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The International Writers Magazine: Cape Town 2010

Cape Town - April Sunshine
• Sam North
Cape Town. You might get a shock at the prices but it is well worth the trip. The hotels and restaurants are waiting and the people friendly. You'll have a great time - oh yeah, take a raincoat and a hat. (That's just for the plane cause for some reason they super chill the planes at night whilst you fly). SAA got me there and it was a pretty good flying experience aside from the cold. The SAA flight staff were ten times nicer than BA personnel, the food was good, and if you can get a direct flight take it.

Cape Town

So - back in SA after so long I can still remember the Voortrekkers leaving town on the wagons. Not that they went far, as Mr Terreblanche was hitting all the headlines, what with him being hacked to death whilst I was there and ANC Youth Wing leader Julius Malema singing 'Kill the Boer' with his best pal and fellow traveller President Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

I start with a walk along Loader Street on a misty Good Friday morning. You get a good feel for the city here and it's a great place to live. My advice is avoid hotels in the V&A Waterfront if you go and enjoy the more relaxed Waterkant area.

In some ways it seemed as nothing had changed. But of course everything has. I guess it must seem pefectly normal to live with '24 hour Armed Response' fastened to every wall and have every front door guarded by a metal gate and all the widows barred, not to mention the alarms systems and the razor wire around your beautiful crimson bougainvillea garden. I could get used to that I guess. I could quite happily get used to drinking wine on the Mount Nelson Hotel Stoep again staring at the discretely electrified fences of the nearby homes. There is security everywhere - with an appearance of normality, yet not so open you don't take precautions. The Hotel is still the best and there is a lovely shady stree-lined stroll down through the Gardens to the city you can do past the University and the Art Museum and Parliament.

I try not to be irritated that when I park, even when feeding a meter, you have to pay this guy who appears out of nowhere as well. I have to remind myself that this is his job, this is how he makes a living, because he wouldn't survive any other way. It's a way of life now. Sometimes it seems that every parking spot in the country has one guy permentally attached.

Don't get me wrong. Cape Town is still a fantastic location and a beautiful city. Well the old bits anyway - there are some pretty horrid 70's edifices that scar the city. The concrete LG building (formally BP) and the excretable Chris Barnard medical block. Just about anything from the '70's and early 80's is hideous and more's the pity, because the earlier Cape Dutch, then English colonial, and Malay architecture is stunning. (I better not leave out the 30's Art Deco structures either - a perfect example of which overlooks the Gardens.) Luckily most people (except South African architects it seems) know that the past is worth preserving and a huge effort has gone into restoring much of it, whether by design or simply because people have moved in to run down areas and renovated.

Woodstock and Salt River are undergoing an urban renweal and it's great to see coffee shops such as Suprette starting up on Albert Road and offering great food whilst they are at it. It's a shame to the see the old City Hall rotting by the Castle, but I hope they will find a use for it other than it being a rather forlorn art space (the annual Spier art exhibiton being mostly disappointing rather than the wonderful old building.)

Great efforts have been made to make the city welcoming and user friendly. St Georges Street is now traffic free and tree lined. Greenmarket Square is one giant tourist trap, but isn't that what some tourists want? At least there's a ton of cafés to choose from and everyone knows what a latté is, thank god. Better yet Starbucks hasn't made it there yet either. It was great to discover that the Italian restuarant La Perla in Sea Point overlooking the ocean is still a great place for food and the decor reminds me of an old Alfa Romeo I used to own. *Please don't redecorate on my account I love it just the way it is.

Long Street has become quite cool with excellent bars, cafés, boutiques and the like and well worth a stroll on both sides. Service and food are always excellent and something I noted pretty much everywhere I went in all of the Cape, everyone smiles, people are pleasant, they laugh a lot and it's a pleasure to go places just for coffee. You'll soon get used to being buzzed in to the shops and after all, a lot of places in New York have the same security, so what's the fuss? I was totally relaxed and never felt in danger - after all no one is going to steal a camera that uses film - are you kidding, what kind of fossil are you?

Waterfront Waterfront

The biggest change was the big V&AWaterfront development - a huge tourist attraction and commercial operation. There are hotels, first class shopping malls, cruise ship terminals (The Queen Mary was just leaving as I arrived with Elton John aboard) and Japanese Fishing boats are undergoing refitting. It's crammed with people shopping, eating or booking trips on boats to go whale watching or fly Vietnam style on Huey Choppers (R1800 for 30 mins since you asked). Of course you can sail to Robben Island to as well if inclined.

