Paradise Found

The best kept secret in the universe has to be that Capetown is the world’s most beautiful city. San Francisco and Sydney are impressive, but this South African jewel is simply stunning, so stunning that I think I may have to move here. Over the past week we’ve done a great job of exploring the city’s natural environs, mostly on our own steam and once with Oprah’s people. We leave tonight and I am reluctant to go. There is so much left to explore, so much left to discover.

We first approached Capetown from the north as the sun was setting. Table Mountain sat stolidly in the distance and loomed over the gleaming city like a protective parent. Having grown up in a Rocky Mountain valley, Tom contends there is comfort in the mountains, that they have a cradling effect which lends a sense of peace and safety to the soul. Personally, I find my peace in the ocean, but now, in this place where mountain meets sea, I’ve begun to understand what he means.

The home we chose for the week, SaltyCrax Backpackers/Surf Lodge, is located in the suburb of Table View, which as the name implies, boasts a spectacular view of the mountain. Every time we emerge from our little neighborhood and the mountain appears on the horizon, Kieran shouts, “There’s the Table Mountain. They call it that because it looks like a table, right?” as if each new view is the first time he has seen it. This is Capetown in a nutshell: a surprise around every turn, beauty from every angle.

Table Mountain from Tableview

On our first venture down the peninsula, we took the famed Chapman’s Peak drive, which scales the western edge of the mountain and then crossed from the Atlantic to Indian Ocean side. We battled the crowds that had gathered in Simon’s Town for the Naval Festival and made our way to Boulders Beach, home to one of the world’s few mainland penguin colonies. The small, noisy birds were once known as jackass penguins because of the distinct “hee haw” noise they make but were recently given the more delicate name of African penguin. After spending some time with them, the kids decided the former name is more accurate. Eager to play with the flightless avians, they approached them with the usual sweet talk and extended hands, but in return got only pecks (McKane bled) and retreat. We reminded the kids that they were after all wild animals, not pets, but there was no changing their minds, “Nope, they call them jacka…es because they’re stupid.” Far more cuddly yet equally hard to pin down were the rock dassies that scampered in and out of the shrubbery they shared with the penguins. We had told Kieran that these overgrown guinea pigs are the closest living relative of the elephant, but once we learned why, we decided to keep the reason to ourselves. If you’re really interested and over 18, you can do a little research of your own.

boulderspenguins.JPGThe tormentors of penguinsMac showing me which one bit him.rockdassie.jpg

The following day we drove back down the Boulders side of the cape all the way to the National Park that covers the southern tip. My heart skips a beat as I recall the scenery here, where ocean meets ocean and land meets sea from countless angles. The ground throughout the park is covered with over 1,000 varieties of plant peculiar to the Cape region known as fynbos, the Afrikaans word for “fine bush.” They are naturally low growing and as such afford unobscured vistas for miles in every direction. As we drove, we peered out at the cold, ominous waters of the Atlantic Ocean on our left and the warm, swirling waters of the Indian Ocean on our right. We drove to the farthest reach of the park, Cape Point, or “the southwesternmost point in Africa” and scaled the steps to the lighthouse. Here, where over the centuries intrepid explorers have rounded the continent and countless ships have met their demise, we gazed out across blue skies to take in the southern coast of South Africa in one direction and conjured images of Antarctica to the south and South America to the west. The kids were more impressed by the baboons who prowl the parking lot below, but their mother will forever hold this most spectacular of views in her mind forever.

A couple of baboons looking more wise than they are.capepointlighthouse.jpgcapepointoverlook.jpgkommatijielookout.jpg

Just two days later we ventured up to Table Mountain to tape our segment for The Oprah Winfrey Show. We met our field producer, Lionel, and his assistant, Blaise, at the base and rode the cable car to the top. Now we were deprived of our usual view because we were perched on top of it. The forecast for the week had been for low wind and clouds every day except this one, and we soon found the wind to be daunting and the temperature cold. At first we worried our visit would be cut short since they ring the “hooter” and scuttle tourists down when the fabled “Cape Doctor” wind grows too strong, but luckily this didn’t happen until it was time for us to descend. In hindsight, we can’t imagine visiting the mountain under quiet conditions, because the show Mother Nature put on for us was well worth the temporary chill. The “tablecloth” was laid as clouds raced across the mountain top and cascaded down the northern slopes. Lionel filmed Kieran and Asher racing across a small bridge, mouths agape in an effort to “eat the clouds” as they blew by.

