Cape Point (2012): Tip of the Continent

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Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Sunday, November 18, 2012

Before the rise of the skyscrapers, the Cape had been a hellishly inhospitable place for the sailors despite its picturesque landscape.  Following the stars, the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to come ashore, although when he initially tried the first time a stormy gale-force wind pushed him off to sea; he shook his fists, cursed the weather, and vowed to return after his visit to Asia.  Dias managed to make landfall in a return trip in May 1488 and dubbed the place "Cabo das Tormentas" / "Cape of Storms".  His king, John II of Portugal, didn't like it and insisted that a jollier name would be more appropriate to open the trade route: "Cabo da Boa Esperanša / "Cape of Good Hope".  Vasco da Gama soon followed and as a result the government erected two gigantic crosses in their honor; my friend Martin Brink pointed this out as we drove pass them.  More than a century would have passed before the Dutch administrator Jan Anthoniszoon van Riebeeck established a beachhead for the Dutch East India Company, Vereenighde Oostindische g'octrooijeerde Compagnie (VOC).  VOC insisted that the cost of the administrative operation be kept to a minimum since it made no plan for maintaining a large colony.  This insistence helped generate a degree of autonomy and caused an unforeseen dynamic: the emergence of a racially stratified colony in what became a European settlement on the Cape Peninsula.  

Martin and Pńivi took us on a grand loop tour of the Cape Peninsula.  The tour culminated in one of my favorite places, Cape Point.  It was more dramatic than the famed Cape of Good Hope and I really enjoyed my time sitting there looking out into the blue South Atlantic.  On our way out of the national park, we saw something extraordinarily surprising.  Martin spoke about the rarely seen Table Mountain Zebras (species: Equus zebra) that had been hunted to nearly extinction in the early 20th century.  These creatures are different from the more common Plains Zebras (species: Equus quagga) in that they have no shadow stripes.  The stripes around the legs are darker and the body stripes do NOT reach under the belly, like those of the Plains.  He has not seen one in all the visits to the park.  Miraculously, Martin spotted one feeding on the grass. You wouldn't believe me if I told you this story...but fortunately, I've a camera that has a 300mm zoom lens attached to it.  So enjoy the picture of our "pink unicorn".

These images and the rich history of a nation in transition rushed through my mind as I sat there at the very edge of the African landmass that jets out into the ocean.  I couldn't believe that I was seeing essentially the same land features that the explorers of yester-centuries saw, albeit some 500+ years after the fact.  I will have to return to the Homeland to explore the other parts of this amazing country.  I look forward to seeing, hiking, climbing, and riding the back of "the dragon", the Drakensberg.  Its sharp peaks and ridges look so imposing that the settlers compared it to a dragon, while the Zulus referred to it as the "Barrier of Spears".  Of all the places in the world, South Africa has unusually high lightning strikes and these usually lead to forest fires; the Drakensberg does live up to its name.  I wonder if I will smell the brimstone.  

At Cape Point & the Cape of Good Hope
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