We are a family of three; Andrew, Jodie and Jessica (aged 18) from Tasmania, Australia who are currently serving in Douala, Cameroon, Central Africa on the M/V Africa Mercy, the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, through Mercy Ships International. God has called us on a journey that has been many years in the making. For this season we call Africa home, as we seek to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Mother City

It is very little wonder why South Africans are so proud of Cape Town, why celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Madonna own waterfront property and superstars Leonardo Dicaprio, Charlize Theron, Elton John, Samuel L Jackson and John Cleese come to escape the paparazzi. The wild beauty of it's craggy cliffs and stunning white sand beaches, nestled under the shadow of the awe inspiring Table Mountain clash with it's violent history of apartheid and racism, come together to create the Mother City.

"The Mother City is an affectionate nickname, which is widely known and used among locals and visitors to Cape Town alike. There are a number of suggested reasons why Cape Town is called the Mother City, and the most commonly offered explanation is as follows, in the words of Selwyn Davidowitz, an accredited Cape Town tour guide/operator:

“In the 1930's some unknown party wrote to the local cape Town newspaper claiming that Cape Town was the only city in South Africa that could justly call itself a metropolis. The public took to this description and because the word metropolis is derived from the Greek derivation of meter or metros meaning mother and polis meaning city, the nickname of "Mother City" was born. "(

When the Managing Director of the Africa Mercy announced to the crew that the sail to our next field service in Madagascar would include a stop over in Cape Town, the room erupted into a cheer. South Africa has played a big part in the history of the Africa Mercy, after a six month stay in 2010/2011 to install new generators. We have many South African crew as well. The announcement came with the anticipation of  exploration, relaxation and restoration!

As we sailed into the prestigious Victoria and Albert Waterfront, the most visited tourist destination on the African continent, my eyes unexpectedly filled with unshed tears. Somehow in the excitement of it all I had forgotten that this was the same stopover, even the same berth, of our maiden voyage on the Africa Mercy in February 2011, heading from Durban to Sierra Leone.

We were back where it all began and it was so encouraging that we still had the same heady excitement to be visiting Cape Town and the same great expectations of our field service to come, in yet another new country, that we did almost four years earlier. I felt my heart bursting with joy and thankfulness for all that God had done to bring us to that evening. What a spectacular journey we have been on and what a spectacular time we had in the beautiful city of Cape Town. The Jewel of Africa shines!

Just wanted to share a few (quite a few-hey I had to choose out of almost 900 photos!) memoirs of our most memorable second time in Cape Town. If you have never considered visiting South Africa, maybe this will change your mind..........

Two different perspectives of the many shades of Table Mountain as viewed from the ship, berthed at the V&A.
 (Photo credits: Patricia Royston)

Another aspect from a different part of the V&A.
(Photo credits: Catrice Wulf)

One of the most fun parts of berthing at the V&A are the friendly seals. We could look out the windows of the ship and see seals playing in Table Bay, on a regular basis. This particular fellow was often seen sunbathing off the bow of our ship.

Me and Jess with the nations most recognised face and world changer, Mr Nelson Mandela.

We took a visit by boat (notice a theme here) to Robben Island to visit the notorious prison that held most of South Africa's political prisoners up until the early 1990's. The landscape reminded us very much of our beautiful home state of Tasmania in Australia, wild and untamed.

A stunning view of the mainland from Robben Island with clouds covering Table Mountain.

The guided tours on Robben Island, through the prison, are conducted by former political prisoners. Our guide shared his fascinating story with us interlaced with tales of his friendship with Nelson Mandela and the horrors of the torture and depravity he and his fellow prison mates endured.
(Photo credit: Nanita Szarek)

After complaints about the terrible conditions the prisoners faced on Robben Island, some of the inmates were able to move from sleeping on the floor to the more "confortable" bunk beds.

One of the world most visited and famous prison cells, the cell of Nelson Mandela.

