After two weeks travelling throughout Namibia, I was very much looking forward to making Cape Town (even if it meant taking a 22 hour bus to get there). I’m glad to say that those long hauls are over for the time being. However, in hind sight the bus was pretty nice, and two Valiums made sure I was unconscious for at least 14 of those 22 hours. Sorted.
Cape Town has been on my radar since the very beginning of this seven month excursion in Africa. It has always represented the be all end all of my trip, the final destination. Living in Zanzibar, Cape Town seemed almost unattainable, just an idea of a location at the end of a journey, it was so far away, and truly at the back of my mind for the majority of my time in East Africa. CT only came onto my radar when I started looking into flights to get back to Argentina. It conveniently happens to be the best place to fly to South America from Africa and it was an obvious choice as an end to the journey. Also geographically it is perfect, lying at the bottom of Africa almost directly across from Sao Paulo. The city is a hub for a number of major airlines, and along with Johannesburg, it was easy to find a relatively cheap flight back to Buenos Aires. In the end I got one for $800cad, which I am happy with.
I made sure I would have at least a week to explore the city and its outskirts. As this was the only part of South Africa I would visit, I wanted to give Cape Town the time it deserved. Plus almost anyone I spoke to who had been here gave the city endless praise. So far, every word has held true. The experience has been amazing. The city is filled with great restaurants, lively bars, delicious cafes, and friendly people. However, keep in mind that I have been warned I am only seeing the mask and that there is some real danger in the city not to be forgotten. As like anywhere else that threats thievery, the best thing to do is keep your common sense about you. I have done so, and so far, had no problems. This introduction to South Africa was great.
Cape Town is a scenically beautiful city, supporting amazing vistas. There is an amazing backdrop of steep mountains with their towering ridges seemingly reaching right down to the coast, just barely touching the ever crashing waves, as if beckoning them to continually attempt the ultimately unsuccessful climb. There are houses, buildings, and shops spread out literally wherever space permits. Giant high rises stand side by side in the financial district. The waterfront has been “redecorated” with what seems like a pinup Lego super shopping mall. I’m sure you can imagine it, it looks really, fake. The industrial port is filled with cranes, cargo ships, giant warehouses, and oil slick seas. It is amazing, all of this is found within a genuinely small area, due to the close proximity of the mountains. The city breathes. It has a constant pulse and a vibrant heartbeat. “Did you bring your passport?” I was asked, “because this is not South Africa.”
I had a couple of ideas for what to do in Cape Town and was lucky to have three good contacts already living in the city. Andrew, Nadja, and Caroline. All three at one point worked for G Adventures, Andrew and Caro both did so in Toronto in the same office as I. They are still involved in the adventure travel industry, albeit not with G, but happily based out of CT working with other operators. Nadja works directly with G Adventures as the manager for Southern Africa operations, or something along those lines. It was amazing to have their support and advice while in the city. I went out for beers a couple of times and once for a great breakfast with Nadja. Andrew and I took an afternoon road trip out to the wineries surrounding the city and I got an incredible introduction to South Africa wines, which do rival those of South America. It was great to see all three of them and to talk shop about our industry and the future, etc. etc. Cheers for the good times and the hospitality guys!
Right so into the knitty gritty. Diving with Great White Sharks. Is. Incredible.
Gansbaai is two hours east of CT and is arguably the best place in the world to view and study Great Whites. The diving tour operators were a wealth of information and I was amazed to learn there is relatively little known about Great White Sharks. They are being continually observed by the marine community in the area and the reasoning was made apparent to me as soon as we got on the boat. The local guide gave a quick briefing on the history of the prehistoric sharks as well as their current situation living on a “human planet”. There are apparently only about 1000 Great Whites left on earth, which is a staggering statement considering they have been in existence for 220 something million years. The population around the Cape of Good Hope is the most prevalent found on earth with an average of 300 sharks visiting the coastal waters at some point during the year. The sharks are apex predators and it was amazing to view them in their natural environment, luckily from the comfort of a cage.
The cage fits seven people and we were ushered in for two sessions of 30min. The idea is baiting the sharks by smell, pouring a mix steak seasoning and beef broth into the sea, trailing behind the moving boat. Once the sharks are spotted, the boat anchors and the cage is, “deployed”. Once all is settled against the side of the rocking boat, each human wishing to enter the water is free to do so. I went first. The crew immediately began drawing the sharks by tempting them with a couple of giant rotting tuna heads hanging off the end of an industrial rope. Fishing for big fish with big bait.
Once the shark catches the scent, the crew pulls the tuna towards the cage enticing the shark to follow. If it works they consecutively yell, “Down!” right as the shark crosses the face of the cage. At the exact moment I heard the yell I took a deep breath and dropped to the bottom of the cage, looking up quickly I let my eyes adjust to the figure of a giant Great White passing within a foot of my position in the cage. I caught its eye a couple of times and couldn’t help but think it was looking straight at me. Shit, this is a smart animal, it didn’t have any fear in its movements, it was obviously thinking. Incredible being so close to an apex predator so adapted to its own environment. After two sessions I had seen four different sharks, was extremely cold, and well impressed with the morning. This species is something we know so little about and yet are destroying at an abominable rate. Great Whites are some of the most misunderstood creatures on earth and I am saddened to know that there existence hangs in the balance.
From shark diving to hiking. Cape Town is famous for some great hikes that are within walking distance from the city centre. Lion’s Head and Table Mountain are the most famous standing like sentinels guarding the city. As soon as I saw them I knew I had to make the top of each. Luckily there are well trodden paths up both and all I needed was some good weather, which I got.
Table Mountain makes up a National Park which, starting from Cape Town, runs the course of the coast down to the southern most point and the Cape of Good Hope. This area is stunningly beautiful and offers some great hiking. Getting to the top of TM was the harder of the two classic treks. The hike was up a gorge covering 600m vertical in only 1km. Straight up. I made it in an hour, which I think is pretty good. This also gave me more time to explore the peninsula at the top. It is an amazing view from there.
All in all Cape Town was a great seven days spent and the perfect way to end my trip. It is an amazing city and I am fortunate to know some amazing people living there. From chilling, reading, and writing, to shark diving, hiking, and drinking, sounds like a vacation. This however is the end of my vacation. I am writing this post from seat 19b of Qatar Airlines flight QA583 flying across the continent I just spent seven months getting to know. I plan on highlighting those sentiments in my next post though, so I’ll save the heartfelt Africa love for now. I hope you have enjoyed reading this post.
I’ll leave you with a full 360 view as seen from the top a Lion’s Head and one of myself on the most southern point of the continent.