Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday morning falling down

Today I fell down Table Mountain.
It all started so well. I had a lovely to-do list for the day: fetch my bokkie at the airport late this afternoon; a birthday celebration of a long-lost friend at noon and a long walk on the mountain before then. With a song in my heart and a flask of coffee in my daypack, I was at the bottom of Kasteelpoort in Camps Bay at 7.30.
Yes, it’s a trudge to the top. But because I started early I had shade all the way. After all that rain last week you could still hear songs of water threaded all over the mountainside, rushing down in secret little streams under grass, glistening over rocks and gushing into small pools.
On the famous flat rock almost at the top of Kasteelpoort I stopped for coffee. I had forgotten my cup at home, but not to be defeated, I poured it into the margarine tub I had packed my rusks into. It doesn’t matter how you get your caffeine in when you’re climbing a mountain.
Kasteelpoort is a majestic name for a majestic place. When you reach the top, the buttress rises like a huge sandstone castle to your right, with another buttress on the left and you walk through this portal to the kingdom that is the top of the mountain. I thought of Anatoli Boukreev’s words: “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambitions to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
At the entrance to the Valley of the Red Gods I discovered the cathedral’s inner sanctum. Under a small dome of rock, fringed by green ferns, was a tiny mountain pool. A frog sat at the edge and went plop. A sandy beach, as long as my leg, curved around it. At the far end the water tinkled away through brown reeds and echoed against the rock dome. A dry white flower petal drifted on the water. In this small world all was perfect.

From the western lip of the Red Gods’ valley I dropped down into Porcupine Ravine and was filled with the joy of the day. Now the heat was rising from the ground and the fat, round smell of fynbos hung in the warm air. All the way down Diagonal Route I scattered confetti bushes, brushing my hands in their buchu sented leaves as the tiny white petals dropped like snowdrops on the ground.
It’s a treacherous way down with lots of wet and loose rocks and I picked my way down with extreme care. At last the path flattened out a little and I was almost on safe ground. Then I saw the Yellow Flower. It stood on a slender stem against a rock, its closed buds wrapped in the outside-red of its petals. I took a picture of it and admired it in the playback. So delicate, so beautiful.
…And stepped backwards over a rock. They say most accidents on the mountain happen in a fall of no more than three metres. Now I understand why. As I lost my balance my arms groped in mid-air, looking for something to hold onto. There was nothing. I kept thinking, oh, now I’ll regain my balance. I didn’t. I tumbled down the cliffside, thinking, now I’ll stop, oh no, I’m still rolling, still rolling down. It probably took as long as it would take you to say: one thousand and ten, two thousand and ten, three thousand and ten.
And then I stopped. I was lying face-down with ground in my mouth and in front of me sat a bright-green praying mantis, staring at this apparition that had just fallen out of the sky. I stood up. Strangely, I didn’t even think that I might have broken something. I just stood up.
I was so lucky. I had chosen a very well vegetated and cushioned little cliffside to drop over and had come to a stop in a patch of plants and one of those thorny bushes. Bruised, scratched and shaking, I sat in the shade and poured water over my wounds.
The day had changed completely. It went from gold to grey. I suppose I was in a state of light shock. Even as I write this, nine hours and numerous classes of ice-cold Coke later, I feel weird.
It’s as if the mountain I love so much just flicked me off its arm like an insect. The message is clear: I may be your cathedral, but I’m a wild place. To which I can only answer: All the more reason to love you.

Photographs and copy © Judy van der Walt

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Singing in the rain

Today was a perfect day for walking. Yes, I know it rained. It is still raining as I write. But if you have invested a few hundred rand in excellent waterproof gear, like Jan and I, you are only too pleased when you have the chance to wriggle into it and be the only ones on the mountain.
So it was that we drove up to Kloof Nek like two gladwrapped sausages, waterproofed from the hooded tops of our heads to the tips of our goretexed toes. Low granite-grey clouds flew over the nek. It was a wild afternoon.
I remember once reading a description of a woman in a book that said she was the kind of person who walked in all weather. A rather staunch type. Well, I may not be that staunch but I love all kinds of weather. Fast winds, driving rain, hot sun. I love plunging into the elements, whatever they are. Give it to me, baby. Ok, maybe I am a bit staunch.
We launched ourselves onto the pipe track at Kloof Nek. Now the rain fell horizontally in fat drops and tree branches arched heavily above the path. The water treatment plant above Camps Bay floated into view through a curtain of mist, like a fairytale castle. This red-brick building is one of my favourites in Cape Town.
We didn’t walk very far. But just being in the freshest of fresh air, blowing in all the way from far over the Atlantic, was like a new beginning at the end of the weekend. It made me feel better about the chocolate tart I ate this afternoon and the several glasses of red wine I had at dinner last night.
We sat on a bench under dripping trees with the mist swirling over the ocean below. Raindrops plopped on my head with the sensation of small feet dancing. All around us happy wet frogs croaked in joy.
How can you not sing in the rain.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One golden afternoon

