Monday, March 14th, 2011
By Chief Mate Michael Moreland
Surrounding the scenic and stunning city of Cape Town is another world all together although just minutes away. They call it the ‘Cape Flats’ a flat stretch of land just to the northeast of Cape Town, which if you have been there, denotes a frequently dry and windy swath of land that is as dramatically flat as Table Mountain is steep. The contrast doesn’t end there however. While Cape Town has its hip shopping districts, large modern and historical architecture intertwined, and plenty of classy bars and restaurants that can almost compare with NYC (although at 1/4 of the price), you can almost forget that you’re not in Europe somewhere. But head out down the freeway toward the airport and you see the other side of Cape Town, the neighborhoods and houses that thousands call home.
From a distance and on the surface the ‘townships’ (officially called ‘informal settlements’) of the Cape Flats are a depressing and demoralizing sight for anyone new to the area, seeing for the first time the endless string and blocks of patched together shacks made up of anything that works. Corrugated steel, aluminum sheets, cement, brick and so on. Sporadic poles sprout up amidst the field of flat roofed single story houses that spread electricity to houses here and there. The roads are mostly dusty dirt and the maze of streets have no names. But on closer look you are forced to realize that these are peoples homes and they are just like anyone else, trying to make the best with what they have. While visiting some of the homes of the children of the Christel House school, deep within the townships, we saw that behind the shabby, patched exterior was, in every instance, a well-kept homey place. Properly made beds, a little TV, clean dishes and kitchen. An initially intimidating place became almost endearing.
So when a local friend told a group of us crew about a famous barbecue or ‘braii’ place deep in the townships of Gugeletu, where locals and visitors alike come and eat incredible grilled meat, listen to loud music, and drink cold beer under the hot and dusty sun, we were all in. Instead of touring a township, we would be with the township, doing what they like to do which just so happens to coincide with what we like to do. Word spread through the crew about how cool this would be and our local friend and old shipmate, Nicksa, arranged a couple of taxi buses there and also decided we should go on the Sunday afternoon before a big football match which was sure to be a proper party. Sure, why not?
The party was just getting going when we arrived en masse midday. First thing to do was buy your meat and get it in line on the braii. Basically a small butcher shop, Mzoli’s has one counter and glass display where you shout your order of vague quantities of beef steak, pork chops, sausage and chicken to the ladies in aprons behind the counter. There were about 15 of us so we asked for a bucket full of everything mixed up. The lady asked if we wanted sauce. Of course, say yes to everything. On goes several massive ladles of homemade barbecue sauce on to the meat and into the bucket. Money was thrust forward to pay for this 20 kilo tub of meat and a few of us walked our prized catch back to the braii. Smokey and hot as hell, two massive firewood braais were raging with a perfect stockpile of Namibian hardwood coals spread out beneath the grills where close to a hundred pieces of tasty meat were being expertly and imperfectly grilled by four or five guys. The smell was intoxicating but the smoke unbearable, so with a wave to the braii masters we put our bucket in the queue and decided to find cooler pastures with cold beer. Across the street from Mzolis and through the crowds of people was a little house with funky, makeshift tables and chairs in front and some guys drinking beer. Music was blaring from the oversized speakers and we decided to set up camp there. Beer could be bought in the living room of this house out of giant fridges lining the walls from the owner who seemed quite content with his current state of business as the line was out the door. A quart of Black Label beer for about $1.50 worked for our budget and we soon found the local company to be quite welcoming to our large group of wayward sailors.
We had warned some of our less travelled Picton Castle crew coming with us to be cool and keep your guard up against a few local ‘rude boys’. This proved to be sound advice as just outside the short stone wall of this man’s house were always a couple of young local guys eyeing this or that on us. The locals there made sure to point these guys out to us and even went as far to tell them off a few times when they started hassling someone here or there. Everyone was cool though and enjoyed the high energy, massive block party under the sun with all colors and backgrounds hanging out problem-free in the slums of Cape Town. After a few bribes of cold beer to the cooks, our meat finally made it out after two hours and with no plates or forks (we forgot to bring them) we devoured the most incredible grilled meat most of us proclaimed we had ever had. We shared with the people around us and more beer was bought to wash it down.
As the football match was soon set to start, we decided to hail our taxi bus, with some of us heading to the game and others heading back into town. Gathering up our crew was a bit of a mission but everyone was nearby, just hidden in the building crowds. With all hands accounted for, we got underway, everyone full and excited after a great afternoon. Driving back to the city, I felt a sense that this is what we had been missing in Cape Town proper. The crowds, the hustle, the people, and excitement, which is what I have come to love about Africa. Cape Town is Africa, for the best spots, you just have to know where to look. A rainbow nation to be sure.