thoroughly exhausting. I have not had a good night's rest since two nights before we got in. But the city itself is quite a trip. It was great to be in the Waterfront, a huge development that puts our Jetty (pier) right next to a huge hotel and the Victoria and Alfred Mall, which is huge in itself. There's a ton of restaurants inside of it, and lots of street performers, and a couple of bars, and by a couple I really mean just one, which was Mitchell's. But where to begin about this country? I awoke at 430am the day we arrived to catch us being pulled into the port. Slowly as the sun rose, Table Mountain came into view as the sun got brighter, and what an incredible sight it is. The "downtown" of Cape Town goes right up to the base of the Mountain, and then it just dominates the background of the city.
Later that morning, the diplomat briefing became quite interesting. Some diplomat in charge of security or something at the US Consulate in Cape Town came on board to brief us about the country, and specifically the security threat in it. Basically he almost succeeded in convincing every single person to stay on the boat for the entire time. I suppose it was somewhat necessary since Cape Town has the second highest crime rate in the world, but this was quite ridiculous. Luckily nothing too serious happened around me, but I'm sure over the next few days stories will surface of what happened to some people and such. The touristy areas are pretty safe, and in the downtown they have security people scattered every few blocks. In the Waterfront, they literally have a security officer every 30 feet, so it's as safe as can be. Definitely felt some sketch situations out and about in the city though, especially at night, which was hard to avoid since it gets dark here by 7. But the diplomat was really over the top. Later in the week I talked with our interport student for South Africa, Candice, and she had got up and left while he was talking since she was so offended. I was basically offended but also embarrassed that this guy was representing our country, hopefully he's buried somewhere in the bottom of the consulate here in Cape Town. But I do suppose if you're here long enough, you will be affected by the crime at some point.
A lot of the ship loves South Africa, but I personally don't think it was my favorite. I did have a great time here, but I just can't help but feel unsettled by the fact that there's such a huge degree of inequality here. It would be hard to live here in the city and the really nice areas knowing that such a huge chunk of the country is living in the townships (which in all fairness are very lively places). But I'll explain my time in the townships later in this. Let's start with day one.
Day One ~ Table Mountain
The weather was amazing when the ship was cleared, so about 10 of us decided to head up to Table Mountain right away. I myself had been outside at 430am, so I still had my jeans and a long sleeve shirt on, not thinking about the fact that I was going on a hike, which gave some problems later on. But we took some taxis up to the bottom station of the cable car, and started walking along the road to find a trail up to the top. It took about a half mile or so, and we immediately started climbing up at that trail (Platteklip Gorge). It was basically a natural staircase that went up about 1,000 meters. But the views were great, and you could always turn and look back and see the path and just how far up you had come. The path zig zagged all the way up through a ridge that is kind of hidden in some views, and it was intense. At one point a friend of mine brushed death (this is an often occurrence for him) when some SASholes (SAS people who do anything stupid) went off the path to take a picture. They stepped on a boulder that ended up loosening and falling down the path, and if he hadn't jumped into a crack in the cliffside, that boulder would of taken him out. Luckily the pathway wasn't as crowded as it was at other times, or the SASholes would probably be in jail. I also hadn't brought any water either, so that combined with all my heavy clothes forced me to sit down at one point thinking I was about to pass out. I can't believe it's been 5 years since my days of cross country and running 3.2 miles in under 18 mins! Chugging some water and resting for several minutes changed that but ah!....the days of my youth.
Anyways, we got to top as the clouds were beginning to settle in (the clouds are called the tablecloth). Being up in and above the clouds was really cool, but we still had some amazing views of the city itself, the beaches, and Lion's Head (another peak near Table Mountain). We went over to grab some burgers at the restaurant on top of Table Mountain, and basically ate in the clouds. The burger was pretty good, either because I haven't had one in forever or because it was covered in BBQ sauce and mushroom sauce. Writing, however, cannot give the views we had from Table Mountain any kind of justice, so you'll just have to wait until I can afford to put some pictures up. Wanting to save time and our knee's, we decided to take the cable car down the mountain. The car spins as you head down so you end up getting 360 degree views, but you end up appreciating the car getting you down in 5 minutes compared to the 2 hours it took to get up the mountain!
