The Gull Reef Club

6/19/2005

Shackdwellers and Strandlopers

Filed under: — Jaime @ 7:36 pm

table-mountain
(Postcard courtesy of The Postcard Stalker)

Picking a country of origin from my visitors’ logs seemed to work last week, so I did it again for this postcard. Today we are traveling to the southern most region oAfrica – Cape Town, South Africa.* We’ll explore the city and parts of the outlying West Cape province.

Like the demanding coast that gives rise to the many legends of the Cape of Good Hope, it seems Cape Town itself is a place one should get used to slowly and probably not go into unfamiliar waters. Cape Town is a city of contrast. It is home to great wealth and extreme poverty, soaring mountains and beaches, blacks, whites and coloureds (As an American, I feel weird typing that but apparently this is still common in South Africa).

Let’s start off with some general galleries that capture most of the city-proper and touristy ‘must see’ places. We have Georgia Roessler’s Cape Town Gallery, Emily Delmont’s Cape Town Gallery, and Pat McKune’s Cape Town Galleries – all very good at displaying the popular locales. Cape Town is also home to the lovely Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Of course, we couldn’t visit Cape Town without a ride down to Cape Point.

As I was exploring, I noticed the touristy galleries were all rather similar. It seemed like very few capturing ‘day in the life’ type pictures. I then stumbled upon this site My Mother Built This House, Lifeonline. More specifically, this bit of information, “Nearly one-third of Cape Town’s population of three million live in slums or squatter settlements.” Oh, I thought meekly as I sat in my comfy leather chair, in my air-conditioned room, typing on my specially purchased ultra-quiet keyboard – at least we have an explanation for the tourist gallery similarities.

This is when the contrasts of Cape Town really began to show themselves. I am not the only person to notice these contrasts. They are manifest themselves more once you begin to look. Manfred Leiter noticed. So did the folks at the Southern Africa Environment Project. Cape Town offers a great deal of luxury to those who can afford it. We see this in Craig Sydney’s Cape Town Buildings and the voluminous websites dedicated to luxury rentals. This isn’t how many Cape Towners live, however.

One third of those who live in Cape Town and the outlying West Cape area do so in extreme poverty. When I mentioned earlier that we may not want to explore unfamiliar waters, it is because of galleries like Marcel Baumann’s Cape Town and Janet Walt’s Trek Earth Gallery and articles like this from the BBC, SA housing protests turn violent. Then there is the ravishing of the poor community by HIV and AIDS. Personal stories of these (mostly) Cape Towners from the Wola Nani Embrace are certain to anger and disgust. Now I understand why so many tourist maps exclude anything on the outer edges of Cape Town. This portion of the trip could get real depressing if I went on, so we’ll just leave it here for now.

There are a few more miscellaneous stops to make before we go. I have no way of putting these in any semblance of order, so random it is. First, a (white) local’s look at his homeland after having been away for awhile brought to us by Dr. Gernot Hassenpflug. I confess I really enjoyed his gallery because he took lots of pictures of his meals. I couldn’t find many Cape Town specific recipes, but this more than covers the food portion of our trip.

Also, while we are in Cape Town, we are going to want to pick up a little slang. The South African Expat’s Slang Page is a good start. Very befok. Check, China?

This trip also proved to be immensely useful in that I learned the Dutch word for beachcomber – strandloper. The term as it is used in reference to Cape Town is detailed by M.L. Wilson of the South African Museum in his (her?) Shell middens and Strandlopers.

We’ll depart by sharing one of Cyber Cape Town’s Myths and Legends of Cape Town:

As the story goes Jan van Hunks, a pirate in the early 18th century, retired from his eventful life at sea to live on the slopes of Devil’s Peak. He spent his days sitting on the mountain smoking weed on his pipe.

One day a stranger approached and asked to borrow some spliff. After a bit of bragging, a smoking contest ensued which lasted for days.

Van Hunks finally defeated the stoned stranger – who unfortunately turned out to be the devil – and they both vanished in a puff of cannabis smoke. Legend has it that the cloud of “tobacco” smoke they left became the “table-cloth” – the famous white cloud that spills over Table Mountain when the south-easter blows in summer.

Thank you for joining me on this trip to Cape Town. It has been a learning experience. See you next week, strandlopers. Sala kahle!

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*As an aside, I realized this week that a disproportionate number of my Sunday Postcards are dedicated to cities or counties starting with the letter C. Well, C is for cookie afterall. I must have some underlying holdovers from youth I’ve not fully explored. I really do like cookies. A lot. Mmmm…cookies… In any event, I promise that no matter where we go next week, it won’t start with the letter C.

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