An Omnipresent Table
There is no escaping Table Mountain. Embedded in the labyrinth of docks, porches and walkways of the Waterfront or Cape Docks.
In successive inlets to the east and south that the South Atlantic lashes without clamor and covers with enormous seaweed: Sea Point, Bantry Bay, Clifton, Camps Bay, also others further away, to the north, Table View and Bloubergstrand.
The same goes for the intricate interior of the city, be it the colorful Bo-Kaap or the more serious and composed around De Waterkant or ZonneBloem.
As long as the weather does not contemplate low clouds, Table Mountain insinuates itself with Cape Town and to the vast surroundings as the secular guardian of the great South African city it has become.
This flat mountain protects it from the south winds and most of the variants. For centuries, it facilitated its defense and, not least, granted the colonists and current citizens of the Cape Town one of the most breathtaking abodes on the face of the Earth.
The first afternoon, we spent it at the same Victoria & Alfred Waterfront that served as a freight pier in the days of the Dutch East India Company, when the area north of the Cape Town (Table Bay) became known as “The Taverna of the Seas” due to its preponderance in the supply of Dutch ships, but not only that.
The Stunning Tablecloth
A thick, surreptitious fog had crept up the South Atlantic. It hovered over the harbor area and kept even the roofs of the highest buildings covered.
Just towards the end of the day, a providential wind blew it to other places and let us glimpse the cliffs overlooking Table Mountain, from Devil's Peak at the eastern edge of its nearly two miles in length to Lion's Head at the opposite end.
Of the mist, there was only a streak that hung from the top of the plateau, more or less extensive, depending on the intensity of the southwest wind and the density of the orographic clouds already formed.
The natives are already used to the appearance of what they nicknamed Table Cloth and its magical movement over the mountain. They have appreciated, portrayed and qualified it in ways that have been refined over time. Some say that it is God himself who lays out the towel.
Among the Malay community based in Cape Town, the myth that the effect results from a peculiar smoking competition became popular. Van Hunks, a retired Dutch pirate, never put down his pipe. He was smoking at the foot of Devil's Peak when a stranger approached and challenged him to a pipe duel.
After a long day of smoke (it is even said that the duel will have lasted several days) a huge cloud of smoke had enveloped them and Table Mountain. Van Hunks realized not only that he had won the duel but that his rival was the Devil. The two disappeared in a flash of lightning. left behind the tablecloth which is, today, from time to time, visible.
As a rule, when the “table is set”, and the wind or rain is too strong, the authorities close the accesses to the top of the mountain. So we arrived at night curious about what would happen the next day. We were supposedly approaching the end of autumn in the region.
Against all logic, the Cape Town it maintained maximum temperatures well above 25º and days of clear skies in an anachronistic sequence that was too long that would lead to the drastic drought situation in which it remained.
Conquering Table Mountain
The new dawn confirmed another of those days of blue skies and unusual heat. We didn't even hesitate. We left the Sea Point Inn, hurriedly ate breakfast and got on the bus. Half an hour later, we were aboard the rotating cable car that led to the top of Table Mountain.
As you ascend, the cabin reveals the impressive panoramas at the foot of the mountain: the Lion's Head on the opposite side of the canyon.
Little by little, the houses of Cape Town increasing in size, with the CBD's skyscrapers standing out above the rest; the Waterfront area, its docks, Table Bay and, almost out of sight in silver, the silhouette of Robben Island where the South African Apartheid authorities held Nelson Mandela imprisoned.
After these atrocious times, the South Africa it is concerned with the appearance of a first-world social justice that should be even more unsuspected in a tourist context.
Contrary to what happens in so many cable cars across this planet, instead of people jostling each other and fighting over the windows facing the more photogenic side, the cabin rotated as it went up. The technology thus equally resolved the shared anxiety on board.
At the top, at more than 1000 meters – 1,086m is the maximum altitude of Table Mountain – the wind was blowing violently, but not enough or perhaps in a different direction than forcing the authorities to suspend cable car trips, sometimes for days the thread.
The Grand Scenarios and the Mythology of Africa Funds
From balconies that served as viewpoints, we were dazzled for the first time by the geological sumptuousness and complexity of the surrounding scenery. To the south, a long sandstone promontory tinted with shallow vegetation stretched to a distant marine horizon. It was the Cape Peninsula.
On one side, it found the South Atlantic, on a slope that began abruptly and then softened and gave way to the ocean in a gentle green slope.
On the opposite side, the peninsula faced False Bay, which Portuguese sailors began to call Cape Falso because, when returning from the Orient, in that intricate configuration of the depths of Africa, they often confused Cape Hangklip with Ponta do Cape of Good Hope, the most infamous and feared of the coastal points because they passed, despite the re-baptism of the authorship of Bartholomew Dias.
