February 7, 2017

World : Capetown & San Francisco

After twenty four hours of travel from San Francisco to Capetown, I imagined we would feel far away.  Sense that pleasant disorientation I get from having flown over thousands of miles and feeling transplanted, even though not much has really changed except my position.  Instead, Capetown feels as much like San Francisco as we'd heard.

After picking up our baggage, we Uber to a coffeeshop to hang out before checking into our Air BnB.  The place is called Truth Cafe, noted online to be the best coffeeshop in the world, and has the feel of San Francisco's Ritual.  The coffee is really good, everyone is plugged in, and the only thing that feels different about the place was us--recent airplane passengers with visible luggage.  Then we hike to the top of Lion's Head, where we witness the coastline stretch and I'm flooded with gratitude for California's Highway One at the same time as I'm blown away by this.

Lion's Head, South Africa January 2017. Taken on iPhone by my travel partner, a panorama genius.

It sets the tone for the rest of our days in Cape Town: cosmopolitan, food and drink centered, international, nestled in unbelievable nature.  We eat and eat and eat.  Tapas, fusion, avocado toast, cheese, hand-churned butter, charcoal salt.  Whenever available, I have dessert: banana rissotto, rhubarb, brownie, ice cream.  Just like San Francisco, the food is delicious, eclectic, and overpriced.  We wonder what "local" South African food is, and we're told that Cape Town doesn't really have this.  It is, however, known for its Malaysian, Ethiopian and Indian food.  At another coffeeshop (Never Bean There), there's a metal bike hung on the wall as art.  At the chocolate shop (Honest Chocolate) next door, everything is organic and fair-trade.

A lot of cities have good, snobby food and an urban feel, but few are set against the backdrop of water the way both San Francisco and Capetown are.  They each rest on a peninsula, which I guess in of itself isn't so unique, but the climate feels really similar. Cape Town is admittedly warmer and sunnier by the water than SF is, but only if you're comparing it to next-to-Golden-Gate-water; I'd argue that next-toBay-Bridge-water can be just as warm and bright.  And both cities are ruled by weather.  Cape Town is damn windy in the summer, just like San Francisco is cold in the summer.  The winds are so strong, they kept us from summiting Table Mountain (on multiple attempts).  Fog and mist roll in varying stages, and while we don't have any mountains as looming as Cape Town's Table Mountain, the mix of nature and city echoes so much of what we love in SF.

Then there's the fact that San Francisco has Alcatraz, and Cape Town has Robben Island--island prisons a short ferry ride away from the mainland.  The feel of the water is so similar, and the coastline at Robben Island immediately registers like Half Moon Bay.

Then there's the fact that San Francisco has Napa Valley, and Cape Town has Stellenbosch--world-class vineyards less than an hour from their respective cities.

I have to admit that Cape Town's beauty and luxury made me momentarily forget what we had just left back home--uncertainty and fear about our country's future.  Then, I registered how fresh and ongoing the struggles are in South Africa, that go largely unseen in the sanctuary of Cape Town.  Another parallel between our cities, our vibrancy often masking huge injustice.  I just finished listening Nelson Mandela's autobiography (28 hours and absolutely worth it), and am struck by how long that walk to freedom really was, and how it hasn't ended, there or here.

It made me consider many things moving forward in our beautiful city and home.  That progress isn't linear. That history is very much present.  But that change happens with patience, commitment and sacrifice.

Also, the fact that the bulk of Mandela's book is about being trialed, charged and imprisoned for "political crime," makes me remember our respective freedom.  A lot of absolute bullshit is happening right now, so much we never could have imagined happening.  But we get to talk about it, and we're not risking our lives to speak up.  And it makes me newly grateful to my parents, who did risk their lives so that I could have this freedom.

And so, while I went away expecting something different, I returned with the same sense of things, only stronger.  That all this incredible beauty--the bridges, the bodies of water, the mountains in the distance--is a gift, earned by those before us.  To our past, we owe this fight for the future.

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