My Future Home

Trip Start Aug 26, 2008
Trip End Dec 14, 2008

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Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Friday, October 3, 2008

Cape Town has left me with a mix of emotions. It was one of the ports I was most excited for, and by and large it met that excitement. It is beautiful. The mountains melt into the ocean surrounded by a large and cultured metropolis city with a savage history by a strong heart. I saw so many qualities in the city that I admire and so many interests of myself projected throughout the city and areas around it. Still there is a hint of disappointment. Not with the city, but with me for not taking full advantage of my time there and the opportunities that it had to offer. Not only were there things I wanted to do that I didn't, I felt more like a tourist there than any place so far, and I felt like I missed an important part of cape town culture. My stay there couldn't be explained in any semblance of a linear story but is rather highlighted by a few great things that happened. So this entry will be less of a story and more of a highlight reel.
The first highlight was on day 1. I went with an SAS sponsored trip to the Khayelitsha Township just 20 minutes north of Cape Town and basically on the other side of Table Mountain. I'm not sure if these townships were started as a result of apartheid or were just made famous because of them. Either way they have a unique story and overwhelm the senses. During apartheid one of the major things the government in power did was to isolate ethinicities by living arrangements. Blacks couldn't live with whites or Asians or Indians and vice versa. The city was divided into cultural burbs with many of the displaced or poor being forced (one way or another) to live in the most dilapidated housing available in large communities called townships. They exist all over Cape Town and are literally huge. The township I visited was a black township that supported something around 1.5 million people almost all of whom were living in shacks made from scrap metal, plastic, and other raw building supplies. When they were first formed they had no electricity and shared a common water source but thanks to government initiatives in recent years each shanty has been equipped with running water and most with electricity. 
I had mixed emotions about visiting a township after my Guarani village visit in Argentina. I had seen some of the most meager living conditions imaginable, but they were sparse. In the townships hundreds of thousands of people lived within a few blocks of each other and I couldn't imagine if the situation would be better or worse. I don't want to take away from the overwhelming poverty or grandiose sadness of the situation, but by sheer living conditions the people in the township faired far better than those of the Guarani. Most of them wore decent to stylish clothing and they all walked with a sense of pride and dignity that was more difficult to find in the Guarani. It also wasn't as foreign of a lifestyle. There were many elements of western society and pop culture imbued into the township and the people.

We were touring around on a bus and decided to stop first at a market that the local men and women made to sell hand made goods to foreigners. It was filled with everything from large sculptures and elaborate paintings to small beaded jewelry with everything in between. It was nice but it was very close to a school and I bored with the market quickly so I decided to head over to the school. It was an early grade school I'd guess most of the students were five or six. A few of my fellow SAS students had already beat me there and were playing with some of the kids as they waited for their parents to pick them up. I had brought a packet of stickers with me (as was a suggestion of SAS for trips like this) and immediately began passing out stickers of animals to the kids. The other SAS students were doing likewise and soon we were a big hit drawing a large crowd around us each kid hoping to get a sticker. That's one of the most amazing things about childhood is the simplicity of their happiness. I remember stories of my parents saying how they used to give me Tupperware to play with because evidently that was one of my favorites. These children were no exception and beamed large smiles and spoke in mumbled words in a local dialect to each other while we passed out the remaining stickers. One girl I know named Michelle began drawing simple pictures of lions and bears on a folding pad of paper she brought with her to take notes. She was the biggest hit of all and probably spent a decent amount of her time drawing for them. After I passed out my last two stickers, one boy came up and hugged my leg. It was quick and I'd seen him hug a few others indiscriminately after he left me but it still made me feel unique and happy and I couldn't help but smile.
I sat outside the school and watched the natives of the township walk around, pick up their kids, and just go about their normal business. Despite the poverty and magnitude of the township I felt comfortable and safe. This feeling remained with me as we made a few other stops and even walked around the more busy areas of the township. No one was hostile and no one gave us much more than a second look despite our fancy clothing and cameras and large motor coach. Tourism is popular in the townships and helps support the livelihood of these bustling communities. So popular in fact that some of the locals had converted their homes (if they had actual homes) into bed and breakfasts for tourists to stay in and experience the township life. One of those B&B's named Ms. Vicki's was our second stop. It was a large home for the area and very close to one of the old communal watering sources which had been converted into a bar/convenience store. There were quite a few people gathered around the area and many kids rushed to greet us yet again once we got off the motor coach. I went upstairs to find Miss Vicki herself telling the story of how she came to convert her home into a B&B after the fall of apartheid and as a way to bring knowledge and awareness to the townships. She was a kind woman and was dedicated in helping bring positive change to the townships and seemed to be well respected by the locals. A few of the students from the ship actually booked a room there for later that night and continued to talk with her one on one. I decided to step outside and see who or what I could find on my own.

