The museum complex was mildly interesting, with a real caravel that sailed from Portugal to Mossel Bay in 1988, on the 500th anniversary of the first landing by Dias and his fellow navigators. I mailed a postcard to myself from the oldest post box in South Africa, which was originally––mythically––a boot under a milkweed tree. There was also a mollusk museum, where I finally learned what a limpet is and that some mollusks are poisonous enough to kill a man (move over, Great Whites). From 11h00 on we chased the sunset to Cape Town, with a stop at Steers, a South African fast food chain. Here I remembered that I really dislike sweet chili sauce.
Just before dark, we pulled in front of the chief of the host families house, Avril and Peter. The group leader Kiersten and I are staying here for the next few nights. We deposited everyone at their respective host families, each time returning to the van with fewer people, Survivor-style. Meanwhile, we finally saw the colors behind Table Mountain, which is visible from where I’m staying. We ate dinner and then socialized for awhile over hard cider and the World Cup. Some people in our group were complaining yesterday of “separation anxiety,” but it’s been so relaxing to have a room (and a bathroom!) to myself, and at any rate, we see each other all day.
On Tuesday morning, Avril made me a delicious tomato-and-mushroom omelet, served with toast, strawberries, papaya, and rooibos tea. First for the day: the top of Table Mountain, via cable car. We only planned to be there for 45 minutes, which was ridiculous considering the amount of postcard-worthy photo ops. I circled the entire plateau, ending up back to the group fifteen minutes late. Kiersten understands that I have a tendency to adventure and “do my own thing,” so by that time, she had sent out a search party to find me. Oops.
After that fiasco, we drove back downtown for an Indian lunch, then tours of the Company’s Gardens, a slavery museum, and Greenmarket Square, an oasis of souvenirs. I would have rather hiked up Lion’s Head, but the majority of our group wanted to shop around for gifts.
The day exhausted me, but after dinner my host family drove Kiersten and I to a nearby mall for––you guessed it!––WiFi. We are truly dependent.
The next day, Wednesday already, included a visit to the famous Charly’s Bakery, District Six museum, and a tour of Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 13 years. A visit to the bakery wasn’t part of the plan, but once we saw it, we decided it was a must. District Six was a neighborhood with people of all races and religions that was torn down during apartheid, leaving only whites. Every person of color was forced to move to townships.
After a picnic lunch, we departed on a catamaran for Robben Island, a 40-minute trip. We toured the island on bus, and then walked through the prison complex, led by an ex-political prisoner. What is remarkable to me is that the prisoners educated themselves in their free time, at first in secrecy, and then eventually striking to gain the right to learn. And of course, Mandela wrote the manuscript of A Long Walk to Freedom while imprisoned. When your day starts with a cold shower before sunrise, proceeds to eight hours of chipping at limestone, and concludes with urinating in a bucket in the corner of your cell, I know it takes strength to do anything extra. I finished the day with another WiFi run, while others accumulated ice-skating bruises.
On Thursday we drove to Lofdal mission, about forty-five minutes outside the city, in order to learn about their community projects and lend ourselves for harvesting carrots and turnips. From there we proceeded to Cape Town’s wine country. We tasted a few varieties of wine––the dry rosé was my favorite––and spent an hour wandering through Franschhoek (French Corner). This is a historic town of art shops and fine dining, surrounded by majestic mountains. I felt that I was actually in the French countryside.
In the evening, everyone gathered with their host families for an indoor braai. We listened to our “parents” talk about living through apartheid, as well as the District Six removal (they are all what South Africans call “colored”). One woman was part of the Black Consciousness movement, and she worked hard to enroll her daughter in a previously all-white school when it was forced to desegregate in 1994. Others have distinct memories of being unable to use a “whites only” swingset or toilet. As they talked of forgiveness and reconciliation, I felt the human connection, an ineffable feeling. I am connected to these people with whom we have spent less than a week. They opened their homes to us, and they truly care about us.
On Friday morning we moved to a guest house in Sea Point. The majority of our group then drove to the famous Cape of Good Hope, hiking up through the fynbos to see the waves crashing below the lighthouse on Cape Point.
In the evening we spent two and a half hours at Africa Café, where we served a little bit of more than fifteen dishes of African cuisine––Ethiopian, Egyptian, Xhosa (South African), Moroccan. I tried everything within my pescetarian limits, and it was beautiful. The decorations in the restaurant blew me away, all recycled art, beadwork, and colorful paintings. At the end of the meal, the waitstaff sang and danced for us, to the sounds of vigorous clapping and djembe music. We of course joined in!
Finally, our group split between participating in Longstreet nightlife, and cappuccinos at the mall.