Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cape Town and the return flight to Heathrow

So, I exited the terminal looking for Taxi’s… there’s a line, but you have to go get the man in the terminal and tell him what you want, and he picks who’s going to take you. The drivers themselves negotiate the fare, unless you are just going to do a standard metered ride. I asked for a ride to Table Top Mountain, and then a price for driver to stay there and take me afterwards to V&A marina area. The driver suggested alternative… drive me to Table Top, but I take a taxi from the queue there to V&A, and then call him and he’d return me from V&A to the airport. Had a very interesting discussion on apartheid, and the current situation in South Africa… he showed me the shanty-towns on the way… there are thousands of shantys, none of which have running water or sewer hookups. They all steal electricity from poles in the area (see lines, running like tent staves from every pole to the little shantys). The shanty’s have microwaves, other electric appliances, but still have the appalling lack of water and sewer. Though there is a much more casual attitude to sewer/sewage. The airports sewer lines run open to trenches around the airport—one of the improvements that the new building spurt may fix, but not a sure thing yet.

We got to Table Top Mountain in about 20 minutes, but the cable cars to the top were closed, because there were high winds…and the two cable cars were now attempting to come down at less than a snail’s pace to not aggravate the situation. (glad I wasn’t up there on those!). I asked the driver if he had other suggestions, and he said Cape of Good Hope… I pointed out my time constraints, and he said we would make it easily, and we could also take in a few other sights along the way. We renegotiated the fare for the considerably longer (~4 hour total) and went to find a gas station to refuel and to pick up waters for me and cokes for him. All along the trip he would talk about the situation in South Africa—which many of his concerns were echoed with conversations I had with others before I left SA… He recommended the first part of the trip be along the Atlantic side, which is more picturesque, and then return along the Indian Ocean side, which had another attraction and was a much quicker drive back to airport.

With my own driver, I could ask him to pull over at any “scenic” spot and take pictures and he was quite amenable… I finally stopped, because there were so many beautiful scenes that after a while they blended in…. many beautiful bays, the “12 Apostles” mountain configuration, beach after beach, beds of “Christmas Flowers) known to us as alyssum (big white and purple balls long stalks, come out late spring, early summer)…

Every time I thought we had finally arrived, we’d look around another bend and there would be another mountain to edge around… I began to worry when would we ever get there! There was no T-Mobile cell service for most of this, though driver’s phone worked until last 3rd of the journey. We went through park preserves, wildlife reserves, baboon reserves…. Then finally arrived at the Cape of Good Hope---where we paid another park fee, and then got to drive another 10 minutes to the parking lot… there you paid another 25Rand to ride the funicular rail up and back to the “almost top”. Meaning where it ends, you get to walk up at least 110 very tall rock steps up to the top where the lighthouse is. All the time battling 40+mile winds with occasional higher gusts. You felt like you had to hold on or you might get blown away. On the way my glasses were blown off my face, and only survived because a man caught them in flight before they flew off the top off the cliff. The last two flights were a battle against my fear of heights, between the vertical nature and the wind, it was a real struggle. But I finally made it up. It was amazing view with breakers and rifts where you could see the two bodies of water fighting… On this day, it was the Indian Ocean winning the dominance game…I’m told it’s usually the other way. Wild life.. there are wild protected baboons all over, but I didn’t see any. Half the park had been completely burnt earlier this year, so one side of the rode going in is charred and ashes, and the other side of the road is alive. Protea grow wild as weeds, with their exotic blooms all over the place. Some different birds with red/black/white markings, but not much in bird life because of the high winds perhaps, today.

In the middle of the confluence of the oceans, there is this quiet bay/beach just on the Atlantic side that has none of the raging seas seen everywhere else. Sand is white and the water was an azure blue with lagoons of aqua…

From there, I was getting nervous about getting back, but driver assured me we’d make it, and that I couldn’t leave having come this far without seeing the penguin colony. So we went off to the next—on the Indian Ocean side, and went to see the Penguins. This is another nature preserve where you can walk on decking down almost to the beach, and all along the way you see penguins… and at the bottom there are rocks and beach area where you see many many many penguins all congregated with their beaks all leading into the wind. From there is was pretty much back to the airport with occasional stops to look at mountains… We got back to the airport around 4:45 and I went in search of my airline friend and my bag. Found it with no problem… and she told me she had tried to upgrade my seat, but couldn’t, but instead had found me a center row where they had blocked all four seats so I could stretch out. She suggested I tell the crew that it was blocked for me when I got there so people wouldn’t “rearrange” themselves into my space.

When I got to the plane I settled in and one of the crew noticed I had placed items on two of the seats next to me… and said it probably wouldn’t work to save the space. I told them that the agent at SAA (woman I had sat next to) had blocked them for me… and the crew member said well, then we can fix that, and brought back a “crew seat” sign for two of the seats… No one encroached and I spent a very nice evening stretched out on my “lounge”.

Uneventful flight return, though very bumpy over the northern stretch of Africa.. Once again we were late, though this time only 30 minutes late on the return. 11 hours 30 minutes return time.

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