I wandered around one corner, and then another to find somewhere around ten young boys playing soccer in one of the dirt streets just a little behind Vicki's B&B. I decided to watch for a little while and I snapped a few pictures while talking to some of the adults around the area. After watching for a few minutes I decided to ask if they would let me play with them... which they did. So for the next ten minutes I played a pick up game of soccer in a South African slum known as the Khayelitsha Township. They were good too, especially one of the boys who was probably eleven or twelve. Most of them were ten or younger and I played goofily with them, but the eldest was almost as good as I was and we went head to head often. I was impressed by his skills at that age and imagined how many times he had played on that same street with these kids. They played in rough conditions sometimes falling into holes or piles of construction materials and never missed a beat. One of the youngest kids playing was tripped by an older kid and fell and hit his head and began crying. I picked him up quickly worrying and as soon as he hit his feet he began running for the ball again. Their heart and love for the game impressed me and they loved that I was playing with them. Some of them stopped playing and just followed me around. After I finally scored a goal of my own one of the older kids who had been watching us play joined in. He was probably my age or a couple years younger, and he was unbelievably good. He was doing footwork way beyond my skill level and quickly ran around me once and then twice ending both times in a goal. Meeting my match and feeling the need to get back I shook hands with the new player and gave the other kids high fives as I made my way back to the bus.

The bus had actually been waiting on me and didn't know where I was. I guess I didn't calculate my time well but one of my friends on the bus wouldn't let them leave without me. No one seemed upset, but I could tell the chaperone wasn't happy. We made our second stop at another B&B with a similar story and they served us refreshments. After a quick snack we were taken on a walking tour by some of the guides from that B&B all over the township. We saw many of the locals taking care of their shacks and doing other maintenance like laundry or carrying water. We passed markets of fresh fruit and freshly butchered animals. It was the first time I've ever seen raw animal meat displayed openly like that and was quite a shock. Everyone was kind and a few of the kids even joined our walking group and tagged along. It wasn't overtly powerful to me, especially after my Guarani village visit, but it was refreshing. It's still amazes me to see the structure and order in a place like that. It's even more surprising to see the level of satisfaction and happiness that everyone seems to share.
While I was at the township five or six of my good friends climbed Table Mountain which is one of the main things I wanted to do and didn't get to do. The next couple days following the township were rainy and cloudy and Table Mountain wasn't available to climb. I had breakfast one of the mornings by myself just to get away for a few. Great breakfast but what makes the experience memorable is that as I was almost finished a local man came and set up shop on a bench by the restaurant in a busy area. He pulled out a small amp and a guitar and proceeded to play some of the best jazz music I've ever heard. Turns out Cape Town has a pretty amazing jazz scene. I didn't get to explore it as much as I would like, but I did visit one or two jazz clubs while I was there.

