As I mentioned in my recap of my visit to Robben Island, my trip to Cape Town seemed like it was largely a bust. The legendary beauty of the South African Mother City had eluded me for almost the entirety of my trip due to the torrential downpour the rolled into the city the day I arrived and didn't leave until the morning I headed out to the island that held Nelson Mandela for years.
Even though the rain seemed to have moved on that morning, the clouds and fog lingered. Would the weather make a u-turn, bringing the incessant rain be back with a vengeance? I was about as sure of how the weather would turn out the rest of the day as the world is sure of Prince's sexuality. So imagine my surprise when we returned to shore and were met with blue skies and seemingly endless sunshine. I was absolutely NOT prepared for the weather clearing up, thus giving me the opportunity to go out and explore the city for the remainder of my last day in the city.
I mulled over a few options in my head of what I'd like to do and in the end I made an executive decision that was a little outside of my normal wheelhouse - I bought a ticket for the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus. I tend to associate these types of things with the fanny pack travel crowd, which is 100% acceptable as a way to see the world, but not something that fits me personally very well. But .... with only a few hours left in the day and a desire to see as much of Cape Town as I could on my last day, it seemed like the best option available to me.
Luckily the ferry from Robben Island drops off at the Victoria & Albert Waterfront at a location only a short walk from the departure point of the buses, so I made my way over to the ticket booth, handed over some cash, and hopped on the next bus heading out into the city.
From the V&A Waterfront the bus makes its way through a few neighborhoods in the city, offering stops at a variety of interesting locations such as the colorful houses of Bo-Kaap, the District Six Museum, Kirstenbosch Gardens, and the Castle of Good Hope. I would have loved to stop at all of these places to explore them in-depth, or even just jump off and gorge myself on strips of biltong, but having a mere handful of hours remaining before the sunset I knew what my goal was going to be - Table Mountain.
Likely the most iconic geographic feature of Cape Town, Table Mountain sits behind the expanse of the city like nature's picture frame. It was the one thing in Cape Town other than Robben Island I knew I would be upset about not having visited should I miss it before boarding my flight back home. We slowly meandered out of the urban core of the city and started up the switchback that leads to the cable car station about halfway up the mountain.
While many folks choose to hike up the mountain via marked paths (and that probably would have been an AMAZING way to experience the mountain), time was not on my side so I figured the less time consuming cable car was my best option. Even when the weather is clear they occasionally will shut down the cars if the wind kicks up too strongly, so I was hoping my luck with the weather that afternoon would continue.
I left that in fate's hands (because burning a bundle of sage and dancing around a fire seemed impractical on top of a bus) and looked out upon the expanse of the city. Even from the road, the views going up the mountain were quite remarkable.
Luck was indeed on my side as the cable car was fully operational when the bus pulled into the parking lot. I quickly purchased a ticket and queued up to get on the car. It seemed I had beat the majority of folks up the mountain as I didn't have much of a wait at all before I was gliding up those cables. Fun fact - I'm afraid of heights and though flying rarely gets to me, other things like standing on ledges or, lets say, taking cable cars makes me a bit sweaty and gives me the tummy grumblies. I managed to survive though I made sure I was the first person hopping off the car when it reached the top of the mountain.
I was expecting a rather small area to move around while on top, limiting access on the mountain top to a tiny area where you could look out upon the city and ocean before heading back down, but I was wrong. While most folks congregated around the cable car station quite a large expanse on the top was completely open, allowing folks to walk trails along the relatively flat surface and catch views from just about anywhere. That being said, the view of the city and the ocean was from the area around the station was indeed absolutely breathtaking, so I understand why many folks congregated there. It genuinely was one of the most beautiful vistas I have ever had the pleasure of taking in.
The sun was hanging low in the sky and gave everything it touched a big of a golden glow. Clouds were hanging low all about in the sky but rather than distract they added to the beauty of the scene.
To the northwest was the infamous Lion's Head, part of the same national park system as Table Mountain and a distinct feature on the Cape Town skyline. The source of it's name is quite obvious - its looks quite a bit like a regal, stately lion's head as it survey's its kingdom.
One of the most interesting things about Table Mountain is the "table cloth". This is a phenomenon that occurs when the "Cape Doctor" makes an appearance, a local term for when the wind blows from the southeast up the slopes of the mountain and comes into contact with colder air at the peak of the mountain range. Orographic clouds then form, taking on the appearance of a blanket of clouds sitting directly on top of the flat surface of the mountain. Or, a table cloth.
The "table cloth" stayed off the mountain during my time at the top but you can see the phenomenon occurring on other parts of the mountain range if you're lucky which, as we've already established, I was that day.
I was even able to capture the hypnotic way the clouds roll over the edge of the peaks on this video.
At times it almost felt like the mountain was on fire with the clouds moved up and over the edge of the peak like a thick smoke.
The sun had just started to lower itself in the sky when I arrived on the peak and it was falling quickly after about two hours of wandering. The light began to change and it was clear the evening would be arriving fairly soon.
Mountain climbers abseil down the side of the mountain with Lion's Head in the background.
The sunlight was so bright at one point my camera had a hard time taking in the images and I ended up with ghosts from people moving against the backdrop. It was then I decided with some sadness it was probably time to call it a day on the mountain and took the next cable car down and hopped on the bus back toward the V&A Waterfront.
As we made our way down the mountain I saw the expanse of Camps Bay spread out before us. The entire area felt very much like Miami to me, with art deco buildings dotting the road along the shore framed by palm trees and people jogging.
As the bus rolled along the water's edge I gazed out at the magnificent stretches of sandy beach and found myself promising I'd come back again at a time of year when the sun would be out consistently and the temperature high enough to put on a bathing suit without my testes retreating into my gallbladder.
It really was the perfect end to my time in Cape Town. With so many day spent stuck in the hotel with nothing but buckets of rain and an endless blanket of clouds for as far as the eye can see, this felt like a gift. A redemption of the soul to be sitting in an open air vehicle driving along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean as the sun set in all its celestial glory in the distance.
It felt like hours were going by as we made our way back toward the waterfront and I watched life along the ocean roll by, the sun slowly sinking further and further into the distance. The ruby glow slowly changed from a spotlight to a back light on the seemingly endless stream of people walking in the grass and sand.
We finally pulled back into the waterfront and I hopped off the bus as I felt the first pangs of hunger enter my stomach. I smiled as I realized it was just about time for dinner, and if you know anything about me I'm always really happy when I know I'm about to eat. Sick of hotel food and with the sun disappearing beyond the horizon, I wandered back toward the waterfront with my nose in the air hoping I would find something that called my name.
I soon found myself settling down at a little bistro with outdoor seating along the water's edge. A heat lamp behind me pumped waves of warmth into the approaching chill as I pulled my coat closer to my body and thought about my time in Cape Town. Surprisingly, I decided I was completely content with how things had gone.
Yes, I didn't get to see all the amazing things that make Cape Town a perennial traveler favorite. Yes, I was stuck in my hotel for days on end with no salvation in sight. Yes, I flew 8000 miles across the globe only to end up doing two things the entire time I was in this city. But scroll back up this post and look at those pictures a second time.
It was worth it.