The afternoon held a golden promise untouched by the icy southeaster that chased empty chips packets down Kloof Street. The sky was swept clear blue and Table Mountain’s western edges stood there shining in the sun.
Five minutes from lounge to mountain is an old story, but after so many years every quick and easy escape feels like the first time. I had my boots on and was on the mountain quicker than it would take most farmers to get into their bakkies and drive to the nearest nice – and I mean very nice – place to walk.
Often I drive to Kloof Nek and let my car decide which way we’re going. Today it was Kloof Corner, the edge of Table Mountain above Camps Bay. The pelargoniums along the path sang in full-throttle purple and a wisp of cloud brushed the top of the mountain.The sun put on its best show. Everything glowed: the stones on the path, the solitary tree blown sideways and the grasses bending in the wind. Even the chipped and peeling old white beacon on Kloof Corner glowed.There I lay down on my back on a terrace of stone and stretched my arms out. The mountain bent over me and swallows dived full-speed into cracks in the rock. Full body contact with old stone makes me happy.
Kloof Corner had two shows on. To the one side lay the city of Cape Town and the blue curve of Table Bay.
To the other side the ravines and buttresses of the Twelve Apostles stood in light and deep shadow between sea and sky. This was the wild view I preferred.
By the time I walked down the path again the glowing afternoon had become liquid gold that spilt into the world around me. The golden light poured off the mountain, washed the sky and splashed and shimmered in the sweet pink sea far below.
And the after-glow lasted until late in the night.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A birthday walk

A birthday walk on Sunday, a weather forecast gone very wrong and a pack of dogs scaling a mountain. Just another day on Table Mountain.
It was Mike’s 60th and although he seemed to start off a bit gloomy, the mountain soon had him in birthday mood.
The weather forecast was way off. The Sunday newspaper said 27 degrees, but you only had to look out the window to know that forecast was for another city in another hemisphere. Never be under-equipped, is Jannie’s mantra and I know not to argue with him. But gloves! Which mountain was he preparing for?
As it turned out, Table Mountain. Halfway up Constantia Corner the weather turned icy. More like -27. OK, 16 degrees. Mist swirled in, the sun disappeared and so did the people and dogs just ahead of me on the path.
Karen was leading our pack of (unsubservient) humans and (subservient) dogs up to Camel Rock from Constantia Corner. This route is misleading. It looks easy because you never see the whole route ahead of you, but my calves are still hurting a day later. Karen’s pack of dogs, from small to large, were scrambling up the mountain with various degrees of help from human hands.
At the top we found shelter for morning tea under those beautiful weathered rocks, chiselled away by the exact same wind and mist that was swirling around us.
Walking in the mist makes the mountain soft, mysterious; things look different. It’s like a woman wearing a veil.
But we didn’t linger. By noon we were sitting in Barristers, sharing a bottle of red wine and a few beers. Now it didn’t matter what the weather forecast was, we had a birthday to celebrate.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ultimate art

