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Saturday, 01 May 2021

Cape & Town, South Africa

Written by Richard Taylor
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In England, as the saying goes, one can experience four seasons in a day. On the South Africa cape, theyve economized somewhat.

Three seasons,the residents will tell you, and since the standard African calendar is divided into wet or dry, it bolsters the argument that Cape Town is a place apart somehow. Africa, but not really. Different vibe from the continent. Nevertheless, I wondered how that elusive third season manifested itself, even just for the day.

Cape Town, according to the folks who compile such lists, is routinely slotted as one of the globes loveliest cities. Its certainly that, and judging from my airport cabbies rapid litany: Dutch rule…British rule…Boer Wars…Nelson Mandela spoke here…Christian Barnard operated there…” has seen its share of history. 

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The inner city is a handsome center of glass and steel with an upward sweep toward Table Mountain and a downward spread to the Waterfront, the latter a bright festive carnival, dominated by a giant Ferris wheel. Selfies and family pix are snapped by the large yellow rectangle framing the city.

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Vibrant paper mache rhinos line the harbor, recalling those cow sculptures Id seen back in ’06 in Buenos Aires, the ones celebrating Argentinas beef industry. What were the rhinos promoting? Did they eat rhinoceros here?

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A dog adoption office was located near the Ferris wheel, the canine hopefuls roped off in a small square, panting and licking the faces of prospective owners. Closer to the harbor, long queues boarded the ferry to Robben Island, the atoll now maintained as a museum, where Nelson Mandela spent his imprisonment. A gold statue of a man, looking like a Vietnamese farmer for some reason, was gazing across the sailboats. A few minutes later, he was cutting a little two-step and I gave him a couple of rand for fooling me so completely. We bumped fists.

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Afterwards, I sucked on a good lime milkshake, watched the seals swimming by the ships, bought a few postcards and returned to the city proper, following the steep grade to the clean pastel houses of the Bo-Kaap district. Here there were art galleries and cafes, very dignified, very chic and after the bustle of the harbor, a little too quiet.

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At the corner of Church and Long, a film director was instructing a tall blonde to skip across the street to her sports car. If there was an ensuing chase scene, I missed it. Certainly Cape Town, with the Frisco-like sweep of its streets, would make a stunt driver’s mouth water.

In the evening, I channel-flipped through the local fare: soccer, cricket, American Idol, indigenous soap operas, and was struck by the latter’s mix of tongues, the characters switching from Afrikaans to Zulu and then a final blurt in English, Get out! I never want to see you again!


 

The next morning, I signed on for the Cape Point half-day tour and shook hands with Danny, our driver and guide. The seascape route featured stunning views, several determined cyclists and a series of nets, bridges and overhangs, quite cannily designed.

Its for the rock falls,said Danny. The government brought in Swiss engineers to build it. 

We stopped to photograph The Rhinoceros, a small island with a rocky upward crag for a horn. Further down the coast were seventeen jagged peaks known as the Twelve Apostles(the other five peaks were presumably apostates) backstopping a seaside village. This was followed by a lovely stretch of sand called Blue Beach.

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Its been judged officially clean,Danny told us.

We took a breather at False Bay, named for the frequent mists that disguise the sea completely. Then the road curved inland, slicing through a soft roll of bush and heather and ostrich farms, the latter providing eggs, meat and the second most expensive leather in the country.

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At the Cape Point Lighthouse, the mists were still gathering, so that only the mountain peaks were visible. The path to the lighthouse was a steep grade braced by rocks and flowers and warning signs about baboons and why we shouldnt feed them. We found one at the summit, gorging on his ill-gotten swag of sandwiches and fruit. As we aimed our cameras, he presented himself in a rude way. Baboons are always exhibitionists.

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By noon we finally hit bottom. The Cape of Good Hope, Africas southwestern extreme, was rocky and foggy and mysterious, for it was impossible to tell beyond the mists if the cape’s famously roiling seas were stormy or calm.

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Then it was back the other way. Danny drove through Simons Town, where we stopped to inspect the penguin rookery. Unlike their South America cousins in Tierra del Fuego who move with the seasons, the African penguin is a permanent resident. Theyre a smaller species, with less of the characteristic waddle, seemingly content to dig holes in the sand and listen to the surf.

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We switched guides (the full day tourists carried on with Danny) and the new driver was kind enough to drop me by the Table Mountain entrance gate. The cable car ascended rapidly and the views were splendid: Robben Island, Lions Head Peak and the 2010 World Cup stadium, where they blew those funny horns. The summit itself is a lovely stroll, the placards listing a wealth of flora comprising what is surely one of the largest rock gardens on earth.

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Cape Towns double decker tour bus can be boarded at several points and I found one waiting near the cable car exit. I took a seat, plugged in the earphones and let the taped narration carry me off. The bus pulled away from Table Mountain and rumbled far beyond the city outskirts, then the driver reversed finally, sweeping back along a posh coast of beach palms and volleyball and parasailing and nude bodies toweling themselves off by the pool decks and white-splashed balconies. Matt Damon and Charlize Theron were among the beautiful people who frequented this ritzy stripbut the audio feed advised me not to bother them.

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The next day I walked Government Avenue and its adjacent botanical stretch called Companys Garden, formerly a vegetable garden for ships sailing to the Indies. The walking path is braced by vibrant florals and lush palms, features a statue of Cecil John Rhodes, and terminates by a museum surrounded by ponds and ducks and ibises. Near the museum was a kiosk where a young woman was serving meat, fries and peppers on a bun. This was called a mini-gatsby.

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The recipe is a family secret,” she told me. It was passed down to me by my mother.

In the late afternoon I returned to the sea for a last visit. The fogs had once more wafted in, leaving the carefree, sun-splashed movie star coast grey and chilly and deserted. Returning to town via the harbor front, the sun emerged briefly, then vanished again. I felt raindrops. Above me was a tiny dark cloud.

Yes, rain! Thats it man! Its Cape Town!said a young man walking with his buddy. He fist bumped me, like that gold fellow.

Sun and rain. Well that accounted for two. The fog perhaps? Was Season Number Three the foggy season? That would be unusual.

But as the man said, Its Cape Town.

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©Richard Taylor

 

Last modified on Saturday, 01 May 2021