table cloth being laid across table mountaintablemountaingroup.jpgkidsontablemountain.jpg

After an hour of exploring, the little kids were ready for a break. I took them into the restaurant while Tom and the big boys suited up for their big abseil. Tom and I thought about duking it out for the right to accompany Dax and McKane, but I deferred without a fight since I got to abseil in New Zealand. For a moment I considered making Dax stay behind to watch Kieran and Asher, since he would be bungy jumping later in the week, but I realized that doing so could be dangerous since we were a few hundred meters up and he’s prone to distraction.

A few hours later and we were back down at the base prepping for our interview with Oprah. The kids panicked when the make up artist curled my hair, but she assured them it was “just for body” and that the curls would fall by the time we shot. Whether they did, I’m not sure. (You’ll have to let me know how I looked.) They positioned us and before we knew it, Oprah was asking us questions from a box on the floor. Having made many trips to South Africa herself, the last being just a week before, she told us she had been photographed in the precise spot where we were standing.

Anne getting her makeup doneoprahfilming.jpg

Our time in front of the camera was a blur and suddenly we were back in the van, with our driver/bodyguard, Theo, descending the mountain toward our hotel. We collapsed with exhaustion from our 15 minutes of fame (it might be more like 4 when the segment actually airs), frantically emailed our producer in Chicago to make sure we hadn’t failed her, and tried to recover our energy for the following day. She called and assured us that we had performed admirably, so we slept well, some of us dreaming of future Hollywood careers.

The next morning we returned to reality and our lives as travelers. We packed up the van…I mean the two cars the rental car company had brought for us to use until they swapped the Namibian microbus for Uncle Vito across the border in Keetsmanshoop (say that fast three times!)…and drove to the waterfront where were scheduled to join a tour of Robben Island, the windswept patch of land across the harbor where Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s most famous political prisoners were jailed. Our boat, the Susan Kruger (when I die please do not name a barge or a tugboat after me), plowed through the choppy ocean waters and afforded fantastic views first of the distant island and then of Table Mountain and the city in the background.

While there is no denying the power of the place, I had a hard time focusing on the suffering that occurred there. The prison buildings were small and clean, while the cells inside had windows that let the radiant Cape sunlight spill in. We’ve visited many other prisons–Alcatraz in San Francisco, Fremantle prison outside Perth, Australia, Hoa Lo in Hanoi–each dark, dreary, and haunting. Robben Island was none of these. As with the rest of Capetown, the physical beauty of the place overwhelms the bleakness it was meant to inspire. Even the prison staff recognized this during the facility’s tenure. When the inmates’ speed in mining lime from the southern coast of the island was slower than desired, the warden decided it was because they were spending too much time gazing across the water at Table Mountain. He then moved them inland where the view was restricted to stone and trees.
At least on one account, the inmates were able to fight back and recapture some of the beauty the warden tried to deny them. When a wall was built in front of the B block cells inhabited by Mandela, thereby eclipsing his view, he successfully appealed to have a garden installed. The pink bougainvillea planted for him inhabits the courtyard to this day.

I do not mean to diminish the importance of Robben Island in South Africa’s history nor the gravity of what went on there. Apartheid and its legacy are complicated subjects we’ll address in an upcoming post. I do, however, want others to understand that even those made to bear the burdens and injustice of the system in the confines of this isolated prison took comfort in the natural splendor of their surroundings. I don’t know many places where this would be true. And given that fact, how much more fulfillment must it bring to those who are free to explore it.

Oh, Capetown, we will most definitely be back. The only question is how soon.

A wonderful view from Robben Island

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 thoughts on “Paradise Found

  1. The pictures are absolutely breathtaking! Thank you for sharing your experience and taking me to a new part of the world for me.

