Dear Ben, And Now, Cape Town!

Dear Ben,

Oh hey you. Happy 3rd day of Christmas. If I had three French hens, you’d be the first person I’d send them to.

So first-off: about you. You’ve been to a LOT of places. You’ve been on a lot of planes. You’ve stayed in a lot of different locales–from couches, to tents, to the finest of the finest in Vegas and beyond. The diversity of experiences you’ve had in your life thus far is striking. I really admire that about you.

I also admire that you seem to be up for nearly anything, so long as it’s within the realm of practicality and rationality. (Okay, scratch that–even when it’s not.) I’ve known you to book last-minute plane tickets to faraway lands, sleep on the floor of folks you barely know, take a spontaneous long weekend to immerse in the bustle of the big city, or hibernate somewhere totally remote. Do you realize how brave you are? Do you realize what a good set of cojones is necessary to leap and plunge (both literally and metaphorically), as you have? (Does it still count as hibernation if you’ve got your computer in tow?)

I salute you. In many ways, I’m not as easygoing as you. I travel, but it’s generally planned, allowing for me to retain a sense of control. I want to feel like I’m in charge. Like I know what I’m in for.

This trip is a slight variation on my standard theme of self-guided tours and carefully-curated itineraries. I’m traveling on someone else’s timeline and schedule. In Joburg, I wasn’t even able to leave the property on my own (due to the unsafe conditions of the city & suburbs), let alone “do something for me” or “take time for myself.” This has a distinct set of challenges; for the most part, I’m up for them. An opportunity to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone? That I’m more daunted by the idea of spending a full 30 days with my family, than by being half the world away from home (immersed in land & culture that I’ve had little to no exposure to before), is telling.

A few more things to share, before I sign off for the day:

Capetown is completely different from Johannesburg. For one, it’s distinctly Africa-meets-Western, meaning there’s much more of a cultural mix and intermingling of people (rather than the strikingly disjointed areas of Joburg, most of which seemed to be either exclusively white or black–and if not racial segregated, then exclusively affluent or very poor). We’re staying just minutes from the city’s thriving and vibrant center, which means we’re able to walk to hundreds of restaurants and other destinations (from touristy-heavy craft & jewelry markets, to authentic textile and woodcarving shops, to upscale boutiques. Are you surprised that I’m most excited about the restaurants?). It’s a coastal city, bordered by the ocean on three sides, and surrounded in slightly greater vicinity by world-famous vineyards, world-famous hikes (the amazing Table Mountain, among others), world-famous penguins, and other epic experiences. As a result of its geography, the air is less dry, meaning my throat is suddenly significantly less parched and painful as it was throughout our stay in Joburg. It’s an epicenter for international travelers.

We walked around city centre today, a sprawling urban metropolis; as I walked, wide-eyed and delighted, I tried to identify where else in the world I was reminded of. There were inklings of London and Paris, simply because it felt like such a diverse and international hub; moments that were breathlessly reminiscent of New Orleans (the architecture & artistic inflections), or Jamaica (the flavors and scents and colors), or even San Fran (the hills, beautiful parks spanning several blocks, and breeze-kissed sea air). But then I’d turn a corner, and be confronted by stall after stall after stall of gorgeous African clothes and ceramics and paintings and fruits–and I’d turn off my comparison brain and think instead “wow. Africa is bloody brilliant.” Ditto regarding our lunch today: mussels in Cape Malay-style spicy curry sauce, tender shrimp with a “groundnut” (you’d say “peanut” in your neck of the woods) and cabbage-based slaw, oysters so briny that I can still taste their memories hours afterward. All originated from the waters just minutes from the restaurant where we ate them. Brilliant, indeed.

Speaking of waters: I’m fascinated by the fact that the beaches here have completely different characters, depending on where they lie in relation to the three coastal areas. False Bay features the warmest waters; the Atlantic Seaboard is generally mild surf, and home to many of the most popular beaches; West Coast beaches are rougher, with higher winds, and a hub for surfers. I’m so curious to explore in each region, to see how the spirit of city is affected by these disparate water & wind energies–and to see, in turn, if there’s a part of my spirit that responds to some particular combination of water & wind.

Speaking of wind: the wind has quite a character here. It is rough, wild, noisy, unpredictable. It sweeps in, dips and curves and gyrates haphazardly, surprises me with its seeming lack of direction or predictability. There may well be a discernible storyline in the words it tells when it whooshes this way and that, but I have yet to understand its language. Ask me again after I’ve been here nearly a week.

Headed to the beach now, for a sunset stroll and dinner. Wish you could be here to adventure and analyze and walk head-on into foreign winds with me.


PS Today’s cover photo was taken in the African Women’s Craft Market, a voluminous building off the popular Long Rd in Cape Town. Nelson Mandela smiles his sweet approval over row after row of fabrics, metals, natural & artificial fibers & wares of all different iterations. Look closely enough, and you’ll see Iris lurking in the background.

Also: that time-lapse I posted yesterday was mostly for you, dear sir. Hope you saw it & enjoyed.

2 thoughts on “Dear Ben, And Now, Cape Town!

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