I’m reading sad stories of Cape Town’s drought. The city expects to run out of water in mid-April 2018, and some say that the problem can only be solved with a massive desalination program, which hasn’t yet been initiated. Drought years are no fun––we in Northern California know that from experience. Lack of enough water affects agriculture, and tourism too. Everyone should have a chance to see Cape Town, at least once.
We arrive on a warm spring evening, in September 2013. Our hotel sits on a tree-lined square, and we sleep soundly with the casement windows cracked open. At 5:30, we are awakened by the banging and clanging of pipes being assembled into structures that tarps will cover. We peer out. Men are shouting as they push handcarts and pile bundles of goods, just a few feet from our window.
People, perhaps migrants from other African nations, are setting up a street market where they will sell fabrics, carvings, jewelry, drums and more, every day, rain or shine. And every evening the goods and structures disappear.
By 8:30, when our guide Chris arrives, it is pouring rain. It rains, off and on, all three days we are here.
We make it to the top of Table Mountain early the second day, on our third attempt. It’s cold for September; a late blast of winter has hit South Africa. We don our jackets and mittens and stocking caps, and enter the 65-passenger gondola. Rain drops splatter against the window, but we can still see the rocks and steep trails below as we are pulled by the cable to the top. A big red sign warns us about the hooter.
When we exit the gondola, it begins to snow a wet, sleety snow. The white stuff sticks on wooden walkways and on the plants. We take plenty of pictures––mostly of the snow because we can’t really see the ocean or the city views very well.
Our guide Chris is taking pictures too because, even though he has lived in Cape Town all his life, he has never seen snow on Table Mountain.
We are cold but stay long enough to walk over all the paths on the mountaintop and to shop a bit at the gift store before safely returning to the bottom. We never hear the hooter, but within an hour after we leave, the mountain closes.
We learn later that it has only snowed on Table Mountain twice since 1970. We feel lucky. Cold, but lucky.
We drive through the wine country to Cape Point where the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans meet.
The Cape of Good Hope is like California’s wine country, San Francisco, and Monterey Bay all smushed up close together in one tight little corner of the world––a very beautiful corner. We see elands and ostriches and valleys with vineyards and quaint villages. We meet winemakers and have some very good wine, and some not-very-good wine.
We have had several hours of intermittent sun and are still marveling at the rugged beauty of the Cape, when Chris pulls into a parking lot with a sign that says “Welcome to Boulders.” We walk down a boardwalk, but stop to take a picture – it’s a penguin, and then another, and another. Chris looks at the dark clouds rolling in and tells us to walk faster; suddenly the skies open up.
Umbrellas come out and people shout to one another as they scatter and run. Other people, that is. The nine of us are the only ones left on the boardwalk. We have the penguins all to ourselves.
We’re freezing, but we can’t stop watching their antics – into the water, out of the water, shake off the water, swim to the right of the rock, swim to the left of the rock, out of the water, shake off the water.
Every so often, we hear a donkey braying––it’s one of the penguins, maybe a male calling his mate to watch the eggs in their nest. These African penguins are sometimes called jackass penguins, based on their call. You can see and hear them on this short video from BBC.
We’re soaked but don’t want to leave. We feel even colder and luckier than before.
I hope it rains again in Cape Town.
Date of travel: September 2013.