Life in Cape Town (so far)
Time sure has flown by… James and I have been living in Cape Town, South Africa for a couple months so far, and many of you have probably been wondering how it is here: is there a lot of crime? Are wild animals roaming around outside? How is James’ job going? What have we been eating and drinking? What have we been doing with our free time? These are questions we have been asked already, and I’m sure you have many more. So read on to hear all about how our lives have been since we arrived in Cape Town!
When did we arrive in Cape Town?
James cut his Australia portion of our RTW trip short to fly out to Cape Town for a job on September 5th. I stayed a bit longer in Australia to visit with some friends and flew out to join him on October 3rd. So, at the moment James has been here 2 – 1/2 months and I have been here 1 – 1/2 months.
What is Cape Town like?
Cape Town is the biggest city in South Africa AFTER Johannesburg… there are a bit over 3 ½ million people in the city here. Of the population, only 15% are white… 39% are “Black African”, 43% describe themselves as “Coloured” (basically meaning they have a “mixed” background from many different countries and skin colors), and 1.5% are “Indian or Asian.” Table Mountain, with its near vertical cliffs and flat-topped summit 3,300 ft high, and with Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head on either side, together form a dramatic mountainous backdrop enclosing the central area of Cape Town. The main CBD area of the city is filled with businesses, shopping, and restaurants, and it seems almost like any other city I’ve been to in the past. I also like the fact that there are beaches as well as mountains, as those are the things I really love about Los Angeles as well! Cape Town is not only the most popular city to visit in South Africa , but it’s the most popular tourist city in all of Africa!
Where are you living, and what is your apartment like?
We are living in a trendy neighborhood in Cape Town called “De Waterkant” in a cute little loft apartment. It’s somewhat “small” by US standards, but it’s big enough for our needs at the moment. Upstairs is our sunny bedroom, a bathroom with shower, a few shelves, a desk, and a metal bar to hang clothing, and downstairs we have a kitchen/living room with couch, TV with a few cable channels, kitchen table, sink, stove, mini-refrigerator, and microwave. It’s cute, comfortable, and sunny, and we can actually see the ocean from our upstairs window! BONUS: The grocery store and gym are only ONE BLOCK away from our apartment, which is brilliant. The main office for our apartment complex is just across the road, and there they have a shared computer with internet we can use, plus a rooftop patio as well. A maid comes and cleans the apartment and changes the linens once per week, so that’s a bonus as well!
How is James’ job going? What is he doing?
For those of you who don’t know, James is a television editor, so he works behind the scenes on TV shows, cutting together the story. The reason we are in Cape Town is because he was hired to work on a new television series called SAF3. It’s a brand new series from the creator of Baywatch about “the cream-of-the-crop heroes from the sea, air, and fire divisions of the Malibu, California Fire Department” and stars Dolph Lundgren. If you want to read more about it and/or see the opening title sequence, check out this link: http://www.chicagonow.com/mayor-daily/2013/09/saf3-wgn-baywatch-2-0/. James is enjoying working on a new TV show, although the work schedule has been pretty busy, especially the first month. The show has provided him not only with more editing experience, but also responsibilities including directing the actors on the sound stage (ADR) and he even got to direct his own scene ON SET! So, even though the show isn’t the typical kind of show like he has worked on in the past, he is learning a lot of new career skills that will help him transition into directing one day.
What have you (BreAnn) been doing with your time (while James is working)?
Well, the first week or two when I arrived, I will admit… I just did a whole lot of relaxing and cooking!… and I ENJOYED IT! After traveling so much and moving place to place for the past eight months, it was wonderful to have a HOME to come home to, stay in, and get settled into. James and I had been apart for a whole month, so it was nice spending time together again… dinners, running, sight-seeing, etc. I have also been spending a great deal of time catching up on trip expenses (we are tracking all our expenses from country to country), getting all our credit cards and bank accounts in order, catching up on emails, doing more trip research and planning, wedding planning/researching, and basically catching up on TONS of things we just haven’t had the time to do while traveling constantly. James and I both joined the gym nearby, so I’ve been working out pretty much EVERY single day, and sometimes twice a day! In addition, I’ve done a few freelance graphic projects, and I’m currently working on redesigning my website and logo. I was planning to do volunteer work, but out of 20+ emails I’ve sent out, I’ve gotten hardly ANY response, and most places are WAY out of the city, and we don’t have a car 🙁 Still trying to figure out where I can help out around here!!… seems a bit ridiculous that people aren’t responding to FREE help!
