Thursday, February 26, 2009

Day 1- Arriving in Cape Town, South Africa

Including transit time, my flight from San Diego to Cape Town took 23 hours! Luckily, I had no one sitting next to me on my Atlanta to Dakar and Dakar to Cape Town flights. Both flights were only half full, which is not good news for Delta Airlines. (I hope they don't start charging for food on international flights.) To sum up my Delta experience, I would have to say that the airline is stingy. They served us one meager meal on an eight-hour segment! Also, who ever heard of an international long-haul flight in which passengers do not have individual TV screens?

Because the transit in Dakar, Senegal was so interesting, I have to add a few points about it. First, we arrived there at 4:30am and that passengers who would be going to Johannesburg had to stay on the plane while the Cape Town and Dakar passengers de-planed and Senegalese authorities came on board to search for illegal items. This I found bizarre as how could anyone have smuggled any items while flying? We were then shuttled to a waiting room and then within one hour boarded our plane to Cape Town.

A few minutes into the Cape Town flight, the flight attendants came by and sprayed an insecticide that the South African government required. I later learned that this was to kill mosquitos.

The highlight of the flight was the descent into Cape Town, as I got to observe Table Mountain and the rest of the Cape Peninsula mountains rising majestically behind the city. I was also able to catch a glimpse of Robben Island, the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for many years.

Upon landing, I collected my bag only to find out that my brand-new sleeping mat had fallen out of the bag straps! Boy had I learned my lesson.

Since the flight arrived earlier than scheduled and my CouchSurfing host Hannes was not yet off work, I waited in the Cape Town Airport. I did not realize how small the airport of this major city would be. (They are expanding it in time for next year's World Cup.) While waiting, I immediately noticed the diverse racial mix of South Africans, including the Malays and Indians. Another interesting point to note is that the ATM display is available in eight languages!

Hannes kindly picked me up from the airport and we proceeded to drive through the city. En route, I saw the infamous Cape Flat townships whose shacks house 2.5 million of the city's 3.1 million people! This is the third-world side of South Africa that so few foreigners get to observe.

We drove up Table Mountain to the trailhead with gorgeous views of the City Bowl and harbor. We also drove down the mountain to Camps Bay and up the coast along Clifton, past the Waterfront and Bo-Kaap (more info about these places when I actually do a neighborhood tour).

I spent the first of three nights at Hannes' apartment in the southern suburb of Diep River. He prepared a delicious South African meal of bobotie (shephard's pie with ground beef, curry, dried fruits and eaten with rice). This is a traditional Cape Malay dish in which the spiciness of the curry is mitigated by the sweetness of the dried fruit. I savored the scrumptuous meal along with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from nowhere but South Africa's Stellenbosch region.

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