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Cape Town on Foot, Pt I

Waterfront

Image via Wikipedia

Originally, we had set aside the second day for  Table Mountain but our guide, Ian Reinders, insisted we go that first day following our visit to Robben Island. His reasoning was simple: the weather was good and if we waited, it might change and we wouldn’t get to see the mountain. Since we had only 5 days in Cape Town, we didn’t want to take any chances so we agreed.

When we woke that morning, we were both happy and relieved that we had been flexible and listened to Ian. Clouds covered the city and a light rain fell intermittently.

Even on a cloudy day, it’s hard to escape the almost sterile beauty of Cape Town. Some places look so new, so clean, they feel as if they were just built.

After a late breakfast, we decided to head out and explore the city on our own. Tony, a friend in Cape Town, had sent us a list of places to see and eat and our friend, Lorraine Klaasen had recommended Mzoli’s Place, so food was covered.

We wanted to visit the Slave Lodge, a museum, and go to the Green Market Square, a shopping area we had heard good things about. Everything, it seemed was on or near Long Street – the heart of the city – so we asked directions and headed out on foot.

Cape Town walkway

The streets around the V&A were almost empty, as if everyone had left town. I wondered where they could be, where the residential areas were and how far away the townships – and the action — would be.

Don’t get me wrong: we saw people – at the V&A Waterfront, at Table Mountain and Robben Island, and on the streets. But even during the week, I never saw anything that rivaled the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg.

News of the day

Nevertheless, Ian kept reminding us to be careful and we’d remind him that we live in New York and also get the same warnings each time we visit Jamaica so we knew how to keep our guards up. The evening before, Judith and I wanted to use an ATM that was inside the mall at the V&A. Ian insisted on accompanying us and warned that we stand guard behind whoever was using the machine. I felt he was being overly protective but I figured it’s his city, he’d know it better.

But apart from a woman with a child who approached us in the mall asking for money — unfortunately, living in a large city like New York, we’ve become inured to people like her and spotted her a mile away — no one bothered us and we felt completely safe.

Along the way, we noticed a cab driver and asked him to take us to Long Street. He told us we were only 10 minutes’ away so if we wanted to, we could walk. He even gave us directions to get there! Okay, we’re definitely not in New York!

Sure enough, after a leisurely walk, we noticed the sign for Long Street. Right away, the energy felt different – still not as bustling as Johannesburg or New York but definitely livelier than before. People were hustling about and there were lots more cars, buses and noise.

It was hard not to miss the first shop we stumbled on. Life sized African figures, wooden carvings and furniture marked the entrance to the small store that was chock full of stuff: jewelry, fabric, sandals, carvings and more decorated the walls and sprouted from either side of the narrow walkway. We had to be careful not to knock anything over but despite that, we ended up spending nearly 2 hours browsing, haggling, and socializing with the Nigerian owner, who told us he was a prince back home (aren’t all Nigerians princes back home, a friend asked me when I related the story) before hunger pushed us to look for lunch.

With the Nigerian Prince

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