One of the must see's on our list (and half the ship as well) was Boulders Beach, the home of a large, wild breeding ground of African penguins. We ventured out for the long journey; taxi to the train station and then a one hour, ten minute train ride to Simons Town, ending up with a taxi to nearby Boulders Beach. We had quite a cultural experience riding in third class on the train!

A beautiful baby African penguin coming out of it's nest.
(Photo credits: Catrice Wulf)

An adult African penguin.
(Photo credits: Catrice Wulf)

We were so close to the penguins we could have reached out and touched them easily.
(Photo credits: Shelly Davies)

The beaches are amazing down the coast of Cape Town; clean white sand and turquoise water. Above and below, some more pics of the penguins doing their thing in front of an awestruck crowd.
(Photo credits: Catrice Wulf)

Boulders Beach selfie-me, Jess and a heap of African penguins.

The train ride my have been a little rustic but the scenery was breathtaking.
(Photo credit: Shelly Davies)

Cute little coloured beach house litter the coast line where local Cape Town residents and tourists escape the city.

For a whole week Mercy Ships crew, in particular our South African crew, helped to man a stand at the ritzy Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre at the V&A Waterfront. Above Andrew poses with John Rae, National Director of the South African Mercy Ships National Office.

A gaggle of Africa Mercy crew (including us) gather round the stand, which featured a to scale replica of the Africa Mercy lovingly handcrafted by a former South African crew member, for a group photo.
(Photo credits; Jen Peterschmidt)

Where there is a bargain you will find Mercy Shippers! For one week, to celebrate the 80th Anniversary of the Table Mountain Cableway, heavily discounted adult tickets were available for the cable car. Unfortunately it appeared that South African's also appreciate a good bargain. We stood in line for two hours and thirty five minutes, much of it in the intense sun, to ride the cable car to the top of the mountain.

Andrew and friend Ray's thoughts on standing in line for so long!

Hope this 80 year old cable holds! :)

Our reward for standing in line for hours; stunning views over Cape Town. Above, the picturesque Lions Head, under the cable car.
(Photo credits: Catrice Wulf)

Spectacular coastline.

The Mother City.

Lions Head with Robben Island in the distance.

We could even see the Africa Mercy!

Jess trying to give me a heart attack!

Andy, Jess and Me- same place we stood four years earlier!
(Photo credit: Nanita Szarek)

The stunning view overlooking the affluent Cape Town beachside suburb of Camps Bay. If your are looking for Leonardo or the perfect latte, then this is the spot!

One of great luxuries that berthing at the V&A Waterfront was public access. Over 4,000 locals were able to tour the Africa Mercy over three days. and many, many more in dozens of private tours.

"During our stay, the Africa Mercy was on display for the world to see, as public tours were held for the first time since its maiden voyage. The tours were an instant hit on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront as more than 4,000 visitors toured the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship in a three-day period.

Countless others were invited to visit the ship through the newly created Hospital Tour Experience, a 20-minute guided tour with a nurse through the heart and soul of the Africa Mercy, the hospital deck. Some guests cried at the stories of transformation. Others were amazed by the servant hearts of the ship’s all-volunteer crew. However, most of all our guests were left in awe of the capacity of our 16,500-ton vessel and her crew to bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor!"
(Mercy Ships Canada website)

The line up to see just what was inside the big white ship!
(Photo credits: Susan Parker)

The Africa Mercy's Chief Medical Officer and 28 year Mercy Ships veteran, Dr. Gary Parker, hands over a gift to the 4,000th visitor during the public tours,
(Photos credits: Unknown)

The staff of the various venues of the V&A Waterfront looked after us in a very special way, offering many discounts on stores, restaurants and entertainment. One of the fun things we did with the kids was a ride on a "pirate ship", The Jolly Roger. It was a little bumpy but we got a free pirate show and saw whales, seals and dolphins!! Above Jess and Aussie mate, Charlotte.

After doing the maths we found out it was cheaper for us to book a two day City Sightseeing Hop on Hop off bus tour than to use taxis (The land rovers were not unloaded). We got to see so much of Cape Town, the coastline and inland to some of the wineries. It was beautiful and lots of fun. We got to see some of the gorgeous architecture featured in downtown Cape Town.

