Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Traveling South Africa -- Cape Town

          After our return from Durban, our remaining time in Botswana began to draw to its close. The end came in sight, and the reminiscing and goodbyes were anticipated. In the midst of all this, we still found time for travel. The testing period at UB lasts nearly 3 weeks, and several of us were done within the first couple of days. Because of this, we took advantage of our time, and arranged a final trip to Cape Town, South Africa. This time, our mode of transit would be Combi bus to Johannesburg and then we would fly to the southern most part of Africa and arrive in Cape Town. As is our custom, we would not make the trip easy. Since we have been living in Botswana for over 90 days now, it is has become necessary for us to carry travel waivers when we cross borders. However, since this hasn’t been necessary for most of the semester, we did not really think about it on this trip. Unfortunately, one of the students traveling with us lost hers, and was held up at the border. They told her that she would have to return to Botswana, and pay a P100 fine for each day since her study visa expired (around P1000). The rest of us had to continue on with the bus, as our tickets were non-refundable and we had a flight to catch that afternoon. The story of how this worked out is not quite mine to tell, and I cannot quite capture how miraculous it was. The girl returned to Botswana, convinced the officer to reduce her fee in half, hitchhiked from the border to the airport in Johannesburg and arrived at the airport even before our own bus. My apologies for the terrible summary of an amazing story. Anyway, our first hurdle of the trip was under our belts and we boarded our plane for the beautiful city of Cape Town. We took an overpriced cab from the airport to Long street, which is the central downtown street of Cape Town and also the home for a large number of hostels. After spending over 30 minutes driving up and down the street looking for the hostel, we finally arrived at our destination. We spent the next few hours catching up on sleep, and then set out to explore Cape Town.
            Our first adventure in Cape Town, was advised to us by some friends of ours that had visited Cape Town earlier in the semester. This was a ‘restauraunt’ although that may not be the correct word. It was in a rather run down neighborhood on the outskirts of Cape Town. The place is called Mzoli’s. The way it works is as follows: you wait in line until you arrive at a counter filled with raw meat of all different kinds, you then tell the people what kinds of meat you want, then they season it and give you a large plate of raw meat, finally you take the meat to the smoky oven room in the back where at this point there were already nearly 200 plates in line to be cooked. Because of this, the wait for the food  to be ready is around 2 hours. In the meantime, there is a tent set up around the corner with music and a dance scene. After the long wait, we enjoyed some of the best braii’d meat I have had in Africa (and Africa knows how to braii). The club began to close down at 8pm, and we finally journeyed back into town.
View from Table Mountain
            The next day we hiked Table Mountain. Although the weather did not cooperate, the views of the city and the surrounding mountains were spectacular. About half way up our hike, we began to enter into a low-lying cloud. Before long, the wind began to pick up speed, and we became encompassed by the cloud. Unfortunately, we had to turn back before reaching the top of the mountain, due to the severe conditions. As we reached the bottom of the hiking trail, the rain began to pour down. Our already moist clothes were soon drenched from the downpour. We walked for about a half an hour through the rain before reaching the welcome center, and catching a cab back into town.
            Later that day, we booked a wine tour for the next day. This would run from around 8 in the morning until 8 in the night. We were picked up in the van that would take us around the greater area of Cape Town throughout the day, and continued on to pick up the other groups that would be touring with us. The first place we visited was a family owned vineyard called ‘Villiera.’ At this vineyard, our tour guide walked us through a field of grape vines, and explained to us the process of making wine. Between our lessons, we enjoyed some of the wine and champagne made by this small family business. Throughout the day we would taste wine at 5 different vineyards. In the process we were able to explore the area around Cape Town, which consisted of some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen in my life. I will leave my unsatisfactory pictures to explain the beauty. By the end of the day, we were all feeling the effects of the wine, and had one of the most exciting days of our trip under our belt.

            Our next adventure would be a trip to Robben Island, which houses the prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for his involvement in the anti-Apartheid movement. The prison has now been turned into a memorial to the prisoners who were held here and stood up for their freedoms. The tours are guided by ex-prisoners, which give them a uniquely personal aspect. Our tour guide had spent 5 years in prison, and told us that of the 5 others that entered with him, only 3 survived their imprisonment. During the tour we were shown the cell that housed Nelson Mandela, as well as the courtyard where Mandela had kept a garden. The tour guide told us about the brutal conditions under which the prisoners were forced to live. The experience was one that I will not soon forget, and provided a rare glimpse into the infamous racial issues that still exist in South Africa today.
Camps Bay Beach
            After we returned from Robben Island, we took a cab to one of the popular beaches of Cape Town. Unfortunately the weather did not provide us with a good day on the beach. Still, we braved the cold and explored the rocky beach, which had a special view of ‘the 12 apostles’ which is a nickname given to the 12 cliffs that provide the backdrop to this beach. After what seemed like hours of hopping through the various rocks that protrude into the ocean and collecting rocks and shells, we finally headed back to the hostel after a long day.
            Before long, our time in Cape Town had come to a close and it was time to head back to Botswana, where we would have 1 day to prepare for our final program trip to the Okavango Delta. The next morning we planned for a cab to take us to the airport, where we again flew to Johannesburg. In Johannesburg we caught a Combi back to Gaborone, and returned to school. 

Nelson Mandela's cell

A view of Cape Town from Robben Island

The 12 Apostles
Mountains in the Cape Town area, seen on wine tour
Our final vinyard

The group

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