Travelling The Townships of Cape Town

 

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When democracy came to South Africa in 1994 townships had developed on the borders of the city, some created, some the results of migration, ignored and sometimes not even on maps and they became part of the city itself.

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The contrasts between the Mediterranean cosmopolitan Cape Town of the brochures and the harsh realities of township life are stark. But while the areas can seem intimidating to many people, they are in fact fascinating worlds of culture, an economy, a society of their own, and the strongest community links.

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Having worked in those areas extensively before leaving business and not having been there for a while I went back the other day to see an old friend. As I came into the area I was reminded of what vibrant places there are. There is a true unique vibe, one that the residents recognise. There is an energy and drive.

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The townships have endless activity, music, family life, and economic and political structures. It’s alive and passionate and progressing. The days of seas of shacks now changing into formal housing, spaza shops, shops in shacks, now starting to include small malls, the township economies starting to grow and trade outside themselves.

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There is an irony there you can see in the names of businesses, my favourite on this day the Miracle Driving School. !! People are friendly welcoming and really enjoy visitors preferring the individual approach rather than coach tours that can make residents sometimes feel as if they are in a zoo.

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There is a famous township restaurant called Mzoli’s on the edge of Gugulethu where many visitors go to sample township food and township fun. Well worth a visit.

Whilst to go there is a great cultural experience and fun, its important not to forget that these are places of hardship, poverty, crime and sometimes destitution, but the positive is that there is so much talent and energy there, that there is a definite future of possibilities

If you go to Cape Town, don’t ignore the townships while enjoying the Europe in Africa of the city. Give it a visit, its great!

Travel – Architecture and Cities

 

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I love it that every city I visit is different. Sometimes people ask me what is my favourite city out of all those that I have visited, and of course that’s an impossible question, but I sometimes try to work it out.

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There is a big difference between cities that were built as cities and those that simply evolved over centuries, from settlements beside rivers or the sea, into those that exist today. There are the great cities of the world, London New York Paris etc, and then there are cities, none the less great to those who live there, but not one of the places that everyone feels they must go to.

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London is a city that has evolved over centuries from a small settlement in Roman times to the metropolis of today. The City of London is formalised architecture the result of the great fire in the 17th century which led to the city being laid out but for the rest it has grown and evolved over centuries resulting a whole mixture of styles uses and inhabitants, some would say a whole series of villages strung together.

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As a contrast the centre of St Petersburg was planned and built and preserved, despite wars and changes, such that even today you can get the feeling of being just a step from the world of Tolstoy and the characters of War and Peace. Sometimes that purity has an almost big chocolate box feel about it, almost too good to be true, but such a pleasure to explore, and a living cultural museum.

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Eastern cities reflect the rises and falls of their history and culture and have become a world of enormous contrasts, where ancient powerful histories have faded and been replaced by new modern recoveries of prosperity, interlaced with the growth of informal settlements resulting from the migration of poorer inhabitants from the countryside to the city in search of a better life.

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Some cities are defined by nature, the physical environment dictating the shape and limits of the city, and nature itself being the limiter of its expression. Then there are the new, purpose built, modern cities of the 21st century, pragmatic, functional but none the less appealing for the imagination of their design.

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Which are your favourites, well you pay your money and you take your choice but for me, despite my efforts to analyse, I don’t know, I still love them all because what ever they look like, however planned organised or random and chaotic they are, it’s the inhabitants that define them

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The Layers in Cities.

 

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img_6969All great cities have their layers, the public and the hidden, the prosperous and the poor, the safe and the dangerous, the historical and the modern, the picture and the real place. If you start in the middle its usually all the good things and as you move away from the middle it gets more ordinary and less certain, and the harder it is to find what in fact is the real life of a place. img_6971Sometimes these distinctions can exist side by side, and it can make the city all the more exciting to see if you visit these “other” places and feel the contrasts between the city as presented to you the traveller and the city as it really is. img_6956

In Bangkok, within walking distance of the Royal Palace, the Democracy Monument and the Golden Mount is am area with its own canals buildings and life hidden away from the Bangkok as presented to us, but it is the real Bangkok for those who live there.

