Cape Town, South Africa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It's been a few weeks since we left Cape Town (CT) but we're all still talking about what a great port it was! There were things I didn't like about this port but overall it was just an incredible country with awesome people, great history and delicious food! This is a LOOONG post so look at the heading if you just wanta sampling of my post.
Here's a rundown for our time
Saturday at Sea
We were supposed to dock into CT on 2/17 and we all got up early and got excited as we saw the beautiful cityscape within reach….but due to strong winds (and high waves) we were not allowed to dock! The winds were so strong that all my books flew off of the window sill where they've been since I boarded the ship. It was quite an intense day of rocking back and forth. We kept waiting for us to be cleared to dock but the winds were not in our favor that day. Though we were just circling back and forth (see picture of the t.v. monitor), it was cool to have a day off to just relax and not have any meetings and even cooler to see how we were able to entertain our self with card games (MAFIA!!!), movies (Toy Story 3, Karate Kid, etc), and just chatting with folks as we sunbathed in beautiful weather. It was strange to see the ship rock back and forth as I sat at the middle of the fifth deck aft (back).But I did get to see sea lions, a shark and dolphins as we were waiting J
But after over a day at sea and several cancelled trips, programs and an impromptu open mic night, we berthed into Cape Town! It's such a stunning view with the wharf and city in front of the majestic Table Mountain and Lion's Head Mountain, just north of the city. I can't describe what it's like to see the clouds clearing as the mountains become visible and taking it all in! We had to help with passing out passports for immigration clearance and soon after I got off to head to my field program, led by Alissa.
Service Visit - Operation Hunger :
Our trip was a visit to several schools and community food banks supported by an organization called Operation Hunger, which works specifically in the Townships to help provide food, medical care and education to the local community. Though lots of progress has been made in the country after Apartheid ended over 17 years ago, there is still a lot of underlying racial tension and segregation b/c of class, education and access to resources. Most of central CT is very developed and mostly inhabited by the Afrikaans (mostly white South Africans), and just around the mountain is Khayelitsha, the second largest township in S.A.Khayelitsha ("New Home") is mostly inhabited by Africans who, during Apartheid were sent out of other parts of the city and also more recent immigrants from the eastern parts of the country. They are mostly people of Xhosa (click-osa) heritage and there are over 400 thousand people in this one township!
Their "houses" are made of tin, random pieces of wood and scrap metal. Until recently many of the houses did not have electricity; and the power poles are called spiders b/c of all the illegal wiring that has been plugged into each of these poles. This is a huge source of fires and deaths in this community. The government has recently started a program to install solar panels on these shacks to help provide renewable energy which was pretty cool to see. There is no running water or sewage system in this township. There are port-a-potties every couple of blocks and are cleaned every now and then. One of the issues in this township is alcoholism and unemployment (clearly, they are related). This community has over 400bars, and only about 150 churches and about 60 schools. Driving through in our air-conditioned bus was a bit sickening as we saw people without shoes walking in the hot weather.
We arrived at the Operation Hunger site with groceries for the community. Everyone was waiting for us and all the kids were so adorable! My favorite was Regan whowanted me to carry him and stayed with me for about an hour. (check out my FB profile pic) Clement our guide who works for OH, instructed us in weighing each child that was there to track malnutrition and weight gain. Each child had to get weighed and measured before they and their family could get food. While all the kids were being measured, we got to jumprope and play games with some of the older kids. Once everyone was measured, weighed and fed, they put on a beautiful performance for us of traditional music and dance.
We also visited a local schoolin a neighboring section of town but most of the children had gone home already. But since we came, they called many of the children back who also performed a great dance for us. They were just so gracious. We had brought our boxed lunches and gave them away to the kids to take home.
Exploring the Victoria & Alfred Wharf
Once we got back to the wharf, Alissa and I decided to just walk around and explore the waterfront. There were many souvenir shops, restaurants, and even a huge mall with little boutiques and brand name stores. It was such a contrast to what we had just seen in the townships. It was a bit overwhelming to be walking around the mall and seeing that most of the people of color behind the counters or serving food to a mostly white clientele.
There happened to be a U2 concert that night at the World Cup Stadium (just east of the wharf) so there was hundreds of people walking around (The actual concert I think had over 65 thousand people!) but we managed to walk around and check out the local craft market and get delicious falafel sandwiches for dinner!
