Stories from South Africa (written by Brian)
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Friday, November 8th
Well, Shelley continued her progress towards completing her accounting paperwork at a somewhat decent hour the night before port. While it was the normal long day, she was not up until the wee hours of the morning. We both awoke fairly early, as we had to take care of some business first thing. Shell went down to her office and I went down to catch the first view of South Africa from the pier area of Cape Town, which is quite breathtaking. With the backdrop of the majestic Table Mountain and the relatively small skyline of downtown, the pier is a quaint and beautiful area that instantly puts a smile on your face. The buildings have a distinctive Dutch influence and the pastel colors are bold, yet seem to blend in with the natural surroundings. The pier is very modern with a large high-class shopping mall close by surrounded by several restaurants and hotels, yet it maintains a small town charm. You immediately see why this area has been so contested over the years. Shell had more work to do than I did so I went downstairs and had some breakfast on the back deck overlooking the city.
The big event of the morning was the impending visit of Arch-Bishop Desmund Tutu. A huge supporter of Semester at Sea and past lecturer, he had committed to giving a brief speech to the ship shortly after we docked. They estimated he would be coming on the ship around 9:15 am. By 8:30 am, the Union was already beginning to fill up, as people wanted the best seats possible. Shell was finishing up work and so I went in early and saved us some seats. Sometime between 9:15 and 9:30 they made an announcement that he was on his way and would be to the ship shortly. The union filled while everyone waited with heightened anticipation. On her way from the Bursar's office, Shell saw him embark the ship and walk upstairs towards the Union. Before he came into the Union, the Executive Dean, Lloyd Lewan, introduced Desmond Tutu, which was followed by a huge ovation. Desmund Tutu is actually a very tiny man yet he instantly commands the attention of everyone. He said a quick hello to us and then wasted no time going into his speech, which unfortunately, lasted only about 15 minutes. His speech was centered on the idea of goodness and that people will seek out and follow goodness. He challenged everyone to take a path that will in some way help the world and to be leader by being good. It was incredible to listen to him speak. From the very beginning, his speech was given with a great passion and excitement. You would have thought he was giving the speech to a group of world leaders rather than a collection of young college students. After his speech was over, he was presented a t-shirt and then whisked away. As Shell and I were heading up to our room, we saw him coming out of the deans' office. We quickly turned to see him and he just happened to walk right by me and put his hand out to me. After a split second pause of "what the hell should I do?" I immediately took his hand and gave it a brief shake. I had just shaken hands with one of the most important people of the last 50 years! It was pretty cool!
After the excitement, we went upstairs to get ready for the day. Our first stop was a local hair salon as Shell was in need of a trim and had heard there was a good (and cheap) salon in the mall. We ventured in and sure enough, Shell was in luck. While she waited to get her hair done, I went outside to walk around the pier area. It was a very festive place as there were bands and street performers all over. There was one group specifically, a group of young Africans that were singing and performing traditional South African songs. There were ten of them and they had no instruments but the sounds of their voices were incredible as they danced and sang. As they sang, they would lift their leg up over their head and clap. After watching them for several minutes I continued my walk around the pier area seeing the many restaurants, stores and performers. I went to a little Mexican restaurant right on the waterfront and had a beer. It was fun to sit and watch everything go on for a while. It was here that I noticed the huge number of European visitors and realized that this, by far, was the "whitest" port we had visited. After my awesome beer, I went back to the mall and waited for Shell to finish up. After she was done, we were both starving so we went to a little seafood restaurant called "Quay Four". It was right on the water and had some great outdoor seating. We had a variety of seafood (which was wonderful) and a few more beers. With the exchange rate, things in South Africa are cheap. Our meal consisted of mussels in a sort of butter wine sauce, a fresh fish entrée each, and two beers each and our total bill was the equivalent of $20 US!
After lunch we wandered around the pier area some more and made our way towards downtown. The downtown area of Cape Town is not that big and compared to some of the monstrous cities we've visited, it actually seemed quite small. We meandered along the streets to the center of town towards the market we had heard of. The city was actually pretty quiet and we didn't see much. We found the train station and checked on tickets to the wine country for later. By this time we were getting a little tired from the hot sun and decided to make our way back to the ship so we could rest for a while before going out for the evening.
We returned to the ship early evening and relaxed for a while before our dinner plans. We were meeting Chelsea and Diane (Nate's cousin and her roommate) for dinner and drinks for the evening. As we were walking towards the ship we were told they might move the ship a ways over, so plan accordingly as it could take an hour or so. We kind of forgot about it as we expected the ship to move right away. As I got back to the room to get change for dinner, Shell was frantically getting ready as she had just received a call from Chelsea that they were about to move the ship and if we didn't get off the ship within the next minute or so, we'd be stuck for an hour. We both raced around trying to find clothes to throw on. We both finally got ready and ran downstairs. As we got downstairs, they told us it was too late. They were starting to move the gangway and we were stuck! All of a sudden Shell, Chelsea and Diane raced down the gangway after they were told they could leave. The problem was that I was behind them trying to find someone to talk to. I saw them running down and went after them. I was stopped by one of our security guards and told I could not get off. I kept pointing to Shell saying that she was my wife and I needed to join her. Finally, I just kind of moved by her and took off down the gangway. Another minute and it would have been a dinner at the fine establishment of the SS Universe Explorer! The four of us walked around quite a bit looking for a place to eat. Chelsea and Diane were in the mood for seafood so we decided to head back to the same place we had lunch. While we would have liked someplace new, it was definitely good enough for a return trip. We sat outside again, this time under the stars of the cool night.