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The canals there are grey, the water ruined by the life beside it, electric cables droop into the water, people are packed together living their everyday lives. A small area of historic houses, not the mansions of old but small ancient buildings, still accommodate people and have shops and people living in them and you walk the narrowest of streets beside them. If you walk behind the Golden Mount, a major attraction, you can see the old ruined graves of people of times gone by and that adds some life to the monument that you wont find from the monument itself.

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Not only are these areas of cities fascinating of themselves but also they add a valuable counterpoint to the city as it is presented to us and helps get the real feeling of the inhabitants and the lives they live.

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You would not know it was there is you didn’t go and look around, so its always good just to wander a bit off the beaten track and find these little gems. They are not as pretty as the “sights” but they have their own impact on you.

 

 

Travelling – The past and the Future, of Life Love and Experience

 

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I was 16 years old when I first travelled alone. On a summer holiday in my school days I earned some money picking fruit, bought a ferry ticket and a train pass and travelled from the temperate (rainy) climate of Britain to the sun kissed shores of the Italian Riviera.

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I arrived at 3.30 in the afternoon, the day seemingly cooling, headed for the beach threw myself into the warm waters and stayed there till dusk spending the next day and a half in bed with sunburn. I was cared for by the lady who owned the pensione I had found, being the cheapest in the place and one that served huge breakfast being the major meal for the day in my impoverished condition. She was the archetypal Italian Mama kind but serious gentle but capable. A 19-year-old girl of outstanding mediterranean beauty who was working there made it clear that she was not interested in 16 year olds, as I lay there groaning theatrically.

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Having recovered I made my way the next night to a piazza in the town and sat at a table in the square sipping a beer and people watching, a habit that was to become one of my favourite travelling pastimes. Looking around the buildings surrounding the square I saw a beautiful girl looking down from a balcony overlooking the square. Leaning on her arms on the balcony rail, the sight of those dark eyes, lustrous black hair and half smile was the incarntaion of perfection. Having exchange glances and smiles and being determined to bring this Romeo and Juliette moment to fruition, I was unfortunately unable to get past her Mother in my quest for the perfect love, despite my very best efforts and using every ounce of my youthful charm, a Mother intent on protecting her daughter from crazy foreigners.

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Still, onwards and upwards was the cry and the journey became a rich mixture of sun, food, wine, and above all people, people I had never dreamt to meet but who were there in the traveller’s road, waiting to share the new experiences of life as people do with travellers. Italian food, the pace of life, its colours, rich and bright, the variety of culture, the acceptance of things new, and a Canadian girl made it truly memorable, a keystone in the wall of my travelling life

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I sometimes wonder should I go back there. What for I ask myself, the players in this little scene are all gone to other places and other lives. Why does it interest me to go back? Those significant moments would not be significant now, I know too much, but the richness of the experience, the novelty, the people, the sights sounds scents and flavours of that concentrated moment in life, that’s what I want to find I suppose. But I know it wont be there, and I also know that those senses and emotions I will definitely find on my next journey to somewhere new, a place I have never been and a new whole rich tapestry of people and experiences that I never dream will happen. That’s where I will find it again.

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“And if I could call back all those days of yesteryear,

I would never grow old and I’d never be poor,

But darling’, those days are gone.

Stop dreaming

And live on in the future….”

 

Van Morrison

The Life Inside Flowers

 

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No matter where you travel in the world there are flowers. Their colours textures brilliance and contrasts are different but nature delivers flowers everywhere. They grow on trees, bushes, from the ground and even in the sea but they are ever present and add to the memories of a place and its flavour.

