Tag Archives: nature

Table Mountain: Terror Edition

It’s 3pm and we have been up since 6am in order to make it to Boulders Bay and back in time for lunch (which was delightful – I recommend the chicken salad at Table Thirteen, 78 Victoria Junction, Cape Town). We’re sitting in traffic, digesting, when Craig asks, “Do you want to go up Table Mountain?” I turn to him and reply, “Oh, we must.” It is a peculiarity of South African conversation that people do not recommend – they instruct – and this is exactly how Mike had answered my inquiry about the rest of our initerary: “You must take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain before you leave.” So it came to pass that despite the late hour and that we were improperly dressed in only shorts and t-shirts, and that we had neither water nor any food, we pointed the car toward Table Mountain with it in mind “just to see”.

When we reach parking lot, we can’t help but be impressed. The view from here – the bottom – is outstanding.

The view from the parking lot.

The view from the parking lot.

It’s windy out but the weather seems to be holding. “D’ya wanna?” I ask, and in unison Craig and I smirk: “We must.”

The view to the top cable car station. Note the blue sky.

The view to the top cable car station. Note the blue sky.

Our ticket-taker’s name is Blondie. “Up and down?” she chirps through the glass, and Craig and I burst into giggles. Craig is able to regain his composure long enough to gasp, “Yes, up and down.” “Oh, you are a very dirty man,” Blondie bats her eyes at Craig, “and I like that.”

We board the car with a handful of other sight seers and the door closes. An inexplicably seductive robotic voice comes over the P.A. and tells us to step away from the handrails at the side. We take a step towards the centre just as the floor begins to revolve.

It's moving!

"It's moving!"

We’re both afraid of heights, and despite the heavy cables and robust enclosure, we can feel the wind pushing at the car. As we are lifted higher towards the upper station, we begin to regret our adventurousness.

Why did we choose to do this? Why??

Why did we choose to do this? Why??

A terrible sight for an acrophobe.

A terrible sight for an acrophobe.

We make it to the top and for the umpteenth time since I arrived in Africa I laugh at the official use of the word “hooter” (a “hooter” here is a horn so instead of signs saying “No honking” they say “No hooting”; I have at least a dozen pictures of this.)

Got that? If you hear the hooter come back to the station IMMEDIATELY.

Got that? If you hear the hooter come back to the station IMMEDIATELY.

The top of Table Mountain is astonishing. It’s like Lord of the Rings meets the final level of Super Mario Brothers where you have to hop from cloud to cloud before the clock runs out.

Over the clouds.

Over the clouds.

Under the clouds.

Under the clouds.

We poke around just outside the cable car station for a while. Craig studies the map and we choose a path that appears to go in a manageable ring, marked as an “easy walk” that should take about 30 minutes. We set off.

It is gorgeous: I try and take in the clouds bumping up against the top of the rocks, the birds flying in graceful swoops, the large flat rocks, the trees and tall grasses. We dilly and we dally. I take a tonne of pictures.

Lady Kennaway on Table Mountain.

Lady Kennaway does Table Mountain.

Lord Kennaway pole dances on Table Mountain. The path is so clearly marked... here.

Lord Kennaway pole dances on Table Mountain. The path is so clearly marked... here.

Of COURSE we didn't go down that route. Well, only for a minute but then we came back up.

Of COURSE we don't go down that route. Well, only for a minute but then we come right back up.

This is what was down there. And this is the last Craig ever saw of me. Kidding!

This is what was down there. And this is the last Craig ever saw of me. Kidding!

Table Mountain is majestic and all, but really – some South Africans take these things so seriously! “Table Mountain,” my friend Callie warned me, “is not to be trifled with.” The way I see it, that is basically a dare and so trifle, trifle I did.

The now-famous falling-off-Table-Mountain picture. It was faked, but perhaps this (if not the pole-dancing or ignoring warning signs) is what angered The Mountain...

The now-famous falling-off-Table-Mountain picture. It is faked, but perhaps this (if not the pole-dancing or ignoring warning signs) is what angered The Mountain...

