Travel Journal

Cape Town goodbyes

(Thursday 17 March 2011) by Mike and Julie's sort of round the world trip
Day 202-5 2/24-27/11
We exited the train and considered walking to Long Street which is the backpacker’s haven and located about one kilometer from the station but weren’t sure where exactly our choice hostels were located. Shaun from Gemini assured us there would be no problems finding a place so we weren’t worried. With our backpacks we decided a taxi would be best but locating one was a problem which was a surprise considering the train station was a major transportation hub. We asked some people working at the station and they weren’t sure while a homeless man who dogged us kept interrupting and trying to drag us away. We found the stand but the prices were too high and we shook off the guy who was asking for tips.
Finding Long Street, the first place we stopped was tempting with a free night but no airport shuttle or WiFi which I had read was common for this area. We tried several other places but to our surprise they were fully booked. Exiting one we ran into Tulin, the Turkish lady we left in Kenya! Julie was very excited but I was wondering why she didn’t answer the numerous emails Julie had sent. She had come from the first place we went and the room was no longer available. I tried calling a place off Long Street but they were full as well. A hostel told us this was unusual and the town had been full for the past couple of week for no apparent reason. Tulin ended up taking a dorm bed at one hostel while we got a double elsewhere when a nice man called for us. A bit expensive but it was getting late and we had to get a place to sleep.
We tried to book the next morning but the place had a reservation for our room and after checking around settled for Long Street Backpackers. Julie wasn’t thrilled with the place and wanted to stay there for just one night but I didn’t want the hassle of moving to three different places for one city so we reserved for the duration of our stay. The airport transport was only for arrivals and there was no WiFi which I found to be the norm despite what the book stated. I popped into an internet caf� and shot an email off to Chona asking her to ship my ATM card to the hotel I reserved in Rio which should get it there when I’m at the hotel and she later replied it was in the mail.
We teamed up with Tulin the next day to go to Table Mountain and got a cab there. Unfortunately it was too windy for the cable cars to go up the mountain but we did get some good views of the city. The hostel had suggested hiking up Lion’s Head but Tulin didn’t have the proper shoes so we headed to Victoria and Albert Waterfront to get a ferry to Robben Island. Once there, we found out that tickets were only available for the 3 PM ferry which was about five hours away. I balked at first but finally agreed and we spent the time shopping which I’m only good for short doses. I was interested in picking up an IPod to replace my stolen one for the long bus rides in South America but finding an IPod classic was tough and the prices for the other models were steep. Julie continued shopping for things to take home but nothing struck her fancy. The Waterfront was quite large and had many interesting things. The charm perhaps is that it is still a working dock and you can see ships pull in and the dry docks where repairs are down. There also is a small square where the Nobel Prize winners from South Africa are honored and Coca-cola has built a large man out of their crates..
There is a small museum in the dock for the ferry to Robben Island but it is rather small. The ferry offered some striking views of the harbor but I was a bit slow on the camera. The dock at Robben Island has some poignant photographs displayed along the wall. We boarded a bus and took a short tour around the island to learn of its history. We visited the house, or rather cottage sized building, that held the first ANC prisoner and viewed the leper cemetery and previous buildings before the apartheid prison was built. At cell block C we met our tour guide for the prison. The guides are all former inmates and ours was locked up for sabotages for recruiting for the militant wing of the ANC. Because of the size of the group, I really didn’t get a chance to ask any questions which was a shame. He was not the best tour guide as he was obviously going through a worn script and I cringed at his repeated use and pronunciation of “Political Prisoner” which peppered his speech.
We did get to view the cell that Nelson Mandela occupied. I was surprised to see that there was no cot in the room just a bed roll on the floor. With the winters in South Africa being cold, and without glass for the windows or shoes or long pants, it’s a wonder he survived his time there. There is also an Islam tomb on the island for a sheik who died on the island as a prisoner long ago. The island also has a penguin population and we had to hurry to visit it as they tour only gives you a half hour of free time to explore the island which is a shame. Perhaps if we were able to catch an earlier ferry we could take a later one back. We bid farewell to Tulin who was planning to catch a bus out the following day.
We woke the next morning and the receptionist at the hostel called the cable car company for us and found they were operating that day. We caught a taxi there and endured a long line as people who could not go up the previous day were here today along with the new comers. When we got in, I grabbed a spot at the back next to a window so I could get a view down on the city. My self-congratulations on my superior intellect where short lived as upon ascending the car began to rotate. Oh well, I still got some good shots of the city. At the top we saw the local critters, I forget the name, which look like cross between a beaver and fat gopher. We hiked quite a ways on the top but the plateau is huge and we turned back after an hour or so without a glimpse of the end but that could be because of the clouds – or as the locals call it tablecloth – the obscured the view.
