Monday, 16 October 2006

Cape Town Photos Part 3

a view of Cape Town from the car park at the lower cable car station

a view of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain

Wherever I went in Cape Town, even if Table Mountain was not immediately in sight, all I had to do was incline my head in a different direction or wait until the minibus or taxi I was in turned a corner, and there it was, filling the space where the sky should be, like some huge movie matte. With the mountain repeatedly ambushing me in this way, I was gripped by a determination to take the cable car up to the top.

I organised the Table Mountain trip after work one day during the second week, and managed to persuade all the non-South Africans to come along. As work didn't knock off until 5:00 it was a bit touch and go whether we'd manage to get up and down in time before the last car down.

one of the pathways on the top of the mountain

After chilly temperatures and high winds the day before, which had forced the closure of the cable car, the weather was absolutely perfect. There was not a breath of wind and the evening sun was beautifully warm.

As one of those people who only feels at ease when their feet are securely planted on terra firma, I wasn't looking forward to the cable car trip very much. The excitingly high-tech revolving floor of the car wasn't a favourite feature, but providing I stayed away from the windows, and remembered not to look down, or at the cables, which for some reason gave me that horrible twirling-falling vertigo sensation, I wasn't too bad. The same couldn't be said of another member of our party. She stood on the central, non-rotating floor panel, holding on tight to a strut, with her eyes closed. When we stopped at the top she looked close to tears. When we got off I asked her if she was OK. Apparently, someone had told her the journey lasted 12 minutes, so when we stopped after about four, she'd thought we were stuck and had begun to panic.

The top of the mountain was breathtaking - it wasn't just the awesome views that made it special. It had an indescribable atmosphere all its own, like many of the high, wild places I've been to - the Yorkshire Moors, Rannoch Moor in Scotland; the Pyrenees. Even though there were probably a couple of hundred people up there, it felt deserted, and was almost impossibly quiet and peaceful. I'd expected the top of the mountain to be barren, but it was covered in gorse, aloe and a variety of other bushes I didn't recognise. There was plenty of wildlife up there too. We saw a lizard on a rock, and there were signs pointing to the best places to see some springbok-like animals the name of which I can't remember. There were silhouettes of them on the signs.

From the top of the mountain you get a pretty good view of Robben Island. I'd hoped to be able to take the boat over, as one of our friends from Wanganui had been and thoroughly recommended it, but the trip takes half a day, and I just didn't get the time. If you don't know, Robben Island is the penal colony where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Never mind, I'll have to go when I return, dragging Iain along.

I really must go now. It's gone my bedtime and I shall turn into a pumpkin if I'm not careful.
I'll post some more pics in the next couple of days.


There's an interesting history of the Table Mountain cableway here.
The Robben Island Museum's website is worth a visit.

the view from the top, showing Robben Island

Saturday, 14 October 2006

Cape Town Photos Part 2

one of the gorgeous West Cape beaches

the lighthouse at the Cape of Good Hope

Rather rashly, in my last post I promised an account of my African Adventure. So here goes...

I wasn't looking forward to travelling halfway round the world on my own, so I was relieved when I found out one of the other writers attending the workshop also lives in New Zealand, and we'd been booked on the same flights. We'd never met before, but Charlotte is the sort of person who immediately puts you at ease. She's got a wonderfully off-the-wall sense of humour, and we spent most of the journey laughing.

I'm glad Charlotte's so well-adjusted, because she certainly needed to be to cope with my attack of hysteria on the flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. By that point we'd been travelling for almost thirty hours, and I blame my temporary loss of control on the combined effects of physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, aviophobia* and excessive consumption of ginger.**

Earlier in the journey, Charlotte, who is an absolute treasure trove of useless information, and whom I've seriously considered kidnapping for our pub quiz team, informed me that South Africa has the most official languages of any country in the world - eleven, to be exact. Being a bit of a language nerd, I'd gone off into a reverie about the practical implications this would have. I calculated, for example, that South African road signs would have to be at least thirty feet tall.

When the South African Airways stewardess handed me my corrugated cardboard tray with my corrugated carboard-flavoured meal, and I broke open the plastic bag containing the cutlery, something about the design of the cutlery bag caught my eye. Across the length of the bag was a banner, proclaiming 'CUTLERY' in the centre, with several divisions on either side, each containing unfamiliar series of letters.

'Look,' I said, waving the empty bag excitedly in front of Charlotte, 'All eleven official languages. Msu - do you reckon that's Zulu or Xhosa?' I spotted the little sugar packet, and examined that too. 'Weird,' I said. 'The word for sugar is the same as the word for cutlery in some of these languages - hang on a minute - it's the same in all of them!' My jet-lagged mind began working in overdrive, trying to come up with a possible explanation for this.
'You eejit,' said Charlotte, 'Those letters on either side aren't translations of the word 'cutlery' - they're airport codes - look, here's CPT - that's the code for Cape Town.'
'I thought it was a bit odd that that all the words for cutlery had three letters,' I said.

That's when I lost it. Once I started laughing I couldn't stop. I was laughing so hard I was in pain, and tears were streaming down my face. It was fully ten minutes before I recovered my composure. I could sense the guy sitting next to me becoming more and more uncomfortable, and I smiled at him in an effort to reassure him, but this only made the matter worse - I could almost hear him thinking, 'Why do I always get the seat next to the nutter?'

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Our one and only day off was on the Sunday, and all the non-South Africans at the workshop (us two from New Zealand, three people from the UK and one from Nigeria) decided to make the most of it and go on a day trip. Jenny, the senior UK publisher, organised a minibus trip down the coast to the Cape. Unfortunately, I had to miss the trip, because I was suffering from a rather severe and extended bout of sciatica, but Charlotte kindly donated her photos. All the photos in this post were taken by her.

Wildlife Corner

a jellyfish

a family of baboons

penguins at a penguin sanctuary

Well, that's about it for today. Be sure not to miss the next thrilling chapter of my African Adventure, an account of our hair-raising ascent of Table Mountain.


* fear of flying - I looked it up. :-)
** I'd been popping one ginger anti-travel sickness pill per hour since the journey started.

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Cape Town Photos Part 1

I finally arrived back home on Sunday night after a stress-filled homeward journey lasting 46 hours. I'm still suffereing pretty bad jet lag at the moment, but I'll write an account of the trip at the weekend, when I'm fully recovered.

Anyway, here's the first lot of photos.

Ice floes at 37,000 feet - view of the Southern Ocean, near the coast of Antarctica

Roseberry Lodge - our accommodation in Cape Town

Table Mountain from one of the suburbs

Table Mountain from the harbour

a view of the harbour from one of the restaurants we ate in