29.01.2011 - 01.02.2011 32 °C
At the weekend we had a break from Cape Town and headed into the Winelands to explore. We drove out through the Cape Flats, the area surrounding the airport where most of the townships are situated. Driving past mile upon mile of shacks made from corrugated iron gave us an insight into the scale of the poverty here. There are 25 to 30,000 people living in our local township alone, and Imizamo Yethu is comparatively small.
We soon reached Stellenbosch, and headed into the wine region, stopping to take in the Tokara winery which is right at the top of the Helshoogte Pass. The scenery was breathtaking. We arrived in Franschhoek mid-afternoon in sweltering heat and after an abandoned attempt to walk around town, headed off to our accommodation – a converted wine worker’s cottage in the middle of a vineyard. It was a treat to have our own space after 3 weeks at the backpacker’s hostel!
Franschhoek is known as the culinary capital of South Africa. That evening, our budget didn’t quite stretch to le Quartier Francais – apparently the fourth best restaurant in the world – but we did have an amazing steak just up the road!
The following morning while driving back to Stellenbosch, we realised that we were only a couple of kilometres away from the Victor Vorster prison in Drakenstein where Nelson Mandela was held for the final two years of his captivity, and where he famously went for a walk with the crowds when he was released. A few years ago, they built a monument to Mandela there, so we made a quick detour to have a look. It really felt like we were visiting a place where history was made.
Back in Stellenbosch, we visited the village museum – 4 houses which have been restored and furnished in the style of different periods of history from 1709 to 1850. It was very interesting, particularly because there’s no written information in the houses, but guides in period dress who answer your questions and explain what you’re looking at. Leaving the heat of the town behind, we headed to the deli at the Spier wine estate where we bought bit and pieces for a picnic on their lawn. It was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours, and much nicer than being in the city.
Driving back into Hout Bay felt like coming home after going on holiday, and it was certainly a relief to feel the Southeaster wind again after the heat inland!
On Monday morning we drove into Cape Town and visited the District Six Museum. It’s a fascinating and moving museum dedicated to the people who lived in ‘District Six’, a vibrant multi ethnic community which developed from the mid 1800s. Under apartheid, the area was rezoned as a whites only area, the bulldozers were sent in and the community were forcibly removed.
Nick also visited a school in Hangberg, the other township in Hout Bay, and met with the deputy head teacher there who is very keen to form links with teachers in other countries. The school was built for 500 pupils and there are currently 1500! It’s very run down and there’s a problem with pupils vandalising the building and especially stealing the copper roofing, and even the copper window handles from the classrooms. The township itself is completely different to Imizamo Yethu, there are some flats and houses and less shacks – it doesn’t feel that different to the estates at home. The community have been there much longer and are descended from the ‘Cape Coloureds’, an ethnic group that we were told started 9 months after the Dutch first arrived in Cape Town and ‘mingled’ with the locals in the 1600s!.
On Tuesday morning we visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which are about a 15 minute drive away. It was sunny all morning in Hout Bay but cloudy at the gardens simply because they’re on the other side of the mountains. We were pleased to have some relief from the sun and really enjoyed looking around. A very knowledgeable guide showed us around to begin with. Despite the fact that Cape Town has scorching sunshine, high winds, poor rocky soils and fires which can threaten plants, the area boasts an incredible variety of plants and flowers. There are only 5 plant kingdoms in the world with specific separate plant varieties – one of them encompasses the entire Northern Hemisphere, but the Western Cape is apparently a separate plant kingdom – there are many species here that you don’t find anywhere else in the world. In the oldest part of the garden there are some Cycads. Plants like these grew when the dinosaurs were around and haven’t evolved at all since then. Their thick spiky leaves are what stopped the dinosaurs from eating them to extinction!
The rest of the week has been almost unbearably hot. The Xhosa for ‘it’s hot’ is very pleasing – something like oo-shoo-shoo (my spelling not theirs!) and we made the kids laugh yesterday when we tried to master pronouncing it. I guess it proves our Britishness – one of the first things we learn in an African tribal language is how to comment on the weather!