Cape Town

Cape Town is lovely. We quite like Cape Town. If we could just stop P&O and every South African we ever meet blathering on about how dangerous it is, it would be ideal. South Africans seem to take a strange pride in how dangerous their country is. It’s all they talk about. I dare you. Next time you meet a South African, get them into conversation about their home country and I’ll place a standing bet of a pound that in less than five minutes, they’ll have mentioned the violence and crime where they’re from, and how dangerous it is to live there without barbed wire and dogs and armed response units. I’m starting to think it’s a form of camouflaged racism. They’re not allowed to say “coloured people*/black people are bad/evil/lazy/scary”, so instead they bleat on about crime and violence and car-jackings and this leads them to mention unemployment and poverty and… TADA… we’ve found the darker skinned residents in the conversation. Amazing. I suppose it could just be me being cynical, but that’s how it seems to a rather jaded outsider. In fact, the only local I’ve ever met who DOESN’T talk like this is our Cape Convoy guide, Rob, but more of him later.

*’coloured’ here means mixed-race. It’s a specific term. It doesn’t cover all non-whites, like it does in the USA.

Anyway, Cape Town is beautiful. Not the town itself, which is a city, like any other, with pretty bits and ugly bits and office blocks and concrete. The waterfront, purpose built for tourists, to corral them in a place that they can fill with security guards and tell them is safe day and night, is, of course, lovely. Bars, restaurants, live music, restored old buildings, and quite possibly one of the world’s most disorientating shopping malls, full of names such as Gant, Hugo Boss, Keedo and anyone else with the chutzpah to charge those sorts of prices.

You may be able to tell by my tone that we’ve been here before. We’ve done the open top bus ride before. We’ve been up Table Mountain on a clear day (which apparently we were inordinately lucky with). Most days the Tablecloth comes down, which is a cloud that pours over the top and obscures everything. On days when the wind is strong enough to blow away the cloud, it is too windy to take the cable car up and it’s closed! So getting up there on a clear day seems to be somewhat of a lottery. It certainly wasn’t to be for those here for the first time on this trip. This time we had two days in Cape Town, the first of which there was absolutely no wind whatsoever. The Tablecloth was beautiful from the ground, but I can’t imagine they saw much from the top. And the second day was windy so the cable car was closed. Ain’t Mother Nature grand?!

We booked a private tour on Day 1, because, once again, P&O didn’t do tours that covered all the things we wanted to do. I suppose you have to limit things when you have a 60 seater coach. Getting P&O passengers on and off of these things is a bit like herding cats, and I wouldn’t want to be a tour guide trying to do so! When we have a small car or taxi or minibus, a photo stop is a minute, maybe two. On a tour, it’s a minimum of fifteen. Five to get everyone off – some have mobility issues, bad knees and so on – five to push in front of each other to take the photo and another five to get them all back on again. And there will always be two short when they do the headcount, so you have to wait for them before you can leave. Unless you’re in parts of the world that have a tendency to drive off without you, such as Mumbai.

So, anyway, our private tour. Pay attention. The company is called Cape Convoy. They have no big busses, only little minibuses and vans. So no cat-herding required. The lovely Rob, with the Ilford accent (I kid you not, he’s an Essex boy), picked us up from the ship (once he’d found it, that is – they really plonked us in the back of beyond this time!). Because the marathon was on, he reversed the route of the tour he had planned, as there were a few road closures, although by the time we got up and going, the marathon was almost over anyway. They start at 5.30am to avoid the midday heat.

We drove first to Simon’s Town, which despite its naval port history, is one of the prettiest little towns I have seen in a long time, and certainly the prettiest I’ve ever found in South Africa. We stopped for a coffee and some photos with the statue of Just Nuisance, the Great Dane dog who is a legend around here. When it was a naval port, he used to get on the train and come down to the port to see the sailors, and he would drink with them and walk them home if they were too sloshed to make it unaided. When the train company threatened to shoot him for riding for free all the time (nice people!), he was formally inducted into the British Navy, which entitled him to free train travel and meant they couldn’t shoot him as he was a British officer. When he got married (!), he had a full British Naval honour guard, and when he died he was buried with full military honours, gun salute, the works. You’ve got to love the British colonial way of thinking. No one else would be mental enough to do stuff like that.

