Mark wanted to save the best of Cape Town for last and the best, in his mind, was renting a motorcycle for a day. You may already know that my children did not inherit their love of motorcycles and dirt bikes from me. But I am always willing to go for a ride as long as it’s not too much freeway, too fast, or too often.
Mark reserved us a new FLHTCU Ultra Classic Electra Glide from Harley-Davidson Tyger Valley. The bright yellow color was a surprise, but we didn’t have a choice. The skies were grey again, but fortunately we could borrow jackets and rain gear.
Tyger Valley is an eastern suburb of Cape Town, which meant that we were close to the winelands we visited the day before. We decided to return and ride through Franschhoek, where Mark had seen a hat he liked. Mark is one of those shoppers who likes to think, which means re-shopping. Me, if I see something, I usually buy it then or not at all. It was a bit déjà vu, having been there just 24 hours earlier. The hat Mark wanted, and ended up buying, was perfect for the Kruger safari.
It wasn’t pouring rain, as it had been the day before, so we grabbed a coffee and walked the town. Franschhoek (Dutch for French Corner) is one of South Africa’s oldest towns, and filled with well-preserved examples of Cape Dutch architecture.
There are plenty of gift shops for tourists, but when we were there it was blessedly quiet. At one shop, we saw this display of carved figures depicting Africans dressed in colonial costumes. We saw wooden figures everywhere throughout our trip, but these were not the usual animals, embracing humans, or spirits. They seemed to be … making fun. But of whom?
Doing a bit of research, I discovered that they are folk art that originated on the Ivory Coast, and depict the local inhabitants’ impression of what they would look like if they dressed like colonial people.
After Franschhoek, we rode south through the mountains. The texture of the clouds rivaled that of the landscape, and I was shooting photos with one hand, holding on to Mark with the other. We stopped at a pullout overlooking the valley, and our elevation at 655 meters provided the most spectacular views of the winelands.
As we descended, we passed several bicyclists laboring uphill toward us. They didn’t look much younger than we are, and as much as I love bicycling, I was glad we were riding something motorized.
Our destination – or better termed half way point and stop for lunch – was Betty’s Bay, between Cape Point and Point Agulhas on a part of the coast we had not seen. The weather kept changing. Whereas it was cloudy in the mountains, when we emerged from the pass we were in the sunshine.
The coast was brimming with wildflowers amid the scorched remains of the recently burned scrub. Every winter the environmental agency conducts these prescribed burns to manage the fast-growing trees. Have you ever been to a place in the spring where a disastrous burn occurred the year before? It’s a thing of beauty, to watch the plants reappear.
This coast is an isolated, windswept place. I expected a village like the ones we drove through on our Cape Point tour, but this was a much more remote place. I don’t know the demographics, but I imagine that many places are vacation homes and can be rented. This would be a great place to get away from the press of civilization, relax to the sounds of the ocean and sea breeze, and watch for ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope.
From Betty’s Bay, we rode north on the coast highway to the harbor town of Gordon’s Bay. This stretch of the ride looked so much like California that it was a little scary. I kept twisting around to take photos of the coastline behind us, and Cape Point to the left.
Then we came around a curve, and there was civilization. We wound our way through Gordon’s Bay, then through the town of Stellenbosch where we had stopped at the end of our winelands tour the day before, and got back to the freeway, headed to Tyger Valley to return the bike just a few minutes before closing time.
But back to reality. While we saw many gorgeous sights on the Cape, I will never forget the townships. Every place has them, even Betty’s Bay.
Viktor, our Cape Point tour driver, told us that he’s married to a Colored woman, and they have a daughter. He is White, they are Colored, and they live in a lower middle class neighborhood, in a house like the ones here. He said the terms White, Colored, and Black are used by everyone to describe people, without the same reaction, the same power, as in the USA. It’s just a way to describe and identify people.
Or, maybe it’s that the racism is something they just can’t deny, so they don’t.
The social and racial fabric of Cape Town is complex, the depth of which I can only begin to comprehend. I did pick up some new perspective on the roots of segregation as I learned about Cape history and its townships, middle class neighborhoods, and wealthy districts. Afrikaners are descendants of the original Dutch settlers, the historic ruling class. The first slaves were not indigenous black Africans, but people brought from Indonesia and Madagascar during the 17th century to ease the labor shortage in the growing settlement. These were the first Cape Colored people, and many of today’s Colored are their descendants. Later, as the city grew, the Black population outnumbered the others and was seen as a cultural threat. The White minority government passed apartheid laws curtailing the rights of Blacks and designating residential areas based on race, which were in effect from 1948 to the 1990’s. They identified and segregated four races: White, Colored, Indian, and Black.
For me, coming originally from Detroit, a major American city that was torn apart by racism and eroded by white flight, it was a shock to see the squalor of the townships in such a developed, civilized city. Even after traveling in India, and seeing slums where men defecated alongside the railroad tracks as we went by, it was painful and shocking to see the densely packed shacks and imagine life inside the fences. Segregation so organized and entrenched was hard to witness.
Still, it was fascinating to see, it was colorful and alive, and I couldn’t help but think about how, inside those townships, people live out their days surrounded by both dirt and dignity, love and violence, hope and despair. And there is hope, as the ramshackle township dwellings are slowly being replaced with better housing, and most houses now at least have electricity, running water, and toilets. Although, they are sometimes porta-toilets.
So, there is hope for better conditions. But is there hope for opportunity? Education? Good jobs?
Politics and corruption in government are impediments to social progress now. The pendulum swings.
Olga, the Winelands tour guide, talked about the townships. She said she went to a celebration in one, with a friend who knew someone there. They left before dark. After dark, even the police do not dare to enter. There are tours where visitors can go into the township with a guide. Our friends Terry and Pete went on one, and they liked it – although it was clear that there was a line inside the township beyond which the tourists would never be taken. I would have liked to go on one of those tours, but didn’t. I didn’t think there was enough time, and I wasn’t sure if I had enough energy, either physical or emotional. Did I have enough information, or the right frame of mind? I just wasn’t … ready.
So I could only take pictures, mostly blurry, as we drove by. We hope to go back and if we do, then maybe I will do a township tour. If it’s still possible, still safe. Maybe by the time we come back, these will all have been replaced with new cement brick, metal-roofed houses. What do you think?
Thanks for reading!