by Bob Sparrow (from Africa)
“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”
Whoever uttered the above quote never flew from Los Angeles to London, London to Johannesburg and Johannesburg to Cape Town on a journey that included 26 hours of flying and 17 hours of lay-overs. I think I experienced a bending of the space-time continuum – I may have even spent some time in the Twilight Zone; I’m not sure where I was; I wasn’t even sure who I was. All I know is I left Los Angeles at 5:00 Friday afternoon and arrived in Cape Town, South Africa at 3:30 Sunday afternoon. Somebody owes me a Saturday!
I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a suite at a Five-Star hotel . . . OK, maybe never. I can tell you it’s nothing like camping in the desert. But when we checked into 5-Star The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa those long hours getting there just seemed to . . . nah, my back still hurt. “The 12A” as it’s affectionately called, sits on the coast, by itself, between Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope, and it is magnificent! Our oceanfront suite allowed us to sit on our deck and watch the sun sink into the Atlantic – and all this time we Californians thought the sun always sank into the Pacific. The facility, the location and particularly the staff, were marvelous. With “The 12A” as our base, and with the help of our expert guide, Craig Ziman, we squeezed in as many ‘points of interest’ that we could in three days.
Table Mountain – it’s a must to take the gondola to the top and spend some time checking out the spectacular views of the cape below from various points. You can even repel down part of the way if you choose – I didn’t choose. Cape Point – better known as the Cape of Good Hope, where the currents of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet was a bit disappointing in that you really couldn’t tell where the Atlantic Ocean left off and the Indian Ocean began – I suggested they should dye them different colors – I don’t think they were listening.
Ever stay up nights wondering exactly who fought in the Boar Wars? We visited the Castle of Good Hope, which is filled with military memorabilia where you can find the answer to that question. We visited a penguin beach, yep, penguins in South Africa, as well as the Waterfront (shopping and restaurants), Camps Bay (more shopping and more restaurants), the diamond district (guys, don’t let your wives go shopping there!), where we learned that most diamonds naturally come in . . . you guessed it, a diamond shape. We also took a trip out to the wine area of South Africa, conveniently called The Winelands.
Juxtaposed to the quaint, up-scale villages and elegant homes in The Winelands are the shanties, euphemistically called Townships, which line the freeway for miles leading back into Cape Town. The shanties are a 10 x 10 foot room made from aluminum siding and plywood with no running water and public port-o-potties for bathrooms. We were told that over one million people are living in such conditions. Apartheid has ended and there are many wonderful sights here, but this is a clear sign that the complete development of South Africa is still a work-in-progress.
The Best Reason to Go
It’s about an hour’s boat ride from the Cape Town Waterfront District to Robben’s Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration. The prisoner’s living quarters varied from one room jammed with 30-40 prisoners, to a single 8 x 8 cell, to something smaller, that were previously used as dog kennels. Food was bad and sparse; prisoners were forced to work 8-10 hours a day in lime mines on the island and were often physically and mentally tortured for various reasons or for no reason at all. Solitary confinement was worse.
Our tour of the island’s prison was conducted by a former prisoner who talked about conditions in the prison. He said, “They tried every way possible to beat us down, they torture us and treated us like animals, but in the evening we were able to gather together for about an hour or so and we would use that time to educate ourselves – there was a saying, ‘Each One, Teach One’ – that way those who could read taught others to read, those who knew math taught other to do math and so on. The main thing we continued to reinforce with each other was that whatever they did to us, we were not going to let them break our spirit. At night, if time and guards allowed, we would sing, we would dance, we would do little plays for ourselves – anything to keep our spirit alive – that was the most important thing, to keep our spirit alive.”
We came away from Robben’s Island amazed and inspired, but what we didn’t know was that we were about to experience that ‘spirit’ on our boat trip back to Cape Town. We started our return trip sitting on benches on the outside deck of the boat, but as the sun went down it quickly cooled and we moved inside. Soon after we came inside, a middle-aged black man stood up and started singing in a native language, other blacks, men and women, quickly joined in and although they didn’t all know each other, they all knew the song and each would either join in singing the melody, harmonies or a background beat – they sounded as if they’d been rehearsing this routine together for years. It didn’t take long before all the black men and women were up singing and dancing in the aisles. We few whites on board just stood, listened and watched in amazement. The music was so infectious, I tried to join in, and with the help of the black gentleman standing next to me, I learned a couple of words and joined in the singing. If my skin color didn’t give me away, my voice and my dance moves did; I soon realized what I should be doing is recording this – so I did.
As we prepare to move to the next phase of our journey, the safaris, we are amazed at all the wonderful things we saw in and around Cape Town, but what I will remember most are the people – their great smiles and wonderful dispositions. I’m not sure how they do it, but I’m thinking it has something to do with that great ‘African Spirit’ that will not be broken. Perhaps it is about the journey.
Next: African Diary – Part 3 Game Drives