Lower Main Road is about a block away from where my friend had agreed to house me whilst I visited Cape Town, and after an hour of uneasy sleep in an empty house I decided to venture out into the midday sun to grab a bite to eat. ‘Hello Sailor’ is easy to miss; the beautiful wooden storefront and low-key ambience almost fade away between Chinese takeout places and bottle stores. The lack of signage shouldn’t turn you off. It just means this bistro has the right kind of hipster credentials – old school chic, gypsy-like waiting staff and a clear shift away from the mangled mainstream branding overload we’re used to.
‘Hello Sailor’ serves up popular fare, in keeping with the sailor pub theme: well-priced home-made burgers, pastas, breakfasts and several specials. Try the red espresso ice tea – a sweet rooibos infused ice tea with apple and cranberry juice – as you have a meal with their signature chips. Or visit in the morning and order their take on Eggs Benedict – a toasted ciabatta topped with poached eggs and bacon (or spinach), soaked in a hollandaise sauce. I returned to the bistro for the latter with a Jewish friend and even she opted for the bacon, only complaining that her poached eggs weren’t runny enough.
This bistro is situated in the heart of a hipster paradise: Observatory. This suburb features a mixed population of students and locals, and has a strong backpackers vibe with numerous popular establishments and touristy bars in the vicinity of Lower Main Road. Obs (as the area is known by locals) has several antique stores, health stores and an anarchist bookstore worth visiting. ‘Bolo’Bolo’ was a great find (despite the capitalist nuzzling within my heart). Here you can admire the collection of Lacanian literature or order a vegan curry (the eatery is strictly vegan) before attending one of the anarchist space’s free film screenings or queer theory discussion groups.
I’ve travelled to the Cape several times in my life, but as a political strategist and activist I’ve spent more time seeing political sights (constructed and human alike) and very little time actually seeing and appreciating Cape Town for what it is – a diverse, alternative space with unparalleled beauty. My many political strategy and training (read: wine-drinking) sessions under the beautiful wine land mountains certainly taught me to love this part of South Africa, but I never had the time to explore and devour the unique Capetonian (tourist and culinary) experience whole. Obs was a great place to start doing that.
Noting that Cape Town is probably one of the more expensive cities to visit in South Africa, Obs is a great area for students and budget travellers (or greenie vegan socialists from Brighton) to spend time in whilst visiting. When you return from a day of sightseeing there’s a diverse selection of places to choose from – ‘1890 House Sushi’ (the 1890 refers to the age of the building) serves a great selection of Japanese and Asian cuisine at reasonable prices, and ‘Narona’ does standard pizza and pasta (try the pizza; the seafood pasta I ordered was more inexpensive tinned tomato than seafood-anything). If you’re keen for sushi more than once, visit ‘Salushi’ a short drive away in the more suburban Claremont – ‘Salushi’ does half-price sushi daily from noon till 17h00.
Once you manage to venture outside of Obs, it’s easy to follow the tourists to the usual sights (Table Mountain, etcetera), but you can also opt for a quieter visit to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Have some rooibos tea whilst looking out over the gardens and mountain views. I managed to get a great deal of people-watching in, despite visiting with friends. Bring a camera and take panoramic views of the sun streaming past the mountains, or actually spend some time admiring the plants and flowers. If you’re just as keen on merging people-watching with sightseeing you should take someone special with you to Camps Bay. Sit on the beach rocks and watch the local fathers play cricket with their children or the Scandinavian tourists admire the fading intensity of the sun in the salty afternoon air.
Cape Town’s charm lies in the way overwhelming natural beauty and cultural and ethnic diversity come together. This is a city where you may see a hippie or two playing the didgeridoo in an Obs beer garden, and later see a group of Palestinian solidarity activists protesting outside Parliament. Despite its relaxed state – the city is proudly contrarian in nature. Early dinners are often accompanied with the distant sound of the faithful being called to prayer by their Mosques, and late sleepless nights can feature the sounds of drunkards stumbling home. My experience of Cape Town was always shaped by how I approached it – don’t do it for work… do it all for pleasure.