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Phespirit goes to South Africa
Cape Town     July/August 2001

AROUND SOUTH AFRICA

Map of South Africa

1 Cape Town

Anyone worried about the prospect of walking round supposedly crime-ravaged Cape Town should find comfort in the fact that all the major sights are within close proximity of each other.

Start at the Castle of Good Hope - more impressive for its years than its appearance - then step across the road to the City Hall, where Nelson Mandela delivered his first speech on being freed, then go three blocks down the road, turn left and go up a bit for Parliament, the Company Gardens and St. George's Cathedral, where Desmond Tutu did his thing.

Fair play to the cathedral for providing leaflets on HIV and AIDS, the use of condoms and so forth. They even include a prayer for deliverence from AIDS, for whatever good that might do.

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2 Langa

Phespirit entered the township of Langa with no small measure of trepidation. There is no ignoring the horror stories of violent crime, but essentially the residents are just decent people just trying to get by in difficult circumstances. Like most places, but worse.

Wisdom from the Church in the 'Cape Vision' newspaper:
THE promotion of condom use, which is a pillar of the government's AIDS prevention strategy, not only sent the wrong moral message to youth but had proved to be ineffective, says vice-president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, Bishop Michael Coleman.
  "Condoms don't make a difference. This country is saturated with condoms yet we have the highest rates of AIDS (transmission) in the world. Promoting condoms increases the incidence of AIDS," he told SABC TV news recently.
  The church was not, however, opposed to the use of condoms between marriage partners to prevent HIV transmission.

What a dickhead.

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3 Robben Island

This ex-leper colony, ex-prison camp and now world heritage site is forty-five minutes away by boat out of Cape Town harbour.

Phespirit took the standard tour of the island, which included the prison house of Robert Sobukwe, the male leper church, and the lime quarry once worked by political prisoners.

Then on to the maximum security prison for a chance to talk with Theophilus "Muthe" Mzukwa, a prisoner on Robben Island during the last years of apartheid. The man spoke without bitterness for his lost years, nor triumphalism for a struggle won.

The message is simple:
'see what happened here; see it never happens again.'

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4 Table Mountain

Having taken the quick route up Table Mountain - via the steepest cable car ride imaginable - Phespirit could have happily stayed up there all day. As it was, time only allowed for a brisk stroll around the first quarter.

Stunning views in every direction.

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5 Kirstenbosch

A huge botanical garden on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, this is probably a source of unlimited fascination for anybody who knows a bit about plants.

Phespirit knows next to nothing about plants but was content to see a few giant proteas, some trillion year old cycads and a few crested guineafowl running about the place.

Note: the guineafowl were running about the place, the plants were not.

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6 Hout Bay

Come to Hout Bay and take a boat out of the harbour, around the Sentinal headland and on to tiny Seal Island to observe scores of seals lazing about on this smooth, flat, lonely piece of rock.

Phespirit boarded the 'Nauticat' catamaran and stood at the front of the left bow, watching the kelp forests and jellyfish pass below.

Never saw a Great White take a seal, though.

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7 Cape of Good Hope

Disillusionment!

Phespirit had always believed that the Cape of Good Hope is the southernmost point of the African continent ..... but it is not. That particular honour belongs to Cape Agulhas.

The Cape of Good Hope is merely the southwesternmost of the southern capes, noteworthy only as a handy marker for sailors.

It does not even look particularly impressive: hardly more than a small mound of orange rubble when compared with the towering cliffs of Cape Point, just next door.

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8 Cape Point

Cape Point looks every inch the part of a continent slicing into the oceans at the end of the world. Here can be found not one but two lighthouses; the first one was built too high up to be visible under low level mist or cloud, such is the grand scale of this place.

In addition to the impressive geology there is no shortage of other distractions to be enjoyed at Cape Point. For fans of wildlife there are lizards aplenty, a troop of chacma baboons (which amusingly mug visitors and run off with their crisps and fizzy drinks), and the ubiquitous redwinged starlings to which Phespirit fed cheesecake.

There is even an e-mail and information centre from where visitors may send e-postcards (for example, this one of Phespirit perched in front of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Maclear).

