Situated amongst endless mountain ranges, right by the meeting point of the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, lies "The Mother City" of Capetown, one of the most beautifully acclaimed cities in the world.
But even though sights like the Table Mountain, Victoria Harbour and Camps Bay Beach will remain stamped in the memories of most visitors for a long time, it is the city's turbulent and controversial history that serves as the initial point of interest for many travellers. It is where the iconic Robben Island prison can be found - the prison that served as home for decades to South Africa's most well known citizen – the late Nelson Mandela. Incredibly culturally diverse, historically rich and very traveller friendly, Capetown's past is constantly very present on a traveller's journey of discovery. Its many nearby activities all around the Cape Peninsula were also major highlights of my 6 week backpacking trip through Southern Africa.
After a long flight from Amsterdam through Johannesburg, I was quick to jump on a rikki (a tuk tuk style shared taxi) towards the city centre, where I found a hostel to drop off my backpack and quickly made my way into the city's tourism information office, to better plan how to devote my time in a region with so much to offer.
Victoria Harbour on a sunny day hosted precisely the atmosphere I was craving for. People out and about, buskers on the streets, shops and historical buildings everywhere. It was the first time that I felt an unusual, dual sort of feeling while in Capetown – a feeling that would continue for my entire stay. While walking and admiring the endless beautiful surroundings, one can't help but to come across many historical buildings that display the part of their history that makes anyone with a slight sense of humanity shudder: The Apartheid in South Africa.
Through public photography displays found in the many historical monuments around that beautiful city, the duality of beauty and hardship, wealth and poverty, characterizes Capetown, even to this day. The injustice once made, left its remains and consequences, that still affect an incredible number of its residents, and experiencing life in such a city, even for such a short period of time, was very influential in developing some of my current world views and perspectives on a wide range if topics.
A visit to a Township (neighbourhoods of lower income residents, at times more affected by crime and by improper living conditions, such as the famous Soweto Township in Johannesburg) is a great eye opener to visitors that might at first, still find themselves amazed by the wealth displayed in rich areas of the city.
There are countless guided excursions visiting townships, including arts and crafts workshops, local schools as well as a chance to interact with locals. I immediately felt safe and at home, as it reminded me a lot of the Favelas in Rio, where people would also be very warm and welcoming.
Although it was inspiring to observe so many hard working people fighting against the hardship the Apartheid era has left them, it was also heartbreaking to visit a local health clinic and see with my own eyes what the world is accustomed to read newspapers: the incredibly high number of people affected by HIV and Tuberculosis, due to several social factors such as a lack of education and prevention, inherited by decades of a difficult history.
It is an important part of the city though, and although the past is always present, it is also where the future seems to take shape, through the hopes and aspirations if its hard working residents.
Breath taking landscape all around
I had to take my mind off the past, and make an effort to focus on the many amazing things Capetown had to offer. My time during the following day was spent enjoying nature. Between taking the gondola up to Table Mountain for amazing panoramic views, or strolling around Camps Bay beach and while waiting for the sun to set, I started conditioning and preparing myself for what the following day had to offer: A day visit to Robben Island.
Mandela and a visit to Robben Island
"To call a human being an animal is an insult to animals."
That very sentence was the opening line of my tour of Robben Island. Fully guided by an ex prisoner himself, the tour was beyond touching and enriching, although, as predicted, rather emotional.
Our guide was extremely passionate about his job, constantly educating the group on the subject that he described as "The monster Apartheid" and its effects on the prisioners, showing us the severely harsh living conditions in which the inmates, mostly male political prisioners, were kept.
The first part of the tour included an extensive exploration of the island and its grounds, followed by visiting the actual prision. When we moved into the jail's "B section", the solitary confinement area where the late Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 27 years, (as he had been sentenced to life in jail) I could no longer hold tears from falling down my face... It was unbelievable to see what these people have experienced, and observing how some of them have the capacitiy to "forgive and forget" was beyond humbling.
I left Robben Island with a heavy heart, and although I was overwhelmed by the realization of humanity's capacity of harming one another, I took a lot of comfort in observing our capacity of forgiveness. A very unique experience not to be missed.
Endless daytrips in the Cape Peninsula
Rock islands inhabited by fury seals in Hout Bay. Ground Whale watching in Hermanus. African penguins in Simon's Town. Mountain biking at the Cape Point Nature Reserve. Surfing amazing waves or cage diving amongst great White sharks in the waters of the Atlantic! Wine tasting in Stellensbosch.
Observing ocean's meeting at the insanely windy, historical Cape of Good Hope... One could easily spend weeks enjoying the many activities available near Capetown, not to mention its proximity to many private game reserves for those that fancy venturing into a safari. Cape town caters for all sorts of travellers, from the thriftiest to the most sophisticated.
From nature lovers to history buffs. I think the most crucial point to be taken in consideration is that one needs to allow enough time to feel the city and flow along with its vibrant, yet relaxed rhythm... It is a fairly remote location to which many visitors might not have the privilege to return, so it should be enjoyed to the fullest, for however long one manages to devote to one's visit, for leaving won't likely be easy…
Time to go home while yearning for more
I think I managed to see lots of what Capetown has to offer, but while roaming around the city's famous Sunday Market hunting for musical instruments to take home, I was taken aback by a crazy desire of extending my stay.
The thought of picking up a car and going on a self drive tour of the Garden Route, venturing from Capetown all the way into Port Elizabeth was extremely tempting and I just couldn't come to terms with the idea of leaving behind a region with so much more to explore... I tried until the very last minute, but unfortunately, I wasn't able to change my flights, and ended up having to convince myself that I would be back soon, as I often do with destinations that leave a lasting impression on me.
With a Djembe drum in my arms and a backpack on my shoulders, I jumped into a Rikki taxi and asked the driver for a ride around Camps Bay Beach for a few minutes before taking the route towards the airport. At the airport, I made a point of purchasing Mandela's "A Long Walk to Freedom", which kept me going for the entire 12 hour long flight to Amsterdam.
As I left the plane, I felt inspired and blessed for having learned as much as I did and for having had the opportunity of seeing such stunning beauty with my own eyes. Cape town is a city to be remembered to which I hope to soon return.