I wanted to see the Cape before the World Cup hordes got there and trashed it. I think they'll get a shock with prices of everything, including hotels. Indeed some hotels have digital readouts of the daily rate and one place on Loop Street is going for R1350 a night. Tough if you are there for more than a week. (Most likely more by now)

Fortunately you can stay in guest houses in the Waterkant area just overlooking the city for around R470 a night and have a much better time. There are some fantastic places there now with stunning veranda's, great views and wonderful coffee shops, restaurants. Almost the best part of the city. A two bed cottage there would set you back around 4 million Rand to buy.

Biscitmill Not everything is cute or fluffy. The Biscuit Mill complex in Woodstock. The former factory is now a great meeting place and food fest as well as arts & crafts on a Saturdays. Well worth the visit when you are there. I like the simple delights of stray palm trees that dot the city myself. The clear blue sky and the perfect light of the whole region is why you see so many commercials being made there. The O2 Ducks were being filmed as I wandered and I saw at least two different movies being shot - so the city is busy. That's a good sign. People don't talk about the recession there, although on the day I left they raised the price of electricity by 34% and that would have to hurt - a lot. of utility hikes.

If that happened in the UK there would be riots, but South Africans seem resigned to it and the fact that no one has invested in new power stations since the ANC came to power - despite the population nearly doubling. Petrol went up 18% the same day. Scary. I am not sure how poor people get by with those kind


I was there for a wedding between Dominic and Sabine. They married in the sun in the Tokai Forest and it was utterly charming and makes you wonder why we bother with stuffy churches and all that stuff. Wine, food, and blue sky is all you need and lots of people all happy to see each other.

I seem to recall a late feast at the Cape Fig Restaurant which I totally recommend and then more lunches at the Olympia in Kalk Bay where the fishermen bring in their catch to sell every morning. Great place to go with lovely colours and again the guest houses are amazing with brilliant views of the bay.

I was there for a wedding between Dominic and Sabine. They married in the sun in the Tokai Forest and it was utterly charming and makes you wonder why we bother with stuffy churches and all that stuff. Wine, food, and blue sky is all you need and lots of people all happy to see each other.

I seem to recall a late feast at the Cape Fig Restaurant which I totally recommend and then more lunches at the Olympia in Kalk Bay where the fishermen bring in their catch to sell every morning. Great place to go with lovely colours and again the guest houses are amazing with brilliant views of the bay.

But my favourite beach is on the cold Atlantic side and the famous rocks of Llandudno. There are no shops, nothing to make it convenient but that's its attraction. The sea is often wild, the water is freezing, the sand perfect and many Capetonians live there and drive into the city each morning along the ocean. It makes me sad just to think it's now 6000 miles away from here. It was great to be back for the wedding and see my nephew marry and catch up with Nicolas B after 22 years. (The very best thing about good friendships is that you start exactly where you left off and there is no barrier at all. A total pleasure to catch up with his family and see just how good looking his kids are.)

It was good to see Ricki and Theresa too and check out their new house in Rondebosch with a glorious garden. Kind of makes me a tad sick to compare my cramped railwayman's cottage to his house bought for the same money, but no one ever said the UK offered good value for money, right.

Of course, you can say hey wait a minute, not everyone lives in luxury or in safety, some live in the extraordinarily expansive shanti city of Kylesha where by some estimates a million people live in poverty without proper streets, or sanitation or fire breaks and exposed to the brutal South Easter winds. You fly in over this place and it takes your breath away. City planners have no real solutions for this ever expanding area. Demographics are a conundrum for Cape Town. How do you ever provide enough jobs, or schools or homes for a population that grows so fast? And then there is the crime, the drug problems, the desperation. One can't wish it away, nor can one allow it to grow Mexican style into something that out of control.

I don't envy the ANC or the Democratic Alliance. It will take more than politics to give everyone a fair shot, but someone has to bite this bullet and put in fire breaks, build and police schools, find teachers brave enough to go in there and make a difference. There are volunteer groups : here's some links right here.

*A word of caution for photographers in CT- go digital. Everyone looks at me as if I am crazy to still use film. South Africans have aleady gone digital. That said, if you need film stock and good service try best camera shop in town.

© Sam North April 2010 - all images (except Biscuit factory) taken by myself with Fuji Film 400
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