Other items of notice are skydiving, shark diving, visiting cape point, Robben Island visit, a tour of the Stellenbosch wine lands, an Amy Biel service visit, and hearing a speech from the Archbishop Desmond Tutu (which was by far the most memorable experience of all of Cape Town). Skydiving was awesome. I was one of two people who had gone before in my large group of SAS kids, the other being my roommate Jessy. We drove for a while outside of Cape Town and ended up in a really arid part out in the middle of nowhere. I was bummed because I thought our jump site wouldn't be as nice since we were slightly farther away from the coast. I climbed into one of the smallest planes I've ever seen with Jessy and one of my other friends Brad. Including our tandem guides there was six people crammed into a space probably meant for two. It was an awkward ride and the plane was less than reassuring since there were portions that literally had been covered by duct tape. It wasn't awful, but it was still a little unnerving. The ride turned out to be extremely scenic. We flew out over the water before heading up to our jump site not to far from the coast. The view of Table Mountain and the ocean were unbelievable. We hit altitude at 9000 ft and I jumped second. There is nothing like the freefall experience of skydiving, and the Cape Town backdrop made the experience even more amazing. I'm planning on jumping in Hawaii too, but if I have time a jump over the great wall sounds pretty cool. We'll see what kind of time I have.
Most everyone went to do shark cage diving off the coast with the great white sharks. I had planned on doing that at least one of the dreary days, but since the weather was poor the trips were canceled for the day so my roommate and I decided to go to plan B. Cape Town has an aquarium called the Two Oceans Aquarium which includes a 'predator tank.' Inside the tank were 5 ragged tooth sharks between 8 and 12 feet, a sea turtle, a bunch of small sting rays, one sting ray that had to be at least 10 feet wide, and a slew of other ocean fish. I can't remember how many million liters of water were in the tank but it was large. There was an artificial reef throughout parts of the tank and a large fake rock rising in the middle of the tank from the bottom all the way to the top making the water shape in the tank resemble a doughnut. The fish all swam around in circles and there were two large viewing areas into the tank. It was an impressive display of fish, and the sharks were rather mean looking. So my roommate and I put on some SCUBA gear and hopped in the tank. Turns out the aquarium offers a 'predator dive' which is a 30 minute dive in the shark tank with all these other fish.

It was so freaking cool. I can't tell you how nerve racking it was dipping my feet into the water while I was putting my fins off with my feet just dangling in a shark tank. I felt like we were just teasing the sharks with bait at the top of the tank but once we were submerged I was much more comfortable being able to see what was going on. The sharks never really paid much explicit attention to us but there were numerous times where we would be casually moving along the bottom of the tank looking forward and the dive master would push my or my roommates head down followed by a shark cruising inches over either of our heads. I had literally come face to face with a few of these sharks with no more than a foot away from us. By the end I was hoping they'd get that close on a regular basis because they are really interesting creatures to watch. The ragged tooth shark has a very intimidating look too because it bares all its teeth all the time while swimming. They were still aggressive sharks too because many of the fish in the tank had large chunks taken out of them that the dive master later told us came from the sharks when they were still hungry after feeding. I didn't ask if they had ever attacked a diver, I didn't want to know. I did get to play with a sea turtle in the tank though which was really cool. The fins felt much different than I expected them to be, but its underbelly was really soft. I would say the turtle probably had a shell of right around four feet. We didn't get very close to the giant manta ray but it was still awe inspiring watching the giant fish swim gracefully all over the tank. One thing that was funny that I didn't think about was that we were swimming in this tank while people were still viewing so many people were taking our pictures and videoing us while we dove. It was like we were part of the display in the aquarium which I thought was funny. I'm sure they thought we were some sort of authority with the aquarium instead of just some tourists who had been there for no more than 30 minutes before getting in the tank. Great time.

On the first nice day we had a few of my friends decided we wanted to head down to the Cape of Good Hope and see the southern most tip of Africa. We found out later that this area wasn't actually the most southern point, but it was still pretty close. The drive was about an hour by cab and there was ten of us total split into two cabs of five. Four crammed in the back seat and one person comfortable in the shotgun seat. I was lucky enough to be comfortable for the trip and had our cabby acting as a tour guide explaining areas of significance as we passed them. When we got to the cape we got out to start our climb up the mountain to the lookout area by the lighthouse. Not joking, it was the most beautiful area I've ever seen. I would have pitched a tent and lived there if it wasn't a national park and if the baboons wouldn't have assaulted me. On a side note we discussed the baboons for like 25 minutes on the ride there because evidently they are super aggressive and travel in packs and steal food from people in the park. They have even been known to jump into cars if they see something they like; they throw rocks, take pants off, and have razor sharp teeth. So the joke was that we wanted to get into a baboon fight while we were at the cape and discussed baiting them. Don't worry we didn't, but it would have been a great story having some pants stolen by a stone throwing, car hijacking monkey. Anyway, the cape was gorgeous and the climb up was long but not arduous. We stopped many times along the way for photo opportunities and to whale spot. There were many whales just of the point in the distance that were breaching and blowing water high into the air with their spouts. It was something out of a movie. We got to the top of the walkway where the lighthouse was and spent a moment just taking the scenery in. Then we spotted another path leading further out to the point closer to the old lighthouse and decided to head off and find it. The path followed along the edge of the mountain as we walked a decent way further out than where we had been before. There was a nice viewing landing at the end of the path, but it still wasn't as far out as we wanted to be. So, we jumped the platform and climbed the ledges of the mountain area ourselves to get to a better vantage point. After about another five minutes of hiking out we finally came over a crest to such an amazing view that I can't describe it. I have some awesome pictures from there though and it has the old lighthouse in the background. They should be up soon. After taking in the scenery for quite some time we headed back to meet up with the rest of our group who didn't want to break the rules by climbing over the platform and the sign that said "no access beyond this point." They missed out.

