While this entire, exotic sea safari had a score of memorable moments and sights, it was the grand finale of arriving in Cape Town, and then spending three days and two nights there, that had really sealed the deal on this epic adventure in the first place.
Our final South African landfall was achieved with careful, studied grace. At around noon, Boudicca came within sight of land, as a string of jagged, seemingly arid peaks and hillsides shimmered in the searing mid day heat. And the realisation of how close our last, most spectacular landfall now was, just made the adrenaline flow like tap water. I stood there as though welded to the deck, with my jaw scraping the tops of my shoes.
Table Mountain emerged from this vivid, moving dreamscape like some vast aircraft carrier that had just come swaggering over the horizon. And, while some of the world’s most famous sights flatter to deceive in terms of scale (think New York’s Statue of Liberty, or Copenhagen’s diminutive Little Mermaid), the vast, looming bulk of Table Mountain-or Tafelberg, to give it the actual Afrikaans name- truly was every bit as impressive as it had always been billed.
As we slowed and swung inland and the harbour pilot came bustling on board, the great, brooding brute of a mountain seemed to be coming straight at me. Massive, black and menacing, it flooded the horizon in both directions, fanning out like some relentless Roman phalanx of old. Before I knew it, Boudicca was slowly nudging up to her berth amid the Cape Town harbour bustle, and our final South African landfall had been quietly achieved.
Table Mountain and I had an appointment in the morning, one I had made at the age of just six years old. Now, saddled with my pronounced fear of heights, I still had to honour that long held appointment. My feelings were well and truly mixed; it felt like watching somebody that I truly despised going over a cliff in my brand new Rolls Royce Corniche.
To put it into perspective, the famous, flat top summit of Table Mountain extends for almost two full miles from side to side. It shears a full 3,558 feet into the powder blue South African summer sky from the ground. Famously, it is a haven for a whole raft of fabulous fauna and brush and, as part of the larger Table Bay National Park, it is a world renowned sanctuary for local wildlife.
But these are mostly materialistic drum rolls. The act of physically ascending the implacable old brute is something else entirely, and I have wanted to do it ever since I was a kid. On our included shore excursion from Boudicca, a coach took us on a slow, winding drive that embraced at least a part of that climb. But then we got to the brace of cable cars that make the greater part of that ascent, and that was when my own, very personal moment of truth arrived.
Noe those cable cars are both circular in shape, with windows large enough to afford fantastic views of both ascent and descent for those with nerve enough to face them. What I hadn’t counted on was that each of those cable cars also rotates as it makes the journey. It was a realisation that did not improve my resolve by one jot but, none the less I got into a summit bound car, sat in the middle, and prayed to God that I would not make an idiot of myself.
I need not have worried; that ascent was gentle, and spellbinding to such a degree that my normal fear of heights vanished like so much winter snow. I was too fascinated by the entire, unfolding panoply of glinting, jagged peaks, arrayed against that sparkling blue seascape, to succumb in fear of any kind. The sum effect of that whole majestic, magnificent panorama was like being awake in some particularly vivid dream.
And we got lucky that day, too; ‘no ‘table cloth’ of fluffy white clouds obscured the view from that vast, surprisingly uneven summit, as so often happens. You could quite literally see for miles. And what views they were, too.
Below us, the entire, magnificent sweep of Cape Town lay splayed out like the contents of some fantastic toy box. Buses looked like tiny bugs, scuttling along cotton thin tracts of road, moving up and around hair pin bends. Around my feet, lizards ran helter skelter for some cover from the mid day sun, and small, furry Jerboas scuttled for the shade of any nearby rocks.
On the mountain itself, deep, jagged ravines tumbled unstoppably down into the sea, their slopes studded with pine trees that seemed to cling on desperately for dear life. Random, dislodged boulders stood like so many upturned molars that had somehow been uprooted many centuries ago. At once both mighty and mute, they gave some kind of perspective to this lofty, sprawling expanse of legendary real estate, where the sky and the land really do seem to commune. It is impossible to remain unmoved by this stunning natural wonderland; for me, Table Mountain has more real magic than all of Walt Disney’s theme parks put together.
The descent was gradual, graceful, and tinged with more than a bit of exhilaration. I had come to the mountain, and the mountain had not prevailed. The realisation of a fifty plus year old dream is a summit of another kind and yes, I felt pretty good about myself right at that moment.
Back aboard Boudicca in the late afternoon, and I’m sitting outside at the Marquee Bar on Deck Nine, nursing some glacially chilled South African Chardonnay. The demisters are on full, forming a calming, welcoming cloud of blissfully cooling haze around me. Almost instinctively, some thoughtful crew member distributes fresh fruit skewers that seem like manna from Heaven.
Above me, Table Mountain looms just as before. But now the damned thing somehow looks much kinder, more mellow; almost benign in fact. And, if I didn’t know better, I could have sworn that the grizzled old brute was smiling down at me.
So it would have been rude, very rude indeed, not to raise my glass and toast it back. And rudeness, while always a no no, is even more so when you’re a guest in somebody else’s country.