Dear Family & Friends,
Another sunny day here in Capetown, although some clouds are now rolling over the mountain nearby and we can see the beginnings of "the Tablecloth". This is their name for a cloud that covers the top of Table Mountain, the flat topped mountain that towers over the main part of the city. Three days ago we hiked from our apartment up to the cable car station and took the cable car up to the top. Previously, when our tour bus took us up there and we couldn't take the cable car because it wasn't running (too windy), we looked at the view just from the bottom cable car station and it was fantastic. We could see the City Bowl, and the entire waterfront, plus good views of Lion's Head, a nearby peak. However, taking the cable car up to the top was tons better. We could see all of the communities that surround Capetown along the coasts, and all the way down to Cape Point. We walked almost all over the top, and stayed for lunch at the self-service restaurant there. It was such a sunny and gorgeous day that the line was rather long to get tickets. The cable car itself moves really rapidly and is unique in that the floor rotates 360 degrees on the way up so everyone gets to see all the views. A nice woman from Durban was ahead of us in line and she very kindly bought our tickets for us so we could get in for about half price. This is because "pensioners" get a great rate but they stipulate South African pensioners. Other places, such as at the movies, they only ask that you be old, not South African as well!
Actually, lots of things here aren't very expensive, such as a movie ticket. We have been paying about 20 rand each, or $2.50. The cable car was 130 rand, with pensioners paying 68 rand. We usually take a city bus to get to the waterfront, and that is 3.1 rand. A decent bottle of wine costs between 25 and 100 rand, and most meals out are between 40 and 80 rand. A glass of wine with a meal costs about 13-18 rand, and a beer between 10 and 15 rand. Currently the exchange rate is about 7.9 rand per dollar.
Yesterday we took the city sightseeing bus which is a red double decker, open top bus where you can get off and on at various points of interest. There are 2 routes; the red one around the city and up to Table Mountain, and the blue route goes to some places in the outskirts. We did the blue one and got off at a place called World of Birds. Here they had hundreds of birds from all over the world, and also some monkeys, meerkats, etc. Quite interesting and enjoyable, especially the section where they had all the birds that had been donated to them from homes where people couldn't keep them anymore, so most of them talked! At lunchtime we got off the bus at Hout Bay, a small maritime community where there is working harbour and where we ate at a nice restaurant overlooking the yachts. The beach there looked quite clean and was very protected because of the headlands nearby. Then we took the bus back to Capetown. The route runs all along the Atlantic coast communities where there are lots of high rise condos and expensive beach front properties, especially near some of the nicer beaches. This gave us the idea of taking the city bus to Sea Point today, the closest beach town. We wanted to enjoy this sunny day by walking along the beachside promenade and also check out the little shops there. It was fun.
Lest you think we have just been enjoying frivolous activities, let me assure you that we tried to learn more about Apartheid and some of the social struggles here by visiting the District 6 museum. In my last letter I mentioned that District 6 was the place where they removed all the blacks and then bulldozed their homes. I wish I could say that the museum was enlightening but it turned out to be poorly done with many things in very small print or located too high up on the wall to read. There were a very interesting exhibits such as a reconstructed one room home of a family from District 6, but we found the rest of it tedious and left.
Another day we took the ferry out to Robben Island, which is South Africa's Alcatraz Island. This is an island about 6 miles off the waterfront where previously there was a leper colony and also, on and off over hundreds of years, it has had a prison there. This is where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners of the Apartheid era were held for periods from 7 to 27 years. The tour through the prison was led by a former political prisoner, and he told us about some of his experiences there. Before seeing the actual prison, we had a bus tour of the island and we also saw some of the Jackass penguins that nest there. The views across the water at Capetown, with Table Mountain towering over it, were incredible. We were lucky to get tickets because usually you have to book in advance, sometimes weeks in advance. We didn't want to do that in case our tickets ended up being on a bad weather day. So we went to the ticket line about 45 minutes before a tour and waited to see if there were cancellations. The first time we just got to the front of the line when there were no more tickets. So we went back for afternoon tours and got on one. Hooray.
Each day when we head into the main part of Capetown from our apartment, we walk through the Company's Gardens. This is a big area of beautiful big trees, grass, and lots of plants, with nice walkways and some sculptures. Many of the main buildings, such as the President's house, Parliament building, South African National Gallery, etc. are along the edge of these gardens. This is because the gardens were one of the first things the Dutch created in Capetown. Originally they planted these gardens with fruits and veggies for the ships of the Dutch East India Company who stopped here for reprovisioning. In fact, that was why Capetown was first started - they didn't start allowing colonists to come here for many years, only workers for the Company who did the things needed to replenish the ships, or repair them. As we walk through the gardens, we are constantly confronted by squirrels who are used to people feeding them! They will eat right out of your hand, but after my episode with the monkey, I am not getting anywhere near any animals!!
Before closing, I want to tell you about an anomaly - the gas station which is located right at the end of our street. It has a bunch of gas pumps, and also a store, as our gas stations often do. But this one has a wonderful bakery, gourmet food items, fruits and veggies, even a deli type counter where you can get meat pies and Portugese style chicken meals. All at a GAS STATION!! Amazing.
Next time, if I remember, I must comment on South African TV and newspapers. It is quite surprising to read, right at the top of the TV listings in the newspaper, "inaccurate and unreliable based on information supplied by the SABC". You would never see such candidness in OUR newspapers!
Sending big hugs.
Love, Mary & Elaine