Week Nineteen - Undercurrents - Start happening too! It's time to go round and round...

These are the roots of rhythm, 
And the roots of rhythm remain.  - Paul Simon, Under African Skies, Graceland

Day One Hundred and Twenty Eight October 23rd

This alarm system will be the death of me.  I can’t sleep with the thing on because I am convinced something is going to set it off and we are all going to be freaked out in the middle of the night.  Then again, I can’t sleep with the thing off because Marko the house manager put the fear of God in all of us that people are standing in the shadows just waiting to break in.  This leaves only one option: stay awake as much as possible and worry about the alarm.  Not a good way to get by day to day.

Instant coffee does the trick.  I am actually learning to enjoy the instant coffee.  This is a shock to those that know me well.  The secret is to put a bunch of spoonfuls in so it gets a strong as possible.  Sugar helps.  I am convinced that they put instant into the French Press pots at the hotel in Cairo.  There were no coffee grounds in the French Press pots there.  How can that be? Plus it was painfully weak coffee.   It had to be instant. 

After school this morning we load up the car and start to drive the coast.  Once you get out of the city you immediately notice two things: (1) the shantytowns with intense poverty and (2) the beauty of the land.  

I will take them in reverse order.  The landscape is stunning.  When you get away from the populated areas the natural surroundings are still relatively untouched.  There are no billboards or electric lines, housing developments or random suburbs.  Not by LA standards anyway.  You notice that there aren’t any roads connecting places.  The only road is the one we are traveling on. Occasionally you see a dirt side road or we come across some random intersection but other than that it’s just our “highway” (two lanes, max speed 120K on the straightaway).

The poverty is really intense.  South Africa is deceiving: one minute you are in suburban paradise the next a ghetto of cardboard boxes.  In the back of your mind you know that this world exists: the apartheid and segregation issues.  But somehow you think it is all better or fixed in some way.  Don’t let the waterfront and the new stadium fool you.  It isn’t. 

These towns of cardboard and corrugated steel rise up as stark reminders.  At first sight you cannot believe people are living in them.  It is unbelievably congested with huts and boxes and simple square shelters made out of all kinds of materials.  There are old highway signs, cardboard appliance boxes, random pieces of wood, tents, sheets and blankets, all stacked together, leaning into each other for support.  It looks like one good storm would wipe the place clean.  

The crazy thing is that there are electricity lines running everywhere and there is a sense of permanence about the place.  It feels as if generations have been passed through here, raising families and living out their lives.  There is a clear and present danger to those of us looking in from the outside, but it seems not as much so to those looking out.  Then again what do I know: I am just driving by at 120K.

Garbage is piled randomly with out apparent rhyme or reason, though there must be some method to the madness.  I have no idea how they handle sewage.  There does seem to be a central area with block cement buildings.  These may be community, water and waste centers but it is hard to tell.

The other crazy thing is that these areas are so contained.  The towns are large but they seem to exist within set boundaries. The closest I can come to it is Cabrini-Green on the North side of Chicago when I lived in Lincoln Park back in the early 90s.  At that time you literally walked one block over and you were in a radically different world.  The same hold true here. One minute you are driving along looking a pristine countryside, the next you are passing by some of the most disturbing living condition in the world.  This is a strange country.

At lunchtime we find ourselves in the town of Noodhoek looking for horses to ride on the beach.  To give an idea of the scope of things here, they have 8K of unspoiled beachfront for riding.  I don’t think we have 8K of unspoiled beachfront left in all of the US. It turns out we need reservations for the ride so we cannot go today.  All is not lost though as we find a great little shopping/play area with an excellent brunch place.  It feels very much like Carmel or maybe Mill Valley up in Northern California.  

After lunch we continue on our way to the Cape of Good Hope.  This is another “biggy” for those of us ocean freaks out there.  It is the notorious Cape route that opened the trade links between Asia, Africa and Europe.  We are psyched.