We call it Mango Cave because of the unforgettably sweet and juicy mango Jannie and I shared there one afternoon long ago. So, in the mood for a short and sweet walk, I went up to Mango Cave in the middle of the afternoon.
Just before our cave, I noticed the rock wall next to the path. This is the mystery and wonder of Table Mountain. I have walked past there dozens of times, but on this particular afternoon the slant of the sun and the wet glistening on the rock face stopped me in my tracks.
This is not a rock wall, it’s a wall of poems! I sat on a stone next to the path and looked at this wall. As I looked, poems emerged. As I looked closer, even more poems emerged. The beauty developed like a photograph on wet paper in a dark room.
A dry bunch of tiny twigs sat rooted in a damp cushion of moss. A bonsai Erica had all the potential of being a big tree in a park if you forgot about scale. A thin grey branch twisted into a sculpture. Lichen clung to moss and looked silvery in the afternoon light. Dry strands of grass curled into a mass of delicate twists and curved lines. The brightest pink oxalis bloom stuck its cheerful head out above a clump of dry sticks in a song that said the sun is pink and it has risen. Two thin streams of water poured through a patch of green moss, like two small taps at a bathroom basin.
The mountain in its smallest beauty, its most intimate moments. A mountain that holds you close and then shows you her total, open heart.
Last night we went to an art exhibition. Kendell Geers had thrown some bricks through a glass window of a gallery in Roeland Street. Broken glass lay inside on the floor and the bricks were scattered; artfully, I think. There was nothing else in the shop.
I knew it was an art exhibition because there was free wine and snacks at the Kimberley Hotel across the road. On the mountain I didn't need free wine and snacks to point the way.
Here is a rock wall of poems. That's all.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

About owls and a farmer poet

This weekend we gave Table Mountain a break and left for the West Coast armed to the teeth against the expected cold weather: jerseys, all-weather jackets and a two-bar heater I smuggled into the back of the bakkie.
Fortunately the Pater of Noster blessed us with good weather in Paternoster. We had two days of blue skies and sunshine and at night the sea turned silver under the moon and splashed calmly onto the long beach in front of us.
But the story of today’s blog is about owls and a poet farmer. Sticking to the back roads from Velddrif to Hopefield and then to Darling, we noticed many wine barrels attached to the top of poles in fields. We wondered if they could be owls’ nests, but why so many? We stopped in front of a farmer’s gate and I convinced Jannie (who’s far more of a law-abiding citizen than me) that we should trespass 100m and check out a wine barrel. A small square hole had been cut out of the front and we stood there listening for chicks squeaking.
Silence. I picked up a pebble and threw it against the barrel. Silence. We walked back to the gate and then a small blue bakkie appeared on top of the hill. Soon it pulled up next to us and a young farmer with a beard, brown eyes and the shell of a small tortoise on a string around his neck, said: “Are you lost?” I noticed a canvas bag on the seat next to him and thought perhaps he was a farmer who drove around with a gun.
We explained that we were curious about the barrels on top of the poles. Yes, he said, they are indeed owls’ nests. He introduced himself as Johan “Planne” van Niekerk, a farmer from Darling.
He said because so much farmland has been cultivated, most barn owls (nonnetjies, as he called them in Afrikaans) have taken to the mountains, apart from those who have nested in barns.
With so few owls around there has been a plague of mice, who love the sandy soil. The mice became a big problem as they ate the wheat, sometimes clearing whole patches of land of wheat seed as it is sown. Then someone hit on the idea of putting up an owl’s nest, attracting more barn owls back to their original natural habitat.
“I’ve heard one nonnetjie can eat something like 25 mice an hour,” Planne said with a satisfied smile. “We have had some problems with bees or crows taking over the nests, but the farmers clean the nests out once a year,” Planne explained, then leaned towards the open window on the passenger side. “But why are you guys so far on the back roads? What do you do?”
I said I was a writer. Planne, still sitting in his bakkie, said: “A writer!” Then he became quite shy. “Actually, I write poetry. Ag man, I just write about the feelings I have sometimes about farming and so on.” Now even more shy, he opened the canvas bag (the one I thought had a gun in) and said, “I have my poems here”. He took out two notebooks and started paging through them. He had written in a neat long hand in blue ink, sometimes crossing out sections. The whole notebook was full of poetry.
“I’ll read some to you,” he said.
Then, with sheep grazing next to the road on this late Sunday afternoon, the farmer sat behind his steering wheel and read his poems. They were about the bitter aloes that flower like orange flames in a raw winter when everything else has gone wrong. About the way your horse’s sweat seeps onto your skin through your jeans’ seams when you are driving your sheep and cattle up to the winter pastures and how the dry road cracks under the horse’s feet.
And then about his love for a girl who had cancer and what he had seen in her eyes.
Then his cellphone - an iPhone - rang. We said goodbye and so did he.
Soon we got to Cape Town and Table Mountain sat there in the twilight, her outline silhouetted in the shape we love.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Sunday of delight

