Destination: South Africa: Cape Town
Every South African schoolchild learns that the foundations of modern Cape Town were laid when the Dutch East India Company established a way station at the tip of the African continent—a place for their ships to stop on the profitable trade route to India discovered by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. But archaeological evidence shows that the local tribes were there for a long time before the Dutch set foot on the verdant soil that the English explorer Sir Francis Drake, in 1577, called “the fairest cape we saw in the circumference of the earth.” An ancient footprint, now in the South African Museum in Cape Town, is the world’s oldest trace of Homo sapiens, dating from some 117,000 years ago. The conflict between those tribes and the colonizers—first the Dutch, then the English—was to shape the history of modern South Africa, with the improbable happy ending that the world saw in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress.
More than a decade later, Cape Town still straddles Europe and Africa. Dominated by the 3,563-foot Table Mountain and bounded by two oceans, the city is possessed of heart-stopping, rugged beauty. But for the daily reminders, as clouds pour the famous “tablecloth” over the mountain or the vast empty beaches of Noordhoek exert their pull, many of its glamorous restaurants, outdoor cafés and markets would be at home in London or St.-Tropez.
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