As we walk, Craig tells me the story of his friend Kim, who along with a couple of other people, got caught rock climbing on Table Mountain and had to spend the night in a cave. The next morning when they made their way down, he tells me, their tires had been stolen off their car and the Cape Times was splashed with the headline “Stupid Americans Caught on Table Mountain”. He digs in his bag and pulls out a mint he’d pocketed after lunch. “Want half?” I am not really a mint person but they’re outstanding in Africa – not the pasty saccharine jobbies we get in the West. Here, they are real toffee or fruit-based candies. Delicious. I nod my head yes. He bites off his portion and gives me the remainder… and we each savour the last piece of food that we have on our persons. Which leads into the following conversation:

Have you read Alive?
Yeah, totally!

Well, if I die first you have permission to eat my flesh.
Thanks! Have you seen Into Thin Air?
No, what’s it about?
The mountain climber guy dragged himself off the mountain with two broken legs and the whole time he had “Brown Girl in the Ring” in his head.

What’s that?
It’s a Boney M song.
Boney M? What’s that?
You know! “Rasputin”?
No I don’t know it.
Yes, you do. Anyway can you imagine breaking your legs and having to crawl down the mountain but having a song stuck in your head?

And then I see a snake. Just a little guy – nothing to be worried about, I think as I get up nice and close to take its picture.

It's just a baby...puff adder!

Me: "It's just a baby..." Craig:"...puff adder!"

DANGER! I don’t stick around to argue. (Note: For a really graphic image of what a puff adder bite looks like, click here, but be warned: it’s gross.)

By now we’re far away from the cable car station. It’s just the two of us and the wind. It is very peaceful and I am enjoying the companionable silence. Craig walks ahead of me, leading the way as I stop every few feet to take photographs. At one point we pass a mound of rocks, obviously man-made. “What is that,” I ask. Craig replies, “It’s a cairn put together for all the dead hikers.” “Dead Hiker’s Pile,” I say sombrely.

Forget the wide angle vistas - there are hidden worlds under our feet.

Forget the wide angle vistas - there are hidden worlds under our feet.

Craig leads the way along the path... but WHAT path?

Craig leads the way along the path... but WHAT path?

There is so much to look at, though I am getting a little thirsty. How long have we been gone?

There is so much to look at, though I am getting a little thirsty. How long have we been gone?

Eventually we come to the far edge of Table Mountain. It is a spectacle and I take a million photos, none of which really capture the feeling of being there.

Craig at the top of the world.

Craig at the top of the world.

We peer over the ledge. It’s so high up you can see for kilometres in all directons. Cape Town is beautiful. We can see the new soccer stadium that they are building for the WC2010. It is impossible not to look, and we keep edging along, edging along, edging along…

And then a series of things happens very quickly.

1. I look up and realize that we have followed the path out to a place where my tiny 1 metre ledge is flanked on one side by a rock face and on the other, by a sheer drop.

2. I remember that I am terrified of heights. In a shaky voice I call out to Craig, telling him we’ve made a mistake. Craig (likely hearing the filament-thin barrier between me and arm-flailing panic) tells me to sit and stay. He crawls along the path looking for a place where we can pull ourselves back up onto the table.

3. Craig finds a spot about 100 metres down, but between he and I is 100 metres of terror. I am shaking. Craig comes back and does the sweetest thing: he escorts me down the path, placing his body between me and drop.

4. The hooter sounds. Craig and I look at each other, and half-laughing, half-screaming, we begin to move quicker. We reach our target and haul ourselves back onto the table. We start running through the grass, looking for a path.

5. The clouds overtake us on the mountain. It happens in under a minute. We cannot see, and it is cold.

6. A group of birds take off from a jutting rock. Their wings make a whumpa-whumpa sound that we can feel as well as hear.

7. We locate a path in the grass and begin to jog along it. Craig comes to a sudden stop and I can see over his shoulder that we are steps from a sheer cliff. The look on Craig’s face tells me that like me, he is considering the possibility of a night on Table Mountain.

