Cape Town 11- 21/03
The last border of the first part of our Africa tour proved to be the easiest. West Africa was now behind us, next there were the South African subcontinent and the presumable easier East Africa. More tarmac and more fences ahead, less freedom, no more random wild camping, but more untapped wilderness and many unknowns. After the sharp looking immigration officer ruined yet another page of Ana’s beaten passport, we were in. No taxes, no bullshit. The only direction we were given was to use the “white people exit”.
It was the first bell to ring. Next, we needed to retire some money, fill up the tank and replenish our food supplies. That was going to be a long day: Reiner was already far ahead of us, but his example had inspired us to do the same and ride all the way to Cape Town no matter what. Over 800 kilometers that is, but 100% exceptionally good tarmac. Our pit stop happened to be in Springbok. On a Sunday, the sleepy little town looked like a life-size papier-mâché model. All crisp edges, bright colors, wind sweeping brittle grass on empty streets in the milky haze of early morning. At any turn we would expect to see people swarming out of this Trojan horse. But we were alone. We rode about the ghostly assembly of houses and supermarkets Everything looked brand new, like an experimental settlement implanted in the bony mountain. It soon became evident that we were subject to a different kind of illusion, one more subtle than a deus-ex-machina. The illusion of simple, perfect life in a provincial town.
Springbok was our second warning. Corporate power and consumerism were about to assume dominance to our everyday world. But for the moment, we couldn’t be bothered with that. Out of Springbok we were giving our Tenere a beating on the thrilling roads that wind through Namaqualand.
The ride started in high pitch, thrusting across a hefty chink of rock, a solitary giant in a surreal, empty landscape. The air was filled with dense colors that blurred our perspective.
After the adrenaline-pumping race, the road became smoother and shy. Namaqualand is a top destination for flower watching. In full bloom, this daisy paradise must be mesmerizing. As we arrived at summer’s end, the flowers had shed their bright petals months ago. The spring glory was gone. The curvy field was blanketed in dry grasses. And the sun shone surgically precise over this charming geometry.
At a red light, we received the first proof of the proverbial Capetonian hospitality. Charl and Carla, a young couple waiting alongside in their car curiously inquired about the language we were speaking. Our story appeared to interest them, and at the next stop we met again. This time we exchanged phone numbers and the promise to hang out or braai together in the upcoming days. Hours later we were feeling exhausted by the long drive, having to make seldom stops for refreshment. We had eaten breakfast in a fast food joint in Springbok and lunch from our supplies in a gas station somewhere. All we had to do is hang on and keep pushing. In Citrusdaal we received a second offer to overnight, from a local family who happened to spot us while filling up with petrol at the Total. We kindly declined, but what a good feeling that gave us! We had arrived in South Africa quite battered and we planned to speed up our pace. Already the journey to there took us 3 months more than the original 6 we had allowed. And our financial resources were ever dwindling. So the idea was to exit South Africa in less than 3 weeks. But the first encounters invited for a more lengthy stay.
We arrived at the outskirts of suburban Cape Town by night. But this was a whole different ball game than the other 19 countries we had visited so far. Fancy saloon-shiny cars were speeding by, navigating a well appointed infrastructure. There were persistent, well designed directions everywhere and the highway was flushed with lights. The city was a patch of twinkles, beyond which we guessed in the darkness that filled the horizon the Atlantic ocean. The full moon was up. We had finished the first half of our African adventure. The mud, sweat and tears in the Congo were now yesterday’s news.
The following morning, at 6.30 a.m., we woke up to start packing, only to find ourselves surrounded by walls. We had machines to cook breakfast and brew tea for us and hot water was again at the press of a button. We were staying for the next week in Hout Bay, with Iulia and her capetonian boyfriend Zak. Iulia is a Romanian girl who has come to live in Cape Town 4 months ago and who discovered our blog and had the generosity and inspiration of inviting us over. In the coming days we would discover that we share many quirky habits and a common passion for food.
Fish and chips at a Capetonian legend
Seals love basking in the sun on these shores
The sheer scale of Cape Town started to gradually down on us as the days passed. We had arrived in the night, and all we could make of it was the fragrant smell of pine trees to Kirstenbosch and the scintillating downtown under the huge full moon. Hout Bay, our home for the week, is one of the pouchiest, most chilled areas of the town: low rise residential developments, but mostly sunny villas tucked along a gentle bay. People walk barefoot even to the shopping mall and their dogs roam the beaches sometimes unaccompanied, accustomed to enjoy the odd pat and cuddle from the tourists or any animal lover really. We were lured by this peace and epicurean, holiday-village life. The drive to town was even more intoxicating. The perfectly smooth tarmac was wrapped in heart-pumping curves: on one side the crisp mountain was splitting clouds, on the other the cold surf pounded white sandy beaches. Loud sun, fresh air, we felt high with enjoyment.
The first thing that jolted us back into the reality of a modern metropolis was the traffic: we were feeling more at risk in this dandiest city of the continent than in the deepest bush of the Congo.
The city has a population comparable to Bucharest, but it is scattered on a huge area. Most locals reside in single-family homes in the suburbs, the business district and the industrial port are located north of Lion’s Head, in Table Bay. To the south there are several national parks with exhilarating hikes and the iconic Table Mountain, covered in a layer of intricately beautiful fynboss. The swankiest properties and the trendiest al-frescos line the Atlantic Western coast, especially in Camp’s Bay and Clifton, but also in Hout Bay and Seapoint. To regulate traffic both in DT and in the residential neighborhoods, Cape Town has employed an original solution: STOP signs instead of red lights, and we must vouch that it’s one that works.