Cape Town, South Africa – May 1999

I had a lot of misconceptions about Cape Town. I imagined

a dusty, dry place, dotted with big game reserves and ghettoes

housing poor “Blacks”. I thought the “Whites” would be the

most boorish, racist, unsophisticated lugs imaginable, and

that nightlife would be reduced to chugging a few brews

and munching some Boerwurst sausage.

I could not have been more wrong.

There was nothing dry about the landscape that unfolded itself

to me from the airport. The monolithic Table Mountain is

the centerpiece of this lush, green city. Flat and usually

covered with wispy strands of cloud, the mountain offers

both an immediate escape from the bustle of downtown, and

a springboard for adventurous hikers, climbers, parachutists,

and hang-gliders.

Beaches are another getaway option. Spectacularly surrounded

by the mountain and pure air, each small oasis has its own

“culture”, be it the familiar vibe of Camp’s Bay or the

moneyed atmosphere of Clifton. However, the icy Atlantic

is none too inviting, even in summer. Unless you are a penguin.

I expected to see lions and elephants on this jaunt to

Africa, and while these can be found further north, penguins,

seals, whales and all kinds of deerish creatures abound

in the Cape. Who knew?

And why shouldn’t these creatures live in a city? Cape

Town is incredibly pristine and well-planned: there are

no towering apartments to block Mother Nature’s spectacular

views; the centre of town is free from traffic congestion,

and there are so many “green” areas, it is easy to forget

that one is in a city.

In fact, it is easy to forget that one is in Africa. The

nightclubs are just as cool as anything is in our fair city;

fashion is obviously influenced by London, and cultural/geographical

comparisons to Australia and LA are common. The plethora

of excellent, stylish restaurants reflects the wealth of

cultures that gave South Africa its nickname: “the Rainbow

Nation”.

But a rainbow it remains, with all the colours separately

forming a whole. Surely, living in Canada and growing up

without seeing someone’s skin colour as an issue have spoiled

me. I was saddened to notice that the racial groups only

hung out in their own circles, and I was disturbed even

further when, after some time spent there, I began to be

a little wary of Black men, especially at night. Crime is

a problem, and although one may understand the underlying

reasons for it, it doesn’t mean caution can be thrown to

the wind.

Despite these ongoing social problems, the Whites were

not the racist thugs I expected them to be. There were several

reasons given for this:

1) Cape Town has always been to South Africa what New York

is the USA: a hipper, more liberal oasis in a racist nation;

2) All the really nasty white people fled to Canada, Australia

or the USA when Mandela took power; and finally

3) Things change.

In fact, most of the natives I met in Cape Town were so

curious about their international image, that if I had a

Rand for every time one of them asked me: “What do people

think of us in Canada?” I could have payed to stay for another

week.

There is so much productive, critical dialogue and debate

on the social problems facing South Africa today that one

feels that if things haven’t been resolved yet, they soon

will.

When To Go

January and February are the most popular and the warmest

months; the climate is similar to that of, say, the Southern

States, but the seasons are reversed.

What To Do

There are tons of Electronica, Jazz, and Frat-house type

bars, but there are few Lounge-type places.

Recommended are the Funktion, Rush and Orange for dance

music; Mama Africa for African food and tunes; Blues or

the Green Dolphin for jazz, and the Drum Caf� for a more

granola vibe. Most bars and clubs are concentrated along

Long Street and Orange or near Sea Point.

Sea Point has a huge flea market every Sunday, selling

everything from African crafts to bedclothes, and even the

most chi-chi shopping centre at the Victoria and Albert

Mall has first-class goods at third-world prices.

Weekend trips can be taken to the lush Vineyards of Paarl, or through the scenic Garden Route along the ocean. Kirstenbosh Gardens is a must-see park full of hectares of exotic flowers and

plants, and the Cape of Good Hope Reserve is the place for

animal lovers to go on a photo-safari.

Questions?

If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our Africa Insiders page.

Money

The currency of South Africa is called the Rand, and right now,

it’s in a slump. Expect to pay about fifty cents for a cup of

coffee, three bucks for lunch and five for dinner.

Where to Stay

Hostels are everywhere, and almost all of them are sublime. I recommend Ashanti Lodge, where I paid three bucks a night for a clean, safe

shared room, with swimming pool, kitchen and caf�.

If you prefer the privacy of a hotel, the Holiday Inn has rooms starting at around sixty dollars, and the Mount Nelson Hotel offers five-star accommodation.

Getting Around

Renting a car is recommended, as public transport is confusing.

Hertz has rentals for about $45 a day or $300 a week.

For more information on all of the above, try…

www.CapeTown.co.za

Cape Town Online

Kapstadt

Just Backpacking – Southern Africa

Traveler Article


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