Africa - not one story. That was the theme of the We Are Africa conference I attended in Capetown, May 2015.
Africa is a collection of many stories, many countries, many people, many voices -- we should not forget this. Africa has 54 countries, yet travelers often say “I am going to Africa,” not “I am going to Botswana,” or "I'm going to East Africa," or whatever country or area they are headed to.
This does not serve the continent well as it doesn't differentiate this massive continent's many unique experiences in its various regions. Plus, we need to keep in mind the troubles happening in this continent are far away from the destinations to which we like to travel.
As I headed to Capetown, South Africa, I was filled with anticipation as this is a city I love. I planned to follow with a safari in Botswana - I couldn’t be happier. To break the long flights, I stopped on the way in Paris on a 12-hour layover. I made the most of it, went into the city, checked into a beautiful suite at the Plaza Athenee, got some quality rest, enjoyed dinner, headed back to the airport and took off for Capetown. This really helped with the jet lag adjustment upon arrival.
Along with other shoreside cities such as San Francisco, Stockholm, Sydney, Capetown is one of my favorite cities, in my opinion one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Table Mountain, the waterfront, the dramatic mountains called the Twelve Apostles - plus the nearby winelands all make this a perfect place to begin a trip to southern Africa.
I arrived and transferred to the Twelve Apostles Hotel, about 20 minutes from the airport and right across from the sea, at the foot of the mountain range from which it gets its name. Love this hotel - it is warm and welcoming, bright, fun, with great views from the bar and patio. I spent some time in the spa, then relaxed in the Leopard Lounge where there was a jazz combo and excellent food.
The hotel has a complimentary shuttle to the waterfront which takes about 20 minutes, as well as to Camp’s Bay, just 10 minutes down the road, where there are many shops and restaurants.
During the conference I moved to the Table Bay Hotel, right at the edge of the waterfront. Great location, traditional luxury, fabulous service. There are so many wonderful things to do in Capetown but my time was take up by attending the conference. However, I was able to do a few amazing things during these days.
I was invited with a select few (only 20 of us) to fly in helicopters to Robben Island, where the political prison where Mandela and his followers were jailed. We left early from Table Bay Hotel, drove a few minutes to the helipad, flew over to the island. Then, we were treated to a tour of the prison by none other than Ahmed Kathrada, the last surviving member of the Mandela 7.
Mr. Kathrada told us about prison conditions, he talked about the way the prisoners communicated with each other, the punishments if one was caught sending a note or communicating by other means. He unlocked Mandela’s cell, then unlocked his own. His stories were heart wrenching, but he told them with good humor and said that one of his former guards is now a friend, they have Sunday “Braai” (barbecues) together.
This was one of the highlights of my trip - it is a very special way to experience Robben Island. I do recommend when in Capetown, everyone should take a tour of the prison. ( The usual way is to go by ferry from the waterfront.)
I was able to stop in at the Atelier, Patrick Siebel’s art gallery/store, to see the latest in photography, hand crafted jewelry, etc.
I also was able to see The One Penthouse, on top of the One and Only Capetown, a beautiful privately owned penthouse accommodation on the top floor of the hotel.
During the conference we were treated to some very interesting speakers. Awareness of wildlife conservation, saving rhinos and elephants, the efforts in conservation are ongoing and extremely necessary.
We also heard inspiring speakers including Levison Wood, maker of the documentary “Walking the Nile” - he shared his experiences walking the length of the Nile, meeting the wonderful people along the way.
Also, Mark Coetzee, art historian and curator, now working on the first Museum of Contemporary African Art, due to open in Capetown at the end of 2016.
After a day of speakers followed by 3 full days of one on one appointments with Africa suppliers, I was exhausted and ready to get out into the bush on safari. (see Part 2)