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Cape Town

The Great (Es)Cape
Published in Man's World Magazine | June 2010

It’s going to pour any moment but it does not deter my friends who are determined that we drink champagne at noon atop Table Mountain. Who am I to disagree? We sit halfway up the mountain armed with umbrellas. We are waiting for the modern cableway that helps one reach the summit, which is 1086 metres above sea level. The notice board also informs us that we can get to the top, ‘Weather permitting’. Waiting for the officials and nature to make up their minds, we open the portable cooler, take out the bottle and pop the champers. Perfect timing. For no sooner than the bottle of bubbly is consumed, the skies clear, the dark clouds vanish on cue and we are ready to take the cable car to the top. Below us lie pristine beaches, sheltered bays and secluded coves. Between the mountain and the deep blue ocean is spread out the cosmopolitan hub of Cape Town. Table Mountain was declared a World Heritage Site in 2001. A number of species found here are unique, existing nowhere else in the world. Like the Table Mountain ghost frog and the well-known mountain rabbit called Dizzie Dassie, who obviously does not know what vertigo is. Ravines, waterfalls and indigenous plants add to the delights offered, with something for everyone — hikers, rock climbers, paragliders and bird watchers. Cape Town’s municipal caretakers have made sure the city’s manmade charms do not suffer in comparison. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, built in 1860 and still a working harbour, has been developed into one of South Africa’s biggest tourist attractions. Original buildings have been renovated and new ones built, all in Victorian style. Luxury accommodation is amply available. The superb Table Bay hotel where I have stayed twice in the past and the Cape Grace Hotel where I have had some pretty memorable dinners, occupy pride of place on different sites facing the ocean. In addition, there are museums, boat trips, restaurants, pubs, shopping centres, cinemas, an outdoor amphitheatre, craft markets, aquarium and a rich variety of outdoor entertainment.

With the onset of night, Capetonians and tourists flock here, for food and entertainment and for the superb South African wines.

For those original settlers who arrived here all those centuries ago, the sight of the majestic Table Mountain must have been as welcoming then as it is today, providing as it does a magnificent backdrop to Mother City. Er, Mother City? Yes, this is the area around modern day Cape Town where the country’s history of colonisation started That was when the Dutch East India Company established a 17th century victualling station on Table Bay’s pristine shore. With colonisation, the Cape of Good Hope established a lasting tradition of hospitality leading weary explorers and sailors to rename it ‘The Tavern of the Seas’ and leading historians to affectionately call it Mother City.

Remember your geography lessons in school? When they taught you about the two oceans that meet in harmony at Cape Point? Do you remember the names of the two oceans? None of us do. From Cape Town to Cape Point is a leisurely hour-long drive. With its diverse habitat, ranging from rocky mountain tops to beaches and open sea, the Cape of Good Hope is home to at least 250 species of birds. Large animals are a rare sight in the Cape of Good Hope, but there is a wealth of small animals such as lizards, snakes, tortoises and insects. And let’s not forget the Papio Ursinus community or baboons. These guys are rampant here.

Anticipation is rife as we drive through the entrance. The Cape Peninsula National Park is a 7750-hectare reserve of indigenous flora and fauna and it’s zealously protected and impeccably maintained. For the best view you have to make your way up to the platform of the Old Lighthouse. Some tourists prefer to walk on a pleasantly landscaped path which takes you by easy stages to the top. The other alternative is to go up on the funicular railway. There is still a climb of 125 steps from the top of the funicular to the Old Lighthouse, but the extra effort is well worth it. This is the journey we all make.

I am unable to breathe. The view from the platform of the old Cape Point lighthouse is simply magnificent. I look down at the fury of the sea. Considerable disagreement has always existed as to exactly where the division between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean lies. Some put it at Cape Point and some at Cape Agulhas. It probably swings between the two, depending on whether the warm Agulhas current moves further to the west, or the cold Benguela current moves to the east.

The interplay between these two massive and powerful ocean currents is the key to understanding the changeable nature of the Cape weather that we are experiencing first hand. One minute it’s a clear day. The next, storm clouds have appeared out of nowhere. Before we can get off the platform of the lighthouse, the sky has opened and thick cold drops come pelting down. Soaked to the skin, I arrive at the Funicular station only to find a bunch of very aggressive mountain monkeys who have occupied the cabin we wish to enter. A guard is half heartedly trying to make them leave. One of the larger monkeys lands on the guard’s back and tugs off his cap with a snarl. The way the guard runs off in the rain is a sight never to be forgotten. We are wet but we are laughing all the way down to the station base. Happy and hungry, we troop into the one and only restaurant which seats three hundred people. A window table, hot piping food, a bottle of red Pinotage wine. Cape Town. What a trip.

 

The Details

Currency

The local currency is the South African Rand. Bureaus de Change are everywhere. Most shops and hotels will accept credit cards.

Tipping

A 10 per cent tip is accept-able although up to 15 per cent may be given if service is outstanding. Tables of over eight often have an automatic 10 per cent service charge added to the bill. A tip of R3 to RS per piece of luggage is accept-able to porters in hotels and at airports.

Transport

There’s an airport bus service that operates between Cape Town International and the City Centre. City Hopper: Tel: 021 934 4440. Magic Bus Tel: 021 5056300 Minibus taxis and private cars have to a large extent taken the place of buses and trains. Hundreds of thousands of Capetonians take minibus taxis every day and they offer convenient but sometimes hair-raisingly fast transport along major routes. You can also take a conventional private taxi (ask about fare beforehand and check your driver’s familiarity with the area you’re heading to). Taxis are listed in the Yellow Pages or call Cape Town Tourism Visitor Information Centres. City Centre Tel: 021 487 6800; Waterfront Center Tel: 021 408 7600

VAT Refund

Theoretically all purchases upwards of 250 rands can get you refunds provided they are accompanied by proper bills. In reality, the procedure at the airport can take up to an hour and the concerned officials may be rude.