Cape Town is a town of dichotomies: beautiful yet run-down, chill but tense, modern yet steeped in history, rich but poor. It's a town that can challenge visitors but also enthrall them. I struggle to fully explain the sense of passion- for good and for bad- that pulses through this coastal city with stunning views and political undercurrents. It's a city you simply must visit.
I visited Cape Town in March 2015 for a conference about child protection. I was fortunate to have a few days to travel on my own before the conference began, and then to spend time with co-workers experiencing the city together.
In the floor above the thoroughly sobering Iziko Slave Lodge Museum, one is shocked into modern life with a curving wall made entirely of brightly colored CDs. There is a sense of escape in the form of music and the passing of time. Another super cool discovery were the many upcycled crafts; I was delighted by sculptures of safari animals made of old soda cans, plastic bottle caps, or old flip flops glued together (pictured). And finally, the National Gallery housed a host of collections and temporary exhibits that confronted fear, racism, classism, and sexism (I found it emotionally wrenching and compelling... but was ready for a drink afterward! I ended up taking a walk in the Company Gardens to take a breather).
Cape Town in three words:
colorful breathtaking striving
Views & sites
The Labia Theater
One of my favorite places in Cape Town is the unique and vintage movie theater, the Labia. Named after founder Princess Labia, the theater was converted from the former Italian embassy ballroom in 1949. The theater not only shows art, historical and recent films, but also has a coffee shop, snack bar, and full bar! And it's located across the street from the Company Gardens, so it's a perfect stop after a day touring around.
Handspring Puppet Company
I couldn't get tickets when I visited, but this puppet theater for adults gets rave reviews! The photos from their FB page are intriguing, as well. The theater features massive puppets (and works of art in their own right!) and story lines to appeal to adults rather than children. I would definitely try to get tickets, if they are still up and running.
There were some great restaurants in Cape Town, but they may have changed in the past two years. Here's a list of foods and drinks to try:
Top three recommended modes of transportation:
3. Go on foot. If you don't need a lot of sleep, I recommend staying near Bree and Long Streets. They have an active nightlife that go into the wee hours. Many of the tourist sites are within walking distance, and the path through the Company Gardens might be one of the most beautiful urban walk ways in the world. Be safe and don't walk alone at night, even in these areas; take a taxi or Uber instead.
2. Uber. If you decide to stay further out (an excellent way to cut costs), then Uber is a quick and easy way to get to destinations efficiently. I've traveled to many cities, and this is one of the best (besides San Francisco) because there are so many drivers available. Tip: if this is your first time using the service, download the phone app before you go.
1. City Sightseeing bus. I have used hop on/ hop off buses in various cities, and the City Sightseeing buses in Cape Town have been- by far- the most efficient. They stop at all the neighborhoods and tourist sites you'll want to check out, and they run regularly and on time. I got a 48 hour ticket and used it to travel all over the city for one price- a great deal in my opinion! They have three routes from which you can choose, one taking you around the city, another exploring the peninsula (including penguins and Kirstenbosch Nature Reserve), and another focusing on the historical downtown area. I took the red line and was pleased at how much I was able to explore!
There were a lot of places to shop around Cape Town, but Heartworks was simply charming. The owner travels all around South Africa, collecting arts and crafts to sell to tourists. You'll find colorful wire baskets, hand-stitched dolls and elaborately embroidered pillows, gorgeous necklaces and earrings dripping with beads, and so much more! I purchased items for my own home, but many more items for friends back home- and everyone loved what I gave them! There are three locations. Be sure to visit at least one!
Table Mountain Cafe
We happened to visit the infamous Table Mountain in the afternoon. We headed up in a cable car, though those with more time and lung capacity could certainly hike, and decided to sit at the cafe with a few adult beverages to enjoy the amazing view! It was a highlight of my trip to sit back, relax, chat with locals, and drink in the sunset. But be warned that the last cable car down is at 6pm! Highly recommended experience... and one I will certainly never forget.
Real world details
Poverty and racial inequality are real and in-your-face even for tourists in Cape Town (I hear that it is worse in Johannesburg, though I have not been... yet). Be prepared to have children and adults approach you, and even follow you, asking for food, money, physical assistance, etc. I was approached for money for taxis and shelter by several adults, and at one point had a sandwich snatched out of my hand by a rough looking little guy (I figured he needed it more than I did). When I went to a book shop that has great reviews, I discovered a locked metal door and was only allowed entry once a bookshop worker had come to look me over. While I browsed, I saw him refuse entry to several visitors- all of them black (maybe that was a coincidence, but...). Another time, I stopped for a coffee at a crowded outdoor cafe near the crowded Greenmarket stalls. Several young children approached me to ask for food, and an older couple reprimanded me when I ordered something for them, saying I was encouraging street kids to be lazy and annoying (I gave them the food anyway). Be prepared for uncomfortable encounters and decide beforehand how you'll respond if such things happen to you.
