The Cape Times, with a large photo on its front page of a breaching whale, promised lots of whales at False Bay. They are currently migrating from Antarctica and have convened in Cape Town. We couldn’t miss the party. And there were, indeed, a lot, lazily swimming around fairly close to shore, with their babies in tow. It’s mesmerizing to stand or, in our case, sit at a beautiful bar by the ocean with a mojito and a gin and tonic, and stare at the water waiting for the large mammals to become playful and breach. They make it look so effortless, their gigantic bodies jumping out of the sea and somersaulting in the air.
Nature is part of Cape Town. I suppose it is an integral part of Africa no matter how built, or expansive or even polluted a city is. Cape Town is built at the bottom of a peninsula, where the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans meet. It makes you feel small and insignificant to stand on the southernmost tip and look out to sea, with the knowledge of standing at the end of a continent. Somehow I never felt that way when standing at the tip of Italy looking out to Sicily.
The city is divided by the iconic Table Mountain which stretches much farther than pictures can convey. Most cities built by the water tend to call attention to their waterfronts and Cape Town is no exception but it is the majestic mountain that draws you in, what you are looking at no matter where you are.
Wildlife is also a big reminder that we are in Africa. Cute and clever baboons abound and they are the bane of Capetonians’ existence. As Sue reminded me, tourists stupidly love getting out of their cars to photograph the cuddly primates who are neither cuddly nor particularly social. They are smart enough to open locks, get into kitchens and eat their way into cabinets. They can recognize when a car has been locked with central locking or just with a key (by the noise a remote makes) and they will merrily pick the car lock and settle themselves inside – as the hapless tourists taking the photos and leaving their cars open have come to understand. During the World Cup, at least one baboon/tourist incident a day took place much to the amusement of the locals (and, no doubt, the dismay of the Police). And since I have been here, there has been at least a baboon story in the paper every day.
Like most countries where extreme poverty has been a plague since inception, the signs of it are marginalized to the outskirts of the cities. Enormous townships are built along main roadways, shacks of corrugated metal with no running water or lavatories, and electricity that is passed along from one neighbour to the next. Still, the Government provides services like mail delivery and trash collection. In the morning, children are sent to school in pristine uniforms and starched white shirts. Women take multiple taxis to get to their workplace and begging is almost unheard of. It’s apparent that integration is slow and will not happen for a few generations but the pride and ingenuity of a population that will invent jobs for themselves where there are none to be found is moving. You can’t help but root for them.