During the last few days before Cape Town, the weather had taken a dramatic turn. The days now actually had a pleasant chill in the air and the nights were fairly cool as well. The weather in Cape Town was much the same. It was a very refreshing change from the heat and humidity of the equatorial area. It somewhat reminded me of early Fall back home when the weather turns just enough to make you realize that winter is approaching. Although in this case, it was spring that was in full swing and summer that was approaching. Anyway, we ordered some appetizers and wine and sat back and relaxed. The wine in South Africa is unbelievably cheap. A decent bottle of wine is around $5-6 with really good bottles being around $10-12. Needless to say, we ordered a couple of bottles for the four of us. We really enjoyed our dinner with Chelsea and Diane. It's funny how fate works out sometimes. First, that one of my best friend's cousin would be on the ship, but secondly, that she and her roommate would turn out to be people that Shell and I really enjoyed spending time with! After dinner, we enjoyed some more wine and conversation. The weather took a turn for the worse as a slight rain came, which cooled things down even more. We decided to pay our bill and venture around town. We had heard there was a good jazz place close by so we headed in that direction. We found the place without any problem and found a nice table not far from the stage. We ordered some drinks and dessert and enjoyed some great jazz. We headed back to the ship a little after midnight, as we had to be up fairly early the next day for our visit to the townships. Overall we had a mellow day in Cape Town, which was exactly what we needed. It was nice to have no plans, no time schedule and no students to worry about!
Saturday, November 9th
Saturday was our day to go on a service visit with Operation Hunger, a local anti-hunger organization founded in 1979 that works with the townships of South Africa to help improve the quality of child nutrition. We would be going out to several townships within the Cape Town area, which would provide us with our first look at the other side of South Africa.
Throughout our voyage from Kenya to South Africa, we learned about the complicated history of South Africa and of course, the centuries of discrimination. We learned about the huge economic gap that exists in South Africa and that while the black people control the government, the white people still control the economy. Our first day was spent in the very modern "well to do" area of Cape Town, which was predominately white. We had been looking forward to visiting the townships, as one of our goals for the voyage was to truly see what each country is like. We saw one side of South Africa the first day, now we could see the other side.
We left the ship in a large bus with about 40 people total. We where a bit apprehensive as our previous service visits were heavily slanted towards the visit side with little or no service. We were excited when our guide, Clement, (who was the local director of Operation Hunger) told us we would be helping him go to the townships and weigh the children to track their development. The parents would bring the kids to us and then we would weigh them, record their name, birthday and weight, give the kids a little packet of food and a treat and then plot their weights on a chart.
As soon as we left the main part of Cape Town the city became much more spread out. The neighborhoods were separated by the green rolling hills that South Africa is known for. As we were driving out, you also began to see the townships. These makeshift communities, made up of wood, tin, cardboard and filled with people who, even though "free", still suffered from the centuries of persecution; were the symbol that we were entering into the other side. The townships would be located on huge plots of land and at first would resemble a run down trailer park from the States. Some of these communities would stretch for miles with the largest township having approximately 2.5 million residents.
As we approached the first township community (Spandau), people came running towards the bus. Since these areas are not really tourist areas, they rarely get visitors. There was a small group of people to greet us as we got off the bus and shortly after, many people came to take a look at the bus full of white people. The people were very friendly and seemed anxious to meet us. Most of them spoke Afrikaans (the old language of the Dutch settlers which is a mix of German, English and local languages) so we really couldn't communicate much. We got set-up with our scale and other things and started gathering the kids up. Shelley and another student were giving out the food and treats to the kids and I was helping with converting the age of the kids to months and plotting the weight results on a chart. It was neat to interact with all of the kids and other people that surrounded us - it finally felt like we were doing something to help them! We still had a ton of toys, pencils, candy and other items we had personally brought on our voyage to give out to needy children, so Shell had fun giving these items out (as well as items other people had brought) and putting barrettes in the little girls' hair. Some of the students were wandering around the township with some of the locals. The "houses" in the townships looked like your first attempt at a tree house when you were a kid. Pieces of cardboard, tin, old signs and anything else that could be nailed to a primitive wooden-frame was used. The roofs were usually made of corrugated tin and often failed to cover the entire structure. The houses were packed together tightly with little room in between and running water seemed only a dream. About the only modern convenience was electricity. Since apartheid fell, the government had made it a priority to at least give the people electricity. Large wooden poles extended up throughout the township while single electrical lines fell down to the many structures.
