Cape Town, South Africa

Arriving in a new city is always interesting.  Arriving in Cape Town at 10:30 on the night U2 happens to be playing the city’s biggest concert in years was especially interesting.  The Baz Bus, running late, dropped me off at a hotel and sped away.  “We are fully booked,” said the hotel receptionist in a thick Afrikaans accent.  “You know the U2 concert is tonight, yes?  Why did you not make with us a reservation?”

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.


Cape Town and Table Mountain from the V&A Waterfront


Ferris Wheel at the Waterfront


Three Flutists Performing at the Waterfront


On the walk back from the waterfront a woman wearing a headset and holding a clipboard told me to stop.  “Can you please wait here for five minutes?” she asked.  “We’re filming a movie.”  She said it was an action movie starring Denzel Washington.  “The camera is about to cross the street in front of us.  You can stand here, just don’t look.”  When the camera appeared I of course couldn’t help but look right at it.


Filming a Denzel Washington Movie in Cape Town


The next day I took the cable car to the top of Table Mountain.  The vast majority of my fellow tourists congregated around the visitor center, so it was easy to escape by striking out on one of the many trails.  I hiked to Maclear’s Beacon, at 1,085 meters the highest point on the mountain.


Table Mountain Cable Car


Cape Town from Table Mountain


Maclear’s Beacon


Flowers on Top of Table Mountain


The following day I went on a tour of the peninsula.  Our group took a boat ride to see the Cape Fur Seals at Duiker Island, just outside of Hout Bay.  We visited the African penguins at Boulder beach.  We mountain biked to the Buffelsfonstein Visitor’s Center, where we ate lunch.  We hiked up to the lighthouse at Cape Point.  And we ended our day with a visit to the Cape of Good Hope, “the most south-western point of the African continent.”


Cape Fur Seals on Duiker Island


Cape Fur Seal in the Water


Hout Bay Panorama


African Penguin


Beach Full of Penguins


Penguins on Boulder Beach


Cape Point Lighthouse


Signpost at Cape Point


Baboon by the Road


Braking for Ostriches


Tourists Posing at the Cape of Good Hope


Baboon on a Car at the Cape of Good Hope


There were four other tourists on my peninsula tour, three young German women and one Brazilian.  The Germans were visiting Cape Town from Windhoek, Namibia, where they volunteered at an orphanage.  “Why are there so many German tourists in South Africa?” I asked them.

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.


View from the Table Mountain Cable Car (Video)


Sunset from Table Mountain


Cape Town Blue Hour from Table Mountain


Downtown Cape Town at Night


Eating dinner that night I eavesdropped on a group of Capetonians.  “The problem is that all our intellectuals leave the country!” the loudest of them roared.  “I even heard recently of one going to the University of Arizona!  Imagine!  That’s in the desert!”

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