By Abdulsalam Nasir
A 22-year-old model, who had visited 22 countries, once told me this of Cape Town: “So beautiful…The most beautiful city on earth.” Coming from Sandra Omo, Nigerian-born international model-cum-actress who played the role of a slave girl in the Oscar-nominated TV drama series, Secret of The Dead: Slave Ship Mutiny, I have no reason to challenge her assertion, for she once lived for six months in Cape Town.
However, it turned out the statement was no exaggeration; rather I found it an understatement. The magnificence of Cape Town cannot be adequately captured by such word as ‘beautiful’, neither would a lengthy ode do justice to its splendour. If Cape Town were to be a piece of classical music, anybody trying to describe it with words-regardless of the pathos and poetry of the language-is merely attempting a poor remix of the original version. The city, from its building architecture to the general landscape, is a blend of picturesque view and a slice of the surreal. Cape Town is at once trendy and futuristic. Its beauty leaves you giddy. The recent 2012 Telegraph Travel Awards ranked Cape Town as the No 1 Favourite Worldwide City even ahead of New York. Any view of the city is picture-perfect with postcard prospects. Thinking of a model city? Cape Town ticks all the boxes.
As you zoomed through into the city from the airport, you are confronted by the natural elements that form the city’s definitive landscape. Mountain. Sea. Island: Nature’s wonders made more wonderful by man’s ingenuity. Magnificent views open before you, offering you breathtaking perspectives back-grounded by sprawling mountains that stalk the city like a brooding sphinx. In the foreground, the coastal scenery stretches to the vanishing point. If you are visiting Cape Town, you ought to have enough time on your hand in order to have your fill of the wonderful sights on the southern African peninsula.
We came visiting courtesy of South African Tourism. We are the Channel O Prize winners, a motley crowd of young Africans from seven different countries. And thankfully, we had a three-day sightseeing itinerary that is packed full of Cape Town’s best-Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope, Robben Island, Wineland, Sunset Cruise.
Arriving from Johannesburg on a sunny day, after a brief stopover at the V&A Water front, we headed to Table Mountain, our first port of call. The route to the top of Table Mountain is via a cable car. Although, we had earlier experienced a cable car jaunt at Hartbeespoort, there was, however, a bit of novelty to the five-minute journey to the top of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. The cable car, as it glides up and down the mountain, rotates on its axis, adding a surrealistic tinge to the breathtaking experience. During the ascent or descent, you have a looming view of the vast side of the mountainside, which, like some ancient Mayan edifice, is scarred, terraced and ridged.
If you are not one easily made giddy by height, you would be treated to a rare sight of Cape Town drawing away and sinking below you from an odd angle that eventually spiraled into a 360 degree view of the city and the surrounding sea as you arrive at the peak of the mountain. The mountain derived its name from the fact that its zenith is flat. At the top, visitors are treated to a farrago of experience: refreshments at the restaurant, strolls along demarcated paths, superb photo opportunities afforded by the 1,086metre-high vantage point above the city.
A tour of Cape Town is only half-complete without a visit to the Cape of Good Hope-the southern most tip of southern Africa-and its vast Nature Reserve. The tour took us through Chapman’s Peak Drive, Noordhoek and Hout Bay on the Atlantic Coast on the southwestern tip of South Africa. The 9km route, with its 114 curves, skirts the rocky coastline of 593-metre Chapman’s Peak, which is the southerly extension. The Chapman’s Peak Drive, affectionately known as “Chappies,” is a must for anyone who is passionate about the majestic Cape Town scenery. The route, snaky and clinging to the mountain-side, with sheer drops to the sea below and towering mountains rising above you, with its endless twists and curves, is a photographer’s dream. It offers stunning 180° views with exquisite scenery where you can stop over and sit down for a relaxing picnic.
If you are a movie buff, you would see unforgettable frames from popular movies in the unfolding vistas before you. Indeed, many blockbusters, such as The Transformer, were shot there, so also a great deal of the romantic musical sceneries of Bollywood movies. As our bus moved on, it appeared as if we were chasing an optical illusion of cloves of clouds clinging to the craggy face of the mountain. At the Cape Reserve, baboons, waterbucks and ostriches roam the wild and frequently strayed cross the path of cars.
