I’ve lost count of how many South Africans had warned me about visiting Cape Town in the middle of winter. In fact, their collective response was so consistent that I could have scripted it. Now, where’s the fun in that? The conversation usually went like so:
Me: “…so yeah, I’m planning on traveling down the Garden Route after my month’s volunteer work with African Impact. Going to end in Cape Town – can’t wait!” (I’d say with obvious enthusiasm).
Typical SA: “Oooh that’s great, you’ll love it. So jealous! Cape Town is a beautiful city. When are you going?” (All nods and smiles at this stage).
Me: “Umm…” (I’d drift off as I mentally sorted through my itinerary). “July, mid July.”
Typical SA: “Hmmm…really?” (They’d say with a hint of alarm as they sucked the air in between their teeth and let out a long, slow whistle with a shake of their head. It was all very theatrical). “I don’t know…I’d avoid Cape Town. It’s horrific at that time of the year – constant rain. Freeeeezing cold.” (There’d usually be a slight pause as they weighed up the thought of me going and hating it vs. me not seeing their fair city at all. I could usually see the resolve flickering across their face). “You know what, I’d give it a miss.”
And so the conversation ends. Well South Africans, Capetonians and all in sundry, I am going to prove you wrong. I LOVED IT! I would have shouted it out from the top of Table Mountain, but it was rainy, foggy, freezing cold and I was fearing for my life.
Truth be told, this was the only time during our stay that the weather turned its ugly head in our direction. It just so happened that we were half way up Table Mountain’s Platteklip Gorge trail when it did! Stretching up the front of Table Mountain’s spectacular and impressive cliff face, the Platteklip trail is one of the mountain’s most popular direct ascents. Taking approximately 1-3 hours from start to finish, it is a steep, rocky trail that snakes through boulders the size of small cars, exotic wild flowers, streams and waterfalls. Wandering up through the gorge, it’s easy to forget you’re literally just a stone’s throw away from a large, bustling city center. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to admire the view from the top due to Table Mountain’s famous ‘table cloth’ – orographic clouds that regularly form around the mountain’s plateau. This is one of the reasons why many recommend guided tours of the mountain, as the weather can turn suddenly at any time, making navigation tricky during white-outs. For me, it only gave me an excuse to return to this beautiful city.
Not that I needed an excuse. Cape Town is none other than spectacular. It’s like the annoyingly good-looking kid at school – it doesn’t matter which angle you’re viewing it from, it’s gorgeous. Not only that, beauty with substance! With Table Mountain at the city’s heart, Cape Town offers accessible hiking, powdery white beaches, sleepy fishing villages, historic vineyards, cosmopolitan shopping districts and national parks and wildlife at its doorstep. Yet, for all the beauty and visual harmony, it’s clear to see the city still bares the scars of historical cultural divide and apartheid. One moment you’re gazing in awe at the wealth and splendor of Camps Bay, in all its beachside glitz and glamour, and the next you’re passing the poverty of the surrounding townships. It really is a melting pot of social and cultural ethnic diversity. The majority of Capetonians are South Africans with English heritage, Afrikaans, Cape Coloureds and Black Africans – all living in a delicate (though not always harmonious) balance. As an outsider looking in, I could feel there was an undercurrent of prejudice and racial divide still rippling under the surface, however hopeful and optimistic the locals seemed to appear. I certainly felt the need to keep my wits about me when traveling through certain areas of the city and talking to people about South Africa’s checkered history.
That aside, I contemplated moving to Cape Town on more than one occasion during the few days I was there. It passed my mind while I was enjoying hot chips and calamari on the shore of Hout Bay. I mulled over it while sipping wine in Groot Constantia, South Africa’s oldest and most historical wine estate. I thought about it while wandering through the manicured lawns of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. And toyed with the idea as the sun set over Camps Bay.
Ahhh…If only it wasn’t so damn cold and wet during winter! (*wink*)