Friday, October 21, 2005

Movin' On Up

I've moved up in the world.
In Kampala, I washed my laundry in hot water in the bathtub. At Murchison Falls, the tools were cold mineral-rich water, a scrubbing brush, and a small plastic bin. If I did it at 3 p.m., I’d get water that was heated by the afternoon sun.

On arrival in Namibia, the first thing I did was rush to the laundromat. Wow, a machine that does all the work!

Now, I’ve rented a studio apartment in Cape Town, where I have a washer and dryer IN my apartment. Life is good.

I’d run a Google search for self-catering rentals in Cape Town, which turned up a company called Accomodation Finder and a lovely woman named Alex. She kindly did not laugh at me when I told her my budget (about US$200 a week, not much for Cape Town short-term rentals). She offered me an amazing studio on the sea in the rich-people suburb of Clifton. The original renter had unexpectedly pulled out, making it available at a bargain.

I waffled. Was there public transport where there were only rich people? Was it a 20-minute hike to the nearest supermarket? I called Shawn for advice. He told me living in Clifton was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I should snap up, even if I had to traipse to the next town for a loaf of bread.

I called. Someone else had taken the flat.

Alex showed me a few places off of Kloof Nek Rd., right down the street from Cape Town Backpackers. I knew the area. The first flat was dark and gloomy, but the second was just fine. I have a view of Table Mountain from my bed, as well as from my balcony. Alex moved my bag over in her BMW.

Then it was off to find the American Airlines ticketing office to get my paper ticket reissued. I’d changed my return flight to leave from Uganda instead of Namibia. The plan is to head to Kenya for a story on Maasai Mara adventure safaris, and then to pop over to Jinja to raft the Nile before taking the long flights that will dump me out at Newark Airport on November 19.

(The details of what to do between today and mid-November are still being ironed out. Or ignored, rather. By me. And since I have tenants in my Jersey City place until November 30, my homecoming could involve me getting in my car—hope it still works after being ignored for months—and driving to my mother’s in Virginia for Thanksgiving.)

The AA agent on the Skype phone told me there were no ticketing offices in Africa and that I’d have to courier my ticket home for changes. The AA website told me otherwise.

Maybe the agent was looking under A for Africa instead of under individual country names.

I asked the woman at the Internet cafĂ© how to catch a mini-bus to the Waterfront bus. She advised me to catch a Rikki’s Taxi. Everyone here advises tourists to take a Rikki’s taxi. It’s private and takes you from A to B. But I’m sick of the tourist life—it’s too expensive. How do the locals do it?

Same as in the rest of Africa. Walk to the street. A mini-bus will stop, cram you in, charge you pennies, and get you to your destination.

One stopped within seconds of my standing solicitously at the corner. It was identical to a Ugandan mini-bus, but did not stop for gas and was much better maintained. I climbed aboard, folded down an empty jump-seat, and we zoomed downtown, stopping whenever someone wanted to get on or off. I transferred to the Waterfront bus to get to the AA office, which I managed to find in spite of the bridges moving constantly (lots of vanishing bridges across canals down at the Waterfront. They come back, but not in a timely manner).

My trip from Kloof Street to the Waterfront took only minutes and cost less than fifty U.S. cents. There is a local economy here. Not everyone is dropping 70 rand just to eat dinner in a restaurant. But I can’t seem to access it. It’s like in New York. Tourists complain about how expensive New York is, but if you live there, you know where to go for fantastic Cuban food for $4.95, or for delicious Indian food with personality for a dollar less.

But for now, the locals are keeping their secrets. And I am eating dinner from the takeaway section in the supermarket.

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