Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No Interracial Mixing?!

Burma Update
Monday finally yielded the long awaited debate on Burma in the UK Parliament. The Conservative John Burko said the following:

Rape as a weapon of war, extra-judicial killings, compulsory relocation, forced labour, the use of child soldiers on a scale proportionally greater than in any other country in the world, the use of human minesweepers, the incarceration in conditions of unspeakable bestiality of political prisoners, religious persecution, water torture, and the destruction of more than 3,000 villages in Eastern Burma over the past decade are all chapters in the story of savagery that has shamed the Burmese military junta in the eyes of the world.

It would seem that there was recognition that it is Burma’s neighbours who are the ones who ought to be putting pressure on the junta, rather than just hoping the situation diffuses so that their vested financial interests are not harmed. India and China have both stated that they regard what is happening as an “internal security matter”. The European Union should also be ashamed for excluding France’s Total Oil company from the blockage. Double standards indeed.

Moving house
Next morning, I have to move hostels, to Carnival Court in the busiest stretch of Long Street. Despite the location, I get a lovely single room at the back, peaceful, simply appointed, with quite a Provence effect, simple plastered walls, wooden floor, simply wooden furniture and a lavender blue bed. It’s not en-suite, but I do have a basin.

Good hostel life for less than a tenner

Heading out through downtown – today I’m going to the District Six Museum, which LP says is unmissable. On the way, I pass Slave House, which was built in 1679 to house the Dutch East India Company’s slaves.

Slave House

Downtown Cape Town is generally really nice. The only area where things get slightly scruffy is near the station. A bit like Belgravia near Victoria in the UK.

Leafy downtown Cape Town

And modern too


By now I’m feeling peckish, so pop into the nice Bread Milk and Honey cafĂ© for brunch.

The place

The fare

District 6 Museum

The District Six Museum is just a few minutes walk away, on a corner. District Six was a suburb of Cape Town that was mostly coloured, black and Cape Malay people, until in 1966 the government declared the area a whites-only zone, and started clearing the neighbourhoods a couple of years later.

Father, forgive us. Chauvinism still okay

By 1982, more than 60,000 people had been relocated to the sandy, bleak Cape Flats township complex some 25 kilometres away, which is still today the largest township, or slum, in Cape Town. The museum details what life was like as a non-white those days, carrying ID at all times, appearing before tribunials to be categorized into one of 7 races, each of which carried or lacked certain rights, or facing being imprisoned, being a second-class citizen in all respects.

So it wasn’t all wrong then? Joke! Joke!! Sheeesh!

Since the fall of apartheid in 1994, the African National Congress has recognized the older claims of former residents to the area, and pledged to support rebuilding, including providing homes to some of the original residents. On 11 February 2004, exactly 38 years after being rezoned by the government, former president Nelson Mandela handed the keys to the first returning residents, Ebrahim Murat and Dan Ndzabela, both in their 80s.

The music man, you know you love the music

Of course it’s now the other way in England. This job is for anyone but a white person!

The museum

Leaving I feel somewhat sober, as I don’t feel that great progress has been made in integration. At least the worst excesses of apartheid are over, but I have been in South Africa for 11 days now and have seen one mixed-race couple. The rugby win has highlighted the divide over sport too – rugby is a white sport, blacks play and watch football. It doesn’t take long in conversation with most white South Africans for a certain amount of racism to emerge, though of course there are many exceptions to this. Why do the races still not mix – is it taboo?

Have things changed? An equality poster nearby

Robbin Island
I wanted to take a ferry out to Robbin Island, the (former) offshore prison where political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, were held. Frustratingly, the next availability is Wednesday.. next week! It’s Friday.. So that’s not going to happen. I content myself walking round the museum in the ferry terminal. The first exhibit was a large projection in a dark room of about twenty people who had been held for various reasons by the Apartheid regime, singing and talking about their experience.

Free Nelson Mandela! Damn I loved that song..

Of course, one aspect of apartheid (which is an Afrikaans word for “apart”) which I could never tolerate was that marriage and sexual intercourse between whites and blacks was a crime! Steady on! There are some very very pretty black and Cape Malay girls about, and in fact one of the milestones listed in the museum is the year that a slave was freed so that she could marry a Dutch chap.

Too much

Down to Waterfront
The waterfront area is where Oliver is, the English chap I met at the Fireman’s a few days earlier. It’s quite lively, with dance and song performances happening in several places.

Didn’t sound that good though

San Francisco is a long long way away

Busy port

Complete with entire oil rig!

At the Ferrymans pub restaurant, Oliveris enjoying a beer, one of a few he’s consumed this afternoon I suspect! He recommends the sole, which I order, along with a pint of Mitchell’s Bosun Bitter. Mitchells is a Kynsna-based brewery, so almost the local brew.


The portion of fish is good, not too much food, just right for the time, i.e. mid-afternoon. Wouldn’t want valuable beer space to be taken up after all!


On the way across to the next pub, we spot some seals down by the water. We head down to say hello. They’re lounging about waiting to be clubbed!

Lazy sods

There’s one chap sitting on steps that we can get right next to, but he’s facing away and generally being unphotogenic. Oliver tries to prod him, which works in a sense, he turns round, growls and bears his teeth, waddling towards us as if to say “try that once again mate..”. Oliver tries again and discovers the consequences as the seal blasts snot in our direction! Pretty horrible, but deserved.

