Welcome to Cape Town, a city nestled between majestic Table Mountain and the striking blue waters of Table Bay – easily one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We spend two weeks here, the longest stint in one city that we have had thus far, yet we are hardly lacking for things to see and do. We explore the white sand beaches and coastal mountain roads, the rolling green farmlands of wine country, the “Townships” or urban slum areas, and of course, the multicultural vibe of our neighborhood, the Bo Kaap, and Cape Town’s city life.
With slow, temperamental internet connections throughout our time in S. Africa, we have struggled to upload photos and text for these posts. We will split our Cape Town adventures into two separate posts, and are doing the best we can to include good images, but we’ve had to wrestle with it quite a bit. We may end up doing some additional posting once we arrive in Sydney later in the month. Hope you enjoy nonetheless!
BLAIR: Before we really get started with this post, it’s worth noting that back in the Dark Ages when I was a senior in college, I spent time in Cape Town to do research for my thesis, a study of slavery at the Cape in the 17th and 18th centuries. Dr. Robert Shell, an African studies professor and premier expert in the field of S. African history, was my advisor for this project, and he happens to now live in Cape Town with his wife, Dr. Sandy Shell. A native of S. Africa and internationally renowned historian, “Doc Rob” took our family under his wing and together with Sandy, became our personal tour guide and knowledge bank throughout our time here. It’s been a true gift to have Doc Rob unravel the complex history of this country and the region of Cape Town, from the colonial Dutch settlement to the Apartheid and post-Apartheid eras. It helps as well that he is one of those “larger than life” personalities (and happens to be 6 ft 9″ tall), entertaining all of us with quirky historical anecdotes and his sublime sense of humor.
Highlights of our stay so far:
Table Mountain, of course! There is a beautiful, big, rotating cable car that whisks you up to the top in about seven minutes flat. For our first couple of days in the city, we couldn’t even see the mountain due to clouds and rain. When we finally got a sunny day, we headed for the top.
Once on top, there are many paths to explore with views from all sides, and there is a great little café at which to enjoy a snack and drink. We stayed for about an hour and a half, and then zipped back down.
Boulder Beach – the Penguins!
Yes, Cape Town has a penguin colony. When Blair visited Boulder Beach 17 years ago, you could just walk right down onto it and picnic/swim among the penguins. Now it has been privatized, with an entrance fee and designated area for the penguins to live in. A boardwalk runs along the beach from which visitors can view the penguins. After initial disappointment that we wouldn’t be romping with these silly birds, the girls found that just watching from the boardwalk was perfectly entertaining and quite mesmerizing. It was kind of like a zoo in reverse, with the penguins roaming free and the people enclosed within the confines of the boardwalk.
SCHUYLER: All the penguins were such characters! Even though it wasn’t as close of an encounter as expected, it was still really cool to watch the penguins in their natural habitats, interacting with each other. Mom and Dad had a hard time pulling us away.
Driving tour with Doc Rob
Doc Rob took us on a full-day tour of some amazing fishing villages and coastal beaches, which included driving over Chapman’s Peak (a mountain pass to put all others to shame). The day was blustery and cool, but the sun was shining and we had all kinds of adventures. We started out at the fishing village of Hout Bay, where colorful houses dot the hillsides and boats line the docks.
We took a glass-bottom boat out to nearby Seal Island. Apparently, National Geographic does a lot of their Great White Shark filming here because of the high occurence of sharks feeding on the seals. We didn’t see a shark, but we sure saw a lot of seals!
Moving on to Boulder Beach, we showed you the penguins, but we also got to explore some tide pools further up the beach. We discovered starfish, sea urchins, plenty of crabs and periwinkles, and some awesome shells. We had to climb all over the boulders which made exploring all the more exciting.
ZOE: Tide pooling on Boulder Beach was my favorite part of the day. We collected lots of starfish and created a special pool just for them. We touched sea urchins and found mother-of-pearl shells. I loved climbing all over the rocks and finding secret tide pools everywhere. I could have stayed all day!
We continued on, driving over Chapman’s Peak which was predictably steep and winding and VERY windy! Blair and Jeff pose over the cliffs for a quick photo, but feel as though they might get blown off.
We descended from the pass into Fish Hoek, another beautiful coastal town, boasting a pristine swimming beach with warm waters and lined with colorful changing rooms.
Ignoring the chilly winds, the girls romped for half an hour, letting off some steam before lunch.
Fish Hoek also happens to have a reputation for Great White sightings (not to mention the occasional bite), which seemed like a strange caveat to its reputation as one of the best swimming beaches at the Cape. To address the Great White issue, they have developed a “shark spotting” program whereby a person stationed along the mountain road looks out over the ocean and radios down to the lifeguards when he/she spots a shark. The lifeguards at the beach then warn swimmers to exit the ocean before they become lunch. There is a flagpole just next to the beach that flies a shark warning system. In recent years, a swimmer ignored the white flag alert and all they found was her bathing cap. Not kidding.
