I’m not a religious man. But Table Mountain — the stunning geological feature here in Cape Town, South Africa — just might make me one.
Please let me explain.
I’ve been working hard this week. I have yet, in fact, to post photos of the work I did this week here, teaching and preaching infographics and visual journalism in the offices of die Burger newspaper here in Cape Town and around other divisions of Media24 and Naspers.
This is my third separate visit to this incredible city. This morning, I had plans to go out to sections of Cape Town I’ve never seen before. But then a heavy mist rolled in Friday evening and still blanketed the city Saturday morning when my alarm clock went off.
So — pragmatic guy that I am — I went back to bed and slept until 9:30 a.m. Insanely late, by South African standards. No sense in shooting pictures of fog, y’know?
I finally dragged myself out of bed late this morning — basically, when the maids wanted in to clean — and then sat here in the hotel bar, catching up on blogging and e-mail. I didn’t leave here until after 1 p.m., and even then, I made a safe choice — to head over to the waterfront tourist shopping district.
I parked here, in the Wrigley Field of parking decks…
…and crossed a very busy Quarry Road — with the magnificent Signal Hill in the background…
…to visit the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront Shopping Centre that I’ve visted so many times in the past.
I have to admit, this place baffles me. I’ve seen the craft booths, but not much of a wellness centre.
I can only assume that if you buy enough crafts, you’d get a workout carrying them all back to your car. That must be the wellness part.
The V&A Waterfront consists of a huge, modern shopping mall…
…and a bunch of home-grown crafts booths and areas, all tied together with street performers, restaurants and spacious, wide-open walkways.
If there’s one thing South Africans love, it’s food. And this place is just lousy with restaurants big and small; cheap and expensive; fast-food and fancy. Nearly all of them have an option to sit outside in the wonderfully cool — but not too cool — open air.
The waterfront is still a series of operating harbor quays. There are drydocks, wharfs and docks where passenger boats and ferries tie up. While some of the newer buildings cater solely to shoppers, a number of structures have been around a long, long time and harken back to the days when this was only an industrial area.
This pair of buildings house a popular pub. They were featured prominently in the movie Invictus.
Ah, Santa’s Secret. The place where 350-pound fat, old bearded men buy naughty underwear to wear for the enjoyment of their spouses and girlfriends.
I’m not surprised this place has World Cup merchandise on deep discount. Even before the cup, that was one ugly-ass logo.
The Times newspaper seems to have found a way to capitalize on this year’s nationwide soccer fever. They built a soccer-ball shell on one of their commercial joyride boats and then plastered ads for themselves all over it.
I found that just a little disgusting. But clever.
I skipped breakfast but ate a very early lunch today. So I was in the mood for a hearty mid-afternoon snack. I chose quayside fish and chips.
It’s not a simple matter of ordering “fish and chips.” One has to know what kind of fish to order. In this case, the fish is “Hake.”
I went with the No. 1 combo, which resulted in a very small piece of fish but a fairly generous portion of squid. I’ve been awfully dehydrated the past couple of days, so I also ordered two Coke Lights, much to the amusement of the girl taking my order.
The food was terrific. I chose well. Of course.
I’ve visited this place many times before, but it’s always fun to stop and watch folks taking pictures with statues of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize recipients.
Naturally, my favorite is the great man himself: Nelson Mandela.
Wait! What th’…?
What is that huge, ugly red thing behind Mandela? It’s massive.
Is it made out of Legos? Nope. It’s made entirely out of discarded Coca-Cola cartons.
Is there anything in this country Coca-Cola didn’t plaster its logo all over for the World Cup this summer? Sigh…
While I’m taking pictures of this giant orgy of sugarwater marketing, I hear the steady cadence of a man calling time for a rowing team.
Yep. You can see just about anything at the Victoria & Alfred waterfront, from Nobel Peace Prize winners to giant Coca-Cola ads to rowing teams.
