Cape Town Jazz Festival 2013 Cape Town, South Africa April 5-6, 2013 Music has the power to transport those on the receiving end to another place, but the terms of travel are usually figurative in nature. For four North American journalists, however, the figurative took fantastic form with an offer to visit Cape Town, soak in the culture of South Africa, and review the Cape Town Jazz Festival. When oh-so-rare opportunities like this come knocking at your door, you don't simply answer; you pinch yourself, clear your calendar and pack your bags.
The festival itself is a musical extravaganza spread across two evenings, with ancillary events like press conferences and workshops adding bulk to the day count, but the good people at South African Tourism turned the trip into a week-long adventure to remember. History, culture, nature, food, wine and, of course, music were all part of a jam-packed itinerary that left a strong and positive impression. By the time all was said and done, it was easy to see why Cape Town has become such a tourist hot spot, and one to which it's hard to say goodbye.
A trip such as this begins with the not-so-simple act of getting to South Africa. The idea of a fifteen-hour plane ride from New York to Johannesburg, a short layover, and a two-hour follow-up flight to Cape Town is a less-than-attractive prospect, but reality proved to be far more pleasant than expected. South African Airways graciously provided air travel for our junket, getting us to our final destinationand back homeon time, and in comfort; while nothing can stay the effects of jetlag, worry-free flights, which make their mark on arrival and departure times, certainly help. Once the full day of traveling had past, we were able to move on and explore all that Cape Town has to offer.
Cape Town is South Africa's southern jewel, known for its natural wonders and melting pot makeup. Like most port cities, it has entertainedor been controlled bya variety of ethnic and religious groups over the course of many centuries, all of which have helped to color the culture of the region and genetic makeup of its inhabitants. It has a well-deserved reputation as the tourist capital of South Africa, making it onto the must-visit list of travelers from all over the world, but it isn't a place of perfection, and the people are honest about their homeland's shortcomings. Poverty, housing shortages, unemployment, and economic disparity, drawn largely along racial lines, are a few of the problems that continue to cast a cloud over Cape Townand South Africa on the wholebut the cloud is slowly lifting; more government-built housing, for example, has popped up in various places in recent years, and those in power continue to look at these issues with an eyes-wide-open gaze.
South Africa may still have a long way to go in some respects, but it's also a nation that has come so far in such a short time; one need only take a trip to Robben Island to realize this. The Dutch used this patch of land as a place to house political prisoners during the seventeenth century, and the British followed suit in the nineteenth century. The island even housed the mentally insane and a colony of lepers at one point, but its notoriety has nothing to do with those circumstances and everything to do with the politics of apartheid. Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison on Robben Island, along with numerous other unjustly imprisoned individuals, and it only ceased to exist as a prison in the 1990s, after Apartheid fell; now it's a World Heritage site and must-see museum.
When touring the island, the injustices of the not-too-distant past came swiftly into focus. The bus tour stopped by the small house where Robert Sobukwefounder of the Pan Africanist Congresswas held in solitary confinement, and visited the limestone quarry where prisoners were forced to toil. Eventually, the buses arrived at the prison itself, where former prisoners now serve as tour guides. The horrors of prison life and secret means of communication were spelled out clearly by each one of these human dispensaries of firsthand knowledge. These guides have a million reasons to want to forget, yet they need to share these memories so all will remember. Keeping Apartheid fresh in the minds of tourists and the people of South Africa remains important, and all who visit the museum leave with an understanding that South Africa is a nation that has gone through its darkest hour and righted its most significant wrong, a nation now looking toward a better future for its entire people.
If pictures, on the average, are worth a thousand words, then pictures of sites in-and-around Cape Town are probably worth ten times that amount. It's hard to think of any other place in the world that houses as much earthly eye candy, and no tour through this region is truly complete without a southbound sojourn to the Cape of Good Hope and a trip up Table Mountain.
Trying to write about the ocular odyssey that began in Cape Town and continued all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope is somewhat useless; words are a cheap substitute for images in an instance like this, but they are, nonetheless, necessary.
A trip along the Atlantic coastline allowed for a scenic stop at Camps Bay and some shopping at a crafts market, but the visual stimulation really started to pick up as the tour moved east. After a stop on Boye's Drive, it was on to Boulders Beach, to see the penguins that reside on its sandy shores, and then straight down to the cape. A walk up to the lighthouse perched atop Cape Point and a trip to the Cape Of Good Hope"The South-Western Most Point of The African Continent"proved to be one of the high points of the tour, but the very end of Africa wasn't the end of the sightseeing for the day. The Chapman's Peak Drive, which provides some of the most breathtaking views imaginable, made the Northbound return trip even more memorable.
That particular excursion is lengthy no matter how you slice it, but the trip up Table Mountain doesn't have to be. Hiking is a reach-the-top option for those with time and energy to burn, but time-strapped travelers and those wishing to remain sweat-free, which accounts for the majority of Table Mountain's visitors, take the cable car. At the top, the history and land evolution of Table Mountain is explained via placards, and spectacular views are available in every direction. The world has come to view Table Mountain as one of the "New 7 Wonders Of Nature," but the people of Cape Town simply view it as the spectacular center of their world.