We started to weigh the children and get all of the information we needed. One of the older girls of the township, who knew English, helped us get all of the kids' information. Often, the birthday of the kids were not even known, as their parents could not be located. As the children passed through, they were excited to get their food and treats. One of the things that initially struck me was that despite the fact that we were in the middle of tremendous poverty; there was still a very positive feeling. Several people had asked our guide if the people of the townships hated white people for everything that had occurred, yet he said no - you could definitely sense that. It took us about an hour to get all of the kids weighed and charted. To our disappointment, but not to our guide's surprise, a vast majority of the children were well below standard weights. About eighty percent of the kids were below the 50th percentile and about half of them were under the 25th percentile. Clement stated that with the lack of food and the problems with adult alcohol abuse, these statistics were not uncommon. After we finished up, we played with the kids for a while more and then headed out. A few people had brought their Polaroid cameras, which had become the main attraction. Both young and old would go into a frenzy to try to get a Polaroid picture. They would wait patiently for the picture to develop and then laugh and giggle as they saw themselves in the picture. As we pulled out of the township people were jumping up and down and waving to us as if we were all distant relatives that had come to visit. It is a very strange feeling to have so many people so excited with the mere presence of you.
On the way to the second township community (Chris Hani), we stopped at a gas station for a quick bathroom break and to get any snacks we wanted. The ship had provided us with a box lunch for the day but one of the students had the idea to donate our lunches to one of the townships. Most everyone had donated at least most, if not all, their lunch so we were planning on just eating the Cliff bars we had brought. However, inside the gas station, we found they had a fast food place, which became very popular with many of us. As we were eating our lunch on the bus, one of the faculty mentioned that since we were now eating a hearty grease-filled meal, it seemed to somewhat take away from the act of donating our box lunches! I think it shows how the human psyche is strange, as people often believe that for someone to benefit, someone else must suffer (just a quick philosophical thought for everyone).
We arrived at the second township by early afternoon and began to get set-up. Clement had warned us that this township had a much larger population and to expect many more kids. He also told us that we had to be selective with the kids we weighed in that we were only weighing kids up to age 6. He said that many kids would try to lie about their age because they wanted to get some food but that we did not have enough for all of the kids in the township. This was one of the first difficult moments at this township. As soon as we got set-up the mothers started bringing the kids to us. Soon we had a huge crowd of people. Some of the students organized some games with the older kids so they would at least feel included some how. I must say it was quite comical watching a group of college students trying to teach 30 African kids how to play duck-duck-goose! Within minutes though, the kids had the hang of the game and were chasing each other around the large human circle. I think this was just another example in a long line of situations that showed us that when you remove all external prejudices or perceptions, there is always an underlying understanding between people of all races.
Our weighing was progressing nicely. Shell had let some of the other students help in the passing out of food and treats and was now milling around the area. I was helping with the conversions and chart plotting again. At one point I had a break and joined Shell in a conversation with a couple of township residents that were around our age. While one of them was a bit inebriated, the other was having a very good conversation with a few people about life in the township. He talked of the lack of work for the people and that the people were willing and wanted nothing more than to find a job, but there were very few available. During harvest season, the local wineries would stop by and offer employment working in the vineyards, but that work was very seasonal. He said most of the jobs that they found were construction-oriented jobs and while some of them had regular full-time work, most of those jobs were unsteady. When I asked about education, he said most parents try to send their kids to school but usually cannot afford it. The school system is free, but since they lived so far outside of town, it cost about 250 Rand (approximately 9.5 Rand = $1 US) a month for transportation to school. A good weeks wages were usually between 200 and 250 Rand. He talked about the lack of plumbing and sanitation causing many health problems. The interesting thing that occurred to me while we were talking was the tone of his voice and how he presented things. It was not a "woe is me" or a "you owe it to us" attitude. It was more of statement of fact. He was simply saying that in order for them to make it they need basic infrastructure. You could tell in his attitude that the people were more than willing and would actually prefer to put forward the effort required to improve their lives, but they needed a level playing field. There was a tremendous sense of pride within him that seemed to be a common thread woven throughout the various communities.
