Cape Town, South Africa
The journey from Ghana to South Africa was just as rough, if not worse, than crossing the English Channel. For three days, we had swells between 10-15 feet tall, which means that oftentimes the ship is going up and down 10-15 feet. While it seems my body was more prepared this time around, I still did get sick a few times, and I generally just did not feel great. The inclement weather delayed us by about 15 hours, which means that we lost one full day of our planned six in South Africa. However, ss always, we made it through the difficult part, and we arrived in one of the most anticipated ports of the trip, Cape Town, South Africa.
Arriving in Cape Town
It’s always fun to arrive to a new city by ship, but everyone was talking how arriving in Cape Town by ship is an entirely new experience because of the sheer beauty of the mountains around the city. Our arrival at 11PM meant we could mostly just see lights and the outline of mountains, which was still a great experience. After seeing us in, I went to bed knowing that the next morning was when I’d put my feet down in South Africa, a new country for me.
South Africa’s immigration was completely unprepared to get over 650 people processed into the country. Their office was set up in a building outside the terminal, and we were to line up outside the building to wait our turn through. They had just four people at immigration, and all were doing fingerprints along with the normal process. This meant that it took probably 2-3 minutes to process each of the 650 passengers, This added up to be quite the line of people waiting to get their stamps.
Because I woke up early and immediately got in line before 7AM, I was one of the first ones through who weren’t on a Semester at Sea organized trip. I immediately walked into the city center to explore, and I loved being the first one out so that it felt a bit like I was the only one discovering the city. When there are about 650 people getting off the ship to explore a place, typically you’ll see several of them around while touring. So I took advantage of this early start!
While Johannesberg is the country’s largest city, Cape Town is known as being a cultural capital. Cape Town is a developed and diverse city, an economic center of South Africa. It is located along the cost of the southwest part of South Africa, nearly as far south as you can get and still be in Africa. Several million people live in the metro area, but it happens to be one of the most segregated cities in the world due to Apartheid, discriminatory government policies that lasted from 1948 to the early 1990s.
Cape Town today has become a top destination to visit. There are world-class museums and botanical gardens, great foods, warm and welcoming people, beautiful architecture, and stunning nature. And it’s relatively inexpensive. To me, it has everything that I would want in a place to visit. Overall, it seems like everyone from the ship loved it, too.
Cape Town’s certainly has a large coffee shop culture. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like there was a chic café full of people. Because the coffee on the ship is mediocre at best, I took advantage of the high quality coffee in Cape Town. I think I drank more cappuccinos in these five days than I had in my entire life before. The currency in South Africa is the Rand, and the exchange rate is $1=13.67 Rand. I could get a cappuccino at a cheap place for 10 Rand ($0.73) or at a nice café for 28 Rand ($2). I never buy these in the US since they’re usually $4 and up, and that is too pricey for my frugal purpose.
Table Mountain is the geographical feature that is so famous in Cape Town. The wide, almost flat-topped mountain, towers over the city center. When in the city, there is rarely a moment when you cannot see Table Mountain. Just like in Denver how they use the Rocky Mountains to always know the direction of West, people from Cape Town use the position of Table Mountain, which lies to the south, for their navigation.
While I will write separate posts about museums and sites like District 6, hiking Table Mountain, and a trip to Cape Point, one cannot talk about Cape Town without talking about Nelson Mandela and Robben Island. South Africa’s revolutionary was held in prison for 27 years, including 18 years on Robben Island, a small island just off the coast of Cape Town. He was arrested in 1962, charged with inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country illegally, he was not released until 1990. Incredibly, he became the President of South Africa in 1994. I’ll talk more about Mandela and Robben Island in a future post.
Sites around Cape Town
The Dutch were the first Europeans to colonize what is now Cape Town. They originally used it as a “refreshment stop” for ships going from Europe to India. Eventually, they settled here and created the city of Cape Town. The Company’s Gardens were the original gardens the Dutch used to grow food for those passing through. It is still used as a garden for produce but also botanical gardens.
This Muslim neighborhood, also known as Cape Malay, is famous for the colorful homes that climb up the hill along the city center. This unique area is inhabited by mostly Muslims, many of whose ancestors were brought to South Africa as slaves long ago. Several active mosques are in the area, and corner stores sell samosas with atcha sauce.
Whereas in the United States, we have our Legislative branch, our Executive branch, and Judicial branch all in the same city, South Africa has each of these branches in their own cities. Pretoria is the home of the Executive branch, Bloemfontein is the home of the Judicial branch, and Cape Town is the home of the Legislative branch, or Parliament.
Greenmarket Square is the main market square. Whereas it used to be the home of a local market for many years, it is now solely vendors selling textiles and nick-knacks.
Our ship was docked very close to the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, also known as the V&A Waterfront. This is a redeveloped port area with high end restaurants, a shopping mall, and a nice pedestrian walkway.
More posts to come highlighting other places around Cape Town!