Around the World in 105 Days
March 26, 2017
23.53 S, 12.23 E
Over the course of my voyage, I have been immersed in a variety of different countries, each with its own unique culture and history. I have found that the traditions of many countries are quite evident and easy to experience during my voyage. However, South Africa provided a unique challenge to SAS students.
Unlike past ports, Cape Town, South Africa, has a Western façade that appeals to its tourists, as it provides a comfortable and familiar atmosphere for visitors. A prime example of the Westernization of Cape Town, due to the tourist industry, is the V & A Waterfront. Our ship was a ten-minute walk from the Waterfront, providing quick and easy access to an array of restaurants, shopping malls, and opportunities to book exciting South African adventure tours. Many SAS students decided to spend a lot of time at the Waterfront, as it was a safe area for tourists – which contrasted to several parts of Cape Town – and allowed for a comfortable environment to relax.
It is easy to fall into the trap of Western comfortability in Cape Town. I will admit that I enjoyed going down to the Waterfront, as I was able to feel like I fit in. Cape Town was one of the first countries where I didn’t feel the worry of appearing as an obvious tourist with the constant stares from the local residents. Instead, I was able to walk around and enjoy a place similar to San Diego, where this journey began. However, the Waterfront, among other tourist districts, contrasts heavily to the real Cape Town. The tourist industry has allowed the city to present itself as a beautiful, fun, coastal town with unlimited opportunities for adventure. While this is true, the city – and country – has an incredibly difficult and deep history that has formed its culture and society. Unfortunately many tourists miss out on learning about and embracing the culture and the important past of South Africa , as more visitors are drawn into the excitement of shark-cage diving or animal safaris, rather than visiting the District Six Museum or taking part in a volunteer project at a township.
By staying in a comfortable bubble, I wouldn’t have had as many amazing and eye-opening cultural experiences during my time in Cape Town. While I did choose to participate in several “tourist” activities, including skydiving, I am grateful for the opportunities I had to visit several townships and volunteer with a local NGO. During my time with the NGO, Operation Hunger, I was able to see the effects of Apartheid and how those in the townships live as a result of the strict racial divide. While the country has begun to heal since the days of extreme racism, there are still racial issues that arise and influence the people of Cape Town. The events of Apartheid have played an extremely important role on the culture, tradition, and history of Cape Town, and I am grateful that I was able to get the opportunity to talk to those who have experienced the effects of such a tense, racially divided period in South Africa’s past. It is incredibly eye opening to be able to experience a culture from a variety of different perspectives, especially when there is such a rich, deep history behind the traditions.
I believe that my experience in Cape Town would have been completely different and incredibly surface-level if I had not taken the opportunity to push past my comfort zone and take part in activities that strayed from the traditional tourist traps. At the townships, the local people were open to express their opinions or thoughts about Apartheid, South Africa’s past, their lives, and their thoughts on the current political situations within the country. In several of the countries that SAS has visited on the voyage, the discussion of each country’s rough past or politics was not considered appropriate conversation; so, it was quite eye opening to be able to actually discuss and explore South Africa’s social and political past and present.
Conversely, because of the beach vacation vibe, many of Cape Town’s guests miss opportunities to learn more about the culture and history of the city and country they are touring. Luckily, Semester at Sea is not a four-month vacation; rather, it is a semester filled with educational opportunities and multiple cultural experiences. Every day, I am given the chance to learn more and new information about the world, broadening my global perspective. In the last few ports, opportunities to become immersed in the culture and traditions of a country have been provided or simply presented themselves. On the other hand, Cape Town was a challenge to SAS students through its comfortable atmosphere and Western environment, requiring us to seek out opportunities to delve into South Africa’s culture. For those who explored Cape Town’s history and Apartheid past, a new image of South Africa became evident. The pristine, Waterfront façade began to disappear, and, instead, a realistic view of Cape Town became more visible.
The true story of Cape Town’s past lies in the townships, in the African tradition, and with those who lived during the Apartheid period, not with the bungee jumping companies or Long Street bars. Even though a country, like South Africa, may offer a variety of “fun” alternatives to a history museum, it was necessary for me to learn about the country to better understand the people, their culture, and their traditions.