Uncharacteristically, I had tried to make a reservation at several different places, but only dorm rooms were available. That should have raised my suspicions, even though nobody mentioned the concert. I assumed that if I wasn’t able find a private room I could just crash in a dorm for the night and look for a better option the next day.
The receptionist suggested I try one of the hotels down the road. “But it may be too late,” he said. I was at the southwestern end of Long Street, Cape Town’s main strip of bars and restaurants, and the area was full of backpacker hotels. Unfortunately almost all of them closed their reception desks at 10pm.
I worked my way down the crowded street, lugging my backpack and wheeling my carry-on bag, awkwardly conspicuous as I passed trendy young club-hoppers. A motley entourage of street characters soon trailed behind me, occasionally offering random bits of unhelpful advice and asking for money. I reached a hotel and rang the bell. No answer, no sign of life inside. At the next hotel I found an employee and asked if there was an opening. “A room?” she laughed. “Don’t you know that U2 is in town tonight?” (At about this point Bono’s voice played in my head: “Am I buggin’ you? I don’t mean to bug ya.”)
The same story repeated itself at several more hotels. There seemed to be no room for me anywhere. I felt like the odd man out in a game of musical chairs. Discouraged, I rang yet another bell. A security guard answered. “Do you have any space available?” I asked.
“We are closed.”
Closed was better than full. “Look, it’s late and I’m really having a tough time finding a place to stay. Do you have any open beds?” The guard hesitated. “You’d be doing me a big favor,” I added.
The guard opened the door and began to lecture me. “It is very late. Why did you not make a reservation? Tonight there is a big concert. Everywhere it is very busy. I am not supposed to let people in after 10:00.” I was just happy to be off the street. The guard led me to a small dorm room and pointed to a bunk bed. “Nobody is sleeping on that top bed, so you can have it.” It was a relief to drop my bags and lay down.
In the morning I revisited the area’s hotels until I found a single room for the next few nights. Finally I could relax and appreciate the fact that I was in Cape Town, a strong contender for the title of “Most Beautiful Big City in the World.” That afternoon I walked from Long Street to the V&A Waterfront for views of Table Mountain rising behind the skyline. A layer of white clouds covered the very top of the mountain, creating the almost-too-easily-named “tablecloth” effect.
All three laughed. “We don’t know! We are wondering the same thing!” They said lots of students were on holiday, but the country was flooded with Germans of all ages and they couldn’t make sense of it. “We are tired of talking to Germans,” they complained.
The sky the next afternoon was dazzlingly clear. I decided to go back up to Table Mountain with my tripod and photograph the city as it slipped into darkness.