Cape Town, South Africa was my final destination on the Big Trip. It was recently rated at the top travel destination in the world by the New York Times. I would describe it as a prettier version of California with both a similar landscape and culture.
I arrived in Cape Town from Zambia at 8pm on Wednesday and was picked up by my sister, Jocelyn, who was conveniently studying abroad there. I rented a car (right side drive stick shift) and we drove down the left side of the road to the suburb of Sea Point. Since this was my first time driving in 3 months, I struggled at first especially on the steep hill starts and unbelievably narrow roads but eventually got the hang of it. We arrived at the house of my distant aunt Michele and her husband Errol (truly the loveliest of hosts). The house had it’s own guard gate and right then I realized that I wasn’t in the “third world” anymore. I thought back to Mumbai and its tall residential skyscrapers guarded by green zone level security. However unlike Mumbai where I stayed in the cheapest hostel in the city looking disdainfully at the upper class, this time I would be fully immersed in it. Reverse culture shock was real and I absolutely hated my living situation for the first 2 days although I eventually came around. The reverse culture shock was going to happen eventually so it was good to get over it before heading back to the US.
Jocelyn decided to skip school and be my tour guide for my six day trip. She planned out the entire week! The next day, we explored most of the major sites in the city centre. We started by going to the District Six Museum which memorialized Cape Town’s most diverse and lively neighborhood that was razed to the ground due to Apartheid’s racial separation policy. Democracy is only 20 years old in South Africa so this is all still very fresh in the minds of South Africans. We then walked to the Castle of Good Hope and learned about Cape Town’s Dutch history. Orange clad soldiers fired a miniature cannon at noon that was surprisingly powerful.
After lunch, Jocelyn and I walked over to Parliament and explored the beautiful Company’s Gardens. However, the weather was cold and rainy, so we decided to drive over to a nearby mall. Jocelyn decided that my backpacker clothing wasn’t acceptable in Cape Town so she bought me some “fashionable” clothing- a collared shirt, skinny jeans, and a sweater. I only wore them for a day before reverting back to my normal outfit. We then visited Jocelyn’s apartment at the University of Cape Town. There I met her American roommates and hilarious RA. That night we got dinner with some more of her friends. Nothing has changed since elementary school- Jocelyn definitely knows how to make a lot of friends. On the way back from dinner, I scratched the side of the curb and my rental car’s hub cap fell off. Luckily, we were able to repair it.
The next day, we were supposed to go on a tour of Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. However when we arrived at the jetty, we were told that the seas were too rough to sail. We rescheduled for Sunday morning. As an audible, we climbed Table Mountain, the symbol of Cape Town. The hike was supposed to take 3 hours, but we made it to the summit in 90 minutes. The views were incredible: on one side the mountain dropped off steeply into the ocean. On the other side, Cape Town was narrowly wedged between the mountains and the sea. The weather was incredibly cold and windy up top so we took the cable car down.
That afternoon, Jocelyn had to finish an essay for school so I drove myself to the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape is not actually the southernmost point in Africa but the most southwestern. Still, the Cape of Good Hope is one of the most significant points on the globe. When originally planning the Big Trip my primary goal was to get from Hong Kong to the Cape of Good Hope. The drive took 90 minutes and passed picturesque seaside towns, lots of baboons and a penguin colony. I parked at nearby Cape Point (a different place) and walked the final kilometer to the Cape itself. The sun was beginning to set so the light was absolutely beautiful especially when paired with the sounds of the crashing waves.
After taking the obligatory picture, I walked up onto the nearby bluff and sat down at a secluded spot on the rocky cliff. There it hit me that I have really come along way and that this was indeed the symbolic end of my journey. I then took out my iPhone and played “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flats, a song I have played in my car at the end of every road trip or multi-day journey I have ever taken in the last 5 years. As the song played seemingly slower than ever, I tried to mouth the words but tears began to stream down my face. I cried both out of joy for having made it here safely but also out of sadness because this marks the end of the happiest 3 months of my life. I will never forget that moment, the song, the birds, the waves, the sunset and the emotions.
During the next few days I surfed the Indian Ocean, I dove in a cage inches away from a great white shark, I went out to a club and had more than 3 drinks for the first time in over a year (not my thing), I made it to Robben Island (with some drama), I went wine tasting at the oldest winery in South Africa, and I got to spend some quality time with my sister and my new family. However at that point I had already checked out as the trip ended there at the Cape of Good Hope.
As beautiful and lovely as Cape Town is, I wouldn’t recommend it as a travel destination. It is so unbelievably similar to California (specifically the west side of Los Angeles) in both landscape and culture that it seems silly to fly for 26 hours when with the same travel time you can go literally anywhere else in the world. Cape Town felt like a European city plopped down in Africa. If I were to go back to South Africa, I would try to explore other regions that give better glimpses into South Africa’s unique culture. I also would go visit the townships- Cape Town’s dirty secret. The slums that house the majority of Cape Town’s residents are all but invisible to the tourist but in fact are the support structure for the wealth of the city proper.
The trip back to Los Angeles took about 34 hours including layovers. I had to fly 2 hours to Cape Town, 12 hours to London and finally 12 hours to Los Angeles. At the airport, I was met by my parents who drove me back to my new home.