Cape Town is both beautiful and unique because of the diversity of its people, landscape, and culture. All of which were on full display this weekend. It started off in the Muslim neighborhood of Bo-Kaap. Hidden behind tall buildings and the bustling city streets, you enter Bo-Kaap by climbing steep cobblestone streets. Somehow the area immediately becomes peaceful and quiet. The smell of Middle Eastern spices fill the air and minarets dot the landscape. In a few short steps I felt like I had landed in North Africa.
Last Wednesday, I taught in the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha. The University of Cape Town has a program called SHAWCO, which pairs college students with the brightest children for extra instruction after school. A bus took us from campus to Khayelitsha, which is Cape Town’s biggest township. With a population of over 400,000, it is essentially a city unto itself. While it is hard to summarize such a large community based off one visit, the township is mostly comprised of poorly constructed shacks and dusty roads.
My friends and I returned from the garden route yesterday, which entails driving up South Africa’s east coast. It is a beautifully scenic drive that gives you ocean views for much of the way. We were gone for three nights and were able to explore a lot of what the Eastern Cape had to offer.
The trip was an adventure right from the outset. We rented a car in downtown Cape Town, which required driving stick on the left side of the road while surrounded by South African drivers who are considered the most dangerous in the world. Fortunately for me, one of my friends knew how to drive manual. Unfortunately for him, he was the only one and had to drive the entire time.
We spent our first night in Mossel Bay, a few hours up the coast from Cape Town. The city was pretty disgusting and we weren’t too pleased that that is where our group of 11 chose to spend the night. Mossel Bay appeared to have a knack for ruining the beautiful seascape they were given. Big, clunky hotels lined the ocean and warehouse after warehouse littered the area leading into the city. There also appeared to be no one living in the city as all the restaurants and bars were virtually empty. We quickly dubbed Mossel Bay the “Liverpool of South Africa.” Needless to say, we left early next morning.
From there, we drove several hours until we reached the “world’s biggest bungee jump.”
It has only been one week that I have been in Cape Town, but so far the experience has been exciting and very bizarre.
Besides being possibly the most beautiful city in the world, I have come to love the distinct culture of Cape Town. It is a mostly black city (a big departure from Madison) that also has a significant colored and black culture. South Africa has 11 official languages and it seems everyone here speaks at least three of them. Yet they are not the commonly heard Mandarin or Spanish. Instead, many of the languages here, such as Afrikaans and Xhosa, only reside in this region of the world. South Africans seem to pride themselves on the uniqueness of their lingual culture.
Yet, for all the different languages that are spoken, American and pop music still dominate.