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Monday, July 26, 2010

Coming to the Cape

Day 32-43

So I am FINALLY here in Cape Town! The following morning, Zel dropped me at the Waterfront (if you're from Hawaii, then it's like our Aloha Tower but much bigger but yes, just as touristy, if not more). I had so much luggage! I had the option of leaving behind my things at Zel's house but that would mean I would need to come back to get it later but Zel lived on the opposite side of town from Peter and I didn't want to inconvenience someone or have to pay to go back and get it. So, I brought my big red backpack, my daypack and my box! Luckily when I got dropped off, there in front of me was a shopping cart! So I put all my things onto it and started pushing. Imagine the sight…yes, I looked homeless. This actually also happened to me in Kynsna…stopped at the car rental to see if I could get a car for a good price and unfortunately it was out of my budget ($150 for the weekend and only 400km) so I had to walk with my things (aforementioned items) to the taxi rank and right in Avis' parking lot was a shopping cart! I felt bad taking it but I just had too many things and then I realized…I was doing them a favor by bringing it back! I wish I could have taken a photo of me pushing my cart…

Later that night, I got a call from Trey a fellow American traveler whom I also met in Knysna…that reminds me, I need to write him…anyway, he called to see if I was still interested in hiking Table Mountain the next day. Back in Knsyna I had told him that I really wanted to do this but had read and heard that you shouldn't hike it alone; so it was nice that Trey remembered to contact me. Since we needed to sort out the details and he was borrowing someone's phone, we decided to meet at the fan park to watch Germany play Spain that night. I met up with him and his two other English friends Stu and Stacey. The game was exciting and I was so happy to see Spain beat Germany 1-0! I love Germany but turned anti-Germany in the World Cup when a German guy made a rather rude comment to me about the Japanese team. He probably didn't mean to be offensive but that's how it is with the Germans, at least in my experience…it just comes out wrong. Since that comment, I supported any team that was playing against Germany. After the game the guys ended up going to Mama Africa (restaurant) but I decided to head home since I was staying at Peter's house and didn't want to come home late.

The next morning Stu and Trey walked up the hill(s) to my house. It was a trek but this was in the direction of Table Mountain. After we met up, we decided to take a taxi because the walk was only going to get worse. It was a good thing that we did because we ended up splitting the cab ride which came out to about $1.30 a person but if we were to have walked, it would have probably taken us about another hour to get up that hill. Again, if you are from Hawaii, imagine walking up Round Top Drive…actually it was steeper than that but you get the picture…Stu had knee problems so he was going to take the cable car up Table Mountain and Trey and I would meet him at the top…we weren't really sure where the trail started but the parking attendants were pointing us away from the cable cars, towards the mountain; it took us about 30 minutes to actually get to the start of the trail. It is said that there are more than 100 ways up to Table Mountain but we were just looking out for the one suggested in the Lonely Planet. It was a hard hike! Just as hard as Olomana 3 Peaks, if you've done that one before. It was also a beautiful day so it was getting pretty hot. I also forgot to bring water with me so we had no choice but to buy the overpriced water at the snack shop there and ended up paying almost $2 for a bottle of small water. I would have probably brought a liter with me but they didn't sell liter sized water! I really had to monitor my water because I had to make 500ml last me the whole way! Lonely Planet estimates the hike to take 2.5 hours and with the walk from the cable cars to the start of the trail, it must have taken me a total of 2.5 hours! Trey was ahead of me the whole time and I just told him to go on ahead; I felt bad that I was holding him back. There were also a lot of hikers going up so it wasn't too bad that he went ahead without me.

The view from up top was amazing but I really didn't feel like I had enough time to take everything in. Trey had already gotten up top 20 minutes before me so he had went to look for Stu and Stu had already been waiting about 2.5 hours for us, or me rather. I took another 30 minutes or so taking in the view with some photos and then made my way back to meet them. The two guys were waiting for me, a bit annoyed, and were ready to go back down. So this time instead of walking back down, we took the cable cars. The cable car is actually somewhat like the London Eye (Ferris wheel) where it's a big car and 10-15 people are put in. Our car must have carried more people because it was full. The neat thing about the car though was that it rotated so you got a full 360° view of Cape Town going down. When we got to the bottom, we struggled to find a taxi that would be willing to take us back to town for a reasonable price; everyone wanted us to go off the meter and pay SAR70, $10! We finally found one that was willing to use the meter and I had them drop me off on their way back to town.

