Lighten Up!

We live in a shattering and wondrous world. Fair enough.  But I am aware that some of you, dear loyal blog readers, may be asking why I’m so fixated on the shattering part and not the wondrous.  “Did he really just fly halfway around the world only to kvetch about the anxieties and traumas of three potentially failing states?” I hear you judging.  “What about beauty?  What about pleasure?”

With Cousin Gary in the lead, but the whole Castle clan in participation mode, let’s talk about and show some exciting, gorgeous and fun episodes of my stay in Cape Town and vicinity.

A Family Gathers

Early in my visit, the entire Castle family contingent gathered at Gary and Janine’s home for a big Braai Vleis (BBQ). Sybil, the matriarch, was there with all three of her children and almost all her grandchildren.  Two of Gary and Janine’s kids, Brandon and Anna, were there, but their oldest Samuel was in the USA.  David and Debbie’s two girls, Rachel and Ella, were there. And with a rare stroke of good luck, Elana and Grant were there from New York with their two young children, Jonah and Leah. Arnold’s brother Eddie and sister-in-law Moonyeen were also there. Janine’s father was in hospital, but got out a few days later and I was able to meet him then too.  It was all a whole bunch of fun energy in one place, and I felt so welcomed!

Sybil’s three children, plus a few grands, outside the garage at Gary and Janine’s.

Table Mountain

The morning weather included some strong winds as Gary and I set off to climb Table Mountain.  During such windy episodes, the cableway shuts down.  The plan was for us to hike up to the top and take the cableway down. When we got to the trailhead, the cableway was indeed unopen.  So, we just started up the mountain and planned to cut across midway to take a loop route back to the car.

 The route ahead.

Good thing I didn’t have to go all the way up, because it was incredibly steep and rocky and would have been a very difficult challenge.

Our route would rise to the sharp ridge, then traverse right.

As we took the shortcut, we saw that the cableway was in fact now running, but we had already committing to the easier – but not easy – route.  The views were… incredible!

Looking toward downtown and the South Atlantic.

Yep, I was there.

And so was Gary.

Just as well we didn’t take the cableway. The height would have freaked me out.

Cape Point

Gary and I headed the next day out toward Cape Point.  Here’s something I didn’t know.  The Cape of Good Hope is not actually the furthest southern reach of Africa.  It isn’t even the furthest southern portion of the peninsula that juts south from Cape Town.   That would be Cape Point.  The honor of being the southern tip of Africa belongs to a place called Cape Aguilas which is about 150 kilometers to the east of Cape Point.

All this matters a lot. For when Gary and I were halfway down to Cape Point, and we met up with Elana and Grant and the kids swimming at Boulders Beach, all the Castle women when asked – and I asked them – said we were swimming in the Indian Ocean. The Castle men all said it was the South Atlantic.  The women would prove their point by noting how warm the water was at Boulders and the men would argue about the whole Aguilas thing.

Turns out, basically, the women were right if you buy this web site’s take on the issue. What is indisputable, though, was that the water was warm and the penguins very cute.

Me and the penguin. I’m the one with the hat.

Just prior to the swimming episode, Gary and I grabbed a bite to eat in Simon’s Town, and visited an artifact-filled South African Naval Museum.

At the South African Naval Museum. Plenty of ammo.

After Simon’s Town, Gary and I trekked south to Cape Point.  Spectacular!

Me and a baboon at Cape Point Visitor’s Center. I’m still the one with the hat.

Viewing areas at Cape Point.

Stellenbosch and Wine Country

The Cape Town area has a southern latitude – and corresponding climate – similar to the Mediterranean in the northern latitudes. North of the city is an agricultural district which produces cheese, meat, textiles, produce and wines.  Gary took me out to the area, where we stopped at a couple of wineries, met up with Elana, Grant and the kids for a delicious and relaxing lunch, and then visited with Rachel, who was in her first month as an incoming freshman at Stellenbosch University.

Sure, why not take a perfect tourist kitschy snap shot at a Wine Country vineyard center.

Elana and me basking in Wine Country.

Rachel and me at Stellenbosch University.

Mount Nelson Hotel

Elana has a professional background as both an architect and a writer (and a few other things thrown in).  She got a job to do an evaluation of Cape Town’s Mount Nelson Hotel, providing a recommendation as to whether the hotel met criteria for inclusion into some list of elite world hotels.  The gig included an overnight for her whole family, meals at the restaurant, and apparently, the right for her mother and American cousin to come by and hang out during the day. 

Sasquatch-sized socks are proof positive that Yankees can relax when given the chance.

It was a sumptuous, neo-colonial experience. Pool. Exquisite grounds.  Ornate architecture. Tasty food and no doubt a full assortment of alcoholic beverages (though I didn’t imbibe).

On this sunny summer day near downtown Cape Town at the foot of Table Mountain, a good time was had by all.  Oh yes… and Nelson didn’t refer to Nelson Mandela.  It was Lord Nelson of Trafalgar Square fame.