For solo travelers, you may experience the dichotomy of good and bad encounters. For the most part, I found that traveling on my own meant that people were extremely friendly! Many waiters and customers would sit and chat with me for long stretches, and several invited me along with them to other bars and public places. I found it easy to chat with people and felt comfortable dining on my own in restaurants or visiting tourist spots. I did, however, feel the need to be wary when traveling on foot in the evening, and I was careful to keep valuables locked away when walking through Company Gardens and on Long Street. Take the usual precautions and be aware of your surroundings, and you'll have a great time.
I was only in town for a few days, so I didn't get a chance to explore Boulders Beach (famous for penguins), the vineyard tours, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, or Robbin Island. Check out these websites for more info on Cape Town:
One of my favorite memories from this trip was having dinner at a tiny little restaurant featuring local sausages on boerie rolls. The restaurant was right around the corner from my AirbBnB and the Company's Garden. I don't think the place exists anymore, but the main point of the story is about the staff at this place. I rolled in late at night, starving after arriving from the airport. The waiters were all very busy (the place was hopping), but they each took turns coming to sit down and chat for a few minutes. I didn't know them from Adam, but they were fascinated that I worked in Qatar and had a job that paid for me to visit a conference thousands of miles away. They recommended that I try the springbok sausage and a couple local beers, and then suggested what I should see and avoid around Cape Town. I didn't stay in touch with any of them, but their kindness made a positive impression on me. I spent the rest of the trip encountering more friendly people, which marks Cape Town as a warm and welcoming place to me.
Go! It has stunning views, delicious food and wine, friendly people, and an intriguing mix of dichotomies. You won't regret it.
the big news
My big news is that I am moving to India! I have accepted a school counseling job at an international school in New Delhi. I will be working with Pre-kindergarten to Grade 2 students. It will be quite a change from my last position at a school in Doha, Qatar!
a new format
While I was living in Qatar, I had many opportunities to travel, but I never blogged about my experiences. I'd like to take a look back at some of the super cool places I've visited, as well as continuing to chronicle my traveling adventures going forward. Here's a list of places I have been since August of 2014:
So I thought I'd try a new format. I'm going to use the acronym ADVENTURES to shape my thoughts:
Art: beauty, in all its forms, found at that site
Description of the location in three words
Views and sites to see
Entertainment unique to the location
Notes: history, background information, famous people, etc
Ultimate: site, art, restaurant, etc- whatever my absolute favorite person/ place/ thing
Real world details: anything you might need to know to make life easier as a visitor
Experts: books, websites, and other information to check out
Story: one fun story from my personal adventures
I look forward to looking back at some of the cities I've visited in the past two years. And you are welcome to join in!
In the months since I made the decision to move to Qatar as a school counselor, I have had many diverse reactions. They range from excitement to concern to complete disinterest, but there have been a few common questions that pop up repeatedly. So I thought I'd share a few of the questions I commonly receive, and an answer to each. Feel free to ask more in the comments below!
1. Where is Qatar? Is Dubai the capital city?
2. Why are you moving there?
The short answer to this is that I was offered a job at a fantastic school for expat children. The more complicated answer involves having the opportunity to work with students living overseas (I was an Army "brat" who experienced numerous transitions myself), being able to travel and live overseas again, expanding my professional knowledge by working with other wonderful counselors, and some great benefits! As I have been preparing for this move, I have also discovered a side bonus: I will have the chance to learn and understand more about Arabic and Muslim cultures and traditions… including the indulgence of delicious food and drinks!
3. Will you be teaching or counseling? With students from Qatar or other countries?
4. Is it safe? Are you worried about issues in the surrounding countries?
This might be the most common question I am asked. It is true that there are many struggles and even war in countries near Qatar; I am well aware of the current events. However, there is no reason to believe that Qatar will be involved. There is currently no evidence of political concerns in the country, even according to the US government. There is a U.S. military base and embassy in Doha. In fact, counselors and staff claim that they have felt safe living there, and very little crime is reported. Of course, all thoughts and prayers are welcome!
5. Isn't it hot there? Will you wear a burqa?
6. Where will you live? Is there a compound?
The school will provide a furnished, three bedroom apartment. It will be ready and waiting for me upon my arrival, and they have promised a starter set with needed items like dishes and sheets! All staff are provided with housing in various places around the city, but the school is currently building one place in which all staff will reside. I hear it will be ready in December 2014, and will be set up quite nicely with many amenities! We are not confined to the campus, and can travel freely around the city. I'll post pictures of my place when I get there!
7. How will you get around?
Expats can apply to obtain a driver's license before renting or purchasing a car. Driving in Doha is supposed to be quite… active… and I am frankly a little nervous about it! Public transportation, walking, and biking are limited. I plan to hire a driver if it is at all affordable, or at least until I can find my way around (after all, Doha does not have street names or building numbers. Getting directions sounds a lot like, "Take a right at the Burger King roundabout, then take a left after the National Bank."). I'm decent with directions and finding my way around, but… this will be an adventure.