Is Cape Town safe?
Cape Town is relatively safe, and is definitely not as dangerous as most people think or hear about. It is considered the safest city in South Africa, but that doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe, that’s for sure. Most crime in the city happens in the poorer areas, and the more safe places are often the city center, tourist areas, and close suburbs. And pretty much every apartment complex, mall, store, etc., has a security guard (and you will also see guards on the streets sometimes), so it helps you feel safe knowing that if anything happens, there is a security officer nearby to help.
However, you DEFINITELY have to be “on guard” 24/7 here… but especially at night. The main worries regarding safety in Cape Town are mostly muggings, robbery, and break-ins… which, in my mind aren’t the worst of things that could happen (compared to shootings, rape, or kidnapping, etc.) Anyway, because of the possibility of muggings, we take the same type of precautions as any other city we’ve traveled to: don’t walk alone at night, don’t carry a lot of cash or electronics on you, don’t flaunt any kind of wealth (don’t wear flashy jewelry or name brand clothing), be aware of your surroundings, and don’t put things in your back pockets or any pocket that doesn’t zip/snap close. When I walk around town, I don’t put anything of value in my purse (credit card, ID, and cash go in my front jean pocket, and cellphone goes in my inside sweatshirt pocket), and at home we put all of our valuables in the combination safe included in our apartment.
I have to admit I haven’t felt AS safe here as other cities I’ve lived in or visited in the past… especially since I’ve heard of a few recent break-ins at friends’ apartments, and you hear about “smash and grabs” on the highways during rush hour (basically if you are driving in rush hour in a poorer area of the city and your car is stopped—with a purse or backpack on the seat beside you—it is common for a person to walk up to your car, smash the window, and steal your bag), but the most unnerving part about living here for me are the beggars. Since I’ve lived in LA for over ten years now, I AM used to beggars and homeless people, and I’m usually not bothered by them. However, here in Cape Town the beggars are SO aggressive! They will follow you for blocks, pleading, asking, begging, and I’ve even had one guy tell me that if I didn’t give him money then maybe he should just steal from my pockets (in which I turned SHARPLY towards him and said in a very stern voice, “Don’t you DARE touch me!” and then my friend and I quickly turned around and rushed off, unharmed). The key is to completely IGNORE them, don’t say a word—don’t even say, “Sorry I don’t have any money,” just keep quiet, keep walking, and they will eventually stop following and bothering you.
Other than that, you just need to follow precautionary measures like I indicated above (not flaunting wealth, not walking alone at night, etc.) and you should be fine.
Can you drink the water? What foods are you eating?
THANKFULLY, you can drink the water here! We realized with traveling, the ability to drink water from the tap not only means we save money from NOT having to buy bottled water, but it also means that fruits and veggies are all a GO! (Whereas we couldn’t eat some fruits and veggies in many places in Asia unless we were able to boil or peel them first). I have been PLEASANTLY surprised by how western the grocery stores are here… we can get most of the same produce, meat, dairy, bread, spices, and such as we can back home, so that’s a HUGE bonus! Of course, some things are harder to find… Mexican food and spices, some Asian spices, chicken/vegetable broth (I had to buy some weird powder stock stuff), and of course like everywhere else in the world—there just aren’t as many chips and cookies here, but that’s a GOOD thing in my mind (so I’m NOT tempted)! I cook pretty much the same stuff we do back home… chicken dishes, lots of different salads, different egg white scrambles (with TONS of veggies) in the morning, etc.
What is South Africa’s currency, and how do you figure out what things cost?
South Africa has its own currency: The South African Rand. Fortunately for us, the rand is pretty stable and doesn’t fluctuate much, so it is almost always the same conversion to US dollars of 10 rand to 1 US dollar. This makes prices fairly easy to figure out, as you just drop the last digit on a price here to get the approximate price in US dollars. So, for example, if something is 50 rand, it’s approximately 5 US dollars… 100 rand = 10 USD, 1,000 rand = 100 USD. Pretty simple math, and makes it easy for us to figure out how cheap or expensive something is!
Is the cost of living cheap or expensive there?
Compared to prices we pay in Los Angeles, things in general in Cape Town have been on the cheaper end for us… but to the people who live here, the prices are a bit high for them. Some examples: a movie theater ticket is around $5.50 USD, you can get a decent dinner out easily for $6 a person, and out at a bar or restaurant you can usually get wine or beer for $3-6 each. Groceries, on the other hand, are a bit more pricey, but relatively comparable to Los Angeles prices: box of cereal $3.50, bag of pre-cut salad/spinach: $1.50-2.00, two-liter bottle of milk $1.80, bananas around 20-30 cents each, pack of XL eggs, 30 count $4.10.
