South Africa, Day One: The Dangers of Developing Nations

Oct 16 2010

This is the second in a series of blog posts about my recent trip to South Africa. I’m posting them a week after they happen. For all 825 photos from my trip, see my Flickr photo set.

Cape Town, South Africa

I awoke at 7:00am on Friday, feeling relatively refreshed (jet lag wouldn’t allow full recovery), and determined to take a photo walk around Cape Town. The night before, I’d studied some maps and books about Cape Town, and one of the books recommended an interesting walking tour very near my hotel. I re-drew the map on an index card so I wouldn’t have to pull out a map while in the middle of the city, then grabbed my camera, applied insecticide to every inch of exposed skin, and headed down for breakfast.

My tour package paid for breakfast in the hotel restaurant, which is an odd thing (the restaurant, not my tour package). It’s on a slightly raised dais in the foyer, one half separated from an adjacent cafe by a fancy equivalent of a hanging bead curtain. It feels nothing like a restaurant; it feels like dining in the hotel lobby. Which you really are.

But the food was exquisite: fruits, scrambled eggs, bacon, spicy sausage, juices (one of which I couldn’t identify by label or taste), half a dozen different breads, cheese, several flavors of gourmet yogurt…I could go on and on. Fantastic.

Birds flocking over Cape TownBut I had exploring to do! So at 9:00 I ventured out into the streets, taking photos like crazy. Cape Town is a highly photogenic city: the Dutch architecture–both colonial and modern–give the city a pleasantly jumbled, New York City vibe, and the majestic cliffs of Table Mountain that surrounded it on two sides frequently peeked out between and above buildings.

I had 3 SD cards with me, each capable of storing about 700 photos, which I figured would be plenty (I was wrong), so I happily snapped photos of everything around me.

After about an hour, I noticed something: A lot of people were staring at me. After about two hours, I noticed something else: they weren’t staring at me, they were staring at my camera.

I’d borrowed my Mom’s expensive Sony camera for the trip (at her insistence). I never realized the full power of manual zoom until this trip: no waiting for the lens to zoom as you press the button.

But I digress. Mom’s camera was clearly expensive, and I realized I was frequently set upon by hungry eyes.

One of my stops was an old church, and the wonderful older lady who took me around the place actually winced when she saw my camera. She politely but firmly told me to wear it slung around my neck and shoulder, or somebody would grab it from me. This was after several different people had warned me to never go out after the sun went down.

Gulp.

I returned to my hotel, where I found a nearby pizza place and ordered a strawberry salad for my suddenly nervous stomach. I remembered one of the guide books mentioning a sightseeing tour bus that circled the city; one fare paid for the whole day, and you could get on or off at any stop throughout the day.

I found the nearest stop and hopped on the bright red double-decker bus. I received a pair of iPod-style headphones to plug into jacks on the bus, and rode around Cape Town.

Cape Town, South AfricaThis was the way to see the city. Safe, informative, and with easy access to dozens of interesting places in Cape Town. Unfortunately, I only had space for about 12 pictures on my first SD card, so I spent most of the afternoon gawking at the beautiful beaches, sheer mountains, and gently rolling countryside.

I returned to the hotel, ate my dinner, went to my room, and felt miserable. This was the lowest point of my trip. I wanted to be home, I wanted to be in England; I would have taken Chicago over this. Plus, I checked the weather, and learned that a storm was coming in the day after tomorrow.

In bed that night, after tapping out my disappointment, I made a deal with myself: I’d take the bus tour tomorrow, get out at high-class touristy spots, and take a lot of photos. The next day (the rainy one), I’d stay in the hotel and read. That would be my last day in Cape Town, and I trusted I at least wouldn’t get mugged that day.

I agreed with myself, then tried to sleep. But fate denied me even that pleasure. I tossed and turned all night.

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