So after our trip down, a good sized group of us grabbed a taxi van and headed to Greenmarket Square, which is in the center of downtown and home to market stalls selling goods. I'm glad I spent money on so many African items back in Ghana, because I never really had any desire to buy too much in the markets or stores here in South Africa, since I had most of the stuff already. It was Sunday so the market was pretty dull. However, I had forgot to put any sun screen on my bald head, which after hiking table mountain was burning up pretty bad. So I bought a big safari/sun hat that with South Africa's flag on it and basically makes me look like a tool. But it blocked the sun, and luckily we bumped into Dr Chris (ship's doctor) in the market who gave me some sunscreen for my bald head. We walked our way from Greenmarket Square back up to the Waterfront and the mv Explorer, having some fun with how much of a tourist I looked now with my hat.
We showered and such, then a large group of us had dinner at a restaurant called Karuba (or something like that) inside of the Waterfront area. WOW. I think dinner cost me just over 30 dollars, and it was a dinner that in the states would easily have cost me around $100. I tried a friend's delicious calamari, which was easily the best we had ever tasted. I had 3 different kinds of venison: Antelope, Impala, and Springbok (the last two are close to antelope). It was so good. That topped off with desserts and plenty of wine flowing around the table made for a great start to the night. As usual, SAS took over the closest bar that night, which was called Mitchell's, and all I'll say is that any girl with a South African accent is so much more attractive because of that alone.
Day 2 ~Cape Town & Aquarium
Originally I had hoped to go to Robben Island this day, but it wasn't meant to happen. One of the jet ferry's used to take people to the island had broken down, so the amount of people the could take over was very limited. So instead I ended up with an entire day to just soak up the city. There were four of us that decided to head out of the Waterfront and start looking for a beach. We first went into the mall next to our ship, and I found a cafe called Melissa's which was recommended to me, and it was amazing. I had hot chocolate with nutella lining the cup, and toasted banana bread with butter and honey on top. It was the best breakfast to date, others had eggs benedict and other great looking things. So we started walking towards where we though the beach would be, which ended up being a lot further than we though it would be. On the way we walked by an area that just had waves hitting the wall and splashing up to the wall where the walkway was. For me it was a blast since I have no beaches in Ohio (Lake Erie doesn't count) but the water was freeezing. We ended up deciding just to go to this rocky beach area since the actual beach was way too far (it looked close on the top of Table Mountain??? ha) and I got thoroughly soaked trying to walk on the rocks further and further out into the water. We grabbed some great gelato with this awesome passion fruit like flavor, and headed to the Two Oceans Aquarium in the Waterfront. Even though I don't get too into aquarium's, this one was pretty cool and big, and it only cost like $13 to get in. Spend the afternoon there and then headed back to the ship.
At the ship we collected a group of us that were ready to go get dinner later in the night. We went to a place called Cafe Africa, which I recommend to anyone in the future, it was the best dinner I had in Cape Town and one of the best of my life (close to chicken tangier in Marrakech and mojo in Seville). It was African tapas style, and Ross and I were the only ones to eat everything with our hands, proudly holding up the African tradition of no utensils. The restaurant was in a historic building with a bunch of different rooms in it, and was decorated with a lot of recycled material. Our server Cynthia was awesome, and ended up putting face paint on all of us. The girls got lots of dots and colors, and she promised the guys we would get warrior paint. For some reason she felt I was quite all evening (I was tired dammit!) so she explained that because of this my warrior paint consisted of the three paws across my forehead! It was not warrior like at all! Later that night at the bar I accidentally scratched off part of the paint, so that the paw at the top of the forehead looked like it was flipping off everyone, which I thought was a perfect response ha.
Day 3 ~ Bike N' Wine Tour
This day was a continuation of my African vacation, seeing that I still had not done too many cultural things yet in South Africa, except maybe hit on the occasional bartender here and there. But this day was my Bike N' Wine tour through the Stellenbosch wine lands. About 10 of us met our tour guides on Long Street in Cape Town, and took the metro train for about an hour (lots of stops) out to the Stellenbosch area. The shed they use to store their bikes out there was broken into the night before, but luckily there were still enough bikes for all of us to use. The wine lands area was very beautiful, with rocky mountain ranges all around us, and the vineyards kind of just snake right up the mountains all the way until it turns into straight rock.
