Thursday, 22 September 2011

A Braai, $5 Shiraz & Prisoner #46664 - Amazing Cape Town

V&A Waterfront with Table Mountain in Background
Last week our school was closed, so after several frustrating Skype calls to Air Canada, I was able to secure a ticket on South African Airlines to Cape Town from my diminishing Aeroplan Miles.  I left home the same day that a ferry sank between Unguja (main island and commonly referred to as Zanzibar) to Pemba, the other island that makes up Zanzibar.  The ferry was overloaded with passengers and cargo (TIA – This is Africa), and over 200 persons drowned and many are still missing, making international news headlines.  Of course my overseas fan club members who knew I was travelling that day, heard Zanzibar and ferry sinking and there was Panic! At the Disco (great Vegas-based band by the way).  Facebook posts, and the fact that most of them did not have my new cell number, made it worse.  While my whereabouts and safety were being contemplated thousands of miles away, I was comfortably flying to Dar (8 minutes) on a Fly540 jet with 2 other passengers, to overnight and catch my flight to Cape Town the next day. Seeing a Safety Suggestion Box at the airport in Dar between two gates on the tarmac was somewhat unnerving – this is like having a surgical suggestion box in an operating theatre. Stayed at the Transit Motel close to Dar airport (AC, some TV, hot water, free WiFi, free breakfast, cheap beer, and terrible fried chicken) for a mere US$18). As a resident here I basically get about half price off on everything – hotels, flights, ferry ticket, not beer though.  Although like the airport suggestion box, the entrance to the hotel from the airport main road did not instill confidence – it looked like a backstreet in Mogadishu – no wonder the beer was so cheap.  I had to be up at 4 am though so could not do much damage to those cheap cold Serengetis.

The Braai at Michelle and Luche's
Next morning I was flying for the first time on South African Airways (SAA) and was very impressed.  On the first leg of 3.5 hours to Johannesburg (JoBurg) they served up minced meat, sautéed spinach, omelet, fresh fruit, yogurt, Ceres juices (best juice in the world), free booze – all at 7am in the morning in economy.  SAA makes business class on American Airlines and Air Canada look like McDonalds.  Wait not true – McDonalds’ coffee is actually better.  Couple small complaints though - they could have circled the airport before landing in JoBurg so we could see the end of Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen’s latest offering.  If it was an Indian Airways flight the pilot would have had no choice, as one of my friends experienced many years ago over New Delhi. Also they need to work on their in-flight magazine – it reads like the transcript of a Paris Hilton/Nicole Ritchie conversation. JoBurg airport is super nice - give yourself ample time though to get from the international to domestic terminal.  You don't need to fill out any immigration forms – a first ever for me.  Went to buy a bottle of water and had only large US$ bills and no Rands (local currency) and the person behind me asked if I was visiting and offered to pay for it.  That sort of friendliness I found throughout the week in Cape Town.  On the short 1.5 hour leg from JoBurg to Cape Town we got fed again (reminds me of Air Jamaica and BWIA in the old days although nothing beats the food on Kingfisher Airlines) and arrived in Cape Town early afternoon.  Checked into the Westin close to the immaculate and touristy V&A Waterfront and left my iPad with the front desk to get it charged (a power surge destroyed the charger a few weeks ago – I desperately need bush bath for my electronics).  My friends Michelle and Luche (and their lovely daughter), whom I met on my India trip last year, picked me up late afternoon for a braai at their place.  They love wine and I love wine so we became good friends.  Now about this braai thing – it means grilled meat so it is basically a barbeque lime and a national pastime in South Africa.  But guess what, because the weather is always windy and sometimes cold – they were “braaiing” inside the house – they had a fireplace on one end of the living room and a braai fireplace on the other end.  Had some great food and wine with them, caught up on life, got good advice on what to do and not do.  Unfortunately, they were both travelling for work during the week so I only saw them this one time.  Baie dankie for the braaii Michelle and Luche! 