Cape of Good Hope offers stunning panorama. Being the point where two oceans, the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, meet and mix, the colour of the body of water changes by the minute from aquamarine to sparkling sapphire. Brown snaky tendrils of seaweeds litter the rocky shore, some floating and bobbing on the water. You would see a colony of penguins marooned on the rocks far into the sea. Originally, named Cape of Storms by the Portuguese explorer, Bartholomeu Dias, in 1488, due to stormy weather, Cape of Good Hope was renamed by John II of Portugal because of the great potential it offered as sea route to India and the East. Today, it is a top tourist attraction.
The next day, when we hit the road northwest of Cape Town, on the Wine Route experience, the sky was sunless, a day of cool-warm weather flux. We explore Cape Town’s wine region. Our itinerary took us through Stellenbosch and Franschoek. As our bus sped on, remarkable landscape of breathtaking natural beauty flew past us. We had a stop over at Franschoek, a winemaking town that is very French from its name (which mean “French Corner”) to the wine it produces. “The people here are descendants of protestants who fled 16 Century France to escape religious persecution,” Bruce, our tour guide explained. “They brought with them the French’s wine-making expertise.”
At Franschoek, we took a time-out to embark on a bicycle tour, biking round the town for 25 minutes. Kitted in bikers’ gears, the group was led by a three-man team. “Marcus in front, Christine in the middle, Bell at the rear, we ride single file and keep to the left hand side,” the guide had instructed.
Franschoek is about winemaking, and the real McCoy is the rite of wine tasting. This, we experienced at the Boschendal Estate founded 1685. We tasted five of the Boschendal wines. Maxeen, our wine guide, took us on a Wine 101 lecture, from how to store a bottle of wine – “in a cool place, with the bottle lying on its side so the cork is in contact with the content”-to the storage process of winery-“stored in French oak barrel for 14 months”-to wine-tasting etiquette, “the water in the glass is meant to wash off the taste of one wine before you drink another.”
She also made remarks about the goodness of wine: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but nowadays, it is a cup of wine.” She concluded with a wisecrack about what should be a minimum daily measure, “two cups for women because we are multi-functional and one cup for men,” to which Tebogo, a south African, chirped, “That makes it easier for us (men) to take them home.”
The experience was capped by Wineland Picnic Lunch at Boschendal Wine Estate. We had lunch al fresco under the tree with our noses assailed by the fruity flavour of the air diluted with the rich aroma of a three-course meal.
We drew a curtain on the day’s adventure with a Sunset Cruise. From the waterfront of the V&A harbor, we set out in a catamaran named Tigress, a 60-foot beauty that reached 10 knots. Buffeted by cold wind that made grabbing a blanket necessary, the atmosphere in the vessel was gradually warmed up by music, starting with a slow salsa, the festivity was later revved up with the groovy music of P Square’s Chop My Money and Flavour’s Ashawo. We came back in the twilight and stepped into the waterfront of Cape Town, which was lit up like a magical wonderland. The night came alive with the high-octane carousing that went well into midnight at the many pubs that dotted the waterfront.
Every inch of the waterfront is a postcard frame. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a farrago of leisure activities: yachting, shopping, dinning and playing. All around you, you are besieged by colourful visual overload that would remain evergreen in your memory. The Table Bay Hotel, where we were lodged, is centrally located, set against the stunning backdrop of the working harbour, Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean.
From my room, I woke up to a fabulous vista every morning. Being situated in the V&A Waterfront has another strategic advantage as it allows for easy access to the chains of interconnected shopping malls and markets that honeycombed the city’s waterfront. And the giant Ferris Wheel planted by the harbour gives off an Alice-in-Wonderland feel to the waterfront experience.
The Cape Town experience fills me with great satisfaction: I’m glad I was here. Ironically, it leaves me with a gnawing yen: I wish I live here. Cape Town is not a city you visit once; it is a city you pay a pilgrimage to.