I returned to finish up with the kids and we soon had everyone charted. While the results from this township were nothing great, they were at least better than the previous one. While a majority of the kids were still around the fiftieth percentile there were only a few kids around the twenty-fifth. Clement had said the reason for this was the added seasonal work they received from the wineries made a big difference. We were packing everything back on the bus when I experienced one of the most difficult moments of the voyage. I was loading an extra box of food back on the bus when an elderly woman came up to me, grabbed me by my saying "Master, Master, please food, please, please Master!" The tone of her voice and the look on her worn face instantly pierced me like a dagger as I stood for a moment, emotionally and mentally paralyzed. Clement had told us that any left over food must be saved for the children and that we could not give food out individually. Being called "Master" had suddenly transported me back in time 150 years ago to a time and place that is one of the scars on modern history; and for most of us who are white, a shameful time. Staring at her in disbelief, I almost barked back "Do not call me that!" I told her that I was sorry but the food was for the children. Part of me wanted to rip the box open and give her some, but I kept thinking back to Clements instructions. She repeated with a "Please Master, just a little food", these words only pushing that dagger in further and sending me into a full mode of despair and confusion. While we had been around the African continent, the issues of slavery and apartheid had been discussed in depth. Up to that point, one of the things I was wrestling with was how we as humans could have let what happened happen? The people in Africa had been so warm, friendly and unassuming that I could not comprehend how people could treat them the way they had. While I was not responsible for the condition these people were in, here I was, in the middle of Africa staring at an elderly broken woman, dealing with the consequences of the past 300 years of in-humane treatment. I repeated my apology, knowing it was as hollow to this woman as the previous 1,000 times she had heard it. While the words "Master" had cut me and sent me reeling, part of me knew that in a way, was it not true? A white man with food at his disposal and more money in his pocket than she will see in the next year? This thought only sent me further into a state of complete disillusionment. I continued my hollow mumblings of apology at this point on the verge of tears. The woman then looked at me with an indescribable look of emptiness and reached up and grabbed the back of my head and brought it down so our foreheads were touching. She said something to me in Afrikaans and then left, leaving me in a state of mental and emotional shock that I have never felt before. I turned to walk around to the front of the bus to remove myself from sight only to turn into an elderly man. His face and body were even more broken than the woman. His face, filled with lines and scars, was a roadmap of the path his life had taken him to this point. He slowly reached his hand out asking for any food I could give. Still shaken from my encounter with the woman, my now canned response came out even quicker. He repeated his plea for any food in a low, quite plea that reflected the despair in his face. This time with a simple "I'm sorry" I turned and left. By this time the bus was almost loaded and ready to go. I quickly darted onto the bus, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Sorrow, anger, frustration, guilt, despair and confusion were amongst the basket of emotions that filled my head. As I sat on the bus, Shelley noticed the despair that filled my face. Asking what was wrong, I mumbled out a brief description of what happened. I had not even begun to process the events to give a descriptive recount. As the bus pulled away I stared out the window and saw the elderly woman. She was waving to the bus and seemed to have a smile on her face, but the smile could not erase what I had seen a few moments earlier. While we had witnessed worse poverty and hunger in India, we didn't have any experiences that bridged the river between the concept and issues of hunger and poverty and the realness that it inflicts upon the human spirit. As the bus rolled down the road, I struggled to understand how and why this could take place even though I knew exactly how and why.
We drove around for a while in the bus to our next stop. We were to stop by another township and visit a craft market in which people in the township made all of the crafts. As we pulled up to the store, several young boys came up to the bus. A few of them asked for money, but most of them just had simply a look of curiosity and intrigue. We went into the craft market and began browsing around. The feeling within the store helped begin to lift my spirits a bit. You could see the pride the women had in their crafts and their ability to make money on their own. A local percussion band began playing a series of traditional songs on a series of wooden xylophones and drums, which helped lift the energy of the place even more. Shell and I walked around and bought a few things from the women in the market. While this market was a simple building with basic crafts it brought back the feeling that I had that these people wanted to get out of their situation and that with just a little structure, could achieve much. After about half an hour we rounded up again and were on our way to the next stop. We were headed to meet with a local "traditional healer" who claimed to be able to cure AIDS. The AIDS epidemic is the other battle that faces the townships of South Africa, as 25% of people have AIDS in some areas. We drove to another township and were successful in tracking down the local healer. The man got on the bus and spoke to us about his powers. He was very difficult to understand and we could not really hear him in the back of the bus, so we didn't really hear much of what he was trying to say. He was only on the bus for about 10 minutes and then we had to get going to our next stop.
We headed over to a school in the township that was the home of a young traditional dance squad. A group of women had organized the group to meet after school to provide the children a place to learn the traditional dances of South Africa and to escape the domestic violence that was all too common within the townships. The kids ranged from 5 to 13 and were nationally known. We pulled up to an old cement building that could not have been more that 600 square feet. The children (which were mostly girls) were all dressed in their traditional clothing and as soon as we showed up, a crowd of people came running to the school. We were given priority seating on the floor of the schoolhouse, which was barely enough room for the 40 of us. Several local kids and adults lined the outside of the building trying to catch a glimpse of the white people and the performance. At one point, a man in his early twenties showed up visibly drunk and was quickly shown back to the street by one of the quite large African women. The show began as we proceeded to squeeze into the school. Shell found a small patch of space on the floor while several of us taller people stood around the sides of the room. As the show began, the local kids continued to pile in trying to catch a glimpse. Shell motioned for one of the young girls to sit on her lap. The little girl didn't hesitate. I was standing against the wall but was slowly getting pushed back by the continually growing mass of children. At one point, I looked down and saw a young boy being completely mashed between several larger kids. He kept trying to poke his head around to see while the rest of him was being pushed in the other direction. I reached down and grabbed him with my one free arm (my other arm was holding a pipe in the ceiling for balance) to give him a view. The first few minutes were fine as I held him up under his arms with my one free arm but I soon realized that holding a forty-pound kid with one arm was not going to work. I looked for a place to put him down where he could see but by this point there was not a patch of floor to be seen. I thought about putting him on my shoulders but his head would have hit the ceiling. I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to figure out a way to hold him for the rest of the show. I continued to switch him from one arm to another, using the resting arm for balance. Occasionally I would use both arms to make a little shelf and let him sit across but my back would soon begin to show its discomfort with this situation. I continued to perform my shifting routine throughout the performance. The show was wonderful to watch but part of me was praying for the end because by this time my arms were shaking from being tired and I began to lose feeling in my back. Eventually the performance came to an end and although Shell wanted a picture of me with the little boy, I had to put him down immediately which almost ended up being on top of another kid! Clement had decided to donate all of our box lunches to this school and he handed one of the teachers the large bag with the food. All of the kids that had come were shaking our hands and posing for pictures. The fascination with pictures continued in South Africa as kids would become ecstatic when seeing their picture on the small digital camera display. Unfortunately, we had to hurry out of the school and back on the bus. As we walked out the dancers came out and made a line leading to the bus. They sang for us as we said goodbye and got onto the bus. I had lost track of the boy whom I had held during the exit. I had hoped to say hello to him as I never actually saw his face clearly. As I was about to get on the bus I saw him walking towards the bus looking around. I got his attention as I was getting on the bus and waved to him. He stopped and gave me a huge wave back with a smile that matched the huge motion of his arm. I smiled back at him and waved again. I was delighted to have caught him as his smile and brightness helped subdue some of the despair that had been with me since the encounter with the elderly woman.
