20.02.2014

AT THE TIP OF AFRICA

AT THE TIP OF AFRICA, Gönül Midesiz | 20.02.2014

When I first saw Cape Town it looked just like a beautiful European city. However, it's actually the southern-most tip of the African continent with the beautiful Table Mountain overlooking it.

Since winter was coming to Istanbul we decided to go to Cape Town to take advantage of the spring weather and enjoy a lovely three day holiday. Istanbul and Cape Town are on the same longitude and time zone but the seasons are reversed because they're in different hemispheres. We left Istanbul at night and got to Cape Town the next day. This is my first trip to "the Dark Continent," so I'm starting from its tip.

After getting to the hotel we jumped in a cab and headed to one of the city's busiest tourist locations, the V&A Waterfront. The Waterfront is a harbor on the water where you can shop, catch a show at the amphitheater, take a ride on the merry-go-round, or enjoy any of the forms of entertainment available. There are also many restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, museums and a large shopping center called Victoria Wharf. First we went to Victoria Wharf to look at some souvenir shops and local goods but we decided that “we'd do our purchasing the next day,” so we left without buying anything.

After looking at menus of the restaurants around the amphitheater we decided to go Ocean Basket at the harbor. Ocean Basket was cheaper than a lot of the other restaurants and has lots of fresh seafood. It's always packed and has a large variety of different things, up to and including sushi! Luckily for us there was no fog and we could see Table Mountain across from us in all its glory. After a delightful dinner at Ocean Basket we headed back home to go to sleep.

After breakfast the next morning, the tour that we'd organized before arriving picked us up from the hotel and took us on the road out to the Cape of Good Hope. The view of the ocean along the road was really gorgeous, and we stopped to take pictures and did some shopping at stands along the road. It was hard to choose between all the chairs, tables, and trinkets all made out of ebony. If I could have carried it home easily I'd have bought an ebony office chair but instead I just bargained for a coffee table and a small fisherman statue. After agreeing for a price I bought them both.

The Cape of Good Hope National Park is a protected national park that houses plants and animals indigenous to the region. We saw a bunch of baboons around us, but our guide told us that they're general irritable and aggressive animals who rip apart tourist's bags and cars, so it's illegal to open up your windows and feed them.

The Cape of Good Hope was first discovered by the explorer Bartolomeu Dias. Its original name was the Cape of Storms and afterwards came to be known as the Cape of Good Hope. It forms the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and people who go diving can see the lines made between the two seas very clearly. We went to a lighthouse at the top of a cliff overlooking the confluence to look out over the view (Those who want can go up using a funicular). Even though we couldn't really see line between the oceans, it did seem like you could see two different colored bodies of water.

The old lighthouse is 249 meters above sea level, but because the fogginess and clouds at that level could make seeing the light hard to see, a new lighthouse was built lower down the hill. After the lighthouse we walked down the hill a bit and wanted to take photos next to the famous sign showing the location's latitude and longitude, but it was so crowded that we ended up just walking on the ocean shore instead. Locals were collecting brown seaweed for the cosmetic industry. We bought a couple of souvenirs to remember the trip by. Then after seeing that the sign with the latitude/longitude side was free we went over, took a couple of pictures, and started walking towards the hill with restaurants and gift shops. I bought a bottle filled with ocean water and some sand as souvenirs.

Our group looked at the menu of the restaurant that our tour had booked for us, which consisted mainly of seafood. I ordered a green salad and shrimp casserole and we all ordered a plate of calamari to share. I can safely assure you that the best calamari I've ever eaten in my whole life was at that restaurant in Cape Town!

After the Cape of Good Hope, next on our list were the mines. There are many precious stones other than just diamonds that are found in South Africa. We went to a mine where semi-precious stones are removed and processed and sold. While we were on the road along the shoreline we saw some water spouting up from what had to be whales, so we stopped and watched two massive whales from afar. The mine we visited was still working. We walked around the mine, and watched the stones being removed. In the garden of the mine there was an area filled with semi-precious stones. Here you can fill up a small basket with semi-precious stones like amethyst, jade, tiger's eyes, and rose quartz that are sold by weight. Also you can buy the rough stones inside small bags and sacks. Inside they sell brilliants, gold, diamonds, and finished jewelry made out of semi-precious stones. We went back to our hotel after wandering around the mines.

We went to a Greek restaurant that had been reserved for us by our tour guide. I ordered a fish that is local to South Africa called a "kingclip" as it came recommended on the menu. However I was a bit disappointed upon the discovery that it turns out fish from the ocean just aren't as good as fish from the sea.

The next day we got off to an early start again. Our goal was to see seals and penguins in their natural habitats. In order stay away from the crowds we caught an early boat to False Bay Island. At the harbor there were some stalls selling souvenirs and the like but we had to run to catch our boat, so we didn't have time to pick anything up. After about 20 minutes on the boat we got to False Bay Island, and took some pictures of the seals sunbathing and swimming in the sea. These animals live in colonies and can breathe both in and out of the water.

