We arrived. By the time we checked into More Quarters, it was 2:30pm Monday. This would have been our first moment to unwind since we began the series of flights Saturday night. However, rather than relaxing, we decided to seize the moment – and the daylight – to explore Cape Town. We quickly took showers, changed clothes and walked out the door. We didn’t really have a determined destination, we simply set out to explore.
Cape Town is a city with prominent and unique geographic features. Table Mountain, recently named one of the “New Seven Wonders of Nature”, is visible from nearly every vantage point. The warm waters of the Indian Ocean and the cool waters of the Atlantic meet in Cape Town as well. The rich marine surroundings are exquisite, further highlighted by the vast mountains.
It’s so surreal that we’ve reminded ourselves we’re here numerous times throughout the day. There have been some comical and obvious indicators that we’re in new territory: figuring out how turn the lights on. . . and off, how to fill the bathtub. . . and drain it, and how to use an old metal key to open the gates leading to our hotel room.
Those are good indicators that we’re in unfamiliar territory, but the best indicator that we’re in Africa is the people. I’ve heard this – and chances are you’ve heard this as well – the people in Africa are kind, hospitable, positive, and full of gratitude. We are blessed to experience this first-hand. Everyone we’ve encountered exudes joy, love and passion, even in the face of challenges.
People in Africa look up to America. We’re the Americans in town and they’re happy to see us. America is a place many say they aspire to live. “If I work hard, I can go there someday,” a wonderful man named Gilbert said, with a smile and the look of a dream-come-true in his eyes. “But I have to work really hard,” he added.
“Stay hopeful!” two young men we met today cheered. Obama’s words have traveresed continents. There are people in Africa, up against insurmountable odds, who have hope as a result of our President’s words and leadership.
People here are extremely interested in, informed, and invested in our politics. They depend on our policies, our foreign relations, our leadership, to pave the way for their future.
We walked down Kloof and Long streets to take it all in. The staff at More Quarters, who treat us as friends, told us about a place called Green Market Square where people sell African arts and crafts. However, we didn’t remember how to get there. As we walked aimlessly, we met a nice young South African couple who’d just returned from a hike. We asked them about Green Market Square and they kindly offered to lead us there.
As we were walking, they shared some of the history of South Africa with us. They told us that Green Market Square is initially where ships’ crews would come to stock up on freh produce before returning to sea. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was merely our first history lesson. Everywhere we went today, people shared history. It’s almost as if understanding its history is a prerequisite to truly experience and appreciate South Africa.
As we continued our walk, it became apparent why people are so adamant about sharing their country’s history. The history of Cape Town is exceptionally rich. To experience Cape Town, you must understand how it came to be. The couple continued to explain how Cape Town was discovered, developed, the origins of the classifications whites, colored, and black. The physical boundaries that came with the classifications went away with Apartheid, but their identities did not.
They talked to us about how things have changed since Apartheid was abolished. It was only very recently, from a historical perspective, that these three groups of people were allowed to integrate, share neighborhoods, schools, restaurants. As a result, there has been a tremendous amount of rapid change. The positive abolishment of Apartheid brought with it its own set of new challenges. It’s the beginning of a new era and everyone we meet is invested and active in positive change.
As I processed this information, sleep deprived, and disoriented, I heard “Here we are!” I looked at the couple, the brightest smiles shining on their faces. They take pride in sharing their country with us, in sharing each moment.
Our new friends left us with hugs and well wishes as we entered Green Market Square to begin purchasing gifts for friends and family back home. We were a bit overwhelmed by the quantity of art and goods before us. Each time I picked something up, I asked who made it, where it originated. Many of the pieces I inquired about came from Zimbabwe, a country we’ll be visiting at the end of our journey here.
We purchased a few items, vowing to return once we’d gotten some sleep, and found a nearby bar, The Slug & Lettuce, to unwind. Again, we were greeted as if we were family or long-lost friends, as opposed to visitors. We enjoyed a few drinks, had inspiring conversations with locals, and walked away with a recommendation for dinner.
We enjoyed our first meal outside of an airplane or airport in 36 hours at a restaurant at The Waterfront, called Baia. A martini, a bottle of wine, and a delicious seafood platter were welcome comforts before enjoying our first night of sleep in a proper bed.
Our wake-up call tomorrow morning is set for 6:00am. Our adventure: touring some of the wineries of Stellenbosch. A good night’s sleep is in order.