South Africa is all set to host the FIFA Soccer World Cup in June. With the added attraction of a temperate climate, the beaches, mountains and the vineyards, it makes an ideal getaway this summer…
South Africans love folk tales and Cape Town is full of them — you have dime a dozen for every occasion, every mood of even the weather. You can never be sure of the weather whatever may be the season. You could have, in fact, all the four seasons in a day, says Ella, our guide. That is because of the play of the devil. A Dutchman went out to smoke his pipe. A devil came and they started playing poker. They played and played and smoked and darkened the sky. When there is a cloud, people say that the devil's poker game is on.
When you see the pearly white beaches and the brilliant aquamarine blue of the seas fringed with frothing, snow-white water bubbles, the awe-inspiring Table Mountain as a backdrop, the chilling winds wafting from the Atlantic, and the low-roofed, spotless, grey-coloured Dutch houses that are more than a hundred years old, it does seem you are in a bygone secluded world that is pure and pristine, uncomplicated and idyllic, that makes any tale of yore seem plausible. Yet, this is the land that was witness to a turbulent 350 years of recorded history, its pages taking a dramatic turn with the entry of the seafaring Europeans, the resultant conflicts, greed, terror, aggression, settlements pushing away the natives to the interiors, colonial rule of apartheid — brutal racism at its worst, that lasted till 1994 — the rise of mass revolt under the iconic Nelson Mandela and the declaration of Independence and the present state of near chaos. Tales from different yarns must have got entangled, like the language that emerged — Afrikaans, a cocktail of Zulu, Dutch, German, Portuguese and the Huguenots, and even Malaysian. Delve deeper, the place is schizophrenic — European but not European, African but not African — a volatile mixture of the third and first worlds. There is a sense of history everywhere, scars hidden in its quaint architecture, in its cafés, parks and gardens, markets and road-side restaurants in remote villages.
There is something more — temperate climate all the year round, mountains, magnificent surf beaches and outstanding vineyards. Excellent roads that connect every remote village that is well preserved, with friendly restaurants that serve delightful Dutch cuisine — Reasons why it is the recipient of the 2008 Best Destination in Africa award. Cape Town is now busy preparing to host the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup and a superb stadium is at present under construction. You see it screaming everywhere in billboards, posters and fluttering flags from poles along the roads.
The early morning sun through the hotel window gives a breathtaking view of the Table Mountain and the bright blue sea beyond. The Table Mountain that one has seen on the television screen during the telecast of cricket matches in South Africa stands live in front of me. A flag of FIFA world cup flutters in full view beyond the hotel entrance.
A drive along the Atlantic Ocean's beach with the view of the 12 apostles of the Table Mountain following you as a soothing companion is a daunting experience. The beach is special because of the exquisite beauty of the colour of the sea, the cold wind from the Atlantic Ocean that gets cut by the summer easterly wind from the Indian Ocean. The houses facing the beach come for a price anywhere from five to 15 million Rands. You have to pay for the view says Ella. Madonna and Michael Jackson have houses here.
We are all geared up for the trip in the cable car up the Table Mountain and down. But Ella warns us to keep our fingers crossed; the winds are unpredictable and if the winds were dangerously strong the cableway service would be unceremoniously cancelled. She hastens to add that ever since the cable way was opened in 1929 there has not been a single accident. She also frightens us to full measure narrating stories of how the strong winds can drive one insane — the reason said to be the cause of many suicides that have occurred here. We are lucky after all, the devils didn't play their tricks, and the winds are behaving and off we go in the cableway. It is hard to explain the experience. The view from the top is phenomenal. The grand mountains above that come nearer, the mist that circles the peaks and wafts like white smoke, the green-and-blue sea below and the vegetation around are a scenic beauty the like of which I have not seen anywhere in the world. It is exhilarating. Ella tells us that the mountain is home to over 1400 species of flowering plants.
We drive to Hout Bay the next morning for a launch trip. By now we are convinced that the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula is the most spectacular coastal scenery in the world. The combination of mountains and beaches is irresistible. Hout Bay opens up behind the almost vertical Sentinel, and the steep slopes of Chapman's Peak. We cross the satellite town that still has a village atmosphere and notice the Dutch names of the streets and restaurants. The sea is rough and the launch wobbles and we remain seated inside the glassed cabins for a while watching helplessly at the waves lashing at the windowpanes. When the winds appear toned down we venture out to the deck to take a few pictures of the roaring sea and the seals that have come to sun themselves on some rocklike elevated surface. Fellow traveller Periaswamy is busy video-graphing when a burst of wave rises and alights ferociously on his side, almost toppling him and down goes Periaswamy's video camera into the Atlantic slipping away from his arm. We are shocked and sad but console him that he should thank his stars [or the devils] thathe didn't get drowned after all.
Tryst with history
We head towards Cape of Good Hope. I am quite excited, being familiar with its historical and geographical importance from school days. Francis Drake's chronicler described the Cape of Good Hope as ‘The most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.' The whole journey to the Cape is a visual feast to the eyes, dotted with lily-white blooms known as ‘everlasting flowers' because they remain fresh for days. You find groups of small Jackass penguins walking elegantly in some of the beaches. Ella gives a lot of information about their mating time; how they lose all their feathers; how they deliver babies at the same time laying only two eggs per year; how the babies are fed all the time; During mating time, however, the parents do not go fishing and so the young ones are left to fend for themselves. Adults are distinctly coloured in black and white, while the young are brown and white. They love oily fish and the white portion of their body reflects the fish underneath to help them spot the catch. Ella says each penguin has distinct identities like black freckles and the babies recognise the parents by it. They all look alike to me.
Before we reach the Cape, there is a welcome break at the Blauuklippen vineyard which is more than 300 years old. We get a free taste of the most exotic wines — the Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and the cellar master's favourite, the highly sought after Zinfandel .The master describes its taste in sensuous detail: ‘This wine entices with dark chocolate and stoved pear aromas against a slightly peppery backdrop. The palate delivers a medley of intense dried fruit flavours for which it is well known.' We are busier tasting it than understanding his ambiguous description. The costliest and a winner is of course Barouch 1.5L ‘which is a full bodied well structured and well integrated wine.'
I ask Ella if a house is available there for sale. You cannot find that kind of money in your lifetime darling, she says.
Cape of Good Hope is literally a blast. It is exciting to see the board with the name written in bold letters. But when you set your foot on the ground you are actually blown away by the incredibly strong winds.
The point where, in 1487, Bartholomew Dias of Portugal, who came in search of a sea route to India, rounded the Cape, set his foot and named it the Cape of Good Hope, hoping that it would be a gateway to the exotic Indies. Neither the Portuguese, nor the Dutch and the English who came in the 16th century wanted to colonise the Cape. It was a stop-over for the crew of shipping companies that slowly crystallised the value of permanent settlement. The Dutch gradually built a fort and in the next 100 years the white population became overwhelmingly Dutch. Though the British took control of the Cape and the colony was ceded to the crown in 1814, the Dutch influence is too strong to be wiped away. The drive ends with a lovely lunch at Swellenden where I taste the best apple pie I have ever had in my life. Ms. Tilla Hon, the chef who baked it, is overjoyed when I express my appreciation and happily poses for a snap shot.
The wine, the divine apple pie, the sea, the wind and the mountains all in a day — a heady mix that can keep you intoxicated for a lifetime.