Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Out of Africa: A passel of African penguins aimlessly wandering about can mean only one thing...road trip!

For the past week and a half, I've been sightseeing in Cape Town and the surrounding areas in South Africa. When the jet lag clears, more cogent, thoughtful posts on this beautiful and fascinating city will follow. In the meantime, "Things I've Learned on My Autumn Vacation" (as well as two more posts with photos of two vastly different Cape Town neighborhoods and wildlife):

1. There is really some truth behind the "baboon gangs terrorize the South African suburbs" story that appears on every few months. (

2. Though I scoured souvenir shops and market stalls city-wide, a Nelson Mandela bobble-head is not to be found. Sorry, Kathy.

3. Our group did, however, shine diplomatically by not throwing up upon our ferry boat's arrival at Robben Island, despite very rocky seas.

4. Upon checking into my hotel in downtown Cape Town, the first face I saw upon turning on the TV was Jerry Orbach's...supporting the theory that at any time, anywhere in the world, some network is airing "Law and Order."

5. On a wine tour, 10 a.m. is late in the morning for the day's first tasting.

6. The suitcase with the wine in it is inevitably the suitcase that the airlines lose.

7. Trying to smuggle biltong jerky back into the U.S. - not recommended.

8. It is possible to leave one's hotel at 11 a.m. on one day and arrive back home at 9 a.m. the next day - 34 hours later.

Nelson Mandela wants you to click here.

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South Africa: Cape Town Neighborhood Tour
We didn't get much farther than this scenic overlook for viewing the multi-million dollar beachfront, but we did spend a full morning walking around Langa Township, a place that more than one million people call home (give or take 250,000 - the latest figures don't account for immigrants flooding in from other African countries).

We started with Sunday services in a Southern Baptist church - and you can't get much more southern than 34 degrees lattitude below the equator. Once blessed for the day, we made a stop at the shebeen, then paid a visit to a 9' x 16' apartment that houses 3 families.

The township tours are relatively new, developed to give visitors a perspective of the country beyond the beaches, vineyards and safaris. Unlike many of the other daytrips, the guides are invariably black and often live in the neighborhoods through which they lead their groups. Our guide knew or was related to every other passerby on the street and pointed out his own house along the route. Without such accompaniment, no group would last long.

The value to the tourist is tremendous: A glimpse into life for 80 percent of the city's residents, including a sense of community so strong that many residents who join the middle class prefer not to move to the suburbs but rather buy or rent houses in the township's more gentrified areas.

But I've got to wonder: What did the locals think, having all these predominantly white foreigners tromp through their streets and invade their house of worship, snapping photos of their kids while surreptitiously clutching their moneybelts? Would I be as friendly and welcoming to a parade of complete strangers interrupting my Sunday morning, hiding their shock at my Ikea furniture as they observed me as they would a Discovery Channel documentary?

Look - the bagel she's eating is the size of her head! And check out that boring television programming - just people shouting back and forth. Doesn't she attend church? Perhaps she's a pagan - I hear they have these in Western countries - watch your wallet!

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