Zac goes to Cape Town, South Africa
Now that Sera has gone and left the continent I find that the Namibian email torch has been passed to me. So I will try to do my best to fill Sera’s shoes and replicate her laser wit, biting sarcasm and insightful humanity. She left Namibia on the 24th of December and since then I have spent a surprisingly busy two weeks traveling around Namibia and South Africa. Sera and I hadn’t really planned anything for this holiday and so after she left I was facing a lot of lazy days around Ekulo with nothing much to do except read and pull up the seasonal weeds in the yard. I was, however, spared that fate because I was invited to join some other volunteers from our group who were going down to Cape Town for a week.
Because I feel like it, I am going to write this in an interview format.
Also, it turns out I have a lot to say so I hope you aren’t having a busy day at work.
HOW WAS TRAVELING DOWN TO SOUTH AFRICA, THAT MUST HAVE BEEN A LONG DRIVE?
On the way down I took a giant luxury bus on a 20-hour overnight trip from Windhoek to Cape Town. At this point I was traveling with Seth and Anand, who are both from my training group. I mentioned above that this was a luxury bus, and it was, with nice new seats, two levels, tv’s, free tea or coffee. The problem was that the air conditioning was on overdrive the whole time and we three were woefully underdressed, especially since we were directly under the vent. Anyway, we left Windhoek at about 6pm and arrived in beautiful Cape Town around 2pm the next day.
WHAT IS CAPE TOWN LIKE?
Cape Town, in my opinion was a quite nice city. First of all, it was really pleasant visually. It had clean streets, lots of trees, clear skies, and most important of all was Table Mountain in the background the whole time. Also, the weather was excellent, with bright sunny skies, no humidity, and nice temperatures. On our last day it did rain but even that was pleasant enough. The city was divided all others, with tall buildings downtown, industrial areas (a giant port), and residential parts ranging from ultra snazzy waterfront and mountainside areas to the “locations” where the blacks were forced to live during apartheid. I was afraid that crime would be a problem after all the stories about the awful lawlessness in South Africa but I didn’t have any problems. I guess I should qualify this though, while neither I nor any of the people I was with had any crime problems (because of our confident demeanor and street smarts, I am forced to assume), the guys in that room on the ground floor of my hostel who were robbed at gunpoint in the middle of the night might have a different perspective. On the whole I would have to say that visiting Cape Town was like visiting a nice city anywhere else: lots to do, lots to see, and a lot of interesting people.
WHERE DID YOU STAY?
As I said, I traveled down with and Seth and Anand, and when we got to Cape Town we met up with Kelly, Janna, and Anne (Kelly’s friend from home). We all stayed in a dorm room in a hostel with four bunk beds. We also shared the room with an older guy with a shaved head except for a rat-tail sort of thing in the back. The kitchen was nice enough and there was a pool, a Webber grill, and satellite TV (which didn’t get any news channels). We met some other Americans, some guys from Sweden, a Canadian and I think there were some Italians, but I’m not sure. It has occurred to me that not everyone will know what exactly a “hostel” is, I didn’t really know myself until I recently started staying in different cities on my own dime. The basic idea is that it is a place to stay for as cheap as possible while sacrificing privacy and a bit of security. One stays in a room full of beds, which might or might not be occupied. There is always a bathroom(s) and communal kitchen that might be clean and a refrigerator stuffed full of the groceries of every person who has stayed there for the last two to six weeks. These hostels always (in my experience) being formerly big, old houses, they usually have a makeshift sort of feeling. Nice ones might have pools, pool tables, bars, tourist information/booking services, internet access, living rooms, libraries, picnic tables, towels, TV’s, VCR’s and clothes washing machines. There is always a safe for really valuable things but everything else must just sit on or under the bed all day. I have liked most of the ones I’ve been to; only a few were a little too dumpy for comfort. Also, because so much is communal I end up meeting a lot more people than I otherwise would, which is always good.
WHAT DID YOU DO IN CAPE TOWN?
Since the 30th was Kelly’s birthday we went out to a nice dinner at the waterfront, the restaurant was “dedicated to the preservation of jazz” and the service was superb. Over the course of our stay we ate our about half the time and cooked food at the hostel the rest of the time. We did a lot of braiing, which is identical to barbequing except that the beef and sausage don’t taste quite right. On the 31st we took a wine tasting tour. Since Cape Town has the right climate and soil it is surrounded by vineyards. Our tour took us to four different “estates” and we tasted 20 different wines. I learned [again] that all wines taste basically the same to me, that red wine is red because it is kept with its skin for a while, that American oak barrels make wine taste “smoky,” that “blended with” is different than “mixed with,” and that sparkling white wine can be opened with a sword, hey, now is that useful or what!
