Friday, June 14, 2013

South Africa 7: CapeTown: Table Mountain, Clifton Beach and the New Year Eve

The Mightly Table Mountain among the clouds
We woke up to the morning of 31st December pretty excited as we were to visit the famed Table Mountain today. We had booked the cable car to the top of the mountain online so we simply went to the ticket counter to collect our tickets. The ride to the parking lot was in itself a great experience with panoramic views of the city and V&A waterfront in particular from here. At the ticket counter, we were to be disappointed again as the cable car was not running because of strong winds. So this was the 3rd event after Sky diving and shark-cage diving to be cancelled due to weather. With no other option available as this was to be our last day in CT, we simply took refund of the tickets and went to enjoy Clifton Beach.

White Sands of Clifton Beach
Clifton beach is anyways one of the best beaches of South Africa but it has become even more of a must visit for us Indians after the Tumhi ho Bandhu song from bollywood movie, Cocktail. It was only a short drive from where we were and we reached there soon after a nice breakfast at a restaurant close to the beach. Clifton beach is basically four beaches that are separated by natural blockades and are numbered from 1 to 4. Generally each number beach is suited for a particular kind of visitors but for today, it was only Beach 1 & 2 that had any crowd. As it was very windy and the water was freezing, nobody was really going into the water and everyone seemed to be enjoying the sun that was still trying find its way from behind the clouds. Even we didn't go into the water and just settled on a boulder close to it where we could feel the occasional splash of water from the waves rushing onto these boulders.

This is what we scaled, Lion's Head
While lying on this boulder, I noticed the dominating hill right behind us. Upon asking a local, I found out that this was Lion's Head and we can even hike to its top if we wish. As we were unable to go to the top of Table Mountain, I immediately wanted to hike to the top of Lion's Head. Thankfully, my friends agreed to play along and we drove to the base of Lion's Head. Once there, we realized that all of us were in slippers/flip-flops as we had prepared only for the beach and it wouldn't be easy doing this 3.5 km hike in those. We contemplated a bit on whether to go back to the apartments to get shoes but then decided to just start hiking right now. With the sun out shining over our unfit bodies, we were soon sweating like pigs and were tired in just about 1 km of hiking. A short break and we continued to hike as long as the route didn't look tough but for a gradual ascent.

View of Signal 
After some more time, and then the trek narrowed a bit. Further ahead, and then one needed to climb small rocks with the help of chains. These chains have been put up to assist the hikers scramble over the steep rocky faces. This might sound tough but is actually very easy to do if you do it slowly. After almost 2 hours of hiking, we reached the summit of this interestingly shaped mountain. Once there, we were immediately mesmerized by the view with the city and Table Bay on one side and the scenic Atlantic Ocean coastline on the other. We had most of this view at various points while we wound our way around the head but the complete view from the top was a different story altogether. 
Climbing along these Chains
And then it went vertical

While I was taking pictures from here, a red colored Rescue Chopper came towards Lion's Head and continued hovering in the air towards a side. I climbed down a bit to find the rescuers climbing down the rope to a point on the hill. At the point where they landed, I could see a guy injured lying on the rocks. They immediately put him on the stretcher, sealed him in the bag sort of thing and he was airlifted back to the chopper. The chopper moved to the nearby hospital for emergency care to the injured person. I was again pleasantly surprised with the immediate rescue action available in this country compared to my own country. After this, we climbed down the hill and I found one of the rescuer also hiking down. I saluted his effort and moved down the path.

The final climb over the rocky face
After this, we rushed to a Hyperstore to pick our tickets for the New Year concert that we had booked online for the night. Once there, we were surprised to see a long queue. However, this queue was not for the concert but for some money withdrawal. We were in a hurry as we needed to reach V&A waterfront to catch the ferry to Robben Island. However, we needed to wait for our turn as the queue culture is very strong here. Once our turn came, they refused us the tickets as I had failed to carry the credit card from which the tickets were booked. Realising soon that convincing them wasn't working, we rushed to V&A waterfront hoping for the ferry to be delayed today as we were already late. However, we soon found out that even this ferry was cancelled due to strong winds. As usual, we applied for a refund and decided to go back to the hotel.

