Friday, April 28, 2017

Jo'Burg and the Capetonians - Our Gateway to Africa

Continuing with my collection of thoughts at random moments during our stay here in South Africa...

In Transit

We flew from Delhi through Addis Ababa to Johannesburg. In the Addis airport we noticed that there was such a diverse population of people transiting through the airport. In fact, we noticed many Asians in particular. I think we were shocked to see this many on the African continent, especially in Ethiopia. We talked to a couple of Chinese folks in their broken English and learned they were going to Dakar, Senegal for work. Unfortunately, we couldn't communicate any further to understand what kind of work they were doing there. I wonder where all the rest going to or coming from?

Johannesburg, South Africa

We've arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa!!! This is our 4th continent on this 6 month RTW trip.

The suburbs of JoBurg are pretty nice. For the 2 days we were here, it was like a welcome back to the first world. It was almost like I had reverse culture shock for the first time in my life. Even the airport felt so much more modern than the previous few we've flown through.

Our stay in the capital city is pretty short. We are only here for 2 nights (1.5 days). So we've decided to spend our 1 full day here touring around the ever so popular "slums" of Soweto (South Western Townships). The area is well known for raising some very influential people, namely, former South African President and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela and social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu. If you're a fan of political comedy, then you would also know that Trevor Noah (host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central) is also from Soweto. Our one day in Soweto was very informative. We learned about apartheid more than ever before. I feel like it wasn't really taught in school, and we were never really made aware of the severity of the movement. In fact, we met an older woman (maybe in her 50s) from NJ who mentioned that while she was in college she didn't really hear about apartheid and its effects half way around the world. It's certainly not like the present day where news travels so fast and action is taken almost immediately on subjects that rattle the world news by college campuses around the globe. It's amazing how controlled apartheid was and how convincing the minority population of whites were against a group of people native to South Africa with a larger population. Seeing the Nelson Mandela house and the Hector Pieterson museum was eye opening for me. I never knew anything about the apartheid or how severe the uprisings were about Afrikaans being taught in schools. It was really informational.

A stone image of Mandela outside his home in East Orlando, Soweto, Johannesburg

Children of Soweto

Housing in Soweto

A boy and his toy in front of his house.

Laundry day

The stacks of a old energy plant now shut down. The designs symbolize Soweto remain on the iconic towers. These days, the stacks have been repurposed. In the middle, there is a bungee jumping platform. 

Soweto is considered by some to be a slum, but is not nearly as bad as the slums in Mumbai. Many have tv and heat. Some even have running water. Although these people are poor, they still have some comforts that the Indians or people in other 3rd world countries do not. The poor in Mumbai literally had nothing and no space to do anything.

Most South Africans are so friendly. They all say hello or smile, even in the slums, even if they think you are out of place. There is a warm feeling that you get from their genuineness that you don't get in NYC where people are so cold and could care less about who you are or what you're doing in town.

Cape Town

This is the longest we are staying in a single African city. Here in Cape Town we are spending 6 nights.

A woman approached on Camps Bay Beach and asked us where we were from. We told her the United States. She went on to explain to us that she is divorced and is struggling to get a job and make money, and even eat at night. She was asking for a donation to help her out. We declined to provide any assistance, and her parting comment was, "Americans love money more than life itself."

Camps Bay Beach

Table Mountain on the left with the 12 Apostles cascading towards the ocean on the right.

I weighed myself the other day and I was 108kg. That's roughly 238lbs. I'm pretty sure when I left home I was 290lbs. And again I've come to the conclusion that food abroad is much better than food at home. It's more organic and less stripped of nutrients like the food at home is after going through all the processing. Additionally, everywhere else, food is portioned correctly and not "super sized" at all.

In Cape Town, we were happy to have an entire apartment in the center of the city. It's walking distance to pretty much everything. It's the most comfortable we've been since we were in Ho Chi Minh. It's also the first time since Australia that we've been able to go grocery shopping for real, fresh food and cook ourselves a few meals.

On our very first day, we checked-in to our apartment and headed straight for Lion's Head to hike to the top. After nearly 1.5hrs, we made it! We took the route that required us to climb ladders and use staples and chains in the rock face to climb certain parts. It was pretty scary for me, but I still did it. I just moved a lot slower than most people. I even let people pass me. Oh well, I'm still afraid of heights.

On top of Lion's Head with a view of Table Mountain and the city bowl that is Cape Town.

During our first couple of days here we rented a car and did some self touring as per usual. We made it all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope on Cape Point, something that I never thought we'd get to do in our lives. It was extremely windy down there. In fact, we had to rearrange our schedule, and that's the only reason we were here on this day. Originally, we were supposed to be on a shark cage diving tour out at sea. Unfortunately, because the winds were so forceful the dive had to be rescheduled.

Cape Point lighthouse

Baboons. They jumped on the hood of my car and wouldn't move. Baboons. 

