24 July 2012
I was out of bed early. I looked out of my hostel and the top of Table Mountain was draped in thick white clouds. It was slightly breezy with heavy cold moisture in the air. Today I met my guide, Margaret – Table Mountain Walks, whom would take me trekking the iconic flat top Table Mountain. At the foot of the mountain, near Camps Bay, the Kasteelsproot Trail was the starting point of the walk. The flat mountain top was completely draped in a cloth of mist. However, the lower pancake like colorful sandstone strata with myriad hues of orange was exposed. Narrow and rocky trails lead uphill into the Apostles and towards the thick clouds. Views of Lion Head and Robben Island was now a hazy distance. The electric blue of the Atlantic dominated the horizon. In the south, the land is exposed to the harsh ocean waves.
The uphill trail led straight into the clouds. This is the “Back Table”. The landscape turned into a dreamy world. Distant views were inhibited but the immediate became pronounced. The air turned chilly as the light wind blew across the valley and hills. There were no boundaries. The mountainscape resembled a primordial landscape filled with native fynbos vegetation. This vegetation is unique to this area of Cape Peninsula. The most recognisable plant here is the large-flowered Proteus. The terrain and land-form constantly transformed with every shift of the mist aided by the wind. Melodies of bird calls transcended into the valleys and hills. The views in the brochures of isolated coastlines and picturesque coastal towns in the valleys below were absent. In contrast, I felt excited and invigorated to walk, though carefully, through this idyllic and primitive environment.
At the Valley of Gods, the red sandstone rocks that had tumbled down years before dominated the landscape. Orange lichens together with Old Man’s Beard flourished helped by the abundant moisture. At times, although rarely on this occasion, the clouds would relent and exposed the beautiful valleys and the blue Atlantic on the south-western coastline. I was still hopeful the mist would lift. Perhaps it was wishful thinking. Tall grasses, shrubs and stunted trees clustered together in large numbers inter spaced between rock boulders and tumbling cliff faces. The trail continued through the mist into Echo Valley and Isolation Valley through more rock boulders, swamps, grasslands and boardwalk towards the Eastern Table. Birds occasionally flew past hurriedly. We finally reached McClear Beacon, the highest point on the mountain at 1086m. A small pile of stone rubble marked the point. After a wonderful lunch, the trail continued on relatively flat terrain. The clouds continued to tease with majestic views but only briefly. The trail seemed to be the ends of earth. The end was nowhere as it was completely obscured by the mist. At places, I felt it was precariously close to falling over the cliff. One wrong step may send me into an abyss. I am glad that I had a wonderful and knowledgeable guide, Margret, with me. We reached the top of the Plaketipp Trail on the “Front Table”.
A rocky gully, between two large hills, led downhill. The surfaces were slippery and sometimes my boots lost traction. There were hikers ascending from the Lower Cable Station. Without warning, beautiful views of the Lion Head, Signal Hill, City Bowl – Mother City and beyond emerged as the sun shone brightly. I had exited the recalcitrant cloud bubble. My wishful thinking at the beginning of the trek did not materialise. The downhill trail was tough and steep at places. The eight-hour walk had taken in the various parts of the mountain and enabled a close encounter with the natural and ancient flora. This trail, with a capable guide, had been phenomenal, though hazy, misty, cloudy, obscure, foggy……….through a mystical landscape.
23 July 2012
I caught the shiny Red Bus double-decker at bustling cobble stoned Green Market Square. There are a couple of museums here in Cape Town and there was one that I did not want to miss, District Six museum. Here lies one of the many atrocities carried out during the apartheid regime. Poignant reminders fill the walls where over 60000 people; immigrants , colored and slave origin, were forcibly removed from this area to may way for white only area. Communities were broken up. On the ground floor is a map of the area. Some had left handwritten notes, artefacts of the by-gone era together with black and white pictures filled the walls. They all told a story. The regime had flattened their home but the resilience and spirit of the former residents was never diminished. It was an emotional and sombre walk around the building. Just to comprehend the Apartheid rule was difficult, let alone the human casualties left behind. I guess it is a place for reflection. There is a lovely cafe inside the building. A friendly smile and a hot cup of coffee did cheer me up.
