Thursday, January 14, 2010

Kaapstad: The First 24 Hours

Our trip to Cape Town went surprisingly smoothly. Our flights departed and arrived more or less on time, both our bags and their contents made it to their destination intact, and Gino (our cab driver) greeted us at the airport with this sign:

I had expected something to go wrong – a missed connection, a lost backpack, a cracked seat-back screen, but nothing did. Nothing that made us so much as sigh at our misfortune or sarcastically remark, “This is Africa” – nothing that put our mettle to the test.

As we drove into the city, the freeway cut through the Cape Flats – the endless cardboard and corrugated metal townships that sprawl out from the city centre – we noticed that although some of these were as decrepit and impoverished as we had imagined, others seemed less so, with cars parked in driveways beside small, sturdy looking homes made of brick. The financial divide was not as stark as we had anticipated.

We arrived at our hostel, a pleasant building with an almost heritage-y feel from the inside and a vaguely Mediterranean feel from the outside, at half past midnight. With one final waft of greasy hair and unwashed bodies we both fell asleep, only to find ourselves wide awake four hours later.

The next morning we arrived in the city and found ourselves somewhat unprepared, with no real map or destination or plan of attack. We'd taken the commuter train in from the suburb of Observatory, where the hostel is, a fifteen-minute ride for which a return ticket costs just under a dollar fifty. Our first introduction to Cape Town were the minibusses jumbled outside the station – a gaggle of privately-owned quasi-taxis piloted by young men touting what we assumed to be various destinations, jamming as many passengers as possible into their vans, and driving about with little regard for other vehicles or pedestrians. (Which, by the way, are provided only about five seconds to cross any street, making jaywalking inevitable.)

We eventually made our way to the decidedly more tourist-centric (and crosswalk-friendly) Waterfront area, which is characterized by a mix of authentic and inauthentic Victorian architecture, restaurants and a plethora of jewelery retailers. While not the type of place we wanted to hang around for too long, it did provide us with a chance to shamelessly pull out our guidebook and get a feel for where we next wanted to go, which ended up being a 17th century castle.

For R25 (about $3.50) we were given access to three museums and were permitted to explore most areas of the castle at our leisure. The few areas that we did not have access to, we were able to see on a short guided tour that gave insight into the castle's various functions over the years (namely, torture, detainment and punishment). The castle still houses a division of the South African army and we showed up just in time to witness the changing of the guard and the discharging of a very tiny canon. The castle also features the oldest bell in Africa!

In keeping with our European theme, we picked up a baguette and some Brie on the way back to our hostel and enjoyed it on the patio before retiring for an afternoon nap, which became a 12-hour sleep until 4am the next day. At least we saved money on dinner!

With blistered feet and sunburned skin, we eagerly await day two.

1 comment:

lpeg said...

So glad you made it there safely! Enjoy your trip, and I look forward to reading all about it!!

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