Our last stop of the day was to be the Marcus Garvey Township. This township community is unique in that it is100% Rastafarian. It's actually a small part of a larger township but their little area is their own place to live and worship according to the Rastafarian religion (in a nutshell, the Rastafari believe that the second coming of Christ has already occurred and that he came in the form of the King of Ethiopia during the early 20th century). When we pulled up to the front gates of the compound, you could immediately see the colorful clothes and hats worn by Rastafarians that has become synonymous with the religion and Jamaica (where the religion was founded). Their compound was a little different that the standard townships as they had a few large buildings that were used as their areas of worship and gatherings. The houses were more scattered than the other townships and they had several gardens throughout the area (including the hemp gardens). They took us into their main dining hall and one of the leaders began an introduction/sermon on the Rastafarian religion. It was interesting to hear him speak and see their lifestyle. They are a very community oriented society and live a very relaxed life. As we went to leave the dining hall, a woman approached Shelley and started talking to her. Shelley later told me that she quickly bonded with this woman due to her pleasant demeanor and young spirit. Within ten minutes of walking around outside, Shell had four young Rastafarian women hanging around her. They could not believe she was thirty as they figured she was in her early twenties (they were mid twenties, but looked older than that). They just stood around Shelley laughing and talking - it looked as if Shell was hanging out with a few old friends! Shell asked me to take a picture of them with the digital camera and also with the Polaroid camera. The women were so extremely excited when Shelley handed them the Polaroid picture! The woman Shelley originally befriended ran off and grabbed a piece of cardboard for Shell to write our address down. As we walked towards the bus to leave, the women kept hugging Shelley and saying goodbye. Even from the inside the bus, we could see the women waving to Shelley and even blowing kisses. Shell was amazed at how quickly she had bonded with these Rastafarian women, and was elated with the experience! After our visit with the Rastafarians, we headed back to the ship. It was late afternoon and everyone was both physically and emotionally drained.
We arrived back to the ship in the early evening to find a note from our friend Sarah who had organized dinner and drinks for any of the staff that were interested. Dinner wasn't until 7:30 pm, so we had some time to relax, which was welcomed after our exhausting day. The group ended up being a bit smaller than we expected, as it was just five of us. We decided to go out for some good old pizza to satisfy our cravings. The pizza joint was only a few hundred yards from the ship, which was also a bonus. We had an enjoyable time at dinner eating some good pizza and drinking some good, cheap South African beer! We talked about the voyage some and everything that had transpired up to that point. After dinner everyone was pretty tired and Shell and I had an early morning so we all headed back to the ship. After a while of fiddling a round the ship we crashed for the evening.
