Since we had missed most of the first day in Cape Town April 4 was our day to explore the town. But first we had to explore the ship. You may recall that the HAL bigwigs boarded at Reunion Island to sail as far as Cape Town. It seems that while we were away they threw a big party throughout the ship, complete with plentiful singing, dancing & drinking. The ship’s public areas were decorated with groups of long glass tubes lighted with different colors that were intended, we were told, to emulate South African kraals, enclosures for domestic animals surrounded by thorn tree trunks and branches (the word “corral” apparently has the same root). Whether they looked like kraals we don’t know, but they were very colorful. We were told that the ship’s personnel had been busy constructing these for most of the cruise, with several humorous difficulties along the way. They were later dismantled and given to local folks somewhere in West Africa. Because we had missed the party Hal left in our room a bottle of South African wine decorated with shorter versions of the colored pipes (the wine bottle is shown in two parts because they wouldn’t stitch together correctly into a single picture).
People have lived in what is now South Africa for well over 10,000 years. The first Europeans to colonize it were the Dutch in 1652. Their purpose was to establish a re-provisioning station for their ships headed to the Dutch East Indies. It was taken over by the British in 1806. In 1834 Britain abolished slavery throughout its empire, including in South Africa. Resisting this, the Boers (mostly descendants of the early Dutch settlers) then moved north into the frontier and established two new states: Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
At the end of the 19th century the Boer War was fought between the British and the Boers. The British were badly outfought at first but eventually overpowered the Boers. However many Boer fighters continued in a guerilla campaign. The British then established concentration camps in which they placed the families of the Boer guerillas, many of whose homesteads they also burned down. Conditions were dire in the concentration camps and the death rate, including mostly women & children, was quite high.
After World War II the country instituted the apartheid system, which brutally repressed nonwhite residents. This lasted until 1994, when Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were released and the first democratic elections, in which adults of every ethnicity could vote, were held. Nelson Mandela was elected the first president of democratic South Africa.
A day and a half is not nearly enough time to explore Cape Town. We decided to take the Hop On Hop Off bus and go to the top of Table Mountain, a huge flat mountain in the center of town that can be seen for many miles out to sea. To catch the bus we had to walk to Victoria and Alfred waterfront (not a typo, Prince Alfred was one of Victoria’s sons), Cape Town’s original harbor but much too small for modern ships. This took about 20 minutes, walking past the old red clocktower (built in 1882) and over a swinging bridge. There are a lot of interesting stores at the waterfront, in particular one that had almost life size sculptures of African animals made of various media. Mary was taken with a large elephant made entirely of strings of tiny beads.
We sat on the open top level of the bus as it drove through the city from the waterfront. We passed the dry dock, where a Chinese ship was being refurbished. Then we drove through the downtown area, passing many interesting old buildings that we can’t identify. Much of the city near the harbor was built on reclaimed land.
Leaving the downtown area, the bus drove up the foothills toward the lower cable car terminal for Table Mountain. Even at this level we began to see impressive vistas over the city to the water.
Many people live on the lower levels of Table Mountain in order to obtain a view similar to this. But to preserve the mountain’s beauty a line was established beyond which it is illegal to build. One developer found a way to violate the purpose of this law without contravening its wording, building a complex of three residential towers in the 1960’s that sit below the line but rise 17 stories to a height well above it. There is always someone! Predictably, the Disa Park towers are unpopular with the locals (other than the folks who live in them), who call the buildings the “toilet rolls” or the “tampons.”
From the lower cable car terminal the one on top of the mountain looks very tiny and the cable car is suspended very high in the air. The floor of the cable car rotates so everyone has a chance to see the view in all directions. In particular, you get a very good view of the complex rock formations on the side of the mountain as you rise past them. We were the first in line at the door to the cable car but people pushed & shoved past in all directions. Unnecessary since the floor rotates, but we did get a place by the window. We were very lucky that it was such a clear day as the cable car stops running when it is cloudy (frequent).
Upon reaching the top the first thing to do is walk along the edge of the mountain overlooking the city & gape at the stunning views.
Despite its rocky appearance, Table Mountain is rich in flora & fauna. The mountain hosts close to 1500 varieties of plants . . . more than in the entire United Kingdom.
As for fauna, we saw lizards & birds & Dassies (an animal that looks like a rodent but actually is the closest related species to the elephant). Sadly, the only Dassie we were able to photograph (they are quick & pretty much wanted no part of us) refused to look in our direction.
