Next time you find yourself pregnant and unable to easily return to your home country to have the baby (yeah, okay, not super likely), I highly recommend Cape Town as an alternate destination. The very air here has a pleasing and soothing effect: and the fact that every time you look out of any window you see either the sea or a gorgeous green mountain doesn’t hurt.
It’s also a great place to indulge pregnancy cravings. The restaurants are amazing and the food about half the price of its LA, Chicago, or San Francisco equivalents, maybe even a third of the price. On Thursday we went to Cheyne’s, a small place in Hout Bay with funky art on the walls that could have been straight out of Soho, or whatever the latest trendy neighborhood in New York is (I actually have no idea what that might be these days). The chef came out at one point from the kitchen looking like a disaffected skateboarder and we lavished praise on him for each delectable bite. The menu is “Australasian-infused South African cuisine” but all you ready need to know is that the Five Spice Pressed Pork Belly with Hot and Sour Coconut Cream & Red Pepper Kimchi is not to be missed. And that every night around 9pm I resist the urge to send Drew out to pick up the Double Thick Peanut Butter & Miso Butterscotch Shake that I had for dessert there last week. I have been thinking about this shake a lot since I first tasted it. A lot.
And of course the weather is perfect: sunny almost every day but with cooling breezes that keep me calm and comfortable. The ocean with its gorgeous white sand beach is a five-minute walk away so Lila can reconnect with her California girl roots and complain while I smear sunscreen all over her face (every kid needs that experience). It is a delight to go to bed with the windows open, a soft breeze blowing the curtains while the twinkling lights of houses on the mountain disappear as you fade into sleep. Cape Town is so stunning that we have already enjoyed one American visitor and expect another next month. (Meanwhile, only four people total came to visit us in Botswana over the last two years.)
Our baby is due in about two weeks and I can’t help but wonder if he will come early so he can get started enjoying this paradise too. We’ve had a flurry of doctor, midwife, and doula appointments since we arrived so we are feeling fairly ready. We took a dry run trip to the hospital, which was a good idea since the only way to get there is on a two-lane winding road through the mountains: the kind of road that’s good to become a little familiar with before setting off in the middle of the night with a laboring woman in the passenger seat.
The roads are really the only fly in the ointment that I can find about this beautiful place. They are gorgeous, well-paved and with beautiful scenic views, but some of them are a little twisty. The truth is that they are just fine, but I am more nervous than I would be normally since the most dangerous experience I have ever had in a car happened in Cape Town.
It was August 2013 and my first time visiting the city. Lila, Drew and I were in a cab headed to see one of Cape Town’s most famous sights: a colony of special African penguins 45 minutes down the coast that we thought Lila in particular would enjoy. After finding a taxi big enough for all of us and spending ten minutes carefully strapping Lila’s new car seat into it, we were off.
Five minutes into our journey the engine puttered to a deathly, silent stop on the highway, in the middle lane of whizzing traffic, far away from any kind of shoulder or exit. Wedged in the last row of seats without even the cushion of a trunk space behind us, Drew and I looked out the back window of the car like helpless deer in headlights as cars sped toward us, one after another appearing in full speeding fury after cresting a small hill that was unfortunately just before our car’s location. They were not slowing down until way, way too late, and it was only a matter of time before someone, not paying attention, didn’t realize we were at a dead stop in the freeway and plowed right into us.
Drew and I looked at each other. Like me, he is good in a crisis. He said, “I’ve got to get out there.” We were stuck in the back of the six-seater cab so I started barking out orders, asking our nanny to please climb to the front seat. The taxi driver was fumbling around under the hood after apologizing profusely while saying “I can’t believe this is happening again,” and none of us expected much from him. Our nanny Patricia clambered over the emergency brake into the driver’s seat while Lila looked on, interested, sensing the tension and the energy so thick you could cut it with a knife. I remember thinking in case we got hit I was glad we had just bought her a nice new highly-rated carseat (they are not legally required here and most kids ride around loose on their parents’ laps) but sorry that none of us were wearing seat belts as we scrambled around trying to deal with the situation.
Once Patricia was out of the way Drew hopped over the seats so he could exit the car. We all watched as he opened the door into the traffic zooming by at 70 miles per hour and bravely made his way behind the car, waving his arms like a man shipwrecked, warning all the oncoming cars away. I texted our friend in town asking what the emergency number for the police is in South Africa. (Note to self: next time find out this information as soon as you land in a new country.) Meanwhile the cab driver had given up on restarting the engine and was slowly pushing the car towards the exit lane, instructing Patricia when to apply the emergency brake.
Two streams of cars were forming in response to Drew’s waving, like fish diverted around a log in the river. We inched our breathless way across lanes, rolled noiselessly a few hundred yards until we were off the freeway on a street blessedly empty of speeding cars with only a coffee shop, antique store and our shaky, relieved selves. Lila cried to get out of the car and we fed her a hard-boiled egg in a daze, not even noticing when she smeared creamy yolk into the pillowy black cushion of her brand new car seat.
Everything worked out in the end, as it usually does. And now I’m thinking that we’ve already used up all our bad car luck in Cape Town, so driving to the hospital will be a breeze. Especially if we pick up a peanut butter shake at Cheyne’s first for the journey.