Monday, May 17, 2010

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town
May 6-8, 2010

All night, the storm lashed the ship, with high winds and rain and the ship pitched and rolled greatly. At 7:00 a.m., the captain started blowing his fog horn to let the pilot know we were sitting off shore waiting for the pilot to come aboard. We learned later that 7:00 a.m. was the time of the shift change, so our ship had to wait for the new pilot to come to work before he could motor out to meet the ship; he arrived at the ship at 7:20. The winds were blowing 45 mph, and the captain was not sure he could put the ship through the narrow opening in the marina. Finally, as the ship inched its way to shore, the winds calmed a bit, and the captain used two tugs to help steady the ship as he eased it through the narrow opening into the marina. It was a very slow, very careful process, and when we finally arrived at the pier, a seal had decided to climb into one of the huge tires along the pier, and had to be encouraged to move before the ship could tie up.

The pier was in a great location, right downtown next to the V&A Waterfront Shopping Mall, a really great shopping mall that reminds me of the waterfront in Baltimore. The entire waterfront is filled with restaurants and shopping. The mall was developed several years ago by a private group, and sold recently to the Dubai development group headed by the Sheik. Many of the stores are upscale, and the entire area is very pretty.

As people began to leave the ship for scheduled tours, the winds and rain did not let up. I had not scheduled a tour that day, thinking I would get some chores done first before touring. I was glad I had not scheduled anything because of the storm. Around 10:00 a.m., when I thought the stores would be opening, I decided to go next door to the shopping mall; however, by the time I arrived at the mall entrance, was completely soaked; the wind blew the rain underneath my little umbrella. What a storm. I was happy to be indoors, and stayed for several hours, looking through stores. I came across a salon, and got my hair cut by a very pleasant young woman from Johannesburg, who complained about the cold winter in Cape Town (never less than 60 degrees F). She had never seen snow. My haircut was not the same as Marty, my hair person at home, does it, but it was acceptable for only $28. It will last until we get home and Marty can straighten it out. While I was in the mall, I also located an Internet café, where I planned to go to try to load photos on my Flickr site; locating an Internet café was more difficult than it would seem, and I ended up going to several malls before finally finding one. While I was in the mall, I also visited a bookstore, where I picked up a book on Namibia and another more complete book of places in Western Africa, which included most of the places the ship would be stopping. Eventually, the rain and wind abated a bit, and I returned to the ship. Then about dinner time, the weather cleared, and became cool and pleasant.

Friday morning dawned sunny and clear, and I decided to take the hop-on/hop-off bus. There were two bus routes, so I got a two-day pass, one for Friday and the other for Saturday. The first bus route went through the downtown area, with commentary on the bus audio system about the history of Cape Town and some of its landmarks. I had previously decided to get off the bus in the downtown area and go to the Namibia tourism office to try to get information about a private tour guide in Walvis Bay, so I could go into the dunes. The woman at the tourism office was very helpful, and one of her suggestions eventually led me to a guide, although not directly. After leaving the tourism office, I walked through Green Park, which was filled with tent stalls of vendors selling hand made crafts. I purchased a couple of souvenirs, and then walked on to the next bus stop to reboard the bus. As I walked, a woman approached begging for money, and I refused; how could I possibly help all of the starving people. She was rail thin. There was a hot dog vendor near-by. As we walked on, I stopped and went back and gave her 10 Rand.

Although I had a map, I was not sure where the next bus stop was, and I learned that asking locals was no help. Finally, I spotted the bus on a street, and he stopped for me, even though we were not at the bus stop.

I continued the bus tour, and enjoyed listening to the commentary on the audio system as we passed the landmarks. I really do enjoy taking the hop-on/hop-off buses in all towns that have them. They are pleasant and informative, usually two level with an open top that is good for photography, and they allow hopping off and walking around. As the bus passed the Malay section with its brightly painted houses, I hopped off to take some photos. Later, I hopped back on and continued the tour. The bus continued on to the lower station of the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. I enjoyed the view from the lower station, which is about half way up the mountain, but did not go to the top.

