Sunday, February 21, 2016

Cape Town and Hiking Table Mountain

Cape Town is really, really beautiful.  Except for some serious race-related baggage that comes from a recent turbulent history of racial segregation and de-segregation, public safety issues (particularly involving firearms), and political unrest (oohh, wait, come to think of it, it kind of sounds like the U.S.), the place has got it going on. 

We left the safari and national park area in the northeast region of South Africa on Wednesday afternoon, dropping off our rental car directly at the airport.  The flight to Cape Town took two hours.
We took a small domestic flight from Hoedspruit to Capetown
Table Mountain and Signal Mountain provide a stunning, jaw dropping backdrop to the Cape.  There are beaches.  There is water in nearly every direction.  There is so much greenery, and flowers, and blue, blue sky.  Weird cloud formations and dewy fog that roll in early morning and late night, coupled with the hilly neighborhoods, were highly reminiscent of San Francisco. 

We regret that we were not able to spend much time in this vibrant, interesting city.  We landed at CPT on Wednesday late afternoon, picked up our rental car, and headed to the charming Cape Cadogan in the Gardens district.  By the time we checked in and did some upside down push-ups and a squat routine (at Michael's insistence), it was time for dinner.
I had booked us at Codfather, a seafood restaurant on the water in Camps Bay.  On the way there, we were treated to a stunning sunset. 
Driving down to the water on the hilly, winding roads, and looking at the beautiful houses on the hills, each angled to catch the optimal view over the water, I thought, "this is the life."
 At Codfather, we ordered a nice seafood platter, consisting of lobster, langoustines, calamari, tuna, and swordfish, paired with chips and in a garlic, butter and bay spice Cajun broil.
We didn't plan enough time for this trip, because sadly we had no time to wander the hip little streets near the hotel (Kloof Street in particular).  Hopefully we make it back to CPT again!

The hotel we stayed in was actually a historic house, with very grand, high ceilings.  Our room had the dreamiest bathroom ever, and will likely inspire the design of our future house.  It featured a marble double rain shower enclosed in glass and a huge, powerful, stone bathtub, as well as his and hers sinks.  It led to a private little outdoor space equipped with stone patio furniture, potted trees, and, the crowning touch, a little gurgling fountain.

We were also coincidentally in Cape Town during a very politically charged moment - President Zuma was giving his state of the nation address the next day, and, while we would thankfully be out of the thick of the city center and avoiding all of the street shut downs and riots, all signs indicated that the country is going through a politically shaky period of discontent.  While driving in the car the next day, we kept abreast of the fierce protests of his recent actions (most notably the dismissal of his finance minister Nhlanhla Nene) in the streets all afternoon through the local radio.  You can see some of the riot police and protesters here.

Bright and early the next morning, we headed to Table Mountain.  We decided to hike it, via the Plattesklip Gorge route, and then return by cable car.  The mountain looks very imposing when you're standing at the bottom, but when we read that it is a 2 hour hike (on average), we figured it was completely doable.  One of the nice things about living in a 4-story walk up in Hong Kong is that you are constantly climbing steep steps up and can scoff at many ascents as child's play.

Unfortunately, I have not one picture of our entire hike up the mountain.  Why?  Because Michael was my hiking companion and decided to set an inhumane blistering, punishing pace.  Not only was no one allowed to pass us (frankly, not a problem), he was determined to catch every single person on the mountain, and pass them (which we did).

I am not kidding, this is a steep and stiff and unyielding climb of thousands upon thousands of winding steps.  It is a very well maintained route, almost all stone paved, but most of the path is at incline with very few flat bits, and really no shade.  Table Mountain is approximately 3,050 feet tall - not terrible, and we didn't start at sea level, but it's definitely a lot to do in one hour.  Because, yes, we did this hike in one hour.  If left to his own maniacal devices I'm sure Michael would have made it up the mountain in 45 minutes.  About 3/4 of the way through the hike, he volunteered to be my porter and carry all the water, my bag and my camera.

The only picture of the hike that I have - the summit.  This was the only place the man was willing to pause to take a picture.
  I like breaking speed records, too, but I wish I had had some time to document the trail a bit!

I am not embarrassed to admit that I cursed him up the entire mountain (except for where it was really more prudent to save my gasping, ragged, altitude-choked breath).  I was really surprised at some points in the beginning when sweat was pouring down my face, neck and back - I consider myself to be in pretty good shape and I usually barely sweat.
 Made it!  Sweat soaked linen shirt and all!

 We were at the summit by 9:05 am, and it was lovely.  Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy that day, so we kept waiting for the clouds to pass through.  Cape Town has some strange cloud and fog formations.

 I loved the flora of the mountain - scrubby brush, wild flowers, huge rocks.  I didn't mind the clouds at all.
 I thought they lent the whole scene a very romantic atmosphere.

 We spent some time checking out these abseilers, getting ready to go down the steep side of this cliff...
 On the Cape Town city side, it was like a cauldron of cloud soup, rolling peacefully as far as the eye could see.
 Beautiful, no?

We asked a friendly, chatty Texan (you can always spot the Americans) to take a picture of the two of us.  He was clearly in the oil business, having lived in the Middle East for many years.  He seemed nostalgic about his time abroad.

Coming down, I was 100% insistent that we take the cable car.  It took barely 2 minutes.  It rotated as it descended, so everyone in the car was afforded a spinning 360 degree view of the mountain and the city.
A shot from the cable car
Cables descending into a mysterious foggy ether!

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