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From sailing to city life in Cape Town

Posted: 2015-12-21 03:06:00, Categories: Travel, Cycling, Art, Hiking, Sailing, South Africa, 1412 words (permalink)

Canals at the Waterfront, Table Mountain in the background.
Canals at the Waterfront, Table Mountain in the background.
On the morning of 16th of April, after ten days of sailing from Tristan da Cunha, we arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. For seven weeks we had been living on the Bark Europa together with less than 60 people, hearing mostly waves and other sounds of the nature. As the ship was moored next to the Cape Grace hotel at the Waterfront, we found ourselves in the centre of a major city with a population of almost 4 million.

A small motor vessel slowly overtaking us.
A small motor vessel slowly overtaking us.
Already on the day before the change had been obvious. As we approached the South African coast, the ocean was suddenly full of traffic: cargo ships transporting thousands of containers, fishing vessels at work, private boats cruising in the sunshine. The coastline featured picturesque looking villages and small towns in front of the hills and mountains raising up from the turquoise water. We could already hear the traffic on the coastal road, and as the darkness fell the coast was dotted with lights all along the way. We anchored for the night in front of Cape Town, and listened to the hum of the city from the distance.

An excellent view from the mast when arriving in Cape Town.
An excellent view from the mast when arriving in Cape Town.
In the morning Sandra and I climbed up to the main mast to take some photos. Just as we were doing that, the pilot ship arrived and started leading us into the city. We decided to stay up at our viewpoint and enjoy the ride as the ship slowly made its way to the inner harbour in the centre. A couple of dozen people were waving to us on the piers as we passed by. Some of them were relatives of the three South Africans on board, others most likely just happened to be there at the right moment, admiring the arrival of our handsome old tall ship. It took still a couple of hours and a detour to the bigger main harbour and back, before immigration and customs procedures were cleared and we were free to step on the land.

One of the paths leading up the Signal Hill.
One of the paths leading up the Signal Hill.
We walked a bit around at the Waterfront area, listened to a street music band and bought some fresh fruit at a supermarket. Especially Sandra was overwhelmed with the transition from life on the ship to the busy city streets. A fair share of the crew headed out to a bar for the first evening, we joined them shortly but returned soon back to the ship. We had enjoyed good winds on the last leg from Tristan da Cunha and arrived in Cape Town two days ahead schedule. That meant that we could still use Bark Europa as our base for the first couple of days, a nice soft landing which we took advantage of.

Evening lights of Cape Town, as seen from Lion's Head.
Evening lights of Cape Town, as seen from Lion's Head.
On the morning of the third day our WarmShowers hosts Ian and Helen came to pick us up. We had emailed them from Argentina before boarding Bark Europa, and they had agreed to host us in Cape Town — although we didn't arrive by bicycle. After a short tour around the ship and last good-byes we packed our backpacks and drove with Ian and Helen to their cosy apartment just south of the city centre. Still the same evening we hiked together on top of Lion's Head and enjoyed a spectacular sunset with amazing views over the Atlantic and the city. There we felt of really having arrived in South Africa, the last part of our trip had begun.

Penguins on Boulders Beach.
Penguins on Boulders Beach.
On Sunday Ian and Helen took us for a trip out of the city towards the south. Our first stop was at Boulders Beach near Simon's Town to see ... penguins! As big penguin fans we definitely didn't want to miss that. It was a quite different experience than in Antarctica, this time we were mostly observing the animals from a viewing platform together with dozens of other tourists. But it was funny to see penguins in a warm environment, and a few hundred meters further we could even wade through the shallow water between rocks and get close to the animals without a fence in between.

Steep cliffs at Cape Point.
Steep cliffs at Cape Point.
From Simon's Town we continued to the Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Unlike many think, neither of them is the southernmost point of the African continent, nevertheless they are popular spots to visit because of the magnificent cliffs and excellent views. Nearby we saw ostriches and later baboons right next to the road. Our classic day trip was completed by a drive back to Cape Town on the curvy road along the west coast and a stop in one of our hosts' favourite ice cream parlours.

An ostrich on the road near Cape of Good Hope.
An ostrich on the road near Cape of Good Hope.
The next few days we explored the city mainly on foot. For a major metropolis, the centre of Cape Town is fairly compact, making the city feel smaller than it actually is. We found the city quite pleasant and interesting with quite distinctive styles of buildings in different districts, and a mix of cultures visible on the streets. In the wealthier areas, fences and alarm systems were common, but most of the houses were not surrounded by high walls or excessive security measures. Some friends in Germany had advised us to always take a taxi when going somewhere — we didn't feel any need to do that and felt quite safe walking around and using buses. That being said, we did not set out to explore any townships of dubious reputation, nor wander around drunk in the middle of the night, which is probably the easiest way to attract pickpockets and robbers in any big city.

Playing with squirrels and pigeons in Company's Garden.
Playing with squirrels and pigeons in Company's Garden.
One of the great things about Cape Town is that it's relatively fast and easy to get out of the city. There are nice beaches nearby in both directions along the coast, as wells as several hills and the famous Table Mountain to get up and above the roofs. We spent one day hiking up the Table Mountain and walking around on the top of it, observing plants and colourful sunbirds on the way. On another day, right in the city centre we made acquaintance with other animals: in the Company's Garden we bought a small bag of nuts and soon attracted numerous tame pigeons and squirrels around us. They ate from our hands, climbed on us and we had many good laughs while playing with them.

Posing with the tandem on the beach at Table's View.
Posing with the tandem on the beach at Table's View.
The last few days we stayed with other very nice WarmShowers hosts in Table View, about 15 km north-east of the centre. They were a family with three children, who had a few years earlier done a long cycling tour in Europe. We compared our experiences and got some insight into cycling in South Africa, should we ever decide to do a tour there. On Sandra's birthday they borrowed us their tandem and we celebrated by riding it to the beach and watching the sunset. Neither of us had been on a tandem before, but it was relatively easy to get started. I was sitting in the front, which made the experience quite similar to a normal bicycle. Sandra behind me had to get used to not being able to turn the handlebar, in other words to trust that I'd steer the bike to the right direction.

The silhouette of Lion's Head at sunset time.
The silhouette of Lion's Head at sunset time.
After ten days we had a flight back home, which we had already booked half a year in advance. The stay at Cape Town had been a nice ending to our five month long honeymoon, but it also felt the right time to return home. Should we ever travel to Cape Town again, we'll certainly venture further out from the city and probably also to neighbouring countries. On this first visit, however, we had plenty to do and explore in the city itself and the surroundings — the day trip to Simon's Town and Cape of Good Hope was a perfect extension to that. Bark Europa, after a short stay in the dry dock for maintenance, left the city almost at the same time than us, continuing to sail the world with new crew on board.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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