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  • TT&W Team

From Stone Town to Cape Town - Off to South Africa

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

Exploring Cape Town - Table Mountain in the background
Exploring Cape Town - Table Mountain in the background

Neither of us had ever been to South Africa. And, rewinding a bit, to get a visa into Tanzania, our visa application required a booked flight out of the country - government regulations. Thought process: when we eventually leave Stone Town, why not keep heading south? So, back in Turkey, we booked flights into Tanzania and then onwards to South Africa.

Next stop, Cape Town!

PCR Test Chaos - and More Jenna Stress…

Jenna stresses - about everything. Once one stressor has been resolved, she needs to revert to her proper state of nature, that is, find another stress target! Getting a PCR test to fly from Zanzibar to South Africa would provide this in spades.

Writing about the pole pole lifestyle, we touched briefly on these testing procedures. First, we’d need to go to a bank and pay the test fee. Then, receipt in hand, we’d go to a testing center set up at a local school to get our swab. A couple days after that, we’d return to the test center for our hard-copy test results - no digital certificates here.

But, this return trip would be tightly coupled with our departure - pick up the test Friday afternoon and fly out Saturday morning. No room for error. Enter full-on Jenna panic mode:

Chipp to test center clerk: “Hi - last name ‘Naylon.’ We tested Wednesday.”

Clerk, after 5 minutes of scrolling through paperwork: “Hmmm - no ‘Naylon’ results here.”

Jenna, full-panic in her voice: “But we tested Wednesday!”

Chipp, after a deep breath, looks at Jenna: “Please, let me handle this.”

It’s a compounding thing: Jenna stresses, and Chipp has his own little temper tantrum dealing with said stress. Trying to mature as a couple (here’s to a year on the road together!), we avoid these situations rather than address them… Good choice, right?

So, instead of Chipp stressing about the test results and Jenna’s reaction to not having those test results, we opted for the easier way out. Jenna walked away, and Chipp, suppressing his own anxiety, readdressed our less-than-helpful clerk.

Chipp: “Please, here’s our testing confirmation - can you check the back for our results?”

Of note, the stress-level/chaos of the situation was not helped by the fact that there were about 25 other people there, all in the same situation - and trying to flag down someone to help. Oh, and it was pouring rain.

Clerk, annoyed: “Yes, I’ll check.”

About 15 minutes later, she came back, test results in hand. Chipp let out a tremendous sigh of relief: A) we’d be allowed onto our flight to South Africa tomorrow, and B) he could now talk Jenna down from the stress ledge!

Flight Status Checks and Interesting Translations

Well, Chipp could temporarily talk Jenna off the stress ledge… Check one box, then move onto the next stressor! For us, that’d be the flight actually departing. With memories of our cancelled flight from Turkey to Tanzania fresh in our minds, Jenna had spent the last couple weeks confirming flight departures. Example daily conversation:

Jenna, jumping between questions at a rapid-fire rate: “It didn’t fly today. Are you worried? Should we rebook on another flight? Should we get a ferry to Dar es Salaam? Was it a mistake traveling this year? Maybe we should just stay in Zanzibar? Are you worried? [always good bookending the are-you-worried question!]”

Chipp, another deep breath: “Which question do you want me addressing first?”

Fortunately, as of late Friday night, Jenna’s flight-related stress appeared unfounded - no last-minute cancellations yet. And, after an early morning taxi to the airport Saturday morning, we checked our bags, got our boarding passes, and sat down in the waiting area:

Chipp, smile on his face: “Are you a little less stressed now?”

Jenna, half-joking, half-serious: “Not until we’re in the air…”

And, really apropos of nothing - just an entertaining translation - the Zanzibar Airport opted for an interesting bathroom naming convention. Rather than the more conventional “Men” and “Women” labels, Chipp used the Man Toilet before boarding the flight!

The Zanzibar Airport "Man Toilet"
The Zanzibar Airport "Man Toilet"

Kenya Airways Loves Parents

Neither of us had flown Kenya Airways before, but they had the best - and, at the time, one of the only - flights from Zanzibar to Cape Town. Our first leg would route us north to Nairobi, we’d have a brief layover, and then we’d fly south to Cape Town - all-in-all, about 12 hours of travel from door-to-door.

The second, longer leg from Nairobi to Cape Town also introduced us to one of the most brilliant - and considerate - flight conventions we’d ever witnessed. With about five hours of flight time, passengers would all receive dinner (another perk of international flights in addition to the free booze - more food than just peanuts and pretzels!).

