Cape Town
South Africa

We were scared before we got to South Africa. Our travel guide devoted a large section to crime warnings. Our work colleague had a knife held to his daughters throat while he and his wife were robbed. My running mate told me how great it was for a year and then casually mentioned the night before we left that his rental car was broken into 2 times in 3 days. My Egyptian baker gasped and said, "be careful down there man, put your money in your shoes."

Our first morning in Cape Town, we took a wrong turn in our rental car and drove through the heart of one of the sketchiest townships. The road got narrower and narrower as we drove for miles through shanty towns. It was 10am, but men were pushing shopping carts filled with 1 liter beer bottles down the center of the road. "Don't stop!", Robyn said! We were scared and clearly didn't belong, but we eventually made it out the other end.

A beautiful day of driving and hiking down to the Cape of Good Hope was followed by a day of wine tasting in "Wine Country" (6 month pregnant Robyn had to just speculate!). Next, we went cage diving with Great White Sharks. Those are some big fishes! Our dive master "chummed" the water with fish blood and guts. Great white sharks would circle the boat. We put on very thick wet suits and jumped in a cage attached to the side of the boat. They would pull the bait toward the cage so we could view them underwater with a mask. (You didn't need dive equipment.)

We took a great tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and others were incarcerated for up to 27 years. The tours have a similar feel to Alcatraz, though the history is much more powerful, recent and poignant. Each tour is led by a previous inmate, in our case an ANC military operative who was caught and spent a decade in the cell we ended our tour in.

We also did a 'township tour', where you drive and walk around a couple of the townships (shanty towns). Since millions of Cape Town's residents live in the townships, it's an enlightening experience. We visited a traditional healer, got a beer in a 'shebeen' (an unlicensed bar) and visited a small school in a 1 room tin hut. Throughout the townships are ominous abandoned guard towers that were used during apartheid to control the people.

The scariest thing I did was go to church! Through a friend of a friend who preaches in Desmond Tutu's cathedral (St George's), I heard that Tutu was going to be giving the morning mass. So, while Robyn slept, I dragged myself out of bed to make the 7:15am service. I pictured myself sitting 15 rows back in a large cathedral while Tutu gave us some thoughts about AIDS or another problem in society. I grew slightly worried when I found out it was a congregation of just 20 people in a side chapel. I tried to hide in the back (3rd) row of a semi circle around Tutu. I felt completely stupid while everyone else (who were clearly not tourists) did all the prayers and rituals that I know nothing about. I (just) managed to hide in the back as Tutu addressed each person in the congregation individually, either commenting on what they have been doing recently or asking who they are. I couldn't hide when they reached the "peace be with you" section and everyone went to the center of the chapel to hug and kiss each other person in the congregation (I felt even stupider). I was truly alarmed when communion started, as I tried to figure out if I would be more or less conspicuous if I took communion. I panicked as a woman pointed to me and pointed to some guy who was kneeling on the floor before Tutu. I realized, however, I didn't need to kneel to receive the wine chalice, I needed to get into a circle with everyone else. Tutu and another minister went around the circle and gave each person (including me) communion. I was perspiring heavily but relieved when the service ended and I was able to bolt from the church, shaking Tutu's hand on the way out the door.

All together, we had a great week and no problems at all. We are looking forward to visiting again some day soon, maybe during a wider trip of Southern Africa.

Chapel in St George's where I got communion from Demond Tutu. You can see that it is too small to hide!
A shebeen (unlicensed bar) in a township.


The view from Table Mountain. You can see Robben Island in the background.
Our tour guide at Robbens island was a an ANC military operative and former inmate of the island. He is talking to us in the cell that he was incarcerated in for 10 years.
Wine tours outside of Cape Town. South Africa has great wine!
The Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa.
Penguins at Boulder Beach near Cape Town.
An Apartheid era police tower is a grim reminder of the Apartheid repression in the townships.
A township not far from the wealthy downtown area.

A Great White Shark, as seen from the boat. In the foreground is the side of the cage we used to view them underwater.

page created on April 25, 2006