I walked to the possibly the oldest colonial building in Cape Town – the Castle of Good Hope. This fort was built by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th Century and was constructed in a pentagon shape. There were no guides available. I walked around the large grassy courtyard and around from one bastion to another. The interiors were decorated with fine fittings, polished wooden tables, paintings and other extravagances of a colonial era. However, I found it lacking – plenty of space with little, information and signage about the various rooms and surroundings were lacking . Maybe I missed getting an info pack at the ticket counter. The fountain area was impressive and equally was the views of the Table Mountain. A great insight to the workings and opulence of the colonial masters. A walk with a guide would be enriching. The sun continued to shine brightly.
The sun was already setting as I jumped back on the Red Top Bus. It pulled out of the city and headed up towards Table Mountain. There was a magnificent view of the City Bowl, harbor Devil’s Peak, Lion Head and Signal Hill. Table Mountain was quite impressive and looked formidable. The following day, I will be trekking to the top, weather permitting. The coastline and the deep blue Atlantic was impressive. Cape Town is well endowed with natural landscape and an enviable location. On the mountain, the cable cars were operating or perhaps closed for maintenance.
The last destination for me was to Champs Bay. A beautiful and effluent neighborhood with white sandy beach with boulders protruding on both ends of the beach. The backdrop is the imposing Twelve Apostles and Table Mountain. Cafes, petite retail outlets and bars lined the busy streets with both tourist and locals milling about. Seafood is popular here. The sky turned orange as the sun began to set. The tilting evening glow lit up the sandstone mountains that created amazing warm and picturesque views. On the beach, kids and families played. Joggers took advantage the late sun. The horizon was now bright red and orange as the sun descended towards the horizon. A cargo ship on the horizon headed towards the port. It was a magnetic sight as only silhouettes of people and dogs stood in admiration of the glowing star. From here the Red Bus followed the contour of the land along several beach neighbourhoods and returned to the Aquarium at V and A Waterfront. This is a great and convenient way to get to places or just to get oriented to Cape Town. There is another route that goes behind the Table Mountain, through the Botanical Gardens – the Blue Bus.
23 July 2012
A shiny red double-decker with an open top pulls in. Armed with a set of headphones, the bus make it journey into the city. The red route takes in the places within the city and eventually makes it way to the Table Mountain and to Camps Bay. The bus weaved through the late morning traffic, tall shiny glass and steel buildings and ended in the older parts of the city. This is a hop on and hop off bus offers an opportunity to cover distances if personal transport is not available. My first stop was near the St George Cathedral. However, I first went to the vibrant and colourful Green Market square. This was my second visit. Today this cobbled stone artesian market, one of the oldest, is surrounded by cares and restaurants to taunt the shoppers to rest and refuel themselves. You can be sipping Kurdish coffee one moment and next salivating over a cheese cake. It is a great place to get bargains for souvenirs and local handicrafts. From belts, wood ware to T-shirts, curios to costume jewellery. Bartering is a must not only to get a good deal but also as a means of interaction. An element of social communication and cross cultural exchange is a prerequisite. This market place was used as a slave market not too long ago. This quaint market is truly a reflection of Africa [although most may be transient – immigrants and non-Capetonians]. Being an open air market, the weather can dull this vibrant place.
A short walk from Green Market Square on bustling Adderley Street is the vibrant and colourful Flower Market. Under a canopy in a narrow lane, the market had been bringing brightness to the lives of Capetonians for over a hundred years. A string of friendly vendors from a long tradition passed from generation to generation had been showing off their fragile but wonderful produce here for a long time. A myriad of colours from an assortment of exotic and local fresh-cut flowers and foliage including fynbos species such proteases are on display. Some blooms are scented and some very tender. I spoke to one vendor whom had been here for over forty years. This place is now a local institution. The main street was din with traffic.