After seeing the seals our boat headed back to the harbor and we set off to see the Penguins that live on Boulder Beach in Simon's Town. We all started laughing when one of the members of our group said, "I thought penguins were fish but I guess they're actually birds!" "Jackass penguins" (Magellanic Penguins are bigger) live on the beach surrounded by a fence. We went inside the fence and watched the penguins from up-close, taking a few pictures with them as well. I should tell you to keep in mind that penguins and seals both are not the best smelling animals in the world :)

On the way back we took a break to take photos of the town of Hout Bay. Hout Bay is kind of interesting. They see themselves as a separate republic and have their own passports. The town is built on a hillside surrounded by mountains and the sea. The town is in a lovely cove and with its decorative gardens and wooden homes it reminds you of a Hobbit village. It's absolutely gorgeous, a town right out of fairy tales. We took some photos of the village and moved on, but because we hadn't been able to spend as much time as I'd have liked, my mind remained on Hout Bay. If you have the time to visit you could easily spend a full day at Hout Bay.

The next day our plan was to visit lion and ostrich farms. Ostrich is grown both for its skin and for its meat. On the farm we went to they showed us how the ostriches were raised and allowed us to taste some ostrich meat. The meat was a bit tough for me so I didn't love it. There were some pretty ornaments made out of ostrich eggs in the gift shop on the farm along with wallets, bags, and things like that made out of ostrich skin. The goods made out of ostrich skin were awfully expensive. We then went to walk around the farm, though we were first warned to never make eye contact with any of the ostriches. There are ostriches that you can ride inside a fenced-off area. We were a little scared but we gathered ourselves together and took photos of us riding ostriches. A bit later we went to the lion farm and pet some very cute lion cubs who were inside their cages. The braver members of our group went inside the cages with a care worker and pet them from inside.

After visiting the animal farm our plan was to visit Stellenbosch vineyards. After walking around the vineyards we went down to the cellar to do some tasting. The way it works is that you select how many kinds of wine you want to taste and pay accordingly. Any wines that you particularly enjoyed are all available to buy. I bought a bottle of Shiraz and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. After the tasting we wandered around the shop inside the vineyards and bought some bread and cheese and some drinks to eat lunch on picnic tables around the banks of a pond, all of which was really nice.

In the evening we went to a village of a Zulu tribe that live in tents. We walked around the village and began to learn a few things about the Zulu culture. Because the village is touristy, most of the people in the village greet their guests wearing traditional attire. In the main square of the village there's a big tent where we climbed up to its straw top via the stairs inside. We finished our tour watching traditional Zulu folkloric dance.

In the evening we went back to our hotel and ate dinner at the Waterfront. After dinner we went to a bar called Mama Africa. Mama Africa is just a small bar that was packed to the gills, and features live bands playing African drums. The musicians had a pretty interesting repertoire. They had African drums accompanied with arias from the opera and well-known songs from all over the world. The music and the ambience were fabulous.

On our last day we went to Table Mountain in the morning. Lucky for us, the weather was great and there was no fog. You can go up to Table Mountain on foot. However, it's faster to take the rotating lift up to the top so that's what we did. It's called Table Mountain because its top is flat and from afar it looks like a table. We looked out over the beautiful 360 view of Cape Town. Across from Table Mountain is a mountain that looks like the head of a lion, and therefore is called Lion's Head. Honestly from afar it really does look like the head of a lion. We went back down using the cable car and went back to the city.

Outside of the city we see some highly colorful cottages. Our guide told us that after Nelson Mandela was elected president he was true to his promise and instead of the shanty huts he built these cottages and donated them to the owners, however despite this the owners just sold the cottages on the black market and continued to live in tents. We also noticed a half-finished overpass in the middle of the city. Our guide told us that the municipality had started work on the overpass but after enough protests from the population work on it was stopped and it was left as is as a memory of the whole uproar.

In our free time we wandered around and went to Greenmarket Square and its surroundings. The square houses street performers and people selling handcrafts with very reasonable prices and you can find some really original things. We had a good time watching some of the street musicians and dancers as well.

We walked along the ocean shore on the Waterfront one last time. A lot of people were either jogging or riding their bikes along the path. In Cape Town every April there's the Two Oceans Ultra-Marathon. Watching the joggers made me think what a great deal of fun it would be to run in the Cape Town marathon and I made a personal note to myself to return to Cape Town to run!

We noticed that in some places along the coast huge pools had been created out of concrete. We learned that because the water goes all the way to Antarctica that even in the summer the water never gets warmer than 12 degrees, so as a way to get slightly warmer water these pools were created. Once the water is separated from the ocean the water gets the chance to warm up.

There are things beyond just the marathon that make me want to come back to Cape Town. For instance, I didn't even have time to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison.

I left Cape Town with many wonderful memories. Cape Town is unquestionably one of the more beautiful cities of the world that one has to see.

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