Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA
8 Apr 2007
|8th April 2007
We spent most of yesterday [Saturday] sailing around the Cape of Good Hope. The experience was awesome. Waves were 30 ft. [trough to crest] with white caps as far as the eye could see. As if to choreograph the whole event Storm Petrols flew overhead during the whole day and into the night. Because we were sailing east to west and sailing in front of the storm the ship reached speeds of 31 knots [as seen on our cabin TV screen]. The ship sails like a huge power boat weighing 70000 tons and can outpace any cruise liner afloat [still]!
Until 1994, Cape Province, divided into three parts, was South Africa's largest "state". Northern Cape Province is still largest, but much of it is desert. The nation has seen revolutionary change, but the transition has been remarkably peaceful. Among the notorious remnants of history, Robben Island, the infamous prison island just offshore, is a fascinating, albeit chilling place to visit. Cape Town's sometimes dark recent history is etched in the cell walls.
Portuguese sailors ignored the cape, but Dutch merchants saw potential for ship sailing around the Cape of Good Hope. Until the 19th century, the journey between Europe and Asia was dangerous and difficult. Jan van Riebeeck, representing the Dutch East India Company [VOC] led an expedition to Table Bay in 1652. Cape Town quickly became a busy port, but the maritime industry slowed with the opening of the Suez Canal. Inexpensive flight travel slowed harbour traffic even more, but in recent years, shipping has seen a resurgence and the old port area has been redeveloped with restaurants and smart shops. The city's handsome Victorian character and history is carefully preserved in the stones of its buildings and statues.
We docked at the Bunkering Station in Cape Town at midnight and stayed on the refuelling point until 7am this morning at which point we then sailed a few hundred yards to the passenger terminal. The morning was blessed with bright sunlight and the view across the bay from our cabin window of Table Mountain was stunning.
It was Easter Sunday and Lesley and I caught the shuttle bus to Victoria wharf and spent the morning milling with the cosmopolitan crowds. We purchased a few African memorabilia and had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the fishing harbour. In the distance I could see the hotel where I used to stay when I was working in Cape Town. It was called the Victoria and Alfred and fond memories of the old BOC days flooded back. We returned to the ship carrying our trophies [2 large giraffes] which seemed to amuse the ships crew and local black guys no end.
Our afternoon trip on Table Mountain was delightful. The weather was perfect and the new rotating cable cars provided 360 degrees panoramic views over the city and across both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. We returned to the ship at around 5pm quickly changed and returned to the Wharf with Sandy and Tom where we dined in the famous seafood restaurant Baia. The food and wine were superb and included the finest mussels I have ever tasted, prawn, sole, king- Clip, all cooked in various sauces. We ignored the time honoured advice of not mixing the grape and the grain and by midnight we were all remarkably merry. The mixture of extra dry vermouth and the most superb Russian vodka and South African wine necessitated a taxi ride back to the ship where we arrived at about 1am. What a wonderful day!
Tomorrow we explore Cape Town and return to the wharf in search of old memories.
9th April 2007
An early breakfast allowed Lesley and me to be on shore at 8.30am. Our first stop was the Castle of Good Hope which was built between 1666 and 1679 and is not only still a military post but is South Africa's oldest European structure. Shortly after, our religious inquisitiveness got the better of us and we visited Groote Kerk [big church], the local headquarters of the Dutch Reform Church, the Great Synagogue on Government Avenue and the adjacent Old Synagogue which is now a Jewish museum. We passed by the Tana-Baru cemetery, where most pioneers and political exiles are buried. We concluded our exploration by visiting Cape Town's central Botanical Garden which is a remnant of the vegetable garden Von Riebeeck laid out to provision ships. We deferred our trip to Robben Island in favour of returning to Victoria Wharf for lunch. Our Italian restaurant which was superbly placed on the waters edge was called Hilderbrand. Lunch included a delightful plate of escargot in garlic butter followed by King Clip meuniere. The chilled Sauvignon Blanc was an appropriate wine for a very satisfying meal and was served by our young waitress Chermoney which means 'Little Star'. Before returning to the ship we occupied a bench overlooking the harbour for about a couple of hours. It was here we fed the local seagulls called Percy and George and eavesdropped on three school girls' conversation. They were local black girls dressed in smart uniforms and were sharing their lunch packs. They were talking [and laughing] in local Afrikaan tongue and it was absolutely delightful to see them enjoying themselves in the bright sunshine. We returned to the ship at about 4pm and negotiated a purchase tax refund with the local authority who had come on board for this purpose.
At about 5pm the fog had begun to descend across the bay. By 6pm we could not see the harbour entrance and the dockside was barely visible through our cabin window. The captain advised the whole ship we were fog bound and would not sail until further notice. At that very moment we could hear the faint sound of Scottish pipes. The sound grew stronger and through the mist came the splendid Cape Town Caledonian Pipe Band playing a melody of tunes from the 'Pipe Cathedral'.
There couldn't be a more plaintive melancholy sound than pipes in the mist and I wept for the human condition.
Each night Ronnie puts a single chocolate on our pillow and sometimes a card which tells us to put our clocks back one hour. The cards have been appearing more frequently which means of course we are getting closer to home. The sound of the pipes and the appearance of another card gently pulls at the heartstrings and makes us both realise we are ready for home.
The fog cleared as quickly as it arrived. We set sail for Walvis Bay and the Namib Desert early evening. 8th April 2007