Wednesday, December 28, 2011

South Africa Day 1 - Cape Town

So, many, many weeks after booking this trip via the never reliable Thomas Cook, my erstwhile travelling companion, Sarah, and I finally arrived in South Africa early on a Saturday morning, only to be greeted by the frankly ridiculous temperature of 37 degrees.

We faced that age old problem, the problem that everyone from the UK faces when travelling to pretty much any country that isn’t located on or within a reasonable distance of the Arctic poles, namely, we were a tad overdressed when we arrived.

Jeans and jackets were swiftly removed, in the privacy of the bathrooms of course, and replaced with t shirts and shorts. I say swiftly removed, but that does give a certain sense of immediacy about it, whereas in reality we had to wait until we had been dealt with by immigration, and they are pretty thorough. By thorough of course, I mean hair growingly ponderous.

Once passage had been negotiated through immigration and customs, with questions about the purpose of the visit being answered and documentation proving those answers had been proffered, and answers to the negative about whether I was transporting alcohol, cigarettes or medicine in my case, which was true, as I’m pretty sure ketamine isn’t classed as medication, except for horses, so I thought I was on fairly safe ground there, we were through and at large in South Africa herself.

Well, at large in the hire car section of the airport in South Africa herself. These things take time.

We picked up our shining chariot, a Toyota Corolla no less, and no more as it turned out. It had plenty of space for the bags and air-con which was a must, but it has to be said, this was offset by the fact it had about as much power as a lawnmower with bird flu, 6 gears of disappointment in a shiny silver assemblage.

But it was a hire car, and it came with all the benefits that hire cars have, i.e. I don't have to worry about getting it through a service, or what those high screaming revs are doing to the engine long term, or what state the undercarriage will be in after inflicting rocky/sandy/muddy roads on it. Basically I can do what I like with it for two glorious weeks and then give it back for someone else to deal with. If only all cars had that freedom from responsibility behind them I’m sure the roads would be a safer place for all.

This is the car in all its glory, it contains Sarah, who for
reasons that escape me entirely, seems to be sporting
 a look of abject horror.
Arrived at One on Queens, the place of abode for our duration in Cape Town, without any trouble thanks to the sat nav, who still insists on jabbering in an Irish brogue even though we are far away from the mother land. Not my mother land, but a mother land nonetheless, and not the mother whose warm, welcoming embrace we were about to be enveloped in.

The hotel was great, perfectly spacious and accommodating, as was the host, not spacious you understand, but very accommodating and very friendly indeed. As soon as we arrived he suggested we go up Table Mountain. The reason being, it was still very early in the day, around 8am and most importantly, the weather was apparently perfect, and apparently this does not happen that often this time of year, and also apparently the winds were forecast to pick up that afternoon, which would close the cable car, so we should make the most of it this morning.

We took all these apparents in, well as much as anyone can take something in after having been a stranger to sleep for around 24 hours, mainly thanks to an aircraft seat that seems to have been designed by someone who had an aching hatred of anybody taller than 2ft 6, not blessed with a pronounced hunchback and without need for anything as extravagant as personal space, and on top of that, arriving in an alien country on a perfectly still, baking hot morning, and thought yes, we probably should, but first lets get a coffee to try and perk ourselves up a notch.

Which we did via a very nearby café/restaurant/local shop on the next street down. Unfortunately it did not do the trick and after draining our cups we decided to have a quick half hour nap, just to take the edge off the weariness that seemed to have swallowed us whole on our arrival. Table mountain would still be there when we woke, it's an icon, the symbol of this fair city, it's not going anywhere. She'll still be available to us when we are ready, like a cash strapped prostitute who'll accept meals as payment. We were safe to take a bit of time out.

4 hours later, after we woke, it seemed the wind had picked up a shade, in fact they had closed the cable car. We were perplexed, this wasn't supposed to happen, why hadn't someone told us?

So we contented ourselves with a motor down the Cape Peninsular. We drove past Camps Bay which was teeming with cars, because it was a particularly hot Sunday, plus it is the nearest beach to Cape Town, so everyone was there. Maybe it's like Brighton beach on a bank holiday weekend, but without the befuddled drug addicts shivering in the afternoon sun and men who think that tattoos are a sign of salacious masculinity, forgetting that beer bellies, faces like boiled ham and a crapulent football inspired dress sense are decidedly not. Or maybe it isn't, we didn't hang around so I couldn't with any certainty say.

A view along the cape looking North with Lions Head in the middle of the picture, at the back
Heading south we made avail of Chapman's peak drive, which winds it way between Hout Bay and Noordhoek, apparently they use it a lot for films and commercials, probably for cars I would imagine, as it's a very twisty and turny road, which, if you're in the business, precisely describes how you would refer to such a location, and it has the added attraction that it is cut into a cliff face, very nice indeed.

A view of Chapman's Peak Drive, from, well, Chapman's Peak Drive of course
I imagined myself, as we snaked our way through it's 114 curves, as a suave, raffish gentleman of the road, taking every corner with ease whilst guiding my sleek, capable machine round this treacherous course with a knowing smile and and air of alluring worldliness.

This was before I was overtaken by an overloaded minivan full of smiling locals, who seemed to mistake my dapper air with someone who has the driving ability of chimp. A chimp, I imagined, who seems to have found himself at the wheel of an automobile for the first time in his life and can't figure out exactly how such an extraordinary contraption could ever have been conceived, let alone mastered.

Here is another view of the drive as it snakes its way around the peninsular
Driving pride suitably dented, we stopped in Simon's Town for a coffee and some lunch, two very nice and very large salads, and took a walk to Boulders Beach, where there are some rather tame African penguins, that seem to like nothing more than posing on rocks or along the paths for visitors to stop and laugh or coo at, they, for their part, seem to take very little notice of the whole proceedings.

From there we turned back and took a cruise along Boyes Drive from Kalk Bay, past St James, into Muizenberg which was pleasant enough.

A view from the drive looking across the water
We got back to the hotel early evening, having taken the road back along Chapman's peak drive and seen the sunset hit the cliffs all along the shore. A great view from any angle, but particularly from this wonderful road, a definite must for anyone who finds themselves in Cape Town.

You'll have to take my word for it, the sun was setting and lighting up the cliffs a spectacular orange hue. I wasn't fussed about the picture as it was, so i made it B&W instead, which is my prerogative thank you very much
Although we were still feeling quite tired we got a cab to the V&A Waterfront and had a couple of glasses of superb wine at Jordans right next to the harbour. After getting another cab back, thank fully one who knew the way, which seemed to be somewhat of a rarity considering how many drivers it took to decide on our future whereabouts, Cape Town isn't that big surely? We headed to bedfordshire and got some (more) much needed rest.   

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