Poker Night at the Castles and out on the Town

Sybil’s creative and accomplished husband Arnold, who passed just before the 2020 pandemic hit, had a regular poker game at this house.  He passed on that tradition to his three children, and one evening, after all the sushi we could eat, David, Gary, Elana, Grant and their friend Stanley and I played a few rounds of poker till it was time to go shut eye. 

Poker night in Seapoint.

For most of the night I was losing badly.  Stanley, in particular, tried to do me in.  Well then, that was that.  I got lucky, wiped Stanley out – how satisfying! – with a pair of 7’s to his pair of 6’s, and ended up the big winner of the evening.  I was up about 100 rand… or $5.50 in “real” money. (The exchange rate between rands and dollars was at one point par, but now it’s about 18.5 rand to the dollar.  Crushing for South Africans but makes everything in the country incredibly cheap for Yanks.)

After my stunning victory – I had no idea how to play in the beginning and said so – they all thought I was some kind of clever ringer, and their respect for me multiplied.  As a follow up, just the men went out to this huge casino the next night.  But by that time, I was tired and through with gambling. We had a dinner at the casino, with the Castles getting steaks,  but I left before the stakes got too high.

Hanging out with Sybil

A lot of the joy in the trip was just spending time with Cousin Sybil. After a few nights stay with Gary and Janine, I stayed with Sybil’s neighbor Muriel while Elana, Grant and the kids were still in town. Then I moved in with Sybil for the rest of the South African stay.  

Muriel was a gracious host.  She and Sybil, apparently, have traded off hosting each other’s guests when the other’s space would temporarily fill up.  Once I was ensconced at Sybils, the three of us had a lovely shabbat meal together.

A hearty shabbat shalom with Muriel and Sybil.

Sybil lives in the Seapoint neighborhood, across the street from the South Atlantic Ocean.  It was fun to look out the window and see the parade of people passing by on the promenade, or playing in the grand public pool down the block.

Now THAT’S what I call a public accommodation! A grand pool by the ocean at Seapoint.

A lot of what we did together was just tell tales and check in about our lives. But there were several events and sojourns that kept us busy.  Sybil has an international Yiddish group that she helps lead.  Our Lithuanian Cousin Ela comes on occasion, and this was one of the occasions.  It was very fun to participate in that; an opportunity which I can not easily avail myself of at home, due to time zone differences (I don’t learn well at 3am!).

We visited the Jewish Museum and the abutting Holocaust Center.  There, we met up with Sybil’s friend Pearl with whom I had such happy 15 year old memories and was pleased we’d have a chance to reconnect, for however brief a time it was.

At the Jewish Museum, Cape Town.

Sybil took me to what she called “the urban park.”  It was in fact named Green Point Park and I judge it one of the most wonderful city parks I’ve ever seen.  Built as part of preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup held in South Africa (who can forget the vuvuzelas! ), the park had more than a little bit of so much.  Multiple playground areas for kids of varying ages.  Broad open play areas. A variety of eating establishments, facility types, and vistas for picnicking. Habitat restoration areas.  Cultural recreations and historic and prehistoric interpretive areas.  Water features, also for all ages, including ponds, walkable streams, and fountains.  And everywhere were people of diverse skin colors and ages, playing and laughing and eating together.

Picnicking at Green Point. (Click the above to see the video.)

A pleasant summer day at Green Point Park.

Everyone plays together at Green Point Park.

Stream play.

Sybil and I ran into a couple of older men at the park, one of whom she knew. We stopped to talk. The other one, who quickly behaved in a way which demonstrated that he was a racist jerk, was quickly and sternly admonished by Sybil.   We scampered away soon thereafter.

Intergenerational Revenge

Just because Samuel beat me in ping pong in Seattle, doesn’t mean that it was important that I beat his dad, Gary, in Cape Town.  Yeah, it really means that it was VITAL that I beat him in Cape Town. On the next to last day of my stay, Gary did the only thing he could as a gracious host.  He let me pulverize him. I wasn’t going to drag my Mark V bat 15,000 kilometers and not use it. Right?

Anna likes her maize. One last take out dinner from Nandos, which specializes in fried chicken. Then on to the table tennis game!

A Last Day of Nature

As I previously said, the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden was a must re-visit for me, and Sybil drove us there the last day. 

Along the canopy trail: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

But before that, Cousin Debbie wanted to meet us for some tea at The Vineyard, a beautiful private resort. It had overnight accommodations, a restaurant, swimming pool, spa, and walkable gardens along the Liesbeek River that ran through the property.

The pool at the Vineyard.

Paths along the Liesbeek River.

It is nice to see a landscape architect get explicit recognition.

We arrived before Debbie made it, so Sybil let me stroll the grounds.  Maybe I was just tired.  Maybe I was just relaxed and happy. But the walk along and across the stream, and though winding trails, in the valley beneath Table Mountain, was the most beautiful walk I’ve ever experienced.

The Vineyard resort, in the middle of Cape Town, but you’d never know it looking up at Table Mountain.

 Eventually, the three of us sat in an outside table near the stream and it all felt so perfect. A fitting finish to a varied South African experience, with family taking care of me to the very end.


3 thoughts on “Lighten Up!

  1. Wow and educational,what great relatives and travels,thanks again for sharing Daniel. Love to you all. Earl.


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