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Wed May 14 2003 (Cape Town)
Well, today the trip started coming together a little more and I began to relax and enjoy things. I'm knackered, but for good reasons rather than travel fatigue or stress. I'd intended to make an early start, but the diary writing last night went on until gone 2am and I ended up emerging around 10 this morning. Thankfully my rucksack turned up from the airport not too long after, and I took some time out to check my stuff and play around with the luggage security mesh thing I bought, which proved to be harder to fit than it looks. On the third attempt I got it to work so it is now chained to the ethnic headboard.
I wanted to take advantage of the excellent weather to get a look at Table Mountain. Originally I just planned to use the cable car, but last night on the phone Rob in Jo'burg had basically called me a wuss for even contemplating the idea. So I checked with the great travel desk that lives next to reception at the Ashanti about getting the cable car up and walking back down (seemed the easier option). Apparently it's far trickier getting down than going up due to the route being pretty steep. So walk up and cable down was the plan, but first off to get a hire car organised.
I wandered out into the lovely blue skied suburbs of Cape Town, you just can't help being hit by the backdrop of Table Mountain every time you see it. Down Long Street and after I escaped a couple of guys asking for money (this is a common issue) I went into a travel centre and asked for a quote. The price wasn't too bad (works out at around 22 quid a day), they'll drop the car off at the hostel at 8am on Friday and I'll drop it in central Durban at the same time next Wednesday. Turned out to be the same place Emma and Sara hired their car from (Emma's name was at the bottom of the booking screen so maybe they haven't taken any new bookings since then?). I'm beginning to view Emma and Sara as a forward observation unit, checking out the route before I get there and flattening the road for me (sorry girls, you mean more than that to me - honest!).
The lady in the travel centre also checked the sunset and last cable car times for me (both at 6pm) and sent me over the road to Tony's for some vital walking supplies (steak burger, cheese & bacon toastie, a flapjack type thing ... oh and some water). The aim was to take the food with me and eat along the way, but by the time the taxi arrived only the flapjack was left.
I say taxi but it was my first experience of a Rikki. These things are best described as a cross between a stretched Reliant Robin and a van. Behind the driver is empty floor area with bench seats down the side walls and passengers get in through a stable door kind of approach at the back. Very airy, hate to find out how cold these things are in bad weather. The upkeep is maybe a bit chaotic, but they take you door to door and are very cheap (about £1.25 for a 15 minute ride in my case).
They pick up and drop off people along the way so it's not necessarily direct but a great way of getting around. The driver ("Vallie") was a friendly chap, we talked about footy for a while. He was well up on Premier League news and was interested I was going up to Durban for the game. It also turned out he was a serious jazz fanatic, talked about the UK scene in the late 70's, sadly I didn't have a clue what he was going on about. He's been helping out with a jazz programme on Bush Radio, which is a community broadcaster, and is hoping to maybe get a permanent slot on there so he can give up driving the Rikki.
Vallie dropped me off at the bottom of Platteklip Gorge, and I donned my serious walking gear of factor 35 sunscreen, big sun hat and Oakley's. It was hot, seriously bloody hot, and ten minutes into the climb I was beginning to realise this was not a gentle stroll up a little hill but a human sculpted permanently uphill assault course with steps the size of a small car. The path zig-zagged it's way up the gorge, but it was still too steep in this weather for this particular unfit Englishman. After a while I came to a fork in the path so I phoned Rob for guidance. He seemed slightly concerned for my well-being, "do you realise it takes two hours?", "the weather can close in a hell of a fast". All this seemed a bit rich after he'd wounded my Yorkshire pride and goaded me into attempting this act of masochism in the first place.
I met several people during the first half of the climb, some on their way down, some overtaking me at a scary pace on their rush to the summit. Those who stopped for a quick chat seemed to sense an almost expiring English bloke was in their presence and offered kind words such as "you should have done this early in the morning" and "it gets slighty flatter at one point, but you've got a bit of a climb before then". They were almost exclusively South African with a Dutch couple thrown in for good measure.
