Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cape Town #4

Friends: When I descended from my hike to the summit of Table Mountain, there were three police cars, two police motorcycles and a police dog at the trail head. Literature on hiking any of Table Mountain's 450 miles of trails advised traveling in groups of four--safety in numbers. I had hoped to meet up with others on the trail, but the ranger stationed at the trail head said that I needn't be concerned about linking up with others today on the Platteklip Trail, the most direct and popular trail to the summit, as there had been a fair number of others preceding me and would likely be more to come.

I quickly discovered it would be hard to find others hiking at a compatible pace, as this trail up a spectacular gorge was staircase steep . I passed as many people as passed me and only briefly hiked with one other, an elderly marathoner who was huffing and puffing, surging ahead, then stopping to recover, surging ahead and stopping. There were enough hikers that I didn't need concern myself at all about someone jumping out of nowhere, demanding my camera and money. So it came as a shock to see all the law enforcement officials amassed at the trail head.

"Has there been an incident?" I asked the lone white officer.

"A woman suffered heat stroke on the trail," he said." A doctor has gone up to check on her."

She must have been one of those taking a break under a tree about two-thirds of the way down in one of the few shady spots on the trail. It was another fiercely hot day in Cape Town. I was feeling a bit faint and wobbly myself. It had been two hours up and an hour and fifteen minutes down for me after spending an hour-and-a-half wandering around on the summit over to the cable car and a cluster of shops and restaurants. I had been on my feet about the same amount of time as I had spent on my bike riding the Cape Argus three days before, but I felt more spent from this. My legs weren't conditioned for such exertion. Those non-cycling muscles in my legs were letting me know that they had been neglected. I was further depleted from the heat.

The trail is only two miles long, but nearly straight up, gaining over 2,000 feet. It is a virtual staircase of rocks, with many steps two or three times higher than the usual and not very even. It was even steeper than Mount Fuji and much more difficult without a chain hand rail to pull up on. Going down wasn't as demanding as going up, but it too took its toll on the legs, especially with the day heating up.

There were swarms of people at the summit, most paying $15 to be whisked up on the 65-passenger cable car. It was a 15 minute stroll over to the cable car and the mini-village from the top of the trail. I wasn't expecting such amenities. I had brought three water bottles, drinking just one on the way up. I was able to refill it at the public rest room. The views were as sensational as could be hoped for down into Cape Town and out to Robben Island and out along the coast line on the backside of Table Mountain. One could see dots of people on a beach nearly straight down. There was considerable plant life up there amongst the rocky terrain. It was anything but table top flat.

I thought it might be a half-day outing and that I could check out the District Six Museum that afternoon, but I had no energy for anything else except to go to a movie after a couple hours of recovery. It was Wozo Wednesday at one theater chain with all tickets just 15 rand. One of the theaters was at the Waterfront Development, Cape Town's version of Chicago's Navy Pier catering to tourists. Its multiplex had mostly fairly current Hollywood fare that didn't much interest me, but also Clint Eastwood's "The Changeling," something I managed to miss at Cannes even though it had been in Competition and when it came through Chicago.

When I showed up at the theater for the 5:30 screening, only the eight p.m. screening was listed above the box office. I feared the earlier show had already sold out. I wouldn't have dared to wait for that show and bike home after ten p.m. through down town Cape Town. The ticket seller told me tickets for the 5:30 show were sold upstairs and around the corner by the theater where it was being shown. All seats were reserved, so I had to pick a seat. Otherwise the film-going experience was no different than in the U.S. though the previews weren't cluttered with commercials. The South African audience may have evacuated the theater even faster than an American audience though, on their feet and out the door the instant the credits appeared on the screen.

I had a few moments to read the day's paper before the movie began. There was a prominent story about a plan by Cape Town's mayor, Helen Zille, the white party's candidate for president, trying to get the private sector to fund extra law enforcement officials for the city. Cape Town seems relatively safe, but there's been a recent spate of robberies at the downtown's most prominent intersection of Strand and Adderly where people queue for taxis.

One paper posts the number of weeks until the World Cup (the Soccer World Championship that comes along every four years). It is 64 weeks away. There is great concern that tourists will be afraid to come to South Africa for the Cup. There are regular comments from government officials that the media ought to go easy on negative stories until then. Many homeowners are hoping to rent out their homes to tourists during the World Cup, including Ian. Ian doesn't expect his company to receive any World Cup work though, as he would need to have partial black ownership to qualify.

Later, George

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