The Baboon Crossing sign makes us stop and reverse the car to make sure we read it correctly.  Then sure enough, a large one comes walking up the road.  Baboons!  In the wild, not caged, just walking around looking for something to eat.  Vince is calling them “Bamboos” and Adele “Bambooms.”  There is much excitement in the car with all of us talking at once and all calling them something different.  Teri is trying to snap photos and I am trying to roll up the windows, press the door locks and not to run into them.  Baboons, really, walking down the street.

The drive to the Cape is majestic with big, wide-open spaces and wind swept landscapes.  If the end of the world had an address this might be the place.  The land mass gets narrower and narrower the farther out we go.  I understand why they used to think the world ended at this waterline.  From the tip of the point there is nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see.  

We drive the climb up to main lighthouse that sits on top of the final peak.  The kids and I take a cable car up to the very top and explore the observation decks carved into the mountainside.  These are old rock walls and platforms used for a few hundred years to call out to boats as they attempted to pass by.  Over six hundred and fifty recorded wrecks lie beneath the waves.  With the winds and waves you get a clear sense of how dangerous a journey it is.

Down at the shoreline they formally mark the Cape coordinates with an official sign so we head off to take a few photos and walk amongst the crashing waves.  As we drive in we notice that big necks with beaks are watching us.  Ostriches.  There are big wild ostriches, walking around and checking things out.  They are enormous birds, much bigger than we are.  It’s a bit scary to see them standing roadside waiting for you to get out of the car to see if you are indeed ostrich food.  Once again I feel the need to lock the doors and windows.

Our last stop of the day is Boulder Beach the home of wild African penguins.  Adele has always loved penguins and she can barely contain herself on the way over.  When we get there it is almost unnatural to see them sitting around in the wild.  Your instinct is to pick them up and call the zookeeper.  

They are all over the place: in the water, on rocks, under trees, all along the boardwalks.  Adele teaches us everything she knows about penguins.  It is amazing to see her so passionate and excited.  We have a great time and vow to come back to swim with them at the beach if it warms up a bit during our stay.

After a long afternoon we head back to our compound, eat in, watch some Animal Planet and call it a day.

Day One Hundred and Twenty Nine October 24th

Today turns into a rest and logistics day.  In the morning we have school, fill in our journals, lounge about the house and play an extended game of cars.  

By mid-morning we venture back into the city for lunch at the Waterfront Pier and an extended shop for necessities.  

Evening finds us on the couch watching Planet Earth.

This is our goal for these next few weeks, to slow down and regroup. We need some extended R&R.

Day One Hundred and Thirty October 25th

Up to more sunshine and wind.  This is one of the windiest spots we have experienced to date.  It never stops and the sudden bursts are really strong and powerful.  At one point I overhear Teri telling Adele that the constant “winds can drive people crazy.”   It’s time to move over the hill.

We are city people at heart and feel the need to be in Cape Town to fully experience all it has to offer.  Luckily we found the De Waterkand Cottages online.  They are in De Waterkand a largely gay neighborhood that climbs up from the base of the hill leading up to Signal Mountain. 

The company has fifteen or so houses spread though out the neighborhood.  The owner, Richard and his partner have been building up the business over the past eight years.  They own six or seven houses with the rest owned by out-of-towners and managed by them.    We have a great time touring five of six to see if we can find one that will work for the four of us.  We do and it is available tomorrow morning.  Decision made: we will stay another week in Cape Town. 

The kids are wound up so we try to go to Table Mountain to burn off some energy.  By the time we arrive the cable car is closed.  If you keep driving past the main station the road goes on for another half mile or so before stopping due to a large rockslide that knocked out a lane and a half.  You can however continue on foot.

Adele and I brave the winds and walk along the deserted road.  It is great fun.  We wander as father and daughter, keeping a watchful eye out for “bambooms”, talking about Apartheid and Robben Island (sitting just off shore in the distance), trying to figure out how people actually live in cardboard boxes, wondering where the winds come from (Antarctica I am told) and making up whale jokes.  It is the perfect moment.  

