Written by Kalee LaPointe, a student from San Angelo, Texas, United States. She is currently studying English Literature at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland. She is doing an internship in Cape Town during her Summer break, and the following is her accounts of arriving in Cape Town. Follow her journey on Instagram @kaleefromtexas.
My first couple of days in Cape Town were jam packed, and I was thrust into the life and beauty of Cape Town, South Africa. The thought of traveling alone, somewhere completely new, where I didn’t really know anyone was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. People warned me to be careful, to be wary as a solo female traveler (which is a bit of a daunting idea), but I’ve honestly never felt so at home so quickly and comfortably in an entirely new place.
After a few days in the city, I think I felt happier than I’ve ever been. There’s something new to see every day surrounded by friendly people, and while it’s smart to be vigilant, I have never felt unsafe. To be honest, the idea to travel to Cape Town was very impulsive, but I will forever remain grateful that I decided to embark on the adventure. While there are some nerve-wrecking aspects associated with solo travel—like asking strangers to take your picture and politely waiting to ask someone new when you want a different pose, Cape Town should definitely be at the top of your travel list.
Night 1: Cape Town by Night
I’ve been in Cape Town for exactly 3 days and I already know coming here has been one of the best decisions of my life. The moment I got off my eleven-and-a-half-hour flight—exhausted, weary, and definitely a bit nervous—I was anxious to get through passport control, find my luggage, and head out to catch my first glance of the city I had taken 3 different flights to get to.
The first thing I saw was cars. And signs. Not exactly the most exciting sight considering I was still in the airport, but it was sort of comforting. I remember looking around trying to find a sense of familiarity, a habit of mine I noticed while traveling, and there it was—signs and posters in English and even a McDonald’s and KFC along the way. That definitely surprised me, but it was something I was thankful to see. As we drove into the city and out of the airport, I found myself staring out the window trying to take in everything. It was eleven o’clock at night so everything was blurry, dark shapes. But it was still thrilling to know I was here. I made it. Cape Town was going to be my home for the next 5 weeks.
While I thought 32-hours of traveling meant I’d go straight to a shower, night clothes, and a bed, I was actually in for quite a surprise. The director of the program I was traveling through, Masambeni, mentioned if I was up for it, we could go out to meet some people from the program. I was tired, but that was pushed away and taken over by a rush of adrenaline and a sense of excitement as I thought of all the possibilities lying ahead in the city. I couldn’t wait to see where I was, meet new people, and get out and explore. Although I was excited, I expected to go to a restaurant or perhaps a café—Stones was far from either. I was suddenly introduced to the vibrant, lively, and constant night-life of Cape Town. And to my seriously horrible foosball skills.
Day 1: Wine Tasting and Views in Cape Town
I definitely wasn’t expecting to do anything on my first night besides sleep, but I was glad to kick-off my stay in true Capetonian fashion. The next two days followed suit and were nothing short of amazing. On Saturday I had the Stellenbosch wine tour experience, which was filled with more words and descriptions of wines than I can remember. I also had my very first vegetarian meal in South Africa—a salad with red wine vinaigrette and very thinly sliced cucumbers. It wasn’t exactly exciting, but it was definitely delicious.
Although the restaurant was fancy and not exactly a common setting, I was definitely surprised at the options. Being at a new restaurant, much less a new country, is always a wary experience for me as a vegetarian. Based on some prior research of Cape Town, I was worried that my diet would subsist on the granola bars and Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese cups I had managed to squeeze in my over-packed suitcase. However, it was looking like that might not have to be the case after all.
Before moving on to the next winery, I had the moment. You know, the moment when you’re somewhere new and it hits you—I’m really here. As I looked out beyond the winery at the beautiful landscape with Table Mountain and Lion’s Head in the distance, which looked as flawless and picturesque as an ad in a magazine, I was amazed. While I thought the wine tour would be all about the wine, I was happy to see that it was so much more than that. There was the wine, yes, but it was the people, the view, the way you could look out and see endless beauty, that was just…wow. It was the whole experience. Perhaps it was because it was my first day in Cape Town, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful this place is. It was only one day, but I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to leave.
Day 2: Cape Town Must-Sees
Sunday only strengthened these feelings. The day was filled with several “iconic” Cape Town stops—Boulders Beach, Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, Chapman’s Peak Drive, and a stunning view of the sunset on the beach. Everything was absolutely beautiful and completely breathtaking!
