Cape Town, Day 3: We Lucky Bastards

I have cheetah fur in my pocket…
(Thought of the day)
Whale&pancake day
(Supposed nickname of the day)
Crazy coincidence day
(The real nickname of the day)

So, today was pancake day; pancake day takes place every other day, and it makes Rachel really happy. So we sat down to breakfast and I started checking my e-mail. And that’s what I found:
At 23h40 (Sunday, 27th October) The Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) were alerted by the ship MV EXPLORER, docked at E Berth, Duncan Docks, in the Port of Table Bay, of a whale appearing to be trapped between the quayside and the ship…”
Shortly, there was a whale, it was 1 year old, 8 meters long. It got stuck, it was in shock, and it didn’t want to move. They tried to poke it with a loooong paintbrush wrapped in towels that they use to paint the ship, but the whale won’t move. So they had to move our ship with two tug boats. Then they got a diver, and the diver literally pushed the whale off the quayside with his hands. The whale backed up and then suddenly performed a half-dive under the ship. Everybody freaked out. But then the whale changed direction and followed one of the tug boats, Merlot. It got close to the the boat, leaning on it with its head. Eventually, the whale mistook the boat for its mommy, ’cause the boat was big and rubbery. And the boat, going real slow, guided the whale out of the bay. Curtain. Tears. Applause. 4 am.
I mean, this is the coolest breakfast story you can hear, except the fact that at the time it was happening we were aboard and we knew absolutely nothing! Karen, our field office head, was the one who called the animal rescuers, so she told us the whole story. It took quite a wha[i]le to accept the idea of having missed it all.
But Iva joined us at breakfast, and we started to hurry up. The plan was to go hike the Lion’s Head.
We walked out…
White, grayish white everywhere. The fog was so thick that we could not see past the port building in front of us. Hiking, huh?
We made our way to the bank, and then asked one of the locals for a weather forecast. The forecast was pretty optimistic, but not very certain. So we decided to walk around and wait for a while. Found an amazing Portuguese coffeshop and relaxed with a cup of delicious delicious delicious Lindt hot chocolate and cinnamon pastry. The fog was still all over the place. To not waste a day, we hopped on the local hop-on Blue Bus – there are two lines, red and blue – and it carried us away. The line goes around the Table mountain and stops at all the awesome stops. We got off at Kirschtenbosh botanical garden. Now that was some place. The gardens are spread at the bottom of the mountain, and have a phenomenal amount of endangered species of South African plants. I told Iva I was not leaving without seeing protea, that huge weird flower they use for the postcards and all. That flower was the one I saw on a poster at the South African embassy in Moscow, when I was struggling to get my visa. It motivated me to move on with the application.
So we wandered around the park, and wished we had more time for a picnic. All the lawns were walkable, the only restrictive signs were around the flowerbeds. We chased the proteas and the crane flowers and blue lilies. We saw an owl (yeah, in the daylight! The owls are not what they seem). We breathed in the fresh mountain air, interrupted by the smells of thousands of grasses and flowers and trees. It was a beautiful, beautiful place. But we had to move on.
The Blue Bus carried us away – and I signed, thinking about Stellenbosch fields and wineries and the birds park and the townships; we had no time for these. We went straight to Hout Bay, a beautiful beach area, knowing, in fact, nothing of what to expect. Well, we walked down the pier, and noticed a bunch of tourists with cameras, all excited about something. I decided to join.
There were seals swimming all around, three cute weighty seals. And a South African guy was feeding them some fish that the tourists bought. After a while, the guy winked, took a fish into his mouth and leaned over the pier. One of the seals looked at him attentively, approached, jumped out of the water, grabbed the fish and disappeared. Then suddenly a huge male seal came out of nowhere. The guy fed him a fish as well. The seal took his time to think over the situation, and must’ve decided that it was quite favorable, because he started climbing up the pier. That was unexpected. But what was even more unexpected – he did climb up, surveyed the surroundings, and walked towards one of the tourists. The tourist was in shock. The seal kept following him, expectedly. Then, as the tourist ran away, he turned to the fish guy. The fish guy ran out of fish. So he pointed at the sea and told the seal to get back in. I mean, the pier is for the tourists, and not huge wet male seals, right?
The seal looked at the sea. At the guy. At the sea. At the guy. And then just flopped down and stretched along the pier. That was an entertaining sight indeed.
I grabbed a box of freshly fried prawns and we hopped back on the bus. The skies were relatively clear now; the sun was shining – a perfect weather to hike!
We got off at the fancy neighborhood with all the beaches and cocktail bars. The goal was to find a path to the main trail at the Signal Hill. The lady we met on our way pointed the direction and said that the trail started at the Saddle – the lower part connecting the Signal Hill and the Lion’s head. So on we went.
Turned out that the path was narrow, with lots of annoying little rocks on it, up and up. That’s when I started feeling that I was out of shape after Ghana illness and the pool being closed. The mountain looked pretty damn tall.
At a certain point the trail bifurcated; we had to choose. I was out of breath and I didn’t care; Iva took the right one. We walked on for a while, and then realized we were actually circling the hill, and not going up. That was sad. The time was flying, it was past four pm, and we had to get down by sunset. I looked up. It was a steep hill, with thorny bushes and random rocks all around. But it definitely looked like a bunch of human beings made their way up. So I started climbing, and Iva had to follow; she wasn’t too happy about that, and kept asking whether I had enough battery to call the emergency in case we got stuck. But I had the picture of the mountain in my head, and I knew we must run into some trail as soon as we reach a group of pines up the hill.
