Wild. In every sense of the word, the Africa I saw, if only for a few days, can be described with one word: “wild.” The animal life. Geology. Even the people. Africa seemed to be exactly the place from where I imagined that all of humanity originated from, eons ago. My brief trip there was only to South Africa, but wow, was it spectacular. After this trip I have reached all 7 continents, and now I have a new favorite place on this beautiful planet of ours: Cape Town, South Africa.
I had lived in North America, Asia, and Europe, and travelled in South America and Australia and the Middle East, but had never been to Africa or Antarctica (continents #6&7 for me) until a few months ago. I had the privilege of seeing Africa in all its diversity from space- some of the most incredible deserts and jungles and coastline on Earth. From that vantage point, South Africa seemed to be a convergence of all that Africa had to offer- desert, mountains, jungle, and city lights at night. But I always wondered what it was actually like from the ground.
Well, I recently put that wonder to rest. As a stopover enroute to Antarctica I visited Cape Town. And discovered many reasons it is my new “Favorite City On Earth.” People- it was really a pleasure to mix with the four main people groups here, listen to the 11 official languages of South Africa spoken, and get to know their laid-back lifestyle. Scenery- mountains, vineyards, big city, aqua green ocean beaches, and jungle, all very nearby. Food- best I’ve ever had. I had gourmet meals, at “average meal” prices in America. Climate- it was absolutely perfect- the southern hemisphere December was just lovely, temperatures in the 70s and 80s (20s C mostly) and lots of sun (unfortunately they are dying for some rain down there, a subject for a different blog).
It reminded me of a mix between San Diego, Phoenix, and Provence, with a distinctly African flair that had an occasional baboon blocking traffic. Of all of the unexpected things I encountered in Cape Town on my first trip to the African continent, seeing penguins was at the top of the list. There is an incredible colony of African penguins at Boulder Beach in Simons Town, just south of Cape Town. Although I had expected that Antarctica was where I would see penguins, it was a wholly wonderful thing to see these creatures near the southern most point of the African continent. #HiddenGem for sure! The Cape of Good Hope was also spectacular, with its prominent mountain peak and gorgeous turquoise waters. I could imagine explorers from centuries past rounding this point, hopeful of the riches that awaited them as they turned north on some new trade route.
And back to the food. If you like beef, vegetables, cheese, wine, bread; just about any kind of food, Cape Town is the place to go. I even had the most incredible and authentic Chinese food here. I must say, for the price and quality and taste and ambience of food and drink, this place just cannot be beaten. I’m no television expert (despite my initials), but if I were an executive at the Food Channel I would definitely be sending folks here for a show- or season of shows.
Most of all I was intrigued by the people of South Africa. I remember as a kid the controversy surrounding the Apartheid regime, and how Nelson Mandela had led the downfall of that enforced discrimination. And vaguely recalled that South Africa had been part of a proxy war between America and the Soviet Union, a distant battleground for the CIA and KGB during the “cold war” that was not always cold. I had heard of Robben Island, where Mr. Mandela was held prisoner for nearly 3 decades by an Apartheid government clinging to a 19th century philosophy of racial superiority that was ultimately doomed to the scrap heap of antiquated and failed ideology. But I honestly didn’t really understand the history here. It was interesting to learn of the Boer War, British and Dutch colonization, the triumphs of the Zulus and other tribes. I am a much richer person having learned about this history of the southernmost point of Africa, one of humanity’s true crossroads.
Most of all I was fascinated by the people of South Africa- of the four official races recognized by the government, how they get along today as well as in the past. About the economy and politics of the place- things that you would never think of if you just visited as a tourist and didn’t bother to talk to the locals. How South Africa has learned lessons in the post-apartheid era that countries around the world have learned- that it is much easier to have a revolution that solve entrenched social and economic problems.
This first visit was wonderful- I really just dipped my toes into the vast richness of all that is Africa- deserts, jungles, bustling cities, diverse cultures, and tragically, what often seems to be endless conflict in many regions.
This may have been my first time in Africa, but it will not be my last. There are still lots of lands yet undiscovered. The sand dunes of Namibia, the jungles of the interior, the safari of the Kenyan savannah, and the never-ending desert and geology of the Sahara. I can’t wait for my next trip to the cradle of civilization.