8. What is daily life like? What will you eat?
My understanding from other expats is that life is quite similar to Western culture in many ways. There is a typical commute to and from school, a regular work day, shopping for food at grocery stores like Carrefour, and the every day activities of life (i.e., socializing, dinners, movies, etc). There are restaurants serving- and grocery stores offering- every type of food imaginable, and even malls with stores that are familiar to you, like Gap and Nine West. One interesting fact: weekends are different from those in the US; I will be off on Fridays and Saturdays!
9. Do you speak Arabic?
I don't speak Arabic, though I hope to learn enough to show respect to Qatari people I meet! I have flashcards that help me to practice the letters and a few basic words, but I will need a lot more practice. Most signs are in both Arabic and English, and I understand that many people speak both in common areas such as shops and restaurants. Still, it is my hope that I can speak basic phrases within the first few weeks.
10. Will you be blogging about your travels?
Of course! I have switched to a different platform, but you can still connect with it from this address. The new travel blog is called wonder.wander.write! I hope to hear feedback and comments from you all… keep it coming!
Additional questions are welcome in the comment field below.
Late last month, I went on an adventure in San Diego. I'd spent the previous few months sorting out a one bedroom apartment's worth of worldly possessions. I divided it all by what I most need to take with me in my impending around-the-world move, what could be put in safe keeping for 2+ years, and what should be purged (the latter being remarkably painful, btw. Who knew I'd be sad to part with worn sweaters or my pretty-but-warm duvet cover?) The storage items were heading to a family members' home in Arizona via minivan… and that meant: ROAD TRIP!
There was no rush to get said storage to Arizona, but I was not going to miss my friend Karen's nuptials for the world! It was set for June 28th in San Diego. My brother and I packed up a minivan in Portland and headed down a few days before, then he dropped me off in San Diego and continued on to Phoenix on his own. I then had a few days to roam San Diego, exploring and seeing friends at Karen's wedding. It was a gorgeous, joyous event and I am thrilled that I was able to attend!
It was a conversation that happened the evening following the wedding that got me thinking about this blog, but also about what makes me most passionate. During dinner with the newlyweds, my old friend Karen reminded me of a (now defunct) Yahoo group I maintained while teaching in southeastern China, and asked why I had never had the stories published. I called that Yahoo group "Adventures in Yulin," named after the city in which I resided from October 2003 to July 2004. I had posted stories from my experiences there almost every day. This moniker actually inspired the name of this blog & website, The Adventurous School Counselor. My friend requested that I chronicle my adventures in Qatar in a similar, storytelling manner… and this is where I stopped to reflect.
So here's the thing. I love storytelling; it's one of my passions to read, listen to, tell, and write stories. Funny stories, serious stories, suspenseful stories, fictional stories… even rambling stories that make you wonder if they will ever end but somehow come together in this frenzied, coincidental, satisfying end. I particularly love stories about people and about travel, and about people who travel. But I am a sucker for transformational stories in particular. It was a delight to write down the stories from my life in China, and share them with others.
…but as I started a blog about school counseling, I found myself hesitant to write personal stories about the people and students with whom I work- even if they were positive or inspiring (and that can be so hard to pass up when big changes occur!). So I stuck to the "facts:" the structure, organization, and techniques that were implemented in the counseling program at my school. Then I got the overseas position and I thought, "it can't work to throw my personal travel stories into this structure, can it?" So I started another blog on the same website in an attempt to separate the two- not just separate topics, but different style & tone, too. I'm thinking that the school counseling blog will be geared toward fellow school counselors & educators and will stick to a more structured, professional format. On the other hand (or page), the travel blog will focus on the more personal aspects of my experiences in Qatar and will be more storytelling in nature. I am hoping this will work! What do you think? Is it confusing to have two blogs? Which one(s) would/will you follow?
Now I am wrapping up my last couple weeks in Oregon (possibly forever?), living out of suitcases, trying to check times off my bucket list and saying my goodbyes to lovely friends. Then, I will head down to Arizona for another month of catching up with family and friends before heading off to Qatar and a new school counseling job. This means many more nomadic stories to share on the travel blog in the coming weeks and months!
Here's to new adventures in blogging!
Above are a few pictures from my adventures in San Diego, June 2014.
I created a separate page on the site to gather information about Life in Doha. It is geared toward students, in case children would like to follow along and learn more about Qatar. Of course, I hope it will be informative to friends and family, as well.
So far, there are sections about:
What topics would you like to see? Please comment below!
As I am preparing to move across the world, I am finding that there are two distinct audiences for any blog posts I send out. One is to counselors in hopes of sharing ideas, but the other is geared toward students, families, and friends who are hoping to follow along on the travel portion of my move. Thus, I thought I'd create two distinct blogs at the same website. I am planning to dedicate this blog to the move, including preparation and research, and any other places I will travel. Please feel free to leave comments requesting information or topics you'd like for me to cover!