Cape Town: The Mother City

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cape Town is called the mother city. Why exactly, I don't know. I'm sure I could find out without too much effort, but frankly, I've been lazy lately.

While living in Uganda, I met the ever so lovely Paul and Sandi. Sandi was a South African who had been living in the U.K. and after nine years, was returning home. She and Paul decided to do in style and drive their motorcycles from London to Cape Town. They had invited me to come and stay with them in their house in Simonstown, out on the Cape Peninsula for as long as I wanted. Little did they realize that I would actually show up and take them up on their offer.

For about two and a half weeks I lived in the loft of their small house, like some biltong eating Canadian Hunchback of Notre Dame. Every morning, I would drive into the city bowl, over the mountains into the downtown of Cape Town with Sandi, roam for the day, and then catch a ride home with her at night.

What did I do for my entire time in Cape Town?


Eat a lot.

After a year in Africa, countless portions of beans and rice, and chicken and chips, frankly I went a little crazy with the options an international city like Cape Town offers. I had coffee, good coffee. I had Asian food, some much noodles and Thai curries. I had jerked pork rotis. I had gourmet dorewoers. I had roasted butternut squash, with marinated goat cheese sandwiches on a stone ground bun. In short, I did everything I could to become a fat bastard. I figure a few weeks of dysentery in India will take care of any extra pounds added now.

What else did I do in Cape Town?


Cape Town had been a little light on the horizon for a while. After my shoes were stolen in Malawi, I had to buy a pair of crappy African department stores shoes. After two and half months they were literally rotting on my feet. I walked like an arthritic old man looking for a lost contact lens. Whenever my feet would begin to ache I would tell myself, "In Cape Town, I can buy new shoes. In Cape Town, I'll sleep in a bed again. In Cape Town, I'll have hot water whenever I want it. In Cape Town, I'll have sushi."

So, a couple of weeks in Cape Town, and finally, a new pair of shoes, a couple of new articles of clothing to replace the old ones that were falling apart, and nice long hot showers. Thank you Paul and Sandi.

Simonstown is out along the Cape Peninsula, the last town on the False Bay side before reaching Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. It's a navy town, with a peaceful feeling, laid back and quite far from the barb wired electric fence paranoia of much of the rest of South Africa. Simonstown is famous for it's penguins. The Jackass penguin, or African penguin to use the new name, is a funny little fellow. They look like little drunk men wearing tuxedos, and make a braying cry, not dissimilar to a donkey (hence the name). They hang out at a place called Boulder Beach where people and birds mingle with a surprising casualness. The concern for these little fellows is touching, but has inadvertently created some of the funniest signs I have seen in Africa. For your viewing pleasure, I have them posted below.

Roaming around the subdivision where Sandi's house was located was a wild troupe of baboons. Understand, in North America, our biggest worries generally are raccoons getting into our garbage. Here it is a pack of 10-15 primates, sporting up to 2 inch long canine teeth (longer than a lion's), weighing as much as 30 kilograms (or nearly 70 pounds for our imperial system readers), with a penchant for tearing open garbage cans, tearing open dogs, and entering your house through an open window in search of food. However, most times, you could walk along the street, or park in your car and spend ages watching them play , groom, and generally behave in a way eerily similar to how we, their less hairy cousins, behave.

Certain things are inevitable when you visit Cape Town, and indeed, no trip to the city would be complete without them. One such thing is a visit to Robben Island. This island has been used for hundreds of years and at different times as a prison, a lunatic asylum, and leper's colony. It's most famous prisoner of the 20th century was Nelson Mandela. It was here that Mandela remained a prisoner for 27 years, and began his famous autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom", his personal telling of the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. Robben Island is all the more affecting when you discover that your tour guides are themselves, former prisoners of the island. Considering the nature of why these prisoners were locked up, and the way they were treated while incarcerated here, there is an incredible lack of hostility towards their former jailers. There is a sentiment I've heard expressed more than a few times while here that the past is the past, the important thing is now and the future. In a great example of irony, many the former prisoners, now tour guides, live on the island in the buildings once holding the prison guards and wardens.

It's cliché to talk about the beauty of Cape Town, and in fact, many people who live in the rest of South Africa have a certain contempt towards the city, that is likely rooted at least in part in jealousy. It is beautiful. Staggeringly, wonderfully so. Looming over everything is Table Mountain. Depending on the day, the weather, the time, this mountain has hundreds of different faces. At times, clouds roll down over the top like a huge feather duvet hanging over the side of a bed. The views from on top are fabulous.

I had a wonderful time in Cape Town. It's a city that still has a lot of problems, and case in point, no fewer than four friends I made traveling were held up at knife point during their visits there. But there is an easy going nature, an incredible physical setting, and a lot of history that makes it a fascinating place to visit.

An Aside: Sandi and Paul had their own adventures getting from London to Cape Town overland on their motorcycles. Sandi is an extremely interesting woman, with a strong personality and a will to match it. She has written a book about her trip called "A Girl, A Bike, A Dream". It's the story of leading up, and during her trip. While I haven't read it, I am eagerly waiting to. Sandi is a person of strong convictions, opinions, and candidness. It doesn't always have the starry eyed opinion that everything and everyone in Africa are glorious, noble, and wonderful. As she put it, "When every kid in Ethiopia you see is trying to kill you by throwing rocks at you when drive by on a motorcycle, you're not thinking, 'Oh, what wonderful children." It's more along the lines of "You little shits, I'm going to kill you if I get a chance!"

She's self published this book, and is a new author. I know many of you enjoy reading about travel and adventure, and highly suggest you check it out. The web link is You can even read a few pages inside to get a sense of her writing, or download an electronic copy. Who knows? Maybe I can do the same thing some day.
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