I don’t know if its called the San Francisco of the Southern Hemisphere, but if it isn’t and the name catches on, well you heard it here first. The winelands are close by. There is a famous prison in the bay. The vibe is cosmopolitan. The coast is wonderful but without a wetsuit you might find yourself a bit cold. Cape Town has the world’s largest population of Great White Sharks, followed by the waters off shore of San Fran. I suppose the biggest difference, on the surface anyway, is that San Francisco is dotted by huge hills whereas Cape Town is divided by a huge mountain. But, that’s just the surface I’m talking about.
Cape Town was founded when Portuguese sailors 400 years ago were looking to go east and found Table Mountain instead. Eventually the need was realized for a couple of lighthouses on the point (the first one was too high and always shrouded in fog) and a permanent settlement was established, complete with wine courtesy of the Dutch. The need for cheap labor lead to slave imports (from Angola, Madagascar, and Asia) which is a large part of the reason Cape Town is so cosmopolitan today. Much of its own history, like that of the entire country, has been shaped by events in Europe as Capetown slipped from the Portuguese to the Dutch and then to the British.
The city is beautiful to look at but it is not without its blemishes. During Apartheid the government, as the story goes, couldn’t have things be so cosmopolitan and so they took to demolishing one of the most vibrant parts of the city, District 6. (If you’ve seen the movie District 9, currently up for best picture at the Oscars, you might notice some similarities.) Naturally District 6 was a poor area but it was a mixed area for coloreds, (that means mixed race here) blacks, Jews, whites, and you get the picture. With this area knocked out, as it still is today, people were force ably removed to the other side of the mountain where many continue to reside today in squatters camps and shanty towns. The glitz and glamor of the coastline condos to these camps could not be in greater contrast.
After spending a good day hiking up Table Mountain to look down on the city below, we realized the city does have a lot on offer: diving just offshore, hiking all over the place, and enjoying the best of waterfront nightlife. There are plenty of museums to keep you busy and it is has a real, walkable, downtown area which is not something we’ve seen since Buenos Aires. Between the funky boutiques lining Long Street and the Green Market Craft Square, the downtown is a nice mix of Africa and funky cosmopolitan. This town may remind me of San Fransisco, but while in SF I’ve never seen baboons or watch as street performers dance and sing zulu war songs while sipping my cheap, local wine.