South Africa is a unique nation in terms of its diversity with myriad peoples, cultures, weather, ecosystems, beliefs, and activities. The same can be said for Cape Town, a cosmopolitan gem, one of South Africa’s two capital cities.
Cape Town boasts an amazing array of activities geared toward tourist and local alike. To name a few: Boulders’ Beach to view Jackass Penguins (Yep, that’s what they’re called. Also, they bite!), a scenic drive to Hout Bay and Cape Point at the far reaches of the peninsula; watching seals feast at sunset while savoring your own tasty treat at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront; a trip to Robben Island (buy your tickets well in advance- tours sell out quickly!); or sipping your way through a tour of the vineyards of the Cape Winelands.
Our most memorable experience was hiking to the top of Table Mountain, the mammoth mass of rock towering over the city, sporting a mysteriously flat top that is often shrouded with reaching tendrils of white cloud crawling down its steep slopes.
This bizarre combination of theatrical weather phenomena makes the mountain come alive, its temperament ever-changing and unpredictable.
We originally planned to take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. It was a clear and sunny day. Those ever-present clouds veiling the top had even decided to slither back to their unknown origin. However, the winds at the top of the flat expanse proved too strong, causing the cable car to close and us to stand at the base, settling for a less grand photo of the bay below and cursing our ill luck.
Such is the fate of a tourist with a limited amount of time at hand.
But the call of the mountain was too great. We resolved that afternoon, along with three friends of ours, to attempt the to hike to the top.
We hired a cab to take us from our hotel to the base of the cable car. The cab driver informed us that it was still closed due to high winds and agreed to take us to the trailhead instead.
Before continuing the story, we should mention that we live in the high mountains of Colorado, hike often, and consider ourselves to be in good physical shape. We thought that an hour and a half hike to the top would be no problem for us.
Our taxi driver took us to the less strenuous of the two trails, vehemently assuring us that this was the path most people took. In retrospect, his insistence on taking us to the easy trail should have been Clue #1 that this hike was maybe more than we bargained for.
Clue #2 came from the local gentlemen at the base of the trail inquiring whether we carried enough water with us. They said two liters each was the minimum necessary. We were confident that we had brought enough and suspected that the gentlemen were simply trying to sell bottles of water to unwitting tourists.
The bright sunny morning turned overcast in the afternoon, giving us relief from the African sun. It didn’t take us long to admit that, had it been a hot, sunny day, we absolutely would have needed the full two liters of water each!
The trail to the top of Table Mountain, turned out to be less of a “path” and more of an endless flight of stone stairs (think Lord of the Rings). Some parts were steep enough they required scrambling with both hands. The best part of the trail was that the most treacherous switchbacks were flanked with barbed wire fence, so if you slipped, you had the added bonus of your skin being ruthlessly punctured by the very fence designed to stop your fall down a jagged rock face.
We were clearly a long way from Colorado! Hiking in Africa was on a whole different level.
We took our time and made it to the top two and a half hours later, our spirits high with the feeling of accomplishment. The clouds at the top were minimal, and the view of the city was spectacular! The grueling hike was well worth it.
The best part of this whole adventure was that the cable car had opened while we were slogging our way up the mountain. We were all thrilled beyond belief that we didn’t have to hike down as well!
Our takeaways from this excursion: Take heed of the locals. They know their stuff. Both the cab driver and the water-sellers knew their business. We did well to take their advice.
We can’t even begin to imagine what the more difficult trail was like! This one was legendary enough!
-Annie, Your Friend at Orange Backpack Travel