According to bilingual Egon, who showed us around Cape Town this afternoon, “All guides speak nonsense”. Probably true, but his descriptions of what he showed us were so wry that I couldn’t accuse him of embellishment.
There’s no ‘of course’ about going up Table Mountain: the cloud is notoriously fitful and unpredictable, but Egon reckoned it was worth a try. So we trundled up remarkably quickly in the round, rotating cable-car, and were lucky to get a good view over the city, the sea and out to Robben Island, although everything else was blotted out on the other sides. Cape Town is a remarkably small city, in area, though its population of 3.5 million includes about 2 million migrants living in the tin-shack shantytowns we drove past on the way in from Bushman’s Kloof this morning.
They were all on the road, though. The traffic was awful, much to Egon’s chittering frustration. We did manage to visit the wonderfully colourful Bo Kaap suburb, its houses painted brilliantly bright colours; and drove past many lovely and stately Victorian municipal and governmental buildings. At the Natural History Museum, it was unexpected that the first animals I saw were a moa skeleton and stuffed kiwi – but beyond them were plenty of iconic African species, though all of them were looking a little moth-eaten I have to say.
Out in the gardens, bold squirrels, cautious cats and relaxed Egyptian geese were as un-endemic as the moa inside, but it was pretty there, and included a 350 year-old tree, still fruiting. There was also a statue of Cecil Rhodes, arm raised. “Good thing it’s the left one,” I said, a moment before Egon made the same joke to his fellow Germans on our tour. (He also made a reference later to “our friend Adolf” which seemed a little risqué, even now.)
The evening is a lovely time to wander around the V&A Waterfront. That’s as in Victoria and Alfred, not Albert. Alfred was her son, who accompanied Vic on a visit here – most unusual, she never really went anywhere apart from Scotland and the Isle of Wight. Anyway, it’s all welcoming restaurants and big-name shops in the three-storey mall, interesting shops of African arts and crafts, a big Ferris wheel, lighthouses and boats. You can catch the ferry here to Robben Island, if you have more time than us. As it got darker the lights were reflected in the water, there was twinkling, and music too from a busking group of nine a cappella singers giving a proper African flavour to what could otherwise have been the south of France. Or even Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter, at a stretch.
There is good eating to be done here (I'm still somewhat sad at missing out on dining at La Colombe thanks to our late arrival in the city a few days ago). The restaurant we chose looked good but the food and service were only average. My opinion might, of course, be jaundiced thanks to the cockroach that ran across my foot shortly after the mains were delivered…