8. The hooter sounds again.

I look over my shoulder to see if we’re in danger of a #9 (which would have to be a giant ball à la Indiana Jones rolling towards us) as we turn away from the ledge and begin to run back through the grass. My mind is a blender full of precipices, puff adders, and persistent hooting. Craig turns around and catches me stopped for a moment taking pictures. In disbelief, he flaps his arms, Come on! My thinking is twofold: if we don’t survive, the photos will serve as pictorial evidence of what happened; if we do, it’ll be great for the blog.

Following Craig into the unknown.

Following Craig into the unknown.

Puff adder territory. Where is the path??

Puff adder territory. Where is the path??

Then, out of the mist we see it: the Dead Hiker’s Pile!

Looking for two more? Not this tme, Dead Hiker's Pile!

Looking for two more souls? Not this time, Dead Hiker's Pile!

Back on the path, we break into a run. The sweat on my body is chilling in the mist, but we must make it back before they close the cable car station. Still, we stop and take this photo:

Dude! We almost died!

Dude! We almost died!

At last! To the station!

At last! To the station!

When we reach the station it is closed. The door is shut and there’s a gate across it. Craig says he’ll break the window to get us in, but luckily, we see movement from inside. A worker opens the door and lets us in. There are three other shivering people, waiting for the cable car.

In the cable car, heading down.

We caught the last cable car of the day with all of the staff that were left on the mountain.

Thankfully, the cable car operators forego the revolving floor for the descent.

From the bottom, we approximate where we were trapped on the ledge.

From the bottom, we approximate where we were trapped on the ledge.

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Buffoonery at Boulders Bay

I don’t know when the penguin obsession began but after missing them in Argentina (Buenos Aires is too far north), I am determined to see them while I am on the Western Cape. And I don’t mean those benumbed beasts at the aquarium, either. I want happy, free penguins weebling around in the sun. Rumour has it that Boulders Bay, just ouside of Simon’s Town has a penguinery, so off we go.

We’re very lucky. Chapman’s Peak – a winding road etched into the edge of the mountains that run along the coast – has reopened just two days ago. Within 45 minutes of leaving town we are driving a route that is definitely in my top 5 ever.

Morning sun on Chapman's Peak. The mountain in the distance looks like a rhino.

Morning sun on Chapman's Peak. The mountain in the distance looks like a rhino.

They are still finishing up the roadwork (DANGER?) and I am not too sure about those retaining rocks (DANGER!)

They are still finishing up the roadwork (DANGER?) and I am not too sure about those retaining rocks (DANGER!)

After about an hour and fifteen we crest the mountain and are looking down on the ocean. A cluster of houses pepper the mountainside, architecturally different than the brick or cement homes I have become accustomed to. These are monied affairs.

The homes of Glencairn.

The homes of Glencairn, a short distance north of Simon's Town.

The area has a military history. You can see the ships in the distance.

The area has a military history. You can see the ships in the distance.

We reach Simon’s Town at around 8:00am, and ask a parking lot attendant where we can get breakfast. He directs us to the restaurant at Boulders Bay, overlooking the penguin colony.

This view + eggs benedict = excellent breakfast

This view + eggs benedict = excellent breakfast

After breakfast we’re off to see the penguins. To begin, we take the scenic stroll alongside the beach.

Penguins.

Penguins.

Summer is coming to the Western Cape.

Summer is coming to the Western Cape.

Prickly pear. I just found out that these are not indigenous to the area.

Prickly pear. I just found out that these are not indigenous to the area.

In the underbrush, there are penguin homes, each marked with an address.

In the underbrush, there are penguin homes, each marked with an address.

I'm ready for my close-up.

I'm ready for my close-up.

The guy on the left needs to loosen up.

The guy on the left needs to loosen up.

We explore the paths, and then make our way down to the beach where a handful of people are enjoying the sun and sand. We decide we must have our privacy, and begin to pick our way over the rocks.

Craig goes over.

Craig goes over.

The waves hitting the rocks. Craig tried going over, but I had to go under and between. Naturally, I got soaked but it was fun in an Indiana Jones kind of way.

Lacking Craig's upper body strength, I had to go under and between. Naturally, I got soaked.

