Monkey madness

Cape Town Travel Blog

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South Africa

It’s the signs that flash past you as you’re driving which remind you that you’re in Africa not the South of France or San Francisco. It’s an easy mistake. There’s the same slatted wooden low rise architecture of San Fran, the same wind-bent trees battered by years of Atlantic squalls into makeshift weeping willows that you see on Highway One . Then there are the splashes of colourful fauna, the jaggedly beautiful cliffs looming over meandering seaside drives. This could be the foothills of the Alpes Maritimes. I could be in my convertible on my way to Monaco for a spot of lunch with a young Grace Kelly.
But the signs, they tell a different story. Every building you pass bears the seemingly compulsory pronouncement: “Armed Response.” Big blue signs warn you not to feed the baboons. Why would I want to feed a baboon? It’s not like I set off on road trips complete with a picnic for two- me and a baboon. I’m off to meet Grace Kelly not Cheetah (I know, I know, Cheetah was a chimp but there aren’t any famous Baboons). Apparently (and I’m really not making this up) “baboon-jacking” is a very real risk out here. If you’re not careful the hairy bastards will have you out of your vehicle and will be using it as a public restroom before you can say Blaauwbosch Laagte or even Mashayilanga. I actually can’t say these words. I did try- they happen to be places that I have to go through on my road trip. I’m on my way down to the Cape of Good Hope. I’ve hired a gorgeous black BMW 330ci convertible for the same price as I’d get the limited use of a Reliant Robin back in the UK. This country is so cheap it makes you unbelievably angry at how much we have to pay stuff back home. Mustn’t get angry. I won’t be able to deal with a baboon-jacking if I get angry. Stay calm, stay cool, the baboon respects coolness. Wasn’t “King Louis” in The Jungle Book a baboon? He was cool. No, I think he was an orang-utang. Ah well, close. Think happy thoughts…..
I love being in this car. It’s exactly the same as the one that I bought for myself with the first proceeds from Trigger Happy TV. I loved that car, until some drunken student slammed into the back of me and forced me into a downwards spiral of unsatisfactory car purchases. Over here he wouldn’t have been given a five pound fine. Oh no! He’d have ended up with a burning car tyre round his neck. He would have driven a bit more carefully after that!! Happy thoughts…
I’m turning back time, driving solo down the Atlantic seaboard of South Africa- the roof down, listening to The Killers and on my way towards a fabulous seafood lunch in Simonstown. It’s apparently the home of the South African navy. Don’t know much about the South African navy. Can’t think of any of their great naval victories offhand. In fact, I can’t think of anything about them. Ah well, that’s what traveling is all about. I’m here to learn and not just to enjoy myself. Still, have to admit, life doesn’t get much better. Look, more signs… “Penguins five hundred metres ahead.” PENGUINS!!! I’m in Africa. Baboons I can understand, but penguins? Oh I get it. I bet it’s one of those clever promotions for a new Hollywood kid’s film. Come to think of it- I avoided watching one on the plane out here. What was it called? “Happy Feet.” That’s it. Why do they make so many movies about bloody penguins? You never see anything about the…ostrich for instance. Oh my God, I must be psychic, there’s a bloody enormous ostrich on the road in front of me. This is a crazy road trip. I hope someone didn’t put anything in my biltong. “Fear and loathing in Sud Afrika” no, it’s not called that anymore, it’s the “Rainbow Nation.” Everyone’s all equal now and there aren’t any nasty racist Boers telling people to get off benches. Everyone can do what they want……as long as they can afford it…which most black people can’t……but if they could they would be free like the whites….free to build enormous fences to keep fierce dogs behind in fear of….them…..the the free ones. It’s very complicated and if you try to talk about it with anyone they all tell you that “you don’t understand Africa.” And that’s that. Happy thoughts..
There’s another sign. “Don’t feed the ostriches.” Like I’ve got a choice. If that oversized turkey decides he’s peckish I’m history. No wonder that no one else is in a convertible. Oh my God look at that beach. It’s got thousands of penguins on it. There are penguins at the bottom of Africa? Maybe they took a trip from Antarctica and then got stuck here in some bizarre racial dispute whereby people couldn’t decide if they were black or white?
