SOUTH AFRICA

26: Cape Town

“Someday you’ll leave this world behind, so live a life you will remember.

The Nights, by Michael and Robert Silverman

The morning I left Malawi, I’d been drying my washed clothes on the thatched roof of my hut at Mabuya Camp in Lilongwe. They dried just in time for the skies to open up in a rare deluge. I and Savannah, a fellow American finishing up a couple of weeks of environmental research, left the muddied, pouring compound in a shared taxi for the tiny Lilongwe International Airport, the type of place where the security guard searching my bags kindly asked if he could have the pen he found in one of the pockets – for his son – and the terminal restaurant is a $5 plate of rice and chicken offered from a hot food station by the windows. So to say it was a bit of culture shock to suddenly find myself enjoying free wifi and a large Cappuccino in a ceramic mug along with a mushroom, spinach and cheese omelet on the sun-dappled patio of a happening and hip Cape Town café is, well, a major understatement.

I’d been told by many who’d been here before me that Cape Town isn’t “Africa,” per se, that it’s more like a European city – and they were right. And yet, as nice and comfortable and familiar as this suddenly was, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having mixed feelings. I’d longed for fancy coffee and more of my traditional foods, not to mention being able to brush my teeth with actual tap water, but this would be the last country on my extended tour of this amazing continent, and I already missed the Baobab trees and villagers of Chembe, the barefoot kids waving to me throughout the day, and taking pleasure in simpler things – watching the fishermen go and come with their daily catch, the women washing clothes and pots and pans at the shoreline, the children singing in the street each evening. We wore no watches. We had no place to be. We told time by the sunrise and sunset. If it was adventure we sought, we could find it as easily on the roads of Chembe as we might in the National Park – or even just sitting together over a beer at the lodge.

Little did I know at the time that the next couple of weeks would be filled with natural beauty, incredible adventure, and memories I will cherish forever, memories that are uniquely South Africa.

A sure sign that adventure lay ahead – mountain tops jutting up through the clouds upon approach. “The pilot saw that, right? Hello? The pilot saw that?”
Most visitors’ first glimpse of Cape Town is that of the famous Table Mountain, part of the UNESCO Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site. You shouldn’t visit Cape Town without seeing the views from the summit firsthand – but not to worry, there’s a cable car. You just need to pick your moment, as the cloud cover changes just…like…
...that.
A close second for any hiking enthusiast (though some certainly claim it as their #1) is Lion’s Head, which sits directly across from Table Mountain. Both of these beauties, as well as Signal Hill and more, rise above the city and beautiful shoreline of Cape Town, making for majestic vistas from below as well as above.
Lion’s Head as seen from the hiking path to the Green Point neighborhood of Cape Town, my home turf during my initial stay.
Lion’s Head, my first quest.
Hikers don’t have to fight the brush to summit, there’s a dirt and boulder path that leads to the top, taking anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours to complete.
Looking easterly from the Lion’s Head summit trail.
The Sea Point neighborhood below. On this section of trail, one of the more challenging routes, hikers can choose between a more gradual or steeper path, the latter supported by chain rails…
…and ladders.
Gorgeous views of Signal Hill and the Green Point neighborhood of Cape Town from atop Lion’s Head Mountain. One down!
I met Nathan while taking a bus from Lusaka to Livingstone, Zambia. We would share a few adventures there, from touring Victoria Falls to cruising the Zambezi to visiting Mukuni Village by bicycle on a day that can only be described as “Africa hot.” We reconnected in Cape Town, where he’d been working remotely for the past three months, and he and I and his wonderful coworker, friend, and salsa partner, Agustina – who was beginning a travel adventure of her own that would take her from Cape Town to Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and Mumbai – took a day to tour Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, and of course, to see the penguins of False Bay…
‘Tis the season for penguin birthing, with mothers and fathers taking turns to nest with the eggs and new hatchlings, while the other hunts, forages, or just grabs a beer with the guys.
Hello, my friend.
While some might say Cape Town isn’t “Africa,” make no mistake, it is still very much so.
Cape Point Lighthouse.
On the hike from Cape Point to Cape of Good Hope.
Beautiful waters gave me hope of seeing the silhouette of one of South Africa’s most famous – and infamous – predators, the Great White Shark. I would have no such luck…for now.
Not the best quality pic (still waiting on that free iPhone upgrade from the good people at Apple) but it’s a worthwhile shot since this is the only place in the world where ostriches and ocean meet. You’re welcome.
Back in Cape Town for a little treat at Iron Steak & Bar. It’d been a long time since I’d had a real steak and real mashies and real greens and a real IPA. Delicious.
Nathan doing some sunset salsa dancing with the beautiful and multi-talented Yolanda Mutesasira. Check out her music here, but don’t forget – I knew her before she became known worldwide simply as Yolanda.
A typical Cape Town Sunset (yawn).
Whatevs, just a random gaggle of ostrich on the road to Agulhas National Park.
Agulhas National Park, at the southernmost point of the entire African continent, where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet. If one looks very closely, you can see the dividing line, where the water from one never mixes with the other. No, look closer...closer than that…
Hyrax roam the trailhead of St. Blaize like our pigeons-of-the-sea back home. Cute little fellas.
Hiking a portion of the incredibly scenic, 18-mile St. Blaize Trail, in Mossel Bay, the entire length of which follows the coastline.
(Kimsoo, you and I need to talk about my latest haircut.)
An ode to Margot as I await my Great White Shark cage diving adventure in Mossel Bay – this is the closest I could get to an official Team Zissou uniform for under $15 at the local Pep Store.

