Monday, June 7, 2010

Day 14: Tour of the Cape

Apologies. For some reason, photos won’t upload to the blog today, so this will all just be text. Hope it isn’t too boring… :)

Our tour guide met us in the lobby of the hotel this morning, and then walked us out to his… Uhhh……..? Much later in the day, our guide explained that if he is taking four or more people, he takes a bus, but three or fewer, he brings his car. The three of us were his only clients today. At least we got the new (since December) vehicle. Before that, he had a “tiny Fiat”. Still, we had booked, and he showed up, so we got in and started the tour.

Bobby, our tour guide, seemed a touch different right off the bat, but I couldn’t place what it was until he mentioned that he isn’t originally from Cape Town. He hails from...................................Chicago. Chicago?!?! How did we get the only travel guide in Cape Town who is from Chicago? Amusingly, he refers to himself as an “Afro-American”.

To be clear, Bobby was a very friendly man who had led a very interesting life. He has travelled a lot, and lived all over Cape Town. He pointed out several of the places he lived, and often explained the circumstances around it – with whom he lived, the years, whether he was house-sitting for a friend or whatever, and whether he was overdue to visit that friend – all those details you don’t really need to know about a tour guide… He was very knowledgeable about the area, and gave us a unique tour. It just felt a bit like he was trying to be our uncle, or friend…(His clumsy attempt at setting up dinner plans with us later in the tour didn't help shake that feeling...)

The tour started with a trip to Table Mountain. Sadly, the funicular was closed today due to wind and rain – the usual Cape Town weather, as we were told. :( Fingers crossed that tomorrow or Thursday dawn clear! With a little extra time on our side, we drove through Camps Bay and Clifton neighbourhoods, and made our way to Hout harbor for a seal cruise. Before the cruise, we saw the fattest seal ever! Sitting on the concrete, being fed raw fish from the mouths of a couple of dockhands…One suggested that I climb on for a photo, but the thing looked kind of sad and gross, so I declined.

The seal cruise was fun! I have lots of photos I’d love to share…..let’s see if I can describe them. LOTS of seals flopping around in the water. The stench of kelp in the air. Rough seas, and at several points it looked like our boat was going to collide with the rocks… It was also a nice break from Bobby, who was still pretty awkward.

Back on dry land, we continued through Scarborough (much nicer than the GTA version), and into one of the informal settlements for a quick township tour. Bobby had previously worked in the townships, so had some understanding of how they work, and this impromptu excursion provided an interesting look into the life in those areas. Bobby also explained there are two main causes of the townships:

1. 500 new people come into Cape Town every week looking for accommodations, and the affordable housing market can’t possibly keep pace with that;

2. Rent for a basic flat in Cape Town in R3500 per month. Minimum wage is R1400 per month. Lots of black Africans are working jobs that pay closer to R800 – R1000 per month, and these are the ones who can find work! (Official unemployment in the townships is 25%, but Bobby suggested that the real number could be as high as 50% without counting the people who have stopped looking for work.)

Getting this street-level view of how life is for so many people really highlights just how well we have it in Canada. Jessica put it well the other night when she remarked that she’s heard people refer to places like Canada as lands of opportunity, and she’s never been sure how to react, as we do have to work hard to accomplish what we do. It’s simply not the same, though, as township-style living just isn’t a reality for the poor in our cities. In the brief time that I’ve been here, I’ve grown so accustomed to it that it no longer shocks me. Not sure how I feel about that….

Finally, we arrived at Table Mountain National Park. BEAUTIFUL!! (A nice thing to follow the township experience.) Not much fauna left in the national park there (though we came across a troop of baboons at the entrance), but the place is renowned for its flora. Apparently, there are 1500 plant species in that little peninsula; equivalent to all the species of plants in the UK! The views from the lighthouse at Cape Point are spectacular (once again, I wish I could post some….perhaps I’ll try updating the blog with photos tomorrow…?). Aside from the stench of kelp in the air, the Cape of Good Hope is fun. True tourists, we got our photo taken in front of the most photographed sign in South Africa (“Cape of Good Hope: The most south-western point in Africa”).

Near Simon’s Town, we stopped at Boulder Beach to see the penguins!! They are very inquisitive birds, and I found that they came right up to me….when I had the gate of a fence and my camera as bait. By this time, it was raining a fair bit, so we didn’t stay long. Besides, Bobby wanted to show us more places where he had lived, or nearly lived, or currently lives….

After five generous tastes of wine (Jessica was sleepy, Shaun was in a very chatty mood), we piled back into the car for our trip back to the hotel. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the promise of the end of the tour; either way, I was legitimately liking Bobby by this time so we chatted away a fair bit as Jessica dozed in the back seat.

Bobby added one more impromptu excursion to our tour before dropping us off at our hotel. To put it in context, allow me to relate a conversation from earlier in the day when we were talking about the different neighbourhoods around Cape Town.

Jessica: Is there a Gay community in Cape Town?
Bobby: What?!
Jessica: Is there a Gay community in Cape Town?
Bobby: Why? Oh, sorry, too personal…

So, Bobby drove us through the closest thing Cape Town has to a Gay ‘quarter’. He pointed out the raciest bars, and told us about the time he went to one with his girlfriend. “Thankfully” she was there to “protect” him, as – the way Bobby tells it – he is a magnet for men. Just imagine what might have happened if his girlfriend hadn’t been there….he might have been hit on! ;) Fact is, homosexuality clearly isn’t as accepted here as in, say, Toronto. Back in Kariega, Ranger made the comment that animals couple up ‘a man and a woman, the way it is supposed to be’ (thanks, Glen, for teaching me about bonobos to know that isn’t true…). Today, Bobby told us that “apparently 10% of men in Cape Town are gay…though I can’t understand why they are with so many women around!”

I think I’ll leave you with that. :) Have a wonderful evening!

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