Part 3: Table Mountain, Capetown

IMG_0228HSunday, October 26, 2014: We got up very early for our visit to Table Mountain. Cape Town’s most recognizable landmark is a 2 mile long slab of shale, sandstone, and granite that rose from the ocean about 250 million years ago. Its flat top shape is often covered with white clouds referred to as the mountain’s table cloth. It dominates the landscape, and affects the climate and the development of the city down below.
Because of the strong winds of the last 3 days, the cable cars weren’t running up and down the mountain. Since this would be our last chance, we were happy to find out that the winds had died down, and the cars were running and ready for us. Arthur warned us that the wait would be long, and he emphasized the need to be patient.
The day was beautiful. Sunny and warm, and the air was still. When we got to the foot of the mountain, we saw the long lines. Per instructions, we all stayed together and went in the line for those with tickets because Arthur was able to pre-purchase them for our group. It was a very long wait, and it was hot. We eventually got to the cable cars. They’ve been operating since 1929 and were last upgraded in 1997. They are Swiss-designed and have floors that rotate 360 degrees giving everyone a chance to see all the views during the 4 minute ride up. Table Mountain is believed to be the most climbed peak in the world with about 350 paths to the top.
We all fit into one car, and up we went looking out at the 14,820 acres of wilderness. Interesting fact: the Table Mountain has about 1,470 species of plants, more than the entire British Isles.
When we got to the top, Arthur gave us an orientation, an allotted time for exploration, and a meeting place for our departure.
Tony and I went on our way, stopping at various viewpoints for picture taking. The “Table” is relatively narrow, and we were able to walk all around the perimeter. The views were spectacular, the Twelve Apostles coming out of the sea, the forests, and the city below. Because it was such a clear day, we were able to see Robben Island where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment. I had thought that we’d visit the island, but it wasn’t part of our tour’s itinerary. The number of people allowed to visit is limited, and there were no openings for the times that we’d be able to go. Tony didn’t want to go anyway, he “doesn’t do prisons,” but I would have gone. If I had known that it was so difficult, I would have made a reservation ahead of time on line.
Almost half-way around the top, we stopped at the restaurant for the rest rooms and to purchase water. We sat for a while in the shade and just looked out at the beauty of it all. We continued on our walk looking and taking pictures, eventually meeting at the cable car upper terminus for our ride down.
Back on the bus, we were taken on a tour of the city. The city center is known as the City Bowl and is small enough to explore on foot.
Each time we were on the bus for any extended period of time, Arthur would give us information on the history of Cape Town, and he continued to do this later on wherever we were. He was our manager for the entire tour. The following is a brief, very brief, history of the development of Cape Town.
Looking for an alternate sea route to India, the Portuguese led by Vasco da Gama discovered Cape Town in 1497 but didn’t colonize it. It was used only as a stop to get supplies for their sailings. In 1652 the Dutch East India Company during their explorations, landed there and set up a supply station. After staying there for a year, they decided it was a good place to live, and Cape Town was born.
Of course, there were already people living in South Africa before the Portuguese and Dutch. In fact, the world’s oldest hominid remains (relatives and probable precursor link to humans) dating back 3.5 million years have been found in South Africa. Much more recently the hunter/gatherer San (Bushmen) were living there, with everything owned by everyone. The agrarian KhoiKhoi (men of men) moved south and shared the land with the San. These were the indigenous people living there when the Europeans first arrived. Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company was sent to Cape Town as a punishment for his embezzlement. He was instructed to trade with the natives but not enslave the people living there. So, complying with the letter, if not the spirit, of his instructions, he brought in slaves from East Africa to build the colony. There were conflicts between the KhoiKhoi, and the Dutch. Van Riebeeck created a land barrier between them, and with the advantage of guns and the introduction of hard liquor, the KhoiKhoi were no longer a threat. Those who caused a problem were imprisoned on Robben Island.
Fleeing from religious persecution, the French Huguenots came to Cape Town in1668 with “a bottle in one hand and a Bible in the other,” according to our guide Arthur. They increased the size of the colony by 15 percent, and brought with them the ability to make wine which can still be enjoyed today in the valley of Franschhoek (French corner).
