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Pole to Pole

Day 130: Cape Town

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleYesterday I stood on the Cape of Good Hope, a low stack of rocks pounded by the ocean and strewn with giant seaweed, and this morning I sit on top of Table Mountain, a sheer cliff rising 3500 feet above the city of Cape Town. It's a warm spring morning and the rock hyraxes start mating wherever we point the camera and the magnificent view extends towards Cape Point where the warm waters of the Indian Ocean meet the cold waters of the Atlantic. Everything about this coastline is on the grand scale. The rolling breakers steaming in from thousands of miles of open sea, the long white beaches and the tall craggy walls of exposed rock that circle the city to the east - Signal Hill, the Lion's Head, the Twelve Apostles and Table Mountain itself. A brisk wind blows in off the sea, combining with the sun and the scenery to cleanse and reinvigorate an over-travelled system.

Looking down at the massive natural harbour it is ironic to think that this most prosperous corner of Africa was dealt a serious blow by one of the poorest when de Lesseps chose to build a canal through the Egyptian desert 130 years ago. All at once the trading ships from India and the East had a shorter, more convenient and more sheltered route to Europe, and Cape Town's 200-year monopoly as a supply and maintenance base for east-west shipping came to an end. There isn't much activity in port today, with the poignant exception of a sturdy red-hulled survey vessel making final preparations for an eight-day journey to the Antarctic. With a pair of strong binoculars I can just about make out the name on the hull - MV S. A. Agulhas.

Though there could be worse places to be marooned than Cape Town the good news is that after some feverish international telephonic activity we have secured an alternative passage to the Antarctic via the town of Punta Arenas in southern Chile. The bad news is that we must abandon any hope of clinging to the 30 degree meridian and any further surface travel. We have only two options left open to us; to fly into the Antarctic or to fail altogether.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 130
  • Country/sea: South Africa
  • Place: Cape Town
  • Book page no: 292

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