As an educator, I felt a lot of pressure about coming to South Africa because this was the one place about which I probably had the most context. I am not sure what I was expecting, but I was still astounded by all that Cape Town had to offer. A clear sign of our amazing journey, our ship was greeted by a double rainbow as it came into port, after which we had an amazing view of Table Mountain. It was a glorious sight, and as rainbows remind me- with sunshine and rain miracles can happen and do happen. I was feeling a bit homesick as well, and rainbows remind me of Oregon and Oregon State University, because on my first day at work, a cherished colleague and I saw a rainbow. So, it was a sign of good things to come.
Enough about rainbows. Cape Town was the first port which we entered that was a passenger port (our previous ports were all cargo ports). So, upon exiting the ship, we were greeted by the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, which had two malls, restaurants galore, and was our gateway into the city. On our first day, we literally took the time to rest and just stay in the Waterfront area. In the mall, there was a restaurant called Dodge City Diner that served the BEST BEST burgers and milkshakes I have eaten- ever. I went back for milkshakes a few more times during our stay.
Our next adventure was one of our intentional family trips. Up until South Africa, we made it a point to travel on SAS sponsored trips, all of which were wonderful. We made the decision to travel independently as a family and have quiet time to just enjoy each other, the people, and the ambience of Cape Town. So, we rented a car and drove to Simon’s Town (recommended by my friend Sunny Lee), where we stayed at the Cheriton Guest House (LOVE Denise and Dirk). Initially, I struggled with this decision. I struggled because a part of me felt that I should have arranged a stay in a township, or that I should have gone to Robben Island, or that I should have done something with more ‘substance.’ While I still hold that struggle in my heart, I have to say that I am glad that I made the choice to be with my family and get away from the ship and ship related activities because it was fuel for the soul. I really enjoyed the adventure with our family- this was one of the first ‘true’ road trips that Saaya has been on, and it was fun to welcome her into the Jos & Mamta driving adventures. As a family, this was the first time we have been away, with no other agenda- no conferences, no family events, no other plan other than each other.
The drive to Simon’s Town was probably one of the most powerful aha! moments for me. It was interesting to notice our language… They (South Africans) drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. The stoplights are called ROBOTS. Traffic comes from the opposite direction of what one would expect, and of course, the driver’s seat is on the ‘wrong’ side. Our default language choices really made me think about how ingrained our biases are, of any subject, really. Even our simple assessments of cars/driving were unintentionally value-laden. I really had to pause and interrupt my language and correct myself from words like ‘wrong’ to more descriptive terms like ‘right-side’. Our ship journey from Ghana to South Africa was already fascinating, because we experienced all four seasons in about five days. In the southern hemisphere, we were entering the Spring season in Cape Town. So as familiar as Cape Town felt in terms of appearance, our adjustment to basic things like the weather and driving were challenging.
From Simon’s Town, we drove to Cape Point to see the Cape of Good Hope and the historic lighthouse. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day, and Saaya just loved every moment! Our first stop was the lighthouse at Cape Point. Typically, there is a funicular that goes up to the top, however it was under renovation, so we decided to walk to the lighthouse. We asked a staff member in the area how long it would take to get to the top, and he estimated about 15 minutes. Not true. It was (for me, at least) a mini hike that took about 45 minutes. Saaya actually walked most of the way! We were so tired after we reached the top, that we decided to take one of their rented shuttles going down (ironically most people choose to take the ride up, and walk to the bottom). At the lighthouse, the views are breathtaking, and the cool breeze is the perfect answer to an exhausting walk.
We ate some snacks and went back to our car, and made our way to the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape is often mis-represented as the southern most tip of Africa- and this is not true. It is the most ‘south-western’ tip of Africa. Between here and Cape Agulhas (the southernmost tip of Africa) is where the currents of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. I like to think of this as a special spot for us. Just as the east and west meet in this spot, the confluence of these oceans represents our identities as Indian Americans. Saaya enjoyed seeing the ostriches along the beach, and Jos gave her a few introductory hiking lessons. We also made it pretty far up the rocks that were up against the ocean!
After this adventure, Saaya konked out. We used her nap time to drive to our next location, a spot that I highly recommend if you are looking for child friendly activities. Jos found a spot called “Mineral World/Scratch Patch” where you could pick up a bag polished gemstones for a fixed price. When you walk in, there is an area that has gemstones all over the floor, and you can sift through to pick out your preferred colors, sizes, shapes, etc. Saaya and Jos had a great time doing this, while I was shopping indoors for gemstone jewelry. It was a win-win situation, and an awesome time.
We spent the rest of our time enjoying Simon’s Town. It is a wonderful beach town with an old-fashioned Main Street, and boutique style shops and restaurants. We stopped for ice cream, and then made our way to see the famous penguin colony in Simon’s Town! Unfortunately, we made it to Boulder’s Beach too late, but we were able to walk along the boardwalk, and Saaya had a chance to see her penguins and play with them.
The next day we made our way back to Cape Town, and enjoyed the local food options at the pier near the mall. Inside the mall, I ran into a man wearing an Oregon State University sweatshirt! Can you believe it?!? Seeing his shirt, I had to stop and ask him his connection to OSU. His name was Mr. Knight, and his daughter goes to OSU (shout out to Chelsea Knight in the college of Engineering!) Beavers really are all over the world!
We at a Turkish-Portuguese fusion restaurant called Tasca, and everything we ate was a culinary party. This was the first time I tried peri-peri sauce, apparently a ‘really’ spicy sauce (if you like spicy Thai or Indian food, this is about the same).
The next day, we learned more about Cape Town thanks to the Hop On- Hop Off bus. Before the bus adventures, I spent time in the red/blue sheds looking at amazing arts and crafts from southern Africa while Saaya and Jos went to the Aquarium. From the Aquarium, the Hop On- Hop Off double-decker bus took us around the town, and we were able to plug in headphones to learn about the history of Cape Town. This was also our route to Table Mountain. Along the way, Saaya also listened to the commentary on the headphones, and she would often repeat certain facts that she heard. We took a cable car up to the top of Table Mountain, and spent some time walking around the top of the mountain. We met a Gujarati family from Botswana, who had a daughter a few months younger than Saaya named Kavya. It was nice to see fellow desis and hear about their life journey that brought them from India to Botswana.
All over Cape Town people asked me if I was from Durban (there is a large Indian population there). In general there are a lot of desis in different African countries- Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe… so it is not a far stretch to assume that we might be from the continent/neighboring towns/countries. All in all, Cape Town was a refreshing and much appreciated experience.
Pictures coming in the next post!