The British came in 1795 taking control when the Dutch East India Company went out of business. In 1803 they handed it back to the Dutch for 3 years, then took it back and ruled for the next 155 years. The British “had to” deal with the Xhosa, the indigenous people living in the eastern frontier, defeating them after several wars.
In the early 1800’s the Zulus, led by Shaka became increasingly combative as they started to absorb the neighboring tribes and form an army of about 40,000 men. Most neighboring tribesmen not absorbed were killed by the Zulus. Some did get away to form their own kingdoms like Swaziland and Lesotho.
British interference in labor relations and their oppression of the “kitchen” Dutch language angered many of the settlers by then called Africaners, later Boers. The British abolishment of slavery in 1834 left the Dutch settlers seriously rankled. They didn’t object to the blacks’ freedom as much as being made equal to white Christians. About 15,000 people set off on what is known as the Great Trek. They found large tracts of unoccupied land that unbeknownst to them had been cleared by one of the tribes absorbed by the Zulus. Soon they were at war with the Zulu nation, and finally defeated them in 1838 at the Battle of Blood River. The Boers victory was short-lived. The British soon annexed their land, Natal, and the Boers took off again and founded 2 other states. The British left them alone. The discovery of diamonds in one state and 19 years later gold in another changed it all. The British and the Boers were at war. In 1902, the Boers became part of the British Empire. Resentment by the Africaners against the British fueled the desire for Africaner nationalism.
Africaners who lost their farms ran to the city and competed with blacks for unskilled jobs. They became known as the “poor whites.” The poor black South Africans also suffered. In 1910, the Union of South Africa was formed. The country became part of the British Commonwealth and participated on the Allied side in both World Wars. In 1925, the language of Africaans started and was taught in the schools. In 1934, a new Africans dominated National Party (NP) was formed, and in 1948 they won the election by a narrow margin. The new white minority party ruled for the next 46 years. More later.
South Africa has 4 capitols. Cape Town is the legislative capital, and the capital of the only South African Province not ruled only by the African Nationalist Party (ANC). Arthur pointed out some of the important sights of the city such as: Bishop Tutu’s St. George’s Cathedral; the Slave Lodge built in 1679 to house the Dutch East India Company’s slaves and now the South African Cultural History Museum; the South African National Gallery; the Mama Africa Restaurant noted for their good food; the Castle of Good Hope, really a pentagonal fortress modeled after a typical Dutch defense system and the oldest standing building in South Africa (it marks the original shoreline); some old Dutch churches; a mosque; the City Hall, where upon release from prison, Mandela walked to and spoke; the Jewish synagogue and museum; and traffic free shopping and eating areas. It was Sunday, and there weren’t many people walking around. Arthur noted that there isn’t much housing within the city, mostly office and governmental buildings, museums, and stores. A large percentage of the metropolitan population lives outside of Cape Town. Recently a company from Ireland has come to Cape Town to build apartments with hopes of bringing people back into the city.
After our tour, we had the option of going back to the hotel or being dropped off at the Waterfront. We chose the Waterfront where we planned to have a late lunch. As we were walking, we bumped into John and Louisa. They asked if they could join us. We tried to find the same restaurant we had been to on Friday, but found out that it was closed for the day. Instead we went to the Baia Seafood Restaurant, the sister restaurant of the other one. This one was bigger, a little more formal and with the same menu. So we sat down and enjoyed a wonderful lunch. Tony and I had the same kingclip fish and grilled calamari as we had the last time. Everything was just as delicious. John and Louisa liked their meals as well.
After lunch we walked back to the hotel. Along the way, we stopped at the Grace Hotel, the Clintons’ favorite hotel in Cape Town.
Back at the hotel, we went to our room to rest for a few hours. Eventually we went down to the hotel dining room where we had a light but delicious dinner. John joined us. He had walked out to go to the nearby mall but was stopped by some beggars and decided to head back to the hotel. Later Louisa joined us.
Another good day was had by all.

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