When I was small, we used to play a game. We would open a folded map of the world, close our eyes, while someone spun the map around (has Google Maps caught on to this yet?), then at the command, press down a finger. Wherever that finger landed, that is where you will be going next. We made it interesting – the map could reveal where your spouse would hail from, or where you will spend your honeymoon. Even if you had no idea what Middlefart in Denmark looked like, if the map says that is your next destination, that is what it was. It could have been Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Wales…
Wouldn’t travelling be great if one could follow such a system? Next stop Karagandy, Kazakhstan. But in real life few of us have the time or money to tour by random finger pressing. Even travelling dictates, most of the time, a plan of action, yet the idea is that you do and see what you really want to do and see, rather than see or do something for the sake of seeing or doing it. That could help when you feel forced to visit popular attractions, just because you are going in that direction. But some spots are loved to death, and there are good reasons why. And crowds are inevitable – not a problem if you don’t mind sharing a site such as Angor Wat with over 7 000 others in a single day. Or stand in line for three hours to enter Yosemite National Park.
Writing as a representative of Cape Town Free Walking Tours, you might wonder what the above has got to do with exploring a city from pavement to pavement with a guide. Well, nothing… Simply because city walking tours fall somewhere in between plan of action, seeing and doing what you want, and doing and seeing because you must and joining a crowd or going at it alone.
Walking tours are a plan of action when all other plans fail. The weather in Cape Town is unpredictable – what can you expect from a city hugged by two oceans? If it’s too slippery to climb a mountain or too windy to brave a beach, do a walking tour. It happens every day. If the line to get into a much-loved site snake up the West Coast – do a walking tour. Those lines are never too long.
Walking tours are a mix of freedom to explore combined with the security of a group and an opportunity to meet new people. If you feel your friendship circle is full, just don’t make eye contact. Simple really.
Somewhere on a walking tour will be a place that you wanted to see, and if walking is not what you wanted to do, file it under “necessary exercise for holiday period done.” Or if “bird watching” tourism is your cup of tea, there will be places you can tick off the to-see list. You can also make it part of your orientation plan. If you know a city centre and can, sort of, point north, you’ll be much the wiser when looking for hidden gems such as restaurants when you’re exploring alone and without a guide to tell you when to stop, stay and sit.
We’re not trying here to convince history buffs, interesting people, and lovers of walking to join. They do. But if you have to answer with a blank look when your friends and family enquire about your trip: “Have you tasted a koesister in the Bo Kaap? Did you see the spot where Nelson Mandela first appeared as a free man? Isn’t the story of Tuan Guru absolutely amazing?” This advice is for you.