Friday, 8 May 2015

May 5: Cape Town City (in the rain-ish)

Woke to rain this morning, but that didn’t deter us from wandering around the downtown core. First stop was the flower market, pretty but very small.

Not from Amsterdam. probably, but I could be wrong
We checked out the train station and the main city bus areas, plus bought transit cards for use later in the week. We walked down soggy pedestrian malls lined with endless street vendors huddling under tarps. We wandered down Adderly to the Parliament Buildings (the capital is Pretoria, but Parliament sits here)…

Very elegant
…and the oak lined pathways of the Company Gardens.
Just like Stellenbosch
This space was used by the original Dutch “explorers” to establish vegetable gardens to re-supply passing ships. It’s still partially a garden today, and growing there was lots of lettuce, celery, herbs like dill and rosemary, peppers, tomatoes, and other edibles that the fat squirrels were enjoying. Yes, just like in Stellenbosch, Cecil Rhodes released eastern grey squirrels here, too. 

Good stuff to eat
The gardens are quite lush and well tended, and have an amazing collection of trees from diverse places, like palms from central China and Cyprus and magnolia trees from the southern US.

Elegant gardens
The rain eventually let up after lunch, and we continued to wander the streets of the city bowl, gawking mostly at the architecture. I think most of it is Dutch Colonial, but mostly, the older buildings just remind me of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Could be New Orleans 
THAT'S New Orleans 
That's just loud

Juxtaposition: new and old

An architecture mix 
Interesting, plus colour influences from the Bo-Kapp 
Elegant add ons 
Kind of a style merger 
End of my street. Loud bar at night on the 2nd floor 
Not as imposing as it looks 
Back to New Orleans 
We saw some other weirdness.

Oooh, can we shop there? 
Fire machine guns without a permit? Really?
There was even interesting stuff under buildings.

What's under their entrance? 
A restaurant
That Cape Heritage Hotel is part of a restored square called Heritage Square, which was an urban renewal project that “fixed” a city block full of old buildings into a unified thing with a cool courtyard. The light was tough to shoot it in there, so I tried an HDR shot, which works to correct the massive contrasts but gives that ugly HDR effect. Sorry.

Sorry again, but it was pretty in real life
In the photo's background, that's the oldest fruit bearing vine in the southern hemisphere (planted in 1771). It still produces grapes (a Crouchen Blanc), and they still make wine from those grapes.

We also wandered into the Bo-Kapp, the city’s original Muslim quarter, with its unique architecture colour palates, which (according to one guide we had) were associated with who lived there. Most of the Muslims arrived as slaves, and they were sorted by ethnicity and ownership into various coloured houses. True? Not sure. According to this, it's because of Ramadan, and according to this, it was to celebrate the end of apartheid. But they look cool.

Not reminiscent of anywhere I have ever been 
My community would go ape-shit if I had these colours 
Blocks and blocks of it 
And the flat roof style works, too 
Even the mosques are loud 
On and on
Everywhere you look 
Styling on steep streets
And apparently, up here, your car should really match your house.

I LOVE this
My friend Edwin and his kids get their clothes colour palate from the Bo-Kapp.

We also went into a few shops, notably the Pan-African Market and the African Woman’s Market. Both are large buildings that offer small stalls for vendors to sell wares from all over Africa.

They love masks here 
And ostrich eggs 
And stuff out of telephone wire 
And meerkats 
And they repurpose EVERYTHING
To be frank, I was pretty disappointed with the markets and these African "malls". They all sell exactly the same stuff, which is also the same stuff as is sold by the street vendors. They all claim that everything was made by their brother or mother or cousin, or that they made it, yet a couple of questions proves that to be nonsense. One will tell you the masks come from KwaZulu Natal; another will tell you they don’t make or use masks in KwaZulu Natal. I’m pretty sure that since it all looks the same, one group makes all the banana leaf art, not only the "one guy's brother" (either that, or he supplies all the vendors in the entire town). A guy will tell you he carves everything in his stall, himself, by hand, and that a bowl takes him a full day – and he has 2,000 bowls, plus thousands of other items in his stall. Not. There is allegedly stuff from Cameroon  Mali, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ethiopia, Congo, and probably the Isle of Mann. Here’s what I learned in 2 hours of poking: trust no one’s story.


Today’s Africa Travel Tip: Bargaining

Unless you’re in a "proper" store, there are normally no prices on anything. Ask for a price, and they’ll give you a number, but that number is kind of meaningless, and sometimes, they won’t even give you a number.

Today, we were looking at a particular painting, and she gave us a number of R350. That was WAY more than what we thought it was worth, so we said no thanks and turned to walk away. She then almost got mad at us, and said “This is Africa. That’s not the price. In Africa, we negotiate”. Well, normally, I don’t. But that’s what they do here.

No price is fixed. Use whatever bargaining skills you have, but here’s a hint: they’re better at it. Everyone has a “special sale” on today. Stuff is always “almost free”. Stuff is “one of a kind” (like the identical thing you saw in a shop 10 m away). They ask you what you want to pay for something. If you admire something for no other reason other than you admire it, they will show you dozens of things like it. They will give sob stories about how hard life is and how they haven’t made a sale today and they need to eat (while they chat on their cell phones wearing leather jackets).

I’m not an expert, or even knowledgeable about the process. I hate bargaining. But understand it is what they do. I try to be “armed” by looking at many vendors and trying to glean their prices for similar stuff. But good luck. You like to bargain? Africa’s for you.

In the end, Karen was standing firm on R150 for the painting, getting the lady no end of upset, but we agreed to R180 – half the original asking price. And she thanked us, meaning we probably overpaid.

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