Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Turning over a new leaf in South Africa

I have had an adventurous four days in Cape Town and am sad only have 48 hours left.  On our way to Cape Town from Takoradi we crossed the center of the world (0,0): The intersection of the Equator & Prime Meridian.  An old maritime tradition, Neptune Day, ensued.  Faculty poured fish guts (green slime) on students who then plunged into the pull and climbed out the other side to kiss and real fish (no joke) to signify that they had crossed the equator.  Next came hair loss.  Around 100 students shaved their heads, much of which was donated, to continue celebrating the tradition. Of the 100 students, the majority were girls.  I did not participate in the tradition but watched as many of my friends partook in the tradition.

I arrived in Cape Town at 5am on the morning of Sunday October 3rd.  I awoke at 5am to watch us pull in and see the sun rise over the cape.  Our port location is the best yet, we are docked at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront which is home to a 350 shop mall, countless restaurants, a gorgeous 5-star hotel.  We are a short walk to downtown Cape Town, through the harbourfront and past the Wheel of Excellence (The Ferris Wheel).  The town is quite developed and there are many recent additions including a massive block man made out of coca cola cases (probably 60 feet high), because of the World Cup that took place only a few months ago. Since crossing the equator I am now experiencing the beginning of Spring in South Africa and the weather is crisp in the morning and warmer in the afternoon.  Before disembarking we had to listen to a diplomat for an hour as he gave us stories of robbery, homicide, and rapes that have recently occurred.  South Africa as a whole as the highest crime rate, HIV/AID, and unemployment in the world.  However, the waterfront and surrounding wine lands are spectacular and I have not encountered a single incident *knock on wood.*

Seven of my friends & I departed the ship Sunday morning and found Felix, our tour guide for the day, who drove us to two wineries and an amazing Brai (BBQ).  Neethlingshof Estate was our first stop where we sat at a white wooded table outside, overlooking the vineyard and tasted six wines.  My favorite was the Malbec which is a red wine with plum and chocolate.  Afterward, we went to  Asara where we sampled chocolate at their Confectionery along with wine.  The sun shined the entire day and the temperature was perfect for sitting outside tasting South African wines.  The Brai had several stations and the entire restaurant and seating was sprawled outside beside a park.  Later that evening we got dolled up and painted the town red for Ali's 21st Birthday!  We bar hopped down Long Street where we danced with the locals and managed to not be at the same nightclubs as the rest of the SASers (Semester At Sea Students).

After a second night of only 4 hours of sleep I awoke bright & early to partake in a historical tour of Cape Town (This tour was supposed to go to Robbin Island for the day but the ferry broke so they took us on the worst field trip ever.  We went to the Castle of Good Hope which acted as a fortress and to warn residents of incoming ships to which they would sell their local produce since the ships were often stopping at Cape Town on their way to Europe or Asia and needed to restock.  We then walked to the District 6 Museum which acknowledges the areas segregated past since 60,000 blacks were forced to leave the neighborhood during Apartheid.  Then we saw the Parliament Building and enjoyed the most randomly assorted boxed lunch, in the park.  The two hours following lunch was the worst.  We received a two hour tour of the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Cape Town which is a single room with pictures and plaques but no artifacts.  The elderly Jewish lady in charge led our tour and even though she knew we only had an hour, continued to give us fabricated stories of the people's lives in the pictures (the pictures we random still shots, not ones depicting specific individuals).  But she insisted and continued.  Since she took so long we were unable to see the Nelson Mandela exhibit at the Slave Lodge in Cape Town which is far more important to Cape Town's history.  The Cape Town Holocaust Museum was also an incredible disappointment compared to the elaborate display at the Holocaust Museum in DC.

The third day I commenced in yet another day of wine tasting.  This SAS trip was by far my best, they are really hit or miss.   We drove in a large van with 20 bikes attached to wine country.  There we walked around a quaint town filled with local art shops and restaurants.  Afterward we hoped onto 24-speed mountain bikes and cycled for 13 miles through countless vineyards as the mountains laid as the backdrop of our journey.  You may think you hate physical activity but you could be wrong.  I thoroughly enjoyed bicycling all through wine country until I reached the final destination of Solms Delta, a gorgeous vineyard where we partook in a wine tasting & food pairing with 6 wines, shrimp, salmon, beef, mussels and more.  We then drove to the town of Stellenbauch (another wine region) which boasts a college, coffee shops, and local artists.  I purchased a piece of art from an artist who was in his shop painting.  The gallery was filled with brightly colored pigs, penguins, and ostrich eggs.  South Africa is known for having a variety of animals but the Cape Town region is known for its penguins and ostriches which you see everywhere.  I was hoping to go Ostrich Riding but the closest place is a 7-hour bus ride so I had to pass.  Later that evening I enjoyed appetizers and drinks with friends at a habourfront restaurant.

Today I surprised myself again by completing a 2 hour hike up Table Mountain.  The Mountain is the backdrop to Cape Town and makes a presence at over 1000 Meters high.  After hiking practically vertically for hours I reached the top with Ali and the view was well worth it.  You can see the intersection of the Atlantic & Indian Oceans.  The top is massive and consists of additional hiking trails which provide panoramic views of South Africa.  Ali & I enjoyed lunch overlooking the Cape at the Mountain Top Cafe.  The initial ascent to the top along with hiking around the top and eating lunch took up most of our day.

View from the ship onto the waterfront and Table Top Mountain in the distance.

Wine Tasting in Stellenbauch.

The passionate Jewish lady who led our holocaust tour.

After hiking Table Top Mountain.

Tomorrow I am going to Green Market Square where I hope to purchase an Ostrich Egg and then am going wine tasting again at a winery that has cheetahs so that shall be interesting.  I also hope to get to Boulder Bay before leaving Cape Town which is where hundreds of penguins reside along a beautiful sand beach.

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