Visiting Cape Town

After dropping my mother and Kay in Durban, we had an adventurous trip to Cape Town, arriving just as the Christmas season was switching into high gear.  There’s nothing like arriving in a large bustling city and parking in the middle of the busiest shopping district to rev up the commercial Christmas spirit!   The kids quickly modified their original letters to Santa, made in Richards Bay, and started gobbling up large quantities of Krispy Kremes and Cinnabons to make up for lost time.  Marin and Tully discovered a favorite sushi restaurant with a conveyer belt, Joe found a Thai noodle place and Cobin and I met our new favorite pizza shop, all under one roof.  The US dollar goes quite far in South Africa so there was very little incentive for me to do any cooking on the boat, apart from some niggling guilt about maintaining a tiny charade of healthy eating.

Shortly after arriving in Cape Town, the kids and I went to Boschendal, a vineyard and working farm about an hour outside of the city.  Joe stayed behind to line up some projects and then joined us.  I picked Boschendal because I had read about it on the in-flight magazine to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  It mentioned children’s programs, tours of the farm, outside cooking, mountain biking, and, of course, fine wines.  There was also a swimming pool and worker’s cottages converted to modern lodging. 

For our kids, “a hotel with a pool” is the epitome of luxury.  No matter that 80% of the time we are surrounded by world-class snorkeling and swimming.  They want a “hotel with a pool.”  As per normal when we arrange for the hotel with the pool, we had about 4 hours of ideal pool weather on the day we arrived and then abnormally cool, drizzly weather.  We still had a great time.  The kids joined the staff to forage in the gardens and chicken coops and then cooked their own lunch over an open fire.  I bought supplies in the Farm Store and decided to cook dinner on the wood-fired outdoor grill built into the cottage.  A security guard passed by at an opportune time so I asked him if I was doing it right.  The South Africans are known for their braais (or BBQs) and had proven their skills at numerous dinners we’d had in Richards Bay and at the Gqoyeni Lodge.

The guard wasted no time in taking off his coat, coming over, and taking over my fire.  By evening’s end, he had cooked our meat and given me a lesson in how to braai the next night.  I sent him away with some dinner and our thanks.  This man is typical of all the people we have met in Africa.  Warm, kind, and helpful.  Occasionally we come across a surly bureaucrat but these are very much the exception. 

My favorite source of conversation with locals, apart from the rare sociable security guard willing/able to leave his post (our guy had a partner covering for him), is Uber drivers.  From what I can tell, Uber is a godsend for many men (I have yet to meet a female Uber driver) who are desperately seeking jobs in this land of high unemployment. 

While some drivers are from Cape Town, the vast majority we met are from Zimbabwe or Cameroon or Malawi or other parts of Africa, drawn to Cape Town as one of the last vestiges of hope for the continent.  They are uniformly well-educated on world events, especially the political situation in the US.  They also uniformly condemn the uniformly corrupt politicians in their own countries and, while disappointed that rampant corruption has ruined their countries, don’t seem to bear much animosity towards the politicians that have caused it.  One driver who did not want to me recorded on video saying anything about politics told me something like this, “If our president has the capacity to steal from and kill his own people, then I must have that capacity too.  He wasn’t dropped onto this planet from heaven – he came from the same place the rest of us came from.  So, there must be something about us in Africa that allows us to do this to each other.”

Another, with a bit more hostility than I typically encountered, told me the solution was to put anyone that was corrupt in jail.  Not a comfortable jail, but a “real” jail where the miscreant would suffer and provide a deterrent to others thinking about stealing from their countrymen.  He suggested that an elected president should have his salary withheld until the end of his term and then the people would decide if he would get paid or go to jail.  This man was all about the jail time.

Unfortunately, neither the Uber drivers nor I could come up with much to provide hope for the future of any of the African countries.  I tried to offer up the president of Mexico as a leader that had started to make strides against corruption.  When I was in Mexico City the summer before we left, they had just elected a new leader who seemed to take a promising stance on combating corruption.  But when I looked up his record, it sounds like he is yet another in a long line of politicians who, once in power, succumbed to the temptations that it holds.

It’s quite discouraging to think about so many countries, rich with natural resources, spiraling ever downwards under the weight of leaders who seem to care only for themselves.  One Uber driver, commenting on our current US president, said, “At least he is acting in the interests of his people.  Your economy is good and your unemployment is very low.”  He wasn’t interested in discussing the possibility that these events weren’t necessarily related to the current president’s actions.  Looking at it from the Uber driver’s perspective, as someone who had to leave his home and family to emigrate to a place where he drives a car for wealthy tourists (and is incredibly grateful to do it), he would probably consider our president to be a massive improvement as the leader of his country, regardless of any flaws we might see.  That’s terribly sad to me.