The following day, I was going to get my tourist groove on and take in all the sights that Cape Town had to offer but I realized that I needed to go and get my Russian visa! On my itinerary, I have a stop in Moscow and I need to get my visa in order to gain acceptance into the country. My friend Eleanor who used to work with me in Japan is now living and working in Moscow so she suggested that I avoid trying to get my visa in London (which works out for me too because I can just imagine that getting one in England would cost me a fortune!). She's been very helpful in providing me with information; just makes it a whole lot easier so I don't have to spend so much time trying to research all of this on the internet. So, I decided to go down to the Consulate and see what I needed to do to apply for a Russian visa. Oh my word, if you plan to go to Russia, plan early! There are a lot of documents that are required! Most importantly, your 'sponsor' letter which is when someone or some entity 'invites' you and assumes responsibility of you while you're in the country. Many hotels and tour companies will offer to be your 'sponsor' but it takes a while to coordinate with them as well. I don't want to go into all the details but basically, I waited from Friday until Wednesday to get my sponsor letter even though they promise a 24 hour turnaround time. It really shouldn't have taken so long but it did! The other tricky part with my travels is that since I have an open itinerary, meaning I can change my dates (at no costs), I needed to make sure that whatever dates I chose to go to Moscow, those were the dates that I would be going with because I would also need to show the consulate my itinerary and my visa would be made accordingly. I actually ended up changing my dates 2-3 times prior to settling on September 1- 14. So after getting my ticket changed, getting a copy of my travel itinerary, my sponsor letter, a passport photo, proof of health insurance, SAR1050 ($140) cash, and a two page application asking me things from my last two jobs, not including current, phone numbers and addresses, dates that I attended university and my Japanese study abroad program, along with addresses and telephone numbers, I was on my way to applying for my visa. Even though I had started to get everything together from Friday, it took me 4 days to get everything sorted and I wasn't able to submit my application until Thursday! Earlier this week (Monday, Tuesday), I spent my entire two days at a café, connected to my computer waiting for my sponsor letter to come via email. I spent about $10 each day (a bit high) ordering something while I was there using the free wi-fi. I wasted two full days when I could have been learning about the city!

But, I did manage to squeeze in going to the District 6 Museum which is a small museum that tells the story of 'District 6'. In a nutshell, the story of District 6 is that the apartheid government, under White power, forcibly removed the people that were living in the area known as District 6. The area was inhabited by coloureds and Blacks and many of them were forced out against their will to other areas; to open up the area for the Whites. The museum was fairly small, housed in an old building in District 6, so I was able to go around in about an hour and a half. I still could have used more time to go around but the museum was closing.
The following day, I met up with Tamsyn and her sister Candice back at District 6. They were interested in checking it out and I thought I may have needed more time there. I learned that their father used to live in District 6 and they were trying to show me where he grew up on the map drawn on the lobby floor. We did one more quick walk through and then left to have a Gatsby. I was told that a Gatsby is a popular dish eaten by the Coloured community. What is a Gatsby? It's basically like a big subway sandwich with meat, onions, lettuce a barbeque type sauce and potatoes sliced up like French fries but more on the soggy side; kind of like a sloppy joe in that it's pretty 'wet'. For SAR35 ($5) I got more than a $5 foot long (5, $5, $5 foot looooong!); I'd guess it was about 2 feet long and must have weighed 3 pounds! It was heavy! Tamsyn asked that they cut it in three so that we could enjoy it without making a bigger mess than we were bound to make.

