Category Archives: South Africa

More from South Africa 2006 2/2

Part Two

After only a short time in Cape Town, we were just bowled over by how genuinely friendly and relaxed most people were. We met very few white, South Africans. Those we did meet, seemed to be a little tense and abrupt and had little time for the tourists in their midst. Not so the Black South Africans who overflowed with friendliness and welcome.

Following Ian’s helpful list of ‘things to do’ we visited the well-known and highly colourful, gay quarter at Waterkant. Here the streets were wide and sunny and the buildings clustered along their pavements in a cheerful array of green, orange, yellow and blue.

De Waterkant

The only other place I can liken it to is Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, made famous by the Children’s TV programme ‘Balamory’ but in real life, just as colourful.

We visited the Waterkant’s antique shop, ‘Cape to Cairo’.

Cape To Cairo

Cape To Cairo - Antique shop at De Waterkant

The building itself was a delight with its bright blue exterior walls and red-painted shutters and balconies. Life sized mannequins lazed on the balconies in the unlikely company of a unicorn and mounted heads gazed out, sightless, as we passed. In the photo, the car parked outside looks as though it has met with the same treatment of the paintbrush as the walls. Perhaps it has, things here move slow enough! I was tempted to give it a red stripe just to complete the picture.

We purchased a few mementoes and made our way along the street.

Brightly painted cafes welcomed us with cold beer and coffee as we drank in the warm,  November sunshine and admired the mountain scenery beyond. There seemed to be no need to hurry here.

Despite its similarity in appearance to the fictional Balamory – we saw no Josie Jump nor PC Plum, just the odd colourful character strolling down the street.

We had heard and read much about the troubles in Cape Town and no one could claim the area has not had a troubled past. Yet we encountered no threats of any kind.

Back at the apartment, we pulled out Ian’s list and scanned the contents for the hundredth time. Where to next?

We ticked off De Waterkant, with a brisk flourish of the pen. I would have liked to linger on this one for a while, maybe mark it to visit it again but we only had one week. One week to see and do all the things we wanted!

The Sunday market at Green Point was an amazing jamboree of colour and novelty. The stall holders sat in the sun and called out to us to look at their wares.

We were warned that haggling was obligatory. Dave told us to leave it to him. At work he is well-known for being a tough negotiator.

We stood back while he haggled for a tablecloth.

“How much?” he asked of the gentleman in the brightly coloured suit who was selling it,

“To you sir, 400 Rand,” the seller grinned.

Dave shook his head,

“Too much,” he said, “200 Rand,”

“No, no, 350,” the seller said, flourishing the tablecloth before us in all its glory,

“See the fine work in this…”

We saw.

“225,” Dave suggested.

“You are stealing from me, Sir, 300,” the seller grinned.

Dave was in the swing of it now – or so we thought,

“325,” he said.

The seller grinned and shook his hand,

“You negotiate the wrong way my friend!” he laughed. Dave realised what he had said and groaned. He handed over 325 Rand and we carried the black and white cloth home, shaking our heads at him.

(The cloth was to cause a disaster on its first wash – turning a host of other linen purple – I should have known of course)

We were enchanted by the township paintings with their 3D imagery created using scraps of corrugated iron and tin. Of course we bought one and we still have it, a reminder of our amazing trip.

3D Picture created from scrap metal and wood

3D Picture created from scrap metal and wood

We just had to buy a length of hand printed material from one of the many craft shops and a wall hanging from a stall on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, not to mention a variety of carved animals which we hoped would remind us of this once in a lifetime experience once we got home.

An additional suitcase was required for all the presents and souvenirs we had acquired, including Christmas decorations that grace our tree each year, to this day.

Christmas bauble

Glass Christmas Bauble and tree novelty

A visit to District Six proved both enlightening and haunting as we toured the museum and heard stories from the lips of those who had lived them. The walls were covered with photographs and personal accounts, written by people who had been forcibly removed from their homes in the 1960s and relocated on the Cape Flats. These of course, grew into the townships made famous in news-reels the world over. We had driven passed them en route from the airport.

Cape Town Township

Just one of the Townships

Despite the often harrowing tales we heard, the overall message was one of hope and there was no denying the enthusiasm and genuine love of life displayed by just about everyone we met.

I do wish we had found time to take one of the tours of the townships. We had been worried that we may be seen as being voyeuristic, but we were assured the trips were an essential part of getting to know Cape Town and we would be welcomed. Sadly, we ran out of time for both this and for our trip to Robben Island which was aborted when we found that it required several days’ booking in advance and our flight home was in two days.

Dave continued his lone walks of exploration and on one occasion was approached by a tall, suited, black gentleman. The gentleman offered to meet him at our apartment later that day and take him on a tour of the local townships. He was very persuasive, saying he’d pick Dave up and drop him home…our poor suspicious minds could not comprehend that this might not be a scam to get us out of the apartment. The chap seemed genuine but we did not take him up on his offer. We had, after all, been told to look for organised tours and stories of tourists being abducted in times past were fresh in our minds.