  2. I was able to watch you on Oprah today and you all were wonderful! I have had the chance to visit Cape Town several times over the past few years and you have done such a wonderful job describing what it is like! You summed it up to a T. It is such an amazing place and you can never fully appreciate it until you visit. The pictures you took are beautiful!
    Good luck on the rest of your adventures!

  3. I can almost feel like I am there myself…it is amazing. You were wonderful on Oprah..we felt famous because we have told soo many people about you. Way to Go…by the way…I couldn’t tell your hair was curled, but we all got a good giggle at all of the bleached blonds!
    Love to all,

  4. Hello Andrus Family,
    Let me start out by say Iam amazed and impressed by your courage and strong believe in family values, to take on such a tremendous
    spiritual adventure and really allow life to full fill your every imaginable expirence.
    I envy your ability to let nothing stand in your way of your dreams and to go out into this world to find happiness.
    The picture are wonderful the stories are even more intriging and let God’s light shine on you and your family forever and keep you safe throught out the rest of your journey and the rest of your life.
    Hopefully a book will in the future to chronicle your expirence’s!
    Eric from Indiana

  5. Anne, your writing takes me to Capetown with you, I can feel the excitement and beauty you see. Now that you have been on Oprah,I feel like the world has been let in on my “little secret”, Loved the “gutteral” sound of the DOG, Dax! Peace be with each of you!

  6. You guys did a fantastic job on Oprah yesterday and from the best place in the world! I am a South African living in Canada now and when I saw that and read what you had to say about Cape Town it made me very homesick. It truly is the best kept secret. I hope someday I will be able to do the same for my 2 children, hats off to you for doing this and I wish you a safe return.

  7. Did you put me on your list? The replies I sent have come back. Let me know if there is another email address I should use.
    Saw you on Oprah. You were great. Made me cry in missing you.

  8. Dear Anne, how I have loved reading of your adventures in Africa… Last Feb for a month, had the trip of my life… visited SA, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. We spent 5 glorious days in Capetwn, climbed the dunes of Sussuvlei, did 8 safaris etc, etc. And so you have succeeded in taking me back!!!

    Thank you thank you, and I will enjoy travelling the rest of the way with you all…. and how I envy your spirit.. safe travelling!

  9. Dear Six,
    Your travels are truelly an inspiration! Hope we can also pull it off some time in the future.
    Nikki – a South African in Norway

  10. Dear Six

    Your oprah interview was broadcast for the first time in south africa last night. I know, I know we are so behind. im a south african and still live in cape town. although i’ve also lived in gauteng (pretoria and johannesburg for a while), there is absolutely nothing that compares to cape town and the beauty of our very own ‘lost city’. even though there are many other places i would love to see in the world especially machu pichu in peru, cape town will always be my home.
    i was in the states from november 2006 – May 2007. in Savannah GA of all places. it was beautiful and to be honest even though i worship movies and oprah, i had the worst experience there, because of the ignorance of people and my perceptions of usa was changed immediately. i didnt want to go back ever. i mean i was just so shocked by how little most of the americans i met knew about the outside world.

    But then i saw your interview on oprah, and today i had to find your website. I am so impressed by your encounter of my city (cape Town) and the way you described your experience was a tale of true enlightment. You told it so beautifully and i thank God that there are other people in the world that think my city is beautiful. Im 25 years old, but everymorning i would stand outside of my house in the northern suburbs (with a totally different view of the mountain) and i would be in awe of table mountain’s beauty. there are some days when i would just go into the city by myself and just walk in the gardens or go to the waterfront just to soak in the historic feel of the city.

    Experiences like yours makes me more thankful everyday and i hope that there are more south africans that do not take cape town for granted.

  11. Dear Dax Andrus,
    I’ve seen your traveling to around the world on Oprah show. and it can inspired me to hold my dream. Ok..during you’re traveling, how about your school? Are you following the Online School? Have you come to Indonesia? If yes, what place have you invite? I hope you and your family will come again to my country… There’re so many kind of culture can you find here..Thank,s

  12. Very lovely photos , I especially like the one with the flock of penguins walking out of the water ( Jackass Penguins hehehe that’s funny! ).

    The pictures you have of the white sand beaches with the mountains in the backdrop are also very striking. And I must admit I too am tempted to move there as well.

Leave a Reply