We headed down the mountain pathway and back towards the very bottom of where we had started our climb. We met up with our cabbies and decided to have a quick dinner at the restaurant attached to the mountain at the bottom. It was a good dinner, but nothing of extraordinary note. One of the guys we ate with had springbok carpaccio which was good, but not the best carpaccio I've ever had. After dinner we piled back into the cab to head for... penguin viewing. Cape point has one of the largest South African penguin colonies and we headed for a small city called Simons Town. It is a large South African Naval installation but it also is where the ocean meets the mountains in a very scenic residential area. It reminded me of Monaco without the pretentious flair, and even better than Monaco there were penguins all over the beach! They were fenced off from the sidewalk but they were jumping off rocks and swimming in the ocean and if it was warmer we could have swam with them in the same area. Cute little buggers, I took way to many pictures. I was taking a video of two of them walking trying to catch their waddle. One took a few more steps than the other and wound up and shot a rocket propelled dump. I couldn't believe I caught the entire thing on camera. It stops right afterwards because I started laughing so hard I couldn't keep the camera on him. It was hilarious.

After the penguins we all gathered around for a group picture on one of the large rocks actually in the ocean with Simons Town as the backdrop, then we piled back into the cabs and headed back to Cape Town. The next day was a full day. Sarah and I woke up early to try and snag a ticket to Robben Island. We had been told that the rest of the tickets were sold out for our time there, but we decided to give it a shot anyway hoping there were cancellations. We got there 45 minutes before the ferry to the island was supposed to leave and they informed us that they would announce cancellations only a few minutes before the ferry left. We stepped outside and debated grabbing some quick breakfast but decided against it. After only a few minutes outside, a line of 20+ people had formed by the ticket counter presumably for the standby tickets. I hurried over to the line practically defeated because I knew there wouldn't be that many standby tickets. The day before we were told 2 people got standby tickets and only 4 the day before. Still we stuck it out and to our advantage. When they started selling tickets three people in the front were together and bought their tickets. The next lady stepped up and attempted to by 20 tickets for her and all her part, but they would only let her by 4 total for her whole group. While they were debating what to do another window opened and Sarah and I slipped up to it. We bought our tickets and literally ran to the ferry because it was almost undocking while we were boarding. We made it in the last few seconds and were very fortunate.

The trip to Robben Island was a little over 20 minutes on this little speed ferry. We watched a video about the history of the island and all its uses. It was first used as a resting and restocking island in the 1400's by the Portuguese and the British. It wasn't long after that it had become used as a penal island by colonial powers in the area to remove prisoners from the mainland. Then it was used as a refuge for those with mental illness. Later it was used a leper colony and the first large scale structures were built for the lepers by Irish immigrants. Not to long after that the apartheid government of South Africa began using it for political and other prisoners. It was also the famous home of Nelson Mandela for his first 17 years of his prison sentence. We toured all over the island viewing all the different histories housed there and came to the political prison. It was separated from the rest of the prison and other institutions on the island because the men housed there were so charismatic and influential that if they weren't isolated they easily changed the hearts and minds of the men around them, even their captors. Even the guards in that unit were rotated every 3 months to keep them from establishing a relationship with Mandela and other high profile ANC members kept there. What a testament to the power of the will that just the words of Mandela could change the hearts of the people who were there to beat and imprison him. We did see his cell and also the garden he started which also housed the secret manuscript he was working on about his life now published and known as the "long walk to freedom."

