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Pole to Pole

Day 128: Johannesburg to Cape Town

Michael Palin - Pole to Pole5.30. Woken with piping-hot tea in a white china pot. For the first time since Victoria Falls I was able to sleep without a painkiller, and for the first time in Africa I was able to sleep well on a train. I now regret that I gave such enthusiastic instructions to be woken at sunrise.

We are travelling across the Karoo, a wide landscape of bare mountains and scrubby plain, deriving its name from the Hottentot word meaning 'thirstland'. Stimulated by this information I make my way down to the restaurant-car, past train staff already polishing the door handles.

We are close now to the end of Africa. Beyond a succession of tightly folded mountain ranges lies Cape Town, the richest corner of a rich province. God's Own Country. Sit and watch the sun warming the mountains and allow myself a nostalgic drift back to a sunrise in August as we drew in from the Mediterranean and saw the lights of Africa for the first time. It's now late November and high summer has turned to early spring. I don't exactly know what lies ahead but I have a sudden surge of optimism that everything is going to turn out right. We have been tried and tested by Africa in every possible way and, bruised and battered maybe, we have survived. My children call these moments of mine 'Dad's happy attacks', and as we glide out of an eleven-mile tunnel into a dramatic, sweeping bowl of land filled with vineyards I know that this one may last some time.

The magnificent landscapes of Africa build to a tremendous climax. Towering haze-blue mountain ranges - the Matroosberg, the Swarzbergen and the Hex - part like stage curtains to reveal the final epic image of Table Mountain and the wide Atlantic. It is a breathtaking display of natural beauty and one which raises all our tired spirits.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 128
  • Country/sea: South Africa
  • Place: Cape Town
  • Book page no: 289

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