Monday, June 13, 2005

South Africa Whirlwind, Part 2: Capetown
On Thursday, one week after I arrived in South Africa, Danola and I got on another plane and flew to Capetown. Danola was technically doing a training session for some of her company's Capetown staff that afternoon, so I got dropped off at a mall to wander around for 4 hours. I only bought one thing, a book, but I was very excited about it, because it was Steven Erikson's latest, which I can only get as a UK import by special order in the US. Hooray for countries that get most of their books from England anyway! When I got tired of walking in endless circles around the mall, though, I sat down in a little waiting area outside one of the department stores to read, but instead ended up listening to the other people who sat down there talk to each other. Afrikaans, South African English, a click language... Fun stuff.

When Danola and her Capetown staff person/guide, Jonathan, finally came to pick me up, we went to what is apparently the best pizza restaurant in Capetown for dinner with her trainee group. There ended up being just 5 of us, as Dave had to go to an OB appointment with his wife, but between Danola, Alasdair, Shane, and Jonathan, they managed to rack up such a tab in the nearly 6 hours we were there that the waitstaff was genuinely impressed. Being the only sober person there was kind of interesting. It was kind of like the "team-building" karaoke parties in Japan, except thankfully minus the singing. It was certainly amusing seeing them try to hire our waiter away from the restaurant to go manage a restaurant in the airport. He quickly told them they couldn't afford him, though I could certainly see why they'd want to, given that the service there was miles above any other place we'd eaten.

On Friday, Danola just had to run over to the airport for a "quick" meeting, and 2 hours later I ended up over there too, trying to organize file folders. We did actually finish up quickly after I got there, which was good, because then we got to go to Table Mountain. It was a beautiful day, and there weren't that many cars (which is apparently often a problem), so we got up to the top easily. In the cable car on the way up, the floor rotated around so we could get a full 360 view, no matter where we were standing.

While the top of the mountain certainly looks flat from the city, the top of it is very rocky, with all sorts of interesting wear patterns from water and wind across the top, and lots of little bushes and trees. Danola and I walked around up there for probably an hour, looking at the mountain and the ocean so close together. It was beautiful. I took many stunning pictures, to use a Danola word, and I do promise to post them soon.

That evening, Alasdair invited us to his little town, along the coast, but not actually in Capetown. It's a rather indie, artsy kind of town, full of coffee shops, art galleries, restaurants, and bars, all practically right on the water. Alasdair's apartment is above an art gallery and coffee place, and directly across the street and train tracks from the beach. Danola spent the whole sunset hour gushing about the beauty. The Capetown staff thinks she needs to get out of Johannesburg and move there.

On Saturday, Danola and I hit the V&A Waterfront for breakfast and strolling. Because I had done no souvenir shopping at all yet, we also hit the "Craft Market." We saw many things, but the weirdest thing was that they had an entire section of the market dedicated to massage of all kinds, chi adjustment, palm reading, etc. I ended up buying some small (easily packable) carvings of rhinos and elephants, and some necklaces cleverly made out of beads and safety pins.

Then we went for a drive along Chapman's Peak, which is apparently where they have the Argus bike race every year. The road is very curvy, with beautiful views everywhere you look, and very steep, leading me to believe that the cyclists on that tour are insane. The road leads up over the mountain and down to the other side of all the little towns along the cape. Simon's Town is the home of Boulders Beach, where the African penguins nest. We took the walk out on the raised walkways to see them all, which was very cool. There were lots of babies, all covered with brown fluff. So cute! Penguins are so neat.

For the rest of the afternoon and evening, we ended up at Shane and Alasdair's favorite bar, The Brass Bell in Kalk Bay. It's actually a collection of bars and restaurants, all sprouting out of a central building on separate decks, all at different levels and directions. The owner apparently rents the land from the railroad tracks to the ocean from the train company for ridiculously cheap, on a 99 year lease, and can build whatever he wants. The Bell sits so close to the water, they have to put up plexiglass shields to keep diners from getting sprayed by the ocean, and during particularly rough times of the year, they have to remove the tables from the decks nearest the water, because the waves actually break over the tops of them. Given that it was winter and the low season, Shane and his wife just kind of took over the place, introducing us to the waiters and giving us all the gossip about the more colorful locals. For instance, the guy playing his guitar for change in the underpass to get from the street to the Bell under the train tracks now lives with his wife, 3 kids, and two dogs in a camper that someone donated to them. They used to live in a dome tent on the beach. They live off what he makes from playing guitar, by choice. Apparently, he comes from a very wealthy family and his parents have been putting money in a bank account for him for years, but he never touches any of it.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. On Sunday, we flew back to Johannesburg, where Danola decided I would not be allowed to leave without my first exposure to a full length Bollywood movie, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which left me with a definite impression that Danola's life needs more singing and dancing. I'm amazed I didn't have Bollywood dreams that night. On Monday, I packed up, went to dinner with Danola when she got off work, and then began the long journey back to the US.

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