We found a place near the train station to sit down and enjoy our Gatsby. Too bad it was raining that day that we couldn't enjoy our lunch out at a nearby park. I was so full and couldn't even finish my 1/3 of the sandwich. I felt bad about wasting it…actually, those who know me know that I WILL NOT waste food and will usually pack it up and 'save' it. I blame this 'not wanting to waste' feeling of guilt that has led to me being 20 pounds overweight! I suppose I always think about the one day that I will be starving and hungry, and without money (that day may come sooner rather than later!) and I will look back on the time that I wasted food. And as Tamsyn commented, 'you can't waste food in Africa'! The girls finished their part and I struggled with mine. It wasn't that it wasn't good, it wasn't bad, but I just didn't want it anymore. The girls suggested that maybe we could give it to someone. Just as I was wrapping up my remaining pieces, out of nowhere comes flying a girly-boy. Just as I was turning around to look to see where the noise was coming from (you know how they usually make their presence known), s/he said "I'm hungry, I'll take that." And it was literally 5 seconds after the girls suggested we find someone to give it to. So the task of trying to find someone to give it to was done without any effort on my part. At least now I know that it is acceptable to give your food away and will probably do this more often; I guess the only tricky part is knowing who to give your food to…you wouldn't want to pass off your food to someone who is not into eating food from strangers.

The girls left by midday (they live outside of Cape Town and needed to take a train back) and I went to meet up with Peter, Claudette (Peter's fiancĂ©), Doron (another friend that also worked in Japan after I had already left but who I met through my friend Yvonne when I went back to visit; Doron and Peter also knew each other and overlapped in Japan for a year) and Peter's friend Paul who was now Doron's landlord (Doron has been in South Africa for 3 months now) who is also a fellow American (California). We had dinner at Bo Kaap Kombuis, a nice restaurant sitting up at the top of Bo Kaap, the Islamic area also known as the Malay Quarters although it's a misnomer because most of the people here are actually of Indian and Indonesian descent. In the area, you'll also notice that the homes are painted in bright colors and the story goes that when the slaves were freed, they decided to retaliate and express themselves by painting their houses with bright colors, contrary to when they were slaves and had a plain uniform and were forbidden to wear anything with color. The cuisine served here at this restaurant was actually Malay Indian and so I settled on the vegetable curry; it was also a Muslim restaurant so no alcohol was served. After dinner, the group split up and I went with Doron to the waterfront to watch Germany play Uruguay for the 3rd place title…we went to watch it at a German beer hall with his German girlfriend, Jessie. Of course, my support for Germany's opponents had to be done in silence. The game ended 3-2 with Germany securing third place.
After the game, the two said they were going to head home so I ended up going home as well. I had to go by taxi because it was already 11:00PM and I didn't know if there was a minibus taxi (SAR5) and if so, where it would go to…it was just easier if I hopped into a cab. I made small talk with my driver, Grant, who looked Indian to me but said he was mostly Griqua. I shared with him that I was traveling around the world and threw in jokingly that maybe he could cut me a break. Ten minutes later, we were back at Peter's place and my bill was SAR75 ($10)! But I suppose my sob story of not having enough money worked and he gave me SAR30 back from my (last) SAR100. I thought that I really got a deal (SAR5) but come to find out from a local bartender, I could have gotten home for SAR40! Duped.

The following day was Sunday and the final game of the 2010 World Cup. I couldn't believe that 63 games had already been played and tonight would be the final match #64, Spain vs. Netherlands. I didn't know who to cheer for but was leaning towards the Netherlands since a friend who I studied with in Japan, Simone, was Dutch; I didn't really have any direct connections to Spain. Saul the Octopus had made some news having predicted all of Germany's games when two identical boxes of mussels were given to the Octopus with each box having a flag representing the teams that were playing. The Octopus (since 2008) would accurately choose the box with the flag of the team that would later win. A few days before, the Octopus had chosen the box with the Spanish flag so the Octopus had declared Spain the winner although the Dutch had won all of their games in the World Cup. If the Octopus was right, Spain would actually be the first team to win the World Cup after losing a game in their group. I spent the night with Peter, Claudette, Paul and a bunch of their other friends to watch the final at Dias' Tavern. The place was fully booked with reservations and so if you didn't have a reservation, it was impossible to find a seat that night; I think that was true throughout the city with everywhere full with reservations. The restaurant had screens all around so it was a great place to watch the final game. It was a Portuguese restaurant so I had the Espetada which was a dish with a piece of beef hanging in front of me. I had this once before at the Brazilian restaurant that we used to have in Hawaii but there it wasn't an individual serving size; instead the chef would come around and cut you off a piece. Again, it wasn't until I saw this at this Portuguese restaurant that night that I made the connection that Brazil, a former Portuguese colony, had this dish because of its Portuguese influences! The night ended with a win for Spain, 1-0! I must say I was very proud and happy for the Spanish! By mid-game, I was turned off by the Dutch playing so dirty! I think this was the general feeling of many of the people watching.

