Cape Town: ‘The Fairest Cape’

April 24, 2019

City Hall statue of Nelson Mandela, commemorating his first speech

after his release from 27 years in prison, on February 11, 1990, before a crowd of 250,000

 

April 18-19, 2019, Cape Town, South Africa — In 1580, during his 33-month circumnavigation, Sir Francis Drake wrote that this is ‘the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.’ It is a stunning city in a stunning setting against the 500-million-year-old Table Mountain and its sisters, Devil’s Peak, Lion’s Head, and Signal Mountain. This is a view from the huge Victoria & Alfred Waterfront mall, established in 1992. That’s not a typo: I don’t know who Alfred was, but he wasn’t Queen Victoria’s husband.

 

 Once a native fishing village, the cape area was spotted by the peripatetic Portuguese in 1488 and again in 1497, by Da Gama. But they moved on.

 

Cape Town is the oldest European urban settlement in Africa, founded by our old friends at the DEI company, who arrived in 1652 to establish a ‘refreshment station’ at this point half-way to the Far East. Shortly after, they brought Dutch farmers to grow vegetables and livestock for re-provisioning their fleets of ships, then beefed up the farm labor force with slaves from Angola, Indonesia, Madagascar and Malaysia. The Asian slaves brought spices. French Huguenots escaping Medici France brought wine vines. So Cape Town is a mix of African, Dutch, British and Asian customs and cuisines, with a soupçon of French wine.

 

In 1814 the British arrived and pushed out the Dutch, who were by then called Afrikaners, who did the ‘Great Trek’ to the Transvaal. The Brits contributed their architectural style to the city, which is still evident downtown, though it’s alongside thoroughly modern skyscrapers.

 

Greater Cape Town’s population is around 4 million, topped by Johannesburg’s 5 million, of the country’s total 58 million.

 

Today’s main industries include fishing, clothing and textiles, wood product manufacturing, electronics, furniture, hospitality, finance and business services. Real estate and construction are booming.

 

With the election coming up in May, there are party posters all over, including this  familiar (to us) cry: ‘Secure Our Borders.’ South Africa is a magnet for immigrants from surrounding countries, including Congo, Botswana and Namibia, but there’s not enough work for them.

 

We stayed 2 days in Cape Town. I spent the first with another solo traveler, Dietmar, who had made plans to have lunch with old friends from Germany, who have been living in Cape Town for 60 years. They drove us into the countryside to the De Grendel Winery, with a lovely view back towards Table Mountain, plus lovely food and lovely wine. This was our tuna sashimi starter...​

​​

​And our Karoo Lamb main. ​I love lamb, and this​ was delicious, so you’re going to learn more about it: The Travelling Chilli website explains how Karoo lamb, raised in a semi-arid part of central and western South Africa, gets its unique flavor: ‘The Karoo has a harsh climate, cold winters and hot summers with hardly any rainfall. The indigenous shrubs endure this harsh climate and grow year round, while grass only grows in the rainy season. The Karoo sheep mainly feed on this indigenous flora, which is nutritious as well as palatable to the sheep. These shrubs have a very herby aroma, varying from rosemary, thyme, sage, eucalyptus and lavender. One can say that the sheep flavour their own meat while grazing.’ 

 

A warehouse at the winery. You know me and angled roofs...

Dietmar’s friends drove us back to the V&A Waterfront for our next adventures. The mall has everything from souvenir shops to Gucci and Versace. Also a florist selling South Africa’s national flower, the beautiful protea: 

I’ve mentioned Africa’s prolonged drought. This is a loo flushed with air. A sign over the sinks begs people to use as little water as possible. 

​Next up, so to speak: A ride on the ferris wheel, for a couple of altitude shots: 

There’s no escaping Table Mountain...

 We were headed for these docks and a catamaran sunset cruise in the harbor. 

 Back on terra firma, on the way to the docks...​

Long before The Lion King, Swahili speakers have used the phrase ‘Hakuna matata’ — or ‘No worries.’ 

Out on the water, shots from the catamaran...

 

 A ‘pirate ship.’

Back on terra firma again, we listened to several vocal groups on the waterfront.

The day ended with a ‘destination performance’ back onboard. An exuberant chorus and an athletic marimba band got a huge standing O.

 

 

 

Day 2 was a lot less strenuous. I rode a bus for 3-1/2 hours, seeing many of the sights Cape Town and its surrounding beaches and residential area have to offer.

 

Old alongside new. Glad they have saved some of the British heritage buildings...

 

 

We walked around the Company’s Garden, the ‘company’ being the VOC, which was literally where the original Dutch farmers grew vegetables for the passing ships. It is now a wonderful park surrounded by great buildings that have been beautifully maintained and/or restored.

 

 

A synagogue alongside the original VOC garden area. 

 No matter where you go in the world, there’s a living, breathing human statue. 

 

Seen from the bus... the woman in the green hat was walking down the sidewalk carrying a large polka-dot box. The other women and girls saw her and clustered around, helping themselves to slabs of cake straight out of the box. 

 Hands down, the best looking McDonald’s I have ever seen. 

We left downtown for a ride up Signal Hill and over Lion’s Head (Table Mountain’s sister peaks) then down along miles of white sand beaches and high-rise residences, on the city’s outskirts. Beautiful beaches at Camps Bay, Clifton Beach and Bantry Bay — obviously high rent districts.

 

On our way back to the Sun, docked in the middle of town, we begged the bus driver to take us through Bo-Kaap, the historical center of the Cape Malay culture. The houses are as colorful as the cooking spices arrayed in their markets, and the smell of local cuisine as redolent as the smell of healing herbs in the market. The Malay cuisine is so popular, Viking offered a culinary tour of this neighborhood. 

 

 

 

In 2014, the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph both called Cape Town the best place in the world to visit. I can’t disagree. 

 

Next: A heartbreaking visit to the country next door. # 

 

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