What is the weather like?
The weather is actually a LOT like Los Angeles and Southern California: Cape Town has a pretty temperate climate, mostly dry, very little rain, and the temperature usually stays pretty constant from 50-80 degrees year round. In addition, we are in the southern hemisphere now which means SUMMER IS JUST STARTING HERE! So we will actually get two summers this year (since we spent the summer months this year in the northern hemisphere in Southeast Asia), hurray!
Do you see any dangerous wild animals, since you are living in South Africa!?
There is a big misconception about Africa, in general, that wild animals are roaming all over the place and that it’s dangerous anywhere you go. Truth is, most of any big wild African game (such as the lion, elephant, cheetah, rhino, etc.) are only found in protected reserve parks… so it’s HIGHLY unlikely we’ll ever see a wild animal of that type in the city of Cape Town. However, we did rent a car a couple weekends ago and drove down and around the Cape of Good Hope (only a couple hour drive from Cape Town) and we saw wild Ostriches out in the field and wild PENGUINS on the beach!… so that was pretty cool. We saw caution signs along the highway for baboons, but never actually saw any around.
How do you get around the city (and how does James get to work)?
The public transportation in Cape Town really isn’t the best… there are a few buses, but we have yet to even take one! We most often try to walk as much as possible (good exercise and saves $$!), but otherwise we have to take taxis for further distances. For work, James was given the option to rent a car to get himself to the office (which is actually pretty far out of the city), but it is SO expensive and some of the roads and areas around here can be dangerous. So, instead, James opted to go with the arranged transportation that his work set up. The show hired drivers to pick up and drop off cast and crew from their apartments/hotels to the office or on set. This makes things a lot more convenient and easy for James to get to and from work without having to worry about much, but it can sometimes be inconvenient because your whole day revolves around specific times that drivers are available (which means if you need to stay late to work and catch up on stuff, that’s not really an option… and if they are late picking up in the morning, you are rushing at work that morning to make afternoon deadlines.) But for the most part, it really is a blessing (and rarity) that James actually has arranged transportation for work!!
Do you have friends to hang out with?
There is a group of fun, young people who work on the TV show with James that we’ve been hanging out with pretty much every week. They are a mixture of cast and crew from the show, and we’ve had a few fun party nights out at the bars with them, in addition to a Mexican Fiesta party, and a wine festival event at a vineyard outside of Cape Town. [Click here to see photos from these events/gatherings, plus more.] Also, James and I have met some new friends through social activities arranged through Meetup.com (which is a website listing a variety of social groups perfect for meeting new people…meetup.com exists in the US as well), specifically, I have befriended this really great girl, Christin, who is originally from Germany, but just moved to Cape Town with her fiancé from the UK. We’ve been hanging out a lot in the past month… hiking, visiting museums, having some great lunches, wine tasting, and basically just exploring this new city together! Having friends really makes you feel more at home, and it’s actually making me feel sad (already) that we won’t be here for too much longer! 🙁
What do you do for entertainment?
Again, I have been pleased that life here, for the most part, is a lot like back home… There are malls like back home, movie theaters like back home, and lots of good bars and restaurants around that we can easily walk to. We both have a membership at the gym one block away and pretty much visit the gym daily (I am particularly ecstatic about the good kickboxing and step aerobic classes they have there!), and we’ve done quite a bit of hiking so far, as Cape Town has AMAZING mountains and trails to explore. Our apartment TV service comes with a few cable channels, so a couple nights per week we’ll relax in the living room and watch a flick on TV, which is nice. We’ve also gone to a few movies at the movie theater nearby, and are excited that it only costs $5.30 USD per person to see a movie on the big screen! Cheap!! Since summer is just around the corner, there are weekly “concerts in the park” where you can bring a blanket, picnic, and bottle of wine and enjoy!… although we haven’t gotten the chance to go yet.
How long are you staying in Cape Town?
James’ job goes through the first week of January, so we will be in Cape Town until then. I have a short trip planned to visit a friend in Johannesburg in the beginning of December, and both James and I will attend a friend’s wedding in Durban in mid-December.
Any more questions? What other questions do you have about our life in Cape Town so far that hasn’t been answered above… please leave a comment below if you have any.
If you’d like to see photos from our experiences in Cape Town so far, click here.