Still reeling from my morning fight with food poisoning, I wander out into the streets of Cape Town for the first time. I’m in search of McDonald’s. I know it sounds stupid, coming to a city known for its world-class cuisine and b-lining it for a Big Mac, but for me that burger was a symbol.
You see, I haven’t had McDonald’s since I crossed from Europe to Africa over 14 months ago. And although I don’t really eat it back home, at times it’s comfort. It’s something quick and certain. At one point on my trip, perhaps in Burkina Faso, I googled the next McDonald’s and realized it wouldn’t be until Cape Town. From that point on, I knew that the first thing I would do when I arrived in Cape Town was sink my teeth into the flesh of a Big Mac. It’s more than a burger, but a mark of my arrival.
On my way to McDonald’s, I decide to stroll around the city as I often do when I first arrive to a new place. I wander out of the Mount Nelson Hotel and down its palm lined roadway. I look back at the soft pink-coloured building. It dances in the midday light, and stands proudly under the jet blue sky. I sweep into the street and see a Porsche, a hummer, and a couple scooters rip past. It’s so San Diego.
Looking both ways, I jaywalk across the street and onto the pedestrian roadway of Parliament street. Children chase overgrown squirrels while leaves tumble down from turning trees. Powerful looking buildings reach out towards the walk. Bright white pillars hold the proud structures in their dramatic pose. Little parks swell with tourists snapping pictures and locals sitting down for a picnic or a cup of coffee. It’s so London.
I decide to wander towards the waterfront. The one-way traffic streams past me as I’m backdropped by tall steel skyscrapers. Occasionally an old church finds itself squeezed between two impressive towers. Pedestrian walkways light up with some street music and markets. Coffee shops with street side seating are stuffed with people wearing thick sweaters and gloves to fend off the light cold. A food truck stands alongside and a line forms beside it. It’s so New York.
The V&A waterfront appears after a walk through some Cape Town construction. It appears dramatically and impressively. An old English-style clock tower stands proudly over the water. Stalls selling everything from ice cream to biltong poke out into the walk way. Open restaurants lean out onto the habour and fill with beer drinkers. Yachts and fishing boats jostle in the waters as they head out into the sea. It’s so Vancouver, or is it Liverpool? No wait, it’s so Boston.
As I leave the waterway and head towards the golden arches, I’m struck by Cape Town. It really is all my favourite cities in world wrapped into one. The natural setting of Vancouver, the architecture of London and New York, the waterfront of Liverpool, and the cool character of San Diego or LA all help define a city that is unique in its perfect blend.
As the Big Mac’s special sauce hits my tongue, my shoulders sink lower into my seat and I sigh in perfect comfort. So terrible. So perfect.
I sit looking at the square around me and it finally really sinks in. I’m in Cape Town. I’m farther from my hometown than I’ve ever been before. But somehow, I feel perfectly at home. Could I have found the perfect city? I suppose I have a week to decide.