I'm not that big on wine, but luckily they taught us how to taste wine properly, so I guess I have that going for me now. Our first winery was Spier, which is apparently one of the more famous wineries in the area, on the grounds of Spier is Mayo, a crazy restaurant with tree houses and crazy club style dining atmosphere. Too bad it was so far out of Cape Town. We tasted five different wines, they were good, but then we got to go to their cheetah conservatory! And yes, I did pet a cheetah inside of its enclosure. The place raises cheetahs that have been domesticated, and uses the cheetahs to kind of help train dogs that they give to farmers throughout Africa to use to scare cheetahs away. By using dogs to scare cheetahs away from the farmer's herds, the farmer doesn't end up shooting and killing the cheetahs, a major reason why the cheetahs are endangered species today. I had to sanitize my hands and feet and stuff in order to not give the cheetah any germs (though no one gave me anything to sanitize myself after petting the cheetah?ha) and then went in. We had to approach from behind and let the trainer stay in front of the cheetah, so when it looked up it would see the trainer first and not be alerted by seeing me. So I got to pet it's side and back for awhile, it was pretty cool. However, it just sat there farting the entire time I was next to it, so I couldn't really deal with more than a minute of being around it.
We rode for a total of only like 5km through the wine lands and hit up one other winery after we had lunch. My lunch was a popular pizza here in South Africa, thin crust kind of style with feta, avocado, and bacon as the toppings. It's probably one of the better pizzas I've ever had. To end the tour we stopped at Van Ryan winery to taste their brandy's. They said they've received numerous international awards for there brandy, and it actually was pretty good. We tried 10 and 12 year old selections, and since only a few of us could stand the strong taste of the brandy, I had my fair share of it.
That fact added to the fact that at the end of the tour we were given complimentary bottles of wine each from one of the wineries meant that I was in for a rowdy night. Thanks to Semester at Sea policies, we had to finish those bottles of wine before we could get back on the ship, so we had a good time talking with our tour guides and a local on the train ride back to Cape Town. That night was Amanda's (from THE Ohio State Univ...now THE #1 TEAM IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL!!!!!!!!) birthday dinner, and she wanted to go to a Japanese sushi restaurant (why not wait until Japan I do not know) but we went and it was great. The sushi was delicious since we were right in Cape Town, no surprise there. I think it was the first time ever drinking sake, which turned out great (mind you, I had been drinking wine all day as well, so everything was bound to taste great anyways).
But that night I headed home from the bars earlier than usual, seeing as I had some important things to do the next day.
Day Four ~ Amy Biehl Trust Foundation
I had been excited for this day since I had found out I had got a spot on this trip. Before I can start telling about this day though, it's important to know about Amy's story and what the foundation means (totally worth hearing this story).
Amy Biehl was a graduate of Stanford University and was a Fulbright Scholar working in South Africa as an anti-apartheid activist. One day in 1993, she had just finished dropping off two friends in a township where the friends lived. Unknowingly to her, a peaceful protest in the township she was driving through was brutally broken up by the police (this was before the democratic elections of 1994 and blacks were still not allowed to congregate). This caused the protest to quickly descend into a mob, and when Amy accidentally drove by it, she was pulled from her car and violently murdered. Four men were sent to prison for the murder.
Three years later, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (lead by Desmond Tutu!) was established to provide healing for post-Apartheid South Africa, and the four killers applied for amnesty through the commission. Amazingly, Amy's parents Linda and Peter supported amnesty for the killers and forgave all of them. After that, the parents set up the Amy Biehl Trust Foundation, which works in the townships around Cape Town mainly through after-school programs with activities like music, dance, drama, sports, crafts and HIV/AIDS peer education. These programs are running at several township-schools every afternoon, and in addition the foundation runs weekly activities outside the townships (simple things such as taking kids into the city of Cape Town who could never afford it) for some of the children, and they also have Saturday and Holiday programs. Today, two of the men who were given amnesty now work for the Amy Biehl Trust Foundation with over 70 other workers.
