Thursday, January 12, 2012

gloria at the top of nothing: my last day in Cape Town

“and the mountains said i could find you here
they whisper the snow and the leaves in my ear
i traced my finger along your trails
your body was the map
i was lost in there..."

-"Your Rocky Spine" by Great Lake Swimmers

We awoke on Monday morning to find that the city of Cape Town had exploded into a giant parade. That’s right: January 2 is another designated day for celebrating carnival style. Because it’s been too long since the last party two days ago on New Years Eve.

Folks and their families were filling the streets wearing sparkly face paint and brightly coloured costumes. A different brass band marched down the street every minute, with children dressed as ringleaders leading the bands to a ferociously strong beat of African drums. Sometimes the band would play Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, which was a bit ironic, given how noisy it was. It was impossible not to be dancing in the streets, and everyone was doing it like a Motown song. The good mood made everyone mind a little less the fact that all the major roads were blocked and it was impossible to drive anywhere.

"And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence..."

ok, it was not really that silent.

Despite all the festive fanfare, I was feeling disappointed that it was cloudy and chilly outside. I had my heart set on going to the beach for one last tan and indulgence in Cape Town’s beautiful bodies. But you can never depend on Cape Town weather – they say you can experience all four seasons in one day. So I consoled myself with some boutique shopping on Long Street.

Several credit card purchases later, Joseph and I decided to conquer one more mountain on our last day in Cape Town: The Lion’s Head. We built up our energy and protein grabbing a couple of multicultural shawarmas at Mixie’s, a local favourite recommended to us by one of the designers at the boutiques I had shopped at. Then we set off to climb the mountain.

We had been told that the climb to the Lion’s Head summit was much easier than Table Mountain – only 600 metres, rather than the 1000 metres – so we weren’t expecting a big challenge. But it turned out to be far more thrilling than Table Mountain, even if the climb was shorter. The summit was far steeper and narrower. At one point, the entire path was only about 2 metres wide, with sharp drastic drops on either side. There were many boulders to scramble over, and this time there was no protection in form of a barbed wire or even makers. Close to the peak, there was the option of going the exciting route or the recommended route. Hearing the voice of my parents begging me to go the safe route, I chose the exciting path.

As we climbed up the boulder face and peered over at the long way down, I felt the same feeling that came over me when I watched the waters rush down Victoria Falls as I swam in it. Fear, followed by an urge to face that fear. I could do it. Besides, someone’s middle-aged mom had just gone up ahead of me.

There was a thick fog that hugged the mountain face like a blanket, only lifting once in a while to reveal just how high in the sky we’d gone. The other times we were hidden in the clouds, where we couldn’t see anything behind, ahead around or above us, just the rock that we clung to. It gave off the air of a creepy scene in a Harry Potter film where Voldemort is going to suddenly show up. Quite the contrast from our climb up Table Mountain, where the hot oppressive sun beat down on us without mercy.

so it goes like this. gloria says, "Where's the freaking top of this mountain?"

Joseph says, "Nah, it's still cool, we could still climb it."

so we climb, wearing mountain climbing appropriate clothing.

Joseph says, "man, you're right, you really can't see the top of this mountain."

aw, road buddies.

The summit was small and narrow, less than half the size of a soccer field, but I was feeling fantastic. I was so cold inside and out from the wind and foggy dew, but climbing a mountain always gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Gloria at the top of nothing

After we climbed back down, I had to say good-bye to Joseph, my wonderful traveling companion / partner in crime / Road Oppa, as he returned to Johannesburg that night. I checked into a cheap backpacking hostel on Long Street for the night, and rode in a cab with a taxi driver who was blasting songs about lady body parts. He told me that he’d fought in Namibia for four years in the eighties against the insurgents. Back then, he said, all the white boys were conscripted to fight the freedom fighters. All of this was punctuated by the music shouting about lady body parts. It was very odd.

I decided to have my last Cape Town dinner alone at a Thai place. I love Windhoek and I looked forward to returning home, but I was really going to miss Cape Town, the magical land of mountains, hipsters, gay men, Asian food, and oceans on all sides.

view from my bus back to Windhoek

"your soft fingers between my claws
like purity against resolve
i could tell then there that we were formed from the clay
and came from the rocks for earth to display

they told me to be careful up there
where the wind rages through your hair...”

-Great Lake Swimmers