Something strange greeted us in the east when we woke up on Sunday morning. It was the sun. Almost unseen for the past two weeks, it made its re-appearance with a mad jumble of red and pink clouds streaked across the horizon. Every last shred of grey rain and cold was gone. It was a beautiful day.
We met Siegie and Wendy and their ridgeback Duma at Silvermine East. The fynbos exploded with birdsong. Sunbirds and sugarbirds dipped and flapped through the fresh air. Wendy said it was the mating season of the sunbirds. There certainly was excitement in the air as the orange breasted sunbirds with their bright round little bodies danced around the females.
Siegie and Wendy are training for Kilimanjaro, so we took the steepest route up, aiming for Steenberg Peak. The viewpoint up there also happens to be the perfect tea spot. From there we could see mist floating up in a straight line against the mountains in the distance. Clouds scattered high like white shards of an egg that had hatched the deep blue sky. The sun was on our backs and our bare arms. It was 16 May, almost the middle of winter. But the coast was not completely clear, so to speak. We could see fog rolling in from the ocean below us, like a duvet that had slipped off the bottom of the bed. We enjoyed the sun on our arms, knowing that in our packs we had weatherproof jackets and warm tops.
This walk is a walk. From Steenberg Peak the path gradually goes down into the valley and at Junction Pool you can casually walk slightly uphill again towards the Amphitheatre. Nellie’s Pool is along the way, a spot of silver water where there is always a frog or two that plop into the water as soon as they hear feet on the path.
Even the oxalis purpurea unfurled bright pink petals that became paler shades of pink as they opened. They sat in pink clumps all along the path, scatterlings of a spring to come.
We found one of Silvermine’s specialities, the endemic Erica urna-viridis. Just like the name says, its sticky flowers look like small green urns hanging upside down.
On this day of ambling, it was now time for lunch and we found a spot near the Amphitheatre. Here the air moved a little colder and we hid behind one of those rocks carved out by wind and rain.
Then we discovered someone had moved the Amphitheatre. Or rather, it wasn’t where I thought it was. But fortunately we had some level-headed leaders amongst us to keep us on the straight and narrow, or to be more accurate, the winding and narrow path.
Still the delights kept coming. A king protea appeared behind a rock, sitting there in its royal pink fullness, as if waiting for its subjects. On our wandering way down, a rooi Afrikaner dangled its head along the path, a tight bloom in reserve for the next burst of sunshine.
Suddenly there were clouds of flying ants in the air and swifts above us swerving and diving to catch them. Now the air was almost humid.
The last stretch of our ambling way took us over the river and below us we could hear the waterfall splashing down. After a long dry summer, the mountain was singing again with the songs of water.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Big game hunters

