Hey Toto...where did Africa go? Cape Town... famous for its beauty, nestled under Table Mountain, at a place where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic...so clean and so modern...and oh, so Gay!
Cape Town feels as if you took San Francisco and Vancouver, added them to the pot, added a cup of Big Sur coastline, a dash of New Orleans and and a sprinkling of Rio. It is truly amazing, and like all of Africa, complex. One must be very careful not to generalize about this city, as its history and people don't easily fit into a nice, neat description.
The easy part...LGBT life in Cape Town. Gay life here is so easy to be part of. The "Gay Village" is focused around a couple of blocks in Cape Town's Green Point area. It's a joy to be able to walk from Big Blue Backpackers (where we are staying) about 6 blocks from where most of the bars are. And then to add to the "Gay Village", just two blocks up the hill are a myriad of "very Gay friendly" restaurants and lounges. These are not the type of places you would find in the Castro, but "designer chic", with menus that equal anywhere I have been in the world.
And this place is the opposite to "homophobic Africa"
The "Gay Village" is not large, but covers everything from gay bars to the "cutting edge" boy bars, leather action, underwear only, college/lesbian, drag bar and the baths are just up the hill.
Amsterdam Action Bar - old school gay bar
Barcode - Men's leather bar with underwear parties
Beefcakes - Campest burger bar ever with live entertainment from Drag Divas to Bitchy Bingo
Bronx - Action bar and Cape Town's oldest
Beaulah - For the young student crowd and "baby" dykes
Cafe Manhattan - Best burgers and great gay bar
Crew Bar - Stylish dance bar with hot topless bar men and go-go dancers
Hot House - Stylish upmarket European Style steam bath
Lazari - Great cocktails and coffee
Rosie's - Black African bar with popular Sunday night drag shows
Uncle Jack's Pub - Draught and traditional pub food with a great terrace
The Venue - Lounge and cocktail bar
As with our experience with the rest of South Africa, the bars are generally composed of either a "black or white" clientele. It "seems" (although after 6 months in Africa...I myself most often doubt anything I believe) this is not really a racial divide, but more heavily related to income (what one can afford) and taste in music.
Going out in Cape Town is much like going out in Vancouver and Seattle. Except...to be a bartender you must work with only your underware on...and you must look like you just stepped out of a centerfold. There are also lots of young, young blonde go-go boys, standing on the bar tops. Unfortunately they seem to me more like a fixture. At first glance look very nice...but they hardly could be referred to as dancers as they stand and just chat with each other.
The government in Cape Town, like that in Vancouver, is clamping down on hours of operation (on the 2nd of January bars must have last call at 2am). Now with strict drunk driving laws, where you can easily lose your car if you are drunk, being enforced with the very familiar road blocks.
Parties in Cape Town!
This place is certainly well organized. Pride (which happens February 24th to March 6th) http://capetownpride.org/ and large party venues like MCQP "Mother City Queer Project" http://www.mcqp.co.za/ - South Africa's largest party with over 10,000 people. It's happening on the 17 December in the new World Cup Stadium, just days after we arrive back in Seattle. We had the opportunity to go to the first annivesary of "Out" magazine last week and meet the owners. Things are usually "well done" in Cape Town and the magazine quality is certainly more LA than Africa.
More about the people.
Most people, myself included, fall into a trap in South Africa. We usually see the country generally described as white/English, white/blonde haired/Afrikaaner, (most often associated with apartheid), and black/generally speaking their own tribal African language. Then there are the coloreds who are often an unknown to the tourist. Add all the immigrants/refugees from countries like Zimbabwe (both black and white) and many others in Cape Town have fled from the troubles of the Congo and you have in incredible mix of different people.
In Cape Town, it is suddenly surprising to see all the people which South Africans call "coloured". And equally surprising is the fact that such a great number use Afrikaans as their first language. The apartheid era has only been over for about 17 years. It seems if one needed to be able to live and communicate during those years, you really needed to learn and use Afrikaans. There was a big move to use Afrikaans as the language for instruction in schools and universities. The similarities in looks between the "coloureds" and the "beautiful people" of Rio is uncanny. But most everyone speaks English too, with their own type of "Capetonian" accent.
On a visit to Cape Town, there are a few "must sees".
The first is probably Table Mountain, which is always the predominate background feature in any picture of Cape Town. It is as impressive from the city and the base of the revolving Cable Car as it is from the intriguing "table top" of large stones and walkways on its plateau. For those of you who love to hike, taking the "path" up and or down it is a challenging hike, with awesome scenery and giving you some pretty rubbery legs and sore muscles for your next day in Cape Town. You must be aware, like San Francisco, the fog can come in quickly and hide the view and often the cable car can be shut down because of high winds.
A trip down the cape to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point is a trip of unsurpassed beauty and incredible scenery. I probably took more pictures in one day than I took in the whole time we were in Malawi. We rented a car with some friends we met from Kenya and headed down the Cape. First through Clifton and it's well known beaches (Clifton 3 is the gay beach), down through Camps Bay and on to Sandy Bay. Sandy Bay has a famous gay nude beach, but takes a little hike to get down to it. These beaches are all on the Atlantic Coast and the water is like the Bay Area...kinda chilly but oh so aqua green and beautiful. Then many people drive across the peninsula to Simon's Town, a tourist place reminiscent of Santa Cruz, California. Just south of Simon's town at The Boulders is a large penguin colony worth a good 2 hours or more of entertainment and amazement. You are now on the beaches of False Bay which is part of the Indian Ocean system and the water temperature sure reflects the change.