Sunday, November 10th
Sunday was due to be a jam-packed day. Our goal was to hike Table Mountain, catch the ferry to Robben Island (the place where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 17 years), and then head out to the wine lands with our friends Bill and Sunny. We got up around 8:00 am and got ready for our hike. We had heard that the hike was pretty strenuous but we figured we had plenty of practice from the 14'ers in Colorado. On our way out, we stopped by the ferry ticket counter to get tickets for the 1:00 pm ferry, which would give us just enough time to hike the mountain and hang out for a brief period, take the cable-car back down the mountain, catch the ferry and be back to the ship by 4:30 pm to head to the wine lands. We got up to the base of the mountain around 9:45 and were at the trailhead by 10:15 (we had to walk a ways to the trailhead). Table Mountain is the world famous mountain that acts as the backdrop for Cape Town. When we got to the trailhead, we realized that our request for the most direct route up the mountain had been granted. The trail was tight and twisting as it wound its way up through the gorge in the mountain. We began our trek, and immediately began to gain elevation. Being our first major hike of the voyage, our legs were a little wobbly at first, but we soon got back into the flow. With the steep elevation gain, the views soon became spectacular. The mountain was lined with colorful wildflowers blooming in yellow, purple and red. The vegetation was mostly short bushes and plants as the mountain itself is basically one gigantic rock. The trail was well maintained as steps were often neatly placed in the more difficult areas. Shortly after we hit the trail, we began to encounter other hikers, mostly European or South African. As we knew we had a tight schedule we kept a pretty good pace for the first hour. By this time, the sun was really starting to warm up even though the wind was blasting across the mountain. Within an hour and a half we found ourselves at the last pitch. The last quarter mile of the hike was up through the steepest and narrowest part of the gorge. The trial became even more condensed as it quickly shot up the mountain. We had stopped for our only extended break just before the top and talked with a South African family. The son lived in Cape Town and was a few years younger than Shell and I and the parents were in their late fifties. The father had been a search and rescue guide on the mountain when he was in college in Cape Town and he shared a few stories about his adventures. They were a very pleasant family whom we would continue to bump into during our hike up the mountain and our descent.
The last hundred yards of the hike was through a narrow notch in the mountain with a natural staircase formed in the cliff. It was almost as if the notch had been perfectly cut out of the mountain as a secret passage to allow those that knew of it access to the top of the mountain. After snapping a few pictures from the passageway, we finished our climb and were on top of the mountain. When we first summated the mountain, you could see across the small peninsula that Cape Town sits on to the other side and the southward expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. By this time, the wind was blowing continuously and the temperature dropped significantly. We crossed the plateau towards the southern edge of the mountain, which overlooks the entire cape. Our original plan of making the Robben Island ferry was blown away (pretty good pun!) by the fact that the cable car that shuttled people to and from the base was not running due to the high winds. We were supposed to meet the ferry at 12:45 and it was 11:50 when we reached the summit. Knowing it would take at least an hour to get back down and that we were a 10-minute cab ride from the docks made any effort futile. Our plan would have worked perfectly if it wasn't for that damned wind!! Oh well, this way we could spend more time up top.
After putting on our layers and jackets we made our way to the edge. The view from the top of the mountain was spectacular. On the west, you could see the entire city, the bay and Robben Island. Directly south lay the Atlantic Ocean and about 3,500 miles to Antarctica and to the east was several small towns along the coast and the huge False Bay. Far off to the SE you could see the southern tip of Africa, which we had sailed around. It was incredible to stand there and look out over the ocean and know that the next land you would reach would be the bottom side of the world! I don't know if Shell and I will ever make it to Antarctica or the Arctic Circle in the north but it's pretty cool to think we have been as close to them as we have (between Cape Town and Alaska). We took several pictures while trying to stay warm. The temperature difference and wind were now taking full effect and we were getting downright cold! We munched on our Cliff bars and rested for a while, taking in the scenery. After about 30 minutes up top we decided to make our way back down, mostly because by this point I could not feel my fingers! Note to anyone planning on hiking Table Mountain - take gloves!!! We crossed back over the plateau and descended through the secret passage. Soon after beginning our descent, we realized that the way down would be much more difficult than the way up. Some of the rock steps were almost taller that Shelley's legs (doesn't take much, as Shell would say!). Soon after we began our descent we saw the family we had encountered on the way up. We often paused to chat with them, which slowed our pace. We also saw and talked with many SAS students who were on their way up. All of this made for a very slow descent as it took about one hour and forty-five minutes to climb it and almost two and a half hours to descend! Once we got down to the bottom we were starving and tired!! We grabbed a cab and headed back to the pier. We were actually running a bit behind schedule for our 4:30 pm rendezvous with Bill and Sunny. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and a few margaritas at a Mexican restaurant and then ran to the ship to meet up with them. When we got to the ship Bill and Sunny had left a note saying they went to find out some information (because we had no actual plan for our wine country outing!) and to meet them at the clock tower. We threw together our stuff, got ready and headed out to the clock tower. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be seen when we got there (and we hadn't passed them in route to the clock tower) and so we debated on whether to stay there or to walk back to the ship to see if they went back. We decided to split up and so I ran back to the ship while Shell stayed at the clock tower to watch for them. When I returned to Shell about 20 minutes later, there was still no sign of Bill and Sunny. By this time we were wondering what to do so Shell decided to see if they meant IN the clock tower so she ran up to the top (there is a viewing area from the top of the tower). As soon as she ran up, Bill and Sunny showed up. They had been at the tourist center inside the nearby shopping area checking out our options. We finally got everyone together and headed over to the tourist center to finalize the plans Bill and Sunny had come up with. While Stellenbosch is the most well known of the South African wine lands, it is also the most crowded. We had decided we wanted something a little more relaxed and since we had no transportation of our own, we were limited in our options. The woman at the tourist center had recommended a little place called Hermanus, which was along the southern coast, but the only place she had for lodging was a "pretty basic" place to stay. When we indicated that's what we wanted, she booked us. They had a shuttle that would pick us up at 8:00 pm and take us to our "lodge" and then we had a wine tour scheduled for the next day. Since it was only 6:00pm, we had some time to kill. We ran a few errands in the little shopping mall but still had an hour and a half to kill. Bill had noticed a traditional Xhosa restaurant in the mall, and even though Shell and I had just eaten two hours ago, we figured we could go hang out there and begin the process of sampling the wines of South Africa (not that we hadn't already). The restaurant turned out to be a great place. It was started by a Swiss couple that had moved to South Africa after meeting a local chef (who at one point was Nelson Mandela's chef) and decided to open a traditional restaurant on the pier. As the couple had done quite well in various businesses, they felt they needed to give back to the community so they started the restaurant based on the traditional tribal cuisine. They hired all of their employees from various local townships. The couple held open interviews for all the positions from dishwasher to hostess with the only requirement being a willingness to work and a friendly personality. Once they found their staff, they spent three weeks training them in the various aspects of working in a restaurant. In addition, all of the table linens, restaurant decorations and accessories were handmade by people in the townships. It was really neat to hear their story! Our waitress had never waited tables but you would have never known it. The couple also hoped to start a program where they would train people from the townships in their restaurant so that when they applied to other restaurants, they would have experience in the restaurant industry and be able to compete. Shell and I shoved down as much food from the buffet as we could. It was nice that we finally had a chance to taste local cuisine. The food was actually very good and we had a great time. Before too long, it was 8:00 pm and time for us to catch our shuttle.
