The next morning we took an 11am Mango Air flight (the low-cost carrier of South Africa) to Cape Town, landing at 1:30pm after a 25 minute delay on the tarmac in Jo’burg.
Cape Town is, for the lack of a better word, beautiful.
And once we landed at the airport, Genoviva — the younger sister of a recent monsooner from the Silk Road trip (and college buddy!) Remi Coker — reached out to us about joining her for the legendary, and daunting, sunset hike up Lions Head. Giving into spontaneity and always flexible, we scrapped our original plans of a city center tour — but where the girls would elect instead to do the monsoon’s traditional “Girls Night Out”, the guys decided to join on the hike.
After a quick meal at Hudsons Burger around the corner from our accommodations at Atlantic Point Backpackers, the 4 of us took a 15 minute Uber from the Greenpoint waterfront district to the Lions Head parking lot. Our uber driver, however, messed this up and took us a kilometer further to Signal Hill, which happened to be a paraglider’s paradise.
Finding out at that we were dropped off at the wrong stop, however, we quickly hailed another Uber to take us down to the Lions Head parking lot. He too, also messed this up thinking we wanted to go back to the city.
We didn’t mind the accidental views along the way, however.
We then asked to make another U-turn and eventually arrived at the right place, getting to the “Friends of Lions Head” sign at around 5:30pm. By then Genoviva and her friend Hugo had already made their way up the mountain. So we ran.
Not a wise choice on this path.
The sunset hike up Lions Head is no joke. The walk is extremely steep from the very beginning and is followed by even steeper rock steps that borders on actual bouldering.
To compare, it’s very similar to the climb up Wayna Picchu in Peru. Nevertheless, you’re rewarded with amazing views over Cape Town.
Adding to the bouldering are eventual ladders and rock chains that with one wrong move, could send you tumbling to your demise.
Luckily, with a bit of perseverance, blind faith, and a few water breaks, we caught up midway with Genoviva, and together made it to the top of Lions Head just in time to catch the sunset at 6:10pm.
Take your time here on what I affectionately have nicknamed today as “Selfie Mountain.” You deserve it.
After a hike like this, I definitely owed it to myself the more-than-usual number of times I could serve Lions Head and the rest of Cape Town.
Once the sunset and it was beginning to get dark, we whipped out our torches and began the treacherous journey downhill.
While descending from the top of Lion’s Head, a group of 3 girls hiking up, dehydrated, inquired if they could drink from JC’s water bottle. As this was happening, Ambrose and JC were able to have a brief conversation with them and they eventually exchanged Facebook contacts.
About a month later while I was perusing through Facebook, I noticed that one of those 3 girls, Chi Chi, was also mutual friends with a Jenny Chu (of recent Las Vegas fame) — a frequent monsooner who had also just visited Cape Town only 4 months prior. Apparently, Jenny and Chi Chi had also gotten to know each other during a similarly brief weekend in Cape Town via another mutual friend. WTF.
Finally, both Chi Chi’s and our hike to Lion Head were planned at the very last minute; ours was on a whim after Genoviva invited us to join her 2 hour prior when we arrived at the airport, while Chi Chi usually does this hike in the mornings but only changed her routine that day for a friend who had also just flown in from Singapore.
We then celebrated with dinner at El Burro and hookah at Baghdad Whisky Bar on the famous Long Street (the NYC’s Broadway Avenue equivalent in Cape Town).
And for the girls night out? They went out dancing and had their own fun along Long St:
At around 11:30pm and totally wiped out, we all headed back to our hostel finally reuniting with our 2 missing monsooners, Mikey and Sam, who had just flown that night.
On a sidenote, for the past 4 days we had been herding 2 bags of cheese-flavored chips since losing Mikey and Sam (that was their request for us at the airport prior to our losing them), and I’m glad to say they’ve been keeping us company in lieu of Mikey and Sam’s absence. Now these chips can finally reunite with their rightful owners.
