Friday, February 22, 2008

My Father the Sun, My Mother the Moon

I've loved solo travel ever since my first trip across Europe a decade ago. Its sense of freedom and endless possibilities are the rarest gifts, and I find it difficult to give those up to travel with others for long.

Unfortunately, there are days when trudging alone grinds you down. Whether it's the petty uncertainties from being perpetually uprooted, or facing dinner on your own (yet again!), the challenges are always present. Then there are the more difficult moments, the emotional events that come on without warning and leave you limping and lurching through whatever city you're in at the time. It was on that note, and a heavy heart, that I started the sunset climb of the Lion's Head yesterday afternoon.

The Lion's Head is a jagged 669m guardian of rock overlooking Cape Town from a seat directly in front of Table Mountain. The peak thrusts clear from the brush and low trees on its flanks and to form a sentinel watching over the city's Atlantic suburbs and downtown core. It's stunning.

The hike is meant to last two hours, and I started out at twenty after five with the sun still pounding out of the clear blue sky. I was caught without sunblock again, as usual forgetting the relentless burn of the sun at these latitudes until it's all but sunk behind the horizon. But it was beautiful and fresh. The trail circled around the peak, bringing every corner of the city into view one after another before cutting up in a vertical chain climb to the final ascent. All in, it was about thirty minutes and several photo stops before I was crossing the summit to find a comfortable spot for to await the setting sun.

Immediately in front of me was the cold Atlantic and the Clifton and Camps Bay suburbs clinging to the slim line of coast. On the right the smaller peak of Signal Hill stood watch over my current home in Sea Point, and behind me spread the downtown core of the City Bowl nestled into the flanks of Table Mountain. It was a stunning and virtually private panorama until shortly after six when the summit started filling up. The company was nice, and the crowd grew to cover every open space without taking away from the quiet of the surroundings or the sound of my thoughts.

It's amazing how wrong you can get things, how incomplete your own version of the truth can be, and how blind you can be to the right way of simply being with things, most of all with yourself. You try to live from that place, but no matter how well you think you understand, you end up feeling like you need some sort of answer. Sometimes its moments like these.

The sun began its final descent behind the clouds and sea, and as it did the answer to a question I had only whispered rushed in. What a beautiful simplicity, and how terrifyingly easy it is to miss. It's as if you're capable of accepting anything in the world, except what's in your own heart, and sometimes you just need a place like this where you can be quiet for long enough and remember.

A few moments later the sun disappeared and eyes turned exactly 180 degrees to look out across the opposite face, for not only was this the rising of the full moon, it was also a lunar eclipse. The moon broke the horizon over City Bowl and the Sun and Moon embraced its creation, the Earth, in arms reaching from either end of the cosmos, touching every corner of our world and in doing so touching everyone I love.

I spent some time in that place and gave thanks for all the gifts of the day before beginning the trip down. It was time for a burger, and a beer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nelson Mandela and District Six

February 11th marked the 18th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's long walk to freedom. I missed the opportunity to make a commemorative post on that event, but hopefully I can make up for it by sharing an equally important, though less known, story of apartheid - the story of District Six.

District Six was established adjacent to the downtown core in 1867 as the "Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town" – a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. Over the next century the modest area grew into a cosmopolitan melting pot boasting a rich jazz scene. Later, as the dark years of apartheid clamped down on the city, it became a haven for musicians, writers and politicians looking for a moment of escape. In the words of legendary South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, District Six was a "fantastic city within a city. Where you felt the fist of apartheid, it was the valve to release some of that pressure."

However, by the mid sixties the government had the community in its sights. In 1966, after allowing the area's infrastructure to crumble for years, the government classified District Six a slum and declared it a 'whites only' area under the infamous Groups Area Act. Forced removals began two years later and by 1982 sixty thousand people had been relocated to the Cape Flats township some 25 kms away. District Six was razed to the ground and, despite having once been home to a tenth of Cape Town's population, the area remains barren wasteland to this day. In the face of growing political opposition from within, and international pressure from outside South Africa, the apartheid regime never succeeded in redeveloping the 528 acre site.

I visited the area after a brief tour of the excellent District Six Museum. Arriving there at 5pm with the southeast winds blowing over Table Mountain, the scene was harrowing.

New tarmac winds through what appears to be undeveloped land and overgrown grass, but as you pick your way through barrens, increasingly vivid relics emerge. Broken brick work and porcelain tiles become more frequent and the concrete foundations of old residential buildings poke through the ground. Cracked and weed ridden streets run uphill towards new developments while the housings of old sewer entrances stand open and uncovered, leading 25 feet down to the storm sewers that serve the ghost community.

It was one of the most stark and disturbing sights I've seen, and powerfully symbolic of the injustices committed against non-white South Africans during the time of apartheid.

The healing process continues as the District Six Beneficiary and Redevelopment Trust carries on the work of land restitution on behalf of displaced residents. Their formal goal is to "facilitate the return of previously dispossessed persons to their ancestral land." Negotiations are ongoing.

District Six slide show below.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Themed Toilets of Ngepi

A raft of new posts are on the way, including photo highlights from the past two months, and full articles on the wrap up of the African overland tour and of life here in Cape Town. In the mean time, here's a short photo set to pass the time. Our campsite in Ngepi, Namibia had some odd ways of dealing with the calls of nature, among other things....

Friday, February 08, 2008

Ground Rush in Namibia

This is the sort of thing you don't tell your mother about until you are safely back on the ground...or perhaps never. Sorry Mom!

Skydiving courtesy of Ground Rush.

PS - photos in reverse(ish) order because this flash player is retarded.