It is a Sunday morning with a new season’s crisp bite in the air, rain soaking the mountain. We jump out of bed and while everyone else in Cape Town pulls their duvets up higher, we pull on our waterproof boots and rain jackets. Time to hunt!
It’s one of the big pleasures of the ‘secret season’, when rain slowly turns the mountain and the slopes emerald green and the first streams of crystal white water splash down summer’s dry ravines.
Our prey is elusive, hiding under leaves and behind fallen tree trunks, blending in with the browns and dark greens of the forest. But we sniff them out, hunt them down and eat them as soon as we get home.
We are mushroom hunters.
There’s a feeling of competitiveness in the air as Jannie and I stop at the Tokai Arboretum. We check out other people walking up the path, watching carefully to see if they have bags or containers of any sort. These days more and more people are mushroom hunters and we don’t want to end up in the same patch of forest as them, staring them down over the stem of a mushroom.
It’s our first hunt of the winter. This is the best time. When the memory of summer is still on your brown skin and you don’t yet have that bleached and soggy feeling that comes after a long winter. We’re excited about the arrival of winter, the change in the air, the autumn blue sky when the sun breaks through, the golden leaves dropping from oak trees. We’ve ordered our first bakkie load of wood and already our wood stove is blazing every evening.
When Heine and Martine arrive we trundle up the Elephant’s Eye path through the forest. Soon we’re spreading out, like detectives looking for clues in a BBC crime series. First we find pepper mushrooms. Not poisonous, just not edible. Many useless pepper mushrooms, but lovely like a Victorian girl with their red blush on porcelain white skins.
Then Martine has a hit: “Isn’t this a pine ring?” We break it off and there is the orange ring in the stem, making pine rings the easiest mushrooms to hunt. A dead cert. Now that we’ve found one, we find more and more, in clumps, in clusters, on their own. We cut them off at the stem, hoping to make sure that next year there’ll be more.
The big prize in the forest is a cep (bolitis) mushroom. Far more scarce and much bigger than pine rings.
Suddenly Heine is diving towards a mother of a mushroom standing proudly on its own on the forest floor of pine needles. It’s a beautiful, perfect cep. Brand new, uneaten by insects, not yet soggy from the rain. This one must have been born in yesterday’s patch of sunshine. Ceps have a thick layer of sponge underneath them, also making it a dead cert once you know what it looks like. Everyone knows the story of old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters, but no old, bold mushroom hunters. We are not old and we are not bold, so we’re taking no chances.
Tokai forest is a joy on this rainy, Sunday morning. We are ziplocked into our waterproof gear, walking up the forest roads, bags of mushrooms in our hands and the smell of new, wet earth in our nostrils. The rain wafts down between the trees in fine silverwhite sprays of water. The first streams are just starting to gurgle through the forest. A frog jumps into the water.
It’s teatime. We sit on wet moss covered rocks and drink our sweet spicy chai from a flask, dipping mother-in-law’s best rusks in the world.
Tree bark glows in the morning winter light, trees sway above us and the mat of pine needles is soft below our feet.
It’s winter. And winter is best, for now.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Walking in soft rain

The morning started with a low, fast cloud sprinkling rainbow drops into the rising sun. Lion’s Head sunk behind shreds of white cloud flying over Kloof Nek. It wasn't bonny sunny weather and it was not a day for yodelling. It was a day for walking in soft rain. A blog without exclamation marks.

The sun and rain raced each other over the city and the sky, streaking past each other in stripes of light and shade, strobing over the mountain.

Kloof Corner is one of my favourite spots on the mountain; it stands there like the corner of a big family heirloom cupboard. To one side lies the city and the front of Table Mountain, to the other side the Twelve Apostles march away in single file, and today white clouds gathered around their heads.

It was the end of the long hot months and the mountain was as dry as a brown leaf that had fallen off a tree. It took a while for the stones to start shining in the rain, for the raw smell of damp ground to rise and the peppery fragrance of wet fynbos to fill the air.

Drop by diamond drop the rain fell like a very slow dance, a dance where the man holds the woman close. Drops slid off blades of grass, shone like pearls on the pink velvet petals of proteas and made small shiny puddles around stones.

Where Kloof Corner meets the contour path in big, flat rocks I huddled under an overhang and drank some coffee.

And then I walked back. Walking in soft rain.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Deboning a mountain

Oops, almost a week since I’ve blogged. Doesn’t mean I haven’t been walking on The Mountain. It was another early Sunday start, this time more decently at 7.30. The night before Jannie deboned a chicken a la Julia Child (as in the Meryl Streep movie Julie & Julia), following her advice: “don’t be afraid!” Then he made a crème brulee with his new blowtorch I gave him for Christmas. Ok, so this is not a food blog, but a mountain blog. The talk about food is just to explain the slow start to the expedition.
So up we go. Llandadno ravine awaits, crème bruleed legs, stuffed chicken and an excellent few bottles of wine notwithstanding. Help.
From the car park below Suikerbossie we followed the trail through the cool pine forest and up to the first ridge. Coffee, please. Now. A chilly wind was whipping over the ridge, but we found a spot just below it where we could rest our backs against the rocks. If there’s one thing in the world I’ll never miss, it’s my morning coffee. To have that cup of coffee sitting on the mountain, dipping a rusk and rubbing your fingers on a fragrant buchu bush, well, that is total bliss. We sat for ages with the morning sun on our faces and I slowly felt the life returning to my body, like a chicken being defrosted before being deboned (sorry but the masterpiece was still fondly in my thoughts).
Llandadno ravine looks like it has been carved out of the mountain by someone who was not afraid to make a few deep gashes. In winter water streams down, but now it was dry – and fragrant. The scent from pelargoniums and confetti bushes waft up once they have warmed up in the sun.
Crassulas everywhere, looking like upright chandeliers of luminescent red buds on thick stalks up on the cliffs. One creeping over a rock – remember it’s called a ‘klipblom’ – competing with rusty red lichen.
Rock kestrels swooped, pigeons sat below the steep cliffs giving the wildness a domestic air. And there was a domestic air. Someone had built a low wall out of rocks so that you could shelter under an overhang. There was a cleanly swept spot where a modest fire had been built and a flat stone jutted out like a bedside table. The perfect place to put down your cellphone. It felt like home, so we had to stop for another tea break and slices of Patty’s leftover steak from the night before.
On top of Llandadno ravine sandstone rocks had been weathered into all kinds of shapes by the wind and rain. The edge dropped away suddenly so that you felt as if you were perched on top of the ocean. Llandadno’s white beach curved around its turquoise bay, ships sailed over the horizon and two paragliders caught an updraft above Leeukoppie.
The only mystery was why the rest of the world wasn’t here too. As we looked down onto the multi-million rand mansions below, I felt not a shred of envy. We had the best spot by far.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Death on the mountain

