Saturday, March 30, 2013


I went around the Cape Peninsula by car last year, and it was so lovely I decided it was worth doing again.  We were supposed to leave at 7 a.m., but that was a mixup with the tour company and the van wasn't scheduled to show up until 9.  We got them to come at 8.  There were three SAS professors, one student, me, three Chinese people who didn't speak any English, and a German scientist in Capetown for a conference on TB vaccine.  I didn't know there was such a thing, but he says it has been around since 1921 and only works on children.  There has been no new progress in 40 years, and adults still have to take four pills a day for six months.  They are looking to improve that, and Oxford has a clinical trial for a vaccine going on here in Capetown.

We drove through Capetown to Cliff's Bay and saw a lot of people out on the park along the coast walking their dogs, exercising, etc.  It looks very pleasant.  Formerly this area was reserved for whites.  Blacks caught there who were not servants would be transported to the inland black tribal area, even if they had been born in Capetown and lived there all their lives.  Even now you see very few blacks.  Two bedroom condos here cost about $300,000, so most couldn't afford to live around here.

We passed a huge township that looked full of poverty and despair.  Our guide said most of the residents have been moved to better housing, but foreign immigrants from Zimbabwe and Mozambique have moved in, creating a sinkhole of desperation since few have jobs or any way of making money.  Hence the nearby towns, mostly white, have very high crime rates.  A real downside to otherwise really nice neighborhoods by the beach.

Seal Island
We went to nearby Hout Bay, which looks like my idea of a New England fishing town on what must be one of the most beautiful bays in the world. We got on a small boat to go on a 45 minute cruise to Seal Island, located on one end of the bay.  The swells were so high i was seriously thinking of putting a life jacket on.  We feel so safe in our big ship, but a 30 foot boat is another matter!  We got right up to the rocky outcroppings to observe about 500 seals sleeping on the rocks or cavorting in the ocean.  They are so darn cute!

Boulders Park
 We drove across the peninsula to have lunch at a seaside, open air restaurant in Simons Town.  I expected to order the fish and chips, since that is a natural selection at a seaside restaurant.  I couldn't pass up the chance to have an ostrich burger though.  It was the same price as the beef and chicken burgers.  We passed an ostrich farm and stopped to greet the birds.  I probably ate one of their relatives.  After lunch, we went to nearby Boulders, a park with a walkway through a rock studded coastal area.  There are many penguins around.  They are black and white, but much smaller than the Antarctica penguins we are used to seeing pictures of.  Penguins and people were swimming in an area sheltered by large rocks.  

 Critters seen today

Next stop was Cape Peninsula State Park.  We passed the crosses commemorating explorers Bartolomeo Dias and Vasco da Gama before stopping near the lighthouse.  I had hiked partially up the trail to the lighthouse last year and it was not an appealing project after lunch.  Everyone else seemed to be feeling the same way, and most of us elected to hike DOWN to Cape Point, where the driver said he would pick us up.  He said it would take 45 minutes but I think we took much longer.  I thought it would be a regular trail, the way it started out, but we ended up scrambling up and down over bare rock and wooden slats.  There were no handrails and the wind gusts were strong enough to push you over the cliffs.  I wish I had had a walking stick because my balance was not the best and the wind did not help.   We finally made it down to the beach and the Cape of Good Hope sign, which designates furthest southwest point in Africa.  The southernmost point is actually further east.  For a long time this was considered the furthest south though, since it is where the ships turned from the Atlantic to the Indian Oceans.

We had planned to stop at a winery on the way home, but, alas, most everything was closed due to a holiday.  Mandela is back in the hospital, and I think the whole country would shut down for  a day of mourning if he died.  The blacks love him because of his sacrifices for the struggle against apartheid, and the whites revere him because when he took power he could have done anything, but elected to include everyone in the new South Africa.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Amy Biehl was a Fulbright scholar from Orange County, California, who came to South Africa in the early 1990's to make a difference.  It was the last gasp of Apartheid, and there were frequent killings of blacks and whites.  In August, 1993, Amy was driving some black girlfriends home in a township and was caught up in a mob, forced out of her car, and stabbed to death.  Her parents have since created a foundation in her honor that helps African children living in the townships.

SAS has a tour with her name.  We started by taking a bus to town and going to the foundation headquarters.  We saw a couple of short movies about her life and work.  The four black men who were convicted of killing her served five years in prison then were released in the Truth and Reconciliation trials headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  The men were forgiven by Amy's parents and two of them now work for the foundation.  We talked with one at headquarters and the other at an elementary school garden, where he is supervisor of the foundation garden projects in 18 township schools.  They didn't ask for money straight out but wanted us to buy things in their gift shop.  I bought a couple of remembrance bracelets but later lost them as they either fell or were "liberated" from my pocket.  I am not carrying a purse today since we are going to the townships.