The Kids Singing to Me in the Township

During the week I did most of the highlights in Cape Town – after first picking up a light jacket (it was cold and windy).   I visited District 6 and the museum – an area which razed in the 1960s and 60,000 blacks and coloureds evicted to make way for white settlements (which never materialised).  By the way to differentiate between blacks and coloureds the pencil test was sometimes used, whereby a pencil was stuck through the persons hair and if it fell out they were considered coloured. I wonder what they did for bald people.  Visited a couple townships (slum areas), which makes Laventille and the Beetham Estate in Trinidad look like Rodeo Drive and a far cry from the pristine V&A Waterfront area. This part of the tour made me feel like I was watching a not-so-funny episode of Good Times with no JJ (my age is showing now).  But while it was a bit depressing to see the substandard conditions in which hundreds of thousands of people lived in Africa’s largest slum Khayelitsha, there were some bright spots.  I was sung to by undernourished kindergarten-aged kids being cared for at a community centre, and saw women being taught pottery, screen printing and weaving skills to improve their livelihoods.  Perhaps the most optimistic of the lot was Vicky and her husband who set up South Africa’s smallest hotel in the middle of a slum.  It is cute and quaint and gets many overseas visitors including a British MP.  I guess not all of them stay in 5 Star hotels and do expense claims for 3 laptops and a flat for their misters and mistresses.  One suggestion though – they should rename Khayelitsha  “Coca Cola” – the same way I always suggested that the ferry from Antigua to Montserrat be renamed the “KFC Express”.  Coke logos were everywhere – on every business, on the streets, and even on the schools – the tour guide said that the Ministry of Education is sometimes confused for the Coca Cola offices. 

Mandela's Cell at Robben Island

The two highlights of my trip (there would have been three if I had not gotten a bit inebriated during a night on the town and forgot to wake up for my pre-booked winelands tour) were Robben Island where Mandela was imprisoned and taking the cable car up Table Mountain. Home to the 3rd largest penguin colony in the world and 125 species of birds, Robben Island is a World Heritage Site and one of Cape Town’s most popular attractions.  Our bus tour guide from the ferry port was quite the character – a sarcastic former courier for the Pan African Congress with a polished and eloquent English accent, with funny anecdotes on everything under the sun.  He gave Obama the tour on his visit at the request of his friend Mr. Mandela.  Robben Island was a former leper colony before it was converted to a prison after WWII, with its most famous guest being prisoner #46664 (the 466th prisoner arriving in 1964).  A former political prisoner gave us a tour and it was quite emotional to see Mandela’s cell.  Hard to believe that after all those years of inhumane treatment and incarceration he was able to keep his dignity and sanity and start the process of leading South Africa on the path or racial harmony and equality.  Mind you all is not perfect today and there is a long way to go in terms improving the socio-economic conditions of non-whites and the ANC needs to get their act together.  But when one reflects that were it a different man that came out of prison, maybe one cut from the same cloth as a Chavez or a Mugabe, the country would be a train wreck today, and thus you have to be even more impressed with the man that is fondly referred to as Madiba. 

My Favourite Time of Day

A visit by cable car to the top Table Mountain – the flat topped mountain that frames Cape Town – is a must.  The cable ride is a bit scary but knowing it is a piece of Swiss engineering (as opposed to Italian) provides some comfort. The view from the top is spectacular and a photographer’s dream.  I enjoyed the view chomping on some tasty stewed ostrich and sipping on a Castle Lager while fending off some aggressive crows.  I also did the Two Oceans Aquarium – with 2,000 other annoying school kids and did not even get to stick head in the nemo fish tank.  After nearly pushing a few of them into the shark tank and hightailing it out of these, I needed me some good Shiraz. So I made my daily (sometimes bi-daily) trip to Pick and Pay (I kept asking people for Pick and Carry) in the V&A Mall to pick up some wine and some food.  The wine is really, really good in Cape Town and cheap.  I was spending about US$5-$7 and getting stuff that you pay US$20 for in LCBO in Canada or worse yet US$40 in Montserrat.  Like a good bottle of wine though, all good things had to come to an end and after 6 days in one of the best cities in the world, it was time to go home back to sleepy Zanzibar.  It wasn’t so bad though as I had two meals to look forward to on SAA and another overnight stay in downtown “Mogadishu”.


  1. Great blogs keep on writing

  2. Isn't technolgoy wonderful!!. This Blog is sooooooooooo good Ish. I really feel like I am there and I can't wait to see everything. You should work in Tourism Marketing...(TEE HEE/snicker) Stay well and... Cheers!

  3. ishwar mon cher, i have happily read your wonderful story of your days in cape town... you get so much out of your experiences and i love to read about them... still haven't found the pictures on that bloody, susie

  4. Ish Boy

    We need to do the Two Oceans marathon in South Africa next year...! Cape Town is my number one place to visit. Love your blog. Stay safe.