Tuesday, August 12, 2008

From Cape to Cuba

I know I've mentioned this before, but when I lived in Cape Town I loved spending my weekends hanging out in the small seaside suburb of Kalk Bay; having breakfast at the Olympia Cafe & Deli, rummaging through the antique shops and second-hand book stores or stopping in for a beer at the Brass Bell. It was here where I took the above photograph of one of my favourite watering holes; the Cape to Cuba restaurant. Now as I sit back home in Australia reflecting on my 11-week round-world journey, it's only just dawned on me that this trip quite literally took me from Cape to Cuba. So before time gets away from me, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a few of the most memorable moments from my Cape to Cuba odyssey.

Getting down and dirty in Cape Town
As many of you are aware I'm a big fan of offbeat tours and attractions, so the first thing I did when I arrived in Cape Town was to organise a Below the Surface sewer tour of the city with Figure of 8. The tour, which was part of an "amazing race" experience organised to raise funds for one of the outlying townships, took us through a network of secret underground tunnels to emerge in the grounds of the city's castle; the Castle of Good Hope. It was certainly an odd experience shuffling my way through the pitch-black tunnel with only my dim headlight lighting the way, all the while trying desperately not to fall into the stream of cold water that ran between my feet. Luckily I'm not claustrophobic!

Traipsing around Tanzania
Naturally topping my list of highlights from my time in Tanzania were the couple of days Dan and I spent game viewing in Ruaha and Mikumi National Parks – being charged by an elephant is not something I’m likely to forget anytime soon! But, there is of course much more to Tanzania than famous parks and abundant wildlife.

In Tanga, a quiet seaside town near the country's northern border with Kenya, Dan and I met the indomitable Mama Ruth and joined her to watch a local village soccer match (made all the more entertaining by the appearance of a herd of stray cows!). Outside of Mbeya, a sprawling town in southern Tanzania, we stayed at the wonderfully delicious Utengule Coffee Lodge, where we learned the art of coffee cupping – a tasting technique used to evaluate the aroma, fragrance and flavour profile of a coffee. In spite of my newfound understanding of what it takes to make a perfect brew, I still remained an avid tea drinker, so was thrilled when we took some time out for tea with Rungwe Tea & Tours in Tukuyu.

My most heartfelt and emotional experience in Tanzania was visiting SOMAFCO; the former ANC school close to the town of Morogoro where young exiled South Africans were educated between the late 70s and early 90s after fleeing the apartheid regime. Finding the campus however proved a difficult task, with the campus now the Sokoine University of Agriculture and many people either unable on unwilling to remember the school and its location. This discovery was made more special knowing that one of my dear friends from Cape Town had grown up here. You can read about my friend's experience in the paper I wrote: I dreamed of South Africa: History, memory and identity.

Walking on the wild side in Nairobi
I know many tourists can't wait to come to Australia so that they can hug a koala or see a kangaroo, but for me nothing beats coming face-to-face with the world's tallest creature –the giraffe – or watching the antics of a mischievous baby elephant. Surprisingly, Nairobi, Kenya's big, bustling capital city unfortunately renowned as Nairrobbery, is one of the best places to get up close and personal with Africa's wildlife. Just 12 kilometres from the city centre in the leafy suburb of Lang'ata is the Giraffe Manor, a quintessential English manor which is a sanctuary for the endangered Rothschild giraffe. At the manor's attached Giraffe Centre Dan and I lined up with busloads of local school children to feed and hug a giraffe – Dan even kissed one! The next day we then visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a haven for orphaned baby elephants next to the Nairobi National Park, where we watched the playful baby elephants as they were fed milk from bottles and were given a dust bath. For anyone who is interested, the Trust has created an online fostering program whereby you can adopt an orphan elephant. It might not be the same as having one at home – but then again, do you really think an elephant will fit in your backyard?

Discovering Jamaica
In Jamaica I met up my dear friend Natasha Himmelman to attend the 2008 ACS Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference at the University of West Indies in Kingston. While sadly our time in the country was limited and, of course, marred by my unfortunate 3-day stint in hospital, we did manage to squeeze in a little sight seeing in between seminars and preparing our presentation. Not only did we explore Bob Marley's Kingston and taste-test the country's famous jerk chicken, we also popped by the prime minister's house for dinner – OK, so it was a reception dinner for the conference, but I still got to check out the PM's diggs and drink Jamaican rum on his lawn!

Cars, cigars and cabarets in Cuba
Visiting Cuba was definitely a dream come true. The politically isolated Caribbean island has been on the top of my "must see" list for as long as I can remember. After reading Hemingway’s "The Old Man and The Sea", I was keen to indulge in the legend of 'Papa'. From sipping daiquiris at El Floridita, where the novelist’s former seat is preserved as a shrine, and rumbling down the road in a classic chrome-laden Cadillac to smoking a fresh cigar straight from the factory and watching the spectacular Las Vegas-style cabaret at the Tropicana, the famous pre-revolution open-air nightclub where Carmen Miranda once performed, my fantasies were not only fulfilled, they were surpassed. While Cuba is undoubtedly intoxicating it is still clouded by the sinister shadows of the past with the stern visages of Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Fidel Castro keeping a careful watch over the country's citizens. Yet somehow this caught-in-a-time-warp feel only added to its appeal!


Amy said...

My daughter Claire has always been an adventurer by spirit and the mission of her life is to explore the untamed and farthest points of the earth. To add another feather to her cap, I got in touch with Cape Insights and made her experience what she now calls the most enjoyable and rewarding experience of her life. What really impressed her was the unique places and fun locales she encountered during her adventure.

Kim Wildman said...

Hi Amy,
I don't normally allow blatant plugs for tours etc that I have not tested out myself. However, I've just checked out the Cape Insights website and they actually appear to be quite good outfit. I wouldn't mind learning more about the company and their tours when I am next in Cape Town.