Week 13: Cape Town, Garden Route & Joburg


Because I write these blogs haphazardly I sometimes forget to mention things. One of the most exciting parts of Mauritius was using a washing machine for the first time since January. It was really, really, really exciting. My clothes have been mostly washed by hand, by me, in a sink the last few months, so it was nice to have a machine do the work for me.

The other excitement of Mauritius was driving on the opposite side of the road. The night I arrived, it was raining and dark and the passenger side mirror didn’t work. It was an hour long drive of breathing meditations and reassurances. Fortunately, once the sun came out the next day it was better and after five days, driving on the other side doesn’t feel too strange.

I’ve also entered the part of my travel which doesn’t require my brain to think in another language anymore. I learned French in high school and it’s the last language I think in when I’m trying to find words. (I go through Spanish and Arabic first.) After a month in Francophone countries, I can bumble through okay. The point of language is to communicate, so it doesn’t matter how perfect my grammar is if I can get my point across. Nonetheless, I could feel my brain stretching to fire neurons that haven’t been used in a long time, reactivating neural networks that have atrophied from underuse. It was a constant stress and I am enjoying the ease that has come from switching back to the well-used English neural superhighways.

I am also, officially, off malaria meds. They don’t bother me that much, but I appreciate not damaging my liver in the long run.


I love Cape Town. I first went there when I was 21, just recently evacuated from Peace Corps Zimbabwe. I loved it then. I love it now. When I’m done with San Francisco, that is where I am moving. I owe the school district a couple of years, but I might end up there when I’m done with my time. 🙂

Cape Town is a nature lover’s city. There are mountains to climbs, beaches to swim, and food to enjoy. It’s a Mediterranean climate (similar to San Francisco), although it gets a big hotter. People are extraordinarily friendly and laidback. I just love it.

I had one really important piece of unfinished business from the last time I was here. I never actually climbed Table Mountain, the beautiful landmark that dominates the landscape. I tried to hike three hills in one day and by the time I got to the mountain it was windy and starting to rain and I was exhausted, so I turned around. I went up in the cable car the next day, but for all these years, I still wanted to hike up it. So I did. While hiking, one of the other folks on the trail managed to spot some Himalayan tahrs, basically mountain goats that Rhodes brought here years ago. The park service has been trying to get rid of them for years since they are not native, but apparently they are way too spry and they just jump out of their reach every time they try.

cape town

top: view from Platteklip Gorge Trail, agama lizard, view from top
bottom: rock dassie, view from cable car up to the top, Himalayan tahr

The haze was covering the town that day, so I didn’t have the best views, but looking out at all the green and blue just brings serenity to the soul.


View over the city: the big peak to the left is Lion’s Head and the small one is Signal Hill. These are the other two hills I climbed before I turned back the last time I was on Table Mountain.

I also toured two museums that spoke directly to the apartheid regime that was only overthrown in 1994 (25 years ago, when I was still in middle school). This was also the same year that the genocide was occurring in Rwanda. District Six is the name of an area that was full of lots of different groups of people. However, in 1966, the white government determined that it was to be a whites-only area and over 60,000 people were forcibly moved out, splintering a community forever. One way the museum has chosen to remember this neighborhood is through inviting former community members to return and write down their thoughts, and then permanently capturing their remembrances by sewing over their words and drawings.

cape town2

beloved recipes from the community, Europeans only bench, former community members’ thoughts

Touring the museum, it’s impossible to not see the similarities to the white supremacy in the United States in the 1960’s. That legacy continues to impact communities today, just as it does in South Africa. Besides the obvious segregation in the South, a huge part of my neighborhood where I live in San Francisco was forced to move out in the 1960’s as well. After many Japanese-Americans in the neighborhood were forced into internment camps during World War II, the Fillmore became a predominantly Black community. City officials used eminent domain to bulldoze a huge swath of buildings to build what is now Geary Boulevard and the Japantown Mall. The black community was divided and forced into different areas of the city, or out of the city completely. This kind of community breakage continues. Just a few years ago, the low-income housing in Potrero Hill was supposed to be demolished and renovated, but people who had lived in that community their whole lives were being assigned to live in housing as far away as San Jose and were not given return rights when the project was completed. The testimony in District Six is a reminder to be vigilant and protect communities, while continuing to work to provide additional support and work to reduce violence within neighborhoods.