I coudln’t help but notice that the mountain had cleared off somewhat…
…and that the fog over Table Bay had cleared. In fact, it was right about then that the clouds parted and the sun laid the lightest of kisses upon the side of the mountain.
Hmm. So I’m not the only one who is head-over-heels over Table Mountain. The sun loves it too. Lucky ol’ sun.
So I jumped in my trusty rental car — this time, it’s a Toyota…
— I left the V&A waterfront and I drove around Table Bay to where I had originally intended to spend today: Scenic spots from where I might shoot photos of the mountain.
I don’t care much for the Toyota. Perhaps I’m spoiled. I prefer the Mercedes they give me when I’m in Johannesburg. For starters, my left leg keeps bumping into the parking brake.
Most importantly, however, some dumbass has designed this particular Toyota so that the turn signal is on the right side of the steering wheel, rather than the left side, where God intended it to go.
As a result, every time I try to give a turn signal, I turn on the Goddamned windshield wipers. Sigh…
Literally within minutes, I find myself in Milnerton, beside this cool modernesque lighthouse.
From there, I can see the clouds have lifted completely off of Table Mountain and downtown Cape Town. But as the afternoon temperatures cool, air rushes over the back side of the mountain and pours over the top, condensing the vapor contained within.
The result is a rolling, writhing carpet of cloud that literally changes before your eyes. It’s less like a cloud and more like a flame; flickering and changing shape as you watch.
It’s mesmerizing and addictive. In addition to beautiful.
Meanwhile, ships rest in Table Bay, waiting harbor captains to guide them into port.
Further across the bay, I see more sunshine, more scenic spots and even a few hotels and beachfront condos. What do you suppose Table Mountain looks like from there?
Only one way to find out. Let’s drive over and see…
And, sure enough, notice how the clouds have continued to pour over Devil’s Peak (left) and Table Mountain. Lion’s Head — on the right — is relatively unaffected.
Just a couple of hundred yards off the beach is this hulking derelict cargo ship.
Not just any cargo ship, though, I’m told. It’s this one; the ship that became trapped against the shallows by strong winds on the blustery day last year I visited Robben Island. At one time, this sucker carried 30,000 tons of coal and other fuel.
I just love the size and scope of this huge warning sign:
No lifeguards. No camping. No alcohol. No boats. No horses. No vehicles. Not much of nuthin’ in fact.
You are allowed dogs on leashes and swimming, however. Notice how the signmaker tried to soften the blow of all this negativity by adding a little smiley face to the upper left.
While swimming is allowed, it, too, can kill you. In three different languages, apparently.
I drove a few more miles up the coast and found this cool perspective that allowed me to shoot both the mountain — which was well into enveloping itself into its cloud — and the wrecked coal freighter.
At this point, I’m in a bayside community called Bloubergstrand. A gorgeous little place.
The name of this establishment was the Blue Peter. Please insert your own off-color and inappropriate comment below.
I kept driving down the bay and stopping every few miles to take more pictures of the stunning developments back at the mountain. The cloud formations rolling over the mountain had picked up in both size and intensity.
See those little bumps, at the base of the mountain and along the waterline? That’s the skyline of the city of Cape Town.
And as gorgeous as these photos are, they don’t do enough justice to what I saw this afternoon. Keep in mind that these clouds were moving rapidly. This looked less like a cloud formation and more like a waterfall. The sight was literally changing every minute.
Meanwhile, the rest of the sky had cleared off. The clouds were concentrated mostly on the mountain itself.
Please forgive me for not having the ability to put all this into words. It was a stunning, incredibly moving experience. An emotional experience. As if this mountain didn’t already have enough influence on me. Then, this.
At some point, however, it was time to end my little expedition and head back “home” to smack in the middle of this lesson in fluid dynamics, the city of Cape Town. I stopped about halfway back, just so I could prove to you how rapidly all this was changing. Within 20 minutes or so, all three of the mountains — Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head — were obscured by the constantly-shifting clouds, pouring over the top like cream pouring out of a pitcher into a cup of coffee.