It was confirmed today. A man fell to his death on Platteklip Gorge on Sunday evening.
Still glowing from our walk in the morning, we were sitting on the deck in the late afternoon when we saw the helicopters. Always a bad sign. And it happens surprisingly often late on a Sunday or Saturday. “Someone has fallen down the mountain again,” I said to Jannie.
You usually get a sense of how serious it is by watching the helicopters. This time there were two or three and they kept buzzing at the top of Platteklip for a long time. This looked serious. The following day the Cape Times reported that a man had fallen off the top of Platteklip Gorge, in front of hikers who were on their way up the mountain. Everyone was traumatised by the fact that the man seemed to have died instantly.
But today’s paper had a slightly different slant on the story. It seemed the man had committed suicide and the medics had found two suicide notes. One was on the 67-year old man’s body and another in a backpack found close to where he jumped off.
People die on Table Mountain every year. Sometimes I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. One baking Sunday morning we met a family from the Free State with some young children at the bottom of Platteklip Gorge. They asked us for directions. They were dressed in flip-flops, only a few had hats and they didn’t have enough water. Jannie convinced them to take an alternative route along the contour path.
We often get asked for directions – do we look that local? – and it’s usually a sure sign that the hikers are unprepared. But we’ve also learnt that you can’t just tell someone off. Like the guy with the blonde ponytail who was leading a gang of young girls in jeans and sandals up India Venster. He did not appreciate our warnings that it’s a dangerous route. Fortunately there were no helicopters that time...


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hunting for red disas

The owls were still flying around this morning when we went up Nursery Ravine to go hunting for red disas. Mike the retired vet insisted we meet him no later than 5.30. It was a good move, although I didn’t think so when the alarm went off at 4.30 on a Sunday morning. Maximum temperatures were forecast today for 35+ and when we came down the mountain four hours later the sweaty red-faced hikers pulling themselves up over hot boulders were not a pretty sight.
It was still a bit early in the year for disas – indigenous orchids - but Mike had heard an unsubstantiated rumour that a few had already been spotted. So up we trudged. We were a third of the way up Nursery Ravine when a golden glow suddenly lit up the trees and moss covered boulders. The sun had risen. Once out of the forest we could see right over False Bay towards Hangklip and a silver cloud cascaded over Silvermine East. Mist touched the earth here and there, floating up from the ground.
My climbing strategy is a slow one, just keep going, even if fuelled only by half a cup of coffee and a rusk, keep going, keep going. Rest as you lift your feet, before you put them down. Breathe. But stuff if. Today I had to rest when the last steep stretch of Nursery Ravine appeared before me. Very annoying that Mike’s 20-something nephews who had slept between 2 – 4 hours and were sweating out last night’s mojitos had started after us and sat at the top waiting for us. I blame my lack of form on the long Christmas holidays.
At last at the top, we ambled through the shade of the clump of trees that date back to the old nursery from 1890. Coral watsonias caught the early morning sun and red crassulas burst against the rocks. (In Afrikaans a ‘klipblom’.)
The blue reservoir dams on top of the mountain always make me feel like I’m in a different country, somewhere like Sweden. At last we reached the little ravine we call Red Disa Gully and there, at our favourite teaspot on a rock next to a mountain pool, were the disas. Still closed. Rumours of disas, tightly curled up.
But over the crest and along a man-built furrow that leads water down to the reservoirs, we saw a flash of red. Two flashes of red. Then another. Disas! There they were, standing tall, their red heads swayed in the breeze. Now you know why they’re called ‘Pride of Table Mountain’. Disa uniflora, the Red Disa.
Further along the stone furrow views rolled out towards Hangklip on the far side of False Bay and a thin veil of mist drew dark shadows on the sea.
And then a glimpse of blue-purple along the path, spotted by a nephew who claimed to have only slept one hour last night. It was a ‘drip disa’, growing in a mossy hollow under dripping rocks, just like the name says, the disa longicornis or Mauve Disa. What a bonus, the first one I’ve ever seen.
Far below us three-million people were going about their Sunday mornings. Up here we felt like the kings and queens of the mountain, finding purple and red orchids in the shade of cool rocks in the middle of a scorching summer. “I love paying zero for a million-dollar experience,” Mike said.
By 10 a.m. we were back at our cars; four and a half hours to our own little corner of paradise and back. And a sweet memory tucked behind our hearts to last the whole week.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A walk to the Khoisan princess' cave