View of Atlantic Coastline from the summit

Romancing over the cliff. Anyone?
Back at the hotel, I picked up my credit card and went to the Hyperstore again to pick our tickets. This time we managed to get the tickets without any hassle. Forgetting the two experiences that were already cancelled due to weather, we readied ourselves hoping for an exciting New Year party. All dressed up, we went to V&A again only to find all the roads blocked due to heavy traffic moving into this area. In some time, we finally managed to find a parking spot. Once out, it seemed like being in the car was better as there was a huge crowd all over the area. As we had no idea where exactly the concert was to take place, we moved in the direction in which everyone else was moving. After some time, we reached the location of the concert where a few more people were standing looking shell-shocked. We asked the guy standing next to a counter on where do we get the entry from. To that he replied, "The concert has been cancelled because of weather. Strong winds". Hearing this, I also joined the others standing there looking as baffled as them. Realizing that this is over and I should move on, we immediately went to the waterfront where a music concert was going on. Unlike the one I had booked for, this one was free and was as crowded  as it could be. Anyways, the music was good and we jostled with the crowds to move a bit ahead to be able to see it and enjoyed it after that until the clock struck 12 and everyone wished everyone a Happy New Year.

The Rescue Chopper hovers as the injured guy is pulled up
After this, we went back to our apartments and packed our bags as we were to fly out from CT at 6 in the morning. From there, we would be taking 3 flights to reach back home. Considering how many drinks three of us had, we were lucky that the fourth one was a teetotaler. But it was really fun boarding the flight in such state. We slept off as soon as we boarded all three flights only to wake up at our intermediate stops at Jo'burg and Addis Ababa. Thanks to this, we didn't feel the pains of the long flight back and landed in Delhi all fresh from our long nap.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

South Africa 6: CapeTown: Of Scuba, Sharks and Penguins

In continuation from South Africa 5: Garden Route: Of Knysna, Paragliding and the Horror

When the car arrived, I believed that they would inquire me regarding the accident but I was pleasantly surprised when they just gave me the papers for the new car and asked me to just simply sign on a paper as an acceptance of this car. Interestingly, this was a new car with only a temporary number as of yet. Pleased with the new car, all of us jumped into it with me on the driving seat again. Considering the intensity of the accident, I was a bit conscious driving again. To add to that, even my fellow passengers were throwing words of caution at me at the slightest opportunity. After driving for sometime, I finally decided to give up the steering to someone else to drive. On our way, we also stopped at the point where we met with that accident and took some photographs of the site while also looking for any of our stuff still strewn around from last night.

Our karaoke room at Daddy Long Legs
The shortest route to Cape Town from Gaansbaai passes Hermanus. However, as there was a huge fire in Hemanus, we took a longer route but we could still see the huge plumes of smoke as the road crisscrossed the yellow fields to finally merge with N2 at Caledon. It was only a short ride from Caledon and soon we could see the well known Table Mountain with its top covered by clouds. While looking at the intimidating Table Mountain and taking its pictures, we didn't even realize when we entered the city and were hovering in the City Bowl section of Cape Town. We were to stay at Daddy Long Legs hotel on Long Street which is a boutique backpacker hotel where each room is tastefully designed by an artist/musician etc. We stayed in the room titled 'Do Not Disturb', pretty ironic considering two guys would share the bed. However, it is named so as this is a Karaoke Room fitted with 5 microphones across the room. Once we checked in, the first thing we did was sing songs at the top of our voice until the hotel staff told us to calm down. Another session followed at a lower volume and then we slept off for a while.

Long Street is one of those streets of CT with lots of nightclubs and bars all around. Considering that we had been a bit out of the party circle for last few days, we decided to pay a visit to some of these clubs in the area. About 3-4 hours were spent club-hopping by us and then we came back to the hotel, sung a few more songs and slept to rest our tired bodies.

