Accolades roll off the tongue effortlessly when attempting to describe Cape Town. Stunningly beautiful, intoxicating, tranquil and easy going, ruggedly wild, sporty and fun loving. Once you’ve been here, you really can’t say enough to capture what this place is. Located in one of the world’s most unique locations, Cape Town sits at the very bottom of Africa where two great oceans meet.
And it can confidently claim to be the most ethnically diverse city in South Africa, the rainbow nation of the continent. To complement the beauty and diversity of its land and people, the city’s architecture also serves up eye catching décor and colors despite the sometimes extreme contrasts between wealth and poverty across its neighborhoods. It’s no surprise then that the Mother City as it is fondly known to locals, made it to the Lonely Planet list of top ten cities to visit in 2014.
After staying in Johannesburg for a few days and then going on an overnight safari in nearby Pilanesburg with my parents, we flew to Cape Town on South African Airways to explore the city and surrounding areas of the Western Cape. Little did I know that I was in for an extra treat due to unintended great timing. That spring in South Africa, the national rugby team had made it to the World Cup finals being held in France, and they were to play against England on a cold autumn day. I of course had no clue about this. It was also my last day in Cape Town and had I decided to call it an early night, I would not have realized that a whole city was abuzz about the match. What started off as a quick stroll outside my hotel turned into one of those unexpectedly memorable travel moments.
But before I get to the rugby World Cup experience, let’s begin with what are arguably the star attractions of Cape Town, its landscapes and vistas.
About 25km outside the city center in the locality of Bloubergstrand along the shores of Table Bay, one is treated to the classic view of Cape Town’s natural icon: Table Mountain. The mountain is so named due to the unusually flat top plateau made up of certain materials that are highly resistant to wind and water erosion. The spring flowers of late October were in full bloom which provided for a great foreground to this shot. I also ran into a few couples in this secluded area who were none too thrilled about being disturbed, and far from appreciative of my need for the perfect foreground.
Bloubergstrand Beach and view of Table Mountain.
Camps Bay, a suburb of Cape Town that straddles the Twelve Apostle mountains and shoreline. It is a neighborhood of the well heeled but attracts all walks of life, especially in the summer.
A closer look at a section of the Twelve Apostle mountains and the surrounding flora. With a view like this on one side, and the beach and sea on the other, one can understand how Camps Bay came to be a highly sought after section of Cape Town.
Birds fly against the strong winds as the sun sets on Camps Bay.
On one day, we visited the countryside west of Cape Town and stopped at an Ostrich farm along the way. Needless to say, one thing lead to another and the next thing I knew, the farm owner had me convinced that I should try riding an Ostrich. My parents of course were instantly taken up with the whole idea and whipped out their cameras, ready to capture any and all embarrassing moments that were surely to come. Now I didn’t feel quite right with all of this, especially not after having dined out in a restaurant called ‘Carnivore’ a couple of nights ago in Johannesburg where Ostrich meat was one of many kinds sampled. Regardless, I did manage to climb onto the bird beast, and lasted around ten seconds before taking a rather unflattering flop to the ground. The parents, thankfully too busy laughing to snap any shots of this moment. I travel with friends a lot, and alone a lot, and at times I try to drag my parents along. This trip and all its memorable moments were made that much more special with them being there to share South Africa with me, and remains as one of my most cherished.
After the fun at the farm, we headed towards our main destination of the day, the San People’s reserve near Yzerfontain. The San are thought to the be the first people of South Africa, living in and hunting these lands long before other Africans migrated to this part of the world, and thousands of years before the first Europeans ever set foot here. Their language is known for its unique ‘click’ sounds, very different from other native tongues of the continent. Modern day descendents of the San run a reserve and cultural center where they proudly showcase their old way of life. Not too many tourists come out here but I think it’s well worth the drive as you get to learn something about the indigenous people of South Africa, and support their enterprise.
Boulders Beach: Just outside of Cape Town lies a sheltered beach where a colony of African penguins have settled. I forgot the exact reasons why, but I remember a local telling me how the birds suddenly appeared here in the early 80s and have remained since. Penguins are found almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, and most of them call Antarctica their home, but a small percentage do inhabit the waters and shores of South Africa.
The rugged beauty of Boulder’s Beach.
Cape of Good Hope on Africa’s southern tip, as seen from Vasco Da Gama peak. This is where Portuguese explorers first got stuck in their quest to find China and the East Indies. The Indian and Atlantic oceans converge here, their warm and cold currents meeting and turning back on each other. Atop the peak the winds can sometimes be fierce, and adds to the dramatic scenery one sees for miles in each direction. Baboons also run rampant around these parts and I was actually looking forward to encountering them as I had heard many stories about their pilfering ways. Unfortunately the winds kept them away that day.
On my final night in Cape Town, I was feeling somewhat tired and decided initially to turn in early, to be ready for the flight next morning back to Johannesburg. But on a whim, I decided to take a quick stroll around the waterfront area near our hotel (the Portswood), to capture some final night images of the area. The streets, restaurants, and bars were unusually crowded with a lot of flags in the air and that got me curious. I had seen some folks waving the national flag earlier in the day but thought nothing of it. It was not until I asked a passer-by did I find out that the World Cup rugby final match was underway in France at that very moment. And South Africa was in it playing England. Better yet, it was looking like South Africa was about to pull off a win! Never would I have thought for a moment that rugby was so popular here. But as I would come to learn, it is right up there with soccer in the hearts and minds of South Africans. After further chatting and forgiving me for being so out of the loop, the locals invited me to join in heading over to Camps Bay to watch the game at Cafe Caprice. This was going to be fun.
No more than ten minutes had passed since we walked in, the game was over. The place erupted. South Africa had won the World Cup for the second time in its history. A few years later I would see the movie Invictus, and fondly remember this very moment, and my time in Cape Town and in South Africa. I joined in on the jumping and waving like I had been a rugby fan for years… it felt right.
Outside, the party was just beginning. The streets were teeming with revelers, South Africans proud of their country’s achievement. The horns on all the cars seemed to be permanently honking. The songs and cheer were too numerous to count. The dancing was non-stop. In all this maddening excitement, I took this shot above which I think shows why South Africa truly is the rainbow nation. It was great to see South Africans of all colors celebrating, together, all night long and into the morning.. a far cry from the South Africa of the apartheid days.
Wearing your national colors with pride. To the right you can see someone leaning against a car. Every car that passed got stopped and danced around, not allowed to move on until its driver and passengers came outside to join in the dance. Even a police car was stopped, and the cops inside happily obliged.
The next morning after a whole night spent without sleep, I was more awake than ever. Awake on the excitement of the celebrations, and on having partaken in something special with South Africans. With a final shot of Table Mountain from Cape Town’s waterfront, it was time to go home.