It’s so weird actually being here. I’d heard so many things about Cape Town. My grandmother was born in the city and my mother was always telling me how beautiful the place was despite never actually having been there herself. To be honest, I’d always been a little nervous about visiting. I was loathe to discover that my grandmother had been some viciously racist Boer stalking her “velt” in an armoured car brandishing a four-barrelled elephant gun. My mother always assures me that this was not the case and that we were on the side of the angels. I still have my doubts.
“The Lost City” it’s known as by some. A European metropolis marooned at the very tip of Africa, just waiting to be discovered. “Great shopping, amazing weather, everything is so cheap,” said friends who’d been there. ‘A dangerous place, everyone lives behind electric fences” said others. First impressions of the “Mother City” as it’s known, were pretty..pretty..good as Larry David would put it. Anywhere that can give me dry, thirty-degree heat in the middle of December gets my vote. As I descend into the “city bowl’ you notice Table Mountain. This staggering lump of flat rock acts as a thousand foot backdrop to the whole city. It even comes with a rolling dry ice show as the almost perpetual cloud (known by locals as the table-cloth) rolls over the edge as if off some enormous stage. You somehow expect to see a huge two hundred foot Bono straddling the edge of the mountain screaming into a microphone and dedicating his next opus to “the people of Africa.” I’m sure that it won’t be long until he manages it.
The town is such an easy one to slip into. Within hours of my arrival I know my way around. I’m staying in the “Beverly Hills” area of Higgovale nestled high on the slope of Table Mountain. It’s a leafy village of expensive houses hidden behind high walls and spiked fences and reminds a little bit of the Hollywood Hills. From my hotel it’s a ten-minute walk down Kloof Street into the city centre. On my first evening I hang out at the top of Long Street, a funky, backpacky area that’s full of life until late into the night. I eat at Mama Africa, crocodile and potato salad- service is snappy. The following evening I wander round the Waterfront, an enormous new development of malls and restaurants built on the old docks that attracts thousands of Capetonians every night. I am in love with this place already. I start to look in the windows of real estate agents, always a bad sign. It’s staggeringly well priced. A posh two-bedroom loft in the heart of the downtown is around sixty thousand pounds. I start to make plans. Maybe it is a tad dodgier politically than the Cotswolds but, with the money I save on housing, I can buy a bazooka. Anyway, I grew up in Beirut, so this place is a piece of cake. Days pass and I can find little to fault the place. The food is exceptional. The people very friendly, the women definitely some of the most stunning that I’ve seen anywhere in the world. This really is a little piece of heaven hidden down at the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere.
Back to my road trip- I’m getting close to the Cape of Good Hope now. Last week I was in the Arctic Circle, this week I’m approaching the tip of Africa. More signs warning me about baboons. I decide to put the roof up, better safe than sorry. One of the baboons is laughing at me. He’s probably got a knife. It’s so difficult to work stuff out here. Everything looks so…normal…European and understandable but I’m not from here, I can’t really judge things properly. It’s OK, but a touch unsettling. Happy thoughts…
Ah, finally, there’s the sign for the Cape of Good Hope. Another world landmark to tick off. There’s the sign- “Cape of Good Hope, the most South-Western point of the African continent.” Hang on. I thought that this was the tip of Africa? The most southern point, not the most south-western point. Everything in “the literature” (the most ridiculous name for a couple of leaflets with pictures of nice baboons on) leads you to believe that the two oceans meet here, The Indian and the Atlantic. It turns out that this particular honour belongs to Cape Agulhas, a long way down the coast but you hardly ever hear about it. A tricky place Africa- it’s wonderful, but you need to keep your wits about you. All is not quite what it seems. Now, where’s Grace Kelly?

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photo by: v10