A Tale Of Two Cape Towns
“Cape Town is two cities now,” writes Correspondent Paul Lewis from South Africa, “thanks to the redevelopment of its decrepit east end waterside, which has been made over into the spanking new Victoria and Albert waterfront marina, called ‘Waterfront.’ This has become the city’s best location–a shopper’s paradise and a diner’s delight, all crammed into brightly painted Victorian warehouses surrounding the famous clock tower, which was once the focus of South Africa’s greatest port.
“In the process, the old city center, designed by the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier, with its wide avenues and high towers, has been left looking forlorn and empty.
“Waterfront is an example of touristic globalization. Whether you are visiting the Greek island of Santorini, the East Coast of the United States, or the horn of Africa, you generally now find the same boutiques selling the same name brands and the same restaurants touting the same food concepts.
“But Cape Town’s waterfront offers a welcome exception. Near the Clock Tower stands a Belgian restaurant called in Dutch Den Anker that reminds one of the Cape’s original settlers. It is also one of the few places outside Belgium where you can find such uniquely Belgian dishes as tomatoes stuffed with baby shrimp and mayonnaise and a beef stew cooked in sweet beer called Carbonnade. In fact, the only non-Belgian source of these delicacies I know is a New York eatery called Markt in the west 20s. So I happily overlook the historic inaccuracy that the Cape’s settlers came from Holland and not Belgian Flanders.
“This is also the point of departure for Robben Island, 45 minutes away by catamaran. This trip is a pilgrimage to see the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for more than two decades. Videos of his historic struggle for freedom play on the boat as it sails southwest, while the prison itself, empty of everyone except tourists, is perfectly preserved as the shrine it has become.
“Many barred windows show a tantalizing view of Cape Town and its iconic Table Mountain in the distance. In fact, Mandela, a talented amateur artist, painted these views after his release from prison. His tiny cell is the only one still holding his blanket, pathetic table, and bookshelf.
“It takes barely five minutes to reach another Cape Town destination of distinction–the summit of Table Mountain connected to the city by rotating cable cars, 3,000 feet up. At the top is the spectacular view out over city, docks, countryside, sea, and mountains for hundreds of miles around. The mountain and much of South Africa are covered with a distinct kingdom of flora, called fijnbosch, existing in the wild nowhere else. The mountain’s rarest animal occupant is an elusive creature, the dassie, resembling a rabbit without ears, genetically related to, of all creatures, the elephant.
“Another Cape Town must-see is the Africa Cafe at 108 Shortmarket St. with a unique set menu comprising dishes from all over Africa in wildly decorated rooms including one painted to resemble an Egyptian Pharaoh’s mausoleum. Dishes presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis include Congo salad with jungle dressing, cassava bread, Botswana seswaa masala game curry, Cape Malay mussel curry, Malawi ostrich macadamia, Ethiopian zambosas, and Xhosa imisima patties. Powerful fruit cocktails are offered, and halfway through the banquet, waiters and the cook take time out for a lively exhibition of drumming, singing, and dancing before returning to their culinary duties.
“Cape Town lacks public transport. To get around the only choices are ‘cabs’ and ‘taxis.’ The former are normal comfortable metered cabs. But taxis, which cost a fraction of the cab fare, are rattling mini-vans adapted to carry 15 passengers and capable of taking 20 or more after some pushing and shoving. They roar away with a driver’s assistant, the ‘little guard,’ hanging out the vehicle’s door calling out the destination and whistling to attract passengers among the passers-by. He also collects the fare. When he gets a customer, the vehicle screams to a stop, and the new passenger is stuffed into the already-crowded interior in exchange for a few coins.
“The ride is crowded but exhilarating–sometimes too much so. Once my taxi swerved and joined others in hot pursuit of a thief spotted grabbing a descending woman passenger’s mobile phone. With 50 murders and 99 rapes a day, South Africa’s police are not hard to better. The robber and his accomplice were cornered by three taxis whose drivers, passengers, and conductors jumped out and beat them to the ground with a hail of fists and blows.
“‘It could have been your wife or girlfriend,’ our guard explained. ‘We don’t want anyone thinking taxis are dangerous.'”