South Africa, April 2014: Hout Bay and Surrounds

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Back in Hout Bay the guys were getting ready for night of revelry at Sean’s bar, Forex. I don’t know what inspired it, perhaps a suggestion from Martin or another Dutch intern, but it was King’s Day and that would be the theme that night. Still, that wasn’t happening till later in the evening and we had a few hours yet. The day passed one way or another until the four of us, Sean, JP, myself and Legend, headed out for a walk up to Chapman’s Peak. As I think I mentioned the Chapman’s Peak road was visible from Sean’s patio.

Hout Bay as seen from Chapman's Peak Drive

Hout Bay as seen from Chapman’s Peak Drive

It ascended in a series of gradual inclines and bends from sea level at Hout Bay itself to a few hundred feet a.s.l. at a point opposite the mouth of the bay where there was a prominent viewpoint. Thereafter it descended in a similarly windy fashion towards Noordhoek and its long stretch of idyllic beach. Chapman’s Peak Drive, known affectionately as Chappies, had a gained a certain notoriety in years previous because of occasional rockfalls. One of these had been fatal when an unfortunate motorist had been killed driving the route. As a result it had been closed and engineering safety features installed such as catch nets in the gullies and below steeper flanking slopes, reinforcement of the roadside cuttings and such like.

Chapman’s Peak Drive winds it way between Noordhoek and Hout Bay on the Atlantic Coast on the south-western tip of South Africa. Chapman’s Peak Drive is one of the most spectacular marine drives in the world. The 9km route, with its 114 curves, skirts the rocky coastline of Chapman’s Peak (593m), which is the southerly extension of Constantiaberg and is a great hike for the energetically inclined (source: http://www.chapmanspeakdrive.co.za)

JP on the ascent of Chappies

JP on the ascent of Chappies

We parked at the start of a trail about 2/3 of the way up the drive to the viewpoint, basically as far as we were permitted to go on a free day-pass ticket. The three of us and the dog then ascended the trail towards the true summit of the range some 540 meters a.s.l. It was rewarding in every sense of the word: the exercise; an unexpected sighting of a number of Cape Sugarbirds in courtship plumage which I had read about years before in one of

Panorama, Chappies Peak

Panorama, Chappies Peak

the field guides and had been longing to see; the verdant fynbos vegetation which boasted an enormous biodiversity; good company; and of course some commanding views. It must have taken us a good hour, perhaps a little more, to reach the peak. The photographs speak for themselves. We got back just as the last of the light was fading and by the time we were back at the house it was dark.

Myself, Sean, JP and his faithful dog Legend at the summit, about an hour's walk from where we parked.

Myself, Sean, JP and his faithful dog Legend at the summit, about an hour’s walk from where we parked.

After showering and refreshing we drove the hire car back to Observatory and the Forex Bar. Sean was wearing a pair of orange overalls but the rest of us were casually dressed. As we disembarked near the bar a taxi pulled up with a crew of young Hollanders. One of them exclaimed (in Dutch) ‘Oh, there are others!’ when she saw Sean in his overalls. Sean flashed a smile and said ‘Hello’ in a not particularly Dutch-sounding accent. Also with us was Carsten, a tall German lad in his mid-20s, probably about 6’4″ and generally of a friendly disposition. JP told me he came from money and he was basically free to travel the world. He himself told me that Cape Town was the best place in the world so far as he was concerned. He had recently taken a chopper pilot’s license and was hoping to find work ferrying contractors to oil rigs and that sort of thing.

Orange was definitely the colour that evening but I didn’t really get to engage any of the Dutch contingent in meaningful conversation, besides they were all in their late teens to early-20s I’m guessing. They seemed to be having fun anyway. Have you heard of beer-pong by any chance? I hadn’t either, but I saw it being played that evening. It involves ping-pong balls, pint glasses, beers and people getting drunk!

Other notable characters I met that evening: Brett, an engineering graduate who seemed quite taken with me and who decided that he would work tirelessly to get me hooked up with a nice ‘chick’. I like to think I could do this alone but I played along for a while until I could escape unobtrusively. He meant well enough and after crossing paths a few times I learnt that he had, in a previous life, been rather a depressive loner, and was out to make amends. I really hope that wasn’t how I came across? Surely not that evening?!! Sean later described him as ‘a walking jester.’

There was the attractive but rather mysterious Emily, whose professional title included the words ‘psychology’ and ‘pathology’ but in what order I forget. I asked if she made a habit of analysing people she fell into conversation with, at which she just laughed. Interestingly she said that she had applied to go to Zimbabwe to conduct some research or project work. I did my best to sound upbeat about the place – it was my home for the better part of 30 years after all. It’s easy to get nostalgic about the place but the reality is more complicated. All the same visitors usually come away with a good impression of the people and the natural endowments. Few of these aid workers ever stay beyond a year or two, four or five at most.

