Love Letters to Friends, As Well As Very Important Musings on Earth Shattering Matters:
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Out of Town, Part I: Part I

....In which a visitor forces me to get off my dead ass.

For those of you clamoring for an update – uh, okay, both of you – be advised that my friend Melanie is in town, and that we have been traveling and will be again shortly, so my access to the blahg is going to be poor. But I’ll recount her stay so far, at the halfway point; tonight, the first half of the first half, and tomorrow, the second half of the first half (hopefully). Got it? Excellent. We begin with a bout of rain…..

Sadly, the weather did not cooperate for Mel’s entire week-long stay in Cape Town – this was only like the second time it was rainy the whole time I’ve been here, and it was rainy for 5 days or so. Also sadly for her, I am a craptastic host, and she fared significantly better on the double-decker bus tours about town than she did in my feeble, distracted company (final paper: submitted Wednesday, on the deadline. Frickin’ finally.) As it turns out, the only places I’ve visited in Cape Town are places where you can eat snacks and drink beer; I know this shocks many of you, but scout’s honor, I do not lie. I showed her my favorite ones of those, but that does leave some hours in the day to fill. Ideally, this would have been beach time. In reality, it meant I got some good rainy-day practice in on Mel’s Skype account, she became witness to my actual bath addiction, and we bonded over a mutual love of PBS documentaries. Mel began a concentrated effort to eat her way through an entire safari’s-worth of members of the antelope family, was introduced to the wonders of the Eastern Food Bazaar (falafel!) and the Grapetiser sparkling drink, and made it up to Table Mountain (which I have yet to do) for a brief period of sunshine before the clouds rolled back in.
We did make it to karaoke night, where Mel’s incredible dancing moved the DJ to invite us onto the VIP list at his set at Chrome on Saturday night.

And we visited a township, where displaced black people were forcibly settled when the government created white-only areas during the Apartheid era, and where indigent Xhosa people from the Eastern Cape desparately set up tin-roof shacks upon coming west in search of work.


source: Melanie

At Imizamo Yethu, we were led by our energetic host and community organizer Ken along rutted dirt streets in this makeshift town of approximately 16,000 people, complete with community computing center, grocery stores, gift shops, shabeens (off-license bars), and a church, where we were serenaded by a zealous quartet while being herded into a sales room displaying the wares of local artists.
church steps

Two Irishmen on our tour group were only along to see how some families they were sponsoring were faring; these men had been part of an annual house-building effort spearheaded by the Irish millionaire Niall Mellon, who is energetically trying to replace every shack with a trim brick building that would not be out of place in suburban Galway. As these proud fellows told it, in 2003, 150 volunteers (Irish and otherwise) descended on Imizamo Yethu, putting up 25 houses in 9 days. They’ve built over 12,000 houses in 7 years in various townships throughout the province. As a result of their efforts, some families now live in a sturdy, safe, and bright space – Ken took us through a shack and a cottage, both neat as a pin – and enjoy helpful amenities such as a floor, and indoor plumbing. Apparently, recipients for the allotted houses are chosen from within the community. At least in Imizamo Yethu, this outpouring of philanthropic sweat-equity did lead to the somewhat disorienting custom of cottages being named in Gaelic or after Irish places; bemused, and clutching souvenir art bought in church, we passed a Clodagh House and an Inisfree on our way back to the tour bus. Timidly asking Ken whether it wasn’t a little weird for tourists to come roaming through the town like it was another safari, Ken gestured meaningfully at a little cottage with a huge Irish tri-color painted on the side, saying, “These houses were built because of someone who came on a tour bus.” Point taken, Ken, and thank you.


After the township tour, we mulled over the vestigial schizophrenic Cape Town social engineering in the suddenly sweltering sun, while eating pizza overlooking the ocean at Camps' Bay, and watching beautiful mid-life crises go by in their rented yellow Jaguars.  This idyll was disrupted only by a bachlor party, the remarkably drunk focus of which spent much of his time strutting along the street in an electric blue thong, platform heels and a bustier at the behest of his mates, smacking his ass and pimping for loose change to fund his party's revels, or soliciting photographs with alarmed looking sylphs in their beach-ready finery.  To recover from this, we thought it best to comtemplate the ocean, and whatever else could be seen from lying on one's back on the boardwalk for a bit.
what did you think I was going to say?

 The day before we left Cape Town, we ambled up to the historical Malay slave quarters of Bo Kaap, where colorful houses ensnare reverent photographers from around the world. We hear that the slaves were not allowed to wear bright colored clothing, so turned to paint to make their fashion - and political - statements. Mel got a bit of bright weather that made the house colors really pop in this very serene Muslim neighborhood on the eastern slope of Signal Hill. The clouds came in time for me to spend most of my afternoon in a café, trying to finish my last paper.

via Mel

But enough with rainy Cape Town; Mel and I decide it’s time to get out of town.