Despite our underlying concerns, the holiday was amazing and a week was far too short to take it all in. We managed to tick off most things on our list even so and Dave did not get mugged (unless you count the tablecloth purchase).

We also discovered that our off beat apartment/hotel was being used by a low budget film company and almost ended up securing an impromptu role in what we assumed was a kitchen sink drama, as we inadvertently walked across the set to reach our door. Maybe we did make it onto film, who knows?

Table mountain was clothed in its famous ‘tablecloth’ for much of the week so it was with delight that we woke one morning to see it was clear and we were able to enjoy a trip up in the cable car to walk along its remarkable, flat top.

We did not walk up the mountain as some intrepid folk did. Some who tried this wished they hadn’t it has to be said.

The cable cars got us where we wanted to be and though my digital camera began to malfunction at this point, we did manage to get some amazing shots.

Cable car climbing to Table Mountain

Climbing to Cable Mountain by Cable Car

I mention my camera because it was around this time that I noticed the images carried a slight pink tinge to them. This became more noticeable as the holiday wore on. The final picture I took was on the beach.

We had been wandering along, oblivious to anyone around us. We had grown used to the constant clamour from those selling trinkets along the way and had not really noticed the large lady who was approaching us across the sand. I lifted my camera in readiness to capture the view. First, I took this picture:

Camera malfunction!

Shocking Pink

I think you’ll agree, not the best.

I turned slightly and, as I pressed the button a second time, a large face popped up into view. Its owner, pressing a bunch of lucky heather into my hand and imploring me to buy, fixed me with a penetrating stare. I am not sure who was the more surprised, the lady or I as I jumped clear off the ground, before we both looked down at the resulting picture.

Unknown lady

Who was more surprised, me or her?

I have no idea who she is but if you know her, do let me know. This was the last picture I took with that camera.

Truly memorable in its own way!


Filed under Living Between the Lines, South Africa

Adventures in South Africa 2006 1/2

As I prepare to pack for the holiday I mentioned in my previous post, I thought it an opportune time to schedule a few memories of a South African trip taken in 2006. The following is the first part of my account. Part two will follow in due course.  

Part One

I have always wanted to go to New Zealand. New Zealand intrigues me and not just because I believe that is where all the Hobbits come from. New Zealand has been on my list of places to visit for years.

As my fiftieth birthday approached and folk were deciding how I should celebrate it, a quiet drink, a meal and an early night perhaps or a riotous party, I could be persuaded to go for both, I decided I would like to go away for it. My fortieth had been spent in a medieval castle in Langley, Newcastle – a wonderful surprise engineered by my husband and kept secret by my five children. I was feeling a little more adventurous a decade later.

“Shall we go to New Zealand?” I ventured, as my husband poured over the map. I was quite taken with the idea. We began to investigate ways of getting there.

The thing about New Zealand is that it is a very long way from here. The flight would be arduous, the jet lag daunting, New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of us. To go for a week would be foolhardy, one needs to spend far longer there and since the journey would take up at least two full days then that hardly leaves room to explore.

A change of plan was needed.

Where could we go that was not going to take a week to get to, was warm in November and would not entail us coping with jet lag?

Of course, South Africa! This was another of the destinations on my ‘must do’ list so I was happy to swap.

South Africa it would be. Same time zone you see – no jet lag and just a 12 hour flight.

I glossed over that last part (the 12 hour flight).

We were a party of three, my husband, myself and a friend. Fortuitously, my friend’s brother, also a good friend of ours, knew the area we were going to (Cape Town) quite well and issued us with a list of places to visit.

You note how this trip differs from the one I took to California – I was not alone!

I was made well aware that I was not alone as it happens when my friend found she could not sleep. I was finding it a tad difficult – the seats were somewhat cramped in Economy Class. Every now and then we caught a glimpse of those in Business Class as the stewardesses swished through the curtains. My friend bemoaned our decision to travel cheaply.

I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the slight smell of sour milk that clung to the in-flight blanket. I noticed the more seasoned travellers had brought their own pillows and a warm cover. With hand luggage limited, we had not brought much on board. The inflatable neck rests we had purchased fell short of being comfortable.

By 2.a.m. I had drifted off into a light doze and the unrelenting pressure of the armrest, digging into my left side, began to fade. I imagined myself to be stretched out on a soft, downy bed…sometimes my imagination is very useful.

“Oh God, I can’t sleep!”

The voice next to me broke into my reverie and I was back in the cabin, squashed up against the armrest with pins and needles setting in. Probably just as well my friend did wake me at that point before worse happened.

Where was my husband? He had somehow managed to be allocated a seat half a mile from us (a clerical error on the booking form) and was apparently sound asleep, wedged between a large woman with a billion bags on her lap and a man with a beard. The beard is of no significance – I just noticed it. Dave can sleep anywhere.

My friend continued to squirm in her seat, trying to find a comfortable position. There wasn’t one of course. The only position was bolt upright and even that entailed almost hitting one’s nose on the seat in front. How different from my flight to San Francisco, with the same company, Virgin Atlantic, all those years ago! I suppose cut-backs have had to be made everywhere.

Despite all this, we did manage to arrive in South Africa with our sense of humour intact.

