Our first day in Cape Town we woke to rain. It wasn’t supposed to get much better during the day so we took our time getting out and about in the morning. One of the things I wanted to do in Cape Town was go up to the top of Table Mountain. However you really need good weather for that, so I crossed my fingers that it would improve later in the week. Instead we donned our raincoats, took along an umbrella provided by the hotel, and set off walking down the hill toward the downtown area or city center. Almost immediately we came across this beautiful Jacaranda tree in full bloom. What a contrast to the city streets and such a fantastic color!
Soon we found Kloof St. and followed that until it became Long St. As we wandered Michael took a few shots of city scenes with his camera and we generally just looked around. We went into a music store we came upon and enjoyed checking out a lot of unfamiliar music. We each found a cd to buy which is a nice, easy, and lasting souvenir to take home.
A little further down the road we passed a shoemaker called Diamande and decided to go in. He makes all his leather shoes by hand. There were shoes on display on the walls of the small shop and the shoemaker himself helps you. He doesn’t have a lot of different sizes made up but can custom make you a pair in a few days. A couple already in the store were just finishing up ordering some shoes and were very enthusiastic. The woman had ordered a red pair of booties. Michael was interested in shoes so Diamande helped him try on a few different pairs. In the end he found a handsome pair in brown buffalo hide.
We continued down Long St. until we got to the Pan African Market which is a multi-story building with African crafts from different parts of the continent. There was a warren of little rooms filled with different vendors and artists and some occupied space in the hallways. It was a little overwhelming, but since it was rainy out, we didn’t mind being indoors. We visited two floors and I enjoyed seeing all the different styles of craft. This was also the kind of place where you are expected to bargain so we did our best on a few small purchases. Eventually I needed to find the restroom and when we got directions we discovered there was a funky little café tucked into one of the rooms. They had the key to the bathroom. While I went down the hall, Michael sat down to have a beer.
The café turned out to be Ethiopian and had seating on a long balcony overlooking the street. When I got back from my mission, we decided to sit down for a bite to eat and a respite. We ordered some drinks and some Ethiopian food and soaked up the funky atmosphere. I’m not sure how many tourists end up there, but we had fun.
Suitably refreshed by our stop, we set out once again into the street to wander some more. I had wanted to buy some spices in Africa and had looked up a shop nearby, so we set out in search of it. The Atlas Trading Company has been around since the 1940’s and is located in Bo-Kaap, the Malay quarter of Cape Town. It was raining again but fortunately the shop wasn’t too far. Atlas sells “bulk spices, rice, beans, lentils, seeds, coconuts, dates, pickles, herbs, nuts, incense sticks, books, kaffan etc.” according to their packaging. A lot of it is of Indian origin or flavor. It’s not really a tourist shop. When we arrived, there were men loading sacs of rice and other goods into a truck in front. Inside there were huge bins full of powdered curries, masalas, turmeric, ginger, and many, many others. I wanted some masala but had no idea what the differences were between the many kinds. There didn’t seem to be an obvious customer service presence. Fortunately they also had some pre-measured packages and I just took a guess and picked a few things that looked good. It wasn’t very clear how one should proceed but I went first to one window to have the inventory accounted for, and then to another window to pay. I came away with Leaf Masala, Smoked Paprika, Lemon & Garlic BBQ, and Potjiekos Spice. I’m sure they will inspire many cooking adventures.
After the spice adventure we headed back toward our hotel but went by way of the Company’s Garden. The Company’s Garden was started in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company for the purpose of re-supplying their ships as they stopped on their way between Europe and the East Indies. It is now a beautiful garden, much like a botanical garden, with old trees of varying species nicely identified with placards, including a huge rubber tree. It really was an oasis in the city and we walked the length of it enjoying the plants and trees and at the end, the rose garden.
After finding our way back to An African Villa, we did what any sensible traveler does after a walking tour and took a nap. That evening we made a second attempt at dining at Saigon. This time we were successful, although there were threats that the power might go out again. Apparently a coal silo at a major power plant in South Africa had fallen over, damaging the coal supply system to the power plant. The power company was scrambling to bring in coal by truck to keep the plant going, but they were warning that there might be rolling blackouts imposed if need be until they could get the supply up to speed. Happily for us, there were no more power outages and we enjoyed a dinner of Vietnamese dishes and walked home on lighted streets.
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