I haven't been on the mountain for about six weeks. After Christmas, time with family and eight days in the hot, hot Kalahari I'm missing my mountain. Life has been one long heatwave lately. 40+ temperatures in the Kalahari Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, only to arrive back in Cape Town to the bubbling sound of another, or maybe just one long, melted, heatwave.
So this morning, when I saw pale, cool clouds covering the mountain, I went to visit the princess in Silvermine. Most people in Cape Town have spotted the huge cave above Ou Kaapse Weg. You can see the big, shady hole in the mountain from almost anywhere in the Cape Flats. Its official name is Elephant's Eye cave, but I prefer the story of the Khoisan Princess.
According to myth/legend/fireside stories, she lived up there in the 1500's. (The other part of the legend is that the river that ran down there filled the Princess Vlei far below.)
Have to say, after all that sitting in the car over the past few weeks, my legs felt a bit cranky on the first uphill. But all pain was forgotten when I saw a row of salmon petals running up a stalk. Watsonias, or to be precise, watsonia tabularis. She is the beauty of high summer.
When the endorphins start kicking in everything looks special, even a spindly ball of feathery grass seed. Then some more watsonias, etched against the sky where the heat has burnt away the last of the morning’s clouds.
One of the best parts of this route is the path along the shady pines, but not for much longer. This morning I heard the sound of buzzing chainsaws, the day of pine trees on the mountain are over. Then the spot where the stream crosses the path. How often do you actually spot a startled frog plop into a stream? Reminds me of the haiku I read: The old pond/a frog jumps in/plop.
In the stream art and poems float around. Open seed pods. A dead moth on a grass stalk. And the tinkling of water on a hot day; the sweetest sound.
The path leaves the shade behind and a breeze catches a carpet of restios, grassy heads dipping, whispering, sooshing. A radio crackles at the fire look-out. I’ve never seen someone here before. A man called Alvin sticks his head out the window, two teardrop golden earrings dangling and wearing a t-shirt that says ‘toxic is the new black’. Can you figure that one out?
He’s listening to Good Hope FM and reckons this is the most boring job in the world. His job is to watch the mountains from Silvermine East, over theeere... to Constantia Nek, way over theeeere. They dazzle and sizzle in the heat, blue ridges simmering, green forests hanging on, turquoise sky flying into infinity. But Alvin is not impressed. On his narrow 20-something shoulders rests an awesome responsibility. Don’t let Table Mountain burn! And this is fire season. Yesterday and today are high risk, full alert days.
After the last 50m steep climbing in the mid-morning sun (hold legs, hold), the cave is a moist, green, cool, velvet, fern-lined princess chamber. And just in case you were wondering, Jungle was here in ’08. Or so says the graffiti.
Sitting up there, looking out over the flatlands, the lakes, the long white beach, the miles of foamy waves breaking, can you really imagine anything but a princess living here?