Do something

That’s what you get…

Paulaner Brewhouse
Somewhere I’ve already been, the Brewhouse, still celebrating Oktoberfest in October, what are they playing at? We’re shown to our table outside by a lady who seems intent on not smiling. Ice maiden leaves us, so we order with “waitron”, who brings us steins of their house brew and a couple of pretzels. They serve the pretzels here German style, i.e. it’s a pretzel-shaped loaf of bread, liberally dosed with salt. Waitron seems to be a general term for waiters and waitresses in South Africa, I’ve seen it elsewhere too.

Rock Evolution
Having polished off our beers, and finally seen Ice Maiden smile, we leave contented and head across to another pub where Gerhard and Stef are waiting for us. A quick beer (very quick in Oliver’s case as the girl takes about 7 minutes to pour his Guinness), then we head round the corner to a BMW showroom, which has a theatre venue inside it, apparently a former IMAX. We’re here a show called Rock Evolution.

It’s cheesy but fun, especially with plenty of Windhoek beer. The format is a battle between the US and UK for rock, flicking back and forth between the decades. As far as I can see, as soon as we dropped the Floyd trump card it was decided, but perhaps others thought differently.

Afterwards down on the waterfront we squeeze in a final beer for the road, before they drop me off at my hostel.

As we head home, we discuss meeting times for the following morning. Gerhard says 8:30am but I don’t believe him! We’re going to tour vineyards, you can’t start on the wine at 9am!

Oh yes you can… !!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Climbing the Table

That’s where I’m headed!

On a beautiful clear morning I decide to head up the famous Table Mountain for the first time.


The front desk try to persuade me to take a taxi to the cable car, as it’s 45 minutes walk, though perhaps they were also thinking of security! Fine for me, I stroll up the fairly busy road. I later read that a couple of days previous someone was beated with a stick and mugged, one of over twenty instances this year to date. Well given how many people are up here today, I don’t think those are bad odds.

The buses are round the corner

Just to clarify, my plan was to take the cable car up today to get a feel for the place, and have a walk around on top of the table, then perhaps tomorrow walk up. However, when I reach the cable car station and see the queue snaking down the road, I decide perhaps I should walk up today! The view is already good from here.


First some water though, which was essential on this hot day. The hostel guys had told me to take a hat and suncream, which I poo-pooed. I am now glad I slapped a bit of cream on my nose, and wish I’d brought a hat! Although my mop of hair does a pretty good job. The path is quite steep but not as bad as people make out.

The temperature’s just about okay in the nice breeze (the Cape Doctor). For the first bit of the trail, one has the cable cars flying straight overhead. I’m sure the looks I was receiving were more out of pity than admiration!

One could see why the queue was so big – the cable cars are quite slow in turning around and there are just two flipping back and forth.

Looking back towards the Lion’s Head and Signal Hill

Anyway, there are lots of pretty flowers lining the way up into Platteklip Gorge, one of over 300 ways up and down. In fact the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are on these same slopes just further round in the direction I’m walking.

The trail follows the hill round, with a merciful flat stretch, lulling one into a false sense of security!

Of course, there is a sharp ascent for the last part of the gorge.

The final climb

The top is 1073m high, and has marvellous views in all directions.

Robbin Island, where Mandela was imprisoned

The indigenous name of the mountain is Hoerikwaggo, which somewhat uninspiringly means “Mountain in the Sea”.

Camps Bay and Clifton down below

Given that the Table Top analogy works so well, I suspect this new (old) name won’t take root for a long time. I potter about a bit then take the cable car down for 65r.

Touristy cable station

Down at the bottom I walk down, enjoying an extremely messy Rollo ice-cream as a treat. In Long Street I go for lunch at Mama Africa, which Lewis has recommended, but it’s not open, so I try Zula instead.

The choice of food appears to be either meat or sausage. I go with sausage (worl). The friendly Italian waitress brings me a nice glass of merlot wine, and generally looks after me as I surf the wifi from across the road at Nandos. Whilst enjoying coffee back at the hostel, I read my Africa LP guide book, and start to feel really positive about trip.

All those lost calories walking.. and then some!

In the afternoon, I wander through downtown, visiting the SA National Gallery, supposedly South Africa’s premier art gallery, which turns out to be closed for renovation.

What a backdrop

Down past parliament:


SA Parliament

Slightly sinister buildings though

Next to the Botswanan Embassy, where I pick up the forms for applying for a visa (later work out I don’t need one!), and as it’s the same building as the British Embassy, I pop up to 15th to advise them to send anyone who wants a passport to Botswana as they only take 10 days to issue them (cf 10 weeks here in South Africa).

By now it’s time for a pint, so across to the Fireman’s Arms, supposedly a decent ale house.

It’s a nice place, so I sit outside on one of their benches and read.

Eventually I’m asked if I mind sharing the large table I’m occupying on my own, which of course I don’t, and so am lucky to meet a really nice bunch, Trevor, Michelle, Gerhard, Stef, Oliver and others. They’re here for the quiz night, and invite me to join their team (for what’s it’s worth!).

I’m drinking a nice ale, Mitchell’s Bosun’s Bitter. According to my itemised bill at the end, I had nine of them, plus some dodgy apple spirit the group ordered. Our team won the cash prize question, which just about paid for our entry fee! Walking back to my hostel, I come across an interesting bar full of Philippino and Chinese sailors and, well, how shall I put it? “Local” girls. I chat to the taxi drivers outside for a while, then head inside for a few more beers and some chatting! I try some negotiations out of interest, but leave alone!