After a restful sleep, the next morning we woke up at 9am for a nice walk around the Greenpoint Waterfront.
We walked by the famous Cape Town stadium:
…and Beach Rd:
And as we stood by the docks, we saw the infamous but surreal “tablecloth” fog come from the cape to cover the entire city of Cape Town and its Table Mountain.
At 10:45am we congregated at the Robben Island Gateway for the obligatory Robben Island tours, with ferries departing at 9am, 11am, and 2pm (We got our tickets more than a month in advance online)
Robben Island was the site where countless political prisoners against apartheid were imprisoned; Nelson Mandela himself was held here for up to 18 years. FYI, this is an emotional and sobering place to visit; your guides are all former prisoners themselves.
Once the ferries drop you off you’re taken on a mandatory 45 minute bus ride around the island with a remarkable and engaging tour guide.
The most notable of the stops is the leper colony graveyard…
…the rocks Nelson Mandela placed with other former prisoners to signify their time engaging in hard labor on the quarries….
…and the cave where Nelson Mandela and other prisoners hid to discuss the future of South African democracy.
After the bus tour, you’re dropped off at the maximum security prison where a former prisoner takes you on a personal journey through a place he once was forced to call home.
The first main part of the tour was the yard where prisoners including Nelson Mandela, was forced to cut rock as part of their hard labor sentencing.
In the far corner on the right was “Nelson Mandela’s Garden” where he conjured up his memoir The Long Walk To Freedom.
And then there’s the cells themselves, where the 4th one from the entrance on the right is Nelson Mandela’s cell of 18 years.
After 3 reflective hours on Robben Island, we headed back on a 2pm ferry to the mainland, where we befriended like-minded travelers from England.
After disembarking, we swung by nearby Nobel Square, where statuettes of South Africa’s 4 Nobel Prize winners are standing, including those of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
Then the group hailed Uber taxis for the 15 minute drive to the Aerial Cableway to Table Mountain, one of the 7 New7Wonders of Nature (the other 4 we’ve already visited include Puerto Princesa, The Amazon, Iguazu Falls, and Ha Long Bay).
At this time of year, the last cable car up to the top is at 4:30pm, and the last one down is 5:30pm. Each roundtrip ticket costs 240 rands. If you miss the cable car down, you will be forced to hike down the 4-5 hour path to the city.
After about 20 minutes waiting in line and then 2 quick minutes up to the top, you’re rewarded with some of the best views of Cape Town at its highest point of 1 kilometer above sea level (However, in my personal opinion the views were better from yesterday’s hike up Lion’s Head).
At 5:45pm we headed back on the last cable car down.
And as an exclamation point to our 2 days in Cape Town, we rounded off our day by taking a 30 minute drive south to the vineyard country of Cape Town for a 5 hour dinner at La Colombe, arguably the top restaurant in Africa and formerly San Pellegrino’s 12th best restaurant in the world.
Thanks to aforementioned two-time monsooner Jenny Chu for the timely recommendation, we were able to score a hard-fought reservation for 10 of us about a month in advance.
We were even fortunate to have two-time monsooner Nadi Kaonga serendipitously rejoin us after showing us around her motherland of Malawi last week!
The full tasting menu is 14 courses long, and was one of the best, most imaginative and creative meals we’ve ever had since our epic dinner at Alinea in Chicago 2 years ago.
And to make things even more crazy, the full cost ended up being no more than $114 USD per person including wine pairings, cocktails, 2 wine bottles, tax, and gratuity!
P.S. From the returning 5 monsooners who gathered today for this lovely meal (namely Duncan, Ambrose, Kel, Nadi, and myself): Happy 1 year anniversary to our family from The Baltic Crescent trip!
Now it’s time to hit the sack; it’s 3am here and we need to get up at 7am for our drive to The Cape of Good Hope.
– At time of posting in Cape Town, South Africa, it was 64.4 °F – Humidity: 49% | Wind Speed: 16km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear