Over The Mountain Where It’s not So Africa

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It is the time when you are leaving that you truly realize how much you treasured a place.  As I sat on my ridiculously long bus ride to the KwaZulu Natal also known as KZN, emotions dawned on me while I watched the sunset painted the sky crimson over the backdrop of the Table Mountain over the window pane.  I realized I might have made a mistake.  I should have stayed until I had to leave. 
So many people told me their favorite African city and even favorite city in the world is Cape Town.  I didn’t think much of these statements.  It must be because it’s more European than the rest and therefore it felt more like home for them.  Well, it felt more like home for me.  Cape Town is a combination of West Hollywood and Santa Monica, except with better public transportation and a cheaper price tag. 
I feel guilty my favorite city in Africa isn’t so African at all, but I guess you can’t choose where you fall in love with.  I still remember the first time I took a glance of a picture taken atop of Table Mountain with Lion’s head in the background.  I said, “Oh, Rio de Janeiro, I have been there.”. Well, it was Cape Town.  I was wrong, but geographically it was very similar to one my favorite cities, Rio.  Lion’s head looked like Pão de Açucar, and the table mountain looked like Corcovado where the photos are taken from.  There is the beach and there is the bustling city.  I guess that is the formula to be everyone’s favorite city. 
The moment I got out of the train station into Cape Town, I saw the table mountain and I couldn’t believe it is so close to everything.  That’s the first moment that I knew everything is going to be fun.  My first impression of the city was that buildings and roads are well maintained, and even the water fountain in the middle of the traffic circle was in working order.  Two homeless did beg me for money, but the homeless problem plagues every city in the world. 
I couldn’t have guessed the amount of Caucasian population by the first 30 minutes of entering Cape Town, but I came to full realization more than a week later when I visited this Saturday market in Woodstock, the supposedly more ghetto neighborhood.  When I walked through Adderley for the first time toward where I intended to stay, Cape Town was just a more beautiful version of Jo’burg. 
Whenever I land in a new city, I kind of needed a drink, because land travel is exhausting, not to mention I arrived on a Friday evening.  I started on Long Street, the party street of Cape Town central.  Shitty music is blasted through out the streets.  Restaurants, bars and clubs are one after another.  I didn’t walked more than three blocks while trying to make a choice of which place to go first that three dudes asked me if I want to buy some weed, and the fourth person escalated to asking me to buy crystal meth.  Pretty crazy street indeed.  I ended up getting a beer at Beerhouse which is kind of well known for having 99 taps, but the place was full of people shoulder to shoulders that I left after just one beer. 
I’m pretty claustrophobic and Long Street was indeed not the place for me.  It happened that some of the friends I made in Kruger is in Cape Town also so I inched toward where they are staying.  That led to my discovery of Bree St.  Not much of discovery actually since it is parallel to Long and Loop.  Bars and restaurants lined up along the street but just two blocks away from Long, it lacked the ghetto vibe Long has.  From Spanish tapas, Peruvian food, to German sausages, different cultural restaurants along with bars with weird names like Orphanage crawled the street. 
In South Africa, you can’t just buy hard alcohol and beer anywhere.  There are liquor stores and they close by 6PM.  So unless you stock up, you can’t get your last minute party supplies.  So licensed bars and restaurants are essential. 
I grabbed one beer with my friends but they didn’t want to go out that night because of the “girls aren’t safe at night in Cape Town”, which I find not true at all.  Afterward I moved around a bit on Bree and that’s the first hint of LA that I experienced.  The crowded atmosphere, along with the specialty and individuality of each place all reminded me of LA. 
You can’t come to Cape Town and not hike up the world famous Table Mountain.  You just can’t and the first thing I did once daylight broke was just that.  I hadn’t hiked for a while.  More specifically, since the Usambara mountains.  Well I didn’t get a damn bus card there that first day so we had to walk to trail head.  It was a good warm up walk, but I made sure I got my bus card after that, because it was just so much more convenient. 
There is a cable car going up the table mountain, but let’s be honest, if you aren’t old and crippled, you hike up the mountain.  From behind the cable car, there are two trails.  One is listed as “hard and dangerous” and the other “the easier route”.  I did both in the ten days I was there, the hard and dangerous get you up the mountain faster. 
That day I was outvoted by my friends to do the easier route which takes forever in the blazing sun.  It was full of switch backs and giant rock steps that reminded me of the two Machu Picchu hikes that still make my knee cramp when I think about it.  The trail actually starts two kilometers East of the cable car and from the trail head behind the cable car, one has to go down from the contour path that leads to Devil’s peak trail to reach the Plek Gorge trail. 
After two hours of going up rock steps, we got to the top.  View is gorgeous and there is a cafe on top selling alcohol.  Nothing like a beer or two after sweating all over the place on the mountain.  Drinking some refreshing beer and looking down to the endless ocean while a dassie is chewing some grass next to you is quite an experience.  The city, the pier, the beach, and the sea, all made a great panorama over the plateau of Table Mountain. 
Table mountain is a mountain range, not just a mountain.  It is pretty big and while Devil’s peak is its highest point, there are many peaks and area one can hike to.  Go from the botanical garden, go from Camps Bay, whatever.  In my ten days in Camp Town, I went up three times.  The scenic route from the Botanical Garden, the “hard route” from the table car and the switch backs of Plek Gorge.  The other two times were mostly to sweat out my hangover, but it was good exercise for my ever increasing body weight. 
The girls took the cable car down, I went down by foot on a bet to beat them to the bottom.  I lost by 15 minutes. 
That night was the Cape Town Carnavel.  I thought it will be crazy like the one in Brasil.  It wasn’t.  Alot people went to see the parade which lasted two hours but the after party was extremely lacking in participation.  The live music didn’t draw much people in except the resident homeless who were having a dance battle.  It was a good experience to get to experience the carnaval but I expected crazy and it didn’t deliver. 
Well, there are three must do’s in the Cape Town area:  Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope, and the Boulders Beach Penguin colony.  Some people climb the seven summits, some people travel to all the continents, but I want to see and swim with all the Penguins.  Having already seen the Galapagos Penguins, African Penguins is up next. 
To go to boulders, we had to take the metro train to Simon’s Town, a really quint and scenic marine town.  The metro is no different than the Jo’burg ones.  Graffiti plastered the train cars, old seats, and very slow.  The only difference is that the doors work, and you don’t have jump and roll when you reach your destination. 
The train first pass through the suburbs where people actually live, like Wynburg, Newland and Saltwater.  Then the train goes onto the coast of False Bay.  Muizenberg, Fishhoek, and other beautiful beach towns.  Waves crash onto shore and giant rock formations outside the slightly graffitied train window make the arrival in Simon’s Town more exciting. 
Simon’s town beautiful.  Buildings stole straight from the movie sets of Western films, clean air, and a really laid back vibe make the town really approachable. 
After some fish and chips, we walked to Boulders Beach.  The place has two paid entrances, one is for viewing the other is for swimming.  At the swimming beach one can easily jump around rocks and sneak in for free, but the girls got caught so we paid our 60R.  One payment allow you to go to both beaches so technically just pretending to have paid would have got you through both for free. 
These Penguins are way prettier than the Galapagos Penguins who are smaller and has less features.  They don’t smell like I read online, and some of them are quite aggressive.  I got bitten by the king penguin and it was quite a low light of my traveling career. 
The Antarctica water made the water near and around Cape Town extremely cold, but that doesn’t stop me from making swimming with penguin part two a reality.  I got my snorkel gear and everything, but the water wasn’t really clear so I never got anything worthwhile on film.  The water was extremely cold but once I started swimming, it wasn’t bad.  I learned later that the water in Clifton, and Muizenberg are way colder by comparison. 
Later on the Penguins started this call, and it was the mating call because soon they all started humping each other.  We just chilled on the beach watch these tuxedoed motherfuckers do their pendulum walk all around the beach.  After my cloth dried in the sun, we went to the viewing platform.  A beach full of Penguins jump chilling there.  On the rocks, on the beaches, old and young. 