To get out of town required a car, and in the wake of some alarming accidents suffered by other habitual right-side-of-the-road-drivers of our acquaintance, we opted for comprehensive coverage. Mel bravely volunteered for first driving duty, getting us out of the city and up over the Pass, only having to stop one time to let me barf because of my inevitable motion sickness …and, possibly, the dairy-n-sugarbomb chocolate milkshake I’d had for lunch. (This, incidentally, is not commentary on Mel’s driving; as anyone will tell you, I barf every time I do anything interesting, if not under my own power. Skydiving? Vomit. Scuba diving? Vomit. Two-seater Cub plane? Vomit. Ferry in the Outer Hebrides? Vomit. Bus ride in Guangou Province? Vomit. Jeep four-wheel-drive off-roading in New Mexico? Vomit. Twisty post-milkshake mountain road drive? Vomit. I’ve even gotten queasy from high winds swaying the Citibank Building, when working on the 28th floor. I’m like a very finely tuned seismometer, only I give readings on the Sicktor Scale.)

The best remedy for motion-sickness? Penguins! A whole colony of them at Boulder Bay, where they are protected so well that they pretty much ignored us completely, even though we were tromping around on a wooden jetty right over their heads. Mel has about 16,000 digital photos of these guys, preening, grooming each other, sunning themselves, waddling all about; all in a gale force wind that nearly knocked the cameras right out of the tourists' hands..

did i mention the wind?

We next made our way to Simons Town, a quaint little harbor complete with a pleasant old toothless panhandler and her husband the Captain, whom, judging from the affectionate greetings by passers by, are something of a celebrity pair here. We stayed at a cute little backpacker right on the main road, and ate what would have been a romantic meal overlooking the harbor at The Meeting Place, had we been romantically inclined. Also, if Mel’s beloved antelope carpaccio had been available – alas, it was sold out.

Simons Town panoramita

Incidentally, it seems almost pointless to try to post pictures of the Garden Route and the Klein Karoo, because my camera (and camera skills) cannot do justice to the parts that were worth capturing; nevertheless, post them I shall, or E will yell at me to post some pictures already. (Though it is worth noting here that I have seen no pictures of the O.C. as yet, the move to which location is easily as photo-evidence requiring as anything I’m doing, if not more so. SO THERE.)

Leaving Simon’s Town, we encountered some baboons on the road, who were supremely unconcerned about the traffic edging around them as they frolicked on the warm pavement. (Pictures again courtesy of Melanie and her amazing telephotographic picture-taking instrument, which in no way resembles my lil digital FunSaver.)

Carrying on, our first scheduled stop was the “south-western-most” point of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, around which intrepid sailor and general man-about-world Vasco de Gama cornered his famous vessel The Whatever. Here, a quick scramble up some rocks enabled equally intrepid modern souls a lovely vantage from which to view busloads of sunburnt Euro-tourists emerge long enough to snap pictures of this sign, and then reload themselves to view Historic Points Otherwhere.

Oh, and also a kickass view of the south-western-most edge of the Atlantic, and the brief isthsmus that separated it from False Bay, on the eastern edge of the tip ‘o the Cape.

From here we headed up back up the coast, popping in quickly to say hi to some more penguins from the southern entrance to the Boulder Bay reserve;
just minding my own business, when....

...ah, crap, paparazzi.

...being careful not to crush any under the wheels of our car, in full sight of their helpless comrades....

...or inadvertantly shake hands with one.

Then onward to Muizenberg, a small surfing community built around the first of several lovely white-sand beaches we encountered along the Garden Route. This was our first chance to stick our toes in the False Bay side of the Cape, which we had been assured by friend and guidebook alike would be warmer than the Atlantic Seaboard side. Well, sure, in the same way that an ice cube is warmer than the center of a glacier.
mmm, tropical!

The Lonely Planet reports that these Victorian bathing huts are “much photographed,” and for good reason. Lovely! (And nice shot, Mel.)

Heading along the coast, we wound up in Hermanus, the whale-watchers paradise. In keeping with the somewhat bourgeoisie spirit of the place, I crabbily opted out of a shared dorm room at the sole remaining budget backpacker; instead, we stayed in a guest cottage called The Potting Shed, and ate at a chain Cuban place that offered curiously asian-flavored food. I could not even motivate to go to the happening hotspot in town, the Zebra Lounge, because I am 100 years old and also arthritic and also oh! My lumbago! All was not for naught, however; on one foray down to the harbor-front road, Mel says she saw a whale-tail in the distance, though I was not fast enough to catch it. The morning, alas, was spent finishing that noxious paper for my last class – my LAST PAPER, people – which made up in brevity and incoherence what it lacked in quality. This is the way the MBA ends: not with a bang, but a whimper.

Next time - the rest of the Garden Route, the Klein Karoo, and the Winelands....until then, cheers!


  1. Is it too late for me to send you some "drive on the left" stickers?

  2. I did almost turn into a right lane from a one-way street when we were returning the car, but otherwise we did pretty good on that score. (Nevertheless, you should save me one of those stickers.)