Around 2:00, the bus came to Camps Bay, a pretty street lined with restaurants, and I decided to hop off and get something to eat at an outdoor café. I walked along the street looking at all the restaurants and then picked one that had some shade; the day was not hot, but the sun was really glaring. The restaurant was Paranga, Shop 1, The Promenade, Victoria Road, Camps Bay, Cape Town. I had a nice salads with cheddar coated chicken strips on the side, and I sat there enthralled by the scene of the ocean lashing against the rocks and the beach. Sitting in the restaurant looking out at the ocean and the beach was truly a magical scene. I noticed many young people in the area, particularly beautiful young people, and many expensive cars, and later I learned from the bus audio that Camps Bay is the place to see and be seen, particularly among young wealthy white Cape Towners. I sat in the restaurant for more than an hour and then went for a walk along the beach taking photos; when I saw the bus arriving, I hopped on again, and the bus slowly wound its way along the cliffside road back toward the waterfront and the ship.

The houses along that road are built into the side of the steep hill, reminding me of the way the houses are built on the side of the hill in Positano, Italy, although the hills in Cape Town are steeper than those in Positano. I noticed stairways leading up the steep hillside to houses, and the bus audio system pointed out that some of the houses had private funiculars or elevators. As the bus drove along, I tried to get a photo of the steep stairs, but failed to do so, although I did get one photo of a funicular,

When I got back to the ship, I was not hungry, and although I am not much of a wine drinker, I decided to attend a wine tasting event at the shopping mall, called the Wine Affair at the V&A Waterfront. I had no idea how difficult it would be to find the location of the wine tasting; no one I asked at the mall knew how to tell me where to go, and I walked all over the place for at least half an hour before finally finding a young waiter in a restaurant who walked me to the venue. The place was packed with young people -- young, hip, white couples, perhaps 2,000 people. It was a very upscale affair. I had thought I would go to the Internet café in the mall after the wine tasting, but it closed at 9:00, and I was too late to go. I decided to be at the Internet café at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, when it opened to try to load my photos onto Flickr.

One interesting sight at the marina was the large yacht owned by Larry Ellison of Sun Microsystems. The yacht is one of the largest private yachts in the world, with 82 cabins. Staff and crew never stopped cleaning and shining the yacht, and were always present at the entrance to be friendly to passersby, while making sure that no one tried to go on board. The yacht is completely white, and somewhat bland in appearance, but very impressive in size. Many passersby stopped to take photos of themselves with the yacht in the background.

Saturday was another beautiful day, and I wanted to get out and get on the hop-on/hop-off bus, but Saturday was our last day in Cape Town, and I really wanted to spend some time at the Internet café. I arrived at the Internet café about 8:40 and waited for it to open at 9:00. A few minutes before 9:00, the workers arrived and saw me waiting, and said hello to me. Then just at 9:00, a passenger from the ship walked up and tried to get ahead of me to be the first into the Internet café. There was only one connection for a lap top computer, and he had his lap top with him, as I did. He was very aggressive, but the workers in the shop put me to the connection ahead of him. I was stunned, really. I hurried to begin my work, and I worked steadily for two hours, until 11:00. However, the Internet connection was quite slow, and I was not successful in loading my photos on Flickr. I finally gave up at 11:00 and returned to the ship. I didn’t want to waste any more of my last day in Cape Town.

After leaving the Internet café, I hopped on the bus and began the second route around Cape Town. This route went farther out, around the back side of Table Mountain, past Kirstenbosch Gardens, down by Hout Bay, again past Camps Bay, and then back to the waterfront. It was a beautiful drive on a beautiful day. I didn’t hop off the bus; I just rode along enjoying the scenes of Cape Town and taking photos. I got back to the waterfront around 2:00 p.m. and had to be back on board the ship at 4:00.

The waterfront was filled with people enjoying the beautiful weather, and as I passed a lovely outdoor restaurant, we decided to sit outside and eat some lunch and watch the scene. The restaurant was Sevruga, and after a short wait, I was able to get an outside table. The restaurant was really beautiful, directly on the sidewalk, but well shaded, and I ate a beautiful lunch while watching the passing scene. I noticed that many of the customers were drinking a lime-colored drink filled with green leaves. I asked what it was, and the waiter said it was a Mojito, which was a lime drink (like lemonade) with mint and rum. I ordered mine without the rum, and it was truly refreshing. For lunch, I wanted to try springbok, which Bas and Monique had urged me to try. Springbok is an African antelope. The helpful waiter suggested that I try the springbok with a chocolate mint sauce, somewhat like chicken mole in Spanish. He said that the chocolate mint was mild and would help cover the gamey taste of the springbok. It turned out to be very delicious. By the time I finished lunch, it was time to reboard the ship to leave for Namibia.

Cape Town turned out to be a truly wonderful visit. The weather on the last two days was incredible, and the city was beautiful and interesting. It was a truly happy visit.

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