The veil has lifted, the world has become brilliant technicolour again – we are back in Africa! From the moment I looked out of the aeroplane window as dawn broke and saw the sands of the Namib desert beneath me, my heart lurched and my face broke into an involuntary, albeit exhausted smile. A sense of peace rested over me as I closed my eyes and laid my head against the seat and I felt all the tension melt away – we have made it back.
Leaving the UK doesn´t get any easier though. Leaving behind a cold, grey, concrete-covered country was no hardship.
Saying goodbye to my Mum was heartbreaking. Not being able to stop hugging my big sister before she drove back home after her last visit and waving my younger sister and adorable 2.5 year old nephew off at their door in Balham brought tears to my eyes yet again. The fact that the life we love takes us away from the people we love is one of those despicable challenges life likes to throw carelessly around.
So here we are in Cape Town, South Africa´s Mother City. And what can I say? There are not enough superlatives to describe this place or our initial feelings about it. Our love of the city, and this continent, was bursting out of us as we skipped through the streets soaking up the warmth, the beautiful scenery and the friendliness of the people.
Table Mountain dominates every view, greenery is all around and the bays are majestic. But there was something more, some sense of being home – whether it´s the climate, reminiscent of the best of a warm English summer´s day, the English spoken by everyone in the gorgeous, lilting African accent or the familiar, green landscape. We settled in straight away.
Our first stop was the Waterfront, this is clearly a very affluent part of South Africa. The comparisons with what we have left behind in West Africa are stark.
We bought sunglasses, had lunch and soaked up the atmosphere. At times like this it is very difficult to remember we are not on holiday but rather this is our life. Every now and again we have to pinch ourselves – but also remember not have too many ice creams and cakes!
Next stop was the Aquarium. Packed full of the cute, weird, dangerous….my first cut of photos included more than the rest of the blog put together so James has had to take me in hand and be more ruthless!
The sharks are apparently being rehabilitated, studied and released back into the ocean.
But I couldn´t cut the photos down so much that there isn´t a special place for the penguins!! I mean, how could you not!
As we wandered around the city we discovered art galleries selling sculptures, wildlife photographs and paintings that we have noted down ready to furnish our viking long house when we finally settle! We also found a motorbike renting shop so we have options if (when) Henry is further delayed.
But it is the eclectic architecture just scattered around that makes this city so interesting to get lost in.
Intermingled with wildlife of all shapes and sizes just wandering about, doing their thing!
The next day we visited the Castle of Good Hope. A fortress used over the centuries to both defend and imprison. The most fascinating part was the scrawls on the inside of the cell doors, a very sobering thought , especially for a chronic claustrophobe like me, but some people obviously keep their sense of humour throughout anything.
The Bo Kaap district has a very distinct atmosphere all of its own.
And the Company Gardens provided a much needed place to rest for a few moments.
Day three saw us returning to the Waterfront to visit the Zeitz Mocaa art gallery. It is the largest contemporary African art gallery in Africa but it is the building itself that is the star of the show. Carved out of an old grain silo, the worksmanship was something to behold – even James was impressed!
Some of the art wasn´t too shoddy either!
Day four changed the pace again with an exhausting hike up Table Mountain. We knew it was about 3.5km to get to the cable car from our AirBnB, easy peasy for seasoned explorers like us, although our aching feet from the last few days had us shying away from climbing all the way to the top. But what we didn´t anticipate was that even the short walk to the cable car was about a 1 in 2 incline all the way….and I mean ALL the way! It was 40 degrees heat by now and we were sharing one bottle of water between us. At one point I thought we weren´t going to make it and nearly pressed the SOS button on our satellite tracker!
But when we finally arrived and recharged with water, shade and a sit down, it was every bit worth the effort!
The cable car was short but fun – looking down we were relieved we had opted for the easy route to the top!
And the views from the top were magnificent. This is all you need to know about the beauty of Cape Town….
We even found enough mojo to walk all the way back to the AirBnB!
The observant of you may have noticed my careful wording at the beginning of this post about Cape Town. Our ´initial´ love of the city ´was´ bursting out of us…. This is a city with so much to offer and most of whose inhabitants are welcoming, friendly and keen to help. Indeed these same people are openly gutted about the other side of the city which is why we no longer feel at home here and why it is irretrievably tainted for us – as it is for so many others.
There is a dark side to Cape Town, born of racial tension and the gap between rich and poor. We are yet to see the areas in the worst poverty but everywhere around the city the homeless cover the streets. They will stop you for food or money but are rarely aggressive. The violence happens elsewhere. Every home has fences, barbed wire, surveillance cameras and most families are protected by private security firms as the Police can do little. Wander into the wrong parts of town and muggings are commonplace. But it doesn´t matter what part of town you are in, scammers and con men are everywhere, targetting the tourists in elaborate and very slick operations.
Sadly we got caught on our second day and stung for over €6,000 from our credit cards. They managed it despite the fact we didn´t fall for their scam and refused to do anything they asked – just think what they could have achieved had we complied. We got all our money back from the banks but it has left a nasty taste in the mouth. We are no longer quite so friendly to anyone we meet and the precautions we took to protect ourselves and our stuff have been ramped up to a degree which now stops us enjoying our wanderings as much as we might.
Before going to the Zeitz Mocaa art gallery we had a lovely, long lunch with a lovely lady – the sister of a friend in London who has lived in Cape Town all her life. We heard of the lengths the residents have to take to protect themselves, the fear of violence and burglary that is a normal part of day to day life here. Her family are planning to escape from their home city, and maybe even the country altogether, and relocate to Asia or Europe.
We asked whether anyone would come to our rescue if we were hit and she said no, no-one wants to get involved. Neighbourhoods look after each other but no-one will risk looking after a stranger. We found this to be true when we were scammed as the locals came running to tell us to contact our bank to stop our cards once the gang of con men had left us but said they had been too afraid to intevene whilst they were still there.
In this respect it feels more like the UK than the rest of Africa. You don´t expect anyone in the UK to stop and help but one thing that stood out for us in West Africa was the strong sense of community, we knew that if anyone tried to harm us everyone else would jump in and protect us. Why is it that people who have so little give so much so willingly?
But onwards and upwards. We have two more days in Cape Town then we hire a car and head north, out of the city into the more remote areas for two weeks. The real South Africa awaits!