Wednesday, December 14, 2016

First impressions of Cape Town now and then

My grandfather's journal entry about Cape Town is anticlimactic. This was the first country he ever visited outside the USSR and one would imagine that he was overwhelmed. Plus, South Africa was in the midst of apartheid, it would have been a very different experience to visit it back then. Instead of listing his impressions or feelings, Vitaly admits being overwhelmed. I am not going to translate it word by word, but basically it sums up to my grandfather’s frustration with their ship’s “political leader (aka KGB officer)” who failed to send letters home. 

13 декабря 1959 года
Южный Ледовитый океан
Район 55 градусов южной широты
С большим опозданием и без всякого энтузиазма возвращаюсь я к этой тетради, в которую не заглядывал уже больше недели.
Посетили Кейптаун. Впечатлений масса… О них можно было бы писать десятки страниц, они многогранны и разнообразны, имеют и положительные и (ещё больше) отрицательные стороны словом первые впечатления от заграницы, да ещё такой кондовой капиталистической – оглушает. Другим словом я затрудняюсь определить этот комплекс впечатлений. Запомнилось масса деталей, куча интересных (по крайней мере на мой взгляд) подробностей как о городе и его окрестностях, которые мы видели при подъезде на мыс Доброй Надежды через весь полуостров, так и о населяющих город людях, их одежде, привычках, некоторых мыслях… Конечно все это (или часть хотя бы) надо было бы обязательно записать, потому что детали забудутся, а общее впечатление может исказиться. Первое впечатление всегда самое полное и интересное, что больше не повторится.
И все же не могу, не поднимается перо все это описать. Испорчено впечатление, отравлено настроение, подорвано доверие, испорченные сложившиеся хорошие отношения между людьми. А всё из-за одного мерзавца, испортившего настроение полутораста человекам из экспедиции и экипажа судна, доставившего беспокойство им и их близким.

Communicating with family and friends from outside of the USSR was extremely difficult. All letters were censored and nobody was allowed to send letters directly, only "official diplomatic channels" were used. The USSR had no diplomatic relationship with South Africa back in 1959, so my grandfather's letters had no embassy to go through. The "political leader/KGB officer" was supposed to talk to the Czechoslovakian embassy and have them mail the letters back to Moscow, but somehow this did not happen in December of 1959. Considering that Vitaly could only send letters home from ports (i.e. once in a few months if he was lucky), one can understand his frustration and lack of enthusiasm to continue writing in his journal, which he considered a "very long letter to family and friends".

This frustration got me thinking about the luxury of social media nowadays. The first thing I did in South Africa was obtain a sim-card with an extensive data plan (BIG THANK YOU TO MY FRIENDS! Sim-cards are not so easy to obtain for a foreigner in South Africa), which allows me to keep in touch with my family and friends all over the world. I send them pictures and notes about things I see, and it makes my experiences traveling around Cape Town so much more meaningful. And this is exactly what my grandfather was lacking. I feel so lucky! 

So not to leave this post similarly anticlimactic, I will write about some of my first impressions of Cape Town below. 

Flying into Cape Town I was completely smitten by Table Mountain: 

View of Cape Town and the gorgeous Table Mountain from my airplane window

Table mountain is everywhere:

My first trip to the beach with my new south african friends. 
Sunset beach provides great views of Table Mountain. The water was unexpectedly cold, reminded me of swimming in San Francisco bay without a wet suit. I basically ran in and ran out, just enough to mess up my hair ;).

So since Table Mountain was calling me from everywhere, naturally I had to go on top of it and look around:

This is the first view you see as you get off the cable car - featuring Lion's Head, Signal hill and parts of Cape Town city. The island you see off the bay is called Robben island the most infamous political prison in South Africa. This is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The prison is now a museum.

This picture is taken looking just the west of the previous view. There are multiple hiking paths coming to the top of Table Mountain, something to keep in mind for the time my knee completely heals up. Devil's peak is the name of the neighboring mountain currently in the clouds - hiking Devil's peak has been the top one hiking recommendation from many friends. Next time!

This is a view due west from the top of Table Mountain, featuring 
Camps Bay suburb and beach - a very nice place by the looks of it.

 Looking south on a cloud-free day one can see the tip of the peninsula - Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. It is somewhat obscured by clouds in my picture. That area is a national park, featuring magnificent views and many hiking trails of its own.

Table Mountain is dissected in the middle by a narrow canyon, this is where one the hiking trails, Patteklip Gorge comes up. 

I don't know the name of this flower, but it looked like a real trooper surviving high winds atop Table Mountain. 

There is a lot a lot more to describe and to see in Cape Town besides Table Mountain, but this post is getting too long as it is. I will write up a story about a drive to the Cape of Good Hope, but for now let me just show you a panoramic view from the top. Breathtaking:

Panoramic view from atop Table mountain overlooking Cape Town.

Thanks for reading!


  1. I agree with you - would have been really great to read and compare your grandfather's impressions to yours. Cape Town looks beautiful. Would love to read more of your adventures. Any observations about locals? Customs? Food?
    Sending many hugs and good thoughts.

  2. Fascinating Masha! How do you know about ht eKGB side story explanation?

    1. It was in dedushka's journals and letters (maybe this is why they were censored and not sent home :))). And my dad remembers some talks about it