Despite the success of the pioneer crossing to the Indian Ocean, in their imaginations, Table Mountain, the Cape Peninsulathe Cape of Good Hope, Tip of the Cape and the furious storms that so often forced them to cross continued to justify a ghastly imagery.
Camões attributed it to the sorrow of Adamastor, one of the giants of Greek mythology, banished to Cape by the nymph Doris, for having fallen in love with his daughter Tethis.
For, second, Camões, Adamastor now appeared in the Cape domains in the form of a storm. Despite the success of Bartholomew Dias, continued for a long time to sink many of the ships that sought to cross from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.
No Weather Signals from Northwind
On that glorious day, we glimpsed no sign of the monster. Much closer, we detected the call “Back Table”, its twin peaks known as “Twelve Apostles” and the rounded beaches of Bantry Bay, Clifton and Camps Bay.
Also the Sea Point Bay where we were staying and the profusion of luxury villas and villas, some of the most valuable properties in the area. Cape Town.
Just below the balconies, indifferent to three mountaineers preparing a rappel descent, a colony of hyraxes fought the damp chill brought by the wind, absorbing the sun's heat behind a barrier of rocks. Out of nowhere, just as many hikers emerge from a hidden path.
They had followed the pioneering example of António de Saldanha – but a different path – and climbed the mountain on foot. This Portuguese, who believes himself to be of Castilian origin, was a captain and navigator who was part of the 1503 fleet of Afonso de Albuquerque.
On this expedition, he was responsible for taking the three ships he commanded to join the armada that had sailed ahead. Onward along the route, Saldanha and his men would patrol and prey on Arab trade in the Red Sea.
Saldanha and the First European Ascension
Not necessarily for the best reasons, Saldanha anchored at Mesa Bay and was the first European to ascend Table Mountain. Since his departure from Lisbon, the ships he commanded suffered from poor piloting.
In the eminence of the Cape, Saldanha had miscalculated his crossing and anchored in an early place. Confused by what was going on, he landed in the Table Bay area.
He climbed the adjacent mountain and named it Taboa do Cabo. From the top, you could see that the Point of the Cape of Good Hope it was to the south, yet to cross.
Saldanha and the crew there supplied themselves with water, excavated a large cross that can be found in the vicinity of Lion's Head, and became involved in a small dispute with indigenous Khoikhoi, the dominant African ethnic group when the Europeans arrived. Saldanha suffered only minor injuries. He was able to return to the boat and continue his clumsy journey.
Currently, meetings with natives of Cape Town they are affable and recommend themselves. Both the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean, the navigation around Table Mountain, the climb to the mountain and the hikes on its plateau are made easy.
Even if the resident wildlife is far more prolific than the simple hiraxes that show themselves to newcomers.
In addition to these easygoing hyracoids, porcupines, lizards, turtles, mongooses and their arch-rival snakes of various species inhabit the mountain. Until 1990, baboons were also present. Today, its anti-tourist guerrilla actions are mainly centered on Ponta do Cabo.
A series of rails with different widths start from the front of the "Shop of the Top” and run along the top of the plateau.
We entered one that led inland to Maclear's Beacon, a pile of stones erected by the Irish physician-astronomer Sir Thomas Maclear in 1865 to help measure the curvature of the Earth.
From there, we cut to the vicinity of Devil's Peak and then to the northern precipice of Table Mountain, where the dizzying top of the cliffs once again reveals the houses of Cape Town, its Waterfront and the vast Table Bay.
The Mystic Sunset over the old End of the Earth
In this area, several groups stop and take photos and take too many too risky selfies, on pebbles that peek into the eminent abyss.
In the stretch that precedes the return to the cable car, with the sun starting to set to the west, we noticed the profusion of human silhouettes that used these pebbles as pedestals and were eternalized in that very memorable place. More than convinced when it came to the setting, we sat for a moment admiring its intriguing casual choreographies.
But, we had planned to climb Lion's Head in time to enjoy the panoramic Table Mountain in the ultimate twilight. So we hurried down one of the last cable cars and pointed to the hill. By that time, a platoon of other trekkers were fighting for the two marked trails.
We make a mistake and go for the longest and most disingenuous. Error forces us to climb the mountain at a cruel pace. We reached the heights drenched in sweat and our hearts breaking into a laugh we thought humanly impossible. In any case, we were in the most central of the city's panoramic points.
We could walk around it and admire and photograph Table Mountain, from Devils Peak to the depths of the Cape Peninsula. Back, the houses of Cape Town, in all its diversity and richness, it was available and gained color and drama as the electric lighting and the warmed up streak of the afterglow hit it.
Until the darkness settled, we twirled on that lush lion's head over and over again, panting, exhausted, indecisive about what impressed us the most and we wanted to record such monstrous scenarios.
More information about Table Mountain and tips for discovering it on the Cape Town Tourism website (in English).