If you have ever heard a semi-inebriated South African extolling the virtues of Cape Town, you would think the place was a second Eden – paradise on Earth. So, with this reputation preceding it, it had a lot to live up to. I will freely admit that winter might not be the optimal time to visit – I can imagine sunny summer evenings to be idyllic – nevertheless, the place is enchanting. A proliferation of beautiful bays and sandy beaches lie to either side of the central conurbation and the colossal Table Mountain provides an exquisite, inland backdrop.
After a day of orientation, during which I discovered the Waterfront, The Company’s Garden (where the East India Company used to grow fruit and veg for sailors) and the restaurants and bars on Long, Bree and Kloof streets, my eyes turned to Tafelberg – Table Mountain.
Providentially, an HK-based friend who was in town for business texted to inform me that she was hooking up and snarling down the Table the following day. Was I in? Are bears Catholic?? Game on!
The following morning, we met our guide in town, along with a British couple, Andy and Louise, who were also signed up, and drove to the car park at the base of the mountain. I forget the name of the guide so, for now let’s call him Stoney McPothead, of the Ganja tribe, son of Mary Jane etc. etc. My suspicions were well and truly confirmed when, at the top of the ascent we asked him to point out Cape Point. He replied, “I think it’s that headland over there but I haven’t been up here for a couple of days so it might not be.” Wow! That must have been strong stuff! Ambulatory headlands are not a feature of GCSE Geography!
The hike up created warmth in the South African winter and the panorama with which we were rewarded was spectacular. So, getting back down…..Having recently jumped off a bridge in Zambia, I felt reasonably confident in South African abseiling equipment and surrendered myself to gravity with a big smile on my face. My friend, on the other hand, had no such prior experience, and earmuffs had to be placed over younger spectators’ ears to mute the colourful language that accompanied her descent.
Sadly, elation gave way to annoyance later in the day. As I walked through town on a shopping errand, I was stopped, in broad daylight in the centre of town, by a wild looking man with his hand in his coat pocket. He told me he was carrying a knife and had done time in prison and “suggested” I give him a note from my wallet. I was all but sure that he had no knife but, for the sake of R50 (c. £2.30 pre- Brexit, c. £18.40 post-Brexit) I was not about to find out.
Paranoia began to taint, thereafter, my enjoyment of exploration so I decided to head out on the Garden Route, the picturesque, seaside road that links Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. My first overnight stop was to be in Mossel Bay via a lunchtime pause in Hermanus. Mossel Bay, highly dependent on tourist spending, has developed a panoply of activities, from sedentary to extreme, to which visitors can subscribe. My eyes were drawn to a leaflet in my hotel advertising “Diving with Great White Sharks”. Sounds like lunacy – sign me up!
I wanted to be sure that this experience was not going to be detrimental to the sharks. Before boarding the boat that was to take us into shark-filled waters, we were shown a video about shark conservancy and raising awareness to help protect sharks: it was clear that this company cared about the animal in question. Conscience satisfied, away we went.
A group of 12 of us were ferried out to an island seal colony in the bay – a favoured hunting spot for sharks (it got their “seal” of approval. Buh-dom-tsh!) We were then wetsuited up and, four at a time, clambered into a viewing cage beside the boat. Sharks, we were told, are naturally curious animals, and like to investigate foreign bodies in the water. Sure enough, no sooner had I settled myself in the cage, a 3-4m great white (they grow to 6-7m) led both by curiosity and, more tangibly, by a tuna head on a rope, swam within centimetres of me, it’s ventral fin brushing the cage by my nose. In the following 10 minutes I had some 20 up-close shark sightings. What did I realise? Stephen Spielberg did this creature a disservice: it is terrifying only in the way that all top-of-the-food-chain predators are. It is the lion of the sea and, I felt, just as majestic. It did not attack the cage, all teeth and aggression, it merely approached to satisfy its curiosity and look at these odd, neoprene-coated fish in a cage. I learned that sharks use “mouthing ” – a gentle bite – to identify things in the water. Sadly, with so many razor-sharp teeth, when they identify humans to be not food, the damage to arteries/limbs has often already been done.
Full of new-found wonder and respect, I jumped back into my trusty rental car, only to find a totally flat tyre. More time than I care to admit later, I was off again. I made stops in Knysna and Plettenburg Bay but the highlights were just outside Plettenburg where I found big reptile and bird sanctuaries.
I shall wrap up quickly as this post it getting a tad lengthy: Bloukrans bridge – did the world’s highest bridge jump bungy; Jeffreys Bay – surf lesson (I’m woeful) and a sunset horse ride along the beach (my technique was such that I now have a huge, purple bruise on the glutimus maximus – no photos will be supplied); Franschoek – bike ride among the vineyards; Stellenbosch – wine tasting and Euro 2016 watching.
I arrived back at the airport today for my flight to Argentina only to notice I was a day early! Time to update the blog, I thought…….