Our shuttle driver was a large Afrikaans man who was missing a few teeth so at first was a bit scary but was actually quite a friendly man. Our ride was about an hour to Hermanus, which took us through some very beautiful rolling hills. Almost every one of us was sleeping within 10 minutes of leaving Cape Town though!
We arrived in Hermanus a little after 9:00 pm and were taken to our accommodations. Our lodging turned out to be a backpacker hostel that was a common resting point for the many youth who spent their days trekking around South Africa. While we at first were surprised, we soon began to realize we actually lucked out. The place was very unique and for the first time in a while, we were completely away from all of our shipmates! Our rooms were very nice with double futon beds and private bathrooms. The only drawback was that not knowing it was a hostel, we didn't bring our own towels and they didn't provide any. Oh well, things could be worse. We wandered around the place for a while checking out the various rooms. They had two little black-labs running around which immediately got a good amount of attention from us. We grabbed a beer from the small bar out back and relaxed for a while. The end of "Die Hard" was playing on the TV so we watched the end of the movie and sat outside for while, again, playing with the puppies. We confirmed our reservation for the wine tour for 10 am the following morning and then after fully exploring the hostel a little more, we decided to crash for the evening to be fully rested for our day of wine tasting. Shell snuck off for a while to call her parents and sister, which she said felt a little funny talking to them from a pay phone in the kitchen while a few people watched a movie in the living room around the corner.
Monday, November 11th
Breakfast was included with our room so we got up around 8:00 am to see what had been laid out. When we first got there, the food was pretty much gone but shortly after that, someone came into the kitchen with a fresh bag of groceries. Shelley grabbed some quick toast and then went back to bed for a while. I also decided to try the strange cereal they had. The long rectangular bars of shredded wheat (about the size of granola bars) were a bit different but with a dash of sugar, were quite good. After breakfast I hung out in the little TV area and watched some CNN. As many of the people staying at the hostel were British, we wound up watching the European CNN feed. It's weird watching the news from a foreign country. While the stories were the same, the approach in reporting them was very different. After breakfast, I took a quick stroll down to the coastline - no sign of Sunny or Bill yet. The coast in Hermanus is spectacular as the town sits above the tall rock cliffs. You could see the ocean pounding against the rocks and cliffs of the bay. I headed back to the hostel to wake up Shell and get ready to go. After getting ready, we met up with Sunny and Bill (who had been walking around), checked out and walked into town. The town was pretty small, and even though we got momentarily lost, we found our guide service fairly easily. As we checked in, we found out that our tour group would be the four of us, along with three people from Germany (Jan - pronounced like yawn, Frank and Jutta - pronounced Uta) and our guide, Mark. The people from Germany turned out to be quite pleasant as they were all around our age and were very laid back. Our guide was from Hermanus and was a great guy. He was the owner of the tourism business and was well known at all of the wineries. We all got into a small van and headed out to the vineyards. As soon as we headed out towards the vineyards, the scenery became fabulous. With the wine lands so close to the ocean you had a wonderful contrast. At one point on our way to the first vineyard, we stopped on the side of the road to watch the whales breaching out in the bay. It was ironic that we almost saw more whale activity overlooking the bay than we had on the ship in over two months! After a few minutes of whale watching, we continued on to the vineyards.
