Monday, September 6, 2010

Under African Skies

CAPE TOWN, South Africa - There are, of course, more than seven interesting things about Cape Town, widely held by travelers to be the coolest city in South Africa. Here are seven sights in the city and surrounds that caught my attention:

1. The Company Gardens: Once the vegetable and fruit patch of the Dutch East India Co., used to grow food for scurvy-ravaged sailors, the space is now a lush, beautifully landscaped public park and garden in the heart of the city. Set into one flank is the Parliament Building with its white, colonial-era statue of Queen Victoria just outside. The park is a lovely place for a daytime stroll, though visitors are warned not walk alone there at night.

2. Table Mountain: An obvious choice, towering dramatically above the city bowl and terraced hillsides, and often draped in clouds. It's a dramatic and defining element.

3. Outside the city-center, Chapman's Peak: It gives sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela and other heros of the anti-apartheid struggle were imprisoned) and the lovely seaside promenade below in a once-seedy area that has been cleaned up.

4. The road from Chapman's Peak: A twisty, hilly artery with phenomenal views, originally laid out as a dirt track in 1915. Traffic is carefully controlled and signposted. Coming down the hillside in the direction of the Cape of Good Hope, your eyes fall upon a 6-kilometer-long white sand beach backed with wetlands. Among other things, locals ride horses up and down the strand.

5. A sign in the car park at Boulder Beach, where the big attraction is Africa's most famous penquin colony: "Warning: Please look under your vehicles for penquins.'' The beach is part of the expansive Table Mountain National Park, on the fringe of the city.

6. A roadside sign in the scrubby, windy stretch of land on the road to the Cape of Good Hope, which Vasco de Gama famously rounded in 1498 on his journey to India: "Baboons!''

There are many of these primates, skittering along the ground, sitting on top of fenceposts and wandering onto the road. Visitors are of necessity warned not to feed or touch them, as they are wild animals, not pets. One baboon that I and my group see along the roadside has a bloody tongue hanging out of his mouth. The guide from Roots Africa Tours ( tells us this one has probably lost a fight and been expelled from his group. Further along, baboons overrrun an ostrich farm and create a diversion so that their fellows can steal the big birds' food.

7. The food and the singing at Two Oceans restaurant at craggy Cape Point, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. We feast on food heaped in iron skillets - rice, calamari, lobster, a white fish whose name I didn't catch, a good curry - and sit back, sated, as restaurant staff sing traditional African songs and demonstrate a dance. Decidedly touristy, to be sure, but well-done and enjoyable. The lunch is accompanied by excellent wines - one of South Africa's specialties. I sip a glass of a rose brut and sample a 2008 Hartenberg Chardonnay from the wine-growing center Stellenbosch, located an hour from the city in the Cape Winelands.

There may be something finer than drinking good wine at the ends of the Earth, but when you're doing it, it's hard to think of what that something could be.

No comments:

Post a Comment