After a series of overs and unders and arounds we come to a small beach. It is gorgeous and the water is actually warm. I read somewhere that Boulders Bay has the most temperate water on the Cape because the boulders create a bay that is sheltered from the open ocean.

The view from the water at "our" beach.

The view from the water at "our" beach.

For the next 40 minutes we do what anyone would do in this situaton: frolic in the waves, make jokes about the Blue Lagoon, and take pictures of Craig wearing sea shell pasties… I am enjoying the water when Craig looks up from the Boulders Bay pamphlet he’s been reading and announces that he’s going to check to see whether the tide is coming in:

Ummm, DANGER! The tide is coming in so fast that the water level rises noticeably with every wave that hits the shore. Holding my camera high, I splash back to the beach and begin to frantically shove all of our stuff into my backpack. We wade back to the “path” we came in on. It is now submerged and the waves are coming in with force. The water pulls at our legs and the sand (some of the finest I have ever experienced) rearranges itself around and over our toes in a deceptively pleasant way that makes me think for a second that it’s not trying to suck me under. Despite the wooing of the sand, we make it back to the accessible public beach, drawing inquisitive looks as we emerge soaking and half-dressed from a crack between two boulders.

We have to be back in Cape Town for lunch, so we reluctantly return to the car, observing this most awesome sign in the parking lot.

My favourite is the little box in the lower left.

My favourite is the little box in the lower left. Is that a penguin under the rear right tire?

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Shark Fever

As if the lions, holdups, puff adders and giant cockroaches weren’t enough, Craig and I decide to go shark cage diving. The shuttle picks us up at 6am and we drive 2 hours to Gansbaai. When we arrive the driver asks Craig if this is our honeymoon, eliciting derisive snorts and massive eye-rolling. Hours later, back on shore, the company’s cameraman shows a DVD of the trip:

EXT. “SHARK FEVER” CAGE DIVE BOAT – MORNING

CRAIG and KEPH sit side-by-side on the upper deck gazing out at the waves. Seabirds fly overhead. Craig says some (inaudible) into Keph’s ear and they both throw back their heads and laugh.

CUT TO:

EXT. SHARK CAGE – DAY

Five people in wetsuits are in the dive cage.

CHUMLINE OPERATOR (O.S.)
To the left! Down! Down!

The five divers submerge. Moments later Craig and Keph pop to the surface grinning. They give each other the “thumbs up”.

INT. “SHARK FEVER” – DAY

Keph takes a bag of chips from the food basket and hands it to Craig. They smile at each other.

EXT. DOCK – LATE AFTERNOON

The group mills around on the dock. “Shark Fever” is dry docked behind them.

CAMERAMAN (O.S.)
OK, everybody stand together for a team picture.

Craig is facing Keph, his back to the camera.  Camera zooms in and we can see that’s he’s fixing her hair for the shot.

It was the best honeymoon ever.

Click on a thumbnail for a closer look:

A note: We go with a company that uses the instantly-forgettable name Marine Dynamics; for some reason I keep calling it Marine Vibrations. I can definitely recommend them for their customer service, value, and eco-friendliness (they spend some pre-trip briefing time on environmental education, use low-impact methods, and provide a way for participants to donate to their conservation efforts). They also employ people who seem to have a genuine love for the work and the animals.

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Additional photos: Addo Elephant National Park

I was less than 3 metres away from a lion for  at least 21 seconds:

While this loads, check out some stills.

Click on a thumbnail for a closer look:

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Addo Elephant National Park

“Did you know that… it is home to the unique flightless dung beetle?”

I think the brochure for the Addo Elephant National Park is trying a little too hard. The unique flightless dung beetle? Really?

Me, Craig and David head out on Saturday afternoon for an overnighter at Addo. Originally it had been just Craig and I but as it turns out, even though David is South African he has never visited the elephant park. A phone call confirms that we can have a third, just as long as we understand that the cottage contains only two twin beds. “We’ll make it work,” Craig says, his voice full of pillow fights and noogies.

We head out after the visit to Mdantsane. David’s hella hung over and sleeps most of the way. Addo is on the highway that becomes the Garden Route, so I get a taste of it here. It’s a superb driving road, all full of surprises and interesting pit stops.

