Brilliant Bo-Kaap of Cape Town

South Africa > Cape Town

May 2013


Dawn, and we are back at Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport to catch the first flight out to Cape Town. That’s one reason we chose a hotel just 10min away, with free shuttle too.

Self-service check-in is always welcomed. Fast and convenient, yet I see people still reluctant to use it, wherever in the world we travel.

One of the thrills of travelling to new places is … to try out new airlines — this time it’s Kulula Air’s turn.

Bag drop is harmless. Recently in Norway I found self-service bag drop – I think that should be the way after self check-in.

Airside, and we grab a quick wholesome brekky at this gaudy outlet.

Ready to depart … see how fun Kulula planes are.

It’s daybreak as we roll to the runway. Always beautiful sunrises and sunsets here so far.

As the golden ray of sunlight bathes us, we are airborne in the cold winter morning. It’s a 2-hour flight to Cape Town — the weather looks good says the captain, though Cape Town could be foggy — but the fog should still be okay for us to land, he assures.

Interesting cloud formation, or could that be fog on the ground?

Now this is clearly fog — see it hugging the ground.

As we get closer to Cape Town, the landscape gets rugged — this must be the western part of the Great Escarpment of South Africa.

On finals for Cape Town airport and we can see the thick fog on the ground. In the distance that’s the Twelve Apostles Range and extreme right, a bit of the famous Table Mountain. Beyond those mountains the Atlantic Ocean. Soon we enter the fog and it is total white-out until we are close to the ground. Visibility is about one km, the pilot says, but not a problem.

Back on the ground, out of the terminal, and we find our cab as the fog clears a bit. This Cape Town CPT airport is 2nd busiest in South Africa after Jo’burg JNB.

The airport is only 20km from downtown Cape Town, and with modern expressways along the way, we are soon at our hotel.

We are staying at the Cape Town Lodge Hotel, which is along Buitengracht St, a major leafy thoroughfare in downtown. Another reason we choose this place is because the famed Bo-Kaap area is just across the street, up the hill.

Strolling uphill into Bo-Kaap, we spot an apparel shop which seems to be selling biryani as well — so an early lunch it is then. A very nice Cape Malay lady serves us some tasty local chicken biryani. But I still think it’s odd, a food shop and clothes shop in one — won’t the biryani odour stick to her beautiful dresses?

Now we are getting somewhere — the colourful old houses of the Cape Malays of Bo-Kaap I’ve seen so much on telly! There’s a museum over there, so we saunter over to educate ourselves first. It’s still cold and foggy with the occasional drizzle anyway, so it’s good to be indoor.

We mingle with some schoolkids on an excursion. Pretty informative stuff on display — seems the Cape Malay community is on a major project to document and preserve their long and fascinating heritage, before it’s lost.

Surprisingly Islam has been here for more than 300 years, when settlers were brought over from present-day Indonesia by the Dutch colonialists. The Cape Malays have virtually nothing to do with Malaysia, although many Malaysian Malays would like to think that these Bo-Kaap people are their long-lost brethren!

The Cape Malays arrived as slaves, mainly from the islands of Java and Celebes, in the 17th-18th century. There’s even a place called Macassar (Makasar) just southeast of Cape Town.

Bo-Kaap grew to become a centre of Islam in South Africa.

And the Muslims really built mosques, many of them, and pretty ones too.

You can easily count 10 mosques on this map alone. The first mosque – Auwal – was built in 1798 during the British rule.

We start our Bo-Kaap stroll. The Malay slaves, when freed, decided to paint their houses in such bright and bold colours to express their extreme joy at being liberated. This street goes up Signal Hill, now hidden by the fog.

A Cape Malay cat if you ever saw one, on a miserably cold, foggy morning.

Bo-Kaap was formerly known as the Malay Quarter (again, nothing to do with Malaysia), founded in the 17th century. Some of the houses here are still the original ones. This is Wale St.

Further up Chiapinni St, the Shafee Mosque, from 1847.

Another view of Chiapinni St. The original Cape Malays arrived in the 16th and 17th century, when the Dutch ruled what are now South Africa and Indonesia.

These are ancient houses, made more spectacular by the sloping streets and the narrow cobblestone roads.

The streets are arranged in a grid, so it’s quite fun exploring them and discovering all sorts of gaudy colours.

The community is tightly-knit, but under threat from outsiders who are buying these beautiful properties due to its attractiveness and location.

I like this staircase-to-the-front-door design.

Of course there are the odd ones requiring a fresh coat of paint.

The Shafee Mosque, at the junction of Chiapinni St and Church St, built 1847.

I guess in summer those plants would flower, making the whole set up even more colourful.

Around the corner from Shafee Mosque, down Longmarket St, we stumble upon the beautiful green Boorhanool Islam Mosque, from 1884.

What a pleasant old quarter of Cape Town this is, to stroll and to discover … if only the weather is a bit better. There should be Signal Hill back there.

We complete our circuit of Bo-Kaap and take a long walk to the Waterfront area, another exciting icon of Cape Town, South Africa.




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