The metro doesn’t always travel to Simon’s Town.  Most of the time, they stop at Fishhoek, but they have a free bus service that takes you to Fishhoek.  Then from Fishhoek, it is a very jam packed train back to Cape Town.  How jam packed?  More than the chapas in Moçambique.  Sometimes I don’t understand how people can just keep going into the same train car when there is absolutely no space left.  I respect how a society wants to keep their culture alive, but when this particular culture is to stuff as many people into a space that isn’t designed to fit this many at the cost of yourself and others, I just couldn’t see how this is something worth keeping around.  By the way, the reason the train didn’t make it to Simon’s Town was because someone fell off the train and onto the track.  Looking at the five people hanging outside the door of the moving train, I wondered how that happened.
I have to put hiking up the Lion’s Head on the Cape Town must do list.  The hike is short, but fun, with ladders, chains and staples.  What’s more astonishing is the view.  The beach view, the Cape view, and even the table mountain view.  You get to see everything this beautiful city has to offer.  What’s even more astonishing is to hike up this place in the evening for the sunset and the skylight at night.  Yes, I went up twice, once in the morning and once at night, and you should too.
After Lion’s Head, I took some beach break at Camps Bay and Clifton Beach.  Clifton Beach is arguably the best beach in the city area.  It is between sea point and camps bay even thou camps bay is the more touristy place.  The white sand is amazing, and being below a giant cliff, Clifton Beach is protected from wind inland.  Camps bay is the more active beach even thou it is often plagued by the strong wind coming from inland and sea.  When the sand blown by the wind hits you, it really hurts sometimes. 
While the view with the giant boulders sticking out of the sand and the shore as waves crash down and making its splash is something from the postcards, the water flown from the Antarctica is so chilly that only the brave can stay in for more than a second long dip. 
Slightly going toward the city you’ll find sea point.  The more specific place is the sea point pavilion.  Three giant 50 meter pools and a deep diving pool, only 20R to enter.  On a hot day, it is definitely the place to go and I couldn’t recommend it more. 
After sea point is the soccer stadium and then waterfront.  Waterfront is probably the most visited place in Cape Town.  Malls, piers, fish and chips, all remind me of San Francisco.  There are food markets, comedy club, and an aquarium just to name a few.  A great place to just take a day off to explore. 
My favorite lunch spot is Food Lover’s Market.  It is a chain store, and it is quite similar to the Kilograma buffets in Brasil, except they have everything from sushi to grilled meat.  The options are quite healthy too, perfect for packing in food for a day trip.  My favorite cheap place is Food Inn India where you can get the most food for the cheapest.  The Gatsby is a giant Sandwich filled with meat and fries.  I personally can’t finish a whole Gatsby and I have tried.  My favorite place overall is Sunday evening at the tapa bar, La Parada, “The Stop”.  They have this Paraguay dude and his Argentinian drummer who performs on demand Spanish live music every Sunday evening.  The drinks are good there, and the food is kind of expensive, but watching the Paraguay guy Ernesto getting more drunk as the night goes on from free tequila and even played Tuyo the theme song from Narcos was quite a highlight.  My favorite place to drink is on top of Lion’s Head.  We packed two backpacks full of beers from the liquor store and hiked up Lion’s Head to watch the sunset.  I mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again, Africa is special. While the sun is hanging over the Western sky, so is the moon, but in the other side. The sunset hid behind the clouds, but giving our extra beers to everyone out there who cared to have a cold one and enjoying the evening was fun and special.  All the karma didn’t go unnoticed, we got a free ride back after.
There was one night where everyone played beer pong, flip cup and I even taught everyone guacho ball before we went out.  The next morning I had the worst hangover since I arrived in Africa because the world famous tap water in South Africa really doesn’t do much to rehydrate you. 
In the ten days, I befriended a lot of good and interesting people.  We drank, explored, and played a shit ton of drinking games.  The new Zealand King’s rule in King’s Cup that I learned in Ecuador became a huge favorite, as well as Ride the Bus. 
The hangover got to me pretty bad, and I still blame the tap water.  Instead of doing touristy things, I climbed Table Mountain a couple times to sweat out the alcohol.  I found a basketball court in camps bay and shot around.  I got kicked out UCT and Cape Town High because I wasn’t allowed to play basketball there. 