Paranoia-inducing sign outside of the only coffee shop/pitstop for kilometres.

Paranoia-inducing sign outside of the only coffee shop/pitstop for kilometres.

The menu inside the very same place. I dare you to order #4. Remember, God is watching.

The menu inside the very same place. I dare you to order #4.

We arrive at around 5:30pm and get the keys to our cottage. Craig is the first one in and his howls of amusement can be heard up the walkway. I enter the room.

Super romantic cottage for the three of us.

Super romantic cottage for the three of us. Too bad God is watching.

In deference to lessons learned last weekend, Craig decides he will serve as braai-master. “You two go out in the car while I braai – and don’t come back until you see an elephant!”

If at first you don't succeed, braai, braai again.

If at first you don't succeed, braai, braai again.

So David and I set out in the African dusk. This is the first time he and I have been alone, and it’s  a quietly pleasant visit. The first thing we see is a fine specimen of the famous flightless dung beetle, and now  I can see what the hullabaloo is about. The thing is behemothic.

Sunglasses added for scale.

Sunglasses added for scale.

...Or else...

Suddenly this doesn't seem so silly.

Next we run into a stand of “scary trees”. Something about the undersized fingers at the top of these has always frightened David – so naturally I have him stop the car in the falling darkness so I can take a photo.

As darkness spreads across the veldt, the full moon rises.

And just down this road...

We are driving with the headlights out. About 100 metres down this road we encounter one of Africa’s deadliest snakes – the puff adder. Lucky for us, it appears to have just eaten an entire meerkat and it’s moving slowly.

Uhhhn... why did I eat the whole thing? Why??

Uhhhn... why did I eat the whole thing? Why??

I hang out the car window in flagrant disregard for the Craig’s tutorial on this snake, renowned for it rapid striking capabilities, and point and laugh as it struggles to retire to the grass. Glutton. The creepiest thing is that it’s not slithering to and fro, but moving forward very slowly without twisting or bending, like stop-animation of a Christmas cracker trying to hide in the tall grass. Eventurally it gets tired of the derisive cackling and lifts its head to look at me. I roll up the window.

By now night has arrived, abruptly and with a finality I am becoming accustomed to. There is no bargaining with African nightfall; our evening safari is over. My appetite for DANGER is not sated, however, so I decide that despite the topsy-turvy vehicle, now is the time for me to drive – in Africa!

Litle known fact: when the wheel is on the right side the correct had position is 7 and "Ayyyy".

Little known fact: in countries where the wheel is on the right side of the car the correct hand position is 7 and "Ayyyy".

Despite my best efforts, we make it back for dinner. After a balanced meal of braaied chicken wings, sausage, and chicken wrapped in bacon, we call it an early night. We have elephants to see in the morning.

It's hard to sleep when you're anticipating elephants!

It's hard to sleep when you're anticipating elephants!

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Hogsback

Craig has to visit a colleague at the University of Fort Hare in Alice, about 1.5 hours away from East London. I come along for the ride.

The university is famous because it is the place where a young Nelson Mandela studied (also, Robert Mugabe, but we don’t like to talk about that).

The sun dial in Freedom Square, where Nelson Mandela (and Robert Mugabe, if you must know) got political.

The sun dial in Freedom Square, where Nelson Mandela (and Robert Mugabe, if you must know) got political.

Afterwards, Craig drives the steep and winding road to Hogsback. He is alert, aware that beyond each corner there may be cows or other livestock on the road. “We’ll have to make sure we leave before dark,” he cautions. “The tar on the road retains heat after the sun goes down, so the animals lie on it to sleep… and get run over.”

The road to Hogsback.

The road to Hogsback.

The community of Hogsback instantly reminds me of some places in British Columbia. They’ve got coffee shops with organic muffins, various artisans (potters, ironworkers, candlemakers, and FaeryLand which illicits an earnest “Dont you dare stop here,” from me), and famously, lesbians. (“Oh you’re heading to Hogsback? There are some lesbians who live up there.”) Just like BC.