Walking around Boulders Beach, where I did pay the optional R35 to get a closer view of its funny inhabitants, I was glad to place another checkmark on my Cape Town “Bucket List.” The penguins are a sight to see as they waddle about, and the stunning ocean around them is definitely worth the time. We visited Cape Point next, which turned into much more of a workout than I was expecting. It just so happened that the Flying Dutchman Funicular, the car that takes you to the top, was out of order the day we went. So, off I went making myself believe I’d suddenly become some sort of seasoned, champion hiker and promising myself it would be so much easier on the way down.
As the lighthouse at the top crept closer and closer, I was more determined than ever to see what was waiting. It was beauty. It was the clear, open skies above endless deep blue oceans. It was the steep, broken rocks and bits of green grass that jutted out at different points in different angles. It was the way you felt as if you were on top of the world. The views were without a doubt spectacular, but the hike to the top requires some definite pacing (unless you’re some sort of Herculean) and multiple stops on the way up and down to admire the vast ocean and beauty that is beneath, beside, and around you. I’m so glad I made it to the top (and not just because I needed to work off all the wine from the day before), but because, as I so lovingly kept repeating to myself— “when in Cape Town.”
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what driving on Chapman’s Peak Drive would be like. I had already seen such beauty, and I thought it would be like driving on any old highway. Oh boy was I wrong! As we drove at a somewhat alarming speed around the never-ending curves and inclines, I peered out the window to the long drop off to the ocean. Suddenly my fear of heights came rushing to the front of my mind, but as we stopped in different spots for photos it disappeared into some long-lost abyss.
I stood there, on the edge of the road, looking out and I was speechless. All I could think was, “how could this place be even more beautiful?” As the sun was starting to set and the sky was slowly painted with the soft glow of sunset, the view of the ocean almost enclosed by the mountains— I didn’t want to move. It may sound odd, the words “Chapman’s Peak Drive,” but it is anything but. It’s somewhere I’d go a thousand times over.
Night 2: A Cape Town Sunset
My mind was in awe and I couldn’t stop smiling as we made our way to Clifton Beach. I couldn’t help but wonder why we were leaving such a beautiful spot, but as we started driving I was distracted by the views. When we finally arrived I figured I might as well go see what this was all about. I heard that we’d end the night with a beautiful “sunset on the beach.” My mind went straight to a stroll on a sandy stretch of ocean, which I could see from a short distance, but off we went walking in the opposite direction. I was in the middle of the group, and as we started walking, climbing, and almost tripping over rocks I was very confused. There were twists, turns, and my clumsiness wasn’t exactly helping to keep me steady on the rocky path.
I was walking next to someone and noticed I had spent so much time looking down (making sure I wouldn’t fall) and looking around (making sure I wasn’t going to suddenly drop off into the ocean), that when I stopped for a moment I noticed the people in front leading us had disappeared further up the “path” (if that’s what you would call the broken rocks and boulders surrounding us). I looked behind and couldn’t see anyone following. “Crap,” I thought, “what on earth have I gotten myself into?” The girl I was walking with kept going and I was not going to let myself get lost, alone, so I followed. She assured me they kept walking “this way,” so that way I went. We kept walking for what seemed like forever, but I finally spotted the leader of our group (climbing a rock nonetheless) and the people who had kept to the front standing on a very large rock hanging out over the ocean.
They waved us over, so we started attempting to climb and figuring out the best (and in my mind safest) way to get there. We reached the last step up to the rock, which was separated by a gap and slight height difference. As I looked through the gap my stomach churned and I froze. The girl I was with seemed to jump up so effortlessly. When it was my turn all I could think was “oh no, I’m going to fall. I’m going to fall and break something or get stuck or accidentally pull the person who’s helping me down and then we’ll both fall and then it’ll be my fault and my mom will kill me and…and…” My thoughts just kept circling on for what seemed like an eternity, but as they cheered me on and assured me I’d be just fine, I repeated the mantra— “when in Cape Town.” So…off I went!
You know those moments you see in movies where the scenery is so beautiful it’s almost fake and the people are so happy and smiling you think there’s no way that could ever be real? Well, I hate to break it to you cynics, sceptics, or pessimistics (whatever you want to call yourself)—it is. It’s very real. And I, from a small city in West Texas, was taking it all in. I was standing on a giant rock jutting out into the ocean, looking out at pure beauty.
As I stared out at the sunset, watching the sun fade and the sky turn from shades of yellow and orange to pink and blue, I couldn’t stop smiling. This was beauty; this was happiness. The people around me were smiling and laughing and I knew right then and there that this was a moment I would never forget. The waves were crashing, growing bigger by the minute, and I couldn’t help but hear them roar “welcome to Cape Town.”
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