Diving with Great Whites wasn’t actually on my itinerary – but brother Steve talked some sense into me (“It’s Great White Shark Dive Mecca!”), while brother Jon put me in touch with the famous Chris and Monique Fallows – and suddenly my visit turned a bit more adventurous.
“Cage goes in the water. You go in the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark. Farewell and adieuuu…”
Four different Great Whites would come to the cage while we were inside, with a fifth coming to the boat as we pulled the cage on board. An absolutely AMAZING experience, thanks to Apex Shark Expeditions, White Shark Africa, and of course, Atlantic Shark Institute!
Well hello, my friend.
And don’t ask me how, Joan, they simply find me…
“Thanks, Dr. Dimock, but I won’t need a rabies shot, I won’t be going near any animals during my trip – you have my word on that.”

I like a reasonable amount of adventure, more than some, less than many, and I’m generally okay with heights. I hot-air ballooned in Cappadoccia, and flew over Victoria Falls in a microlight plane, powered by little more than an industrial fan and kept secure by a single-buckle seatbelt, the likes of which aren’t even allowed in most American cars these days. My daredevil Mom and I share the amazing memory of going on a glorious glider ride over Newport many years ago, and I went skydiving with Erik Hanna and Dave Wight in Lincoln – finding that to be such a thrill that I went again a year later.

You don’t have that “falling” sensation when skydiving. It’s quite the opposite, actually. But bungee jumping? It’s nothing but that falling sensation, and maybe being eaten alive by a pack of hyena or accidentally set ablaze while grilling my world famous wings are the only other ways I’d rather not shake my mortal coil.

In Zambia, there’s a famous bungee bridge right by Victoria Falls, and the only way I avoided jumping there was because I opted for the microlight.

“And besides,” I told Nathan, who had told me about his jump in South Africa – “If I’m gonna jump, it’s going to be from the world’s highest bungee bridge.”

At the time, it was little more than a delay tactic, if I’m being honest. I’d kind of counted on something coming up between that and this moment, when I found myself looking out at the tiny little dots in the distance that were people jumping and falling…and falling…falling an extraordinarily long, long way before that glorified elastic band even began to stretch taut.

“Can I just walk out and watch from the bridge?” I asked one the members of the Face Adrenaline jump team.

