South Africa Part 5: A Short Post about a Tall (Table) Mountain

I had to send in my laptop for a battery replacement (stupid Apple and its control freak policies on spare parts ) so I’m feeling naked for the next two weeks. I have my dad’s unused notebook to work on in the meantime but it’s interminably slow. As such, I can’t export any of my Garden Route photos but I suppose now’s as good a time any other to throw in our ascent to Table Mountain on our last day in Cape Town.

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The levelled terrain that is Table Mountain to the left, and neighbour Lion’s Head on the right

To appreciate Table Mountain from its peak, we must first admire it from a distance.

Still groggy at dawn, we drive to the top of Signal Hill, ready to take in views of the city in one of the coolest ways possible: paragliding.

At 7am, Table Mountain is draped with fog, which slips off and then down its steamrolled-flat (by glaciers) top like dry ice. Water vapour and wind from the Atlantic Ocean soon push thick, hazy clouds in our direction; our paragliding adventure is put on hold till the skies clear.

20140103-IMG_7976Alan, a dozen other paragliders and I are set back more than an hour as we wait for the fog to clear and the wind to pick up. Eventually, they do.

20140103-IMG_7989We observe the first few paragliders run off Signal Hill. My tandem paraglider, Mias, points out the deflated sail of one paraglider’s failed attempt to catch the wind. “When it’s your turn, Rachel, you gotta run as fast as you can,” he says. A lump in my throat. “What if I fall off the cliff?”

“That’s why you have to run fast.”

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In truth it’s a little easier than expected — I only have to give it my all, running as fast as my stumpy legs can go, but two strong black men (one wears a tight wifebeater bearing the word, “jacked”) run with and practically carry Mias and me, making sure we pick up speed as our legs tumble down the 20-meter stretch.

Mias asks if I’m ready. I put one leg in front of the other, half-terrified my sail won’t catch before we plummet to our deaths. But three seconds later, Mias cries, “Welcome to my office!”

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Soaring high above the offices and homes and Cape Town Stadium (built for the 2010 World Cup), I was reminded of my favourite Postal Service song:

They will see us waving from such great heights
“Come down now” they’ll say
But everything looks perfect from far away
“Come down now” but we’ll stay

Following close behind was Alan, whose paraglider Manu took much better photos than Mias. Here he is with (from right to left) Lion’s Head, Table Mountain and Signal Hill (which looks like a lion’s body at rest) in the background.

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But Mias gave me what he called the “Rollercoaster”— carving sharp turns, veering steep rights and quick lefts, and all this over the Atlantic Ocean. This made for an exhilarating ride and an unforgettable memory: the corner of our red sail in my vision quickly giving way to blue, blue, blue as Mias dips suddenly towards the ocean then braking so that I face the sky momentarily and for a moment I cannot tell which is which.  There’s a video of me screaming/giggling my head off and I’ll put up the South Africa video as soon as I am done journalling this trip.

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Mias and I make a perfect landing on a thin strip of grass, wait for Alan and Manu to arrive, then cab back up to Signal Hill. We leave to ascend Table Mountain for good, but a part of me doesn’t mind paragliding another time if money grew on trees 😉

By this time, the sun is out in full force — later we find out that parts of the valley reach 41 degrees C. There is no parking and we are forced to park near the bottom of the hill. If it wasn’t for an enterprising tuk-tuk which ferried hapless tourists to and fro for US$2, I would not have bothered to get out of the car. To make matters worse, the queue for the cable car to the top is a good 45-minute wait with minimal shade and a few water fans. (But this is preferable to hiking to the top, which people are apparently doing despite the intolerable heat. Maybe they were not born with sweat glands.)

My shoulders are glowing red by the time we board the cable car which, on a side note, is a pretty nifty feat of engineering. To help stabilize the carriages in times of strong wind, each car carries a water container. The ones heading up are filled with water that the mountaintop restaurant and toilets require; the ones coming down carry waste water. Pretty smart, eh?

20140103-IMG_8008Each car rotates on its own “axis”, ensuring everyone gets their heart’s (or camera’s) content of mountain and city views.

20140103-IMG_8013 20140103-IMG_8017When we reach the top, we are blown away by what we see. We are 1,086 m (3,563 feet) in the air now.

20140103-IMG_8020What looks like a straightforward, flat surface from the valley of Cape Town turns out to be a massive plain which can take up to three hours to walk around!

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The summit hosts an ice cream shop (which we obviously patronized), an abseiling company and the dassie (aka the rock hyrax). It is a small, furry rock dweller that seems to have rather active bowels, given the copious amounts of, um, pellets we see in the shallow crevices of nearby stones. Active digestive systems aside, the ones we find look adorable.

20140103-IMG_8043Although leopards, eland and lions used to roam the top of Table Mountain, it sadly isn’t the case today. One thing the mountain has in abundance, though, is its flora. Table Mountain supports more than 2,200 species of fynbos (the Afrikaans word for “delicate bush”) and although I will not be able to tell one from the other, I thought these yellow plants were a sight for sore eyes.

20140103-IMG_8029By this time, we have spent an hour covering a mere fraction of the Table Mountain top. Alan and I blitz through the other side — we are in a hurry to make it back before we cross the extended check-out time our hotel has so kindly granted us, but we are waylaid by the numerous photo opportunities.

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20140103-IMG_8078We finally come full circle — this time seeing Lion’s Head and Signal Hill (where we paraglided from) from the other side. In the distance, we can see Robben Island. Occasionally nature and man come together to make beautiful backdrops. I think those moments are rare, but Table Mountain and Cape Town seem to have defied the odds.

20140103-IMG_8086THE ITINERARY

  • Paragliding: there are numerous companies that sport identical names but we randomly went with this Cape Town Tandem Paragliding, helmed by Manu. Our flight cost 950 rand (S$110) each, while photos and video cost another 200 rand (S$25).
  • Table Mountain: park where you can see a tuk-tuk or taxi (˜S$2), and take it up to the visitors’ center or down to your car during the summer. Your legs and lungs will thank you for it. Tickets are slightly cheaper (S$24 vs S$25) and more convenient to purchase online, but you need to get them a day in advance. If you have a student card and don’t mind waiting, though, you can shave off about US$8 off your ticket price.

Catch up on the rest of our South African adventures!

Part 1: Cape Town
Part 2: Stellenbosch
Part 3: Robben Island & Kirstenbosch Gardens
Part 4: Cape Peninsula
Part 5: Table Mountain
Part 6: Garden Route (Part 1)
Part 7: Garden Route (Part 2)
Part 8: Safari in the Kruger
Part 9: Johannesburg

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