One of the other highlights of this visit was a stone quarry where the political prisoners worked long hours everyday chiseling rock out of the quarry that was used to build the walls that kept them prisoners. What a cruel sense of irony inflected on those men that they wanted to rebuild their state as free and equal, but instead the government in power made them carve and sweat and bleed to build walls that would keep those ideas concealed for more than 20 years. Everyman who worked there suffered partial to complete blindness from the strength of the sun reflecting off the stone. Mandela himself was partially blind but later underwent surgery to correct this problem. It was at this quarry though that some of the first foundations of the post-apartheid government was formed. There was a cave attached to the quarry where the men were supposed to go to 'relieve' themselves while they slaved away in the quarry. Instead they used the quarry to hold secret meetings and wrote messages in the sand and dust on the ground to communicate with each other. It was also from these first meetings and discussions in the cave that led to the prison being given the nickname 'Mandela University.' Under his tutelage a foreign university became involved with the university along with the Red Cross due to smuggled letters of Mandela himself. Because of their involvement conditions at the prison improved and many of the men received their formal education while they served time for political crimes. Mandela was moved to another prison after 17 years before finally being released another 11 or so years later, but its Robben Island that is famous for housing him. It was a moving and inspirational visit full of recent history of oppression and a symbol of progress for all of South Africa.

After the Robben Island visit Sarah and I hurried back to the ship because we were late for our next adventure and our group was waiting on us. After a lightning quick lunch and a quick change of clothes we headed to the Stellenbosch wine lands an hour north of Cape Town. This was one the things I was most excited for and it didn't disappoint. The wind lands are beautiful, vast, stretching vineyards nestled in the valleys of the mountains; we past one after another after another until we arrived at our first winery for our first tasting. We had planned on spending most of the day there but prior to our leaving the academic dean sent out an email announcing an unscheduled visit by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I refused to miss that and a few others felt the same so we were able to cut the trip short and only visited two wineries. We still made the most out of those two visits and I got bottle per vineyard for something like 3 or 4 American dollars plus 5 - 8 glasses of free tasting. Needless to say I maximized my time there. We all split a cheese platter at the first winery while we did our tasting. At the second winery after our tasting we went to their private zoo and I got to pet an adult cheetah and take pictures of two of the girls with us while they played with baby cheetahs. It was so cool. Cheetahs have been one of my favorite animals since I was a kid, and here I was sufficiently buzzed rubbing the spots on the fastest land animal. Crazy. I also bought a sick two bottle wine carrier from the second winery with a brass emblem of the African 'big five' attached. I thought it was a cool souvenir for me even though the rest of the group thought I was a joke for buying it. So we hurried back to the ship and literally ran up the gangway to find the Archbishop a couple minutes into his speech.

He talked about life under apartheid and the power of humans, especially young people to overcome oppression. He talked about challenges he faced and challenges we all faced and discussed politics in this modern age. He discussed poverty and global warming and a list of other challenges facing the world in challenges that my generation must rally and surmount. What surprised me most about him was the candor in which he was able to speak about such dreadful and awful things like the horrors he experienced under apartheid, but he did so without ever letting his smile dim. I'll never forget that childish giggle that he attached to some of his comments. It was infectious, and soon everyone was laughing and smiling despite our urge to feel otherwise because of the subject of the speech. I quickly realized what great power this man wielded and his strength and ability to command and direct people, and how much he had used that power for good when so many politicians and men of his stature used it for personal gain. It was one of the most inspiring moments I've ever experienced. After quite a few minutes of an informal speech our academic dean opened the floor up for questions, I quickly jumped out of my chair and raised my hand high but the dean didn't see me and called on another student to my right. He is a friend of mine named Bobby Savage and Bobby asked Tutu what his greatest accomplishment in life was, to which Tutu responded by saying, "having a son." Another moment of clarity. This was one of the men who tore apartheid down with his bare hands and strength of spirit, he conquered an evil empire and even more important united the nation enough to prevent a bloodbath that many people though was inevitable. He did these things and rose to international stardom because of it, yet the his greatest accomplishment was being a dad and he wasn't saying this just for a talking point like some others might. He truly believed it, and we all knew it.

