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South Africa — Taste the Rainbow

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Photos in order: Justin Ocean (3); Cape Town Routes Unlimited (1); Justin Ocean (2)

Story by Justin Ocean

"A week-long exploration into the luxe queer side of the Rainbow Nation.”

Day 4, Cape Town

Located on a private quay between the hyper-rich private yacht marina and working marine harbor, The Cape Grace is nothing if not movie set perfect, especially when watching the sunrise with a steaming cup of roiboos tea (ironically caffeine-free). As my own hazy mind clears like the low-lying “table cloth” that’s currently spilling over Table Mountain, a product of warm Indian Ocean air currents condensing against cooler Atlantic Ocean ones, I truly do feel at the tip of the world — a luxuriously layered world.

It can also be a hectic one with much to do and see, although with a pace more San Francisco or Miami than New York City. Checking out of my airy butter cream-colored cocoon (not before pocketing the full-sized bottles of South African Charlotte Rhys toiletries), I can easily see why in a short ten years the Grace has become regarded as the best hotel in South Africa, if not the continent, buoyed by its highly professional and personalized, yet un-obsequious service.

Fantasizing myself among past posh guests including multiple heads of state — and Oprah, our own gay ambassador — I put on my shades and power walk to my waiting “limo”: a mini-bus from Southern Circle Tours & Safaris. For the next five hours my gregarious and knowledgeable guide Mareli wows me with a whirlwind history of the city, from its humble beginnings as a Dutch East Indies spice route re-supply station to the current building boom gutting downtown’s historic edifices in time for the 2010 World Cup. (Hello, short shorts!)

The star-shaped Castle of Good Hope, resplendent Company Gardens, modern Houses of Parliament, and ancient rock paintings at the South Africa Museum are boons for history, botany, political and archeological buffs. Architecture lovers will eat up the happy clash of sleek steel-and-glass modernity with stucco’d Cape Dutch antiquity, especially in the cobbled streets of the charming (and gay) De Waterkant district and brightly-colored Bo Kaap, a largely Muslim area populated back in the day by freed Malay slaves.


Photos in order: Justin Ocean (3); Cape Town Routes Unlimited (1); Justin Ocean (2)

Story by Justin Ocean

"A week-long exploration into the luxe queer side of the Rainbow Nation.”

Day 4, Cape Town

Located on a private quay between the hyper-rich private yacht marina and working marine harbor, The Cape Grace is nothing if not movie set perfect, especially when watching the sunrise with a steaming cup of roiboos tea (ironically caffeine-free). As my own hazy mind clears like the low-lying “table cloth” that’s currently spilling over Table Mountain, a product of warm Indian Ocean air currents condensing against cooler Atlantic Ocean ones, I truly do feel at the tip of the world — a luxuriously layered world.

It can also be a hectic one with much to do and see, although with a pace more San Francisco or Miami than New York City. Checking out of my airy butter cream-colored cocoon (not before pocketing the full-sized bottles of South African Charlotte Rhys toiletries), I can easily see why in a short ten years the Grace has become regarded as the best hotel in South Africa, if not the continent, buoyed by its highly professional and personalized, yet un-obsequious service.

Fantasizing myself among past posh guests including multiple heads of state — and Oprah, our own gay ambassador — I put on my shades and power walk to my waiting “limo”: a mini-bus from Southern Circle Tours & Safaris. For the next five hours my gregarious and knowledgeable guide Mareli wows me with a whirlwind history of the city, from its humble beginnings as a Dutch East Indies spice route re-supply station to the current building boom gutting downtown’s historic edifices in time for the 2010 World Cup. (Hello, short shorts!)

The star-shaped Castle of Good Hope, resplendent Company Gardens, modern Houses of Parliament, and ancient rock paintings at the South Africa Museum are boons for history, botany, political and archeological buffs. Architecture lovers will eat up the happy clash of sleek steel-and-glass modernity with stucco’d Cape Dutch antiquity, especially in the cobbled streets of the charming (and gay) De Waterkant district and brightly-colored Bo Kaap, a largely Muslim area populated back in the day by freed Malay slaves.

Meanwhile the windswept panoramic views from 3,500-feet on Table Mountain high are essential viewing for everyone. Sheer cliffs give way to sandy beaches and breathtaking vistas reveal the geographic grandeur and diversity of the Western Cape, from city bowl skyscrapers to miles of shanty suburban townships and nearby verdant winelands, all the way out to the rocky tip of the Cape Point peninsula. Although most people agree it’s a common misconception that the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet off the point (Cape Agulhas to the east claims that title), I still pose in the middle of the two for a “Three Oceans” photo op. Yes, I am that cheesy. Outdoorsy types can hike their way up (or down) a network of trails, but the five-minute whoosh of the cable car was enough adrenaline for me.

Later, I check in to The Glen Hotel, an 11-room boutique gay-owned, managed and staffed property in toney Sea Point. (Just try not to fall in love with s exy co-owners British Phil and Italian Tony — both single!) No doubt inspired by its decidedly modern and cosmopolitan vibes and African-meets-Asian décor of gilt, rare animal skins and glittering broken glass, I decide to realize my inner trendoid with a foot massage and sassy haircut at nearby terenZONE skin therapy (only $25!) before heading out to the Hussar Grill in neighboring Greenpoint for dinner.

Between bites of salty biltong (moist house-cured beef jerky, twenty times better than our leather-like American version), fluffy wildebeest pate and an ostrich filet cooked rare with red berry sauce (it looks like beef and tastes nothing like chicken — very unique!), my host Ian McMahon, chairperson of the four-year-old Capetown Pride Festival, shows me just how queer Cape Town can — and wants — to be and introduces me to Sharon Jackson, deputy director of the 14-year-old Out in Africa Film Festival.

Founded just after homosexuality went from being harshly suppressed to protected with South Africa’s visionary 1994 democratic constitution, the fest increases LGBT visibility not only through entertainment but also social outreach and creative development programs. Taking a more party tact, the Mother City Queer Project unites thousands of gays and straights in Mardi Gras-like costumed revelry. And bringing it all together on a day-to-day basis are alliances between the official Cape Town Routes Unlimited and the Pink South Africa Guide.

If South Africa is indeed the “Rainbow Nation,” Cape Town shines as its most vibrant city — and we haven’t even hit the nightlife yet…


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