Frisco watch out for Cape Town!

By S. Predrag, ivan@harare.iafrica.com

Cape Town, March 5, 99 -- The Atlantic and the Indian oceans meet, sometimes violently, at the Cape of Good Hope, a peninsula lying at the southern tip of the African continent.

Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, has already been dubbed "the gay capital of Africa." Others refer to it as the African San Francisco, and it is not hard to picture Cape Town as the gay capital of the world in the not too distant future.

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, Cape Town has rapidly become a favorite destination for tourists from all over the world. They come in droves to see the unforgettable scenery and the mix of races and cultures which thrive in it.

Cape Town, called the "Mother City" by South Africans, is well-known for its liberal treatment of gays and lesbians who are able to enjoy more freedom here than anywhere else in Africa.

"This is the place we wish to live until the last day of our lives", shared opinion of Steve and his partner Alec, both from UK, who came back to the table after exhausting dance in the flour of the Angels bar.

Capetonians have long recognized this segment of an extremely lucrative market, especially from West Europe and the States, and do their best to provide a better kind of service to their gay and lesbian customers.

Cape Town has much to offer, magnificent tours, an excellent hospitality industry and last, but not least - the fact that South Africa recently adopted an ammendment to its constitution, recognizing gay and lesbian rights.

Cape Town already has several travel agencies which organize tours for gays and lesbians, not only in that particular region, but in several neighboring countries as well.

Most of these travel agencies, such as the "South African Man Holidays" (Tel: 434-1082), "Dumile African Voyages" (Tel: 4233-905; P.O. Box 21673), "Africa Outing" (Tel: 614-028, 683-7377) are gay-owned.

There is accomodation in almost every price range - starting from the elegant and expensive guest houses and lodges in the posh suburbs of Cape Town, to more modest lodgings for the budget traveller.

Almost exclusively gay accomodation can be found at 65 Kloof Guest House (27021-4340815), situated under the famous Lion's Head in Cape Town, just five minutes away from the many bars and restaurants of Sea Point.

A ten minute ride from the guest house, which boasts a private pool, will take you to Clifton's sandy beaches.

In the Amsterdam Guest House (19 Forest Road, Oranjezicht 8001, Cape Town -tel. 2721461-8236) all the rooms are equipped with TV sets, including a satellite channel as well as an in-house movie channel.

Usually, the beds are queen-sized, and the current price is 300 South African Rands (1 US dollar equates to about six South African Rands) per person sharing, or 500 Rands for a single. However, there are also cheaper rooms to be had, for example 150 Rands per person sharing and 175 Rands for a single.

The gay Sandy Bay beach is close to the guest house and, after a relaxing time spent sunbathing and swimming, you and your partner may soothe those aching muscles even further in a jacuzzi, sauna or steamroom.

However, before you jump onto a plane bound for Africa, it is advisable to know some facts.

No visas are required for travellers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Japan, and the EEC for visits up to 90 days.

February, March and April are probably the best months to visit Cape Town because temperatures are not so high any more, the famous south-easterly winds, called "the Cape doctor" are not so violent, and the nights are still pleasant.

Once you have unpacked your suitcases and rested, most travellers would advise you to run over to one of the local bars, such as Priscilla's, for a little pick-me-up.

Priscilla's bar can be found in 196 Loop Street (tel:021222378), in an old part of the city, built at the beginning of the last century. It has, however, been renovated and is now a great coffee bar.

It is open every night from 5 pm till late.

Whichever dish you choose from the menu, be it the home-made soup, the chilli duck liver, the house speciality, like calamari steak or aubergine mille feuille, it will cost you just between 3 and 9 US dollars per dish.

Your stay in Cape Town should include at least some of the many popular tourist attractions, as well as the numerous museums and other cultural and historical sites.

A must-see for all visitors to Cape Town is Table Mountain, already a World Heritage site, overlooking the town and enabling tourists to enjoy really breathtaking panoramic views.

If you are still jet-lagged after your long journey, the local travel agent will probably suggest that you visit some of many museums and other historical sites in Cape Town and its surroundings.

But, if you are ready to explore South Africa, you can start with a visit to Cape Point or travel along the famous Wine Route.

