We have throroughly enjoyed our stay in sunny Cape Town. We originally planned to stay 10 days in the area, but had to move up our departure from Sunday, 3/21 to tomorrow, Wednesday, 3/17 so we could pick up the second leg of our overland trip in Victoria Falls. We've had 5 days to pack in as much as we could see in the area, and have decided that we need to come back some day to spend 2 weeks in the country.
We arrived Thurs afternoon a bit bleary-eyed from 36 hours of traveling--24 hours of it in the air. We left pouring rain in Seattle, we endured freezing temperatures and snow in Frankfurt for our 10 hour lay-over, and were welcomed with warm sunshine in the 80's in Cape Town. We had a nice 4 hour visit with my friend Moni while we were in Frankfurt, and cold walk around her neighborhood.
Cape Town is a beautiful city nestled along the Atlantic coast with picturesque Table Mountain presiding over the whole area right in the middle of the city. The suburbs snake along the coast and around the mountain. A drive along the coastline provides a tour of the stunning white sandy beaches tucked in little coves surrounded by rough, rocky outcroppings, tough wind-swept shrubs, and sand dunes. The other side of Table Mountain has a few of the many well-kept vineyards in the region. The upscale neighborhoods are all tree-lined with nice restaurants and shops and high walls and gates surround all the houses. Security is a very big business here. Muggings and break-ins are very common...more on that in a minute. Almost everyone we've met has been very friendly and helpful, though things do tend to take a little longer than we are used to.
There are a few "must do" sites in Cape Town that if you're only here for a few days, you can't miss. The first on that list is going to the top of Table Mountain for the incredible views of Cape Town and the surrounding suburbs. There is a cable car that runs to the top. But after sitting on a plane for 2 days we were looking for a little exercise, adventure and fresh air so we decided to climb up and take the cable car down. We asked the owner of the hostel where we are staying what route he suggested. We didn't realize when we asked him that that he is a hard-core hiker. He looked at us for a few seconds than asked if we've done much hiking. We said yes, sort of. He pulled out his topo map of the mountain and showed us the route most people go up, then suggested a longer, more circuitious route, saying it only takes about 3 hours. He gave a few tips to make sure we followed the correct trail and lent us his map for our hike. We set out along Pipe Track at 8:50am fully slathered with 30 SPF sunblock, two water bottles, a few snacks, another layer of clothes and our camera. It was a cloudless morning, and thankfully the first half of the hike was in the shade of the mountain. The first 45 mins of walking was an easy trail traversing along the west side of the mountain (that's the right side of the mountain in the picture with Snow on Robben Island with Table Mountain in the background) with minimal elevation gain. Happy to be stretching our legs we trekked along taking in the beautiful view of Camps Bay, an upscale suburb of Cape Town. Then we took a left onto Diagonal Path with led us more directly up the mountain. The climb was fairly steep and rocky, but not too challenging yet. It wasn't long, however, before we hit the really steep part that had us scrambling up rocks through a narrow, winding gorge. By now we were really happy we were mostly still in the shade of the mountain. Fortunately, we were never climbing an exposed rock face, so I didn't really have to confront my fear of heights. For about an hour we climbed hand over hand, trying to avoid dragging our legs through the numerous thorny bushes poking out among the rocks. With every step up I was very thankful that we were not going down the same way. I kept thinking, this is Table Mountain so surely, as soon as we get to the top it will be flat rock and the last part the hike will be a breeze. It turns out that the trail we were on actually took us up the East Table, which is anything but flat on top. It was surprisingly marshy (due to the "tablecloth" cloud that often shrouds the top of the mountain) with several gullys to cross and some more climbing to get to the top of Table Mountain. Our "3 hour" hike was actually closer to 4, but well worth the grit and sweat. We were rather proud of ourselves when we finally arrived at the cable car station. The view was spectacular!
The city is very accessible and it's easy to feel comfortable and let your guard down. We quickly learned that we needed to be very careful about where we were on the streets after 5 pm and definitely shouldn't be out after dark. We weren't in the city for more than 3 hours when a kid about 10-12 years old tried to mug me. Fortunately, although he was wielding a knife and said "your money or your life" he wasn't actually very aggressive about it. He was never close enough to me to do anything and I very quickly got out of range from him. Snow didn't see the knife, nor did he hear what the kid said and he simply thought I was over-reacting a bit to begging kids, until I let him know that he had a knife. Needless to say, I was a bit shaken up by this encounter. But, now that it was several days ago, I am glad that it happened because after that we took all the warnings about safety VERY seriously. There were a couple times we felt a little bit vunerable, but certainly took the necessary precautions to avoid further problems. Next time we won't be lucky enough to have a "hoodlum-in-training" as our attacker. We left all our money, airline tickets, and passports in the safe at our hostel and only had on us what we needed that day. Carrying our fancy camera instantly made us targets so we tried to be subtle about it and carried it in our day pack and only took it out to take pictures. I always carried my credit cards, a little bit of cash and my driver's license in a hidden pocket in my shorts and just carried rand (South African money) in my wallet. We also became good at strategic street crossing when we were approaching "shady characters". Fortunately, we haven't had anymore problems.
Our brief visit in Cape Town has been wonderful. We wish we had a few more days here, but are very excited to set out on our next big adventure. Our next update may not be for another 3 weeks, when we get to Victoria Falls, between Zambia and Zimbabwe. We will pass through Namibia and Botswana to get there.