Returning back to town we stopped off at the Castle of Good Hope which is really a pentagonal fort and toured inside. There are some rather unremarkable art works in one museum inside but rather nice furnishing. After watching a cannon demonstration, we took a free tour of the complex and got an idea of what life was like in the fort. I especially liked the prison cells where interred soldiers for bad behavior carved witty slogans on the doors.
We also saw the Grand Parade which is an open market or more like a flea market but nothing caught our fancy. We also walked through Greenmarket Square which sells touristy things but again nothing appealed to us. I had my eye out for bookends but didn’t see anything good. We happened to run into Tulin who couldn’t find a bus out that day but booked for the following day. We chatted awhile before saying goodbye. Who knows where she’s turn up next though!
I had an interesting encounter on the way to the grocery store for some water. Long Street is, as you can tell by the name, a rather long street and if you walk the length of it you will meet at least six people asking for money which I normally brush off. They can be persistent and the young man I met on the way to market walked a couple of blocks with me to the grocery store repeating his litany of “I’m good. I no rob people. Please give me money” despite my repeated no’s. He waited for me and walked back and showed me on a public street in day light a knife – more like a skive you would see in prison. I looked him directly in the eye and said in a level voice, “Are you threatening me?” He emphatically denied this and so I said, “Then I think we are done here” and walked off. He did not follow me.
I really wanted to take a Peninsula tour but Julie was rather cool on that idea but finally agreed and we signed up for a trip the next day. That night the room we were in was just miserable. While it can be rather windy in the city, our window did not face the breeze and the heat was just oppressive. There was no A/C in our room and the hostel could not provide a fan. I don’t think Julie got any sleep and I just managed a few hours.
Groggily we got ready for the tour with a couple other persons from the hostel. We got in a van with about sixteen other persons. The tour guide was fantastic speaking perfect English and giving us the background on all the places we visited along with anecdotes. We stopped at Hout Bay and most of the group took a boat to Dulker Island to see the seals. Having seen our share of seals in California, Julie and I instead walked around the dock until it was ready to go.
There are really nice beaches along the coast and I can see the appeal for the beach goers. Property value obviously is quite high here and with the apartheid era ended, only rich people can live here regardless of race. We stopped on Chapman’s Peak which had great views of Hout Bay and we enjoyed a “light snack” which was a cookie.
Next up was Simons Town which has the Boulders Beach Penguin Colony and we were able to spend a bit more time enjoying the penguins than at Robben Island and also got a chance to see the penguins swimming in the surf. Penguins mate for life and they maintain their relationship by grooming each other daily which is sort of like cuddling which was cute.
Cape Point Nature Reserve was further down the road and the van pulled over and the bicycle helmets were passed around. We were given cycles and set off down the road. Not the best condition and with windy weather and going uphill in high gear was quite a work out. We happened to see ostriches on the way and got off a few photos before we joined the group for a rather bland lunch. We continued on to Cape Point and walked uphill to the lighthouse and great views of the coast. We finished at Cape of Good Hope with the obligatory photo of the sign before returning home sleeping on the way.
We partook in the free Sunday stew at the hostel where items that have been left by travelers throughout the week are thrown into a pot and any spices in the cabinet are added. If that doesn’t sound appealing, you are correct. But it was hot and filling.
The next day we got a taxi to the airport. Julie was travelling out first and my flight was four hours later but we made sure we got there in plenty of time for Julie’s flight which ended up being a good thing because they would not let Julie board because she didn’t have a return ticket. While immigration at Philippines never asks for proof of outgoing flight, Cathay Pacific would not take the chance of having to return her on their dime if she was refused entry. One of the bizarre rules at the airport is that the airlines cannot sell you a ticket on a flight that doesn’t originate from that airport. We tried calling reservations but they would not sell you a ticket unless you faxed a copy of your credit card. Using the lap top, we purchased a ticket from the Philippines to Hong Kong. I guess fully refundable tickets are a thing of the past, but we paid extra to get a class where there was only a fifty dollar cancellation fee. Armed with the reservation code we got Julie’s ticket although I think they didn’t even bother to verify it.
We said goodbye and I watched Julie leave. I don’t know when or where I’ll see her again. Sigh. Anyways I was a bit concerned that I would have the same problem going to Brazil as Julie did even though we had used one way airline tickets in the past. After seeing my visa, the counter girl asked about my return flight and I casually mentioned that I was going to Argentina overland in two weeks and that satisfied her and I got my ticket.
Because I had a tight connection where ever I was going, I had dumped some stuff and given other things for Julie to bring back and my bag was now light enough and small enough for carryon. Hoping that I would make the connection, I boarded the plane and thankfully there were no delays on taking off.

Notes: Final budget for Africa which includes four airflights came out to 121.48 dollars a day. If you take out the flights, it comes down to 88.65 a day with the Tanzanian safari the budget breaker.


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