It would indeed be a sin to miss out on seeing two mighty oceans colliding together at Cape Point, the southernmost tip of the African continent, a place where many sailors lost their lives during violent storms.

If you decide to go on the Wine Route, as many people do (be they wine-lovers or not), you will be spoilt for choice with a wonderful selection of the best home-made wines. You can sample these at a dozen or so famous homesteads, built in the characteristic Cape Dutch style, surrounded by magnificent oak trees and vineyards. If you sign up for an organized tour, you can be sure that you will visit the very best vineyards in Little Karoo, Stellenbosch and Paarl.

If you decide to stay longer in Cape Town, you will probably want to visit some of the many gay or gay-friendly bars and clubs.

"Angels", according to Capetonians, is the most popular and the largest gay club in town. It is located on the corner of Napier and Somerset streets (tel: 4198547) and offers excellent entertainment with a wide variety of shows.

"Café Manhattan" is also a popular bar, close to "Angels", on the corner of Dixon and Waterkrant streets (tel: 236666). It has live entertainment and claims to have "the best meals in town at the best prices."

The "Brunswick" gay bar boasts drag shows and can be found in 17 Bree Street, Cape Town (tel: 252739). It advertises a male strip show on Wednesdays, and on Thursday nights you can see the Brunswick Follies (drag show, mime and cabaret) and Sunday nights are reserved for the Glitter Sisters.

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is also a favorite spot for tourists where you can try out the wide variety of restaurants, night clubs and bars - with food and fun to everyone's taste.

Cape Town is not only a place where oceans meet, but also where cultures and traditions mix.

The cuisine in Cape Town reflects the influences of these numerous cultures, including dishes developed from the melting pot of different nations. Still, Cape Town is probably best-known for its seafood dishes.

There is a neverending list of seafood specialties in this part of the world, and most of them you will remember for years to come. These dishes, especially when sampled with some of the famous South African wines, are reasonably priced for the quality on offer.

After a long and exhausting night, you can regroup at the Long Street Turkish Baths (Tel: 4003302). Women are welcome on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while men go on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

If you are feeling lonely, "Gay Introductory and Telephone Services" may be able to assist you. "The Phone Bridge" (Tel: 4347759) is one of the local, online dating services in South Africa.

Several community organizations are very active in Cape Town, offering counseling and other services.

If you are more the adventurous type, Kruger Park is a must-see, but you have to stay at least 3 to 4 days if you go on an organized tour.

Established one hundred years ago by Paul Kruger, the ex-president of the former Transvaal Republic, Kruger National Park is situated in the lowveld region of the Mpumalanga province.

Its two million acres, or twenty thousand square kilometers, between the Limpopo and Crocodile Rivers, are home to almost 150 species of mammals, over 500 bird species, 114 reptile species, 50 fish species and over 300 tree species.

There are so many other game parks and beautiful nature preserves to be seen in South Africa that it is best to decide before hand which ones you wish to see during your visit.

Among the many travel agencies, there are those which especially cater for gay and lesbian visitors with their special tours.

Visitors with more money, and extra time on their hands, can pop over into neighboring Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique or Zimbabwe.

You can arrange to visit the magnificent Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe's other tourist attractions through Kosmos Travel, based in Harare (PO Box 1508 - tel: 753353/4, 755501/2), which will organize a tour for you and your partner.

Many foreign tourists would be delighted to be woken up by the twitter of birds or even the roar of wild animals during their stay in a game park.

Unfortunately, you can be also woken up by a robber with a knife or gun. These incidents do occur all over South Africa, a country where there is a stark difference between the haves and the have-nots.

Rape is a terrible enough experience and the assault is aggravated when it happens in a country where 1600 new cases of HIV are recorded every day!

South Africa is rapidly becoming one of the most affected countries on this continent where at least 22 out of the 33 million people from all over the world - are HIV positive.

By 2005, it is expected that about six out of 50 million South Africans will be HIV-positive, there will be close to half a million Aids deaths that year, and close to one million Aids orphans. This is double compared with the present figure of three million HIV-infected people.

In the meantime, Cape Town is attracting hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists each year - it really has a lot to offer to its visitors, but crime and Aids may yet destroy its ambition of replacing San Francisco as the world's gay and lesbian capital.

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