My Stellenbosch wine tasting attempt looked quite futile, but I made an attempt to bike to Cape of good Hope, the last thing one must do in Cape Town.  I skipped drinking one night and left the next morning full of energy.  Little did I know the owner for bike rental in Simon’s Town wasn’t around and I walked and tried to hitch hike my way to Cape Point.  I actually got to the entrance after 4 hours of walking, but no one wanted to pick me up. People are really reserved about picking up hitchers in South Africa, but 4 minutes after I decided to go back someone gave me a ride back to fishhoek.  I was just glad I didn’t have to walk, so I chilled around Muizenberg and caught the wave a few times before I went back. 
I also went to botanical garden, which is huge.  We never explored the whole place, because we spent most of the time taking naps on the nice grass lawns.  They also have concerts every sunday night, which I just remembered that I totally forgot.  The place is beautiful, but I witnessed this English family committed the worst atrocity of wasting food ever.  Plates of lamb chops only half eaten are sent back while I was sitting there, extremely hungover, I wished those were sent back my way. 
I already mentioned earlier that I was told by a friend that I should go to this market that is held in Woodstock every Saturday.  Woodstock is right after District Six, which is filled full of apartheid history.  It is supposed to be a not so safe neighborhood and but the market is phenomenal.  District Six still stood barren, just bunch of empty grasses that people say robbers are hidden behind to jump you.  Years ago, during the colorful days of apartheid, groups of ethnically diverse people living harmoniously were divided and sent to different places to live as the then government tried to divide people by race.  Now district six looks like shit, and people who were moved, lived like shit during the apartheid period.  Quite a history, so I was intrigued what I was going to see in Woodstock. 
Well, Woodstock didn’t particularly looked dangerous or shitty.  Just alot of poorly dressed locals walking up and down the street.  No one was bothering anybody, looked just like any other town.  The market, on the other hand, was quite the surprise, and not in a good way for me.  I was intending to find some cheap jerseys and food, but what I encountered was the most racially diverse market I have ever seen in my life.  That I say sarcastically.  That was a Caucasian gathering, so much so that I don’t even think there were as many white people in a klan’s meeting.  Anyways, the food there, although expensive, are quite good, I can see why people flunked to the market. Let’s go back to the culture preservation thing. Is preservation of one’s culture still important when the one taking over is so much better? I have been in Africa all these time, I still don’t know.
I admit I really don’t know much about how people lived after the apartheid was over because I have only briefly read about it in the books.  It seems that blacks were painted with the image of dangerous because whites were afraid of retributions after blacks took over government.  Locals, of all races, paint their own country as a dangerous place and they still do.  Visitors are scared to go out at night sometimes because of the tales they heard from time to time.  The worst is when a black person approach me, the first thing he says is don’t be afraid.  I mean why do they look at themselves and think others will be afraid.  It takes years of others acting afraid around them for them to think everyone is afraid of them.  I can’t imagine having to tell someone to not be afraid of me every time I start a conversation with a stranger. I can’t imagine how much self esteemed I would have lost every time someone appeared scared when I approached. Fear keeps one alert, but blind fear is detrimental. To paraphrase Nelson Mandela, courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.
I spent my last day playing basketball with friends and some neighborhood kids in Camps Bay. To be honest I haven’t played a single game since Mexico and it was water for my thirst. Many people asked me and themselves if Cape Town is a place they could live and work in. For many, it was an easy yes, but for me, I don’t know. Can I live in a place where I can’t play basketball daily like I have enjoyed doing my whole life? Still, I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my last day.
Despite the lack of basketball, and the predominantly ear splitting trance music played everywhere, I love this city, so I didn’t mind I never made it to the southern most point of Africa.  I didn’t mind I left the wines in the winelands undrunk.  I didn’t mind I couldn’t stay longer.  I will be back one day, and I wanted to see an even better city.  As I sat on the bus looking at the sun dip below the horizon and table mountain became a huge shadow, I felt certain.

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