Simon's Town & Cape Point
The next day, Alissa, Annie, Sunny, Bill (their kid Alex), Faith, Mark & Itook the train down to Simon's Town to hang out for the weekend. On the way there, we got off at Fish Hoek, this little beach town on the bay and had an incredible time just playing in the sand, taking pictures and swinging on the see-saw! The sand was white and the water was a beautiful blue. On one side we had a hill filled with beautiful houses and on the other side a beautiful road and cloud covered mountains in the distance. It was such a nice way to just start our little outing. After lunch at a local spot, we took a local bus to the center of Simon's Town which has beautiful colonial architecture and is currently a navy town with 90 % of the town being for and by the navy (hospital, housing, training grounds, etc)
We got some rooms at The Central Hotel, this cute little hotel in the center of town, and walked down to Boulder's Beach to check out the local Jackass Penguins!!!! I was sooo excited to see these little guys! They were just so freakin' cuuuute! After over an hour of taking pictures and trying to get the penguins to play with us (I wanted to swim with them but it was getting dark and the water was COOOLD). We also had super delicious food at the Boulder's Beach Lodge & Restaurant. After some of our more difficult ports, it was fun to sit at a nice restaurant and have dinner with good friends. We stopped by a local liquor store to grab some wine and snacks and hung out in our room (Alissa, Annie & I had the family room with three beds, chaise lounge and several chairs with a huge bathroom). But we made it an early night since we had to be up at 6am.
In the morning we hired a taxi for the day and were out early to check out Cape Point…one of the southern most points of the African continent with these high cliffs looking out onto this beautiful cape of water. It was quite an unbelievable experience to be so high up and seeing the water thrash onto the rocks. Some interesting trivia:there 's a small rock formation just off the coast that's barely visible which is apparently the cause of many ship wrecks. At the base of our hike, we saw some antelopes. We also went to the Cape of Good Hope, the south-western most point of the African continent, where we saw ostriches, some little weird bugs and baboons!!!!!
Winelands - Stellenbosch:
After a beautifully scenic drive along the ocean, we came to the Spire Winery, one of the oldest and most popular wineries in the country.We tasted some delicious wine, saw some cheetahs and found some cool artifacts. J Spire is also known for Moyo, a traditional South African restaurant with food from across the country. Then we went to the Neethlingshof Winery , a smaller place where we also decided to have lunch. I had this delicious dish called BoBoTie! It was sooo delicious! Check out my recipe post on this tasty decadence. It's traditionally made with meat but I had a super d-duper licious one made vegetarian.J
We took a quick ride back to Cape Town so we could head off to dinner with Rhoda and some other friends. Rhoda is a local activist and community leader who does great work in helping local NGO's to grow and get resources. She joined us from Ghana to South Africa and spent time with several of us during our stay in CT. Just an incredible woman with lots of information and opinions and the current state of South Africa. I loved listening to her talk!
Service Visits - Baphumelele Orphanage & the Youth Empowerment Program - Township Bike Tour
One of the field programs I went on was a Bike tour of Khayelitsha and local community organizations doing some great work. We first started at Baphumelele Orphanage that houses almost 200 children. Mama Rosie, the founder, is this super sweet woman who found an abandoned child on her front door a few years ago. And the next day, she got another and took them both to the police station to see what could be done. The police asked her to take care of the children until they could figure out what to do. As she was driving home, she has the urge to just pull over and drop them on the side of the road and flee….but at this instant, she heard a noise tell her to take these children home and care for them. At this moment, she sent a prayer to God asking that He provide for her to take care of these children….and according to her, He hasn't stopped giving! The orphanage now takes over about two blocks of the township, with classrooms, a bakery, an arts building, a wood shop where old wood is made into photo frames, and several hostels. It's an incredible place! She's even gotten Elton John to come visit and holds high regard in the community for her awesome work. One of the most intriguing places here was this two gated room. One door was on the inside and a window opening up to the street….this is meant for folks wanted to drop of their children anonymously and saving these children from being left on the street, or worse.Many of these children have lost parents due to HIV/AIDS (40% of the country is positive and most of the 25-45 age community has died!) My favorite part was seeing the childrenperform the traditional dances similar to the dancing we saw a few days earlier! They were just adorable!