Seven-Gill Cowshark (Photo from
Next morning, we woke up early as we planned to go scuba-diving. For diving, we had to go to Pisces Divers in Simonstown. The early morning sea-side drive to Simon's Town was pleasant with least traffic and a cool breeze blowing in our face. Once at the dive centre, the guys who were to do the Discover Scuba Diving Course were given a short training session and then all of us picked our diving gear. From our past diving experience, we picked the basic gear needed to dive in tropical waters (where I had dived before this). However, when it came to picking and trying the gear needed to dive in the chilly waters of CT, we got a bit perplexed. Diving with a jacket, gloves and hood on seemed too restrictive and made all of us a bit uncomfortable. Finally, we reached the beach from where I would be picked for my dive at Photographer's reef. Photographer's reef is an inshore reef on the False Bay side and as the name suggests was supposed to be a paradise for under water photographers. As I was the only certified diver of us all, I was stranger to all other divers on board but was provided a buddy nonetheless. I was still not confident considering this was to be my first dive after the certification where I won't be with a instructor. Also, all the jackets and gloves to protect myself from the chilly waters restricted my movement and made me even more nervous.

Underwater kelp Forest that we have to negotiate to see Cowsharks
Finally at the dive point, I back-flipped off the boat and was immediately shaken by the icy cold waters. Once inside the water, I realized that the visibility was hardly 2-3 metres and I could hardly see my buddy. As expected, soon I was without the buddy and struggling to control buoyancy in the completely different diving environment. It was clear that diving in temperate waters is a completely different ball game. However, soon I was taken control off by another diver who ensured that I don't get lost and move the right way as the group. For most part, he was also controlling my buoyancy. Thanks to my haphazard diving, I was breathing rather quickly and was out of air in just about 20 minutes. Out of air, I also came out of water. It was only when I spoke to some other divers, I realized that this dive site has depth varying from 3 metres to 17 metres  and it wasn't me struggling with buoyancy as the lack of visibility ensured that I don't see the gradient.

A thoughtful Penguin
When I came back to the beach, I was told that my friends couldn't dive as they were least comfortable with the conditions. I could understand their condition and told them to dive only if they feel confident enough as it was surely not easy. They decided not to dive and went for lunch while I prepared myself for another dive. This time I was to dive with Seven Gill Cowsharks who are known to move in up and down in a channel. These sharks are prehistoric apex predators and grow about 3 metres in length. Considering the visibility condition in my last dive, I was really worried of becoming a meal even though I had heard that they haven't been known to attack any divers. This time, I told the dive instructor beforehand that I was struggling with the conditions and he decided to be my buddy himself. Once down at the sandy bottom, I realized that I was feeling more comfortable in this dive though the conditions were quite similar. Soon I was enjoying swimming through the underwater kelp forests while observing the sharks passing by us. Maybe because of the cold conditions, my air ended earlier compared to other divers even in this dive and I was out on the boat feeling much better after this dive having seen these predators from up close.

Curious Penguins
Post scuba-diving, we went to the Boulders Beach considering we were already close to it in Simon's Town. This is a sheltered beach with huge granite boulders along it. Boulders beach has become a popular tourist spot in CT for a colony of African Penguins that can be observed from close distance here. Here, there was also an option to go on a board walk where one gets to get pretty close to the penguins. However, as we could see a group of 10-15 penguins on a boulder right next to the beach, we decided to hop onto it and were almost at a touching distance to the penguins. These penguins are relatively very small compared to the size of penguins we see on wildlife channels mostly but they are equally cute and seem to express a variety of emotions.

Lazy Penguin
After this, we went to check-in at our Service Apartments at Green Point. This was a 2 bedroom apartment located on the main road bang in front of Cape Town Stadium. There were a number of bars, cafes located within walking distance to the apartment and even Victoria & Alfred Waterfront was a 10 minutes walk away only. In short, I loved the location and would recommend it highly to anyone looking for a mid-budget accommodation in CT.

Soaring into the Sky
In the evening, we visited a club for drinks and decided to dine at Bukhara, an Indian restaurant, as we wanted to have a filling Indian meal to soothe our appetite. No matter where we Indians go, we feel satisfied only after eating a proper desi meal. Considering that we hadn't had chapatis for quite some time, we ordered more than our appetite and still finished all of it. With tired bodies from the long day and a full belly, we went back to the apartments and dozed off soon after.

The Two "Sachins" in our Service Apartment at Green Point
Continue to the next part: CapeTown: Table Mountain, Clifton Beach an NY Bash