At the corner of Adderley and Wale Street is one of Cape Town’s oldest buildings – the Slave Lodge. It is located in a quieter part at Church Square. Built in 1697, this was the holding place for slaves before being traded off. Images, pictures and other illustrations dipict their indignified and often turbulent lives. All with the approval of the colonist at that time. Apartheid seemed mild in contrast. There were moments that I wondered how this situations, of mankind on both side, existed and even prospered.
Opposite the Slave Museum, two men sat under a tree canopy selling wild figs and wild fig jam on a wooden folding table. I was intrigued and taste them. It was sweet and sour with a strong acidic taste. I liked it. Something to carry when on long winding bus travels. Nearby was St George’s Cathedral – the oldest Cathedral in Southern Africa. Its exterior was solid stone with glass panels. Its facade reflected off the modern glassed buildings across the somber street.
23 July 2012
The views of the flat top Table Mountain was clear as I peered through a window from my hostel at Tamboerkloof. Today the weather was clear and the sun was out. It would have been a perfect day to hike up Table Mountain today but I had made arrangements for it the following day. I decided to take the local tourist bus – City Sightseeing Red or Blue bus. Each colour took a specific route [ some cross-overs in places]. Both departed from the V and A Waterfront terminal. I walked through the rather busy Long Street. Some of the buildings here are decorated in Victorian style cast iron balcony railings. It is a colourful street and lively as well. Indian and African restaurants, clubs and cafes, book shops, curio retailers, antique stores and many more. It is one of the oldest streets in Cape Town and stretched a few kilometers. Today, the colonial architecture street thrived alongside modern steel and glass skyscrapers. People dressed in suits mingled with colorful casually dressed street vendors. In the evenings I noticed security guards in uniform were stationed a junctions all along the street. I felt very safe, day and night. No one hassled me for practically anything. No beggars either. At adjoining streets, mosques and museums added more appeal to the surrounding. I walked on Long Street everyday just to have a meal or enjoy the vibrant and ambient atmosphere which is essentially african. On Shortmarket Street, off Long Street, is the popular and colourful flea market in a cobbled Greenmarket Square. Wooden handmade curios to an assortment of clothing to costume jewellery to “antiques”. The atmospheric square is surrounded by restaurants and cafes. This provided a quiet corner to people watch and observe the going-ons at the market. Bargaining is common. Sometimes amusingly animated.
I reached the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront or simply called V & A Waterfront as people traffic began to pick up. This waterfront is prime real estate located on the Table Bay with a magnificent views of the iconic Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain , Lion Head and Signal Hill. Just off its shores is Robben Island, where Mr Mandela was imprisoned during the notorious apartheid days. It was a perfect day for viewing. I walked pass multistoried apartments towards the water. Workers were busily fitting and welding at the ship yard while on another corner, fisherman were preparing their vessels for the days’ work. This is a working harbour. Restaurants with outdoor seating under white parasols, purpose-built walkways, canals, elegant shopping malls, retail outlets occupied the marina with colonial buildings. Occasionally, ships sounded their horns as they departed the harbour. Catamaran and sailboat representatives sat behind small lecterns pitching to passerby for tours to the nearby islands and wildlife watching as the boats bobbed in the calm water behind them. A lone seal swam around without any care or concern. I loved the atmosphere, the location and the vibrancy. And the sun was shining. Only the sounds of a nearby construction was uncharacteristic.
Under the ancient but colourful looking clock tower, uniformed school children have a day out from school. Some with amazement expression on the faces. I could easily spend days wondering here. Nearby is the Two Oceans Aquarium and an indoor crafts market. I headed to the City Sightseeing Bus terminal which is located just opposite the aquarium. I decided to take advantage of the open top bus to get around Cape Town and the surroundings. I choose the Red Bus route.