Typically, this dining process follows a standard template. A couple flight attendants start mid-way up the aisle, another couple start up at the front, and they all work their way to the back of the plane, handing out meals along the way. Expecting this system, we were surprised to hear this announcement:

Flight attendant: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Due to the number of children on board, we will begin our dinner service with them. Thank you for your understanding.”

For the next 10 minutes or so, the flight attendants moved throughout the plane, handing out individual dinners to every little kid on board - and nipping some “hangry” temper tantrums in the bud!

What a thoughtful - and practical - touch. Even without kids, we couldn’t help but appreciate how much this food sequencing must’ve helped out the parents around us. Strong move, Kenya Airways!

A Late Arrival into Cape Town and Our Introduction to the Apartheid Legacy

The "table cloth" spreading over Table Mountain
The "table cloth" spreading over Table Mountain

After a long flight, we spent an hour or so in the Cape Town airport going through the standard stuff - collecting bags, customs, health screening, etc. By the time we got outside, it was around 10pm and too dark to see our surroundings. Fortunately, our Uber driver into the city doubled as a tour guide / local historian.

Initial strolls through Cape Town
Initial strolls through Cape Town

For the 25ish-minute trip from the Cape Town Airport west into the city, our driver provided us with a snapshot overview of the local layout and history. More precisely, he explained how the neighborhoods we passed on the highway from the airport - hidden in the night’s darkness - were a series of townships, a legacy of South Africa’s apartheid past.

In 1950, the South African government passed the Group Areas Act, the legislative foundation of the apartheid system. As a result of this law, the country’s cities and towns were segregated into race- and ethnicity-based areas, for both residential and business purposes. In practical terms, this meant the forced removal of non-whites from “whites only” districts into their own areas, that is, townships.

Despite apartheid officially ending in 1994, these townships - and the associated rampant poverty - continue to exist, with corrugated-metal shacks and dirt roads sprawling on the outskirts of South African cities and towns.

The post-apartheid flag of South Africa - adopted in 1994
The post-apartheid flag of South Africa - adopted in 1994

Neither of us are experts - or anything remotely close - in South African history, the policies and practices of the post-apartheid era, or the poverty and systemic corruption facing the country today. But, as outsiders, we’d experience a recurring theme during our time in the country: the juxtaposition of tremendous material wealth, natural beauty, and the rampant legacies of apartheid - frequently in close proximity.

A Wake-up and Cape Town Views

Morning hotel views of Cape Town - Table Mountain to the left and Lion's Head to the right
Morning hotel views of Cape Town - Table Mountain to the left and Lion's Head to the right

Nowhere was this juxtaposition more apparent than our view that first morning waking up in Cape Town. Knowing that we’d arrive late, we opted for booking a hotel the first couple nights - easier than a late-night link-up with an AirBnB host. And, Jenna still had some Marriott points from old work travels, letting us splurge a bit.

 Working/enjoying some hotel comforts - little things in life!
Working/enjoying some hotel comforts - little things in life!

Crawling out of bed, we pulled open the black-out curtains, temporarily blinded by the morning sunshine. Gradually regaining our vision, we were treated to some of the most incredible city views we’d ever seen - Table Mountain and Lion’s Head towering in the distance, with a beautiful, San Diego-esque cityscape unfolding in the foreground.

Perfect ugly dumpling for an Ugly Dumpling pic - some of Cape Town's delicious food!
Perfect ugly dumpling for an Ugly Dumpling pic - some of Cape Town's delicious food!

Taking in these stunning views, it’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that, just a few miles away, certain townships struggle with horrendous levels of crime, poverty, unemployment, and HIV. Americans like to talk about income inequality in the US - and understandably so - but it doesn’t hold a candle to the situation in South Africa. According to the Gini Index - a common gauge of country-level income inequality - South Africa has the highest levels of income inequality in the world (ironically, the post-Soviet countries have the least inequality, or, as Jenna likes to say, “We’re just equally poor!”).

Initially, we planned on spending a couple weeks in Cape Town before starting our trek northeast to Durban, about 1,600 kilometers away, to visit the friends we met snorkeling in Zanzibar. Fast forward a month and a half, and we finally peeled ourselves away from this incredible and eclectic city. Cape Town just has that effect on you.


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