To celebrate our last night in the  “alarm house” we head down to Camps Bay for dinner.  Our restaurant, Blues, sits just across the street from the beach and has incredible sunset views.  The food is good but expensive.  Camps Bay wants to be the Hamptons of Cape Town but instead feels like a mix between the seeder side of the Cape and nicer parts of the Jersey Shore.  It has a preppy appearance with a gritty undertone.  Not our style.

Day One Hundred and Thirty One October 26th

We are so excited to be leaving Camps Bay and the “alarm house” that we are up and out by 9a.  If we thought we could have moved in early we would have left at 6a.  By the time we settle in to our new place it is close to 10a.  

Adele and I walk across the street to do a food shop and check out the local shopping area. How great is that?   We are just a few steps to a great grocery store. This is exactly what we are looking for.

The De Waterkand neighborhood has been gentrified over the past decade and is a collection of one and two story row houses.  The streets are cobblestone with tree lined and the there is a constant buzz of activity.  With a Yoga studio around the corner and the city sights in walking distance from our front stoop we feel right at home.

Determined to get to the top of Table Mountain and anxious to take advantage of another stellar day, we once again head up to the cable car to see if we can hitch a ride.  Today we are in luck.

Table Mountain is a “must see” for good reason.  It rises up and towers over the city.  The top looks like it was severed off with one quick blow leaving a clean, flat “table” upon which you can wander around and explore all sides of the mountain.  The views are incredible.

The most interesting to me is Robben Island, sitting just off the coast.  To think that Mandela spend eighteen years imprisoned there looking out to where we are standing as a focal point for strength and hope is both thrilling and disturbing in a way.  It is hard to form opinions of South Africa without context.  We need to get a better understanding of the trials and tribulations of this land.  

We hike along the ridge and learn about the shipwrecks and the sacrifices men made to round the Cape of Good Hope.  We see the three-meter high cairn used to make early calculations of the arc of the earth. The city and new stadium gleam down below basking in the sunlight.  It is windy and cold even on this glorious day: I can not imagine what it is like in stormy rain and gale force winds, especially on a ships deck.

In early evening we head back to our new house for a home cooked meal and early to bed.  

Vince is bleeding again. The red line runs down the back of his head and seeps out into the blond hair.  Do we go to the emergency room?  After much debate back and forth we decide not to go.  Back home, under insurance, we would have been in for a few stitches in a heartbeat.  Out here we are a bit more cautious not sure exactly what awaits us in the ER.  Besides it is not that deep and head wounds always bleed a lot.  The call could go either way: hopefully we made the right one.

Day One Hundred and Thirty Two October 27th

The wind is still blowing.  I don’t believe it has stopped since we arrived a week ago.  The only thing to do in these circumstances is to turn your attention indoors and go bowling!  Yes that’s right we are going bowling!

The lanes are on the other side of town tucked into a video arcade place in the basement of a strip mall.  Perfect.  It is supposed to be “duckpin” but we may have confused that with “ten pin.”  Either way, the lanes are long and the balls are heavy.  

But not too heavy for Vincent the Strong!  He has a dark green ball and Adele the Bowler has a light green one.  They put up lane guards so it is impossible to throw a gutter ball.  Bank shots add a whole new dimension and make the game so much more interesting.  We have a great time.  

The afternoon is spent napping, Teri doing a Yoga class, the kids get ice cream, we all cook pasta, the kids take a long hot bath and finally we wind down to a good nights sleep.  

It is nice to be settled and living a semi-normal life without the constant movement.  At times it feels unnatural and takes some getting used to again.  You almost need to reacquaint yourself to the day to day.  Then again, just as you settle in, you remember that there are “bamboos” lurking about.   

Day One Hundred and Thirty Three October 28th

The town of Hermanus is about a two-hour drive.  After breakfast and school we head out to see if we can find some whales.  This harbor is now world famous for offering the best land based whale viewing.  We have some inside scoop from a fellow traveler that the place is teeming with whales.  