22 July 2012
My safari or journey in Swahili began in the lovingly called Mother City of Cape Town. This colourful city is sandwiched between the Atlantic and as a backdrop, the iconic and dominant Table Mountain. I am staying a The Backpack in the Gardens and Tamboerskloof area close to the city centre. This city is rich with history, most of which is best remembered in the museums – colonisation by the Dutch and English, slave trade, then followed up by apartheid rule and today struggling to provide to the black South Africans. I arrived late Saturday night. Early Sunday morning, I headed into the city to get my bearing and feel the city. On Long Street, most shops were closed. Some building were decorated in Victorian architecture and designs. I walked nearly the length of the street and entered into the Green Square Market where artisans and stalls displayed and sold local handicrafts – from wood carvings to paintings to printed T-shirts. Nearly if not all of the sellers were black. not all are locals. Near the square, I ended up in a Kurdish restaurant for branch. There are a variety of foreign entries Zimbabwean, Indian, Western side by side with Pizza and Nandos outlets along Long Street.
Being Sunday, all the museums were closed. I headed up along Longmarket Street onto a cobbled stoned street. It was steep and uphill. This area was dominated by Cape Malays. Minarets from mosque rose above colorfully painted houses which is a norm here. The Cape Malays were brought in mainly from Indonesia and enslaved in South Africa in the 18th and 19th century. Nowadays, it is rare to meet someone whom spoke Malay. However, their Islamic culture and cuisine survived and is thriving. The locality, however, is fantastic overlooking the city from homes built on hill slopes with Signal Hill in the background. Minarets from mosques stretched above the colourful buildings. The people I met on the streets were friendly and welcoming. Some women wore the purdah. The Cape Malays were classified as coloured people during the Apartheid days together with the Indians. I walked to the top of the road to Noon Gun Restaurant. It was also closed. My walk continued into an area with cannons and guns. But just beyond this, I walked on treks that skirted along the hill with the sprawling city and it working harbour spread below. Apartment and home lined along the western coast towards Sea Point. I walked alone only with the sound of the waves and chirping birds. Bagpipe music echoed from the purpose-built stadium. Robbin Island and the entire northern coastline was clearly visible. The vista was magnificent. The last hundred meters, I scrambled up towards Signal Hill. The day was hot with excellent views of Table Mountain and Lion head. I continued my walk towards Lion Mountain. The vegetation here is unique – the endemic Peninsula Shale Renosterveld. This vegetation merged with the fynbos vegetation on the slopes. Apparently, black maned lions used to roam these mountains. The are none anymore. At the valley below surrounded by green shrubs and flowering plants, a green and white Keramat or tomb had been erected. The Cape Malays have long live here since the slave days. Beyond this tomb, the trek headed uphill. Flowering protea and native fynbos plants together with pine trees were scattered on this valley and hill slopes. Fires had destroyed some part of the vegetation. Lion Head looked menacing and seemed unattainable. The mountains formations became defined as I walked up slowly. I did not bring any water to drink . I was thirsty and dehydrated. I was not prepared as did not plan to hike today. The sandstone formations were stacked like pancakes and rich in colour. The views of the west coast townships and coast were pleasing. The Atlantic waves crashed onto the coastline. Thirsty, I drank water that dripped from the wall of the stone mountain. Reaching the top was tricky as it involved climbing with the aid of chains and vertical ladders. Physically demanding but manageable. The mountain was reduced to a collectionof fallen rocks. The weather changed to a slight drizzle. I decided to turn and descend just 50m from the top. The decent was on the western side of the mountain with views of Clifton Beach and Camps Bays suburbs. Table Mountain was clear and the earth track ended at Kloof Nek Road. It had been a long days’ walk. It had taken about 5 hours. With no transport available, I walked all the way back to my hostel at Tamboerskloof neighbourhood. Finally a cold drink. The fine weather prevailed and the three mountains – Table Mountain, Lion Head and distant Signal Hill all remained visible. The views of the City Bowl, its suburbs, port and the coastlines gave me a wonderful perpespective of this beautiful city.