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Cape Town

by PaulaBlake 

Posted: 27 March 2005
Word Count: 1408

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Cape Town

Well, we nearly didn't arrive in Cape Town, British Airways decided to cancel our flight, they couldn't find a plane (?) but we some of the lucky few to be transferred onto a South African Airways flight the same night which meant we only arrived two hours later than originally scheduled. It was weird to be experiencing no jetlag whatsoever after a 12-hour flight, as the time difference between Cape Town and the UK is just 1 hour.

Our animated driver from the Airport advised us to take a trip up Table Mountain the next day, as the weather would be clear and calm. He said that we should go up the mountain on the first clear day available, as it wasn't unusual to get 9 or 10 cloudy or windy days in a row, on those days they close the cableway, and you can’t access the mountain at all. (Locals apparently have an uncanny knack of being able to forecast the weather) So on the day after we arrived we bought ourselves a one-way ticket up the mountain. (One-Way - 44 Rand - about £4, and 80 Rand return) We thought we would walk down the mountain; it was such a lovely day. The cableway is a 6-minute ride to the top of the mountain and the floor inside the car rotates so everyone gets a turn of the good view. As we reached the top, my boyfriend Matthew aborted the video taping as he was shaking with fear, and even I was alarmed at the apparent speed of the approaching rock face!

The views from the top were breathtaking, but beware, you need to arm yourself with a hat, sunscreen and water before you even contemplate going up the mountain, they say the South African sun is 6 times stronger than it is in Europe, and you will burn easily, even if you don’t burn easily!
After exploring for a couple of hours and having lunch at the top, we made our way to Platteklip Gorge (we were advised as to exactly where to go down the mountain by the very helpful girl in the curio shop, there are apparently 300 routes down and it is easy to get lost!) we started out on the path of carefully strewn rocks, which formed a pathway down the mountain. We were told it would take us around 2 hours, it took us 4, partly because we stopped several times to video/take pictures and to stand under the natural mountain spring waterfalls and cool down! Another reason why it took us so long was that we went slightly the wrong way, and I have to say to Matthew " I told you so". After going off the way I thought was the right way, he objected and we took another path that Matthew thought was right, It was hair raising and walking on a dirt ledge with a sheer drop to my right down the side of the mountain, having seen no-one for the past half an hour. There was a signpost saying Lower Cable Station and another sign saying Platteklip Gorge - the Lower Cable Station Way takes you along the front of the mountain, whereas Platteklip Gorge takes you down to the road. Anyway, the view along the front of the mountain was out of this world; however my toes were numb from where I had been subconsciously trying to gain more grip on the small and unsteady pathway, and our knees protested the whole way down! After an eternity we found another sign to the lower cable station. I was more than pleased after convincing myself we had been on a wild goose chase round the mountain! We were sunburnt (with factor 15 on), aching and tired, but elated by what we had both seen and done, happy in the knowledge that we had some memories to share and seen things that a lot of people don’t even dream about!

There are lots of organised tours available when you arrive in Cape Town. Hotels arrange them, or you can go to the tourism office in the Victoria and Albert Waterfront who are extremely helpful. They have lots of information on tours/companies etc, but to be honest, everyone in Cape Town is so helpful, we often asked locals for recommendations. The Robben Island trip was where we were shown around by a former political prisoner. He was fascinating, and it was heartbreaking to see that there were certain things he still couldn’t talk about, but still he was happy to answer questions and had not resentment towards those who held him prisoner so horrifyingly for so long. The trip runs regularly from the Waterfront to Robben Island where you are taken around the island in a bus (be aware that these busses are practically antiques and you are not allowed to get off the bus until you arrive back at the prison building where you start, so any pictures you want to take - like the view of Table Mountain - you should get while the bus is stopped here for the guide to speak. The best shot is out of the window, oh and sit on the left side of the bus; you get the best shots from here! Then you get taken to the maximum-security prison where Nelson Mandela was held in cell number 5 for 18 years. This tour is a true eye-opener and I recommend it.

We visited the Two Oceans Aquarium which filled a whole day, we watched sharks being fed and Matthew actually arranged to scuba dive in the tank with them for the equivalent of £40, while it was only 60 rand (£5.50) to get in.

On Monday we went to Gansbaai to dive with Sharks, that’s a whole story all on its own! A truly unforgettable day out! I will never forget sitting in the 14 degree Atlantic Ocean in a cage, dangling like a tea bag, waiting for a Great White to come and have a look at us ogling back, waiting for the Dive Master to shout:
"Divers in the cage - down, down, down", and then submerging myself under the icy water to watch a 4 meter great white swim 2 ft from my face!!
The Cape Peninsular tour had lots packed in, we saw Hout Bay, Seal Island, Cape Point, (where again we took the more adventurous route and walked as far as we could go without actually stepping off the end of mainland South Africa!)

Our shark dive and aquarium dives were both arranged over the Internet before we went, the Cape Peninsular was with our tour operator, and the others we arranged ourselves once we got there. There are plenty of helpful people and tour opportunities. We stayed at the Protea Hotel in Sea Point, five minutes by bus from the Victoria and Albert Waterfront – The hub of Cape Town’s nightlife. It was clean, comfortable and friendly and not very busy, as with most places we found, but being September it was the beginning of the summer season; it felt like we had the place to ourselves! The sun was warm however in the shade or with a breeze, it was very cold.

Overall we were a bit apprehensive at first as I actually won this trip, and we knew nothing about Cape Town. The more we read about it, the more we liked the idea, but were slightly cautious as we were hearing terrible stories about crime etc. When British Airways first cancelled our flight at the beginning of the holiday, a part of me would not have been unhappy if we’d had to cancel the entire holiday and been able to go somewhere like Florida instead, but, I was mistaken. Cape Town is an awe-inspiring city. It has its’ bad areas like most cities, but if you have an ounce of common sense you will be more than fine. We saw no evidence of any kind of crime while we were there, and any that is there is controlled well. The scenery is amazing, Camps Bay and Clifton beaches are paradise, the food will be the best you have ever had, the people are accommodating and friendly and the history of apartheid will make you cry. South Africans are a nation of strong, happy and proud people, to whom we will be returning.

1300 words
©Paula Blake 2005

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