(CNN) – With its vast mountain ranges, sandy beaches and towering forests, Cape Town is a place where the natural world dominates, imploring visitors to stop and soak in it all.
Africa’s southernmost city has an unofficial motto: âSlow down, this is Cape Town. But these words took on new meaning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Reclaim the city
The people of Cape Town quickly adapted to the new measures put in place during the pandemic.
Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg / Getty Images
Instead of the usual crowd of foreigners in khaki shorts and sensitive sandals flocking to Camps Bay and up to Table Mountain, the only tourists arriving are South Africans living abroad who have taken the risk of returning home. .
I was one of those nostalgic Capetonians who rediscover my city during the holiday season.
On an overnight flight from Paris in December, I had a row of seats for me and two masks securely attached. Upon arrival the staff checked my temperature and my real ticket to the country – a negative PCR test.
Traveling from Europe to South Africa for a second dose of sun at the end of the year has always been a treat.
The holiday season falls in the height of the South African summer, and the city is filled with light and laughter.
Schools are closed for the holidays, families gather for braais – South African grills – in the backyards and everyone begins to relax and shrug their shoulders.
Everything is alive and well, with the only reminders of the pandemic being masked citizens, endless jets of disinfectant and temperature checks, and a 9 p.m. curfew.
Ahead of the New Year’s festivities, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has organized what he likes to call a “family reunion”, during which the closure of many beaches in the country and the ban on the sale and alcohol consumption have been reported.
Bars and restaurants quickly adapted, offering non-alcoholic beers and non-alcoholic cocktails, and a ban-type black market emerged as locals began selling their alcohol to the highest bidders.
Empty tables at a restaurant terrace in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.
Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg / Getty Images
But the new restrictions have not cooled the spirit of the city. Residents simply adjusted, many choosing to spend more time outdoors exploring the mountain playground on their doorstep.
South African Lara Kerswill, who returned from London during the holidays, says she found the atmosphere somewhat subdued.
âUsually December has such good energy – everyone’s been through the year and wanting to have some fun,â she told CNN.
“The sun is shining, you move from one shot to another, meet up with friends you haven’t seen in a while, meet new people.
âThis year seems very quiet. Things need to be pre-arranged and pre-checked to make sure everyone is healthy and comfortable. And even then the plans are bound to change at the last. moment due to someone’s isolation requirements or new guidelines. ”
This time around, Kerswill has changed the parties, festivals and bustling restaurants to walks, hikes and swimming.
But the realities of life during the pandemic are hard to ignore, even during a seemingly simple activity like visiting the popular tidal pool on the False Bay coast.
“We were getting ready to jump … shoes, shorts,” Kerswill said. “Then we were standing in swimsuits with our masks on, not sure when the best time to take them off.”
“Everyone feels safer outside”
The popular Boulders Beach spot in Simon’s Town is now closed, but locals can enjoy seaside walks.
Katy Scott / CNN
For Joi Benjamin, a South African currently living in Paris, returning home was also an opportunity to finally be able to spend time outdoors.
âComing from a wintry and confined Paris, I really appreciate the sea air, the parks and the mountains nearby,â says Benjamin.
âThe pandemic makes me appreciate this much more than ever before. ”
Sarah Carden, another South African returning from the UK, felt lucky to still be able to do everything she loves when she visits the city.
âI love to cycle, so I have cycled the coast a few times and the roads are full of cyclists and walkers,â she told CNN. “I guess everyone feels safer outside.”
While locals have claimed their town back during this uncertain time, there are constant reminders of those the pandemic has hit much harder – the homeless of Cape Town.
While I feared my return flight to France might be canceled, thousands of people fear keeping a makeshift roof over their heads.
Like any trip to Cape Town, if you venture beyond the beachfront bars, wine farms, and glamor, it’s clear that the city’s magic is, and always will be, only for the rich.
And as the virus rages on, the gap between those who lack nothing and those who have nothing seems to be widening.