The other thing that I got to do that I really enjoyed doing was visiting the Slavery Lodge; I wasn't aware of this part of South African history: the slave trade. South Africa being a major port area, used to be the stopping point for the Europeans when they were trading and bringing spices from Asia (India, Indonesia and all their other Portuguese and Dutch port areas). As the Dutch began to settle here in the early 1800s, with the Dutch East India Company booming, the colonists realized that in order to build up their settlement, they would need a lot of laborers and people to work the land, etc. Here is where the slave trade flourished and rather than take in the locals (they knew that they would depend on the locals for their knowledge of the land, etc. although they did eventually use the local population as slaves), many people were brought in from India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, etc. I was actually surprised to see the full list of where slaves came from. And this was another a-ha moment for me. The people of South Africa have the coloureds and so many different looking groups of people because they are incredibly diverse. Although we share a different history (Hawaii never had slaves) we are similar to South Africa in that we also have amazing diversity and mixtures; the difference in Hawaii is that being of mixed ancestry is embraced, sometimes ideal whereas in South Africa, there's still some negativity associated with being classified as a coloured. Usually when you meet a local from Hawaii, or take almost any one of my regular customers from the restaurant, they can name at least 5 different ethnicities, all of this traced back to the plantation days and the intermarrying of groups. Although I didn't know it then, this is probably why my taxi driver Grant looked Indian to me…he probably had someone in his ancestry that was from these far corners of the world. I spent 4 hours in the Slave Lodge and could not believe the conditions that these slaves were forced to live in. It was through their sacrifices that South Africa has been able to evolve the way it has. I could go on and on about everything that I learned here! When I was there, there was also a special exhibition on Nelson Mandela who at 92 tomorrow (July 18), is an incredible leader and so lovingly embraced not only by South Africans but millions all over the world. I didn't know much about Mandela since I was only 14 when he was democratically elected as President of the new South Africa but when your read about him, the 27 years that he spent in prison on Robben Island, you will find yourself moved by learning about this man. If you ever have a chance to visit South Africa, I highly recommend this stop! I also got to visit the South African Art Gallery which was also very nicely done. Much of the art done by African artists were amazing and different from any other art museum in that you could see a lot of their struggles and pain through the art that they created. There was a section related to the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre with people interpreting the 'pass laws' system of the Apartheid government, many depicting bloodshed.

There are so many museums here that are all nicely done! I wish I had more time here! After finally submitting my application for my Russian visa, I could finally relax and decided to go out of town for the weekend to visit the wineries in Stellenbosch and go down to Hermanus to do a shark dive all possible through my sponsor Courtney Takai (realtor) and family. I actually also booked a 6 day tour with a travel company to go from Cape Town to Namibia which leaves on Wednesday, the day after I get my passport back. It is WAY over budget but doing this trip will allow me to visit the southern part of the country. Initially I had planned to take a 20 hour bus ride to Windhoek, the capital, but realized that I was missing everything going up! So I bought a sleeping bag (my tour is about $100 a day but I'm sleeping in a tent!) and signed up for the tour. If I didn't do this, I would have had to organize another trip from Windhoek and go back down which I thought it would probably be just as expensive but instead would require a lot of time backtracking. So I have 5 days left and intend to make the most of it!

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