Monday, August 13, 2007


The next day in Cape Town, our plans to visit the looming Table Mountain were dashed when we discovered that it was closed due to poor visibility and high winds (a subsequent visual inspection revealed a large circle of ominous gray clouds hovering at the peak). Thereafter, we called for tickets to Robben Island (where several prominent ANC political figures including Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned) only to discover that tickets were unavailable until the 14th. Rolling with the flow, we changed our plans midstream and decided to continue exploring more of the city itself. We confidently boarded our trusty local minibus and ventured to Bo-Kapp, a Muslim part of town identified by distinctive, pastel-colored houses. A resident of the area served as an informative guide and gave us a tour of the Bo-Kapp Museum before we made our way through the neighborbood on foot.

From Bo-Kapp, we stopped in at the Gold of Africa Museum to see the famous Golden Lion, which proved to be a little over-hyped in our humble opinions (the lion was roughly the size of a baby head of lettuce). We then walked over to the Slave Lodge where Kaberi took in the history of the slave trade as well as the memorial for slaves held in the lodge itself. From the Slave Lodge, we worked our way down Long Street to the South African Missionary Meeting House Museum (the first church to teach literacy to blacks) and the Palm Street Mosque (which we could only admire from the outside as it was closed to the public).

As we wandered along Long Street, Kaberi indulged in her desire for souvenirs, rationalizing that we were in the final stretch of the trip and could carry any purchases for the duration (Vik disagreed but was summarily ignored). We soon poked our head into the overwhelmingly-cheesy Pan African Market before finding a slightly more upscale retail venue. Vik staunchly opposed prospective purchases of beaded wooden fertility dolls or recycled soda-can toy cars, leaving Kaberi to furtively search for one or two items that would pass muster. We capped our day with a drink at the lazily-named Long Street Bar before catching a minibus back to Sea Point at dusk.

We awoke the following morning to a spectacularly-cloudless, sun-drenched day, and subsequently made a bee-line for Table Mountain. Having been closed to the public for several weeks for annual maintenance, Table Mountain greeted us with a seemingly mile long queue of apparently every other tourist in town. Despite arriving at 10:00 a.m., it wasn’t until noon when we finally managed to buy our tickets and stand in a second line to board the revolving cable car heading up to the mountaintop. Upon arriving at the peak, we were met by a fierce wind and incomparable views. We soon set off on an easy, two-hour hike to different vantage points of the sprawl below encompassing the city center and waterfront, Robben Island, Signal Hill, Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles mountain range. We were stunned by the beauty enveloping us and reveled in the picture-perfect weather conditions for Cape Town’s top attraction.

The next day was not nearly as clear as its predecessor, but we still chose to visit the Kirstenbosh National Botanical Gardens. As we arrived, we were dismayed to see the clouds rolling in behind us. Without missing a beat, the skies opened just as we were commencing our tour. Our guide was completely unfazed, however, continually jumping in and out of our golf cart to pick leaves and blossoms for us to feel and smell. We soon learned that South Africa’s oldest botanical garden housed one third of the world’s floral species and represented the first botanical in the world to be designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site. The most striking flower of the several that we saw was a colorful one named for Nelson Mandela. However, our favorite part of the outing came after the tour concluded, when we raised our body temperatures by sampling mugs of the Kirchenbosh Tea Room’s sinfully-rich hot chocolate.

On a slightly overcast day later in the week, we took the local train down to Simonstown to see the African penguin reserve. Unbeknownst to us, we chose to make the journey on a national holiday, National Women’s Day, and soon found that rail service was interrupted. Our train stopped in Fish Hoek, several towns north of our final destination, from where we were shuttled to Simonstown on an impossibly-crowded coach bus. From the bus stop, we walked through the center of town to Boulder Beach, an outpost located on the outskirts of town. While we admired the penguins in their natural habitat (especially the furry babies), we were overwhelmed by their stench. We sought olfactory relief on the walk back into town before stopping in at The Meeting Place for an upscale casual lunch. When the threat of rain from foreboding, overcast skies mounted, we quickly returned to the bus stop to reverse our course. The return journey seemed longer than we remembered, but our kindly fellow passengers reassured us that we were headed back in the right direction.

One of the most pleasant surprises of our stint in Cape Town was interacting with the locals. We found ourselves constantly chatting with friendly fellow passengers on various transport modes including trains, Rikkis (British-style fixed-rate shared taxicabs) and minibuses. The locals (of all skin colors) we encountered were exceedingly personable and helpful, and helped put our minds at ease about our reception in a former Apartheid state. We also managed to patronize a number of the restaurants recommended by local benefactors. We found that the city’s culinary scene did not seem to boast a fusion culture, but rather, focused on preparing a number of distinct cuisines well, including sushi at Tank, Indian at Bukhara, pan-Asian at Haiku, fresh continental at Savoy Cabbage, and African-influenced international at Five Flies, the restaurant where we belatedly celebrated our fifth anniversary. In Cape Town, we soon came to learn that neither a friendly face nor a satisfying meal were very hard to find.

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