Knowing that story gives a little background into how incredible this place was. We were told that this would be a service trip, but unfortunately it was more of a trip where we saw the foundation's activities in the townships, which was still very cool. So we started by stopping at the foundation's headquarter in downtown Cape Town, and got to see the operations. We were met by the director of the foundation (I forget his name) who really was an incredible guy. He came from the banking industry in South Africa, and after spending years of building corporate social responsibility at his company Linda Biehl needed him to run the foundation. He helped the foundation make the transition from being supported by the USAID development grant to being supported by private donations (the Biehl's are middle class, they could never afford to put much money into the foundation). So he actually had a lot of brilliant ideas and you could tell that it was because of this guy's energy that the foundation was thriving. Currently they just opened an after school program at there 5th school, but plan on being in 10 schools in by 2011. They have Amy wine, Amy bread, and a bunch of other stuff that the sales are all partly contributed to the foundation. As we left the foundation, there was a US map of where all the interns were from, and one was from Bowling Green!! Didn't find out who it was though at all :(
So I bought some artwork made by the kids for sale there and some postcards, and then we left the foundation on our bus with the two guides from the foundation. We headed to Luga township, one of the oldest, and headed to a school there where the after school program was just getting started. We hung out there with kids for awhile, and actually sang and danced some crazy dances with them, it was so fun, and they were so lively. Too short of a time later we went on to grab lunch at a restaurant in the middle of the township, which just a pile of meat and potatoes, but the meat was cooked brai'i style, so it was very good. After lunch we went to another after school program, and this time the kids put on a show for us since they're preparing for a big fundraiser in Cape Town in the next few days. The had musical acts, dance, poetry reading, all things that showed off their talents. One kid was hilarious, he was so into the dances it was ridiculous. He made his eyes so big, you could easily tell he was the class clown. When they first started dancing, they started with running towards the crowd of us, and he just got right into one of the girl's face in our crowd and flung his hands up, like some crazy Southern Baptist holy spirit taken over type like thing. But anyways, it was a lot of fun to be there, but then we had to head out again. This time we were finally heading our back to home, and we actually drove by a large cross dedicated to Amy in the spot where she was killed, and sure enough, just down the road from there, was another monument with the outline of 7 kids, all who were for no reason at all executed one day by police in the late 80s.
Then as we were driving home we find out that one of the guides that had been with us all day named Easy was in fact one the two guys who killed Amy and was now working for the foundation. I've never been in a same room as a killer, let alone had shaken one's hand, but that's what I'd been doing all day with Easy. He was very nice and nothing would have said anything earlier. He actually opened the floor for questions, saying to be blunt and not to beat around the bush at all. The most direct question he had was "do you feel guilty for killing Amy". He said that when he thinks about Amy as a person and her family, he does feel guilty. But this isn't how he thinks about it. He reminds himself he was a freedom fighter, fighting for his freedom and that this was a political act. So it was a pretty surreal time just being there, but I will say he is doing so much more now and doing so much good than if he was still sitting in jail. That was a big message that Linda Biehl wanted to send, in that the power of reconciliation is a great thing compared to just forgiving someone. She was very proud and happy to have Easy in her life.
That night the group of us headed out to find some pizza. We ended up finding a local chain up near Long Street, and Ross and I split this amazing triple layer pizza. Had tons of cheese, chicken, sauces, it was crazy. Others had crazy pizzas as well, some with guacamole and other crazy toppings. That night we went to a jazz club in the Waterfront, got some drinks, and then of course ended the night again at Mitchell's. It was an eye opening day. All day I was debating whether I should give Ross my trip to the township with interactive soccer that I had the next day since I felt that I had already seen the township, and even more so since I felt that I would just be riding my bike through this township gawking at everyone, which isn't something I wanted to do. In the end I decided I would do it the next day, which is one of the best decisions I've made on this trip...
