The first law of travel is be flexible. With a sudden death in the family, our hosts had to fly back to the UK, and our plans in Cape Town changed. We were still able to see our friends briefly before heading to the airport.
Cape town is a large port city built on a bay, and has grown up to surround a prominent mountain near the bay (Table Mountain). The town has many suburbs, with areas closer to the mountain typically being more wealthy and areas far from the mountain being poorer. For the most part, South Africa has felt safe although symbols of tension between the poor and wealthy are all around us. Some highlight's of the first week include:
Upon arrival we were given a whirlwind tour of capetown before heading to a winery for coffee and scones and an evening walk. Fynn (age 4) gave us a breakdown in the rules for Rugby and then we played a loose two-on-two match in the winery. The next day the weather changed starkly. It was cold and overcast, but we still were able to ride the popular cycling route up to Champans Peak. The road, built into the cliffs above Hout Bay (a southern suburb of Cape Town) had dramatic views of the Southern Atlantic. That evening we met up with our friend's parents, who took us to a Rugby match and served us a traditional South African curry dish. The next day we explored downtown cape-town before heading to another friend's house on an olive farm outside of Stellenbosch. The area is full of hundreds of wineries up against the foothills of some dramatic mountains.
Stellenbosch is a great place to relax, and a foodies dream. There are great trendy dining spots for less than half the cost of american restaurants. Wine here is a quarter of the cost, and is fantastic. Because we're working a bit on this vacation, Stellenbosch has been a great setting to open our laptops and get a few things done, although internet speed in South Africa is on average 5 times slower than it is in the US, and you can tell.
South Africa, Racism and Poverty
Near the airport lies South Africa's second largest Township. These are underdeveloped areas densely packed with corrugated metal housing that were historically mining camps reserved for colored people. While O.k. to see during the day, it has been made clear that Townships are no place for white tourists at night. The difference between wealth and poverty here is striking. You can leave an estate eating cured meats, cheeses, and wines and in 5 minutes be in the middle of a slum. It's hard to find reliable statistics, but some studies suggest unemployment amongst blacks is 5 times higher than for whites.
Almost all houses are surrounded by barbed wire or electric fences, and pay a private police force for protection against robbery and sometimes violent crime. Colored (the South African term for blacks or mixed-race) are treated with mild suspicion while security gates are opened for whites (like myself) without question. Some complain that it's hard to get anything done because affirmative action places unqualified people in roles of power. Others note that 20 years ago blacks were systematically oppressed: so how do you expect to have qualified leaders rising when things still haven't balanced out?
I feel un-qualified and under-informed for an in-depth commentary on the subject other than to note that the imbalance is noticeable, and it'll be interesting to watch how South Africa tackles these challenges in the next couple decades.