Saturday, October 3, 2009

Booked to Cape Town

After scouring online for weeks, searching the most popular - and unpopular - travel sites for the best deal, we finally bought our tickets for a January trip to Louise's home city of Cape Town.

The tickets cost a bit north of $1,500 each, which provided a jolt when we hit the purchase now button. But considering a two-hour flight for the two of us can easily cost $600, paying $3,000 for a trip that takes nearly an entire day doesn't seem too bad. It will take 19 hours to get to Cape Town, while the return flight will stretch for an excruciating 23 hours and change.

Louise actually leaves two weeks before me and will spend a month back home, while I'll be there for two weeks. We travel apart but come home together. For now, our seats on the return trip are a row apart, something we hope to rectify before the flight. In an emergency and assuming Sully's not onboard, we want to be able to just lean over and cling to each other in panic. Having to reach way back or lean forward while strangers crowd next to us just seems like such a hassle.

By the time my weary body arrives in Cape Town in January, it will have been three years since I've been there (Louise made it home in 2008 for a month). In 2006 we spent six weeks in the city. The thirty-six months away from Cape Town is at least 30 too many, but the cost and distance serve as dual challenges that make it difficult to make routine and regular trips.

And it's too bad, because Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and is also a world apart from the United States, not just 20 hours away. Nestled against the famed Table Mountain and not one but two oceans, the city is a photographer's dream and a beachgoer's paradise. The weather is San Diego-like, which is just another way of saying nearly perfect. We were always within 15 minutes of a beach and had our choice of the warm waters of the Indian Ocean or the cool waters of the Atlantic.

Table Mountain overlooks the city and it's flanked by the breathtaking and cool-sounding Devil's Peak and Lion's Head.

One of the main tourist attractions is Robben Island, where countless political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, were once imprisoned. A visit to the island showcases the depressing conditions the prisoners had to live in, which surely broke countless people. The fact it didn't break the spirit of many more - including the future president Mandela - is a testament to the human spirit.

On our last trip I visited many of the main attractions of the city, including Boulders Beach, where penguins frolic and even swim with people.

But as great as the sightseeing and tours and history of the city were for a wide-eyed newbie like myself, the best reason for visiting has nothing to do with oceans, mountains, wildlife or weather. No, the main reason for going - and the main reason it's so tough being so far away - is nearly all of Louise's family still lives in Cape Town.

From her mom and stepdad to her brothers, niece, grandma and aunts and uncles, they're all in the city, a big family that's been missing a big part of it for 10 years now: Louise. We go for a month or more so she can spend as much time as possible with those she left when she came to America in 1999. I'm forever grateful she made that choice, but it doesn't make her any less lonely for her home and her family.

And they're of course my family now, too. For some people, having their in-laws stuck on the other side of the world would be a dream, but not for me. Trips to Cape Town serve as a reminder of how much I'm missing by being 24 hours away from these people. Louise's mom, Patricia, was the only member of her family who was able to make it to New York for our wedding, so we had been married nearly three years before much of her family saw me.

I can imagine their thoughts when they saw us finally stepping off the plane.

"So this is the guy who took our daughter/sister/granddaughter away from us. Kill him!"

But any awkwardness disappeared a half hour after we met each other. Now my relationship with Louise's siblings Daniel and Anthony has become a cliche, one I embrace: they're the brothers I never had. Her stepdad, affectionately known as Uncle Mike, is in his 70s but seemingly has more energy than this 34-year-old. January will be my first chance to see Anthony's 17-month-old daughter Madison. Two weeks won't be enough time there, but I'll squeeze every possible second out of those 14 days.

When most Americans think about South Africa the first word that comes to mind is probably still apartheid. For me, even though I'm not from there and even though I don't live there, the first word I think of now is, home.


Anonymous said...

Cape Town! You are so right.... I think most people DO think of apartheid still when they hear the name of that city, but it's lovely to hear you describe it as a place that brings people together. Have a lovely time! The way you describe it makes it sound like somewhere I'll have to go visit one of these days. hmmm, Next stop for you: Shawn Fury, travel writer/editor. Seriously! I think you could make the New York subway stations sound like a must-see destination. Thanks for another great post!

Anonymous said...

Hi Shawn,
I absolutely agree with you that the one thing above all that captures your heart in South Africa is the homely feeling that is offered by all the friends and relatives in this captivating country. My heart was overfilled with emotions and my body couldn't abosorb enougth of the perfect warmth of the sun and the sea when we spend the glorious Christmas of 1996 in the midst of these very people that you are writing about.
So enjoy your stay. Explore the many wonders that this precious country offers. Please, give our regards to all the family in South Africa.
Ludmila and Stephen Zikmann