Living Between the Lines,  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!

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • patriciaswisdom

    Oh thank you for more travel information – it makes me hope to visit someday. I have lots of some days and I don’t know when I will be able to travel again – I even liked the pink pictures.

    We have been sorting out the pictures from my partners Sierra Cascades bike tour – the guy who took his ipad is all done sorting already – we still have about 400 to label and organize but they are lovely pictures. I have been putting some on Biking Architect blog

    South Africa and a great barter story – thank you for sharing.

    • Deborah Barker

      As much as I enjoy the travel (well, not the airport experiences perhaps) I think I enjoy looking back on the events just as much Patricia. Sorting photographs is very rewarding though I confess that my California photographs remained unlabelled until I wrote about the trip here. Only then did half of them get labelled. The album is yet to come. Good luck with yours!

    • Deborah Barker

      I had forgotten all about the Antique store and the blue car until I unearthed this photograph Katie. So much to write about but I stuck to just a few memories this time and lots of photographs.

  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. haunting images and you certainly saw and did a fair amount in your short week .. love that you were staying out of the main stream – it’s a gorgeous place Cape Town and you managed to link in with the locals and get a feel of the place .. love pics – especially the pink lady – I wonder who she is! Cheers Hilary

    • Deborah Barker

      Andrea, having such a large family means that there is normally someone on call to stay with the dogs. Keano has been known to sulk on our return but I am told he is quite happy while we are away. Flossie doesn’t seem to pine but always give us an exuberant welcome when we come home!

  • John Cowton

    You needn’t have worried about your camera’s pink demise Deborah.Your words conjured such vivid imagery that my mind’s eye had taken me to the wonderful South African places that you most elequontly described in a way that a two dimensional photo could never achieve.

    However having said all that, your photographs of buildings with vivid colours and the light and shadow depicted and the character of the people says to me…oh my this would be a painter’s paradise, and your unusual 3D print bears testimony to this.

    A good holiday has such resonance that warm’s our hearts during the midst of the winter colliwobbles. An artist or writer is nourished by such resonance and goes on to produce fruit in their art-form of choice. Yours was a peach 🙂

    • Deborah Barker

      Suck kind words John! Thank you. The first thing I noticed when stepping off the plane was how colourful, how different this place was to any other I’d been to. Glad I managed to convey at least part of that feeling here.

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