As part of our international orientation here at Universiteit van Stellenbosch, we went on a tour of Cape Town today to see the sights and learn a little about the area. So, we piled into a tiny little bus with our guides Wendell and Ronald and were off! I birded the whole way to town, of course, adding a couple life birds along the way - African Darter (the Afrotropical Anhinga) and Black Stork. Soon after, however, we descended into False Bay and the white sand dunes of the Cape Flats. For those unfamiliar with the harsh rule of the National Party under apartheid, the Cape Flats were designated as a resettlement area for many ethnic races during the 1970's and 1980's. Because of this, large shanty towns known as "informal communities" now exist in the hot, sandy, and largely inhospitable expanse. We drove through two such communities on our way towards Table Mountain (or "Tafleberg"), and looked out on the segregated communities. The first community we drove through was designated for the Xhosa, and holds close to 1.5 million people to this day. Even with each household owning just a small shack, the community stretched on kilometer after kilometer. I felt ashamed to be in a bus going through such an area, but I understand why it is necessary to take us through such areas: the atrocities of the past are still fresh for many South Africans, and will will continue to take decades to repair the damage that was done by the National Party. Part of the problem today, we learned, was that some families in the communities even expect the reparations and free housing from the government and do nothing to better their situation so that they may take care of the free aid offered by the government. It is because of this that some shacks had satellite dishes sticking out of the rusty metal attached to the windblown driftwood, and pirated electrical lines sprawled out throughout the communities.
The informal communities of the flats, however, come to an abrupt end on the south side of Cape Town, and the city seen on postcards begin. The stark contrast is almost unbelievable. Cape Town is possible the most beautiful large city I have ever visited, and when we reached the suburb of Camp's Bay, it seemed as though the poverty and the pain we had witnessed hours before was from a different planet altogether.
At Camp's Bay, I split off from my friend's (it was Mpho and Yesake's first time ever seeing an ocean!), and ventured into the boulder-strewn beach nearby. There, I did what I explained to my German friends as "bird-stalking," and was afforded fantastic views of some rocky shore birds.
After photographing the birds I could get close to and frustratingly failing to get any definitive looks at anything other than Great (White-breasted) and Cape Cormorants in the seething black masses packed onto the rocks, I packed my bag, took off my shirt and ventured into the cold blue yonder. It was there under the unrelenting southern sun where the Antarctic waters numbed my feet that I came to terms with the fact that this land of extremes was going to be home for a semester. It was not a conscious realization until I had left, but as the smile crept across my face and my friends ran from the surf towards me just ahead of a wave of icy water, I knew that the next five months were going to be some of the best of my life.
Well, that's all for now. I have to schedule classes this week, but I'll be sneaking out when I can to get more of this fantastic land. Until then, take care!