Jess and Andrew on top of the double decker hop on hop off bus.

The Pan African Market on famous Long Street, which houses Cape Town's widest range of African Crafts.

Signs, memorials and graffiti around Cape Town are a constant reminder of the struggle for equality for black South Africans. Above artwork screams the message "All shall be equal before the law".

"The Bo-Kaap is an area of Cape Town, South Africa formerly known as the Malay Quarter. It is quintessentially a Township, situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city centre and is an historical centre of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town." Wikipedia

The colourful buildings, hip cafes, museums and galleries that line the Bo-Kaap Township are a drawcard for tourists from all over the world
(Photo credit: Justine Forrest)

The stark contrast between the very rich and poor living side by side; opulence and poverty neighbours, is extremely evident in Cape Town as well as other big cities in South Africa. Above is the Township of Imizamo Yethu where residents live in makeshift housing on the foothills of Table Mountain.

"Imizamo Yethu (in the Xhosa language, literally Our Struggle and commonly known as Mandela Park), is an informal settlement in the greater Hout Bay Valley area. The 18 hectare settlement houses approximately 33 600 people with little or no infrastructure for sustainable living. The settlement has dismal water facilities; there have very few toilets and no sewerage system.The Disa River which runs through this settlement has the highest level of e-coli bacteria that has ever been recorded in South Africa." Wikipedia

My favourite place to visit would have to have been Kristenbosch Botanical Gardens. Nestled at the foot of Table Mountain, Kristenbosch has a reputation as the most beautiful garden in Africa and one of the great botanic gardens of the world. Few gardens can match the sheer grandeur of the setting of Kirstenbosch. It really took my breath away and unfortunately my photos do not do it any justice! The tea house on site also serves high tea and traditional scones, jam and cream!

In 1996 when President Mandela visited Kristenbosch, he was presented with a golden yellow form of Strelitzia regina, named "Mandela's Gold".

The highlight of a visit to Kristenbosch Botanical Gardens is definitely the boomslang.

"The Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway is a new curved steel and timber bridge that winds and dips its way through and over the trees of the Arboretum. Inspired by a snake skeleton, and informally called 'The Boomslang' (meaning tree snake), it is a low-maintenance, low-impact sculptural raised walkway.
The Walkway takes the visitor from the forest floor into and through the trees and bursts out above the canopy, giving spectacular panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains, Garden and Cape Flats. This walkway is 130 m long, narrow and slender, with a few wider view-point areas, and lightly snakes its way through the canopy, in a discreet, almost invisible way. The walkway is crescent-shaped and takes advantage of the sloping ground; it touches the forest floor in two places, and raises visitors to 12 m above ground. It is more than just a traditional boardwalk - like a snake, it winds and dips."( 

Just how far we were from home.....:(

The beautiful and lush Groot Constantia Winery.

When the ship is in a developed nation it is a great opportunity for the Academy to take the kids on exciting excursions! The Elementary school went to visit the Two Oceans Aquarium but the Junior High and High School kids got to go sand boarding at the Atlantis Sand Dunes! The kids standing dockside.

Jess and friend Deborah rolling down the dunes sans the boards!

The kids at the top of one of the dunes.

The Fresh Food market at the V&A was a visual and literal feast. I had lunch there with my friend Leah from Tassie. I had a sausage roll, lamb samosas, macaroons and fresh orange juice. Yum, yum!

A fun aside for the crew was seeing Christmas decorations at the shops. Not just ordinary decorations but amazing, expensive decorations. I am sure I looked weird taking photos of Christmas decorations but to us it was something special and something we have not really seen for three years. It brought a smile to my face anyway!

The Africa Mercy by day and by night, decked out in all her glory!
(Photo credits photo below: Heather Klassen)

The New York Times has nominated Cape Town as the number one city to visit in 2014 in it's "52 Places to go in 2014". After a glorious two weeks enjoying The Mother City, we tend to agree!