At the end of Africa

Trip Start May 25, 2005
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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Dream Two : Check

It somehow seemed appropriate to be standing at the Cape of Good Hope, one month after I arrived in South Africa.

I cried. I was alone and at the end of the earth. Next stop Antarctica. What joy.

It turned out to be a most perfect day. I got up very early, and after persuading the rental car to start, I set off south, through the rain, to Cape Point National Park. The day was so bleak that the first car I saw was at the gate to the park, and they looked like they were having second thoughts.

The park spreads across the entire bottom section of the cape, and there is little option but to follow the roads to the end and back. There's simply no other way.

I stopped at the visitor's centre to pick up a couple of maps, walking past the giant whale bones that had washed up on shore and avoiding the sleeping baboons. I didn't want to encounter a monkey with a sore head and a hungry stomach just yet.

As I drove first to Cape Point I was mystified by the landscape. It was so brutal and looked at first glance to be so bare, until I realised that the greenery is a carpet of intricate fynbos, the endemic plants found nowhere lese on earth. They cling to every surface, bulbous and fatly succulent, with pretty delicate flowers that seem so vulnerable for the season. It reminded me of my days spent walking in the peat bogs of Derbyshire, trying to navigate Kinderscout with nil visibility. But unlike the UK, without wheels, this terrain is strictly out of bounds. It is high and exposed and likely to kill if you don't take care. No one is allowed to sleep in the park overnight, although I'm sure some must have been lost along the way.

By the time I reached Cape Point I was still alone. I had even beaten the gift shop, so I climbed to the top, ecstatic that this would be all mine for a short time at least. The wind gusted and I had to duck behind the lighthouse at the top to catch my breath before walking to the lookout. My senses were on fire, what a magical place, pure earth, pure beauty. You can't buy that happiness, a sense of freedom, a sense that anything is possible, a sense of fragility in world working to its own rhythm.

The Signpost at the top said it was thousands of miles to home, to Cairo, to NYC, to the South Pole, but it may just as well read Mars, so extraordinary was my feeling. Seriously, like nothing on earth. For fourty-five minutes this world was my own.

I retreated to the car for some breakfast before driving along to the Cape of Good Hope. There is a short walk of a few km between the two, but on such a gusty day, and without anyone around, I felt it was best to get there safely.

The Cape of Good Hope is a well known place, but again, my early Sunday jaunt had beaten the masses. I drove down the road that led along the shoreline and then the ostrich's appeared. Why? What? How? Blimey!

It seems odd to see ostrich on the Cape, and with good reason. They probably weren't there originally, but have found it to their liking since being introduced by the park. Their necks are so long their heads sway in the considerable breeze, and the ball of feathers between neck and leg was so windblown is looked twice the size. But, they were just ambling along, pecking at the bright green coastal grass, not at all bothered by the destructive nature of the weather.

I got out of the car and walked down to the shore. Large pieces of seaweed were floating along and the rock pools housed brightly coloured invertebrates of every variety. The waves bashed against the jagged rocks and through the spray, cormorants picked their way to the highest peak, splaying their wings to dry off before the next feeding round.

I felt such a part of the environment, one tiny part of it, my presence causing no alarm or alteration in the pattern of life. And as I climbed to the top of the prominary and gazed along the coast I could hear the small birds nesting among the lush vegetation. It was my turn to be quite and just absorb what I could, squeeze in the memories for eternity.

By this time it was late morning and the coaches of tourists were beginning to arrive. They piled off the buses for a quick picture by the sign before screaming on to the gift shop. Not my ideal way to travel, so off I went, back out to the coastal road that would lead me to Cape Town.

The drive is lovely, with so many small communities dotted along the way. I decided to stop for lunch at a community store, but found myself pulling in to sample the wares of lots of farm shops along the way. There is always an excuse for another cup of hot chocolate on a cold, rainy day. I passed camels (yes, camels) and baboons and then took the newly re-opened Chapman's Peak road.

It is quite a drive, very narrow and prone to sudden rock falls. The last time a rock slide happened, the road was closed for a couple of years, but now they have strengthened the walls and charge a small toll towards the costs. (R20) It is practically one way traffic, with the occasional place to pull in, with just enough room for one car at a time. On the golden beaches below, people were paragliding and sand gliding, kite flying and enjoying the day to the max.

As I rounded Table Mountain I stopped for a quick coffee and some food before heading out to the Univeristy. But, in the dark, the directions to look out for a small windmill before taking the next exit off the highway, were pretty poor. So after a couple of hours of navigation I finally made it to UCT halls.

What a fantastic day; probably one of the best I will have in my life.
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