The first vineyard, Hamilton Russell Vineyards, we visited was set in a small valley with the main house set atop the vineyard overlooking the winery. The tasting house was set down in a grove of trees by a small pond that was next to the actually production facility. It was really a beautiful setting! Several ducks roamed the area and you could see down through the valley overlooking the rows and rows of trees. The wines we would taste at this winery were a Chardonnay (which was ranked in the top 10 in the world) and a Pinot Noir. Our guide retrieved our samples and proceeded to show us how to properly taste a wine. He showed us how to look for color, smell the wine, check the consistency and finally perform the tasting. We all practiced at taking the first sip and swirling it in our mouths and then sucking in air to get the full flavor. It was quite funny to see seven people with a mouthful of wine trying to suck in air through their tongue! The wines we tasted were exceptional, so of course, we decided to buy a few bottles. After the tasting, we wandered around a little more and then headed out to our second winery.
The second winery, Newton Johnson, was set atop a hill and had a view of the entire valley, even having an ocean view in the distance. The tasting house had a beautiful deck that overlooked their vineyard. The sight was spectacular as the pre-planned rows of trees gave way to the natural meadows and treed-hills and then finally gave way to the sea. We took a few pictures of our group out on the deck and tasted their wines. We actually tasted several wines as they had their "lower level" (i.e. cheap) wines and then their quality wines. While none of the wines were as good as the first winery, they still had a few good wines; so again, we bought a few bottles to send home. After about half an hour, we hopped in the van and took of for our third stop.
The third winery, Sumaridge Wines, was probably the most spectacular. The main house sat in the middle of a lush green field with a lake offset to its side. A heavily treed hill rose behind it and the grape trees went on forever. They had a traditional European flair with its distinctive points and rock. We were to eat lunch at the winery after our tasting so we ordered our lunches as soon as we arrived. Before our tasting we got a tour of the wine cellar and production area. They took us into the cooled cellar where the wines are stored to age. They explained the process storing the wines and how the type of barrel the wine is stored in is one of the most important factors of the wine making process. After our tour, we headed back upstairs for the tasting. The wines were very good and we decided to buy a bottle for our lunch that was being served to us outside next to the lake. We all headed outside and took a seat on a picnic bench overlooking the lake and the valley. Our lunch was an assortment of cold cuts, cheeses, and breads along with a small portion of pasta salad. Along with our fresh bottle of wine, we definitely felt like royalty for while. Again, we purchased a few bottles to send home and then ventured to the last winery.
The last winery, Beaumont Wines, was the most secluded of the four we had visited. It was set up on a hill and was surrounded by trees. It was an older winery and not as modern as the previous three which gave it a rustic charm. We explored their cellar and saw some of their bottles that were over 25 years old. The head wine maker was not much older that us, which was pretty cool (his parents own the winery). We tasted several wines including some dessert wine that was very good. Our guide said that we would be shipping all of our wine back through this vineyard so we gathered all of our previous bottles and combined them with the ones we purchased from this winery. While we were walking around the winery, we came across the small pack of dogs that the owners had. There were three pug-mastiff mixes, two of them puppies that were running around, and a huge wolf-husky mix. We all began playing with the dogs as the puppies came to us for attention. Every time we would try to go over to the smaller dogs, the husky mix would come over and start whining, thus making sure you also petted him! At this point, I know Shell and I both started really missing our own pets back home!
After getting everything straightened out for our wine shipment, we piled back into the van and headed out. We met up with our shuttle for our ride back to Cape Town on the way back to Hermanus. We said our goodbyes to our German friends and our excellent guide and switched vans to head back to the ship. Even through our time in Hermanus was short; I think we all agreed that it was a place that we would be eager to come back to. The people were all incredibly laid back and the variety of activities was great! Our wine tasting had been thoroughly enjoyable and with a little luck, we would have some reminders of our day waiting for us when we returned.
The trip back to Cape Town was uneventful, thanks to our driver. Unknown to us, at one point we narrowly missed being involved in an accident as he swerved to avoid a car heading in the opposite direction, which caused an accident shortly after missing us! We got back into Cape Town around 5:00 pm and decided to do some shopping around the harbor. After successfully spending the last of our Rand we decided to stop by one last time at our new favorite restaurant, Quay Four. As we entered the outdoor patio section, we stumbled upon our friends Tony and Michelle having dinner so we joined them for dinner and a bottle or two of wine. It was a very pleasant evening on the patio as the sun was just setting over the bay. We had to be back on the ship by 8:00 pm, so we left dinner and sadly headed back to the ship silently saying goodbye to one of our favorite ports.
Final thoughts on South Africa
South Africa definitely lived up to all of the hype we had heard about it. The people were friendly and relaxed, the scenery was beautiful and the number of things to do was endless. While the port was probably the most westernized port (besides Japan) that we had visited, we still learned a lot. Our trips to the townships showed us that while there is plenty that is good about South Africa; there are a lot of things very wrong as well. Our visits to the townships were an awakening to the affects of apartheid and how difficult it will be to correct them. The biggest positive was in talking with people from South Africa, it seemed that almost everyone in the country wanted apartheid to end and is anxious to get back on track. Both Shelley and I agreed that South Africa would be a great place to start for someone who is weary about traveling to Africa. With english as a prevalent language and the level of modernization, it would be quite easy for someone to begin in Cape Town.