I drove back to my hotel, tossed my keys to the valet and rode up to my room on the 27th floor, only to discover that my room was still catching daylight above the layer of clouds. Not only that, but when I looked back in the direction from which I had just traveled. I found this rainbow.
Wow. Is there any end to the visual wonders this day holds?
Meanwhile — back on the mountains, as seen from the window of my hotel room — the sun was slowly setting behind Lion’s Head. The clouds continued to roil and writhe across Table Mountain, to the left of this picture.
By now, this little exercise has ceased to be a photography project and has become damn near a religious experience for me. I’m shedding tears as I stand in my room, snapping dozens upon dozens of photos, in hope of capturing just the right combination of photons and pixels.
That’s Lion’s Head, of course. The black box at the lower left is a nearby — but less-tall — skyscraper.
Here is the extreme right (west) side of Table Mountain peeking out for just a moment beneath the thick layer of clouds constantly rolling over it.
I have to tell you folks: Laugh if you want. But I found all this emotionally stirring. There just isn’t any other place on this small planet of ours that offers visual entertainment like this.
As a matter of fact, I might need your help. After I’ve seen the things I’ve seen today — and documented here — I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve surpassed my lifetime’s fair quota of stunning sights.
Within the 48 years of my own lifespan, I have seen:
- The Grand Canyon.
- The World Trade Center, back when it still existed.
- A lunar eclipse, through binoculars (try it sometime).
- Page design work by Paul Wallen, Martin Gee, Tim Ball, Julie Elman, Ryan Huddle, Tony Briggmin, Vince Chiaramonte and a number of others.
- Deborah Withey perform a redesign. Of the Virginian-Pilot, no less.
- Elizabeth, the day we brought her home from the hospital in 1993.
- Sharon, on our wedding day in 1985.
- And then, what I was lucky enough to see today here in Cape Town.
Are there any other more stunningly gorgeous sights one can see than what I’ve listed here?
I’m not so sure. I may have seen all one should see in one lifetime.
If you have anything to help me start my bucket list, please let me know. Frankly, to wish for more beautiful sights than these in a single lifetime strikes me as incredibly selfish.
So. It’s with these deep, deep thoughts that I sit here tonight — at the Cape Sun in Cape Town, South Africa — crunching a little Photoshop and grasping desperately to string together words to bring justice to the visuals that have passed before my unworthy eyes today.
And, with the aid of a few South African Castle beers, I hope I’ve delivered.
I hope the rest of your holiday weekend is as blessed as mine was today, my friends. Thanks for reading.
FOLLOW ALONG ON MY LATEST TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA
- Thursday, Nov. 4: Leaving home
- Thursday, Nov. 4: Greetings from Miami Beach
- Friday, Nov. 5: A Friday in Londonâ€™s Heathrow airport
- Monday, Nov. 8: My home for the next six weeks
- Thursday, Nov. 11: Teaching news artists in Johannesburg
- Thursday, Nov. 11: I found my pants! I found my pants!
- Friday, Nov. 12: How would you like to work in this gorgeous sports department?
- Sunday, Nov. 14: A lazy Sunday morning in Johannesburg
- Monday, Nov. 15: A gorgeous Sunday at an African craft market
- Wednesday, Nov. 17: An interesting op-ed page illustration
- Thursday, Nov. 18: Evangelizing about infographics in Bloemfontein
- Sunday, Nov. 21: A gorgeous room atop Cape Town, South Africa
- Monday, Nov. 22: A daylight view of Table Mountain
- Tuesday, Nov. 23: Who needs TV in Cape Town?
- Thursday, Nov. 25: An amazing American-style Thanksgiving dinner.
- Friday, Nov. 26: A stroll down St. George’s Mall