Cape Town - Shereen Habib has quite a sense of humour; there is a point during her commentary of the VoiceMap walk through Bo -Kaap - as you’re huffing and puffing about half way up a fairly steep hill - when she chimes in with some gentle encouragement to urge you onward and upward.
She also giggles as she fondly remembers the home where she grew up, right at the top of Signal Hill and how she and her siblings desperately wanted to live in District Six. To find out what her father said to this, you can download the Bo-Kaap: The Village In The City audio walk from VoiceMap (details alongside).
It was one of the first in VoiceMap’s growing catalogue of Cape Town audio walks, and now includes a cameo by the imam of South Africa’s oldest mosque, and immersive sound design inspired by the local environment, created by VoiceMap’s in-house sound designers. This adds an extra and interesting dimension to the walk.
VoiceMap guides are people who are on intimate terms with the area in which you are walking. Habib’s family has lived in Bo Kaap for nearly a century and she has been a tour guide here for more than 20 years. Her commentary is as informative as it is deeply personal. She talks about her Arabic lessons as a child, and how she rode her bicycle down a certain road - which is frankly suicidal; even walking has to be undertaken gingerly.
A moderate level of fitness is required for this one. Most of the stroll is on flattish ground or downhill but yes, there is that climb to the top where you can visit the kramat of Tuan Guru. When you see the view from there you will actually be quite amazed you managed to get so high with relatively little effort.
The walk begins outside the Bo-Kaap Museum in Wale Street so maybe set aside a little time to visit that before you set off. From there it’s through a narrow lane and across an empty lot to the road where Auwal Mosque stands (alternatively spelled Awwal, Owal or Owwal). It was built in 1794 and you may pause to go inside if you wish. The imam requests that women be “modestly” dressed, however, and I wasn’t sure I qualified even though I had a headscarf. Rather than be disrespectful, I admired the mosque from outside and continued with the walk.
The glorious brightly coloured houses in Bo Kaap are famous and make for particularly good photographs. Habib will offer an explanation as to why the rainbow hues as you cross back towards Wale Street. From there it’s up to the kramat, and back down again. The last bit of the circular walk - which takes about an hour at a leisurely pace - is along Rose Street. Here we encountered two homeless men - brothers - who were eager to share their own stories about the area. They told us tales about the buildings behind them; one was once a stable for the horses that pulled stagecoaches to the station.
For the small kindness of a bottle of water and a packet of chips, it was good entertainment and they seemed as if they would talk all afternoon once they realised they had a captive audience.
We went up to Biesmiellah afterwards for a soft pillowy warm koeksiester with a dusting of desiccated coconut clinging to its sweet stickiness.
How to install VoiceMap
VoiceMap is an audio tour app that plays stories about your surroundings while you walk.
The iOS and Android apps use your smartphone’s GPS to pinpoint your exact location, and play audio automatically.
You need: a smart phone (Android or iPhone) with VoiceMap and the Bo-Kaap audio walk downloaded and battery life, and a pair of headphones. It’s always a good idea to get one of those useful power packs, just in case. Women should bring a scarf to cover their heads if they’d like to enter sacred spaces.
Download the tour on WiFi before you leave home using the instructions below.
1) Install VoiceMap for iPhone or Android.
2) Sign up with email or Facebook, then look for “Bo-Kaap: The Village in the City” in the Cape Town menu.
3) Tap on the red download button. The audio walk costs R37.99. You can pay using your iTunes and Google Wallet accounts. Allow ALL the files to finish downloading before you close the app.
4) When the download is finished, the download button will change from red to green, and instead of seeing the price, you’ll see the word “Start”. You’re ready to go!
5) VoiceMap works offline and doesn’t require any data.
New VoiceMap users can use my promo code “bianca” to get their first tour for free.