Day 5 ~ Township tour & Soccer
....Ross was also able to make the trip, so no worries there. We met our two guides at the ship and took a bus out to Luga township, same township we were in for the first part of the Amy Biehl tour. Luga was designed to hold 5,000 men, today it's home to 50,000 men, women, and children. We picked up our bikes in the township at a local community center and our guides really were excellent, especially Siweve. He was great at explaining the life of the township and pointing different things out. One of our first stops was outside of what the call hostels, and he explained how hostels were the first of three stages of living inside the townships. Originally the townships were only allowed to be all men, the women could visit once a year from the villages. Each room inside the hostel (thing of a large apartment building in the ghettos) would hold 3 or 4 men. Well at some point in the 70s I think women were allowed to live in townships, so these rooms instantly started holding 3 or 4 families, so the conditions were incredibly crowded. When apartheid fell in 1994, the government began focusing on improving living conditions in the townships. So they began to construct temporary homes (2nd stage) to hold families while they waited on their permanent apartment (3rd stage) to be built. While larger, these temporary homes for one family are maybe the size of two average sized bedrooms in the US, but it was an improvement. The wait inside the temporary houses is about 5-6 years, but a big problem is that these are more and more becoming permanent housing for the residents. We did get to see all of these areas, including the shanty town areas, which are just tiny makeshift shelters that are worse than the hostels. Today, many do have electricity from the government, and running water outside in communal areas.
But anyway, outside of the hostel our guide Siweve took us to a little shed where he started to talk about an after school program he himself runs with another friend. He grew up in the hostel right next to the shed, and actually moved out of the township only about a year and a half ago. But his after school program is called Happy Feet Dance Studio, where he teaches about 36 students a dance that originated in the mines in Southern Africa. Since the many different tribe members couldn't communicate with each other through language, they developed this style of dance in the mines to help them communicate. So these kids put on the shoes and have make music with the dance (think Stomp or something like that). So he taught a group of us how to do the dance so we could impress people his kids when we see them later in the school we were going to! It was really cool though to see this guy already giving back to the community he grew up in, it seemed the peoples connections with the townships is a very strong part of their culture.
So we then rode our bikes to one of the primary schools in the Luga township, and had a preschool class sing to us the national anthem and a couple of other songs! We donated some school supplies which the teacher loved us for. Then the schools choir sang us some more songs, including some dances. Then our tour guide Siweve got together his kids (only about 7 of them at this school) and they did the dances he taught us plus a lot more, they were actually really good. We found out they actually won a dance competition at one of the big theaters in downtown Cape Town recently. So then he called us out to show them what we learned, and while we did get it done, we did not look nearly as good as them, so everyone enjoyed a laugh on our expense. We would get them back though, since it was time for soccer!
I'll be the first to admit that this was a game between a bunch of college students and 11-12 year old girls on the schools soccer team. But whatever, it was time to show what us Americans were bringing. We went out on the field and had a great, though short, game. I'm proud to say that not only did I score the only goal for the USA in regulation, but I went on to score the winning penalty shot at the end of regulation to give us the win. And yes, I will brag about beating the primary school's girls team for many years! It was cool to play with them and we were all good sports about the whole game, so we had a lot of fun, and so did the girl's team.
After the school we headed out to see the central business area of the township, and where a majority of the vans will wait for a full load before taking people into the downtown of Cape Town to work. We visited the township's traditional healer, and our guide explained how he himself and many men of the township at age 18 still go into the bush for a month with nothing but medicine provided by the traditional healer in order to make the right of passage to manhood. He pointed out a large fenced area, which is the bush they stay in and considered sacred ground, and its literally right next to the entrance of the township. Outside of the healer I bought a guys African mask that he had made, not so much because I wanted to, but because he made the really good point that I needed something to help me remember Luga for and help give back to the township in a little way. Good salesmen ha. We cruised by the new private apartments that were actually pretty nice looking. Problem is, the government tore down shacks in order to build them, promising the residents of the shacks that they were being built for them. However, what the government built is too expensive for the people in the shacks to afford them! So now the apartments (more like town homes) sit empty while the residents and the government negotiate what to do.
Then we biked through the "Beverly Hills" section of the township, named because it has the best looking houses of the township. It was surprising to see such levels of hierarchy within the townships. Our guide Siweve explained that people who do end up becoming successful stay in the townships. Township life is lived in the streets, that is where people socialize and live. They find it weird and depressing to stay inside of a large private home, only with a little interaction with ones neighbors. He also explained that people all treat each other equally in the townships, and I believed it considering how many shanty's were built right up against the "Beverly Hills" area. We stopped at bed and breakfast inside the township that was very popular for World Cup visitors to stay at in order to get the local experience. We had tea and some sort of local bread which was a little sweet and very delicious. After that we biked a ways back to the bus to head back to the ship.