There were two bright spots during our time in Cape Town which gave me hope for the future of this really interesting place.  One was my dentist, who loves Cape Town, takes justifiable pride in his work, and has no plans to leave. 

The other was a man named Giovanni that we met at the monkey bars on our way home from paragliding.  Cobin, Marin and I finished our second paraglide and were walking back along the promenade along the Atlantic Ocean.  The kids wanted to do the monkey bars at one of the little parks dotting the promenade so we headed over.  There was a fit-looking man doing pull-ups at one end and he said a few things to Cobin as I helped Marin reach the bars. 

We started chatting and he introduced himself with an American accent.  He said he was originally from the US but had been in South Africa for 5 years and had started a not-for-profit called African Grassroots Hoops that was using basketball as a vehicle to help disadvantaged youth.  He was a very impressive individual and, based on his positive interactions with our kids, I judged that he was in the right line of work.  On a whim, I arranged a meeting between Giovanni and the World ARC representative, Stefano.  Giovanni brought his business partner Vincent, a successful basketball player that had grown up in a poor neighborhood near Cape Town, who has a delightful way of introducing himself in his native language (it’s very long and involves lots of clicks).  It was an exciting meeting and I’m hopeful that, by next year, there will be the beginning of a relationship in place.  The World ARC likes to find local organizations to partner with that can benefit financially from generous sailors and, in return, are able to provide unique glimpses of local life and culture.  Giovanni has suggested that the boats could adopt some of his teams and meet them when they come to Cape Town.  If anyone is interested in learning more about their work, just search for African Grassroots Hoops.

Giovanni and Vincent were interested in our sailing trip so I took them on a quick tour of Charm and answered many of their questions about life on the boat.  They got to meet all the kids and Joe and I’m hopeful that our chance meeting will lead to additional support for the good work they are doing.  From what I’ve heard, one of South Africa’s biggest issues is educating its youth.  Under apartheid, schools teaching black children ended several grades before white children.  Now, it sounds like all public schools are being scaled back.  Some white kids we met have left the public-school systems and their parents are banding together to pay private teachers to home-school small groups of kids.  It’s always amazing to me how quickly countries sacrifice education when, ultimately, it’s the solution to everything.

Ah, well, I will have to continue my quest to solve the world’s problems in another location.  We greatly enjoyed Cape Town.  While we saw and did many things, we left many, many more for a future visit.  In addition to our time in wine country, we spent a night in Simonstown where we snorkeled and dove with seals and saw penguins on the beach.  We rented a house at the foot of Table Mountain where we spent Christmas and hosted a party for all of the World ARC participants that were in Cape Town for the holidays.

 Joe, the kids and I hiked the “challenging” route (India Vestners) up Table Mountain which involved some scrambling up rock faces with the aid of chains and metal bars.  Joe kindly held our place in the 1.5-hour line to ride the cable car down while the kids and I ate snacks and perused the gift shop and took in the views.

Most importantly, we visited CityROCK Cape Town!  Ten years ago, when we were first considering names for our new downtown gym in Colorado Springs, we came up with CityROCK.  I searched online to make sure we wouldn’t be taking the name of an existing gym.  The only one I came up with was a gym in Cape Town, South Africa.  I didn’t anticipate that we would have many problems with people confusing the two so we went ahead with the name.  I also never anticipated that I would be in Cape Town, climbing at that gym.  But we did.  We also met one of the founders and his wife and son who came to Charm for a short visit.  They invited us to go climbing outside but we had too many conflicts in our schedule and had to pass up the opportunity.  Sadly, they had no t-shirts or stickers that we could take with us but they did kindly gift us with a CityROCK-logoed chalk bag.

And I almost forgot – we took the kids to another live theater event.  After the success of seeing the modern remake of Alice in Wonderland in Durban, I decided we should continue our theater-going ways.  Our friends on Manihi went to see West Side Story or something similar when they were in Sydney and it inspired me to buy tickets for when we were in Cape Town.  I bought them for the only show in town – The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It may not have been at the top of the list for wholesome family entertainment but the kids enjoyed it and I’m sure it was educational on many levels.  Joe looked over at one particularly uncomfortable moment (for us anyway – the kids seemed oblivious) and said, “Remember – this was your idea!”

Although we spent almost a month in Cape Town, I felt like we barely had time to see the city.  With boat repairs, Christmas, New Years, provisioning, and trying to have a few unscheduled days to just be alive, we had no spare time.  I feel like traveling the world just means that I am just adding to the places I want to visit or revisit.

In looking through the photos, I remembered a few more things we took care of – Joe and I got new passports, got everyone haircuts, took each kid out for a solo dinner, met some new friends, tried to fix all our cursed Apple products, bought new ones to replace the ones that broke just out of warranty, went to the aquarium and Green Point Park, went horseback riding and paragliding.  I guess our shortage of time makes more sense now!

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