As I stood on top of the lighthouse in Cape Town and the wind ripped through my hair and face, I could see rain clouds drifting towards the landmass from all sides. I was filled with a sense of wonder and exhilaration. Those were the seas that Bartolomeu Dias must have sailed in 1488 when he landed after being tossed across the stormy waves on a landmass that he christened the Cape of Storms. And that is where I was standing! So, much had happened since then. The whole world had changed over this one discovery. It had drawn closer in quest of ‘Gold, God and Glory’.
The Cape was only renamed Cape of Good Hope by Dias’ monarch, the King of Portugal, King John. He called it Cape of Good Hope “ for the promise it gave offinding India, so desired and for so many years sought after”.
Vasco Da Gama was the one who, with the help of a pilot from Kenya, ultimately ‘found’ the sea route to India. He landed in the Keralite city of Khozikode (Calicut) in 1498, ten years after his predecessor had discovered the Cape of Good Hope. The Arabs had been trading with India from the seventh century. However, they did not need to use the Cape of Good Hope as they crossed only the Indian Ocean. The Arabs also made no attempt at blocking other traders. The Portuguese subsequently conquered land to try to monopolize the trade. The British, the Dutch and the French later beat them at their own game!
While driving through the park towards the Cape, we had seen distant crosses dot the landscape in memory of Dias and Da Gama…but the highlight was the view from the Cape with the sea stretching out and beating against the tall cliffs with the strong breeze
I could see the old lighthouse at a distance. There is a trekking route to that point too as there is to the beach.
view from the top of the Cape of Good Hope
Walking trail to the beach
The new lighthouse is above the ticket counter and restaurants. Tickets are only needed if you ride the trolley, which takes you part of the way to the lighthouse. The trolley does not go up to the top. You have to take the stairs built into the cliffs. There is a walking trail all the way up too. The view from the top with the sea beating on all sides is unparalleled. A sense of euphoria envelops ones being as the beauty of the wide expanse makes ones heart sing.
Below is the beach, unlittered, white and pristine. The walk to the beach has breathtaking views all along. When we headed back to the visitor parking from the beach, we saw a huge goat grazing. It was almost the size of a cow!
Interestingly, Cape of Good Hope is not the Southern most point of Africa. The Southern most point is Cape of Agulhas about 150 km east-southeast of the point where I stood. That is where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet… but the history of mankind found the Cape of Good Hope and popularized it long before the factual misconception was revealed.
The restaurants are near the parking lot, midway between the beach and the lighthouse. In the outdoor seating area, there was a monkey chasing a lady with a pizza. He wanted a bite too! While one could merrily enjoy the plight of another chased by a monkey, it was difficult for me to empathize with the red wing starlings that I met at the Cape. The birds wanted a bite of my sandwich whenever I stepped into the outdoor picnic area. They swooped down so close to my hand that I could almost feel the beat of their wings. I was compelled to run and take shelter inside the self-service restaurant. I did not dare step out till I finished my sandwich!
Seagulls on a picnic table
As somebody told us, the birds in Cape Town are crazy… we saw an Egyptian goose knock at the window of a jewelry store in the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. It stood patiently and knocked but, unfortunately, no one answered. It waited and waddled but went back to knocking every now and then… a very persistent and patient bird one must say. We saw ducks roosting on their eggs along the edges of this historic area, named after the British monarch and the prince, who made a splash in this part of the world with his visit to Africa in 1860.
Seagulls were one of the most prominent occupants of the Waterfront. They screeched, they flew, they even occupied most of the outdoor picnic tables made for people. They had no fear of humans. They did not sleep at night! We were staying in a hotel in the Waterfront. Sometimes, the seagulls even knocked on our windowpanes late at night.
The Waterfront is of course dotted with shops and restaurants.
The other interesting thing is the old battery that they dug up along the waterfront, the Chavoness Battery built in the early eighteenth century to protect Cape Town. This was excavated in the 1990s by students from the Cape Town University and now stands as a museum. The Chavoness Battery Museum had some interesting exhibits like guns, cannons, cannon balls, an old well and walls. It was an extension of the Castle of Good Hope. The Castle of Good Hope was built earlier in the 1660s by the Dutch. That is now located in the heart of Cape Town and houses the Castle Military Museum.
One of the things most visible from the Waterfront is the Table Mountain. It forms a backdrop to the whole of Cape Town and is one of the most popular tourist venues in South Africa. The cliffs at the Cape of Good Hope are an extension of the Table Mountain National Park. The Table Mountain is a flat plateau made of rocks dating back to 450 to 500 million years. It is home to one of the most iconic creatures we had never met before met, the dassie (hyrax). They belong to the same clan as elephants, Paenungulata. One would presume that relatives of elephants would be huge, like mammoths. But these were not huge. They were rodents, cute ones that liked to pose for the camera. They basked on the rocky surface of the Table Mountain absorbing the heat from the sun and attention from tourists.
View of Robin Island from Tabletop
view of the bay
Table Mountain has fabulous views and unique plants. You can see the whole of Cape Town stretching out to the sea. It glitters and glimmers like jewel in the sunshine. The sea changes colors as the waves splash against the rocks and white foamy waves create fluid borders that keep changing. One can see Robin Island, where the famous Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The vastness and the sense of freedom one experiences at the top are unique as is the geographical structure of this National Park. These mountains form a natural amphitheater to the city bowl and the table bay. While queuing for almost a couple of hours to get to the top of the mountain in the cableway, the view is one of the things one can enjoy. From the top, the view is breathtaking as is the walk around.
