Archive for January, 2011

Cape Town: Stepping into Paradise

January 27, 2011

I trust you are all well! Jordan and I spent a couple of weeks around Christmas and New Years in Cape Town. We had only a few days to sightsee beginning with the historical town of Stellenbosch. It’s a charming town, neat and tidy with some great older buildings, nice restaurants and all things any westerner could be craving. It is also where the laws of apartheid were drafted. This is wine country and simply beautiful with the mountains as a background to the rolling hills and well-kept farms.

 Sitting in a seafood restaurant on our first night away from our site in rural Swaziland, I was struck, as I often am when traveling in South Africa, by the level of separation between whites and blacks. While there could have been some I overlooked, I saw no blacks eating, only serving. These experiences remind me that much of the world is still divided based on race and that any time I choose, I can step into the world of the privileged. Feels pretty strange after 18 months of living and traveling around my little country where Jordan and I are the only white faces in the neighborhood or on the khumbi (public transport vans). Why am I granted admission to this exclusive club? How did the doorman know I was “ok”? Well, I’m an American. I’m educated with professional credentials. I have good credit. Not only could I pay for dinner, in most places in the world, I could buy a car, a spot of land and a house just with my credit card. But dressed as I was in Peace Corps grab, I’m sure I didn’t blow him away with my flash. Maybe it was not something I was. Maybe it was something I obviously was not.

The next morning, we left Stellenbosch and drove along the coast road to the small community of Hermanus, famous as a whale-watching site. No, we didn’t see any whales as we were a few months late, maybe next season! The drive reminded us of the coast highway south of San Francisco. The scenery was similar with high rocky cliffs sloping down to rough cold seas. The roadway was much better maintained with the pull offs paved with brick and lovely stone walls for guard rails. Throughout our travels in and around Cape Town, we saw almost no trash anywhere other than at the edges of the townships (see the last 3 photos, and yes, people still live there.). We were told that progress has been made toward building new houses for these folks and we saw some new complexes adjacent to the shacks. But as more people are coming into the city from the country all the time, the government is unable to keep up with demand and the townships remain.

 The first three days of the trip was sort of like stepping out of our Swazi home and into a theme park, complete with exciting rides – ever driven on the wrong side of the road while shifting a manual 5-speed with your left hand? I had a ball with the little Polo VW we rented and enjoyed every curve we took as much as if I were in a $100K sports car. 

 For us, the main attraction to Cape Town was the 10-day silent meditation course that was held in Wochester, about an hour inland from the city (photos of the center begin after the two dry-docked fishing boats). The retreat was for me, the most powerful yet and I’ve sat a few over the past 20 years. Perhaps because of the two years I have had without the stress of work, the mind was much more clear and open to moving a bit further along the purification trail. So powerful was the experience in fact that it helped solidify our plans to dive more deeply into our practice and head for Northern India after our PC gig is up in August (perhaps with a couple of months at the Cape Town center in between). There are dozens of centers around India that teach the form of meditation we practice. So, who knows were we’ll end up? Stay tuned! And wish us luck!

Here’s a slideshow I put together from our trip. I hope you enjoy it!  Stay well! John