After he concluded the dean said we had time for another question and again I jumped to my feet in hopes of addressing him. Luckily this time the dean saw me and called on me. I walked to a microphone in the union and stood less than 50 feet to face the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and proceed with my question. I thanked him for taking time to speak with us and let him know how much it meant to me personally. I proceeded to say that many Americans of my generation are anxious to help in the world and are coming to maturity at a time when America is viewed negatively in the world perspective and then I asked what he though my and other Americans role could be in the future to help. For the next ten minutes I stood, looking into Tutu's eyes and he looked away maybe once in the entire time. It seemed as if he spoke directly to me and talked about how generous and decent the common American was despite any negativity the current administration had inflicted on the rest of the world. He spoke for awhile but what he said I've boiled down into two points. The first of which is obvious, but was still reinforcing to here coming from Tutu. He said that since we are such a blessed country with many resources with must always remember our responsibility to help those less fortunate than us. Secondly he said, and this one is crucial, that "We can never eliminate terrorism or other forms of violence unless we eliminate environments that breed desperation. We need to learn that bread is more important than bombs." That was the last thing he said. I ran ahead to the gangway knowing he had to exit there and while people mobbed him all the way up there I got to greet him as he stepped outside, shake his hand, thank him again, and take two pictures with him. Unfortunately on the first picture that was supposed to be just me and him, some tard I don't know jumped in at the last second. Oh well. Still a great experience.

The last thing for that night was a visit from the Amy Biel foundation. I can't tell the full story of Amy Biel because it is very long (if you google the foundation I'm sure it will have her story), but the short story is she was a student in Cape Town helping the struggle against apartheid and was giving some friends a ride home into a township similar to the one I'd visited on the first day. The people of that township growing desperate with their conditions became militant and lashed out at anyone that was white driving through there. They attacked and very brutally killed Amy that night. Her parents in an act of divine mercy appealed to the truth and reconciliation committee to spare her murderers in exchange for their service to the foundation in telling their story. Two of her killers boarded our ship that night to discuss their experiences with apartheid and the events leading up to that night. It was a tragic story and the lecture the men gave was borderline awkward. It was meaningful and everything, but it just felt odd because they didn't focus much on what they had done. I guess that's the point thought, that there were bigger issues going on and that Amy's death has become a symbol and you can't just focus on the fact that she died, but also what she worked for and what led to her death. Still it was odd. Yet the words of Tutu resonated even louder that night as he talked about eliminating situations that breed desperation. Had that been done, Amy's life would have been spared that night. Powerful words.

The next day was my last day in Cape Town and a free day I had deliberately left open to climb Table Mountain. I sat in a hotel lobby with some friends drinking coffee and uploading pictures to my blog discussing our time when I told one of them I still had planned to climb the mountain. For the last couple ports we leave at 8 but have to be on the ship by 6. I usually get back at 5 or right after and I had allotted three hours to climb the mountain and ride down and back, so I anticipated at leaving at 2. Except I missed some important memo and my friends informed me that we had to be on the ship by 3 this time around and since it was already past one it would be impossible to climb Table Mountain. I was crushed, but it's ok because I will be back. The last thing I did with my remaining hour and a few rand left to burn is grab a gelato and sit on a bench viewing the mountain and the ocean. A local man was playing a guitar. He was older but he still had a strong voice and varied between American classics and a few South African popular songs. We talked about music and without my request the last song I heard in Cape Town was Redemption Song. A perfect ending to an amazing port. I loved everything about it and I can't wait to go back.
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FromJoanne on

You are not the only one who lost his soul in Cape Town
I for one did and am now living my dream :)
Wonderful post you wrote !
I keep a photo blog now of the area where I live
Upper Green Point
Green Point is where they build the new Stadium
I have many photos of Cape Town and my driving trip along the coast of South Africa in the blog archive as well
regards and see you in CT :)

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