Highlights From My First Weeks in Cape Town

Emma Stessman University of Cape Town, South Africa


July 28, 2016

"Wow, it’s so beautiful" I hear myself saying for the hundredth time as we drive from our residence to the Pick 'n Pay down the road. I would be worried about my friends getting annoyed with me for saying it so often, but they've all been repeating variations of the same awed expressions. No matter where I am in the city, I'm amazed by something, whether it be views of Table Mountain from the short drive down the road to the grocery store, the sprawling beaches, or the colorful houses of Bo-Kaap.

It's crazy to think that I arrived here just three weeks ago. The days of jet-lag and nerves that followed my arrival seems like a lifetime ago. Of course I’m still getting to know the city and its people, I get lost more than I'd like to admit, but I am finally feeling like this is a place that I can call home.

We've been filling the last 21 days with adventures and explorations of the city, trying to experience as much as possible. And while I know there is so so much more to come, these are some of the highlights from my first few weeks here:

  • Monkey Valley - On the second day of Arcadia orientation they took us to stay at a resort called Monkey Valley. It was a beautiful place, nestled among the trees, with perfect views of the beach that was just a few minutes walk away. Our cabins felt like little tree houses, and while there weren’t any monkeys running around, we felt like we were in the middle of the jungle. This was also where we played a lot of get to know each other games and really started to form connections within our group.
  • The Three Peaks - Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain are the three peaks that can be spotted from most places in the city, towering above and giving every picture you take a beautiful background. I made it my goal to climb all three right off the bat. We started with Table Mountain, which was a moderate hike, but as most of us were feeling pretty out of shape after spending a few days on planes we opted for the cable car ride back down. The next week we conquered Devil’s Peak, the hardest of the three and a feat that took most of the day. Finally, this past Sunday we hiked Lion’s Head which is relatively easy when compared to the others (except for the part that requires some rock climbing skills), and offers the best views.
  • Muizenberg - While it has been raining for a decent amount of the days that we’ve been here, we had one week that was what many locals described as unusual for this time of year. It was sunny, warm, and beautiful, so of course we took advantage and went to the beach. Before coming to Cape Town, pictures of Muizenberg and its colorful changing houses popped up almost every time I googled the city. We laid out on the beach for most of the day and perused the surf shops in the area. Some of the people in my group ventured into the water, but it was too cold to stay in for more than a minute.
  • Robben Island & District Six - We went to both these places this past weekend as an official excursion through the program, and both places were intensely eye opening. We started at District Six, a place where tens of thousands of people were forcibly removed during the apartheid when it was declared a "whites only" area. In the museum we were guided by a man who had lived in District Six and experienced the forced removal. We got to read personal stories from others who were forced to leave, and they sense of loss that they all felt. We then journeyed over to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held. Our guide led us around the prison and discussed the atrocities that occurred there, as he had first hand experience with it all, since he was a former prisoner. Being taught about both of these significant places by people who had been there and lived through these things offered us an amazing perspective.


Semester South Africa