Thursday, 11 June 2015

Cape Town, on the first pass

Cape Town will be more than a stopover on the return trip, but for the moment it's very temporary.  Fried after 36 hours in airports, I went directly to the hotel from the airport and slept for 4 hours.  I spoke briefly with a friend and then slept for another 5 hours, just in time to get up and go to find the ship I would be sailing away on.

The first things I noticed about the Green Point area of Cape Town - everywhere has barbed wire, broken glass on the walls and electrified fences.  It's as if anything that resembles wealth is at immediate threat of violence, everywhere.  The streets have restaurants and attractions and they look busy and interesting, and two blocks away the streets are quiet and empty.  Every warning I've ever heard about keeping your eyes open in South Africa comes to mind.  One old acquaintance who grew up here assured me (and our group of friends) that South Africa would chew us all up and spit us out.  There are moments where I can't tell if I hear cicadas or electric fences in the background.

The ocean here is as salty as ever.  The smell of the place is unique.  The sunlight is beautiful, and occasional scattered rains remind me that in this hemisphere it's wintertime.  It's still as warm as summer in the Pacific Northwest.

As I clamber up into the RMS St Helena for the next leg of my trip, I look back at the city and realize there's a mountaintop directly next to where I was staying.  I was startled.  Somehow I managed not to notice the adjacent mountain during the cab ride to the hotel.  Table Mountain, it must be, the beautiful place I was told I had to hike while in Cape Town.  Literally it dominated an entire horizon and somehow I managed not to notice it at all until I was on the RMS sailing away.  36 airplane hours and many, many time zones, I can apparently miss noticing an entire mountain.

An hour later I'm well under way to one of the most remote places on the planet.  No cellphone reception, no internet, no access to the outside world.  If someone has a medical crisis the only way back to shore is to literally turn the ship around and make haste back to the mainland - nothing airborne can reach us.  The mountain I hadn't noticed is gone, and in its place is a 360 degree flat blue horizon.  I've been wondering what it's like in such a remote and difficult-to-reach place for a long time and this voyage is how I find out.  5 more days at sea, and I'll be on the island of St Helena.

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