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9 Boulders

The leaflet says:

"Nestled in a sheltered cove between Simon's Town and Cape Point, Boulders has become world famous for its thriving colony of African Penguins and mag- nificent wind sheltered, safe beaches."

Phespirit passed several isolated penguins as he strolled to the end of the boardwalks at Foxy Beach. The boardwalks prevent people from getting too close to the penguins, but the penguins do not seem over concerned about getting too close to people.

Down on the beach itself there are scores of penguins, standing around, laying around, attending nests, collecting twigs, surfing, reading newspapers or playing gameboys.

Phespirit could spend hours watching these creatures.

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10 Stellenbosch

Wine tasting at the Zevenwacht estate in the Stellenbosch region, not a million miles from the actual town of Stellenbosch.

Zevenwacht is a particularly photogenic estate which produces a particularly drinkable Shiraz, and Phespirit is partial a particularly drinkable Shiraz.

Visiting Stellenbosch on a cold winter morning felt like the correct way to appreciate this town with its distinctive northern European architecture. White painted walls are everywhere; thatched roofs are commonplace. In Dorp Street almost every building bears a bronze plaque to indicate some historical significance.

For all that, there is not much to do here.

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11 Paarl

Wine tasting at the Fairview estate in the Paarl region, just off the R44, a couple of estates down from Landskroon.

They have a tower of goats.

Phespirit managed to avoid the ignominy and dishonour of getting completely wankered during this wine tasting visit, but confesses to liking Fairview the best because they did not set an upper limit on the amounts to be sampled.

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12 Franschhoek

This is the French quarter of the Cape Winelands, set in a pretty valley of greens and yellows and small white houses.

Phespirit stopped only to see the Huguenot Monument.

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13 Helderberg

Wine tasting at the Vergelegen estate near the town of Somerset West on a drizzly, overcast day. A pity about the weather, really, because this estate is quite proud of its gardens, but who wants to wander about in the rain?

The star wine of Vergelegen is its Sauvignon Blanc. Unfortunately Phespirit was in the company of, amongst others, an English lad whose immediate reaction to this wine was a loud "BLEUGH!!"

That kind of killed any air of sophistication stone dead.

Funny, though.

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14 Betty's Bay

Under white and grey-smudged skies this small bay beyond the far eastern tip of False Bay has a bleak, wind-thrashed feel to it. However, given a clear, calm, sunny day the place is probably a little paradise on Earth; there is plenty of fine, clean, pale sand, there are very few buildings and there are certainly no traces of tourist development.

Best bit for Phespirit: the chance sighting of three mongooses scurrying about in the sand and scrub.

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15 Kleinmond

Here is a small, low-rise town with an even smaller harbour. This is supposedly a fishing community but Phespirit found only the barest of evidence to support the claim:

  • A narrow concrete slipway leading into the thrashing sea between two vicious rows of rocks.
  • A tiny rusting metal winch at the top of this slipway.
  • A small white cross on the rocks, indicating where some unlucky Christian had met his/her demise.

There were no boats; there was no fishing.

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16 Hermanus

Hermanus Bay is one of the best locations in the world for whale watching from the shore. Phespirit visited in July, which is just at the start of the season for Southern Right whales coming up from the Antarctic. This meant that there were not very many tourists around, but equally not very many whales.

First stop, though: cheese toasties and tea at Munchies.

Typically, the whales closest in to shore barely surfaced, whilst those in the middle distance would occasionally bob up a fin or nose or tail, and those that were furthest away around the coast were jumping clear out of the water. Definitely intelligent.

Check out the sign:   "Feeding of Whales Prohibited"

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  1. Cape Town
  2. Langa
  3. Robben Island
  4. Table Mountain
  5. Kirstenbosch
  6. Hout Bay
  7. Cape of Good Hope
  8. Cape Point
  9. Boulders
  10. Stellenbosch
  11. Paarl
  12. Franschhoek
  13. Helderberg
  14. Betty's Bay
  15. Kleinmond
  16. Hermanus
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Cape Town Langa Robben Island Table Mountain Kirstenbosch Hout Bay Cape of Good Hope Cape Point Boulders Stellenbosch Paarl Franschhoek Helderberg Betty's Bay Kleinmond Hermanus