The drive is another mix of beauty and poverty, the ying and yang of South Africa.  It is hard to take in and synthesize the opposing points of view.  

Hermanus is a pretty little seaside town that is all about the whales.  They have a guy, the Whale Crier, who stands around and blows a horn every time he sees one in the bay.  Apparently he is one of the most photographed images in all of ZA (yes, it si ZA not SA, no idea why).  His horn is silent when we arrive.

Where are all the whales?  We thought they would be lined up like SeaWorld waiting to pose for photos.  Did someone forget to fill them in?  No whales from what we can see.  

Then a big one sticks its flipper up in the air.  The thrill of seeing such a large creature in the wild is really incredible.  These are southern right whales and humpbacks, big ones, swimming around and having fun.  

For the kids (and parents) it is a lesson in patience.  You need to sit and watch the horizon or you miss them.  It takes time and energy to sit and whale watch.  Especially when you are four.  It’s a bit easier when you are almost nine.  

Satisfied with our whaling experience we grab a bite to eat cliff side and then head back to the city.  At one pint during lunch Adele and Vince wander across the street, staying in our line of sight, to get a better look at some whales. When they do an older lady approaches us to ask, “Are those your children?”  We say yes and start to talk about how fun it is to see whales and such.  She cuts us off, “In this country, never, ever, leave them alone like that.”  Startled, Teri mumbles something about being able to see them, and she cuts us off again, “Never leave them like that: not here, it is very, very unsafe.”  They are no more than twenty-five yards away.  The undercurrent here is so strong.

At days end we are all exhausted.  Teri and Adele are so tired they skip yoga class!  That’s OK though, Bilbo Baggins, Thorin and Company need to face up to their fears and deal with Smaug the dragon…

Day One Hundred and Thirty Four October 29th

Teri is a bit under the weather today so after school the kids and I head over to the waterfront park for a few hours of “gym class.”  The wind is still howling but we manage to stay grounded and burn off some energy.  We meet a nice lady that tells us it is usually beautiful this time of year and rarely this windy.  Not sure I believe her!

After traveling for two hours yesterday in search of whales it turns out we have some of the best viewing right in our own backyard.  There are two big ones surfacing about fifty yards from shore.  They are something to behold.  

The playground is part of the newly completed Green Point Stadium complex.  The stadium is very impressive.  I am told the cost came in at over four hundred million dollars.  The odd thing is that is now stands empty.  When I get into a discussion about it with one of the shop owners in the neighborhood he tells me there was much controversy with FIFA over the location.  

You need money to get here.  Parking is expensive and you need arrive by either car or public transport.  As a result, they don’t actually have a team assigned to play in the stadium because they’re afraid it is too hard to draw enough people to keep the lights on.  Apparently South Africa did present the option to put the stadium further out of town and make it more accessible to the masses but FIFA pushed the country and eventually got their way.  It’s a shame; the four hundred million dollars could have gone a long way towards upgrading the shantytowns.

We decide to make mom some chicken noodle soup to make her feel better so Adele and I head off to pick up the fix’ens at the market.  We spend an hour or so walking around the shops checking things out and talking to the owners.  Two conversations stand out.

The first is at the climbing store about a brand called Sherpa, made in Nepal.  This is a small company just starting to branch out into new markets and run by two American guys with local Nepalese workers.  They are creating products and selling them with the goal of upgrading the lives of their worker force.  This is right up my alley.  I need to research them a bit and see what they are up to.

The second is with an Austrian guy that runs a local weaving shop making hand loomed rugs. He is training and employing local women to work in his shop.  They are the main breadwinners for their families.  

Adele and I are drawn in to see the differences between hand looming and weaving via knots as we saw in Turkey.  This leads us into a discussion on travels and comments on Cape Town.  The comment that strikes me most is that he says, “We are living on a powder keg.” In response to my comments on the poverty he let’s us know that Cape Town is one thing on the surface and something entirely different underneath.  As we part the store he shrugs, tells us to be very careful, shakes his head and says, “such is South Africa.”

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