Blunders, Beauties and District Six
For two experienced travellers, our trip began unpromisingly with several blunders. Blame the excitement and stress of going away. On the way to the airport in the shuttle bus, Martin exchanged the two sim cards in our cell phones and somehow the mobiles never found their way back into his pocket. It wasn’t until our son emailed us several days later to ask if Martin had lost his phone, having been contacted by the shuttle company, that we were even aware of our loss. It took several more days to realise that my phone was missing – I can be excused as one who infrequently makes use of it. The shuttle company had another fossick under their seats and discovered the second phone. So we were able to stop worrying about some stranger running up big bills at our expense, but, of course, we were without mobiles for the whole trip.
The second blunder caused greater panic. Africa Expedition Support had emailed a dossier of trip details, including the address of our accommodation in Cape Town. I slotted the wad of pages in my clear file and brought it with us. But I left off the vital back sheet – somewhere at home. Jet lagged in the airport, I rummaged through my day pack, then my hand bag, searching in vain for the forgotten address. We knew the hotel was on the waterfront and we knew it had once been a prison, but the name would not come to mind. We remembered that Gareth Morgan and his motor biking companions had first stayed there, before shifting out, with complaints that the rooms were not large enough. We had nearly changed our bookings after reading that.
Such information was of little use as we stood in the airport overwhelmed with our predicament, myself disintegrating into pieces, and Martin looking around for a solution. He made enquiries of several people. A taxi driver, much to our relief, pulled the name out of his memory bank of hotels with the two clues we gave – Breakwater Lodge in Portswood Road in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, he said. Yes, yes, we nodded, remembering the name as soon as we heard it. What a relief to arrive there and to find the hotel was all we could wish for.
Cape Town is a beautiful city and our location on the waterfront was ideal. Here’s a little resume of our activities there before the 4 wheel drive safari commenced. Skip it, if you want to get onto the serious 4 wheel drive story. We opted for ease of travel, taking a red double decker bus tour from the nearby depot, around the sights of the inner city. This included St Georges Mall and the cathedral, the Castle of Good Hope, a star shaped fort built between 1666 and 1679, and the Koopmans-De Wet House, dating from 1701. We were impressed with the history pertaining to Cape Town, but Table Mountain was something uniquely special.
The bus dropped us at the base of the cable way and we scaled the massive wall of grey rock in one of the blue cable cars to the top of the tableland. The day was superb, blue cloudless sky and warm autumn sun upon the rocky terrain and undersized vegetation. We were so fortunate, for so often the ‘table cloth’ of cloud wrapped itself over the mountain, veiling the prominent landmark and the magnificent view. The city stretched out below us to the spectacular coast with Devil’s Peak to the west of us and Lion’s Head to the east. Away from the cable way, there were few tourists and it was such a pleasure to spend several hours following the tracks and enjoying the views and the native vegetation. We lingered, reluctant to leave the exhilarating heights and descend below.
Back on the red bus, our trip followed the coastline through busy Camps Bay and along the impressive Twelve Apostles range, an extension of Table Mountain. We arrived back minutes before 5.00pm, with just enough time to make a snap decision on the discount purchase of the second red bus tour on the morrow. That took us first out to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden with its fabulous setting under the bush covered mountains. Seen at their best in spring, we were disappointed at the few ericas, proteas and strelitzia (bird of paradise plants) in flower, but it was to be expected in March. Nevertheless it was a pleasure to stroll along the manicured paths and beside the expanses of well-maintained lawns against the backdrop of the mountains. And there were a few flowers out in bloom.
The Groot Constania Winery was next. Dating back to 1685, the architecture of the buildings was in Cape Dutch style, with its manor house and old cellars now a museum. Because it was a public holiday in honour of Human Rights Day, entry to the museum was free, so we enjoyed a very pleasant hour or two, lunching at the Jonkershuis Restaurant under the shade of the old oak trees and viewing the items in the museum. We then adjourned to the wine tasting room where, in the warmth of the early afternoon, it was more than sufficient to sip five of their fine wines. By the time we had also visited the World of Birds and walked along Mariners Wharf at Hout Bay, we were exhausted, though highly satisfied with our choice of back-to-back red bus tours.
That left one more day before we joined the Africa Expedition Support trip and met our fellow travellers. We chose to visit the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and District Six Museum. The sunshine had disappeared behind a dull and cloudy sky but the waterfront was still worth while with its Dutch architecture and bright yellow clock tower. We read the information plaques and admired the life size statues of the four South African Nobel Peace Prize winners, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, F W de Klerk and Albert Luthuli. The area was so pleasant that we returned there several more times before we departed from the city, enjoying the wide range of restaurants and the evening sunshine dousing the harbour and the mountain backdrop in golden light.
The District Six Museum was most thought provoking. I found myself going back to the anti-apartheid protest movement in New Zealand in the 70s and 80s and asking myself what I was doing then. I certainly wasn’t marching on behalf of those receiving the raw end of injustice. The museum was set in up in an old Methodist church on the edge of District Six to record the forced movement of 60,000 inhabitants of various races from the area in the 1960s and 70s under apartheid. How wrong it all was. Even setting aside the iniquitous racial issue, on which grounds it was justified, it was so in defiance of all that civil and property law stood for. The taking by force of people’s land and homes because another group in society decided they should have it.
I sat in the old church kitchen with its 1950s decor with our tea and biscuits thinking about Halt All Racist Tours and the 1981 rugby tour and the prime minster of the day. Yes, if I could go back, I would jump out of my middle class conformity and add my voice to declare it was wrong. At least, I hope that is what I would do. The yellow metal sign in English and Africans summed it up, declaring that “these public premises and the amenities thereof have been reserved for the exclusive use of white persons”. The most poignant display was a single room representing the simply furnished family home of residents of District Six from 1963 before they were required to move - the human face of a family caught up in injustice. At the South Africa Museum we read more about the Land Laws of 1913, and discovered that the roots of apartheid went back much further than the days of Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha.
Like many other nations, South Africa got things badly wrong, but I couldn't help admire the public acknowledgement on Table Mountain with its biblical quotation. The plaque (abbreviated) read: ‘Great are the works of the Lord. Psalm 111. 2. Who is like God - who created the heavens and gave the earth its form, almighty and omnipotent God'. I looked forward to seeing and experiencing the wonderful landscapes of Africa.