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What has always fascinated me is what happens inside the flower, at its root, where nature creates the flower, because inside there is a whole world of activity that goes on in the life cycle of the life of a flower, and some of the most beautiful parts of a flower are those that we don’t see close up. They add to the picture but they are not completely visible

 

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That inner world has perfect shapes, bugs and microbes, contrasts of colours and shades which together create the perfection of a flower. Its as if you can see the mechanics, the motor, the engine room the beating heart of the creation.

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The varieties in different places in the world are extraordinary and even flowers we see every day and perhaps take for granted, have that hidden life that is so fascinating.

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If you see a beautiful flower that inspires you its worth taking a look really close up and see what is at home and what is happening inside. Flowers are conditioned by their environment but it does not matter if you look in a garden or a park or the other side of the world, nature is at work.

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Travels and Photographs

 

 

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The great photographer Henri Cartier Bresson said that “Your first 10000 photographs are the worst” a somewhat daunting prospect, and I have never counted! I would not presume to think of myself as a photographer but I do like to take photographs and have accumulated many over time of myriad people and places.

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I take photos of my travels, download them on to my computer and leave them there, the memories images and emotions of my travels still fresh in my mind. Then much later, feeling curious and often nostalgic I revisit them and my eyes wander through those moments in time and places that the camera has captured to preserve for my reminiscences.

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I find a whole array of different reflections in the pictures, formal ones of places, buildings, streets, squares, architecture, walls, history, the things that make a place what it is, the structure and outline of a society or place and its history. Then people, ones that I have seen, some whom I have met, others who are just passing through a scene at the moment the shutter clicks. Then there are those that create the atmosphere of the place, the light, the colours, the pace of life and its daily round.

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These pictures remind me of the place, they don’t stir the emotions so much as remind me, they are the diary of a place, the narrative of a place, they are the place rather than the experience of being there.

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I find that the photos that stir the emotions are the odd ones, the quizzical ones, and the ones that capture a moment rather than a place. The ones that have flavour, that set the senses alive A set of footprints in the sand of a pristine beach, a monk sipping a drink through a straw, a tree growing out of a building the intricacy of a piece of some art that tells a mystical story, a chicken chained to a fence. Those ones tell a story beyond the picture itself they stirs the emotions about my experiences and about what gives the lifeblood to journeys, the ones that make you smile, and recover the feelings that accompanied your journey.

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Cartier Bresson also referred to the camera as being “ a sketch book an instrument of spontaneity” and that’s very true. Out of the thousands of pictures those are the ones I am sure I will keep revisiting forever.

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The Reincarnation of the Quagga.

 

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Quagga is the name for a now extinct species similar to the plains Zebra that became extinct in the 19th century. It was found in large numbers in what is now South Africa. Quagga is the Khoi Khoi name for Zebra, the Khoi Khoi being the inhabitants of the southern areas of South Africa originally.

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When settlers came to South Africa in the 17th century the Quagga were hunted in large numbers such that they became extinct in the wild in 1878 and in captivity in 1883. The Quagga had diverged from the Plains Zebra as a species some 250000 years ago.

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In the 1950s the idea was raised that with careful cross breeding of the Plains Zebra it might be possible to recreate the Quagga, although this idea was met with little interest since it was thought that the Quagga and Plains Zebra were unrelated as a species.

 

 

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However in the 1980s, by means of DNA sampling of the skins that remained and that of preserved Quaggas from museums, it came accepted that the species were related and the project to recreate the Quagga coomenced, known as The Quagga Project and based around Cape Town.

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The process is known as “breeding back” and is intended to create the striping patterns of the Quagga from careful breeding, since the technology for cloning using recovered dna does not yet exist, and as such the new off spring look like the Quagga but are genetically different.

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These offspring are known as Rau Quagga, to differentiate them from the Quagga and the Zebra, named after Reinhold Rau who initiated the project. The process has produced a number of generations of offspring and these are beginning to show the markings of the Quagga as it was. This represents a fascinating way to try to rectify some of the wrongs of man to the natural world.