Curious In The Mother City

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Locals and travellers alike will find the design-lead and experience-focused Curiocity Cape Town is more than a place to lay your head.

By: Leanne Feris

When I see ‘Sip & Sculpt Wine and Blind-Folded Clay Making’ on the itinerary, it sounds interesting. Fun, even. It is only when I arrive, confronted with Eyes Wide Shut type masks (with the eye openings covered up), pencils, sheets of paper and other small items, that I start to squirm a little. Am I really going to sculpt clay blindfolded with a roomful of strangers?

Then I have some wine and relax a little. I chat to the other participants of the Curiocity event and feel even more at ease. Pretty soon we all sit down and put pencil to paper to envision our different creations. I curb my enthusiasm, not over-estimating my design skills. After all, we are about to wear blindfolds. I settle on a simple hold-all dish, and a design to be carved into the clay at the end of the process.

Time for the mask to go on. With a ball of clay in hand, I start throwing it from one hand to the other. I hear awkward giggles as we’re all adjusting to the strange experience. The sensation of the cool clay against my fingers is intensified by my lack of vision.

Sculpting clay blindfolded is a sensory experience. Photo: Jared Ruttenberg

As I shape my lump of clay according to the demonstration, it dawns on me that this is much harder than it seems. I feel my way around the shape, imagining the 2-D paper sketch as a three-dimensional object, and try to visualise all the little bumps and curves I feel.

You look so peaceful doing that, Leanne!” I hear a comment from one of the organisers. I grin, realising that I have zero skills in shaping clay. I decide to let go of perfection and instead allow the process to unfold. It reminds me of life. The pandemic. Lockdown. You can try to shape things to your will, but life – and the clay, as pliable as it seems – has other plans. I have an idea that my creation falls within the ‘award for effort’ category and, as we all remove our masks, my hunch is confirmed.

But I see that I’m in good company as we all eye each other’s creations. We add the final touches. I smooth things out with water and a sponge and carve in my pattern. Perfectly imperfect, my hold-all is done and ready to airdry. I can’t believe how much fun I had. During the evening we are treated to a gourmet three-course dinner, followed by an Edrington whisky tasting. Then, off to dreamland in one of the premium rooms in the modernist three-storey hotel in the heart of Green Point, Cape Town.

The clay-sculpting experience is just one of many available in the Curiocity network of African hybrid hotels across the country, ranging from backpacker accommodation to luxury penthouses.

Later on, I pop over to their website and I’m impressed by the variety of properties in their portfolio as well as experiences that anyone wanting to do something different would love. They live up to their promise of giving “travellers the chance to stay in spaces that are not only affordable but also amazingly designed”. Each site also offers food and drinks.

Getting to know each other before getting our hands dirty. Photo: Jared Ruttenberg

From Walking Tours To A National Brand

When Bheki Dube started the Curiocity brand back in 2013 at age 21, it was based on his ability to share the stories of neighbourhoods, cities and countries. Something he had already been doing with Main Street Walks, a walking tours company he started in Johannesburg at 16. Bheki says that he gets his storytelling ability and entrepreneurial spirit from his grandmother.

“I picked up a camera in my teens and started documenting Johannesburg, [using images to tell a story]. One of the visions was to really just share these narratives of African countries and African stories,” he says.

“What Curiocity has become is a manifestation of all these business journeys that I’ve undergone. I’m trying to create a platform where youth in the communities are able to share narratives. But also, to create a sustainable business ecosystem and disrupt an industry that was mom-and-pop-run shops, as well as a new way of travelling, where it is design-led and experiences-focused. It’s disrupting the way in which I think the future of travel will be.

”The brand now operates in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, and Bheki has his sights set on growing into the rest of the African continent – at least 30 across ‘slam-dunk cities’ in Africa. “We’re looking at Ghana, Tanzania, Livingstone, Morocco and Mauritius and we want to partner with locals in those countries so they can tell their own stories. It also becomes easier to grow a business when you partner with local entrepreneurs or people with a strong narrative in the spaces they occupy. Curiocity is really led by the history heritage of its spaces, so it’s important that we infuse and partner with people who are local to those environments, particularly the youth.”

For him, it has to be a youth-led brand. “At each Curiocity, I try and employ youth from local communities to share their stories and to also ignite entrepreneurship. When I was young, I was exposed to mentors who were dreamers, thinking bigger than the lines of demarcations that were set upon us, and that allowed me to also start thinking and dreaming bigger. It’s important for me to pay that forward.”Funding, however, can be a problem, especially for youth entrepreneurs, which is why Bheki is working on creating a fund – the Compound Collective.

“It will fund emerging talent that want to grow businesses within the hospitality and travel industry. I’ve learnt during my time trying to raise money that there is a lot of impediments both at a government and private-sector level. It’s very risk averse, very linear.”

The Compound Collective will fund young people with new ideas who want to break into the travel and tourism industry. Back in my room, I can’t wait to get under the covers of the king-sized bed after a soothing shower.

The flatscreen with Netflix, Prime Video and YouTube holds zero appeal for me and I snuggle down, looking forward to the meditation session in the morning. The meditation leaves me feeling spiritually full and content. What a way to start the day.

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