Cape Town

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
The World's Great Towns, June 1997

Cape Town
By the Editors

The Numbers
Population: 1.8 million
Climate: Pleasantly reversed: warm and dry summers (December to March), warm and wet winters (June to August)
Number of McDonald's: 2
Gestalt: Actively melting pot
The usual lures for Cape Town are its history (rich and varied) and its geography (varied and even richer). But maybe it should try marketing the excitement of transformation: As a pell-mell post-apartheid attitude takes hold, Cape Town has the chance to become one of the more culturally interesting and dynamic places on earth. It's already a world-class sports mecca. Gorgeous beaches and alpine trails beckon within walking distance of downtown. The city proper perches on a lush peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic, next to a climber's dream array of sandstone peaks that run for some 50 miles — all the way to the Cape of Good Hope. Cape Dutch architecture predominates: whitewashed cottages that seem to have floated down from Amsterdam, partially de-prissified by curlicued, Indonesian-style gables. The majority mixed-race community has East Asian and Indian roots, Afrikaners and Brits supply the Euro injection, and an ascending black township culture is lending once-stodgy Cape Town a hopping feel. All this plus a surf report every Saturday morning on the radio.

What's Out There
Starting with the water, the churning swells of the Atlantic are manna to world-class surfers as well as to serious boardsailors. Hundreds of Cape Towners, in fact, seem to take their lunch breaks on a board. Prime spots include Blouberg, just north of the city, Llandudno, just to the southwest, and Long Beach, down toward Cape Point. Sea kayaking is also big, as are diving, open-water swimming, and simple beach-lazing, most of them practiced within a few miles of downtown. New, state-of-the-art venues for track and field and swimming are planned to buttress Cape Town's dream of capturing the 2004 Olympics. But ground zero for onshore sports is just south of the city: 3,563-foot Table Mountain, or "our mountain," as locals familiarly say. Dozens of miles of hiking trails snake along its sides, and it's equally popular with climbers, who scramble up the Africa Ledge or Bombay Duck routes. For those with low recreational boredom thresholds, Table Mountain is also the world center of "kloofing," an only-in-Cape-Town pursuit that has athletes swimming, climbing, and then jumping a few (hopefully) leapable gorges.

Around Town
On the surface, Cape Town can often feel more Western European than African. The buffed-up waterfront and the nearby suburb of Sea Point are loaded with Mediterranean-style caf‰s, shops, and nightclubs. The best cuisine includes seafood and is usually experienced alfresco — ask for a stoep if you'd like a table on the veranda. Also on the varied menus: excellent South African wine, pizza, pasta, and — for the truly brave — boerworst, hot dogs sold by street vendors. The city's indigenous influences are growing stronger, however. Cape Town's first few shebeens, or township-style watering holes, opened recently, most famously with Mama Africa, a close-to-downtown nightspot that draws big crowds and marquee-busting bands like Ladysmith Black Mambazo. And, unlike on the waterfront's stoeps, dancing is encouraged.

Living Quarters
A buyer's market for the upscale boho. In Tamboerskloof, a centralized redoubt of refurbished Victorians, you can rent a two-bedroom flat for $325 to $450 or buy it for a mere $75,000. In Woodstock — the well-named domain of artists, coffeehouse types, and scads of people who insist they're writers — you'll pay even less; fixer-uppers sell for $25,000 to $45,000. In Sea Point, Clifton, Camps Bay, and other tony seaside neighborhoods, the water is close, the beaches are dazzling, and the real estate agents know it. Prices hover around $200,000 for a one-bedroom flat, and rents run $1,000 to $2,000 a month.

Nine to Five
As usual, techies have the upper hand here. Computer programmers and engineers can start packing if they can convince the authorities that a job awaits and no South African is available to fill it. Entrepreneurs can smooth things with 250,000 rand ($55,000) to invest and a willingness to employ at least two locals. No big demand for English teachers, obviously. But should you speak Japanese — hoo, boy: Cape Town draws hundreds of tour groups from Tokyo every year but has produced no groundswell of homegrown translators.

Memorize This
Verskoon my maar Japanses uriend het by di‰kloof afgeval, kan jy my help? ("Excuse me, but my Japanese friend has tumbled into the gorge. Can you help?")

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