Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cape Town and other Beautiful Things

I'd been told by a few South Africans that Cape Town was the most beautiful city in the world. It was a superlative I'd heard before from people in various countries talking about various cities. My co-interns and I were skeptical. Between the three of us, we'd traveled to six of the seven continents and seen quite a number of beautiful cities. And yet, as I'd found a number of times during my trip to South Africa, the place rarely underwhelms.

Cape Town couldn't be more different from Johannesburg. Where Jozy is urban, gated, and fast-paced, Cape Town is beachy, open, and slow.* It has beautiful geography, including the famous Table Mountain.  Unfortunately, while we were there, the cable car that goes to the top of the mountain was under repair, so we had to hike up it.  We were warned that it was quite a tough 4-hour climb, but our 20-something selves said "psh." Climbing to the top of Table Mountain was sort of like doing 2000 lunges up boulders of seemingly increasing size. Fortunately, the hike was worth it.

You can see one of the World Cup stadiums to the left.

Interestingly, climbing down Table Mountain was also like doing 2000 lunges, except instead of putting all my weight on my quads, I put it on my knees. I'd recommend taking the cable car.

Cape Town also has fascinating history. District Six, a township in Cape Town, was the inspiration for the movie District 9. In addition, Nelson Mandela was famously imprisoned on Robben Island, about 30 minutes off the coast of Cape Town, for 18 years before being transferred to a mainland prison for another 10 years.

All of the tour guides are former political prisoners.
Recreational area for prisoners

The view wasn't so bad from outside the prison. Table Mountain in the distance.

Nelson Mandela's cell.

They also have a wharf that is arguably much better than Fisherman's Wharf.** No, there aren't any smelly sea lions, but they do have nifty sculptures.

Made entirely out of Coca-Cola crates.

While many cities can claim to be near the ocean, Cape Town can claim two: the Indian and Atlantic meet a few miles south of the city at Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. To get down the cape, there's a highway that winds its way along the coast, much like the Pacific Coast Highway in the US.

I felt like the area practically photographed itself.

Just like me!

Wild ostriches

The area is also known for its fauna. About halfway between Cape Town and Cape Point is Simon's Town. The city used to be an important naval site and is now known for its penguin and great white shark populations. Since I was forbidden from swimming the sharks (lame!) I hung out with the penguins instead.

Also, if you're a sandwich fan, I have to say that I had pretty much the best sandwich I've ever had in Cape Town.*** Called the Gatsby, it was apparently created by the residents of the nearby township, the Cape Flats, who used to put any food they could find between two slices of bread. Today, the Gatsby is usually meat, salad, and french fries on a large subway roll and with a delicious sauce on top. I ordered a "half Gatsby" and the woman behind the counter asked me how many pieces I wanted it cut into. I didn't really understand what she meant until I saw the thing. A half Gatsby is probably the largest sandwich I've ever ordered, half or whole. I got about two-thirds into it before collapsing into a stuffed heap.

In case you couldn't tell, Cape Town is awesome. The most beautiful city in the world? Maybe.


At the end of our safari in Kruger, our safari guide took us to the Blyde River Canyon, one of the largest canyons in the world. Yet another feature of the wonderful Drakensberg, the Blyde River Canyon also contains the Three Rondavels, Lucky's Potholes, and a view from the top of the canyon known as God's Window.

We went on a walk and stumbled across some kudu.

Someone let me captain the boat cruise??!


Waterfall that sorta looks like a crying monkey.

We stayed in the canyon.

Crossing an old bridge.

We drove by the Three Rondavels.

Lucky's potholes

The inside of a pothole.

We also paid a visit to God's Window.

The view from God's window.

*Someone told us that things don't get started until around 2PM there. Sounds like my kind of place.
**There were actually a lot of similarities between Cape Town and San Francisco - laid-back, beautiful scenery, infamous island prison.
***That's right, better than a kebab.****
****OK, I take it back, maybe not better than a kebab. But it's definitely up there.