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The tip-toe of Africa: Katie’s trip to Cape Town

April 24, 2011

Or should I say “Keeeeeeeep Teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwn!”

This is what the scratchy-voiced guy in the shared taxi-bus guy yelled out the window to let passers-by know where his vehicle was headed.   Not understanding his strong Afrikaans accent, I had a mini moment of panic when I heard this, thinking for a second that I gotten on the wrong bus- I was trying to head from the hostel where I was staying into downtown Cape Town.  I realized I was on the right bus, and sat back to enjoy the ride, ridiculously loud hip-hop dance tunes and all.

Cape Town, South Africa

I got to spend just over a week in Cape Town, South Africa- an area that reaches to the very southern tip of the country and the continent.

I was there for a conference/workshop at the University of the Western Cape that talked about new research on the intersection of HIV and gender-based violence, which was incredibly interesting and an awesome opportunity to meet people who work in this field.  The idea being that violence puts women at higher risk for HIV- both directly (like rape) and indirectly (like when culture deems it acceptable for husband to sleep around and then beat up his wife if she asks him to use a condom, for example…).  This area of research is directly related to what I am currently spending most or my time on at work, so this conference was really, really awesome for me to get to attend.

AND, I got to arrive a bit before and stay a bit after the conference to make sure I had a sufficient amount of time to be a tourist!

After careful consideration during my admittedly short stay, here’s my impression of Cape Town as it relates to other places that I know:

So, think of New Orleans.  Now picture picking up the whole city- all the residents and their houses, except for the old southern mansions on St. Charles, those can stay.  And pick up a lot of the really interesting things about the city- cool music, an awesome mix of cultures and languages, lots of colors- and also pick up some of the lame things- like corruption, poverty and a city map divided pretty strictly by race.  Those are all coming, too.

Now, float them all westward above the U.S. until you land in California, specifically Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez area.  Now put them all down there, among the gorgeous beaches; flanked by a coldish ocean populated with whales, sharks and seals; shadowed by chaparral mountains; among sloping vineyards and mildly Mediterranean climate.  Find some new houses for the people who didn’t get to bring theirs, and then add a sort of a British accent instead of a southern one, add a bunch of Dutch language on top of the French, and then replace Ebonics with Xhosa (a Bantu language that uses tongue-clicks… to pronounce the name of the language, click your tongue to make the first consonant sound ‘xh-‘, followed by the rest of the word ‘-osa’.  Check out this Xhosa tongue twister on YouTube- so crazy!).

That’s kind of how I found Cape Town.  In short: really interesting and really beautiful.

Here are some photographic highlights…

I spent one lovely afternoon in the winelands surrounding the city, tasting a lovely Pinotage and watching the sunset.  One of the wineries, Fairview in the town of Paarl, even made their own cheese, which is just a good idea on their part.

Paarl- Cape Town Winelands and a glass of Pinotage

I went on a few hikes in the mountains with beautiful views of the beach and the whole peninsula.  I made it down to the Cape of Good Hope- the (in)famous spot where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean and where many a sailor met his doom back in the day when trade routes between Asia and Europe circumnavigated most of Africa.  It was beautiful!

Cape Point- the southern tip of Africa

Cape Point- the southern tip of Africa

Lighthouse at Cape Point

Cape of Good Hope

I saw some awesome animals as well, including a whale, some dolphins, seals, a rabbit-looking creature related to the elephant (?), and massive curly-horned deer-goat animal.

Curly-horned deer? at Cape Point

Curly-horned deer? at Cape Point

I also saw baboons at Cape Point- they are all over the place!  Apparently, Cape Point is part of their natural habitat, and part of their diet is shellfish from the beach that they pry open with their nimble fingers (probably after a bit of smashing on a rock).  Now, since there are so many tourists that come to this National Park, they’ve actually become quite a danger, as they can be pretty aggressive and have been known to chase people down or even open car doors to steal food!

All the park signs warn people not to bring food around because this is what attracts the baboons.  Obviously, I forgot these warnings as I arrived at Cape Point after a long drive, and started to eat the apple that I brought.  I quickly stopped in my tracks when I saw a baboon coming my way, and, feeling pretty foolish, shoved the apply down in my bag and hurried away.  Ooops.

Big baboon at Cape Point

I also (re-)learned how to drive, which was an unexpected, but not unwelcome, challenge of the trip.  Turns out, the public transportation, although pretty good in some areas of the city, was not great within the suburb where I was staying (the conference was a bit outside of the city, so I stayed nearby), and taking a taxi would be really expensive.

So, I was faced with the choice of either a) accepting that I can’t get around and spending the weekend in the ‘burbs in my room or b) rent a cheap car and drive myself around.  It seems like an easy choice, right?

And it would have been… except for the fact that all the rental cars within my price range were manual transmission.  Now, I had learned the theoretical aspects of it when I was 16, but I have never really had any practical experience (or any confidence) driving stick.

And, as if this wasn’t enough for me to think about while driving, in South Africa cars drive on the “wrong” (left) side of the road (like in England).

And, the steering wheel is on the “wrong” (right) side of the car… which also means that you have to control the gear shifter with your left hand, and that the switch for the indicator lights is on the right (instead of left) and the switch for the windshield wipers  is on the left (instead of right).

Soooooooo, appalled at the thought of spending my precious tourist time stuck in my room at the guest house in the suburbs, I rented a car.

I spent my first 2 hours with it practicing around the calm residential area where I was staying- swerving from one side of the road to the other as I tried to remember which was which, stalling at intersections, and flipping on the windshield wipers every time that I made a turn.  I was on the verge of an anxiety attack most of the time.

I did get the hang of it eventually, and successfully navigated my way around the cape, which was incredibly satisfying.

On the last leg of my little road trip coming back from the Cape of Good Hope, I did have to stop the car a few times- not because of any car troubles, but so that I could take in a breathtaking sunset over the ocean (while watching out for roaming baboons, of course).

Cape Point Sunset

Sunset behind Baboon warning sign


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