“Do you have a big f-ing thing?” we joke, “Well if you do, then we’d like to climb it.”
After traveling for almost a year you start to develop a distinct modus operandi for getting to know a city. One piece of our pattern: find whatever big hill, mountain, building, mound or other big f-ing thing in the center of town that offers pretty good views of the place and climb it. Nellu likes to quote a line from Star Trek where Captain Kirk says something about climbing a mountain just because it’s there. That’s what we do. (By the way, my computer just spazzed out. It seems the very idea of me quoting Star Trek, even indirectly, was enough to send a chill through its motherboard.) But in general the climbing part works pretty well for us because it’s usually free, we get some exercise, and we feel mighty productive.
Many big f-ing things have cable cars to the top but climbing is part of the fun…most of the time. The only place we could have climbed but didn’t was in Bogota, Columbia. That’s because, as a friend of ours explained, “Yeah, everyone I know who’s tried to hike up Monserrate has been mugged.” So that time, we opted for the cable car.
Arriving in Cape Town, we soon learned that this city along South Africa’s southern coast offered a very seductive big thing to climb – Table Mountain. Table Mountain is an imposing mountain around which much of Cape Town is formed. We stayed at the foot of the mountain and had a great view of it from our guest house, the Lions Self Catering Guest House. Many days, late in the afternoon, clouds would come pouring over the top of the mountain with such ferocity you thought these clouds would actually envelop the whole thing. But they didn’t. As soon as the cloud reached a certain point on the downward slope of Table Mountain, they would evaporate. They called this phenomenon the table cloth.
To tackle this beast, our host suggested we take a commonly chosen path up the middle of the mountain called the Platteklip Gorge. Most people take a taxi to the beginning of the trail. We walked. So our climb started from the moment we left our door. It was pretty much straight up for 3 hours.
But the weather was ideal. The sun was out and beating down hard but the gorge offered plenty of shade and a cool breeze as we got near the top. The climb was tough. It still amazes me after all this traveling/climbing big things that I am sufficiently out of shape enough to huff and puff as I do these types of hikes.
And there are always those people that put you to shame, like the man who went up the rocky path barefoot with only a pair of short running shorts and a fanny pack or the woman who looked like she was in her 50s or 60s who passed me on the way up and the way down.
Our biggest mistake was that we didn’t bring enough water and there were no “entrepreneurs” at the top waiting to sell us more. In most places that are frequented this much by tourists, there’s always someone waiting for you at the top with overpriced refreshments, even in places that leave you wondering how one might haul heavy cases of drinks to that location.
Once at the top, Nellu informed me that we needed to walk another 30 minutes or so to the highest point on the mountain – Maclear’s Beacon. I was exhausted but at least this stretch would be mostly flat.
The payoff, however, was more than worth it, more than most climbs. At different points at the top you can see both the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. You can also see the town of Cape Town stretched out before you and you feel very, very high up.
The trip back down the path was harder for me than on the way up. There were big steps in path,which really require a balance and muscle use that most downhill treks do not. I encouraged myself on with the promise of the lychee juice slushies I would blend together the moment we walked through our guesthouse door.
For days after, I would stare at the mountain and say, “I can’t believe we climbed all the way up there, ” even as I limped my way around town. I was dumbfounded and still am.