Another early morning wake-up call and a busy day ahead: we start with a vigorous hike up the Table Mountain. But where is Table Mountain? For having seen it so many times from afar and even yesterday when we arrived in Cape Town, I could have sworn it was there. Somehow, it had disappeared in the dense clouds that were hovering above our heads and the mist that decided to ruin our hike that day. Going up a mountain we couldn’t even see: we were bound for another once in a lifetime experience.
Misfortune rarely comes alone, so I have to drag myself with high fever, too. It is cold, humid, windy, foggy and the grey air smells very much like upcoming rain. Since we had experienced lovely hot weather all the other days, we are not properly dressed for the hike either: in short, all is wrong. However, we climb.
Table Mountain is not very high (only 1100m and the top is, no surprise here, flat as a table), but that does not make the climb any easier. The rocks pile up in an irregular flight of stairs that make me discover muscles that I had never suspected to have before: some steps are smaller, some much bigger, meaning that it is impossible to find a repetitive rhythm to which the feet could eventually adjust. Though we are not in high altitude, we are soon left breathless. Not by the view, though, since we are not able to see anything one meter in front of us. This said, despite the exceptionally crap weather that denies us an enjoyable walk, the path is busy with locals jogging up and down the mountain. Whom we don’t truly see until they come really close to us, gradually starting to look like human figures as they run their way through the mist.
We, on the contrary, go up pole pole style, following Takalani’s advice more than ever, the one behind the other. Again, the same pattern occurs: some go faster, some very slow and others are somewhere in the middle. At one point I am alone, or maybe not, but hard to tell in that fog. I hear the baboons somewhere close. For all the love I have towards my camera, I do consider to use it as self-defence device, if need be. The mist gets us terribly wet and the cold bites into the skin when we stop. We forget that the view was the initial and probably the only reason for our climb, without which the purpose of us being up there gets blurry, too. Unless a miracle happens, there will be no picture with the view today. Having put that aside, the remaining motivation is to reach that flat top as soon as possible and have a hot chocolate. Only chocolate could make things right again.
There was only one path, so in theory it would have been hard for me (or anyone to that) to get lost, though I couldn’t see or hear anyone around. I would, however, perfectly manage to lose myself on the mountain during the Inca trail in Peru 8 months later, as I was travelling with 15 other people and 3 mountain guides. When there’s a will, there’s a way! Still, two of us are missing; we would find them safe and sound at the descent, so we are again “all in” as Takalani makes sure when he locks us up in the truck. To get down, we used the Aerial Cableway, which, I read on Google later, offers a splendid view of the area. Now, we might have been dropped in a bottomless pit. Table Mountain just wouldn’t reveal itself to us that day.
Takalani, whose face expression reflected nothing else but sheer joy after such an invigorating morning start, drives us out of Cape Town. The sky finally clears out and the sun shines once more. Outside, the landscape is racing past the window. What I see is beauty beyond belief: string of beaches of white and golden sand, green mountain crests, still steaming with mist in the distance, the Ocean in at least two-tone colours that could have been photoshopped – was I hallucinating from the fever?
Everything is visually so rich with diversity that we are literally stupefied and some of us cannot hold it anymore. Juliana sticks her head out the window and yells: “South Africa, I love you! I will be back, I promise.” Juliana and her family are from Singapore and they have been travelling extensively around the world. They placed South Africa in the top three countries that delighted them the most. For the record: I am not the only SA freak!
In and out the city there’s constant movement. People were practising water activities that I could not even name. Others were jogging, roller blading, ski boarding, doing yoga, chasing seagulls or simply walking, admiring the high waves of the Atlantic. Though I was stuck in the truck, I felt carried away by all that inspiring energy and was envious of this sort of freedom that seemed so natural and accessible to all.
Takalani parks and starts pouring instructions into us. We’re exhausted from the hike and we would have gladly just fainted somewhere in the sun. But there’s more walking to be done. We are at the Cape of Good Hope, Bartolomeu Dias’s discovery in 1488. Before going past the Dias beach, a superb spot for surfers and an enchanting sight for any landscape-hungry tourist, we climb upwards to the Cape Point lighthouse. As if the feet could still respond to my will. Now we have a view!
That day, we also paid a short visit to a penguin colony. In the evening, Takalani holds a speech to mark our last dinner together. Apart from his sincere appreciation of having guided such a wonderful group like ours, he asks THE question that must have crossed our minds more than once during this tour:
“Why do you people want to walk? I’ve been walking my whole life. I walked to go to school when I was a child. I walk as a tour guide. I walk all the time. You must be sitting down too much in your countries.”
Takalani is a very lucid person. A man a few words, but which he uses well. Who knows what humour is and “most especially” when to use it. Who, apart from doing a great job at driving around a bunch of people coming from everywhere and showing them his country, also knew how to treat us all as individuals, paying attention to pronounce our names correctly though we had constantly messed up his. Who at 32 has developed more skills than most men in Europe and who did his tasks without showing how difficult they really were. A person whom I find reliable enough to cross the whole of Africa with. Maybe Takalani did not do all that walking for nothing: he did go to the right school.
The next morning is day one till departure. To lighten up the spirits a little bit, Takalani drives us to a wine farm where we have wine tasting at 10 a.m. The five samples that we are allowed to sip cause me to laugh at any remark that could have potentially been a joke. Some go red in the face. I would stick to Pinotage as my favourite discovery, though I’m sure that more extensive research would have been necessary to find the perfect flavour. We also visit Franschhoek, another very different looking site from what we’ve seen before. European Africa greets us once more. The houses must have been pretty expensive in that area – everything was neat, cute, flowery, white, and Frenchy. There’s no debate as to South Africa’s beauty and variety (or I’m ready to defend them fiercely) – it could be a place for everyone.
Back to our Cape Town base, we have dinner right across from the building where we were overnighting. Out of the hundreds of choices that I am sure the city has to offer, the great majority settles for the safest and easiest option. My friend from Escape4Africa, who had patiently taken me through all the booking procedures before I arrived and ensured I’d make it back to Europe as the living proof that survival is possible, is kind enough to take me to a random club for a beer – a bit further than the fence that was withholding me.
Next morning I pack, to go home this time. No more eccentric trip to breathtaking places, no more animal, no more danger, scorpions and everything that fascinated me so much as a visitor to this country. I will be flying for 19 hours and a half with Turkish Airlines, via Istanbul. There’s still time to take a bus tour of Cape Town. From the top deck, I try to memorise and immortalize the city with my camera. We go past District Six which inspired District 9 – one of the most successful local movie productions, and I discover where Wilbur Smith’s residence is – one of the greatest adventure writers alive, whose sagas, I believe, may easily turn into an African blockbuster at least the size of “Lord of the Rings”, should his books be adapted into a film one day.
One hour to go. I step off the double-decker and spend it sitting in the grass and looking at the ocean. I’m not sure one can have enough of that view, of the waves that rise, foam and then disappear. I stopped taking pictures because the essence of Cape Town is hard to frame into series of snapshots. One more look behind. I did not visit Robben Island on purpose. With the self-promise that I will go back. Time will tell.