I was very glad I ended up choosing to see the township this way. Many of the people were very friendly and happy to see us, and there was a sense of community pride and of a strong sense of culture that I'm glad I was able to be a part of. I know there are many many issues confronting those in the townships, and I know there are far worse townships than Luga, but I really do believe they will continue to improve and South Africa is going to be a tremendous place in the future. Only 16 years ago all of these townships were surrounded by electric fences and watchtowers, literally concentration camps to keep the blacks and coloreds inside of them. Progress has definitely been made since then, and no one is saying the issues are too big to tackle.
So this night ended up being the last night we were in Cape Town, and also Ross's birthday at midnight (there's two Ross's by the way, haven't tried to differentiate them in this at all ha). So about 20 of us made reservations at a restaurant called Cubano, a Cuban lounge. Dinner was delicious, some people at the table had the best steaks I ever tasted. Unfortunately I convinced myself to try something other than steak, and will live with that regret the rest of this voyage (though Kobe beef in Japan should make up for it!). All of us had a great time getting drinks and having dinner, then we headed out for the night, blowing way too much money but all for a great time!
Amazingly I was up, showered, had breakfast, and ready to go for my morning visit to the University of Cape Town, an FDP. FDP are trips required for classes, so this was the first of three required for my Higher Education in the Global Economy class. Only about 4 students went on this one, along with our Professor and his wife, and we had a great time. It honestly made me so excited for doing graduate work in Higher Education and Student Affairs, and the trip especially convinced me that I need to work within the international field of higher ed. For about three hours we discussed the issues facing South African higher education, which is facing the results of a rapidly globalizing world while at the same time continuing to address and make amends for the apartheid era. Only about 5 percent of students who begin preschool in South Africa will ever be eligible for higher education, and that's only eligible. We meant two student leaders, Jessica and Marvin, who were great resources and had lots to share. We had lunch there and I enjoyed being able to talk to Jessica for awhile about random similarities and differences (the South African accent made it particularly enjoyable as well). But hey, tuition for Americans studying there is only $5,100, and they help you find a job on campus! Maybe I'll stay in college to pick up another semester hm? They actually have about 4,800 international students that our part of the 24,000 students that make up there campus, and the campus itself is beautifully set right up against part of the mountains that Table Mountain is a part of.
After I got back the Ross's, Megan, Kelly, Tam and I all grabbed a taxi and headed to the Malay district inside of Cape Town to check out the area. It's where Indonesians settled after they became freed slaves (they were brought to South Africa as slaves). It's known for a lot of bright colored housing, so lime green, yellow, red, pink, light blue, etc. and it was cool to see something so different. I noticed several mosques in the area as well. We eventually headed towards the Greenmarket Square area, where we got some hookah, and then headed to the waterfront where I was lucky to be able to call home for a bit and then get some last minute shopping done before the ship headed out. Right next to our ship they were filming a Johnnie Walker commercial, they had a couple of yachts all decked out and some fancy cars, so if in the future you see these, look to see if the bow of our ship is in it, because it definitely dominated the scene if the cameras were pointed at it!
But yea so South Africa was pretty awesome. At times it felt the most like home, since everyone spoke English and it was very modern and touristy in many parts. There are many issues in South Africa that have to be addressed, and it's crazy to think with all that I saw there was SO much I did not see, especially since South Africa is still considered a developing country. I'm so excited to go back in 20 or 30 years and see how much progress is made in that time. I talked to a Professor who was last here in 1993, and he was amazed at how much progress had been made since then, so I do feel a lot of hope for the country.
But this is by far my longest blog post, it was just a jammed full of week that I really did enjoy. I'll be the crazy one though and say that I think Ghana is still my favorite country so far, but it's starting to get really difficult choosing favorites! Thanks for reading it all, and if it's any consolidation, its taken me over three days to write about all of this. And my actual had written journal has just gotten up to Ghana, so that's even more behind.
Keep the emails coming, love hearing from home and any other comments. Mauritius will be beautiful, but I'll probably post before then about a few random going ons here on the ship. Oh and guess whose turning 23 on the most insanely beautiful island on the planet?? That's right. This guy.