After 8515 nautical miles, we arrive in Cape Town surrounded by dense fog. Every 2 minutes, our Captain sounds a long double blast of the horn to warn others of our presence. This spectacular harbor, so looked forward to, is closed. At noon, the boom of the Noon Gun cuts through the fog. We do not. We sit a half-mile outside port to wait for 3 hours.
Dramatically, quickly, the fog lifts to reveal Table Mountain and at its base the beautiful city of Cape Town. Table Mountain is covered with a drapery of clouds flowing like a waterfall down its side. Referred to as its tablecloth, the effect is stunning.
The Republic of South Africa sits at the convergence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It is 471,433 sq mi (20% smaller than Alaska) with a population of 50 million: 79% Black African, 9% white and 9% colored. The term “coloured” is used for people of mixed race descended from slaves brought in from Asia, Indonesia, East and Central Africa. There are 11 official languages but Afrikaans and English predominate.
South Africa gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1961 but it was not until 1994 that Apartheid ended. A third of the population is unemployed and another 25% live on less than $1.25 a day. South Africa is the most populous country in the world to have legalized same-sex marriage throughout its entire territory. Cape Town is one of the most multicultural cities in the world with an estimated population of 3.5 million.
Cape Town is the provincial capital of the Western Cape, as well as the legislative capital of South Africa. The city is famous for its harbor as well as its natural setting in the Cape Floral Kingdom, including landmark Table Mountain. National Geographic calls it one of the most iconic cities on the planet and “Places of a Lifetime”. So true.
From Victoria and Alfred Harbour, we taxi to Green Market. During our 2006 visit, we stayed at Tudor Hotel overlooking this busy multiethnic market. We return for another look at the plethora of masks, carvings, clothes, art and handicrafts from all over Africa. It is not a hard sell here but one does need to bargain.
A fierce onshore wind, common this time of year, suddenly gusts through the market so we return to the harbor. After hosting the 2010 World Cup, there are more stores and restaurants to browse – even a Ferris wheel. The 30-35 mph wind wails and gusts. Our poor Captain – first fog now wind.
Our final day in Cape Town is with Selwyn, a private guide. After our final debarking from Nautica, our day is spent touring Cape Town and hearing stories about its past and present. We enjoy beautiful views of the city, port and roiling sea from Lion’s Head. When Darwin and H.M.S. Beagle stopped here, it could not have been this windy. In howling winds it is with difficulty that we walk about these exposed heights. The top of Table Mountain continues to be draped in flowing cloud-cover throughout the day and there is no travel to its top. In fact, Selwyn doubts the harbor will be open tomorrow for the Nautica’s departure.
We participate in the firing of the Noon Gun, a tradition dating back to the 1800s. The cannon is fired electronically but still makes a big bang. The Nautica looks quite nice in the harbor far below us but the white caps make me glad I am not going out to sea again!
Selwyn relates stories of Cape Town and its history. He is very knowledgeable, having been born here, so we hear information not found in the typical guidebook. Riebeeck’s statue was cast after the likeness of another man, a statue nearby is also wrong and cast after a mistress not a wife, the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe lived here, and US security did ask a hotel to cut down old-growth trees for President Clinton’s visit. We drive colorful Bo-Kaap, city center and District Six. It is good to learn more about these regions from a local.
For lunch we eat outside at a small restaurant on our way to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. It is not as windy here but it is cloudy and colder on this side of the Table Mountain. The gardens, bequeathed to the nation by Cecil Rhodes in 1902, have grown to encompass over a thousand acres. A trolley takes us through Kirstenbosch, a part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. With few exceptions, all plants are indigenous. Spring flowers are blooming including the Proteus, of which there are 250 species of Proteus alone. The gardens are well maintained and a wonderful collection of outdoor sculptures rests amid the flora. Families picnic and wedding parties celebrate everywhere.
But, all things come to an end and so it is for us. Selwyn speeds for the airport and our passage out of Africa. It has been quite a trip this past month and Istanbul seems so long and so far away. And it’s 12,000 frequent flyer miles to go before I sleep.