Traveling is about new experiences. Some are predictable, others surprising and unexpected, but few are memorable. Guguletu Township was inspiring.
I was visiting Cape Town, South Africa for two weeks. Between journeying to Boulder’s Beach, Table Mountain, and Cape Point, friends recommended a visit to a township with Andrew of Liziwe’s Tours. After a quick Google search and a few emails, Andrew planned a tour for me, tailoring it to my interests. I felt that I had much to look forward to, even if being in a township would make me feel a little out of place.
On the day of my tour, Andrew met me at my hostel with a huge smile on his face and an enthusiastic “Hello”. Together we proceeded to Langa, the oldest black township in South Africa, where he shared his insights on the various projects that had been launched. Andrew’s balance of expertise and sensitivity ensured that I genuinely enjoyed myself, and I felt completely safe under his watchful eye.
We took a short drive through the colored township and later watched as women roasted Sheep’s Head over an open fire. Finally, we arrived in Guguletu, Andrew’s native home, where we would spend the majority of our time. Guguletu means “Our Pride” in the native Xhosa language and is an extraordinary place. Our first stop was Liziwe’s Guesthouse, a gorgeous space that offers visitors a comfortable place to stay in the township. As I admired its inviting atmosphere and colorful walls, the builder, Donald, strolled over to introduce himself. I listened in awe as he told me how he spent two years collecting old bricks and cleaning off the mortar so he could construct the guesthouse.
Andrew and Donald led me outside and we spent an hour or two walking around Guguletu. I saw smiles everywhere. Everyone greeted us, and I was even invited to join a game of pool! Best of all were the children. They ran up to me, hugging me and calling me “the pale one” because of my fair skin. I was struck by the way in which everyone was so warm and welcoming.
The money from township tours benefits Guguletu directly, going towards projects like refurbishing old buildings and creating community gardens. Over the last few years, many improvements have been made in the township, including the opening of a free clinic that offers vaccines and tests for HIV/AIDS. There are now schools within walking distance and road signs and playgrounds have been constructed. That said, the majority of Gugs’ people still live without running water and electricity in their homes, so the income from township tours is put to great use. Andrew emails visitors with news about the developments that have been made in Guguletu, helping to continue the sense of relationship that he builds so effortlessly.
My tour ended at Mzoli’s Place, a meat parlor and hangout in the middle of the township. Over plates of beef and the sounds of "African Queen", I made a lot of new friends and within an hour we were laughing, dancing, drinking and taking pictures together. I was sad to leave, but it was the most delightful and rewarding experience I had during my two weeks in Cape Town. South Africa's "rainbow nation" had never been captured so well for me. There we were, so different in so many ways, and yet we still found common ground and enjoyed one another’s company. These realizations make up “the heart” of my traveling experience.
I had a wonderful time with Liziwe’s Tours. I would go back and stay with them any day. I could not have asked for a better tour guide than Andrew, who is one of the most genuine people I have met. His optimistic outlook and hard-working nature energized me. He showed me how we can give of ourselves and make small but positive changes every day.
I went to Guguletu prepared for an informative, but perhaps somewhat uncomfortable visit. What I experienced was a community that was perfectly comfortable with what it had. I came away feeling that this was the true meaning of “Our Pride” in the name Guguletu.