Good time for a bit of long term and short term reflection given today is the date of my departure from South Africa after a month here in this city and surrounds of plenty. Short term reflection is due if only for a weekend that so well quantifies what the city has on offer.
My hosts, Ian and Louisa and their two children, had taken off a few days prior to their 2nd home located on the beach in St. Francis. My last few days called for the necessity to meet a few people so I was “home alone”.
The month of March was good to me in the weather department. End of summer here yielded almost all days of sun and low 80 degree temps. The weekend was a snapshot of such given there was not a cloud in the sky, but a slight refreshing breeze and list of pleasurable activities on the to do list.
Friday night was spent in pursuit of a variety of watering holes in Hout Bay to supply me with libation and conversation. Have spent almost a decade coming to Hout Bay but much of my nights out have been spent closer in the heart of Cape Town so this night proved to be of interest.
Never really set out to bar hop, per se, but after my first stop at La Cabane, the thought of a varied night struck a cord. La Cabane is owned by a Frenchmen and serves as a restaurant/bar for the over 18’s and an extensive outdoor playground for the youngters. In typical style, the outdoor area was something the Swiss Family Robinson could well have endorsed – all wooden structures on a sand base built such that there is room for a couple of classrooms of first graders to be busy for a few days. Thought about settling outside but the activity was inside with a band competition heating up for the early evening. The competition has taken place over the last couple of months every Friday and tonight there was a band who played a little more akin to a hybrid of Blondie and The Fine Young Cannibals. Particularly attractive was the size of the crowd and the venue – large enough to make both hold interest but small enough for some intimacy. Good combination.
After about an hour, I walked the 100 years over to Pakalolo where the size of the bar was smaller but the demographics lent themselves more to a more spirited approach to the evening – music pumping a bit louder, drinks going down a good bit faster and the conversations on overdrive. Music was loud enough that my conversations were challenged a bit with some of the locals I met along the way. Sarah was a local Hout Bay resident, probably late 20’s, and interested enough in my accent to ask a few more overview questions. Like most South Africans, despite not having traveled to the US, her knowledge of the US was considerable. Always nice to converse with someone of a younger age who is ready to take the dialogue as it may drift a bit with me. She was good company and I hung my hat there, watching the small dance floor get busier over the subsequent hour. Again, these bars are the right size and right fit for me given the patronage, music and setting.
Decided to end the night with a short drive down to the local German bar/restaurant apply named Alpen. When I walked in it was quickly confirmed with a glance around the perimeter that I was in a rare position: the youngest person in the bar. At a recently turned 46 years of age it is not often any longer that I am the younger statesman in a drinking establishment. The group were most well intoxicated as the hour was getting late. Decided to enjoy a last beer on the patio and read the paper. Patrons happily greeted me and then went to their respective corners of inebriation. The series of events unfolding was innocent and fun. Out of the corner of my eye I watched a tall blond walk in with a leather outfit of matching long pants, jacket and boots. Clearly she had spent some time working the look with her waist long blond hair. All seemed right with the effort and look until she pivoted and turned in my direction. That ensemble is pulled of by a woman probably never older than 25. This woman may well have been just been leaving my mother’s garden club given she had to be every bit of 70 years old. Admired the work she had put into the look but realized she would have been better suited for a modest dress and some flats. As I took my nose back down to the sports page I felt a presence to my right and our blond haired Cher had taken the chair beside me. She asked a couple of questions to which I replied cordially. Perhaps on another night I could have mustered the curiosity to find out if there was anything inside her brain other than 50 years of seasoned whiskey but I decided to exit stage left and head to the barn.
Saturday AM came with a 7AM sunrise, an 8AM wake up call by some songbirds and an inviting view out the window of a lemon tree’s green leaves in full bloom juxtaposed against a darker blue sky (perhaps darker blue than what I am used to due to the lack of moisture in the air) set against the mountains creating the Hout Bay valley. Sat in bed for about 10 minutes and just enjoyed the perspective from the horizontal position.
Made a mental plan to make the next two days centered around beach time given the beaches of Cape Town are so varied. The last days of summer were providing an ample last gift to me and I intended to take them. Just down the road is the Spar grocery store and much like Europe, the grocery stores here bake fresh bread daily. The wide assortment is good enough to eat simply plain if it is just popped out of the oven. So out the door I went and headed right down about a mile and hunkered down on a couple of basic bread rolls still hot. Sat out on the bench and enjoyed a bit of litchi juice while watching the sun rise higher over the mountains but a few hundred yards away.
Fun part about such a weekend solo (as is much of my time spent) is taking the next step on a pace of personal choice. The rolls and refreshment were so enjoyed amidst the craggy peaks in my view that I probably did not get down to the car again for another hour.