Side note: the movie District 9 was thematically based on what happened in District Six (only with aliens).

Bo Kapp was a similar area, only this one was full of Cape Malays, which eventually became a term that basically means Muslim immigrants from many places. The area has become very popular with tourists because of its very colorful painted houses. Residents speak of feeling like they were being watched like they were in a zoo – providing local color for tourist photos and how dehumanizing it felt. This is actually something I wrestle with as a traveler and it’s one of the reason there are very few photos of humans in my accounts of my travels. Unless I know someone personally, I don’t feel comfortable sharing their image with a wider audience (even the tiny audience of this blog). Everyone has a different comfort level, but this is where mine rests.

Some other highlights included the Zeitz Contemporary Museum of African Art:

Photos 2

The Nightmare by Zimbabwean artist Charles Bhebe, Ghanaian El Anatsui’s largest installation ever, local artist’s reimagining of a Grow Box

And the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens:

cape town1

top: Mandela’s Gold strelitzia, protea, sage fynbos
bottom: pelargonium, king protea, iris


This was another leftover goal from my 2001 visit. In order to do this properly, one to two weeks would probably be enough time. I drove the whole route in three days, squeezing a few must-do things into the little time I had.

I had sworn that I was done with safaris after spending so much money in Uganda. However, while web surfing things to do I came across a special meerkat safari on offer at a fancy game lodge in Oudtshoorn. I signed up as soon as I could.


top: meerkat colony, meerkat pups, meerkat scout
bottom: meerkat, playing meerkats, golden mongoose

It took forever for them to come out. They have one scout that stays outside and reports back to the group whether it is safe and sunny enough for them to come out. It would stay out for a bit and then disappear inside and then come back out again. Finally it stayed out and another meerkat joined it, and then another. Soon, the whole colony was out playing on top of their burrows. In addition to all the meerkats, there is also a golden mongoose that lives in one of the holes. It gains some protection and good from living with the meerkats, and in exchange it kills snakes that threaten to eat the meerkats.

Oudtshoorn is also known for its ostrich farms. Back in the day, people would actually ride ostriches, but most of the big farms has stopped this practice. The farm I went to took us on a tractor ride around the farm – they have Zimbabwean, South African, and Kenyan ostriches.


ostriches are big, close-up ostrich, ostrich eggs are strong

Ostriches are really, really tall, taller than me by a good foot or more. They also lay incredibly durable eggs, as can be seen in the photo. One ostrich egg is like 24 chicken eggs, weighs about a pound and can hold someone who weighs over 200 lbs. Totally incredible.


Ostriches. I just love this photo. 🙂

I also stopped to see the Cango Caves. Like many cave attractions, there has been a lot of concrete poured on the floor to make it more accessible to the public, but there are also still many beautiful stalagmites and stalactites.


stalactites and columns


panorama of one of the rooms

I was planning on doing some nice hiking the last day, but the weather had a different plan. It just rained and rained and rained all day long. I did manage to visit Birds of Eden, the largest free-flying bird aviary in the world.

plett bay

Knysna turaco (my favorite), crowned crane, rainbow lorikeet
golden pheasant, mandarin duck, Von Der Decken’s hornbill


I’d always wanted to visit here even after people have talked about the high rates of crime. To be honest, the city still feels really gritty, especially the downtown area where I stayed. There’s a hustle-bustle feeling during the day, but the streets empty out at night. The suburbs of Jozi are quite different. I visited a mall in Rosebank and it felt like a busy, busy mall in the United States.

The one major attraction I visited was Constitution Hill. This is the current residence of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Perhaps more notoriously, it was formerly a prison that at one time held Mahatma Gandhi and then later Nelson Mandela. Gandhi was protesting against the passes that the apartheid government made everyone carry that prohibited people’s movements between different areas. Asians (both Chinese and Indians), blacks, and coloreds (in a South African context this means someone with black and white parents) all had different restrictions placed on them. Mandela was jailed there in 1962 after the CIA tipped off apartheid officials to his whereabouts. He was charged with inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country without permission.


two of the world’s most quotable men: Mahatma & Madiba