Craig says he wants pottery, so we set off in search of just the right thing – a mission that takes us up some pretty gnarly dirt roads right into the heart of Deliverance territory, only it’s cracked out hippies instead of inbred hillbillies. Prior to the Hogsback Experience I would have been certain that the latter was scarier, but there’s something about getting the tour of the kiln-room by a guy in an oversized oatmeal-coloured hand-knit turtleneck with pupils as small and sharp as tattoo needles that makes a dirty pair of coveralls downright comforting. Cue the banjos… how far is the car?

Despite this, Craig is determined. “I have been up here several times already and I want my Hogsback pottery!” he snaps, releasing the bitchy interior designer within. Luckily, we find an amaXhosa potter who isn’t even remotely terrifying. In fact, he’s got flocks of goats and sheep in the yard which makes me lose my mind completely. Squealing, I take a thousand pictures; Craig rolls his eyes so hard I am afraid he won’t be able to drive us back down the mountain.

This goat was so cute I becames completely unhinged.

This goat is so cute I become completely unhinged.

We buy the potter out, and inch the BMW back down to the main road. We stop at Nina’s for some food and a glass of suspiciously strong wine, which leads to a heart-to-heart conversation with the proprietor (curiously, her name is not Nina but rather Cherry – a fact that makes me giggle all the way down the mountain).

Buckle up! We make sure the pottery is safe for the ride down.

Buckle up! We make sure the pottery is safe for the ride down.

The descent is treacherous. It is dusk and Craig is on the alert for heat-seeking cows. Still, we can’t resist stopping at a patch of calla lillies growing on the roadside.

Although he is laughing so hard he can't hold the camera steady, Craig manages to capture that precious and elusive moment when I think I am going over the side.

Although he is laughing so hard he can't hold the camera steady, Craig manages to capture that precious and elusive moment when I think I am going over the side. Note the two-fisted death grip on the lily.

Escape from Hogsback.

Escape from Hogsback.

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DANGER: African Tick Bite Fever

8:30am

I was supposed to ride along with the Loaves and Fishes team this morning but could not get out of bed because of a blinding headache and nausea. Migraine? I have them very rarely – the most recent around this time last year.

Craig came into my room and showed me this:

His personal trainer noticed "venom trails" and suggested he go to the doctor.

I know it looks like nothing but his personal trainer noticed "venom trails" and suggested he go to the doctor.

10:14 am

I just received an email that Craig has been diagnosed with Rickettsia africae, aka African Tick Bite Fever. It was caught early so he will avoid the fever, sweats, and headache and sometimes worse (apparently death and serious complications are rare, but can include encephalitis, pneumonia and damage to the brain and heart).

10:28 am

Just returned from a full body inspection and found no signs of inflamed nodes. I did, however, identify some untoward sagging and bloat around the middle. If the African Tick Fever doesn’t get me, middle aged spread will.

2:23pm

Lady Kennaway has taken a turn for the worse. There is excessive redness in the area and swelling 0f the lymph nodes.

Increased swelling and redness. The fever has taken hold.

Increased swelling and redness. The fever has taken hold.

4:57 pm

The necrosis is spreading. Despite a sandwich and hot soup, Craig is having chills. He is resistent to a hot bath lest he exit in even worse shape.

Bruising around the wound. We've moved into the secondary stage...

Bruising around the wound. We've moved into the secondary stage...

Editor’s Note: Despite increasing pain and fever, Craig has the wherewithal to comment about the photo above, “That picture of my leg is heinous! It looks like an ass with a tiny hairy anus with the cheeks spread in a funhouse mirror.”

6:20pm

Consulted an expert (Google) and this is what crawled up Lady Kennaway’s skirts.

Amblyomma hebraeum

Amblyomma hebraeum

11:17pm

Craig is awake and flatulent. Unsure about whether this has to do with the African Tick Bite Fever or the camembert cheese.

The following day

Update: I am pleased to report that Craig appears to have made a full and miraculous recovery from the African Tick Bite Fever. In fact, he competed in a triathlon (and placed third!) this morning.

Post-triathlon tick site.

Post-triathlon tick site.

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