From the moment I arrived in Cape Town, every time I saw her, I would say, “Oh God, how beautiful she is!” And take her photograph each and every day... During the day, at the beach, at sunset, during shopping in the downtown, and then another pic on the way to dinner in the city. As a result, I almost filled up a very large memory card in my phone. Friends laughed, saying that I would get used to it, but after six months nothing has changed. I still look at her with admiration, because each hike or ride on the cable car to the top is a remarkable experience that leaves one breathless.
I have the impression that the inhabitants of Cape Town, even those who have been here for many, many years, still find her magical, especially when her top is covered with a specific layer of clouds, the so-called “Tablecloth”. The locals will immediately explain this phenomenon: a legend about a certain Van Hunks, a pipe lover. The short version says that long ago, Van, a retired Dutch pirate, smoked a pipe in his favourite spot on the slopes of the Mountain. At one point, a stranger (who turned out to be the devil) approached him and suggested a smoking duel. After a day or so (versions vary), a cloud of smoke enveloped them. Van Hunks won the competition, which infuriated the devil terribly. Nobody likes being a loser, especially the devil, so the story ended badly for the pirate. The devil summoned thunder and took Van Hunks with him. Now, when these specific clouds appear and “cover the table” it is said that the devil and the pirate are smoking their pipes, and that is why, the place is called Devils Peak in honour of this legend.
“She” (the old lady) is is one of the oldest mountains in the world. Her story began eight hundred million years ago, when sandstone, one of the building materials of the mountain, was forming under water. Sandstone is a relatively soft rock, but was strengthened by magma emerging from the earth's core. The magma, eventually, cooled down and formed a hard granite. About 300 million years ago, the mountain was still at sea level during the Ice Age. During this time, the glacier formed a flat surface. When the continents split apart, it caused a huge pressure in the earth's crust. If the rocks of Table Mountain were made only of sandstone, they would collapse under pressure, but the granite gave them strength. The whole process caused the mountain to rise, and gave a shape as we know today. Of course, over millions of years, Table Mountain was also eroded by wind, fire, ice and water.
Not only her age has guaranteed her place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Perhaps, Fynbos was even more important. My first contact with this mysterious term was when I drank gin (really good by the way). Fynbos is a type of vegetation, such as savannah. It contains a vast number of plants, as many as 9,000 types (2,000 of them grow on Table Mountain), most of them are endemic. It is the kingdom of flowers, one of six found in the world and the only one that occurs entirely in one country. It is amazing that from a distance it seems that these grass clusters are uninteresting, only up close do we discover their richness and diversity. The Fynbos kingdom is huge and includes heathers, orchids, daisies, citrus representatives, as well as rooibos (known as tea) and protea, which interestingly enough, is South Africa's national flower.
There are two ways to get to the top of the mountain; cable car (the option for lazy people ;)) and the other is climbing or hiking. Even though hiking is quite demanding (at least for someone with average physical condition, like me) it gives great satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment once at the top. We have several routes to choose from. I chose the Platteklip Gorge route which took me roughly three hours to climb and I ended up drinking about 5 litres of water while climbing and two energy drinks for that extra boost.
As I stood at the bottom of Table Mountain and looked up at the never-ending path that twisted and turned. At that point I second guessed myself and I wondered what went through Lady Anne Barnard’s mind, the first European lady, that we know of, to climb to the top of the mountain in July 1797. I’m sure she felt the exact same way as I did; “what did I get myself into?”. But, being motivated and driven to conquer, the climb is something we have in common. Lady Anne is an interesting figure that contributed to the history of Cape Town. If there was a gossip column in those days, she would have definitely found her very own spot. She was a Scottish writer and amateur artist. She reportedly turned down 20 marriage offers, and finally, at the age of 42, she married a soldier, Andrew Barnard, who was 12 years her junior. Gossip has it that the lady was quite a catch . Thanks to numerous endeavour’s by Anne, her husband was appointed as the colonial secretary of the Cape and they both settled in Cape Town for 5 years.
You can feel the spirit and the history of those times when you visit the Castle of Good Hope. Lady Anne Barnard hosted parties at the Castle which, I was told, was an event you just had to be a part of. The couple’s country house is now part of the beautiful “Vineyard Hotel”. Here you can learn more about a woman who was ahead of her time by sheer determination, motivation and perseverance of being. “She” the Lady, put on her husband's pants and supported herself, literally and figuratively, all the way up to the top.
For those of you that choose not to climb or hike, the cable car ride is an unforgettable attraction in itself. The 360-degree panoramic view of the rotating gondola is beautiful and breath-taking. The lower cable car station is located at an altitude of 363 meters above sea level, and in five minutes ride in cable car to the top of the Table Mountain, we will be at an altitude of 1067 meters above sea level.
How was it before? The idea of building was born at the end of the nineteenth century, and after a few perturbations, finally materialized on October 4, 1929. At that time, the cable car had a maximum capacity 25 people. Today it has a maximum capacity of 65 people. The last modernization took place in 1997. It was a great event when Colombian film producer, Federico Velasquez, was welcomed as the 20 millionth passenger on March 25, 2010. Annually, the cable car transports about a million tourists.
Once at the top, we can spend as much time as we want, strolling, contemplating the beauty of the landscape or looking for the small, local resident, the “Dassie”. Fun fact: surprisingly, the Dassie is related to the elephant. There is a fully functional restaurant on the top of the Mountain (yes, with electricity ) where in my opinion, they have some very good pizzas and beers. It is a good idea to pack a picnic basket for longer stays on the mountain, when you have more time. You can always admire the sunset, sit with a bottle of your favourite wine, or you could be really spontaneous and use this perfect setting for your marriage proposal. 😉
P.S. It is Friday 01/04.2020. The South African government has introduced a five-step quarantine scale (lockdown) to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. We have been on level five for the last five weeks, which is very strict. As of today, the fourth stage is in force, which allows you to exercise, for example, running outside the home, but only from 06:30 to 09:00. So today I got up at 06:30 and ran to one of my favourite places to view the majestic 7th wonder of the world and I can confirm that nothing has changed, Table Mountain is still beautiful!