Sunday, February 22, 2015

Table Mountain

There has been limited access to the interwebs on this trip - at least, of the sort necessary for uploading pictures - so I'm way behind. This was Feb. 21, Saturday. We'd visited Robben Island in the morning and in the afternoon, we had plans to go up to the top of Table Mountain via cable car.

But first, a couple of diversions. This is the place we were staying, in the Rondebosch neighborhood of Cape Town. The Little Scotia Guest House. Pretty near the University of Cape Town.

In other words, a total heartbreaker of a jewel, inasmuch as we'd walk by the scenes above on our way to breakfast, or on the way back to our room at the end of the day, and sigh deeply at the realization that we were wayyy too overscheduled to take advantage of the totally mellow vibe.

Random diversion #2: have I ever told you how motion sick prone I am? On the ferry rides to/from Robben Island, I scored a spot just behind the captain's chair, and stared resolutely at the horizon. I did OK. On the way out, I was the one who spotted a southern right whale breaching out in front of us. Didn't get that on film, but I did capture 13 seconds of the view of Table Mountain on our way back:

Anyway. You'll be glad to know I didn't puke. 

So we got off the ferry, admired a couple of seals lounging on temporary unused boat access steps, and had some lunch at one of the many restaurants that line the harbor. Then we walked a mile or so to a convention center where we figured we'd find a taxi stand. Victory. We got a ride to the base of the Table Mountain at its western end, where the cable car operation is. 

See the building at the lower left? See the tiny promontory at the upper right?

Yeah. It doesn't seem like such a safe idea, does it? But remember, we're not wusses. And, if Visa says it's OK, it must be OK.

That's the one coming down while we're going up. Brought to you by the Department of Shameless Commerce.


That's Robben Island, below. So near...and yet so far.

And stretching out to the east, the Cape Flats, home of many of the neighborhoods we'd visited earlier in the week.

We came across some rock dassies - the local term for rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis), which are related to elephants.

And then, of course, there were the flowers:

I'm thinking this is Crassula coccinea.

This is a red heath - there are lots of different kinds. I was just happy to get a respectable shot with my phone and didn't get persnickety about the details. 

I'm thinking this might be Disa ferruginea

OH, speaking of red things, guess what? Turns out the insides of the rocks are red! Either that, or Table Mountain is composed of red velvet cake. One or the other.

We wandered around for quite a while, away from the other visitors, grateful for our nerdiness in having brought serious rain gear impervious to the wind and damp, because it was COLD up there. I was wearing Chaco sandals - which, as usual, I'm like the ONLY person I EVER see wearing these. This is my fourth (!) continent wearing 'em and I guess they are either completely out of fashion (knowing me, this would not be surprising) or I just haven't found My Tribe. Anyway. Bare toesies, but oddly my feet were fine.

After a while, we got cold, and treated ourselves to hot chocolate/cappucinos in the companionable crowd at the cafe Then we headed down. Care to accompany us? The floor of the cable cars rotate, so you get a 360 degree view without necessarily having to elbow your fellow travelers aside. 

After such an epic day, we felt we finally deserved to hang out back at Little Scotia Guest House.

So we did. Next up: the drive down the Cape Peninsula, penguins, baboons, and a surprise ostrich.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

diving headfirst into cape town

In our first three days in Cape Town, we visited eleven student internship sites. They ranged from hospitals to clinics to schools to community organizing NGOs. We toured a school originally dedicated to children with cerebral palsy that has had to cope with a recent influx of students with severe behavioral disorders - which the staff have no training in handling. We learned how the leading HIV/AIDS advocacy organization has expanded its focus to to gender-based violence. We talked with the director of a children's convalescent facility, where the measure of success has always been getting kids stronger and sending them home, which has had to adapt to survive: they have begun providing palliative care for HIV/AIDS kids. Those kids never go home. 

We met with a commissioner of the Independent Electoral Commission, which manages the country's elections. We spent an hour talking with staff members of Black Sash, one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the country. It's been around for sixty years. We visited the neo-natal unit of a community hospital and I swooned over the preemies. 

If I ever doubted that angels walk among us... I surely was reminded otherwise. 