Our drive from the airport stunned us with the colour, the sheer vibrancy of the country around us yet the shiny modern building was at odds with the shanty towns still sitting on its outskirts. Poverty was still here.

Table Mountain beckoned, providing a magnificent backdrop to our destination – Cape Town.

We had chosen not to stay in the rather nice hotel on the sea-front that most folk had gone to. We had decided to go for a self-catering apartment in a smaller hotel, away from the sea front. It had seemed to be a good idea at the time.

The first thing I noticed as the taxi dropped us at the door, was that all the surrounding houses we had passed had their gardens fenced off with robust, iron gates pad-locked and guard dogs roaming behind. Our Hotel had none of this. It stood back from the road in a more rural quarter of town, looking pretty and quaint and the staircase leading from the courtyard up to our apartment, was open to all. There was a gate just before one reached our apartment’s front door, which was locked when we arrived. It seemed to serve both our apartment and its neighbour.

We were greeted by a very pleasant black African gentleman who owned the Hotel and who showed us into the apartment. It was cool and delightful in an old-fashioned way. We eyed the beds longingly. The hotel owner left us and we unpacked.

Feeling somewhat jaded after our long, night flight, I decided to lie down for a while. My husband decided to go for a walk. (He had of coursed, slept well). So it was that my friend and I were dozing comfortably at last when all hell broke loose outside.

“You let me in!” screeched someone directly below my window.

“Who lock the ***ing door?” A few more choice expletives followed and my friend crept into the room.

“Be quiet out there!” a second voice joined the affray.

“You be shoutin’ too if you got ***ing shut out here…who in there?”

We sat on the bed listening to the torrent of abuse that poured forth from the unseen woman’s mouth and held our breath. It was some time before we realised that my husband must have locked the gate when he left and this person might want to come through it. Had she no key of her own?

Now, normally, I would have rushed to the door and apologised profusely but by the time we had realised what the problem was, the girl had been involved in a slanging match with another resident and what sounded like pots and pans had been thrown about. We didn’t seem to have a key for the gate either. My husband had taken it with him. We decided silence to be the best form of defence.

After some time, the voice stopped.

My friend crept to the window and peered out, shrinking back quickly,

“I see you peeping, lady!” the girl screeched, “Who that in there? Afraid to come out now I suppose?”

At that point, the hotel owner came out to see what all the fuss was about and it was he who let the wailing banshee pass, muttering to herself and cursing the ignorant people who had caused her such inconvenience. The hotel owner was giving her a piece of his mind. He asked why she had no key. She did not seem to be listening. My friend and I stayed low for a while lest we be recognised when we left.

We heard enough to establish that the young woman had come to clean the apartment next door but had been locked out by Dave who had now been gone for some time. On his return we related the tale to him.

“Oh, did I lock it?” he asked innocently.

My husband maintained this wide-eyed innocence throughout the holiday much to our horror at times.

True, on the surface, Cape Town seemed to be friendly, safe and full of tourists. This feeling lasted as long as one stuck to the recommended paths. It was a day or so before we realised our hotel was situated away from the recommended paths – hmmm.

The recommended paths seemed to be those inhabited by the whites, not that we ever saw many whites. They seemed to be permanently entombed behind their security gates and if seen out at all, it was, rather bizarrely, to shop in the local supermarkets with an impeccably dressed, black housekeeper/maid at their side.

It was completely foreign to me as a way of life.

Nothing I have ever read about apartheid, the struggles of Mandela or South Africa as a whole, could have prepared me for the reality of the place it has to be said.

Despite the obvious divide between those who had and those who had not, everyone we saw seemed to know how to enjoy life. They laughed a lot and called out to one another and to us. They were generous and kind.

At first we were a little suspicious of the wide smiles that greeted us wherever we went but we soon came to realise that they were genuine. We had been warned that we would be expected to pay children to watch our car for us when we parked and this we happily did as barefoot urchins smiled up at us, one hand on the car as though this alone was enough to protect it (it probably was) the other outstretched to collect their fee.

Table Mountain greeted us when we woke and the V&A Waterfront charmed us with its traditional African dancers and wide range of restaurants.  We had come to Cape Town to see just part of the real South Africa. We were here. There was plenty to see…

Ian’s list of things to do:

  1. Revolving cable car up Table Mountain
  2. Boat trip to Robin Island and tour of the island where Nelson Mandela was held. Tour guides are former inmates
  3. Camps Bay – for the beach, good bars and restaurants along the front
  4. Wine tasting – Stellenbosh, Vergelegen, Franshhoek
  5. Cape of Good Hope
  6. District 6 Museum
  7. Picnic on Signal Hill – watch the sunset over the bay
  8. Victoria and Albert Basin – the waterfront –seals in the harbour
  9. Green Point Market on Sunday morning
  10. Chapman’s Peak – spectacular drive – Hout Bay a good stop-off
  11. The Waterkant – trendy, gay area with lots of cafes and lovely low-rise buildings

Ian’s original emailed list :

A list of what to do in Cape Town

Ian's list for the week!


Filed under Living Between the Lines, South Africa