Thursday, January 18, 2007
Cape Town: Merry Minstrels, Great Food, and a Really Huge Hat
Cape Town is an amazing city. We found its citizens friendly, its architecture colorful, and the food noteworthy. Above, Megan poses with one of Cape Town's more famous residents, the Egg Man. The Egg Man tends to hang around the local markets, but we caught him alongside a parade of Merry Minstrels, a parade captured in the first image below. The Egg Man aspires to create the tallest hat in Africa, and he tends to improvise songs about the continent as he wanders through the city ("Africa! Africa! I love Africa! Oh, Africa! Africa!," etc.).
Food, Drink, Merriment
In Cape Town, we stayed at two different smaller hotels, the Atlanticview in Camp's Bay and the Hemingway House near the city center.
We were greeted at the airport by a driver who happened to be a bona fide movie star. He had starred in three films including the recent film, Blood Diamond. We learned that he was an extra in one scene shot while Leonardo DiCaprio wasn't even in the country, but, hey, we were excited with our brush with a brush with fame.
Upon arrival, Atlanticview staff greeted us with sparkling passion fruit juice and led us past our infinity pool and to our room. We turned on the television, not out of a hunger for multimedia, but because the TV usually plays classical music: when the music switches to jazz, the guests are invited to a kitchen near a pool to enjoy South African wines and hors d'oeuvres while watching the sunset. It didn't take long to realize that our trip was about to take a drastic turn toward comfort as we enjoyed views of the sea, beach, and the Lion's Head.
Over the next nights, we stopped by the wine event at the guesthouse on our way out to terrific dinners. The first night, the Atlanticview staff found us a tough-to-get reservation at Aubergine. A few nights later, we also enjoyed a local fish, kingklip, at Baia. Baia also had a dessert made from a rich truffle mix with melted Lindt chocolates in the center. The dessert was then doused in a butterscotch sauce. Very nice.
In Camp's Bay itself, we had a nice lunch at the beachfront restaurant, Blues. On our final night with Atlanticview, we headed to Paranga where we devoured a massive platter of seafood and received our introduction to the amazing liqueur, Amarula. For those who planned to taste some of the Amarula we brought home, you better hurry: the sweet concoction tends to find itself splashed into coffee and glasses of ice almost beyond our control (almost).
Then we moved over to Hemingway House, featured in the photos below. Hemingway House was remarkable for its funky design and excellent location. The extraordinary manager, Dale, also connected us with excellent restaurants. We enjoyed 95 Keerom, known for handmade pastas and various types of meat carpaccio. For our final evening, we had the most tender steaks of our lives at Savoy Cabbage. All in all, South Africa was a culinary treat.
Adventures in Mountaineering
After leading the last stretch of the journey, I jabbed my ice ax into the glacier as a make-shift anchor before shouting "off belay" to Megan who had been climbing the last vertical icefall with only one crampon and a nose slightly blackened by frostbite. Our last bivouac had seen the end of our water supplies. From now on, we were persevering on grit determination and the knowledge that we would become legends in our own time. Below is snapshot Megan took of me at the summit.
Okay, okay, so the summit of Lion's Head sits at 669 meters, but that does not make the hike easy. On the contrary, the bulk of the hike involves a near-vertical scramble over loose rock with the aid of the occasional length of chain or ladder. While the sunburns resulting from this outing are still peeling today, the experience was gorgeous, the views stunning, and the Lion's Head remains one of my favorite memories of our time there. The pictures below were taken from the summit. The backgrounds are central Cape Town, Table Mountain, and the beaches of Camp's Bay. Table Mountain is draped in a thick cloud referred to by locals as the "table cloth" for its tendency to ooze over the precipice without actually covering other parts of town. It's a stunning sight.
A few days later, we headed to the summit of Table Mountain (approximately 1,000 meters) . . . this time we traveled by cable car. We arrived at the line for the cable car and thought we'd inadvertently ended up at an amusement park. A long hour of waiting with exposed sunburns found us ready to board the cable car. After arriving at the top, we faced huge disappointment. Why the long line hadn't clued us in, I don't know, but we were actually surprised to find hundreds of people crowding across the surface of the mountain. The views were fine when not clogged by other tourists. Overall, anyone who plans to visit Cape Town during the busy tourist season should climb Lion's Head . . . the reward is greater. On that note, we've stuck in a couple more Lion's Head shots.
Walking through the V&A Waterfront, we finally had the chance of a lifetime as Megan ran into Mandela, Desmond Tutu and F.W. de Klerk.
Seriously, Cape Town offered a rich introduction to the local history. While the names mentioned above won their Nobel Prizes in the aftermath of apartheid, the years of apartheid are commemorated in a number of monuments and museums. While Robben Island, the place where Mandela was imprisoned, was inaccessible due to broken ferries (a long story), we managed great encounters with South Africa's recent history. Notably, Megan and I headed to the District Six museum, considered a "must see" by our guidebook. While the website better organizes the information than the actual museum, we found the labels throughout the museum to be extremely well-written. The chaotic organization, while frustrating at first, made the visit feel like unraveling a puzzle.
District Six was a part of Cape Town mainly occupied by blacks. It was a tightly-knit community known for vibrant churches and treasured local business. To the apartheid government, District Six was seen as a breeding ground for crime, disease and political resistance. While most of the accusations constituted political scape-goating, the Group Area Act was passed and required various relocations. In effect, while the US was ending segregation in the wake of Brown v. Board and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, South Africa was ramping it up by moving blacks out of their community and bulldozing homes. Only the churches were left standing. Today, a large effort is underway to allow reclamation of the District Six property by those who were forcibly moved: the process has been slow. The museum stands as a reminder of those terrible policies and does a great job portraying the dehumanization of the apartheid era.
Hitting the Road
Some of our favorite adventures during our time in Cape Town actually occurred outside of town. We took trips to the Cape of Good Hope, down to Simon's Town to visit a colony of African penguins, to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and up to Stellenbosch for vineyard visits. That will all come in the next posting. For now, how about another look at the Egg Man . . . we really liked that guy.