Ate a very small breakfast of 2 rolls as my next stop would be the dish of choice for me almost every day I can enjoy it here, hake and chips at Fish on the Rocks (www.fishontherocks.co.za) . Perhaps I should now rename the meal a bit because due to some dietary thoughts there is now a 50% chance I will order the hake with a small green salad. Something about the fresh caught fish fried in a light batter that is a simple but exquisite bit of refreshment here. I have written about Fish on the Rocks before but words do not well sum up the experience for an American. We just do not have this tradition. The food is enjoyed on the shores of Hout Bay harbor in a laid back setting of picnic tables on the water’s edge. The owner, Mr. Broderick, and I have become good friends over the years resulting in our conversations getting a bit long winded. Originally from England, Mr. Broderick came to South Africa over 40 years ago and married the daughter of the original owner of Snoekies, the fish and chips spot almost next door. Some peri-peri sauce on the hake and some All Gold ketchup on the chips make the experience all the much better.
Midday gave way and I drove north towards the beaches closer to Cape Town proper although the beach in Hout Bay is worthy of a lengthy stay, as well. Would it be Llandudno, Camp’s Bay or one of the Clifton beaches for me to hang may hat for the afternoon. Llandudno is very private and I was opting for a little more activity so the drive down Victoria Road saw me get no further than Camp’s Bay. Sun was bright by this time and while everyone else enjoys the parking spots along the beach, I make a little 1 block side trip and head to a few shady spots I know. Always nice to get into a shaded car after a day at the beach.
Appealing aspect of Cape Town is that while the locals might say the crowds are large, by most other people’s standards the crowds are quite manageable. Never have had a problem parking next to a beach that is found on the cover of many magazines – an inviting attraction yet again. Camp’s Bay beach is long and flat but with large boulder filled outcrops on either end serving like book ends. Just behind the beach is about 4 blocks of restaurants/bars and shops to keep the beachcomber from being hungry or thirsty.
Pitched up a spot on the white sand with Table Mountain stretched out behind me. The sand here is cool even when the temperature rises in the day. This fact must arise due to the cooler temps at night creating a nice place for hands and feet to rest while in the reclining position on a large towel. This comfort is much appreciated when comparing the experience to the all too hot sands of the beaches of NC in July. Duly noted to enjoy the contrast also of the boulder clapped beaches along with the stretch of 3,000 foot Table Mountain behind versus what we might find as East Coasters in the US or most Europeans for that matter. Beach chairs and umbrellas are on rent for $10 a day. Just enough of a crowd for some pleasing people watching, few enough o never have any sand kicked in your face. While my favorite lunch/snack/dinner spot, Nando’s, was replaced by yet another high priced seafood spot, there remains a number of places on the retail strip by the beach to add any needs for the beverage of your choice. Did not do much but recline for the subsequent few hours until the cravings of my tummy mustered my attention at about 5:30PM.
Did not take long for me to consider the idea of calamari, sunset view and rugby viewing on the bar TV at Chapman’s Peak Hotel back in Hout Bay as more than an idea. Packed up the towel, tipped my car guard and drove the never repetitious scenic Victoria Road back to Hout Bay and into Chapman’s Peak Hotel (www.chapmanspeakhotel.com).
This establishment dates back more than 100 years when Hout Bay was but a distant outpost to Cape Town proper. Sitting at the base of Chapman’s Peak Drive, the hotel is filled with photos from a century prior. For the readers’ here, Google Chapman’s Peak Drive to get a feel for this place. The road was literally carved out of the rock in a bygone era when such work was done by hand and the ruble was hauled off in ox carts. Hard to believe the work was actually done. Would be an engineering feat even today.
The current restaurant/bar serves what I think is the best calamari I’ve had. Am not much of a calamari fan in the US as I believe it is always too breaded and too fried. This product has almost no breading and is really more sauted and grilled. Good stuff indeed. Grabbed a seat outside the bar but within view of the TV. Cape Town Stormers had just started their 7PM game with the Pretoria Blue Bulls and the sun was disappearing over the southern peak of Hout Bay. Tough to beat a setting sun over a nearby mountain, while overlooking a long beach and being served some classic seafood with the buzz of a festering local fan base in the bar a few yards away.
Hammered into the calamari pretty quickly. Sat and took note again of my surrounds feeling fulfilled for the day’s activities. Saw a few familiar faces in the bar so ass the lights of the harbor became more illuminated I ventured in to watch the Stormers squeak out a 20 – 17 victory on a late penalty kick.
After a later evening the night prior, decided to pack it in at about 10PM and drove the 2 – 3 miles back to Valley Road.