Other than catching up with dassies, colorful sunbirds, red winged starlings and an agama lizard basking under a rock, we saw the unique flower called Protea, after which is named a hotel chain adopted by Marriot in South Africa. The branch in Cape Town has history. It is housed in an old prison built for white prisoners and showcases torture weapons!
Behind the hotel, by the Waterfront and aquarium (which was under renovation) is theRed Bus Tour office. The Red Bus is a great way to experience this sunshiny town with fabulous beaches. You can sit on top of the open bus and take a tour of the whole city or get off where you want. We took a red bus to and from the Table Mountain and got to see not just the Tabletop, where we spent the day, but also fabulous beaches on the way back. We even thought we saw a whale at a far distance. The whale disappeared before we could photograph it.
Penguins are more open to photography we discovered at the Boulder Beach. The South African penguins are cute and funny to watch. They waddle when they walk and tumble and glide into the water.
Penguins at Boulder Beach
Mingling and nesting
Though the Boulder Beach, like the Cape of Good Hope, is a part of the Table Mountain National Park, it can not all be done on the same day. Distances are huge and to do the Park justice, you need at least three days to a week. On the way to Boulder Beach, we stopped at a port in Simon Town. This is a naval base and a good spot to buy souvenirs. I bought a few things from a local artisan who told me her name. Her name had a clicking sound in it and she said, it meant luck. This is one of the customs I found most appealing in South Africa. The locals tell you their names and the meaning of it before they sell you anything.
The sunsets, like in the rest of this beautiful country, are like molten colors rippling through the horizon.
The other unique thing I found was the ‘ tablecloth’ that spread over the Table Mountains. When it rained or grew cloudy, a misty cover seemed to spread itself over the mountain and one could see it distinctly from the Waterfront! The tabletop disappeared in the mists! It was a strange sight and one could keep gazing at it… just like Wordsworth did at the daffodils…
I wonder what he would have written if he saw the views and the amazing landscapes in South Africa…
Title: Rip Van Winkle and other stories Author: Washington Irving
First published in 1819, Rip Van Winkle is a story about a man who fell asleep for many years and woke up to find the world had changed. The other stories in this collection, like the title story, are characterised by a tongue-in-cheek humour and a touch of the macabre. They are all stories of migrants from different cultures to a land that gave them a new home.
Rip Van Winkle is a story of a man who helped everyone except himself. To avoid his wife’s haranguing, he escaped to the Catskill mountains (New York), fell asleep under the effect of some moonshine made by Dutch faerie folk playing ninepins (bowling)and woke up after a couple of decades to find a changed world, where his wife had died, his son had replaced him as the village lounger and the American war of independence had been fought. He finds shelter in his married daughter’s home.
The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow is the story of Ichabod Crane, the tall, lanky crane-like village school master, with a strong belief in the supernatural. He disappears in the Sleepy Hollow while returning home from a party where his proposal had been rejected by his sweetheart. The New England village folk believed that he has been killed by the headless horseman who is supposed to haunt that area. The horseman, who carried his own head under his arm , threw it at the school teacher. The next day they find a broken pumpkin where Crane had disappeared with all his effects. In the epilogue, the author says Crane’s rival married his sweetheart and could not help smiling everytime anyone spoke of Crane. A suggestion has also been made that Crane left the village and became a lawyer!
The Spectre Bridegroom is set in Germany where a bridegroom is killed on the way to his wedding. His friend, who tries to tell the bride’s party of his friend’s death, is mistaken for a ghost of his friend! It is a comedy of errors and the friend carries away the bride at the end.
The Pride of the Village is story set in a small English village, the story of a girl disappointed in love. Like in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles, the affair starts with the girl being the may queen. She does not suffer as much as Tess. When she is dying is the arms of her parents, her loved one comes back to her.
The last story, Mountjoy, seems to be a comment on private education where learning is unmonitored and sometimes aimless. This is again set in New England and talks of a family that lived in France. Though three of the five stories are set in America, by the banks of the Hudson river, the current day New York, they capture the hope of the multi-cultural migrant community that created a new world in America.
I found the first three stories very gripping. It reminded me of some of Roald Dahl’s stories in a collection called Kiss Kiss, only the horror is less horrific. The stories have a macabre humour and a tongue in cheek suggestion in the epilogue to rationalise the legends.
Irving’s description of the characters are sketched with few words and incidents which leave a strong imprint in ones mind. His characterisation of Crane with his lanky appearance, green eyes, belief in ghosts and spirits and fondness of food and women’s company is very realistic as are his other characters. You can almost hear his thin voice and laugh at his housewifish outlook. He wants to propose to a girl not only over her own worth but on the worth of her father who has a prosperous farm and a good spread at the table.
The flavour of the times are well captured by Irving. When Rip returns to his village, he is still a loyal subject of the King of England but the people he encounters have lived through the American revolution! Rip changes his world view to suit the needs of the times as he had never had strong political affiliations and lives out his life as a well-loved legendary figure.
Irving has woven Red Indian lore into his stories too to add authenticity to his legends. Catskill mountain. Historically, Catskill mountain was named after either Dutch or Mohican traditions or persons. It is not very clear. Irving has played with these legends to create a misty aura around the story. There is a statue of Rip Van Winkle in a park in New York. Irving did create a legend!
These are stories about common people anywhere in the world. You can see multicultural values built into these legends. They absorbed traditions of cross-continental cultures and created a new myth from them. That many Americans, unless they were native Indians, emigrated with their own cultures to find acceptance in the wilds of America is borne out by the multi-cultural flavour of the legends created by Irving.
I enjoyed these stories very much and would say they make an excellent weekend read with their one world outlook. After all, they have created new legends.