We then went off to another section of the Township where we split into groups and one group went on a bike ride of the township while the other went to play soccer with local children. Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) is an organization started by 22yr old SIzwe Matoti, a local young man who wanted to provide a better alternative to drugs, alcohol and drugs for local youth. He gets young folks together and teaches them how to run, and then teaches them how to ride a bike. He's even gotten enough bikes to run a little program where they can come and check out a bike and go for a ride. He also raises money to take these youth to the beach, local parks and hiking so that they develop leadership and find better alternatives for their free time. It's been an extremely successful program and he has not procured two old shipping containers that have been converted into the start of a community center located in Mandela Park. Since I don't like soccer and we needed a chaperone for the bikers, I chose to ride a bicycle twice through the township and had great conversations with one of the coordinators of this program that works with the high school boys. It was great to see such programs that address direct issues with very little overhead. Sizwe has even brought in several copies of textbooks since many students can't afford school books, and even his own desktop from home into the center as a resource for these children. I'm not surprised, but still amazed, by how much we can do with very little when we think outside of our own boundaries! Sizwe is a great example of this innovative energy in S.A.
On Top of the WORLD - Table Mountain & the Tablecloth!
So I had plans to go with several folks to see the sunset from the top of Table Mountain. But b/c my trip ran late, I missed them and ended up having to take a taxi there by myself but did run into some students while waiting line. Originally I wanted to hike the 95degree steep , 3 hr long hike up to the top but due to time chose to just take the cable cars up. I literally made it to the top as the sun was about to set! It was just the most beautiful thing I've seen in my life. Just to see the shimmering water dancing with the orange glow of the sun while the freezing wind blew across the top of the mountain. Sometimes, at this time of day, the clouds come over the mountain like a table cloth covering a table and you can just see the clouds coming over you and just covering everything around in a white mist!So we were lucky that this didn't happen until after the sun had set. I ran into Alissa and others and she had brought an extra scarf for me…this is way I love this woman (among other things which make her my bff!). After taking some fun pictures and taking the incredible view. I just couldn't get enough of this feeling of being at the top of the world looking down over the water, the city and our ship in the distance.
Last Day in South Africa- Green Market & Art!
So the last day in SA, Alissa and I decided to go on a little adventure. We wanted to find the Green Marketlocated a couple of kilometers on the other side of town. This market is supposed to be cheaper than the shops/tourist traps right at the harbor and we wanted to see a less touristy area. So we found our way through the maze of downtown CT to the market and had a blast! It looked like a Saturday market with just these pop-up tents in the middle of this beautiful plaza and fun little restaurants around. And on our way back, we made three stops: food, craft shop and art dealer.
We had this delicious falafel sandwich with this green chilli sauce that totally hit the spot. Since the food on the ship is so bland, it was nice to have this bit of flavor and actually spice. Then we found this little shop where these little baskets in the window caught my eye! They were the same baskets I have seen at a little market in Santa Barbara a few years ago! So we jumped in and it was such a fun store. Indeed these bowls and other artifacts were made by a South African NGO that works with people living with HIV to help them make a living. This store also had all this recycled /contemporary art….like a door mat made out of recycled bottle caps, a curtain made out of recycled plastic parts (bottle caps, hose parts, parts of containers, etc) and the coolest were these animal masks fully out of recycled plastic!!!!!!!!!! It was sooo cool! Unfortunately I didn't have any money left to buy anything but it was fun being reminded how much we can do with our garbage!
Our last stop was just accidental but beautiful. I was stopped by this beautiful piece of art in a window display. It was of an old tribal couple touching heads and looking into each other's eyes. Just incredible. So we walked in and I was just blown away but this store. It was called the African Portrait Gallery and specialized in two artists' work looking at images of African folks. The expressions on these faces and the realism just made me want to cry. Then we got into a conversation with Rashid, the gallery owner whose family has been in CT for over 300 years and has some roots to India as well! He was just a very spiritual man that totally engaged us in a conversation about art, travel, issues of who owns the subject of an art piece, and how to be a global citizen. He said his father used to say, you need to travel, read and communicate. I found that to be pretty cool and we chatted for almost a half hour but had to leave b/c we had to run some errands before heading back to the ship. I did manage to get his info so I can keep in touch with him. There was just something very special about his energy that resonated with me!
I managed to grab some stamps before getting on gangway duty (where we try to keep some sanity with 700 people coming onto the ship with security checks) and said good bye to this wonderful city and country. As you can tell, I loved this port. I don't usually write 5 pages on one port! It was definitely one of the easiest ports for me but one of the hardest as well. Easy because of how much it reminded me of the US and how easy it was to navigate…hard because I had to be conscious of not getting back to my materialistic roots in all this madness of the port and to focus on the experience beyond the wharf.Overall…I give it an A+. I hope I get to come back some day! I told Rhoda that she needs to get me a job here some day! :)