So where to start?
The journey began last Wednesday, with a flight from Houston that stopped in Doha, Qatar for a 10-hour layover (more to come on that airport, which is basically a vast casino-like shopping mall that just happens to have airplanes. At least that's how it appears when you're a sleep-deprived zombie desperately lumbering around for a dark place to hibernate). Roughly 34 hours later, I landed in Cape Town and made my way to the hostel located in a stretch of the city center that is lined with restaurants (see above and below photos), cafes, bookstores and souvenir shops.
Several people have told me that they consider Cape Town to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. They weren't lying. The beaches are velvety white surrounded by intensely blue waters, and the mountains that hug part of the city are majestic and dramatic as hell. After a chilly and windy first day, the weather has also warmed up considerably. I've mostly been running around doing touristy things, like visiting Nelson Mandela's prison island, hiking partway around Table Mountain and walking along the waterfront.
As for where I am staying -- the biggest surprise is how little hostels have changed in the years since college. In just the last week, I've had a rotating roster of roommates, including a French girl headed to the South African equivalent of Burning Man, a couple of Peace Corps volunteers on holiday, and an older British guy who said he's lived in South America, Thailand and all over Europe (What does he do for a living? My reporting skills failed me there. His primary occupation, whatever the location, is drinking beer, he said). That's what I've always liked about hostels -- they truly are way stations for adventurers, idealists, wayward souls and malcontents from around the world. There is no telling who will wash up.
I've only run into one hairy situation, and it was entirely my own fault. Before heading to Johannesburg tomorrow, I really wanted to get a taste of South African barbecue, which the locals call braai (if I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, it would be barbecue. Or fried chicken. Impossible to choose, like picking your favorite child).
I bused it over to a highly recommended restaurant, and decided to keep going even after the sun began setting. As soon as I stepped off the bus, I realized it was a dodgy neighborhood. Lots of men were loitering up and down the street. Many stood in doorways, just staring. Not good. I walked across the street to wait for the return bus.
Only it never arrived. The guy sitting next to me eventually got up and told me he had been waiting for over an hour, and planned to walk to his grandma's house instead. By then, I was getting alarmed and darted after him and asked if he would wait while I called a taxi.
To make a long story short, he and his friend ended up walking me to a gas station a few blocks away and finding a taxi for me. On the brief walk over, the guy said that the local residents would "stab you for your phone." His friend called him "a prophet of doom," but then admitted that while she loved Cape Town, it was definitely a dangerous place.
So now I'm back in my hostel safe and sound, listening to my (new) roommate snoring. Lessons learned: Never walk around at night by yourself, and strangers can be kind anywhere in the world.