It’s always amazing to discover the fascinating nooks and crannies of the city that has been your home for 20 years (or, for that matter, any city).
On the corner of Long Street and Wale Street, about two storeys up, an elephant gazes down at the busy intersection. I must’ve driven through that intersection and passed it more than 50 times in the past 20 years and had never noticed him before. And I, being lucky enough to never have to be doing the driving, look around. A great deal.
That’s what going for a guided walking tour will do. It’ll open your eyes as the city opens up and shows you things that you never knew were there. Wondrous things.
When Thandikhaya, from Walk in Africa, approached me at the World Travel Market earlier this year and asked if I’d be interested in doing a walk or two with them to see if they were accessible for people in wheelchairs, I was more than willing to be the guinea pig. I love that they want to increase accessibility!
We met on Greenmarket Square outside the old Town House, a beautiful heritage building that is looking her age. Apparently nobody is quite sure what is going on there, it’s been boarded up for months. Thandikhaya is extremely knowledgeable about Cape Town’s history, which he regaled us with as we ambled up toward the Bo-Kaap.
Bo-Kaap is one of those areas in Cape Town that just exudes energy. Whispers from hundreds of years ago disappear around corners while, the stories of generations flit amongst the kids playing on the streets, all watched by the colourful houses for which the area has become famous.
Stopping at the Rose Café, apparently almost 150 years old and currently run by the third generation of the family, we bought koesisters and samoosas. These are the koesisters to beat all koesisters: juicy and moreish and the perfect sustenance for pushing me up and down the hills of Bo-Kaap.
It’s a casual kind of tour which is what makes it lovely. Thandikhaya regles more of Cape Town’s history, from the slaves of hundreds of years ago to present day, and everything in-between. Added to the stories, his own experiences and family history, which are possibly the most interesting parts. I love hearing people’s stories. It holds such value. Also about how our lives differ and intersect.
We stopped outside the Auwal Masjid, the oldest mosque in South Africa. It sits gently on Dorp Street watching as the hipsters invade around its feet. Built in 1794, it’s painted a beautiful thyme-green colour and its old walls exude a feeling of peaceful serenity, despite being about five metres from frenetic Buitengracht Street. I’d never stopped to take it all in before.
There’s street art in Bo-Kaap too. Plenty of it. I could’ve ambled around all day, but we needed to move on, making our way past St George’s while we heard the stories of it being the centre of so much activism during the dark apartheid days, then the beautiful new arch into the Company’s Garden, complete with a jovial brass band enticing passers-by (one fabulous man especially) to march rhythmically along the path, to Church Square.
Here, the Groote Kerk looms and the Slave Lodge looks on. On the square, which served as a slave market, granite blocks on which the names of the slaves (who, for so long in South African history remained nameless) are engraved. Jan Hofmeyer’s statue gazes solemnly toward the church, as if oblivious to the slaves. It’s busy, but there’s an underlying sense of the spirits, whispers and cries of those hundreds of imprisoned slaves.
Down the side street, stopping to check out the relief friezes – South Africa’s history in concrete on the side of the Old Mutual building, you just need to look up, and on into the old Post Office, now bustling with stalls and people, with its huge murals. More history in art. Again, look up! A good motto for life, really!
Our tour wrapped up on the Grand Parade, admiring the new Mandela statue on the balcony of the City Hall and learnt another new thing as pigeons flapped about above our heads and scrabbled about our feet, squabbling over dropped slap chips. People were hanged on the Castle wall in days gone by, watched by a crowd on the Grand Parade. Bloodthirsty lot they were, those people of old.
And there we parted ways with Thandikhaya. What a fabulous way to spend a Saturday morning, whether you’re a local or tourist.
The walk lasts about two hours and is fairly hilly. Starting at Greenmarket, which is cobbled but has smoother pavement around its perimeter, Thandikhaya took us on the most gently-sloped way possible, up from town into Bo-Kaap, and helped with pushing. Once in the Bo-Kaap, it’s steeper and some of it is cobbled.
My Freewheel coped (it’d be very hard without one, or an equivalent), but it required GM and Thandikhaya taking turns (and getting good exercise, they both deserved a medal by the end). Basically, it’s completely doable if you have a sense of adventure. If you don’t, it could easily be adapted to merely the flatter sections. There’s plenty to see and hundreds of stories in all the areas visited. Thandikhaya was superb, and so helpful!