In Desert and Wilderness – Part I

14Mar15

A childhood memory relived in my mind as I was waiting to be seen by a travel consultant in order to receive a series of vaccines. One summer while vacationing at my grandparents, I came across an old, dusty book. The book probably belonged either to my mother or her sisters when they were just a few years older than I was at the time. In Desert and Wilderness by Polish Nobel Award winner Sienkiewicz tells a story about the journey of two teenagers along the Nile River, from Cairo to Khartoum. The story and the strong mouldy paper scent of the novel revived my memory as I was getting ready for the trip to South Africa. African continent has been for me one of the most mystical, exotic places on earth, and I was about to travel to the most southern tip of it.

Cape of Good Hope, the Most South-Eastern Point of the African Continent

Cape of Good Hope, the Most South-Eastern Point of the African Continent

The trip to South Africa was suggested to me by a friend, a chef from London, who was impressed with Cape Town on his first visit and who also wanted to establish a food export-import venture between Cape Town and London. This is where my role lied. I was to become a business partner and a travel companion. It did not hit me until I arrived to the airport, that I was not only bound into unknown but that I also had to travel 1.5 days to get to Cape Town. Too little, too late

Cape Town from Lion's Head

Cape Town from Lion’s Head, South Africa

Set between mountains and Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town reminded me of Rio de Janeiro where buildings perk from the edges of rainforest. Far from the stereotypical image of African cities, “Mother City” thrives, and the amount of wealth is evident. From Ferrari and Louis Vuitton shops to tin houses in townships at the outskirts of the city, the socioeconomic differences are evident. Despite the economic disparity, never for a moment did I feel unsafe. Had I gone to Johannesburg, things would have probably been very different.

St. George's Cathedral, Cape Town

St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town

Town Hall, Cape Town

Town Hall, Cape Town

What shocked me the most was the racial and social inequality that still prevails in South Africa, two decades after the end of apartheid. People are still proudly segregating themselves into white, coloured and black, and biracial relationships are not fully accepted. Despite the freedom of movement, only black people serve one in restaurants, and many Afrikaans, people of Dutch descent, still see themselves as superior – not only towards other fellow countrymen but also towards tourists like me.

One of Many Apartheid Signs

One of Many Apartheid Signs, District 6 Museum, Cape Town

Photograph in District 6 Museum

Photograph in District 6 Museum, Cape Town

District 6 Museum tells the story of apartheid through a neighbourhood in Cape Town where in the matter of days blacks and other races were forcefully trans positioned to the outskirts of the city where they were segregated by colour. Homes and businesses were left behind and demolished by bulldozers to build a community for white South Africans. To see all of this was mind-blowing. As the civil movement strengthened in America, human rights in Africa diminished. To further illustrate the racial importance during apartheid, a Japanese fisherman boat full of tuna sank close to Robben Island; it was tuna that got saved first and then the fishermen.

Tutu & Tutu

Tutu & Tutu at V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Barbed Wired Fence on Robben Island, Cape Town

Barbed Wired Fence on Robben Island, Cape Town

Robben Island was the place were most activists were imprisoned and although one would think that this is a must tourist attraction, the visit turned to be a huge disappointment. Former inmates guide one through the prison yet none of them is willing to share personal stories about their stay or answer any personal questions; information is simply regurgitated en mass. Reliving unpleasant moments in life is not something that anyone wants to do, but I wonder whether this is a personal choice or yet another rule imposed on these men following their freedom. The tour brisked through the hallway and by the prison cell where Nelson Mandela was kept just before his release. But Mandela’s cell looked exactly as any other cell, and nothing has commemorated his former presence or assured one that this is the cell where he spent last days on Robben Island.

Table Mountain from My Apartment

Table Mountain from My Apartment

Each morning I woke up to the view of Table Mountain, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and each time the mountain enchanted me with its formation and clouds gliding across the summit as a huge waterfall that evaporated before it ever touched the ground. The vistas all around the city and Cape Peninsula are nothing short of breathtaking. Had I put aside a dollar each time I said “wow” spontaneously, I would have paid off my holiday. Therefore, it was a natural beauty that dragged me out to walk along the beaches where the Atlantic is cold, stormy and shark infested, to cling onto rocks, hooks and chains as I climbed to the summit of Lion’s Head hill, to bike through the Table Mountain National Park and to stay in the bush surrounded by wilderness, which deserves a blog entry on its own.

Hout Bay & Chapman's Peak

Hout Bay & Chapman’s Peak, South Africa

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