Then at the end of the peninsula you arrive at the Cape of Good Hope and on the other side, Cape Point. There is a funicular to take you to the top of the point to get a view of the ocean, bay and the incredible mountains across False Bay. The drive to the "Cape" is a long day, stopping every few miles to gawk at the scenery and explore the beaches. We got back to Cape Town just in time to drive to the top of Signal Hill and watch the sunset. So romantic and so classy! Couples sitting at tables, enjoying great South African wine and often getting somewhat overzealous in their enjoyment of each other. Sunset rating 8.5, people watching 10.5 out of 10!
To top off the day we headed to Long Street, probably Cape Towns best known street for bars and restaurants. The look is so New Orleans. And Cape Town is also famous for it's jazz life and Carnival see: http://capetowncarnival.com/ We stopped in for Indian food at the well known Masala Dosa restaurant and then returned back to Big Blue exhausted and nursing our oh so sore muscles from the last 2 days of hikes.
Louis and I spent quite a bit of time just wondering downtown and ending up at at places like the Castle of good Hope (a fort started by the Dutch in the 1600's) and a visit to the Company Gardens, an amazing botanical garden running near the parliament buildings. The National Gallery, featured here was the exhibit from Joburg for the World Cup at the National Gallery. So much of the exhibit was dark and retrospective....something that the people of South Africa must be commended for.
This country has gone through a history that is as heart wrenching as that of Nazi Germany and come out of it, willing to show the world what has happenned. I commend them so much for this. We went for a tour at the District Six Museum. It brought me to tears as the former resident described the government displacing all the people and tearing down their homes. Blacks sent to black areas, whites to white areas, coloureds to coloured areas, families split apart because husband and wife were of different skin color and their only contact would be for 2 hours every three months if you could get a police permit. Before apartheid, District 6 was so integrated that the Muslim community had their services in a Jewish Temple. The area was razed. Now the land stands partly used by a university and parts of it are empty. Relocation of the original residents back to the areas of their homes has been promised, but is happening at a very slow pace.
We took the train to Stellenbosch in the wine country. The town is a combination of Napa and Monterey, with the college student population of Santa Cruz, CA. Art galleries, restaurants, bars, great wine and food all with a back drop of vineyards and incredible mountains. And Louis found a part of Africa he could live in!
LGBT and Human Rights
I set up a time to visit my friend Monica at IGLHRC - International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission http://www.iglhrc.org She had been so wonderful providing me contacts of LGBT activists in all the countries we had visited. Again, like so much of my experiences in Cape Town, the conversation was emotionally moving. The IGLHRC is so involved with rights for LGBT people all around Africa and many the stories Monica told me about their work were so tragic and sad. "Coming out" in the US or Canada seems so simple and easy compared to the "consequences" many African LGBT people must often endure (South Africa "generally" excepted.
One other side of Cape Town
I spent some time with the "immigrant/locals" who I met while I walking around the city or "coming home" at night. The majority are "boys or young men" between the ages of 16 and 35. (You don't find girls parking cars or do other menial jobs on the street, so it is very one sided.) Most are from the Congo and have fled the wars and hard economic times their countries are enduring. They work such long hours for next to nothing. Many do not have passports, but the South African government allows them into the country with "refugee status"...but most of them are still being "processed". Well, we know how that works in the US and Canada. To me it feels like a nightmare for these guys. They can't get a "real job", their refugee status is often limited to "student" and they are so exploited. They sometimes only making R20 (about $6) for an entire "shift". Often when they finish work late, they must find a place to sleep or hang out until the train starts running again at 5am and they can go home where they share a room with others in the same situation. My heart went out to them. The ones I chatted with (often 2 or 3 or more times) were so inspirational. So willing to smile and chat. Never complaining, and yes, rarely asking for a handout. I guess there is some of "Africa" in Cape Town. That "African" quality of the heart, having so little, doing with so little, very little light at the end of the tunnel...and always a big smile and a happy meeting, even if it's only to talk about where we are going from here.
Louis and I are on our way back to Seattle today. I read today that there was record rainfall and everything was flooding. My car is parked in a high flood area near the Snoqualmie River in North Bend. I wonder if it's sitting in water. Somehow I feel different than when I left Seattle. I will see if 6 months in Africa has changed me and the way I see things.
My biggest thanks ever to our friend Sharon Versfeld in Johannesburg! She took us in way back on the 30th of June when our original plans collapsed. For 6 months she has looked after us as we come and went, feeding us, entertaining us, and taking us innumerable times to the bus station and airport. Without her, all of our travels surely would not have happened.
Unlike other trips I have taken, I am already planning my next trip to Africa. Probably in July. I am working with 3 schools in Malawi to raise money for the basics like desks, lights, some paint and some lab equipment and as many computers as I can find. I am also focused on having people "adopt at student" so they can go to school. It's only about $150 for tuition, room and board - for 3 months. You can make a huge difference to somebody's life and so easily!
Want to come with me, see Africa, meet the people, have the trip of lifetime and truly make a difference? Come with me in July!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be ever so happy to talk to you about it.
Thanks for all your interest in the last 6 months!
Louis and Barry
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