There are a million and one things to do in Cape Town. Unfortunately for my friends and I, we were not be able to do them all. Our limited time in the city forced us to be selective in deciding how we spent our days and, over the course of our stay in the Mother City, we found ourselves continually crossing items off our list–not because we had completed them, but simply because we had no time to fit them into our packed itinerary.
When Mariella and I arrived in Cape Town during the early afternoon of the 14th, we had a half day of sightseeing ahead of us. We decided to take this time to learn more about South African history by visiting the high-security political prison on Robben Island. Later that evening, after a few hours of wandering around the waterfront and dining out in Green Point, I went back to the hostel and waited for Dan to meet me.
The next day, my friends and I dragged my jet-lagged boyfriend around for the entire day. We took the city sightseeing buses around Cape Town, beginning with a visit to the township and contrasting that with stops along the ritzy beachfront areas of Hout Bay, Camps Bay and Clifton Beach. In the late afternoon, we hopped back on the bus and ventured to the Kirstenbosch Gardens, where we would enjoy a Christmas concert among the beautiful flora at the foot of Table Mountain.
With two solid days of sightseeing behind us and only one full day left to explore, we hesitantly scratched items off of our list and focused on maximizing the time we had left, prioritizing what we deemed to be most important.
And no visit to Cape Town would be quite complete without a climb to the top of Table Mountain, so we decided to spend the beginning of our third day in the city with a stunning and arduous trek up to the summit.
Though I like to consider myself an experienced hiker, the truth is that my year of living in Onantsi whipped me out of shape faster than I would ever like to admit. Climbing the mountain proved to be a strenuous ordeal. I wanted to attribute this difficulty to the weather conditions, my unaccommodating footwear or something else out of my control, but could not. I was simply out of shape and keeping up with my friends proved to be a challenge.
Nonetheless, in order to keep up with my friends, I made it up the hill rather quickly. In fact, the hike only took us about half of the suggested time.
Now, looking back, I wish I’d taken a few more moments to soak in the fantastic views.
On the day we climbed Table Mountain, the wind was so fierce that I could feel it lashing against my face, tousling my hair and drying out my eyes. At one point, it even blew my sunglasses right off my face, resulting in one cracked lens and another that flew straight through the air and disappeared halfway down the mountainside.
The wind we experienced on our vertical climb, however, was nothing compared to the gusty blows upon the table top. At first, we tried to fight through the cold and took some time to appreciate the stunning views of the beaches, coastline and Cape Peninsula. From the top, we could see many of Cape Town’s neighborhoods and beaches. We admired the craggy, green mountains around us, the jagged coastline and the azure waters. Standing at the top of Table Mountain, I felt far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. The dramatic scenery reminded made me of an urban version of Lesotho-by-the Sea. I imagined how nice it would have been to spend an afternoon with a picnic lunch atop the mountain, soaking in the views and watching the thin layer of clouds cascade down the mountainside and into the City Bowl.
Despite the beautiful view, however, it was only about half an hour before the biting cold got the better of us and had us running back down the mountain in a hurry.
When we reached the bottom in the early afternoon, my friends decided to split into groups. Kristin and Abby headed to the beach. The rest of us thought it would be a good time to visit yet another of Cape Town’s culturally rich and unique neighborhoods–the vibrant Cape Malay section of the city known as Bo Kaap.
The Cape Malay community has its roots in South East Asia. Many of the residents are descendants of enslaved Indonesians and Malaysians brought to the Cape by the Dutch East India Company in the 1600s. The population is predominantly Muslim, which is reflected in the many minarets scattered throughout the neighborhood. Today, about 165,000 Cape Malayans inhabit Cape Town and most of them live in the colorful neighborhood of Bo Kaap. This historically significant community adds a vibrant piece to Cape Town’s colorful patchwork of cultures.
The Bo Kaap neighborhood sits at the foot of Signal Hill and the surrounding mountain peaks create a backdrop to the beautiful rows of multi-colored houses–houses reminiscent, in many ways, of the colorful colonial buildings that Dan and I saw in San Juan a few years back.
Unfortunately, we were not able to wander the streets of the Cape Malay Quarter as long as I would have liked, because we had a strict schedule to adhere to. For at 6:00 that evening, we had plans to meet up with the rest of our friends for a sunset bus tour to the top of Signal Hill.
Signal Hill may not afford the same dramatic views of the peninsula that we were able to see from the top of Table Mountain, but the aerial views of the city are spectacular.
Though we spent a few hours that evening experiencing the pulsing nightlife of Long Street, I feel that my adventure with my fellow volunteers effectively ended here, at the top of Signal Hill, while the sun was setting over the Atlantic Ocean and drenching the surrounding mountains in golden hues.
And I think that the picture below couldn’t encapsulate the adventures we had any better than it does–a group of young, female college graduates (plus Dan, who flew in from America for some Cape Town fun), standing in front of one of nature’s remarkable masterpieces, perpetually caught off-guard by the exciting and often-times ridiculous experiences thrown our way.
So here concludes the story of the group of young American girls who set out to conquer the vast and desolate corners of Namibia and learned to adapt to village life–despite insects, cold showers and unrelenting heat. Here end the conversations about lesson plans, troublesome learners and battling the African sun. Here end the endless combi rides, the bakki adventures and the weekend escapades to Ongwediva.
I feel sad that our other friends were not with us during our final moments together in Africa. But I hope the volunteers who served with me in Namibia realize how important they were to my experience and that they understand how much I will miss them.
But stay tuned, don’t go away.
For, while my fellow volunteers and I closed this chapter of our African odyssey, my travels with Dan were only just beginning.