Our second stop was Boulders, the penguin sanctuary. They have built a wooden boardwalk over the beach so that you can walk among the nesting penguins without disturbing their nests, which are just tucked into the sand. Beautiful, silly little creatures. So enchanting. We could have watched them for hours. How they felt about the screaming toddlers and shouting Japanese tourists, however, is anybody’s guess. In the little shop, I suggested they might put some signs up asking the visitors to be quiet, but as I was making this suggestion to a man who thought that staring hard at a malfunctioning till would make it work, I’m not holding out much hope for the poor penguins. (For those who are wondering, his telekinetic powers failed him and he had to eventually press a button and start again, after which it worked just fine.)

Rob then drove us down the east coast of the Cape, through Fishoek, a nice little town, built along the curve of the half moon-shaped beach where every six years or so someone gets eaten by a great white shark in less than three feet of water. Nice. I asked why no shark nets and Rob’s reply was that they can swim under and get in but then they can’t get out. It becomes a sort of buffet!

And onwards down to the Capes. Yes, CapeS. There are two. Now, pay attention. The Cape of Storms is on False Bay. It is the point where the two oceans meet – the Indian and the Atlantic. It’s usually quite rough here. In fact, Vasco de Gama went into False Bay and couldn’t get out for three weeks, because the winds were so strong. He named it the Cape of Storms. The Cape of Storms is now called Cape Point. It is the southerly most point of Africa. When we were there, on Saturday, it was like a millpond. Not a ripple. Remember, I said there was no wind on Day 1. The British built a lighthouse on it. I climbed up to it. You can’t go in it, but you can reach the viewing platform built around it. 120 rather deep steps up and 120 rather deep steps down. Two days later I still hurt. But the view is astonishing. There are no words to describe the sight, there really aren’t. You can see forever in every direction. It’s spectacular.

There is a restaurant there, called, rather unimaginatively, the Two Oceans. Dad said it should be called The Restaurant At the End of the World, but maybe Douglas Adams didn’t make it over here. The food is lovely, the service is good, and the waitresses and serving staff came out and sang an African song to us, complete with all the harmonies and everything. Lovely. Then I climbed the lighthouse and came back down again and we drove to the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape of Good Hope is the southWESTerlymost point of Africa. It’s very nearby! But it’s at ground level, so to speak. You just drive up, walk over to the sign, get your picture tooken and get back in the car. There’s not a lot there, not even much of a beach, but it’s pretty cool, nonetheless.

From there via Chapman’s Peak, Llandudno and so on back up the western coast. The scenery is breathtaking. Rock and cliff formations, with virtually no greenery (too blowy for trees) except in the more sheltered bays. Just barren and beautiful with a few scrub bushes here and there. We came back to Cape Town via Bantry Bay (Botany Bay as was), Camps Bay, where the houses are built into such steep cliffs they have little individual elevators to get up to them and where you can see Robben Island in the distance (28 year home of Nelson Mandela and now a bird sanctuary). And back into Cape Town, where Rob dropped us at the shopping mall at the V&A Waterfront I mentioned earlier. Incidentally, the V&A waterfront is not named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It’s named after Victoria and ALFRED, her SON, who was apparently a big fan of this part of the world and did much to develop it, presumably while Victoria did India and Albert did England, well, London, anyway. So it’s the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, which takes a bit of getting used to. Feels very odd to say.

So there you have it. Cape Convoy minibus tours. Superb. Interesting, informative, flexible and inexpensive. Ask for Rob, he’s brilliant.

