Upon the arrival of my lovely family, I acted as tour guide for the week as my parents and sister got a glimpse into the temporary home I have made in Cape Town and a taste of the culture of South Africa. In the course of five short days we covered a lot of ground in and around Cape Town. Although I made a tentative itinerary for the week, that immediately was adjusted as a result of the weather. With a forecast predicting rain for the middle of the week, we took advantage of the sunny, clear weather on Monday morning and hit the slopes of Table Mountain…cable car style. The generous and kind chairman of BEN, Louis de Waal, who is also chairman of the Table Mountain Cable Car, offered to treat my family to a ride up to the top of the mountain that overlooks the city. Donning his VIP Chairman pin on his sweater, Louis provided us with the history of the cable car, how the machinery operates, and gave us a personal tour atop the mountain. We couldn’t have found ourselves in better company. The top was quite chilly but we were rewarded with clear views of the bustling city below and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
Next on the packed agenda was a most necessary drive along the scenic mountain pass known as Chapman’s Peak, a steeply built road on the mountainside that winds along the Atlantic Ocean. We started the drive in Hout Bay driving away from the city. Although a toll road for cars, there is no fee for bicyclists. On most weekends and early mornings, the road becomes a cycling Mecca. Living close to Chapman’s Peak provides me with the opportunity to ride this beautiful route frequently.
Cloudy weather in the middle of the week didn’t deter us from venturing to Cape Point, the most southwestern tip of Africa (not the most southern point). After waiting out a windy rainstorm in the visitor’s center, it appeared clear enough to walk to the lighthouse. However, we soon found ourselves caught in the middle of another storm once we reached the top. We could understand why the tip of the Cape was so difficult for early explorers to navigate. My sister Bridget wanted to know where the beautiful blue water was that I had so many pictures of.
Wet and cold, we headed back to Muizenberg to warm up at one of my favorite food joints on the beach, Yoffi Falafel. Tasty pitas lovingly filled with layers of falafel balls, humus, tahini sauce, onions, cucumbers, cabbage, and avocado. With happy, warm stomachs we relaxed at the house before walking down to Kalk Bay for dinner at Olympia Café.
The end of the week provided us with warmer, sunny weather so we hit the road for a scenic drive along the coast eastward. Our destination was a game reserve. However we would not make it there in time for the afternoon game drive. So we headed south following signs for Cape Aghullas, the southernmost tip of Africa. Along the way we passed endless farmland with sheep blending into the landscape. After being disappointed in not being able to show my family the “Big Five of Africa” – elephant, rhino, lion, wildebeest, and cheetah, it turns out that we had a magical evening catching a sunset where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet at the very tip of Africa.
On Friday morning we stopped in at the BEN office to express our gratitude to Louis. He provided each of us with a specialized BEN cycling jersey. He also showed my parents and sister a map indicating the towns where BEN has established Bicycling Empowerment Center bike shops and school trainings in bicycle road safety. The scope of outreach that BEN has completed over the course of 11 years is outstanding for such a small NGO. Although retired, Louis has done a lot in terms of getting bikes to schools and kids who can’t afford them. One of the “Magnificent Seven,” Louis has ridden in all 36 Cape Argus Cycle Tours. A kind man with a big heart, Louis is passionate about bicycling in the same way I am: it just makes sense to get around by bicycle.
Next we headed to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where we had a picnic and enjoyed the warm weather.
A trip to Cape Town wouldn’t be complete without going to Robben Island to see Nelson’s Mandela’s prison cell. Our tour guide in the prison was an ex-prisoner whose voice bellowed through the prison. The tour took us around the island on a bus and then ended with a walk through the prison and a glimpse into Mandela’s former cell.
On Friday evening we enjoyed a very filling Ethiopian dinner at an authentic Ethiopian restaurant in the city called Addis, after the capital of Ethiopia. The experience began with our waiter pouring warm water onto each of our hands to wash them before eating (there is no silverware), then we were served appetizers with injera, then came many rolls of injera with our main meal which consisted of beef, chicken, lamb, shrimp, and several veggie dishes, and at the end we received dessert as well as Ethiopian coffee and popcorn. Apparently Ethiopia is where coffee originated from. It sure was strong coffee.
Although a short visit, it was so nice to see my family and share with them the South Africa I have been experiencing. My own time here is nearing the end and now I will have to prepare myself for the culture shock of returning to America after I have assimilated to life here.