The top of the mountain has many hiking trails & a lot of people were using them while we were there.
We walked around the mountain top as well, greatly enjoying the views. From the back you could see out along the cape & from one side you could see the beach communities.
We went back to the cable car terminal, which now had about a half hour line to go down the mountain. Eventually we made it down and re-boarded the HOHO bus which then continued its route through the beach communities we had seen from above.
The side of the mountain facing the beach is called the “twelve apostles” because of the row of massive buttresses. You don’t have to count . . . there aren’t 12 buttresses, although there were twelve apostles.
As the bus took us back to the city we passed the Green Point Lighthouse which has been operating in this spot since 1824. We also passed the football (soccer) stadium. We stayed on the bus back into town for some shopping. We looked through the Pan African Market, which had a plethora of vendors selling every kind of African art. Unfortunately, we were the only shoppers there, no prices were marked (it’s all about haggling) and the vendors were pretty aggressive marketers. We left there and walked to the open-air Greenmarket Square. This was also filled with vendors selling all kinds of African items from kiosks, but there were quite a few shoppers here and the atmosphere was more relaxed. So we did make some purchases here.
We walked all the way back to Victoria and Alfred Wharf. At the wharf is Nobel Square, an open space with statues of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners (l-r): Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela. All were involved in the elimination of apartheid and the construction of a democratic political system.
We understand that this square is often used as an open performance space. On this afternoon we saw a delightful singing and dancing performance by a group of young people wearing colorful clothes and some with painted faces. They were quite energetic and very entertaining.
We stopped for a very late lunch at an outdoor café right by the water in front of the Victoria and Alfred mall. It was, thankfully, a beautiful day and we had a wonderful view of the harbor and of Table Mountain from our table. At one point a seagull flew in and sat on a post by our table, just as if he were one of the party. After a while he became disgusted with our failure to drop any crumbs and flew away.
We walked back to the ship, passing a sculpture of a sort of robot version of the Incredible Hulk and an artists’ foundry topped by a family of bronze warthogs. It seems there is always something interesting to see in this city.
We went to the upper deck of the ship to catch the view of the mountains in the setting sun. We were not disappointed. Table Mountain is big enough to have its own weather system. It is often covered with a low cloud creeping over the edge, which is known as the table cloth. We were lucky it wasn’t there when we were on the mountain (some other HAL passengers weren’t so lucky). A cloud was there this evening, but it was mostly over Devil’s Peak, and barely covering the top edge of Table Mountain. This was pretty dramatic in the setting sun.
After dinner there was a local group singing and dancing in the Queen’s Lounge. Their show was a review of South African song and dance through its history. One of their songs would be familiar to most Americans. It dates back to the 1930’s and is called “Mbube,” the Zulu word for lion. It was first recorded in the United States by the Weavers, with Pete Seeger, as “Wimoweh” and then in 1961 it was a number one hit for a teen group called The Tokens (with an English chorus added) under the name “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” It was also later included in the soundtrack of “The Lion King.” We heard this a number of times in South Africa, even on the HOHO bus soundtrack. As an aside, when Rick was in high school at Fairview High in Dayton, Ohio, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was played over the loudspeaker every morning for a week before the football game against the rival Meadowdale Lions.
Anyway, getting back on track, the show was extremely energetic and upbeat with a group of musicians who all could play most of the instruments, which included a number of marimbas.
You may be wondering why our two days in Cape Town are combined in one post. The third day, April 5, was a little short since sail away was at 5:00, and we decided to spend most of it at Victoria & Alfred waterfront exploring all the shops. Therefore, little to tell and very few additional pictures.
We walked to the waterfront over the swinging bridge, just like yesterday. In the parking lot outside the cruise terminal we encountered an interesting small bird with a grand name: Greater Crested Tern.
At the waterfront we saw a building we had noticed from the bus the day before that had a tower with a long pole on top with a red ball around it. Built in 1894 this was used to signal the exact time to ships in the old harbor. Sort of like the ball dropping in New York on New Year’s Eve, this ball would slide down the pole at exactly noon every day. While we visited a lot of shops with really interesting artifacts in all price ranges, from cheap tacky souvenirs to expensive works of art, we did most of our shopping in a large mall of shops called The Watershed. It was actually a lot of fun.
We returned to the ship for the sail away. True to form, Cape Town bade us farewell with a memorable image as we headed out to sea.