enough in Cape Town. But is it acceptable to chum to attract sharks, to associate them with humans? What I needed was an expert.

In the end, the shark dive question was made irrelevant by the weather. And since I couldn't figure out if township tours were ethical or not, I didn't do one of those either. I'm pretty sure both of these can be done responsibly, but I simply didn't have the time to do the necessary research.

So in the end, I did two days of touristy things that rain didn't ruin. Two days of things so clearly on the beaten path that I didn't have to sort through the morality of them. And laundry.

On Monday, I went on a winery tour with African Story Tours. On Tuesday, I toured Robben Island, where apartheid-era non-white political prisoners were held, including Nelson Mandela.

Of these, the winery tour was infinitely more fun. Robben Island was sobering, interesting, and still a bit horrifying although we've all heard the stories over and over, although the entire experience is repeated dozens of times a day for huge tour groups. I caught the MyCiti bus from Gardens to the V&A Waterfront, took the ferry over, and was shuttled around in a large group by bus and on foot, listening to former political prisoners relive their incarcerations over and over. And the unaddressed question, hanging in the air still hangs: What will happen as the ANC strays farther from its roots, as it gets more and more into the realm of wishy-washy political party full of agendas and conflicts, but still gets votes based on its historical importance?

This is already happening, of course. Mandela's successors have not been terribly good, ethical, socially clued-in, or bright, with shocking beliefs that contradict science and reality. Reconciliation was handled beautifully and South Africa has a marvelous chance to build a unique society, but South Africa's presidency will be handed along to the current ANC leader so long as the sheen hasn't worn off ANC's past fight for freedom. The cynic in me hides her eyes, but a true leader could still arise to inherit the void left as Mandela has aged out of politics.

But South African politics was not one bit on my mind on Monday morning when a woman with a van showed up to take me on a wine—and chocolate and cheese!—tasting tour in nearby Stellenbosch.

I don't even drink wine, but Ed Ward told me ahead of time that I didn't have to, that I could just taste it and spit it out. And there was that chocolate and cheese thing, so I was game.

My fellow tasters were a British man in his early thirties and a young Indian-American woman from...Jersey City. (She'd gone to high school two blocks from my apartment.) We were shuttled around from winery to winery, tasting some good, some bad, and the occasionally icky South African wines. We toured facilities, ate delicious bobotie for lunch (it's a meat and curry dish), and gobbled up mounds and mounds of cheese at a winery that featured goats on a tower in the yard.

The wine tour was fun because the people I was with were smart and sociable. I missed having friends who are more than typed words on a page. I missed them more when I got back to Cape Town Backpackers, where a guy in the kitchen was serenading everyone with tinny music from his phone. Ugh. And he kept drowning out what the soft-spoken Congolese security guard was telling me, which I really wanted to hear as it was his history, and he had been a mercenary in Angola for five years before his mother had sent him from Kinshasa to South Africa to keep him out of trouble.

I crossed the street before darkness fell, since I had to do a hundred little things and pack before leaving for Madagascar in the morning. The rain hadn't let up since the first day but now the sun peeked out. I hoped I'd be back one day, and that Cape Town would be none the worse for wear, and that I'd get back up the cable car on a sunny day.

I looked up at fog-shrouded Table Mountain one last time.

And was surprised that I could see it.

Along with a rainbow.

See additional photos here.


  1. Oops! Got the same Toons thing that Ed mentioned on the link to "additional photos".

  2. This country is driving me insane. To do something as simple as write on my own fairly innocent blog, I have to jump through hoops, and then nothing ends up saved right even though I do it several times. Infuriating. I've fixed this several times already and it's like I click and the world unfixes it while I sleep.