Despite being utterly pooped, we did a little shop browsing and then retired to the Table Bay Hotel Atlantic Restaurant for dinner, which is WAY posher than it sounds. It’s a very old, very expensive hotel and the food is divine. It was during the meal that the wind started to blow, rattling the panels of the glass-roofed dining room above our heads. By the time we were back on the ship, it was pretty strong and we had trouble crossing the quay from the bus to the gangplank. It blew all night.

This meant that on Day 2, the boat trip we had postponed from Day 1 because of the marathon, out to Seal Island, had to be cancelled, as it was just too choppy. So we pootled around the shops and restaurants instead. Bought very little, but as it was Easter Sunday, there were Lindt people demonstrating chocolate-making in the Victoria Wharf, so at least there was some free chocolate! We came back to the ship about 4ish and I went to bed, as my exertions of the previous day were just starting to catch up with me. And just as I was dozing off, the Captain made an announcement. Due to the high winds (nearly 50 knots!), the port has been closed and we can’t leave. It’s just not safe. The estimate was that the winds would drop in the early hours of the morning, around 2am, so we would try and leave then. So instead of asking you to be back on board for 5.30pm, we are extending our stay to 11pm. Yay. Even after my nap there was no way I had the energy to go out partying, so we just went to dinner on board and then I went to bed at 10. It is now 6.30am and we are still here. and what is more, it looks pretty windy out (the mast webcam channel on the telly does have its uses!), so I reckon we may be here a good while longer… A fairly serious attack of wind, I think you’ll agree. We could be stuck here for DAYS!

How about this for a piece of bureaucratic stupidity? As a tourist, I am entitled to claim back the sales tax on the products I purchase in several countries, including South Africa. Duty Free is a wonderful thing, but you have to pay it and then claim it back, which is a bit trying. If I can even be bothered with the paperwork, that is. Anyway, in the purpose-built waterfront area, right next to the cruise terminal, there is a tax reclaim office. How brilliant is that? Perfect. But cruise passengers cannot use it. It’s for airport passengers only. Cruise passengers have to go into the centre of the city to make their claims. What kind of a moron puts the airport office by the water and the water office in the city?! Seriously?! Are you high?! Just astonishing. Just goes to show, you can never overestimate the stupidity of human beings. Whatever anyone may tell you, wherever you are in the world, the international language is not English, it’s Stupid, and most people speak it fluently.

For the more observant amongst you, who were wondering what I was doing awake at 6.30am, cast your minds back to the early editions of this blog. I mentioned I sleep a lot on cruise ships because of the rocking motion. Conversely, therefore, when it isn’t rocking, I find it hard to sleep. If we’re tied up and stationary, we aren’t rocking. I find it very difficult to sleep when we’re in port. Likewise, when I get back to the UK, it’ll be days before I get a decent night’s sleep.

(We later set sail at about 8.30am. I know this because when I woke at 9 we were pitching nicely.)(Remember the difference between pitching and rolling?)

Things I have learned on this cruise:

– Some basic Spanish
– About three phrases of Italian
– About three phrases of Welsh
– About three phrases of Chinese
– The designer label Salvatore Ferragamo does over 54% of its business in Asia and Japan. Of its 88 stores worldwide, 61 are in Asia and Japan.
– Some basics of neuroscience. No, really. It’s been fascinating.
– Art is the new retirement. Timmy Mallett, Dave Lee Travis. If in doubt, paint, or in the case of DLT, make photographic art. Funny old world…
– Maintaining a scrapbook is hard work. And one roll of sellotape is not enough to do the job.
– Taking a second credit card with you in case of emergencies is all very well and good, but losing the pin number is somewhat counterproductive…

This is getting a bit waffly so I think I’ll end here for now. Happy belated Easter to you all. Enjoy the snow.

Post script: 8.45pm

“This is the Bridge. Code Alpha. Code Alpha. Code Alpha. Deck 8 Photo Gallery.”

Oh dear. Code Alpha is Collapsed Passenger Probable Heart Attack.

Things you never want to see on a cruise ship #1. Both doctors. Running.

And now they’ve paged a Mrs someone. Presumably his wife. Not good. Not good at all…

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