the Bahamas

Europe 2001



Cape Town, South Africa


Xiltla, Mexico


Europe Tour

Flying into Cape Town

If one is lucky, the pilot will take a little spin around the cape before landing. Except for Table Mountain looming overhead, it could almost be South Texas -- large patches of sand and scrub mixed up with strands of palm trees and other tropical vegetation.

table mountain and city

The differences between Africa and Texas were further accentuated by the drive from the airport to my waterfront hotel. The surrounding townships are sad shanty towns comprised of hovels thrown together from any and all available materials - more miserable than anything I have seen even in Mexico. My driver/hostess Roxy (marketing director of CapeTalk Radio - my primary sponsor) called it "the legacy of apartheid."

the water frontThe nicest parts of Cape Town look much like any other bustling and thriving European city. I arrived early Sunday morning. Since this was to be my only “free” day, I spent it wandering around the immediate vicinity of my hotel (Victoria and Alfred) on the waterfront. This is a working harbor and a very busy place.There is a major construction boom happening - lots of cranes everywhere - and a huge shopping area. The day was fine and there were many people out browsing the stores and seeing the sights. My first goal was to find an electrical adaptor for my laptop, but in so doing I met my first friendly local - an employee at an electronics shop who not only fixed me up with the correct adaptor but offered me access to his internet dial-up account for the duration of my stay. Perhaps this is good karma coming back to me - I have helped many travelers to SPI get connected during their visits.

the beach!
That night I treated myself to a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant, foregoing such exotic entries as ostrich and springbok in favor of something more familiar. I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent exchange rate: my meal came to about $15.00 - I would have expected to pay twice that for a similar meal in the states. I am surprised that more Americans don’t come to Cape Town as it is a beautiful place and our dollars go far. My hosts told me that there is a new push for tourist dollars now and the QEII’s arrival during my stay suggests more travelers are catching on.

Left: Yes, the sky is really that color and the water is even prettier than this photo can show.

The next morning, I was introduced to Myron and Eugene - my two able-bodied sand sculpture assistants - and Cape Town sand.myron & eugene I found the first much more to my liking than the second. The local sand sculpting material is pretty to look at but much coarser than SPI sand and with almost no natural clay content. Myron and Eugene were energetic and friendly and immediately made me feel right at home. Our first attempt - a six-ft tall structure created by two tiers of forms, stayed up long enough for me to carve the top 3 ft. but collapsed upon removal of the bottom form. (I handled it really well - didn’t scream, cry, throw a tantrum or anything.) We defaulted to Plan B: I sent Eugene off in search of clay and we proceeded to hand stack structures on top of our collapsed mound. I was relieved when this worked as I really didn’t want to resort to Plan C (Plan C is almost always a sea turtle.)

Above: Myron and Eugene Right: Pre-collapse

in progressWe worked on the sculpture for three days total. Myron developed some good building and carving skills and shows a lot of promise as a sand sculptor, while Eugene was a bit distracted by the surroundings -- Cape Town beaches have a very relaxed attitude toward topless sunbathing. Unfortunately, that relaxed attitude does not extend to sandcastlers: on our second day we were approached by the sand castle police. My sponsors had secured a permit and in fact were paying 500 rand (about $75) a day for the use of a very small piece of Clifton Beach. The misunderstanding was quickly cleared up but it had never even occurred to me before to be grateful to live on a beach where one can build a sand castle without a permit.

I was struck by the way everything is viewed in a political context. One interviewer asked me if I intended to work with the local empowerment agencies in any way (huh?) -- and my innocuous little spectator guy was widely interpreted to be Nelson Mandela during his years of imprisonment on Robin Island looking over his beloved homeland.Nelson Mandela? A good sand sculpture should tell a story and I sure don't have a problem with it telling that one.

Of course, sometimes a castle is just a castle and a spectator is just a spectator .

On Monday night, Roxy and Eugene took me to dinner at the Africa Cafe. The building itself is too cool - old and funky and recently declared a national monument. They serve something called "the communal meal" - sort of like Spanish tapas: Nineteen specialty items from all over Africa. Tuesday night I was treated to a powerboat ride out into the Atlantic and an off-shore view of Table Mountain - complete with a cloudy "table cloth.”

Right: Clifton 2nd - that is our sculpture at the bottom

the beach again
sape town from the water

Above: Cape Town from the water -- Right: Roxy and feet on the boat

roxy and feet
Afterwards I drank and dined with some of Cape Town’s movers and shakers. The wine loosened things up and I was given some insights into the South African race and political situation. It seems to me that there are some interesting parallels between the Rio Grande Valley and this part of Africa -- of course, nobody is bombing Brownsville -- but the disparity between the have’s and have not’s is a serious issue in both locales. I was interviewed earlier that day by a young black woman who spent her youth dodging arrows, stones and bullets.... What must she think when she looks at me -- building sand castles for fun and profit?

finished castle

my cape town friends

My time in South Africa was too brief, and between the sand sculpture and the fun activities my hosts had arranged, I did not have feet and Jeffreymuch chance to connect with the proverbial “man in the street.” The one exception was Jeffrey, the security guard hired to watch over things while we worked. He mostly just sat and watched... but eventually managed to find unobtrusive ways to make himself useful, such as following me around picking up carelessly discarded tools and keeping them together so nothing would get lost.

feet & Jeffrey

I finally asked him if he had kids and he told me yes, he did and he was eager to teach them what he had learned from watching us build. He also told me that every weekend he and his buddies gather on the street corner and have a few beers and talk about what they saw and did during the previous week. “I am usually quiet and don’t have much to tell them,” he confessed. “ But this week... this week I have a story to tell.” He looked very happy.

Right: "the crew" with the finished sculpture

crew and sculpture

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