Iva’s taller than me, and she was in real good shape; after a while, she was far ahead. I reached the pines and sat to rest on the rock. “There’s a trail!!” – Iva’s voice from the distance. You don’t say, thought I grumpily; I just started to realize what I got myself into.
We reached the trail – legit trail this time – and a couple of people we met pointed us the right direction. We’ve spent quite a while on the wrong trail, and were short on snacks and water. Haven’t eaten anything since early morning. I felt like my energy was running out.
We walked up and up – that trail was more rocky. At a certain point we looked back and saw a piece of the city far below; but on the left there was only a white layer of fog.
Up and up. The path became steeper; and then it was rocks, big rocks and bigger rocks. Walking turned into climbing. The path was really narrow; at a certain point we were walking on the edge of the abyss. And then we stood by the flat wall with iron cramps in it and chains above. There was another way, but it looked longer. So we just climbed up. It’s a funny feeling, knowing that if you slip, you’re done. I wouldn’t have wished my mom to see me then…
Up, up, up. My muscles were screaming murder. I was not prepared. I was not in shape. I had to stop every once in a while at let the ringing in my legs settle, because I felt I would fall down if I didn’t. A couple of times while going up I seriously questioned my ability to make it. Then, in Ireland, I knew I would make it, despite all; but Glendalough was a piece of cake compared to that.
But I crawled on, literally crawled, like Gollum. And suddenly – it became more flat – less rocks – fog all over, moist particles floating around, chill – the top! We were on the top, above the city, above the clouds themselves. My cell did have battery; what it did not have was memory. Not even for a picture. And only then I was able to delete a couple to clear the space.
We sat down on the edge of the cliff, looking at the city below – it felt surreal. It was surreal.
I walked around. On the left there was only the thick white of clouds. On the right – the Table Mountain and the central city of Cape Town. I climbed one last rock – a big one, tallest on the top – and positioned myself in the middle, between the clouds and the city. I closed my eyes, crossed my legs and stabilized my breath. The air smelled like victory. Like some delicious organic drink. And the humidity was just divine. I was on the top of the world and I felt spectacular. I felt that being on the top with every cell of my body. I couldn’t get enough of that air. And then I opened my eyes and turned – a huge orange piece of setting sun showed in this layer between the clouds and the sky above, and as I was looking at the light fog above the city, my shadow grew in front of me. It got printed on the clouds, from my feet to the crown of my head, and then I saw a halo of rainbow around my head. A real halo of real rainbow; how? I did not know. What I knew then was that it was a once-in-a-lifetime; I never felt so alive in my life as the , ecstatically gulping in the fresh mountain air, feeling the warmth of the setting sun on my neck, and seeing a rainbow halo around my head. And then, in an instant, all was gone – the sun, the rainbow, and the little cloud. I slipped off the rock and joined Iva, still shaking from endorphins generated in that one minute.
We stayed for a while, caught the last rays of the sun that sank into the clouds, took some pictures; we knew then we had to go, and go quick – the night was near.
We started our way down, back into the wetness and the cold of the cloud, down, down; the fog came down, and the path that we walked before became a picture from the Silent Hill movie. There was a path into nowhere, into the grey of the dusk; the dark silhouettes of the trees growing of the side of the mountain added up to the creepy environment. I was not afraid, for some mysterious reason; I was not afraid when we were hiking up, I did not freak out on the top, I was not afraid to go down. What’s happened to me – I’m usually so scared of heights!
We hurried down the cliffs, down the rocks, down the pathways. It was getting dark, it really was; I could feel it as my eyes saw worse and worse. I have what we call “chicken blindness” in Russia – once it’s dark, I cannot see or navigate at all, I lose all sense of direction. I increased my pace, realizing it was risky when going down all the rocks; but I knew I wanted to be by the motorway that went from Signal Hill to the mountain and down to the city before it got completely dark. In the end, we were almost running. At last we reached the motorway; so what? It was dark and empty. We walked on until we saw a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road; people were watching the city lights brightening up. I followed my intuition, again; I approached them and asked how should we get to the city. “Where are you going?” – was the question. I said Waterfront, and the girl said they were going there too, and offered us a lift. How could we decline such an offer? We got in the car, exhausted but happy. She was a medical student there in Cape Town, and she and her friends were having a reunion. She dropped us off at the V&A mall and recommended a good Asian restaurant. We gladly followed the advice and got some pure deliciousness in return. I must admit that South African white sweet wine that I tried there was the best I ever ever tried. It smelled like the field full of flowers in bloom; like honeydew. Oh my, was it good. Taste of heaven.
Later that evening me were drinking tea in the piano lounge, deadly exhausted but so proud of ourselves, and exchanging pictures. My whole body hurt, every single muscle was sore, sore, sore. The thing that concerned me was that I promised Rachel to hike Table Mountain with her the next day…
That was a day of pure luck. but you know what? Fortune favors the brave.

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