Probably a bit before the half-way point my legs went on strike and my heart rate was setting world records so I found a small bit of shade and sat with the lizards and had a rest. The flies got bored after a while and obviously decided my sweat wasn't worth the effort so I had a nice quiet ten minutes taking in the beautiful view of the gorge below. I had some water and ate some of the flapjack, and eventually was happy to carry on. From here on I was careful not to race on too quickly, take it steady, take a short break regularly and keep drinking a little water. Thankfully I went into shade about a quarter of the way from the top and although the route became even steeper, everything seemed easier, my day pack felt lighter, I could take off the shades and hat, I was at peace with the world again.
The final leg up to the top became more cosmopolitan for some reason, a few more South Africans, a few Americans, three cute Czech girls (I felt that was a reward for the tough climb), and a bloke from Roundhay in Leeds of all places! He's travelling around the world, had just come from Durban where he'd got his scuba diving badge for £100, and is off to South Asia next. He'd climbed up the difficult route and was coming back down the easy way. Ignoring his unintentional slap in the face of my momentous effort, I continued to the top and onto a lovely FLAT plateau of low gorse type vegetation. I wandered over to the opposite end from the gorge and sat down on a rock and treated myself to the last of my dwindling water and flapjack supplies.
A few rocks away were a couple from near Brighton and a couple of British blokes talking about boring stuff wandered past, but apart from that the place was completely peaceful, almost windless, just a few insect noises and what sounded like the call of a ground nesting bird off in the distance. I stayed there for ages, maybe more than an hour, just staring at the view of the peaks leading off towards the Cape of Good Hope with the Atlantic to one side and civilisation sprawling on the other into False Bay. The built-up area was such a distance below, that unless you looked closely the reflected mass could have been a bunch of rice fields or marshland.
Eventually I had to move as sunset (and hence cable closing time) was starting to approach. I took a quick detour on the way back to see the gorge from the top. It is a fair old way up there, so my aching legs were not trying to pull a fast one after all. Up onto the outcrop of rock that contains the upper cable station and into the throng of return ticket holders. At this point I felt a bit superior, an adventurer amongst daytrippers, and I felt smugly pleased I'd come up on foot - even if both of them were sore as hell. I grabbed a few photos, then caught one of the last rides down. The cable car floor rotates as it descends so everyone gets a view of all sides, but by this point I'd seen Table Mountain from enough angles to not be impressed.
At the bottom I phoned for a Rikki, the sun had just gone down and the temperature was dropping fast. When it turned up it was hijacked by a bunch of fellow transport-less travellers and by the time I got to it, it was full with a queue of punters outside and things were looking grim. I popped my head inside and asked if this was supposed to be my Rikki to Ashanti. The driver realised he'd been hoodwinked, cleared the passenger seat and let me in. On the way down the series of hairpins to city level, the driver asked everyone to lean left or right to help the thing turn. I'm pretty sure he was joking, and he was a funny guy, but I must admit I was happy when we were at the bottom.
Back at the Ashanti I let reception know I'd be out of here Friday morning, then came up to the bar to write this diary entry, have some food and a few beers. Up here, Stephen from England came over for a chat when he saw my baby computer as he also travels and keeps a diary (www.geocities.com/stevemonty). He's heading the same way as me, but started in Jo'burg, went through Durban, and will be off into Namibia next (which makes far more sense than my route). There was also a Dutch girl who was working on a VSO-style project near Pretoria for three months. She's been up to Namibia on a tour and it sounds great up there. I'm really beginning to think I won't have time to make it into Namibia, which is a shame as I'm hearing so many good things about it.
Tomorrow my aim is to see Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, and if possible get over to Boulders Bay near Simon's Town to get my first glimpse of wild penguins! Travel arrangements might be a bit tricky so will have to see how things go.
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