We woke early this Saturday to see if the spa a block away had returned Alisa’s request for an appointment. Alisa sounded pretty horrible this morning, and as this was no less than the 7th day of this cold, her need for relief was of the utmost necessity this morning. There was no reply, so she rang them and learned they she would have to choose between a massage or a pedicure at 1pm, not both. Disappointed, she called her back up, who she thought was also close, but was actually located on Klook Rd in Seat Point, rather than Kloof St here in the City bowl. She was given a bunch of different times, and 11am was the most convenient so we dressed, had reception at Cape Town Backpackers call us a taxi and we were off.
The ride was only R60, and we stepped into a magnificently chic hotel, O on Kloof. This was another reminder that we were no longer in Africa. This place was straight out of a movie like The Island where they go to Ewan McGregor’s ‘owner’s futuristic house. The bridge to the entrance over the water fall, the chairs, the bar, all of it impeccable. I was let in with Alisa and upon Alisa heading off I inquired when I should return, the masseuse laughed and told me to follow them and she gave us a quick tour of the basement that housed the gym, swimming pool, 2 guests’ rooms and the massage room, all done in the same contemporary style as the rest of the building. I set off and let Alisa have her relaxing time and headed down to the main road. Sea Point is on Cape Town’s western seaboard, right next to the Green Point Stadium, and has become one of the suburbs to live in and has attracted a lot of foreign real-estate investment. It is also the location of my mother’s Protea hotel where she stayed in 2007, so I had walked this area and had wanted to go walk the waterfront again. Walking down the steep hill (Sea Point backs up to Lions Head), I smashed my toe on a lose piece of side walk and but continued down to the main road. Down there, I realized my sandals had become sticky and realized the cut part of my toe had not coagulated like I had hoped, and now had bled all over. I realized that in all the countries in the world, walking around with an open bloody wound here was probably not going to be looked on kindly, but luckily a I found a Spar at the little shopping mall at the corner and purchased Band-Aids and headed to the restroom to treat my wound. This gave me some time to appreciate how easy it was to walk in and grab the box of bandages and tend to my wound in a sanitary location. Had it happened in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, or Botswana away from our travel medical kit it would have been quite a adventure.
I set off down the Main Rd to find a place to take Alisa for lunch and encountered a half of dozen internet cafes along the way. I stepped in one on the way back and inquired about hooking up my notebook and using it to download and they said no problem. The advertisements on the others seemed to suggest the same thing. How is it that the two on Kloof St are stuck in the dark ages of internet cafes?? However, I had left Alisa’s MacBook Pro at the backpackers, and noted the cafes for future visits.
I paused at every bar I came across to peek at the Springbok score, but by the time I had reached the end of Sea Point, it had become obvious that another poor performance was on the books. It seems to be a terrible year for South African sports: Bafana not escaping the group phase, combined with the Springboks’ title defense of the Tri-Nations looking over before they have a home match.
I finally made it to Miss’s K, the bakery/desert cafe Lonely Planet said was a must try. I decided this would be the ideal place for late afternoon desert. I checked out a few of the restaurants around the area, and walked back along the fan mile that stretches not only from the city center to the Green Point Stadium, but also for 2 kms to Sea Point. Having had 3 days to check out the facilities Cape Town implemented for the World Cup, they seem to have really gone all out in planning and infrastructure. It was simple to walk from downtown to the stadium and in only about 15 minutes. Two pedestrian bridges help speed up the walk by spanning the two largest roads (I remember these were the most difficult streets in Cape Town to j-walk when I was here in 2007), and the red bricked road snakes by a number of bars, restaurants, shopping centres, and hotels all the way to the stadium. It is lit with street lights, and there are signs posted everywhere just in case the red bricks don’t function as your ‘yellow brick road’. Oh, how I wish the US had made the improbable run to the semis that would have been hosted here.