Towards the end of the evening I was introduced to a young, black South African girl, by accident really. A mutual acquaintance decided to conduct some match-making and had told both of us separately that the other party was keen to chat. Her name was Rachel and she seemed like a lot of fun actually. She demonstrated her ‘special dance’ which involved flexing her knees whilst swinging her arms in front of them. I’m pretty sure she never patented it but it was amusing. She said that she lived just round the corner and that this was ‘her bar.’ In the UK they would refer to it as one’s ‘local.’ Apparently she worked ‘damn hard’ in recruitment. She was well spoken and had what I would I would best describe as a middle-class English-speaker’s South African accent. I didn’t ask her her ethnic background i.e. whether Zulu/Xhosa/Sotho/other. Anyway, it was good to see that the bar wasn’t exclusively white locals and foreigners. Unfortunately at that juncture JP found me and informed me that our taxi had arrived and it was time to go. I felt a disappointed to have to say goodbye so soon after meeting but such is the life of the fleeting traveller.

She demonstrated her ‘special dance’ which involved flexing her knees whilst swinging her arms in front of them. I’m pretty sure she never patented it but it was amusing.

On our way out the bar something happened. I say ‘something’ because I am struggling to define it precisely. One second I was walking out the door, the next there was a black man being pinned to a wall by several men, JP included, whilst Martin the Dutchman, kicked and punched the man in question with considerable anger and aggression. Someone said ‘thief’, another said ‘wallet’. I put two and two together. I also realised that my presence would simply aggravate an already tense situation so I slipped out the door before the bouncer shut it behind me.

Outside I found Tom, a young Law graduate, I had been introduced to earlier. ‘What the hell was that all about?’ I asked him. ‘Bloody mob justice!’ I was angry and I didn’t know why. Tom smiled empathetically. ‘I know what you are saying. I find myself in the same predicament. I know that we should really leave this to the police to resolve. All the same I don’t trust that justice will be met. I am in two minds about it.’ It was good thing that JP was there to resolve the situation. He had confiscated several stolen wallets and phones from the man, but because he had apparently dropped Martin’s wallet before they apprehended him they couldn’t pin that crime on him. Ultimately they had had to let him go. I assume Sean took charge of the confiscated items. I didn’t think to ask. The sad thing was that he was a black Zimbabwean just like Ishmael who had served us at the cafe in Fransschoek.

Whilst some like Ishmael had found legitimate employment others like this man had turned instead to crime. How may other poor Zimbabweans were out there doing the same thing, stealing for a living, I can’t say, but no doubt there were. I had heard accusations in years previous of Zimbabweans in that country being criminals; I just hoped we are not all tarred with the same brush.

Our time in Cape Town was drawing to a close. The following day everyone was in a state of torpor (read ‘hungover’). JP and I negotiated the Hout Bay market with Martin and his American girlfriend, Julia, who hailed from from Dallas, Texas. I suspect I had been there once before, many years ago, on my first and only family holiday to Cape Town. It was predominantly catering to the white middle-class: curios, book-stores and a variety of local food stalls. JP opted for a pizza brunch whilst I settled for a dish from the kitchen of a Cape Malay woman called Cass Abrahams.

She had a couple of books she had authored on display as well. She boasted me that her most popular recipe book was the most requested cook book in Exclusive Books, a popular chain of book-stores there in South Africa, and consequently the most frequently stolen item as well. I don’t know if this actually the case but it was a good story. The plate of chicken Tagine I bought from her was delicately spiced she told me (‘loaded with saffron’) and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed.

…I settled for a dish from the kitchen of a Cape Malay woman called Cass Abrahams. She had a couple of books she had authored on display as well. She boasted me that her most popular recipe book was the most requested cook book in Exclusive Books, a popular chain of book-stores there in South Africa, and consequently the most frequently stolen item as well.

The day drifted by lazily thereafter until I decided I couldn’t see it go to waste any further and jumped on a racing bike in Sean’s garage and headed for Chappies. Initially a bit of a slog my legs soon remembered what they were supposed to be doing and it wasn’t long before I was up over the viewpoint and sailing downhill towards Noordhoek beach. That evening granted me one of the most memorable sunsets in my memory and snapshots of a group of surfers and body-boarders enjoying a fabulous break; a small Asian wedding party replete with horses (a Jewish lady attempted to warn off the bride saying ‘there are dogs on the beach, they will ruin your dress!’ Amusing but unnecessary.); and adults and children enjoying the general ambience of the autumn evening there in distant Cape Town.

Atlantic Sunset

Atlantic Sunset

There was a return to Fransschoek with Sean for a wine tasting in the company of his business partner, Ollie, and various friends of his, most of whom I had met over the previous few days. It was pleasant but pricey (we ate at a Gourmet restaurant this time; no Ishmael but service unimpressive). Alas our time was up and that evening we flew back to Joburg in readiness for my flight back to the UK the following day.

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