“Of course, but once you’re there, you’re going to want to jump, my friend.”

Damn you.

Bringing “jhd” (Dad) along for my jump from Bloukrans Bridge, the World’s highest. I can almost hear him now, saying “Peter, this might be the smartest thing you’ve ever done in your entire life. This…this is why you were always my favorite, favorite son.”
I thought that going to the observation platform to watch a few jumpers leap from that little tiny spot at the top of the arch, beneath the roadway, might ease my anxiety and build my courage.
It most decidedly did not.

My famous author friend, Jeff Hull (Pale Morning Done, Broken Field, and the forthcoming NYTimes Bestseller, Pud), talked of the sense of freedom and exhilaration he felt once he stepped off terrafirma, bungee jumping from an abandoned overpass in Detroit, I think it was. I did not feel that. Instead, I kind of felt like I’d been pushed off the world’s highest bungee bridge and was plummeting to my death for roughly eleven minutes.

Video 1: Watch here.
Video 2: Full Jump, watch here.
The taste of victory. Treating myself to a delicious Redwood Ale at Tsitsikamma Microbrewery (with a shoutout to my friends at Shaidzon, of course).
And don’t worry, Mom, I wasn’t drinking alone – my friend Bird was with me.
And what did I tell you, Joan? It’s not me.
My fun in the Garden Route section of South Africa was far from over. This is the waterfall hike section of Otter Trail, in Tsitsikamma National Park, on a gorgeous South Africa morning.
Along the way I would come across Guano Cave. For those in the know, guano means bat shit, and bat shit means, well, bats. Bat caves are creepy, so of course I was going in.
I’d meet two German women at the cave entrance, and not that I needed it, ehem, but strength in numbers, as they say…
We heard it before we saw it. About half way in the hike became a series of balancing acts, jumping from rocks to sticks over pools and mudpits. Hindsight being what it is, my friend began her day with a hilariously poor choice of footwear.
Awful photo once again (It’s me again, Apple!!!), but suddenly we looked up and found ourselves in the beginnings of the bat bedroom. Shortly afterward, the cave narrowed and deeper water made it impassible. All for the best since dirt covered most of our handholds, and…wait...that wasn’t dirt…
Back on Otter Trail, at the base of today’s destination…
The beautifully serene Otter Tail Waterfall, Tsitsikamma National Park.
Back in Cape Town’s Long Street neighborhood, at one of my nicer AirBnB’s (although the balcony was hilariously small), I reveled in the view of the conquered Lion’s Head on the right, but couldn’t shake the feeling of being taunted by Table Mountain, on the left.
Knowing the weather here cannot be trusted, I set out the first chance I got, although I wouldn’t have minded just a little cloud cover on this hot and sunny day.
Like Lion’s Head, the scenic hike to the summit takes anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours.
One of the many glorious views from atop Table Mountain.
You hear a lot of people talking about conquering the summit of mountains the world over, but who the hell ever brags about conquering the base? Satisfied with my achievement, I would take the cable car down – after a victory beer at the summit café, of course.
My recent post about my adventures in Malawi would end with my friend Elliott lamenting the fact that he, Lisa, and I would likely never see each other again. A week after leaving Cape Maclear, however, he randomly ran into Lisa aboard a ferry on Lake Malawi. Two weeks after that and he and I were having beers at Jamaica Me Crazy in the Woodstock neighborhood of Cape Town. My backpacking mentor Phillip Hess told me this would happen, but I didn’t believe it at the time.
A random, drunk, and very stoned local decided to join our table and entertain us with stories of coronavirus conspiracy theories. Elliott didn’t even try to keep a straight face.
A great night with new friends Jordan, Danni, Harriett (Elliott’s sister), and Elliott.
‘Til we meet at your and Tidy’s wedding, my friend!
Bruno’s giving me the stinkeye, which usually means it’s time for me to shut up.

Next Stop: India

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