Impressions of Cape Town


The city of some 700,000 people is both large and small - in scale and impression.  The high-end V&A Waterfront pairs the international retail kings of Gucci and Louis Vuitton with local carnival-style exhibits of snakes and reptiles (something right out of a 1960s vacation in Blackpool or a similar time warped visit to an American county fair).  Likewise, a suburb like Sea Point presents an architectural landscape along its picture-perfect ocean promenade with its elegantly renovated 5 star Winchester Mansions Hotel alongside dozens of apartment blocks whose glory faded long ago.
One gets the impression that there is more hidden than in view.  Perhaps mankind and nature are behind this phenomenon?
V&A Waterfront with Table Mountain in the distance
Mankind in involved because Cape Town used to be the end of the Earth. The place that only adventurous people went to, or the place that only wealthy people could afford. Cape Town is after all 11 hours by plane from Europe, and upwards of 30 hours from the USA, Asia or Australia. While the number of hours needed to reach Cape Town has not changed, the number of flights to and from the city has increased, and the proportionate cost of the trip decreased. With this growth in access, and a lot of advertising by the government and the city, the number of tourists has grown steadily. Arrivals/Departures at South African airports has grown from 20 million in 2000 to 34 million in 2011. Cape Town is not the end of the Earth any more; it’s just a long way to go.
Subtle today, but very real.  Cape Town was isolated during the long period of apartheid that was brought to an end only in the1990s.
Only then did South Africa and Cape Town reemerge on the global stage.  Possibly because of this, the built environment seems frozen around 1970, and only recently restarted in the 21st century.
While the general climate of the Cape Town area is PERFECT, a few natural qualifiers need to be taken into account.
Kevin on the ocean promenade in Sea Point
First, there is the light, the absolutely brilliant sunlight that baths the town in polarized light; bringing into sharp focus the smallest visual detail and making colors visually explode. While tourists love this effect, Captonians fear it (not incorrectly), and seek practical shelter from its effects - sun glasses, hats, and closed window blinds. There are very few cabriolet cars in Cape Town and many apartment balconies and terraces are only rarely used (unless, of course, it is a rental to tourists).
Then there is the wind - not breeze, but VERY strong, gusty wind.  The wind which comes and goes in course of any given day changes the social landscape.  You can't eat outside if the wind is too strong even though the weather is otherwise perfect.  You can't sit by the seaside if the wind blows the sand in your face.  Homeowners guard their windows to avoid breakage.  Cape Town may be a more interior experience than its sunny exterior would suggest?
Cape Town presents a very different sun/sea/sand experience to anywhere else on the planet.  It has the climate, it has the accommodation, it has the right kind of visitor experience, but, one that is shaped by the people and the history of the South Africa, and the African continent; and, one that is shaped by the unique cold/hot oceanic systems that surround the city - the cold Atlantic on its beaches and the impacts of the nearby warm Indian Oceans.

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