We drove around the Langa township, the oldest in Capetown.  It looks very well kept up, without the corrugated tin shacks I remember from Khayelitsa.  We then went to Gugulethu township, where Amy Biehl was killed, and visited an elementary school.  They showed us the garden and we talked with the "killer," who explained that he was a high school student at the time of the murder and "we all knew we were going to die by a bullet."   He said they all joined the struggle and there was no choice.  Feelings were high before the coming first national election in 1994.  Blacks were bombing shopping malls and whites were striking back and killing anyone black.  Now we have the "born free" generation, or adults coming of age born after the end of apartheid.

Amy's father, Peter Biehl (now deceased), supported the release of the killers, stating, "The most important vehicle of reconciliation is open and honest dialogue...we are here to reconcile a human life which was taken without an opportunity for dialogue. When we are finished with this process we must move forward with linked arms."

The foundation now supports after school programs, HIV/AIDS education, sports, creative arts, environmental education, music, and computer science.  They are teaching kids to swim who have never been to the ocean or a pool before.  The Youth Reading Role Model program has seventh graders read to first graders, which benefits both.

We had lunch at Mzoli's Meat, a township landmark popular with tourists.  It is outdoors but has a roof and plastic see through walls.  There are picnic tables with plastic red checked tablecloths.  We were given a meat platter with chicken wings,  lamb, and sausage.  Also an onion/tomato salad, beans, and cornmeal mush.  The barbecue sauce was really good.  There were other white tourists there, which seemed strange, since outside of there I only saw blacks.

After lunch we went to Bongolethu Primary School to see one of the after school programs.   They didn't know we were coming, but did a creditable program for us.  First girls danced with tin cans, using them as percussion instruments.  Then they had a beautiful choir.  Then boys performed with trombones and clarinets.  You could tell the instruments were not the greatest but they had a lot of heart.  Lastly younger girls danced with sticks.  Each group seemed to have its own teacher.   We also talked to the instructor and kids in the youth soccer program outside.  They have a weed choked field and no demarcation lines or goalposts, but they are enthusiastic.

On the way back to the ship, we stopped at the gas station where Amy Biehl was murdered.  A memorial cross was set up in 2010.

You can actually ship donations to South Africa for free if you have any old clothes, school supplies, instruments, or whatever.  In the U.S. call 949 500 2110.  The website is

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Arriving in Capetown by sea is much more breathtaking than coming by air.  We rounded Cape Horn then came up the coast and around the peninsula and all of a sudden we were staring at Table Mountain.  It was just after dawn, and the sky was full of light and shadow.

Coming into Capetown
It was daylight by the time we actually docked

We docked between downtown and Victoria and Albert mall, so it's a short walk to both.  We had a talk with embassy staff before we left the ship, and were warned that Capetown has one of the highest crime rates in the world.  The thieves here don't care if they are violent, so best to just hand everything over.  We were told to never walk alone, or girls in pairs.  One of the places they told us to avoid was Muisenberg, my old stomping grounds when I was a volunteer here last year.

My friend Sel from Chicago and I ignored their advice and walked to the mall in search of internet.  The food court had wifi, but we did not want to be at the open tables with our laptops, and noticed that nobody else was either.  We found free internet at McDonald's and the coffee shops, but only 50 minutes a day.  Finally we found a restaurant, Primi Wharf, with a wifi zone.  We each had a beer for $2.50 and stayed a couple of hours.

The ship paid $4500 so we could get a shuttle home from the mall after 4 p.m. daily, since they don't want us walking around the docks at night.  We waited about 15 minutes for a shuttle and finally got on an SAS tour bus that was dropping everyone off at the mall after the tour.  They offered to take us back to the ship and we gladly accepted.  I would hate to get mugged and lose my laptop.

The next day I went with Becky, the marketing professor from Florida, to the wine country.  We had our own car and guide, Aladdin, who picked us up at the ship and took us  pretty much wherever we wanted to go.  We left it mostly up to him.  We started at  Rust en Vrede winery in Stellenbosch, founded in 1694.  We sat out on a shaded patio overlooking a garden and sampled about five wines.  We were not rushed at all and just took our time and got to know each other a little better.  I bought a bottle of Cabernet, which may or may not make it back to the USA.

Waterford Winery wine and chocolate

Next stop was Waterford winery, which reminded me of a Spanish hacienda with rows of rooms built around a central patio.  They gave us three wines, all paired with gourmet chocolate.

Ostrich, anyone?

Lunch was at Reuben's in Franshoek, an old French Huguenot town.  He is supposedly the most famous black chef in Africa and has won "Top Chef" award.  I had Ostrich filet, which was very tender and good.  After lunch we went to a chocolate factory and had a demonstration and samples, after which I felt very overloaded with sugar.  We just took sips at the next winery, Bosenschal.  We got to pick five wines off a list and had a cheeseboard with it.  I did buy a wine glass in the gift shop.

Bosenschal winery is old Dutch design

Rust en Vrede winery in Stellenbosch

A long but beautiful day in Wineland!