Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I’m super busy with classes so I thought I would break up the South Africa entry. Here’s day one!

Cape Town, South Africa
Day 1
Going into South Africa I didn’t really know what to expect. We arrived in Cape Town a little later than we were supposed to, around 11 o’clock. The original plan was for me, Brittany, Laura, Perri and Becca to go to Table Mountain (arguably the world’s oldest mountain which has an omnipresent presence on the cape as its smooth top dominants the landscape), then Robben Island (the political prison of the apartheid government where Mandela was held). However, due to the late arrival we had to skip Table Mountain (we ended up going later in the week), but we decided to make the most of it and headed down to Long Street (the thriving café/club/shopping street) and on to The Green Market(the bargaining square).
Keeping good track of each other we navigate the stalls all set up in rows in a large open air square. The bargaining is quite different than in Israel or Morocco or frankly even Namibia. The shop keepers are not very aggressive and although bargaining is a must, the prices seem to hit a floor pretty quickly. I settle on some elephant hair bracelets and a pair of candle stick holders while my companions stimulate South Africa’s economy. Pleased with our purchases we look for some local fair to tide us over. I walk by a British family on holiday who are eating some fish and chips, they give us a thumbs up for the food and we head inside. Calamari Express is a local fast-foodish restaurant that serves us some VERY yummy calamari for about 3 dollars each. Oh yea, South Africa was CHEAP!!! The exchange rate was also favorable so even stores we have in the United States were cheaper there.
After our bargaining fun we head to Robben Island for a somber afternoon. Becca had pre-ordered our tickets since we had heard that SAS tends to buy up all the ferry tickets. By three we are on the ferry to the infamous island. I may draw some slack for saying this, but it is my journal, so what can you do lol? Although I found the island to be atrocious (not physically, as it is gorgeous and has penguins!) but due to the nature of these men’s imprisonment (basically plotting to overthrow the government, organizing African politics, etc), I found the prison not to be totally overpowering. Mandela has been quoted to say that it was his University, his place of learning. An ex-inmate showed us around the prison, even stopping at his old cell. He told us stories of political meetings and basketball games. The men were able to see their families only once a month, but they still got to see them. I couldn’t help but draw connections between this situation and the holocaust and although these men were thoroughly wronged, they were not starved (although they were not fed all that much and Blacks (that’s the word they use) were fed more than “Colored”(again, the word they use meaning those of Indonesian decent or Indian decent). I should mention that Mandela has permanent eye damage from his time working in the Quarry. I found the island to be very sad, but most of all I found our tour guides life to be very sad. When asked why he took this job, which entails him to relieve his worst prison memories, he replied, quite simply “I needed a job”. Unfortunately this attitude seemed to prevail throughout much of the impoverished outskirts of Cape Town, but now I’m getting ahead of myself.
The tour took quite a few hours and gave us a great reference which with to view the city as a whole. We return to the ship and quickly head back out to go to dinner and then out to Long Street. We eat in a gorgeous restaurant on the wharf (fancy, but still inexpensive) before we are off to go out. I should also take this time to mention the V&A Waterfront. As seems to be the case with all our port so far (save spain), there is an extreme disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Stepping off the ship felt like going to Disney World. The wharf was gorgeous, the mall huge, the shops pretty and overpriced, the waitstaff white infact expect for a few jazz playing Africans the whole waterfront felt very white. There were a ton of police everywhere and for the most part we felt totally safe there. As I will later recount, our trips to townships painted a very different view of the city. Typing this, I can’t help but wonder how many individuals step off their cruise ship for a day, play in the waterfront and then return home thinking that is all there is to Cape Town.
We take a taxi to Long Street (another inexpensive thing as it cost less then a dollar each). We get dropped off at the wrong club (the four of us were meeting other friends), but see quite a few SASers and try to get our bearings straight. A young South African points us in the right direction and we head to our destination. Dancing with other SASers and peering out at the locals we have a lot of fun. Perri and I don’t stay long, as she has a safari the next day and I am quite tired from our long day. Sleep comes quickly.

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