Our tour guides were interesting guys and one of them invited us to a new years party that someone he knew was throwing. So that evening we piled into a taxi and went over to a different area of Cape Town (the ritzy part, we found out). The party ended up being pretty low key and we slowly mixed in with the rest of the crowd. I talked to a few [white] South Africans and it was very interesting to hear what they had to say about life in South Africa and also how they regarded the US. Of course they thought Bush was a moron but they thought that Americans were lucky to have their country which was wealthy, stable and in which jobs comparatively weren’t so hard to find. On apartheid, no one I talked to had anything good to say about it and made quite clear that they weren’t racist. Although, in general they weren’t too happy with the way the country was being run currently. The guy I talked to said that the switch in governments occurred too quickly and that a lot of unqualified people were now in positions of power. Also, they didn’t like some of the things Mbeki (SA president) had to say about Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe “president”) and land reform. The same can be said about the president of Namibia (Sam Nujoma) so I could understand that sentiment exactly. Namibia has a lot of potential but, in only a few short missteps it could find itself upside down; from talking to these guys it seems South Africa is in the same boat. Again, it was interesting talking to someone who both lived somewhere where Americans aren’t a dime a dozen (I tried to make a good impression) AND that had a clue about world affairs [the typical rural Owambo isn’t quite able to hold a conversation about the politics of the USA, (which is probably for the better, because they should hate us: the US cost Namibia about ten years more of South African rule due to Cold War politics)]. For the New Year we were down on the rocky beach with a crowd of people from our party, it was a lot of fun. We also went to an aquarium, a planetarium, some bars, and a mall worthy of the name. The most important and exciting part of the trip was of course seeing The Return of the King, of which I was quite satisfied with (in contrast to the third installment of the other trilogy of the season. I also saw Ken Park and In America. Hey, seeing movies is a valid part of any holiday away from northern Namibia.
Seth, Anand and I also climbed Table Mountain, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It took us about six hours to get from where the taxi broke down on the way to the trailhead to where the cable car could take us down. The hike was fun and the views were expansive. Like any other good hike, there were times when only one or two wrong steps would have gotten me to the bottom the fast way. Anyway, we had a nice map and everything was going fine, except that the trail was not clearly marked. To make a long story short, we didn’t end up on the same trail we started on and when we rejoined a normal trail we passed a Do Not Enter sign from the back. Also in Cape Town there was a tour boat to Robbin Island, where Nelson Mandela was kept prisoner, but we couldn’t do that because it was booked full. At the end of a week Janna left our party to go to some other southern African countries, Kelly and Anne went to another part of South Africa and Anand, Seth and I decided to head back to Namibia.
WHAT KIND OF ADVENTURES DID YOU HAVE ON THE WAY HOME?
On the way back from Cape Town Anand and Seth and I decided not to go strait back to Windhoek (which would have been WAY to easy and simple). Instead we decided to tool around a bit in southern Namibia before going the rest of the way up. We looked into taking the train to Namibia but since there wasn’t a direct route we decided to just take the same bus company that we used coming down (dressing more warmly this time). However, instead of going all the way up to Windhoek we planned on disembarking in a town called Keetmanshoop; from there we planned on going over to Luteritz, which is on the coast. The problem was that this was another overnight bus (which would be arriving in Winhoek at 6am) and since we were exiting about two thirds of the way through, we ended up getting off of the nice comfortable bus in a place none us had ever been to before, in the middle of the night, with no plan. We had known that this was going to happen but we had decided to do it anyway; we were resigned to the fact that we would probably be spending the night under the friendly lights of the PB station until the sun came up; at which point we would find transport to the coast. (so I guess we did have a “plan” after all).
Well, it turned out that a German guy named Werner, who had also been on the bus, had basically the same plan as we did and ended up joining us in the parking lot there. It also turned out that a minibus had departed from Oshakati the previous day carrying a troop of Owambos going to find work in Luderitz. Two and two came together and instead of sitting at the PB for seven hours, it was less than one and we were on our way again, what luck! The driver of this minibus was in a bit of a hurry though; we ended up getting to Luderitz at about 4am, which is still just a bit too early to get into a new town. We found a hostel, went into the courtyard, and loitered in the chill sea breeze until seven when we called the owner to let us in. Needless to say we didn’t get too much sleep that night.
After breakfast at a café we went to the tourism office and were able to get transport over to nearby the nearby ghost town of Kolmanskop. There was a tour, which took about an hour, and then we were set free to wander amongst these old houses that had been utterly abandoned in the fifties, the town having been based on diamond mines, which had run dry. What made the town extra cool was the fact that it was in the middle of a giant windswept desert and a few of the houses were in the process of being swallowed alive by sand dunes. Anyway, all the buildings had been looted after they were abandoned so they were pretty much empty, with the notable exception of the mayor’s bathroom, which, even after several decades open to the world, still had its giant marble bathtub. After the ghost town we went back to the hostel to take showers (get the sand out of our ears) and a nap. We wandered around a bit in the town, went to a museum, and had a fish dinner in a nice restaurant by the harbor with Werner.
The next day we packed up and took a bus back to Keetmanshoop. We spent a few hours wandering around town, (which was quite enough) had a long lunch and then went to catch our train back to Winhoek (the train was a bit more expensive than a bus but since it was overnight we wouldn’t have to spend anything for lodging. That morning I left Seth and Anand in Windhoek and went to the hitch point to find a ride back home to Ekulo. I had a little scare trying to find the house keys, but after the guard came over and wished me a happy new year I was able to find them. Everyone should be happy to know that all five chickens and their mother were alive and happy to have a regular meal again. I have now added up all my expenses for the 10-night trip and, just to give you some perspective, I will say that I spent just over 3000 Rand/Namibian dollars, or about 450 weak US dollars, or about two months worth of my Peace Corps “living allowance.”
Disclaimers a) Anand did not actually go on this trip; he was at his site the whole time building a power plant that runs on sand. b) Seth and I did not go to Luderitz, in fact, we were only away from site for 8 nights.
DON’T MISS THE NEXT ISSUE WHERE WE ASK ZAC HOW THE NEW SCHOOL YEAR IS SHAPING UP, HOW HIS DAD’S VISIT IS GOING AND HOW ZAC IS DEALING WITH HAVING HIS WIFE LIVE IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY.