Queer in Cape Town

The faint outline of a mountain shone through the window, but we were too busy screaming over our bougie Airbnb— that would have to wait until morning. Cape Town was off to a good start.

I needed to get to Africa before I renewed my passport, and I had just been displaced off a trip, leaving me with a good chunk of time off. Why, though? Because I had been to every other continent (except the obvious Antarctica), and I wanted the last one in my first passport. So, in true Robbie fashion, I did it.

I chose Cape Town, because getting to Morocco and calling that “Africa” would be, in fact, correct— but too easy. The logistics weren’t all that simple. United doesn’t start their direct service to Cape Town until December, not that I’d even have a chance in nonrev hell of getting on that flight. The big European carriers don’t do daily service, which left options slim for a cohesive transfer; otherwise, I’d be spending a long layover and wasting precious time.

My methodology in travel is this: make the plans, and whoever else wants to come can follow. I learned long ago, from my study abroad experience, that group travel is exhausting. You can’t please everyone, and it’s easier to do what I want to do on my own schedule— but it is nice to have a travel partner. That’s why I was delighted when my friend Cole said he was coming with me. Not having traveled together before, this would be a good test of friendship.

I’m happy to report that we’re good travel buddies. When it came to overall coordination of flights and airlines and load checking, I had that down. But the day to day plans were up to him, and he did an excellent job of picking and choosing when and what to do.

The Stay

As I mentioned before, we couldn’t get over how luxurious this Airbnb was. I got it for a steal since this is Cape Town’s off season: two bedroom, two and a half bath plus exotic views of Table Mountain— it couldn’t be beat. It was staged in my tastes with Eastern adornments and a massive crystal that I held for most of the first morning there. We were centrally located for the most part, and we Ubered nearly everywhere; it’s ridiculously cheap and the best option if you’re feeling a little uneasy. We didn’t feel unsafe, though. We’re tough broads— on our last day, we walked through the brightly colored Bo-Kaap neighborhood. When we left a restaurant, the waiter said, “Don’t go down that road. It’s not safe.” Little did he know, we had pranced up and down it earlier in the day, checking out the sights and sounds. Ain’t no thang, chicken wang!

The Food

We didn’t skimp on the cuisine. Cole and I like to eat, and we’re adventurous at that.

Brunch started at Lola’s, where we both got a smoked salmon benedict. It was a cute little café nestled in the City Bowl, an imaginative neighborhood that had interesting architecture á la Bourbon street, surprisingly.

After a failed attempt to ascend Table Mountain due to an impending and indefinite rain shower, we took a long but cheap Uber to Constantia Valley, where many wineries call home. Our new gorgeous friend, Luke, taught us about the Buitenverwachting wines; he would check up on us in between giggles and gossip over some charcuterie. The sad thing, though, is that he’s disgustingly straight with some girlfriend whom he loves— our single selves loved the wine. It’s significantly underappreciated, in my opinion, but I’m also not a wine snob per se.

The next night, we met up with another new friend, this time a fellow homosexual. We went to Nelson’s Eye, a steakhouse that had nothing to do with Nelson Mandela. The other gay, Sean, got an ostrich fillet— I had a piece, and I didn’t regret my steak; however, I’m getting my own ostrich fillet next time. It was just the right amount of gamey flavor, but not overpowering. My steak, on the other hand, was v delicious. I was being melodramatic and torn between that and a local fish— but the waiter sassed me and said, “Why would you come to a steakhouse and get fish?”

Our final meal was at Bo-Kaap Kombuis, a Cape Malay restaurant overlooking the city. As suggested by our Airbnb host, we both got sampling platters. There was no way we could finish it all, but the flavors coming out of each dish was enough to make me scream. Cole couldn’t look at me and say, “I’ll have what she’s having,” because he already was. Of particular note was the classic Denning Vleis, a sweet and savory lamb stew that tasted like nothing I have ever had before— and I’ve eaten a lot. It was the perfect way to leave a city: full and satisfied, but wanting to come back.

The Crazy

With limited time, we had to capitalize on our experiences in South Africa. We were on the wrong side of the country to go to the famed Kruger National Park, so we opted for a private game reserve. The odds of seeing the Big 5 (lion, buffalo, rhinoceros, elephant, and leopard) were heightened due to the constrained space. But the vast acreage could’ve held the critters away if they wanted— we saw four out of five, the leopard being the elusive one.

I mean, I grew up with The Lion King, and I’ve seen National Geographic. But it’s a whole ‘nother thing to be a Midwestern American casually looking at two elephants in the quasi wild. Cole and I also lost it altogether when we saw the giraffes— they might as well have been unicorns! (Geoffrey and co. seem to be doing just fine on unemployment.)

The following day was NOT my idea, but I warmed up to it after the wet suits were off: we went shark diving. Leaving early in the morning for a venture to the sea, we hopped aboard a vessel that took us just off shore, where the crew “chummed” the water with fish guts in the hopes of attracting sharks. They divided us into groups, and we lucked out— not only did we catch our first glimpse of a Great White while we were above deck, we also got up close and personal as Shaunette splashed her way around the cage. Our guides kept yelling for us to go “down down down!” to see the sharks below the water, but the visibility was so poor that it was better to be spooked by the fins moving about. This is all the name of conservation and research, and the data collected helps to understand what the shark populations are doing as their existence wanes.

I’m not sure I fully realize the extent of what happened— to me, diving with sharks was exhilarating, but I wasn’t seeking the adrenaline rush. This brush with extreme nature felt structured but wild at the same time; after all, these are apex predators in their own habitat. Behind the bars, I was a guest in their home. They were, however, chomping at the bits to eat our guts— quite literally.

The Bottom Line

South Africa is a culturally diverse country— with a sordid history, reeling from the wounds of Apartheid, I find it in the midst of a crossroads. While tourism seems to be its main industry at the moment, I think there is a huge, untapped potential in a nation abounding in lively and lovely people. How everyone, mostly, lives in harmony is a feat that perhaps our own country could recognize. And Cape Town offers a lot of bang for your buck: the lodging is inexpensive, the food is decently priced and delicious, and the outdoor activities will leave you with stories of a lifetime.

Though the journey to the other side of the world was long and our stay short, it was worth it. You may not understand why my trips are quick, but I’m a woman on a mission— and a time crunch.  Of course, I learned a lot about myself— but I made new friends and deepened my friendship with Cole. He’s my gürl, the realest of the real, and a fellow Taurus (we’re actually 10 hours apart in birth, as we discovered). We both know, undoubtedly, that it’s spaghetti in there. We parted ways in Amsterdam; he was heading back to the US, and I continued on my travels for a much-needed stay in Europe. I had only started to conjure up some thoughts and feelings about our country’s status on the world stage, but that portion of my nearly two-week journey sealed the deal. More on that, though, in a coming post.

Soundtrack, for obvious reasons: Toto – Africa