Sister Hilary, in particular. She's the manager of a community health clinic that has had to post guards 24/7 ever since one of the five local gangs clipped their phone wires and destroyed their surveillance cameras. Sister Hilary was full of laughter and smiles. Or Camillo. Here's a guy who, not content with having parlayed his gospel choir childhood into an ongoing gig as a jazz musician, founded a music school to get teenagers started in the music business. His facility is carved out of a soccer stadium. 

These were mostly meet-and-greets for Kevin, and I just rode shotgun. A near-running joke was watching how many people Vernon knows. Vernon was our guide: he matches the students with their internship sites. Vernon's background is as a pastor, social worker, and community organizer. Wherever he goes, he greets people as "Brother", "Sister", or "Comrade", and is met with hugs and smiles. All over Cape Town, people love Vernon.

In addition to all of the above, we also visited two university campuses (University of Cape Town, and University of the Western Cape) and a variety of townships and neighborhoods, including informal settlements. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that. That's not rubbish on the side of the road...that's a great place to find building materials for the newest housing being cobbled together. Oh, and we attended two classes, observing student presentations, and went to one dinner party, a jazz club, and a braai (South African barbecue). And met approximately one gazillion people besides.

The whole experience has been beyond fascinating and utterly inspirational.  I feel like I've been here for weeks.

Some people, faced with a radical departure from their accustomed routine, will forget to eat. I do not understand those people. My body's response to unfamiliar environments is to eat. Extra, in fact, in case, by chance, starvation is imminent. My brain knows that's dumb, but my body is usually convinced that there will be no next meal, ever again. Fortunately I've managed to keep to the every-other-day running schedule. 

Today was the first opportunity Kevin and I had to goof off by ourselves. So we started with a tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was for eighteen of the twenty seven years he was imprisoned.

View of Table Mountain, with part of Cape Town at its base, from one end of Robben Island.

Let's cut to the chase. Here is Mandela's cell. I knew it was small, from having just re-read "Long Walk to Freedom" (his autobiography) but no, it's tiny.

By contrast, the facilities for the German Shepards used to keep prisoners in line? Each individual kennel looked bigger, to me, than the cells where the political prisoners were kept.

The kennels.

Mandela's window overlooking a courtyard.

Said courtyard.

Tours of Robben Island are conducted by former prisoners. Our guide was a student activist who was incarcerated from 1977 to 1982. Here he is showing us the daily food rations. As with everything under apartheid, how much and what you ate was a function of what box you were put in. "Bantu" is African - black. 

In other words? Crap. And not much of it.

I have more photos, and more to share - because this was only our morning; we had excellent adventures in the afternoon as well - but it is late and I'm wiped and due to get up early for a run tomorrow. So I will leave off for now.

Sweet dreams, and count your blessings.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

here's one way to deal with recent New England weather...

Off on another adventure: Cape Town. 

We scored an aisle and window together and so had to celebrate. What we were really celebrating was the opportunity to ditch New England and its sub-zero temperatures. It was an uneventful flight, with many empty seats. Fifteen hours: enough for three movies and most of "Kirt Vonnegut: Letters". With another few hours to spare.  I did not sleep a bit, as it left in mid-morning and I was only just starting to get sleepy at the end of it.

Sunrise over Namibia.

We landed in Johannesburg a bit ahead of schedule, just after 8 am. We got off the plane and out on the tarmac, onto a bus to the terminal, and headed for Immigration. But first we got screened for Ebola - that was cool; it simply consisted of standing there befuddled while an agent told me to take my glasses off.  Apparently some camera/device ten feet away from me gave me a look and decided I was good to go. From there, we got our passports stamped and headed to baggage claim to pick up our checked baggage. And then we scurried over to the domestic terminal and back through security for our flight to Cape Town...which was on the exact same airplane.  

Vernon - the associate director of the program Kevin is here to visit - was there to pick us up at the airport, which we hadn't been expecting, but what a treat, because he took us on a quick spin through the heart of Cape Town. 

Caffeine Shampoo: for when you need an extra bit of lift.  

Gahhhhhh. Table Mountain. 

Vernon dropped us off at our hotel and we crashed hard for a few hours. He and his wife Esme picked us up a few hours later and took us to Marita's, who runs the program with him. She had, in classic Marita fashion, invited a bunch of fascinating people for dinner and cooked us up a storm.

A fine welcome to South Africa, I'd say!