We also paid a visit Boulder Beach to see the African penguin colonies and Muizenberg Beach to see the colorful beach changing houses. On one day, we did what normally we wouldn't do; we hopped on a city bus tour and took the entire loop around the city.

Changing houses at the beach in Muizenberg

African penguins

We also made our way up to Table Mountain via cable car. The cable car up to Table Mountain is the first we've ever rode that had a rotating floor that allowed all the passengers an opportunity to have a 360 degree view on the way up and on the way down. So as the cable car is climbing, it's also rotating. Scary a bit, no? What if the fall just falls out? I've never seen that before, and quite honestly, don't understand how that was possible. And when I don't understand things, I usually am more afraid of them.

Cable car to the top of Table Mountain. 


Proof that the top of Table Mountain is flat.

Posing on the edge. 

Does that look like Antarctica on the horizon?

The top to Table Mountain was incredibly quiet. If not for the bustle of the many tourists, you could probably hear a pin drop. All you had to do was find a corner of the table top to yourself and the light gentle whisper of the breeze was all you could hear. Of course the views were spectacular. You could see anything from up there. The shores of Clifton Beach and Camps Bay Beach, the V&A waterfront, the eastern industrial areas, south to the Cape, the lighthouse at the Cape. I felt like visibility was so good that you could even see Antarctica if you really tried. I really thought I could see it but maybe it was just the clouds on the horizon playing tricks on me.

Cape Town, the city, is strikingly similar to any Australian city. In my opinion, it's particularly close in nature to Melbourne. It's got the diversity of people; it has the rich culture and history; Cape Town has excellent food options in every direction; the city is broken up to pockets and little neighborhoods of different feeling and character all in a compact area. And I suppose like every other city, Capetonians have a great pride in their city. Everything in Cape Town and the peninsula is easily accessible. You can drive practically anywhere and within the city limits are buses that frequent the streets with touch on, touch off technology. What Cape Town has that Melbourne doesn't have is the landscape. I really enjoy the topography here better. You can hike the trails after work or escape to a vineyard for lunch or hop on the bus to the beach within minutes. It's all within reach.

Bo Kaap

The Malay Quarter, known by some as “Bo-Kaap” and built largely by and for the artisans of Cape Town between 1790 and 1825, was subsequently occupied by people of the Muslim faith. These included political exiles from Java and Ceylon, who moved into the area around 1820. Liberated slaves moved into the area after 1834 and with them Malay people who had been living in the town. Over the years the area has come to be identified as the heart of the cultural life of the Malay people. Major influences of their life in the Cape have been their religion, the culture of their forebears, visits to Mecca and the Dutch and English colonists.

Side note: 
So our shark cage diving trip was rescheduled from Sunday to Wednesday. But today (Tuesday), we were informed that there weren't any shark sightings in the bay today so they are cancelling our trip all together. Also because of the high winds for the previous 2 days they didn't have any trips out to the bay either. The previous Friday was the last sighting of any sharks in the bay. Since we are leaving for Namibia on Thursday, we won't have time to reschedule again. It's unfortunate and upsetting but I suppose it gives us another reason to come back to Cape Town.

1972 - Denmark to the Philippines

It is typical of me to reach out to my uncle, a former ship captain, when Carolyn and I reach a significant maritime location. The Cape of Good Hope is one of those places, so naturally I had to ask if he had been here before. My uncle confirmed that he had in fact been to South Africa, Cape Town in particular in 1972. His employer in the Philippines had purchased a second hand vessel in Denmark, and his task was to pick up the ship and deliver it back to the Philippines. He recalled that it was a 3000 gross ton cargo ship. Normally, since the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt, ships sailing East would cut through the canal to save time. Instead, as a result of a local war between the Egyptians and Israelis by which the Egyptians closed the canal (5 June 1967 to 10 June 1975), his crew had to veer South and round the Cape of Good Hope. They actually made a short stop in Cape Town for bunker (fuel) and provisions.

My Uncle's trip would last 45 days from Denmark to the Philippines, and it would have been a week shorter had the Suez been open. He recalled the segregation between blacks and whites (known commonly as apartheid). I asked him if he had any issues while he was in town but he said they did not have any problems because they were not considered black (his crew was mostly Filipino and other Asian). On the double decker city buses he explained that they had a choice to sit either on top or on the bottom, but they were encouraged to sit on the same deck as other white passengers. The same was true at the post office where they would sit waiting to be attended to. He and some of his crew sat on the colored benches waiting their turn but some locals pointed them to the benches for the whites. I asked him why they weren't discriminated against like other Malay people in South Africa, but he wasn't sure. I would have thought having the Asian, more specifically the Indonesian / Malaysian, skin complexion and build would have surely caused some kind of issue but thankfully it did not. My uncle, a ship captain, had witnessed apartheid first hand. Though a short story, I still found it amazing that someone I know has a first hand account and experienced the apartheid. We have other friends whom we have questions for now knowing what we do. Hopefully they'll have some more experiences to share with us.

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