6th November 2003
Our journey from Knysna complete, we berthed at the Royal Cape Yacht Club, in the shadow of Table Mountain . After two days at sea, steady land took some getting used to, arrival breakfast slightly marred by the continual swaying of the clubhouse. Fortunately this soon passed and after a shower and shave the physical marks of the passage had been erased.
The low cloud hanging over the city reminded us that late September was still South African winter, although locals promised that the weather would soon improve, a change marked by the replacement of the north westerly winds with the south-easters of summer. The centre of town was visible in the near distance, it’s presence marked by a sudden rise in the height of buildings and the steady inward flow of traffic along the main road visible from the yacht clubs car park.
Before long ventured into the city, and found Cape Town to be a pretty cool place, although we didn’t see as much of it as we intended. Not without it’s problems, shopping malls and designer clothes mix with kids openly sniffing glue on the streets, perhaps an indication of the problems with social division that seem to affect the whole country. In spite of this the atmosphere is generally one of optimism, with most of the people I spoke to hopeful that the positive aspects can be built upon and problems overcome. Unfortunately, at present this optimism is mixed with fear and it was hard to know how seriously to take the warnings that many people gave us about walking around at night, going to certain areas etc etc. Although there undoubtedly is a risk, we didn’t have any real trouble, although were involved in the opening stages of a scam that we never discovered the conclusion of. The basic idea seems to be to get you to put your card in a cash machine, with one guy promising us that if we did the machine would give us maps of Cape Town and tell us all about Africa . This illustrates fairly clearly why the scam falls flat, as the stories concocted are so unlikely as to be laughable.
Back to holiday issues, and no trip to South Africa ‘s capital would be complete without a trip up the mountain that dominates it. As good tourists we wanted to ensure that we had a complete trip so plans were drawn up for a summit attempt. Eschewing the cable car in favour of the more traditional walk up, we parked the car at the bottom of Platteklip Gorge (the easiest route to the top) and strode off towards the clear blue sky above. Will led the way, periodically appearing two hairpins above telling us to hurry up, while we chose to take a more contemplative pace, admiring the flora and fauna, breathing the clear air and generally avoiding unnecessary levels of exertion. Soon the path levelled, and we were rewarded with fabulous panoramic views. To the north lay the heart of Cape Town , toy cars crawling through it’s streets, with Table Bay and Robben Island beyond. On the other side the rugged coastline of the Cape Peninsula took shape, as we recognised the towns and lighthouses that we had passed in the night while travelling from Knysna. Unfortunately pressing engagements at sea level meant that we had little time to rest, and I never got to see any Hyrax (small gerbil things who’s closest living relative is the elephant). Maybe next time.
Another definite plus for Cape Town is it’s night life, something we tested more fully than the daylife. A huge range of clubs and bars seem to cover every interest and at 70p for a beer, a big night out comes at a bargain price. We sampled the full range of clubs, from places where we couldn’t get in (Rowan was especially pleased to miss a dress code on account of shoes, trousers and top) to places we would rather not have got in. Our favourite was Jo’burgs, ‘Know they worth’ emblazoned in neon above their dancefloor. Seemed profound after several brandy and cokes, although a little less so with the clarity of sobriety.
It was after these nights out that the South African tolerance of drink driving came into it’s own. Although a healthy British attitude to the situation meant that we never tried it ourselves, there us no doubt that club hopping round a city is much easier if you have a driver for the night. The culture is so ingrained that there is no real alternative, with taxis few and far between as they expect no business at night. The flipside of this is the number of accidents, with weekend nights in hospitals apparently very hard work. This was really bought home to us after a guy we met found out that three of his best friends had been killed in a crash after a night drinking.
Fortunately daytime driving was relatively safe, and we were eager to try our luck on the chaotic roads of Cape Town . Thom had excelled himself this time, securing the loan of a proper big car. A 3l Toyota Cressida, it came straight out of 80s America, the kind of vehicle I couldn’t afford to fill with petrol in Britain, let alone get insured on. Bearing this in mind it’s perhaps unsurprising that on the third trip out there was an accident, although the problem was lack of speed rather than excess. Used to driving manuals, the automatic controls confused me slightly, leading to rapid deceleration as I pushed on a non-existent clutch, instead finding an enlarged brake pedal. This led to a nervous few moments as I waited to find out how the guys in the car behind would respond. Fortunately they were pretty chilled about the whole thing and ended by wishing us a good holiday.
As ever, driving in a foreign country led to some confusion about the rules of the road. We never did work out if you were allowed to turn left on red lights, numerous people would tell us that you couldn’t, then drive through them. Drink driving seems to be practically encouraged (although not without some pretty major problems, more of which later), but most entertaining were the hazard signs with robot written on them. Unfortunately we soon realised that this reflected the local term for traffic light, but we never quite gave up hope of seeing lumps of intelligent metal crossing the road.
There were a million other things that we did in Cape Town main highlights being learning to scuba dive, climbing, surfing and making new friends (Hi Nix, Hollie, Sarah and Dom), but if I start on one then I’ll have to cover the others and this email will never get sent. Safe to say I’ll definitely be returning, if only to do all the million and one things I wanted to do this time, but never quite got round to.