With the day heating up, I decide to walk back along the ocean front where the wind is blowing and all the walkers have their winter jackets and scarfs out. However, it is not nearly as cold as the highveld places where we had stayed during the World Cup, and it reminds me a bit of winter days in San Francisco, where the weather is only ‘cold’ for the city’s residents. On the way back I walk past a five-a-side artificial turf enclosed soccer arena, and think that given all the other amenities I could very easily live in this part of Cape Town with little trouble. Its another of the constant reminders that this isn’t Africa. While located on the continent, and flying the South African flag, Cape Town is an entity all its own making. The European, Malay, Dutch, Khoe-San influences make the city something unique: a hybrid of European city streets, African colour, the legacy of slavery of the Dutch East India Company, a centre of art and theater, and progressive thinking on par with San Francisco. I always wonder what visitors take away when they visit Cape Town and no other part of South Africa or the continent. Cape Town is the jewel of African tourism for a reason, but I think anyone visiting the continent for the first time should stay away from the city for as long as possible. My mother found this out in 2007, when she came to Cape Town for her first 4 days and then made her way east along the Garden Route, only to end up in Durban, where in 2007, staying on the beach front was an isolating place, and the downtown area offered nothing of the culture, history, or relative safety that Cape Town does. However for me, I’ve always visited Cape Town on the end of my time in Africa and on both occasions find it’s a way to reintegrate back into the first-world, and a place where after months of frayed nerves and muscles, is the ideal place to rest and relax.
And it was extremely relaxing for Alisa. Upon my return, I encountered the woman I knew nearly 10 months ago, before Apple and Africa took their toll on her. She was bright and bubbly for the rest of the day, and was even ecstatic over my choice of an Asian Fusion restaurant, Bamboo, right across from Green Point in the complex of the Cape Royale Hotel. They had an eccentric mix of drinks, and their food was superb. There is a market difference in the professionalism of waiters and waitresses in Cape Town regardless of race, as they obvious have greater experience than those in the rest of the country, but it makes such a difference in a dining experience when you’ve become accustomed to the leering and awkward exchanges we’ve encountered elsewhere. Another reminder that Cape Town is place unique in itself.
To cap off the day, we tried to belatedly hurry over to the Waterfront, but were too late for the showing of our movie and decided to wander the mall. Thinking it was closing down, I had no idea if it was worth hanging around, but it turned into a bonanza of purchases for Alisa. Even I was surprised by how many unique African things were on hand. We wandered the part of the mall that was just being completed in 2007 and found a whole range of shops with the typical African fare, but also pieces that seemed one of a kind. Things such as a springstone ZImbabwean carving a soccer player (R4000), a kelpvuvu (a vuvuzela made of kelp that we had seen documented on an Al-Jazeera news story on sustainable business in South Africa), a metal abstract cut-out of African animals (R1000 for the smallest), and a unique gift for Alisa’s mother that we had been scouring the country for since our arrival. Unfortunately, being the end of our trip, my resources to purchase those expensive items were limited, and best to leave for when I come the next time, hopefully with more room my baggage and $$. We checked out the Levi’s for Alisa to see if there was a suitable replacement for Alisa’s ripped jeans, but the prices they were charging for Levi’s (a premium brand in SA) made Alisa decide to solider on with the duct tape keeping the small rip closet. We returned for our movie and then headed out of the mall to take a cab home.
We had a very talkative driver on the way home, asking many times “do you understand me”, a type of typical phrase we’ve encountered that usually means ‘do you see where I’m coming from’, but with this guy, with his slurring, questionable driving, and constant repeating, I was more worried about his sobriety than whether I understood him. Luckily the journey was a quick five minute jaunt and his driving improved on the busier streets and we made it home without a problem. Though we were going to call it a night, both of our stomachs rumbled at 2200 having had only one meal during the day, and we used it as an excuse to try the Fat Cactus, the Mexican restaurant just 100 meters from the back entrance of our backpackers.
Like Lonely Planet noted, if you have had real Mexican/Latino food, you can notice that something is missing from meals, but my burrito was colorful and filling nonetheless and Alisa’s quesadilla wasn’t horrible. While probably not a place I would frequent on a regular basis (unlike Taco Zulu in Durban that had superb food in 2007), the quirkiness of a Mexican place on the southwest tip of Africa was enough to cover any shortcomings in the meals. The mojito though was one of the best made I’ve had in recent times.
Finally ready to call it a night, we return to Cape Town Backpackers where Alisa tries to watch Glee over the WiFi, but it’s too slow to buffer more than a few minutes, but a wonderful day cannot be dampened. However, it’s our last in Cape Town, and thus signaling the end of our time in South Africa. The two months have not flown by, and in fact our weary bodies and minds signal that we have had our fill and that we pushed ourselves physically and mentally further than we ever have. New adventures call: for Alisa in Kenya, for me in Los Angeles, but Cape Town will allow us to leave with great ending memories to our World Cup Safari.
I agree, Cape Town is not Africa. It seems like it’s in its own space and time.
Thanks for the account of Cape Town.