We ate fresh calamari and yellowtail in nearby Kalk Bay, where brightly colored fishing boats line the docks and seals swim around seemingly for our personal entertainment. The girls could have stayed and watched the seals all day, literally. They really are so entertaining!
In the distance, we saw a pod of dolphin swim by, and then noticed this:
We tried every conceivable way to discern whether we were indeed looking at a shark. Binoculars, zoom lenses, accosting the locals for their opinion. The mystery continues.– what do you all think?
Another absolute “must” on our to-do list in Cape Town was to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent more than two decades in prison along with countless other political activists during the Apartheid era in S. Africa. To get there, you take a ferry boat and then join a guided tour of the prison and the island (which has an interesting history as not only a prison, but also a leper colony and WW ll military stronghold).
ZOE: I had a hard time hearing our guide for some of our tour here, but I did learn a lot still. A lot of prisoners were arrested because of “sabotage” which basically meant that they were disrupting the government. Our guide was arrested at the age of 17 when he joined a protest with some other high school students. He spent 6 years on the island. It was really special to be able to see Nelson Mandela’s cell because I’ve learned about him since being in South Africa, especially after all of my time with Doc Rob who has taught us a lot. It was nice to know more about the history before I got to Robben Island.
The Slave Lodge Museum
BLAIR: Ok, admittedly, this part might be a bit drab for some, and if you are under the age of 30 you might fall asleep for a few moments while reading this, but it’s important to add a brief historical perspective here. My entire senior thesis was written about this building and the slave society within, so it was pretty incredible to have my professor and academic mentor give a personal tour of the museum to our family.
What is the Slave Lodge and who lived there? South Africa was occupied by the Dutch in the 17th century. The colonists introduced slavery as the main means of labor recruitment and this system lasted until the 19th century. Slaves were brought via ship from the East and West coasts of Africa, Madagascar, India, and Indonesia (similar to the slave ships bringing Africans across the Atlantic to work our Southern plantations) . No other slave society in history had such diverse origins and because of this, the Cape province is now regarded as the most genetically diverse place in the world. Really! This region is a melting pot beyond compare.
All of the slaves at the Cape were housed in the Slave Lodge, living out their lives in miserable conditions. Unlike some slave societies, very few slaves ever gained their freedom during their time in the Lodge. Generations of men, women, and children lived and died there, and meticulous records from the Dutch East India Company tell their stories. The Slave Lodge Museum offers a historically accurate and fascinating history of their lives, from the earliest arrivals via 17th century ship, to the eventual official end of Cape slavery in 1838.
I wish we had more photos of our time at the museum to share with you, but most were taken on Jeff’s iPhone, which I kindly put through the laundry a few days later. His phone is really clean now, but also completely dead. Oops.
SCHUYLER: The Slave Lodge was really interesting. Doc Rob said in his own words, “Over my years of working at museums, I have noticed that children are the guests that need the most attention. During our visit I will pay all of my attention to you and we will have a lot of fun! Your parents’ brains are a lost cause. They are already mush.” He also brought these printouts for Thayer, Zoe, and myself. Each sheet had information about a slave that used to live in the Lodge. I was an 11 year-old slave working and living at the Lodge. My name was Soraya and I had two sisters [Zoe and Thayer]. We also got to explore a replica of the hold of a slave ship, pretending to lie on the wooden planks and imagine what it was like to be imprisoned at sea. Doc Rob told us a lot about the slave trade and how horrible it was. Our visit to the Lodge was really fun and I had an amazing experience!
Driving about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town, we explored the area of Somerset West. Home to some of S. Africa’s famed vineyards and lush farmlands, this region also hosts a child-friendly tourist destination known as Monkey Town. Our few hours there ranked at the top of the list for FUN, for the kids and adults alike. Here is a journal entry from Zoe about our day there…
Yesterday, we went to Monkey Town. It was SOOO amazing! It was just like a dream come true for me. We saw so many different kinds of monkeys. We even got to go inside the squirrel monkey enclosure. They jumped on us, ate our of our hands, sat on our heads, and almost stole Dad’s sunglasses. We took some great photos! I also loved seeing the Chimpanzees. We got to feed them yogurt by tossing little containers into their enclosure. They were trained to clap their hands when they were ready to catch the yogurt. Of course, we couldn’t go into their enclosure because they are too strong, but they are still really fun to watch. Monkey Town was the BEST.
Ok! So that’s all for the time being. We are going to post once more on Cape Town, and then we head out on safari for a week. We look forward to sharing all of the exciting photos and adventures from that time with you soon!