Cape Town, South Africa! My husband and I signed up for the TiE Global Charter Member Retreat the moment we heard that they were organizing it in South Africa this year. We have never been to the dark continent, and knowing that we were going to visit the very same place Vasco Da Gama set his foot in 1497 was enough reason by itself to sign up. After all, he next set foot (allegorically speaking!) in our own Kozhikode nearly six months later.
So here is a day by day recount of our trip:
Cape Town, Day 1: First sight of the Table Mountains
From the airport we drove to the Table Bay hotel and you know from the image from where (and why) it got its name. With a breath-taking view of the Table Mountain from pretty much every room and floor, every moment of our stay is etched on our minds. I just need to close my eyes and I can see the flat top and the white clouds (referred to as table cover!) resting on it. Truly a remarkable welcome.
That evening was the first of the three-day TiE retreat. We were welcomed by AJ Patel, founder of TiE, and Chairman of the Mara Wildlife Conservation, about Africa and its relevance in today’s world. This was followed by a talk by Tim Harris, CEO of Wesgro, on investing in South Africa. These talks indeed set the stage for the rest of the trip – everyday was a monumental discovery of this continent and how it is on the cusp of really being discovered by tourists and businesses.
Cape Town, Day 2: The kindness of Mandoba
If you had told me that I would wear a scuba suit, get into a flimsy cage tied to the side of small boat, enter the freezing waters of the Atlantic ocean, and wait eagerly to watch the Great White shark swimming less than five feet from where I was standing, I would have thought you were off your rockers! But that is exactly what happened. We drove close to two hours to Gaansbai, got into a boat and then rode it for another one hour on the choppy ocean and watched copper sharks (also called Bronze whalers) as they glided close by the cage, eagerly eating the tuna heads that the tour operators thoughtfully supplied. Was I scared? Yes. Would I do it again? You bet.
And when I thought the day could not get any better, the event organizers whisked us off to a restaurant called Africa Gold for dinner, where even vegetarians like me could sink their teeth into a 7-course fancy meal, filled with soups, croquets, lentil cutlets and burnt jaggery desserts. Yummy. Of course, we were made to work for our meal – all of us were supplied with African drums called djambes, and were taught how to play different beats.
And then the moment we were all waiting for – the chief speaker of the day was Zelda La Grange, a self-proclaimed racist, and the personal secretary to Nelson Mandela for over 16 years. In a 45-minute emotional speech, she traced her life from the moment she met Mandoba and how it changed her. More importantly, she presented a picture of a man full of personal dignity, hard-core values and a sense of humour that even 27 years of imprisonment could not wipe away.
Cape Town, Day 3: Touristy stuff – the City tour
Now for the traditional city tour – Lion’s Peak, Signal Hill, V&A waterfront, Aquarium, Gastro tour (we sampled food from three restaurants!), and a whirl on the Cape Town wheel. The day ended with a gala Awards Nite at the Westin – a beautiful and formal event that rewarded TiE members for their contributions.
Cape Town, Day 4: Now for roughing it – treks and climbs
We left the city and headed towards the southern tip of the peninsula. We watched the penguins on Boulder Island, rounded off the Cape of Good Hope, hit Cape Point (the southwestern-most tip), Chapman’s peak, False Bay……the views, the treks, the climbs, the scenery…simply stunning. There are no words to explain the natural and pristine beauty that met our eyes everywhere we glanced. I would recommend that you call Robert Salmon from the Cape Convoy Tours – he knew exactly where, when and how to get everywhere…
Cape Town, Day 5: Time to board the flight to Nairobi, but Table Mountains first!
It was our last day at Cape Town, but also the first day that the aerial cable cars to the top of the Table Mountain opened. We packed the day before, woke up early and rushed to stand in line for taking the cable car up the mountain. I need not wax eloquent about the view that met our eyes, but we trekked for about an hour on the tracks laid out for us on the periphery of the Table Mountain and got a 360 degree view of Cape Town.
1 PM – time to board the flight to Nairobi, KENYA. But will I come back to Cape Town?
So would I recommend you go to Cape Town? Yes, but with a caveat.
Cape Town certainly is a shining jewel on the Atlantic Ocean and as my blog explains, it is easy to see why. But what is not so easy to see is the 23-km long slum that houses close to a million of the African population, a few kilometers outside the Cape Town city jurisdiction. During the apartheid regime, the blacks were forced to evacuate the city and move to these areas. While the government is doing its best to rehabilitate the slum dwellers, give them more amenities and are building nicer complexes, you cannot escape the fact that ugliness exists.
Every time I passed the slums, a wave of sadness engulfed me. It is so easy to build a paradise. All you have to do is sweep the dirt, the garbage and the filth under the carpet. On the other hand, try building a city that embraces all…….good, bad and ugly, and then make it a pleasurable place to visit. After the apartheid regime collapsed, and Mandoba came to power, this is what Cape Town, and South Africa is hoping to rebuild. A city with a redeemed soul.
Would I visit Cape Town again? Maybe. But ask me if I would visit Kenya again? In a heartbeat. But that’s another story. And another blog.