Photo: the view from Table Mountain
By Colleen Wileman
We arrived in Cape Town, South Africa from Auckland, New Zealand after a 30 hour flight marathon. After a day of rest and jet lag recovery we made our way from our BNB to the city centre and the original Dutch Fort.
We walked through the Company Gardens which were initially started in the 1600’s by the VOC (Dutch East India Trading Company) as a source of food for the ships that would stop to re-supply on their way to India. Cape Town was roughly half way between the Netherlands and India making it an ideal location to replenish the ships as they travelled in both directions.
We toured the fort which was the original home to the Govenor and his family. It also housed the army barracks and a prison for all the ne-er do wells – Dutch, English or other. It was the first line of defense against any attack from the sea or land and the hub of activity for markets and trading. Very rich in history, this fort is a must see if ever in Cape Town.
The most famous landmark in Cape Town, and possibly all of South Africa, is Table Mountain. Looking at it from the bottom, it does look as flat as a table. Once we took a cable car to the top, we realized that, though predominately flat, there are many small rock formations that dot the surface. There is also grass, shrubs, reeds, weeds, birds and even a couple of slithery things. We hiked about 6 miles along the front rim with a view of the beaches and Robben Island and then along the back rim overlooking the vineyards to the south and west.
We took a bus around the mountains of Cape Town. We rode by Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which is nestled at the eastern foot of Table Mountain and is considered one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. We continued on past historical vineyards on our left and forests on our right. We passed very affluent neighbourhoods, complete with walls, fences and electric wire, tucked in beside tin shack townships that loomed off the hills accusing us all of our lack of compassion for their plight.
There are miles and miles of beaches in Cape Town so we got off the bus at Camps Bay and wandered out to one of the most famous beaches. The day was hot but as we walked closer to the water, we could feel the air getting cooler. The water is very COLD and I was in absolute shock as the waves hit the backs of my legs!!
South Africa is known for it’s wine so we felt that we would be remiss not to take a tour. As it happens, it is the only wine tour that we took while on our journey. We toured the Groot Constantia estate which is the oldest winery in South Africa, established in 1679 by Governor Simon van de Stel. The tour of the wine cellar was fascinating – from the growing of the grapes to the final bottling, we followed the process through the drums that squeezed out the pulp, to the barrels in which the juice is stored, to the stainless steel vats and the final process of bottling. Our tour guide was excellent and obviously very passionate about her wine. Our favorite wine at the tasting was a Pinotage which is exclusive to South Africa. Since we have been home, this has been my go to wine for gifts and entertaining friends and family.
Robben Island has had many uses over the centuries but is most famous for being the prison in which Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years. The island closed as a prison in 1996 and opened as a museum at that time. We saw the quarry that Mandela and his prison mates laboured in under the hot African sun day after day. This was the only time that the prisoners would be together without the confinements of the prison. From Mandela’s book, A Long Walk to Freedom (a very good read), he mentioned that this is where he and his fellow political prisoners shared their ideas of a better future for their people. The highlight of the tour was a walk through the actual prison and a look at Mandela’s cell – which surprisingly looked much like the rest of them. This tour was given by an actual inmate that had been incarcerated in the prison for 5 years for inciting a protest rally while still in high school. He was very businesslike about the tour and did not appear to harbour any ill will to his captors.
Before the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, all ships from Europe that were on their way to India and Asia had to pass by the south westernmost tip of Africa – the Cape of Good Hope. We took a bus tour down to the Cape, were able to hike up to the lighthouse and then down through a very narrow trail to the coast.
Richard took some wonderful pictures of this day’s adventures, but before we were able to upload them from the phone that evening, his phone got stolen when we got off the bus in Cape Town. The first rule of travelling is to always be aware of your possessions and your surroundings. However, after a wonderful day of touring and and feeling comfortable and relaxed, we were not diligent when getting off the bus. We are thankful that it was only the phone and not one of our wallets. It was a hard lesson learned and though we felt violated, angry and a little nervous about venturing out again, we know that it could have been so much worse. Because of this experience we were no longer tourists. We were now officially travellers.