Thanks to the easy access, I’ve been able to visit several South African cities. But none of them compare to Cape Town.
Cape Town is by far my favorite place in South Africa. Maybe it was the race, maybe it was my travel companions, maybe it was all the food I ate, but this was one of the best vacations I’ve had while living in Lesotho.
On a wine tour, I met an American student studying in the city. Although she liked it, she said it was full of “yuppies” drinking coffee and bar hoping. That is what I wanted. CT is full of farmers’ markers, hipster coffee shops and overly priced boutiques. It had a sense of creativity and originality that I hadn’t seen in other African cities. Instead of crappy chain restaurants, we ate at eateries with local produce on the menu and MGMT playing through the speakers. I drank something other than instant coffee and Black Label. It was wonderful.
Besides the American hipster tendencies that I miss, Cape Town is incredibly beautiful. Table Mountain towers over the city, giving you the sense you aren’t really in a city. There is the waterfront with a harbor full of boats that should be in picture frames in someone’s study. Constantia’s forest is in the middle and offers a bit of escape. Not to mention it is encompassed by both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Many other PCVs compare CT to San Francisco, a city I adore, and I came to the same conclusion.
Here are a few highlights of the trip:
Four of us decided to rent a car and drive to CT. Flying is faster while a bus is cheaper, but a rental would ensure that my legs wouldn’t swell up from lack of circulation without totally wiping out my bank account. As the oldest, and apparently the only credit card bearer, the car was under my name and I was the primary driver. We originally reserved a compact automatic car, thinking we would get a fleet model. However, the man at Hetz bumped us up to a BMW M3. I was already nervous about driving on the left side, so, when he gave me the keys to a car that is worth more than I am, I asked for something not as nice. Hertz man smiled and told me to turn on the car. 600 miles later we were in Cape Town. Outside of the city, we drove through a gorgeous mountain pass highlighted by the stars. CT glowed as we came upon it and the exhaustion of the drive and nerves of the upcoming race melted just for a moment.
My friend Kevin read about a local food market in a travel book and suggested we try it. The market, kind of like a farmers’ market, is only open on Thursdays and Saturdays and is a place for those who insist on local. A few vendors were selling clothes and produce, but the main attraction was the food. Organic burgers, Indian curry, quiche, wraps, spring rolls and other foods that I can’t get in Lesotho made it hard to choose a meal and I walked around for at least 20 minutes. I ended up with potato, veggies and rice wrapped in olive leaves served with a cucumber dip that wasn’t nearly as good as I had hoped but still pretty tasty. Nick and I decided to split desert and ingested caramel fudge and a white chocolate brownie, both practically melting away into my throat.
Although the food was incredible, the atmosphere was what did it for me. Low lights with hanging ribbons and a guy playing on an acoustic guitar. New and old friends chatted over craft beer and wine (I drank lemonade because I was still on my pre-race sobriety) and while eating off of tables made of doors. We met some American study abroad students and filled ourselves to the brim. After, we took a detour home a walked through a park marked with white lights. As we strolled, Anne and I discussed life after Peace Corps and the fear of whatever that entails. It was one of the best nights in my two years in Africa.
After the race, we met up with Shelly back at the hostel. Shelly and I served together in Niger, both on Team Zinder, for a short time. She was reassigned to Malawi and had COSed only a few days before meeting us in Cape Town. Her travel planned just happened to cross with mine and it was so good to see her two years later. In Malawi, she was very involved in Camp GLOW, a girls’ empowerment camp that is hosted in several Peace Corps countries worldwide, and one of her camps got a very special visitor when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came through on her African tour. Besides being a great volunteer, which really has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton, Shelly has such a bright and contagious spirit, so it was great to have a few days together.
On Easter, I woke up early for church and, although my legs were screaming from the race, enjoyed the quietness of the morning. After church, I continued to walk a bit and picked up a pain au chocolate, although I couldn’t find a newspaper anywhere in the city. The rest of my travel party went on few expeditions while I met up with Janelle, another PCV, her boyfriend, who lives in South Africa, and his American roommate for brunch. Brunch is that new hip thing everyone does in America and it was fun to have an opportunity to participate. I ordered eggs and a Bloody Mary because Thought Catalogue tells me that is what you are supposed to do to be cool. It was enjoyable.
I had hoped to tour the city a bit, but my friend John called. He lives in my village and is now studying sound engineering in CT, so we got together for beers and village gossip. I didn’t get to see him much the last time he was home so it was great to catch up.
After, I met up with the group and we headed out for our Easter feast: Mexican. I’ve had PCV-made Mexican, fake Mexican from an Applebee’s-like restaurant in Lesotho and pretty decent Mexican in Durban last Easter break, but nothing compared to this meal. It was real Mexican. I decided to go all out and split nachos with Nick and then ordered the biggest veggie enchilada that I could. However, I was so full from nachos I only took four bites of my entrée. Thanks to takeaways, I was able to enjoy it cold for a few more days.
Our last day was a wine tour. I only had two goals for South Africa while living in Lesotho: a safari and a wine tour. The tour was my reward for running the race and it was a perfect end to our vacation. We went to six vineyards, tasted about 30-some wines and had an excellent lunch on a farm outside of the city. Shelly joined us for that and we met more American students. I learned that I’ve never actually tasted wine and now know how to properly get the feel of a wine. Although it was educational, I enjoyed just being with my friends and bought a bottle to enjoy on a cold winter’s night in Lesotho. After, for our final meal, we had burgers (mine veggie, of course, but made with falafel), sweet potato fires and IPAs. Katie and I also shared a peanut butter and banana shake that made me not want to return to the land of KFC ice cream.
Because it is impossible for Heather to travel to South Africa without something going wrong, we had issues with our reservation on the day we were to leave and had to book from another place. That put our trip back several hours, but the problem was that Gerad and I had visas that were going to expire that day. When crossing the border from Lesotho, South Africa gives out only seven-day visas. The idea is to make sure Basotho do not cross and get jobs, however the line is pretty gray. People who crossed the border the same day we did g0t 30-day visas or even 90 day. If I were to come in from the United States, I would get 90 days, but from Lesotho it was only seven. When I asked for more, I got yelled at.
Katie and Nick were fine, so they were going to drive us to the border and then back to Bloem to drop off the car the next day. However, that would put us at the border around midnight and them back on the road till 2 a.m. Knowing it wasn’t safe, we called Peace Corps to see what our options were. They told us that we would take a financial hit the next day when crossing but we would be risking our lives if we tried to make the trip. We decided against it and slept in Bloem.
When we crossed, sure enough, we were hit with 1,000R fines, about $125. I wasn’t in the best of moods and the woman behind the counter started yelling at me for having a bad attitude. I broke down sobbing, feeling ashamed for my behavior and wondering how I was going to pay the fine. We didn’t have to pay it there, but we are not allowed back into South Africa until we pay it.
Peace Corps told us to bring the fees back to the office and that they would work on trying to appeal it. We are waiting on that now and, in the meantime, I can’t leave the country. I don’t have plans to travel anytime soon, but I sorta feel like an outlaw.
The trip back to village was rough, as it always is when returning from vacation, but my family was so excited to see me and hear about my race. A few days later, I took my medal to school to show my students the product of setting a goal and working hard to accomplish that goal. I am always looking for ways to motivate my students, which isn’t easy, but it was also an excuse to wear my new favorite piece of hardware.
Besides the last part, the trip was incredible and, if time and money allow, I may return to CT before heading back to the States. That is, if I can get back into the country.