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Photo entries. The bulk of this blog, obviously. The best of these are featured on the main web site.
Photo entries. The bulk of this blog, obviously. The best of these are featured on the main web site.
We’ve been there many times, and if you have been reading this blog for a while, so have you. You will find more images of it in Silvermine on my Mind, A Hike over Muizenberg, South African Flowers and Views of the Cape Peninsula…
Silvermine is a section of Table Mountain that is just south of the actual table, separated from it by the Constantiaberg. The area is split in two by Ou Kaapse Weg, a winding road that provides an essential link between the Cape Flats and the Peninsula’s west coast.
Hiking in Silvermine is never too extreme but systematically yields stunning views and exotic flowers. This is still somehow a mountain environment and weather is unpredictable. The heat can be as sizzling as the cold and wind can be bitter.
I am combining two outings in here, one in Cape Town’s winter, the month of May, and the other in summer, or December. On the first, we did the Amphitheater trail around the reservoir in howling wind. On the second, we simply stopped on our way home to go have a look at a patch of brightly colored flowers where a small fire had triggered new growth.
A picturesque, cliff-side road leading south from Hout Bay to Noordhoek and then either Fish Hoek or Kommetjie, Chapman’s Peak Drive (Chappies for the locals) is aerial and exposed. To circumvent Chapman’s Peak, an extension of the Constantiaberg, the drive was carved right into the mountainside, high above the shiny waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Frequent rock falls have yielded the need for advanced protective engineering and entire sections of the slope above the road have been secured with a metal mesh and cemented.
But mother nature often laughs at our efforts, and between our summer visit – during which these shots were taken – and the winter one, severe downpour caused landslides all over Table Mountain and the drive was closed for days.
These are the same painful climbs I struggled through in high winds a few years ago on training rides and the following Cape Argus Cycle Tour I did with Henri. The view is superb, but while the road was obviously closed to traffic during the Argus, many cyclists take it daily and it is a tricky place where gusting wind and cars make for a very real threat.
And as if it was not enough, the weather, as seen below, can be really moody around the cape. But what an eerie drive!
This is an aerial medley of two trips to South Africa. Last summer’s flight was on South African Airways, with the Kruger in our sights. Then this winter, we flew Virgin Atlantic. Whoever is cheaper wins our dollars. I wasn’t so impressed with Virgin. When you buy thirty-eight hours worth of airborne time from an airline, the least they can do nowadays is supply you with decent entertainment. Virgin’s video system either had a defective remote or failed to start on time on all four flights.
London Heathrow was a zoo as always. I should have taken animal pictures.
But whether the vector is a Boeing 747 (Virgin’s a very old one mind you, but it remains the king of the skies, with for only rival the young and eager Airbus 380), an Airbus 340 or a Swing Arcus paraglider, when airborne, one – as Saint-Exupéry said it so well – only sees well with the heart. It’s not about the canned, re-heated food. It’s not about bad movies on small screens. It’s not about frustrating entertainment remotes, nor a seat’s pitch or the lack thereof. It shouldn’t be about security checkpoints and radiation. It cannot be about weather delays and impatient queues.
Flying, whatever the machine, the altitude and the speed, is about poetry. It’s about the beauty all around, and the power within. It’s about dreams come reality, and ambition well used. It’s about defying gravity by borrowing a bird’s gracefulness and Da Vinci’s cunning vision. It’s about looking at the world we live in from a privileged perspective, and smiling, and loving it. It’s about being able to take a moment to clear one’s mind while moving just below the speed of sound, or think as fast as the neurons will fire while controlling a frontal collapse right after take off with the hill swinging back at you.
Speaking of flying, and in addition to being hauled commercially back and forth, I managed to get airborne twice in Wilderness, on the Garden Route. It had been years since I’d flown my glider and, with Marie’s invaluable help, it had been duly inspected before time. The valiant wing which has lifted me in the French, Swiss and German Alps, in the Spanish and French Pyrenees, in the south of France and on its Atlantic dunes, in the Dominican Republic, in Utah, in California and in Quebec, was, despite its age, deemed fit for service and in great shape.
However the Western Cape weather did not cooperate. Winds were strong, alternating with anachronistic rain. But finally, near Knysna, a narrow window opened at the Map of Africa and I was able to log two sleds down to the beach, enough for the canopy to inflate, for the lines to stiffen, for my feet to leave the ground and for my heart to soar again.
There will be more flights. I brought the paraglider back home and will seek local alternatives. It has been folded for far too long. Time to stretch my wings again.
With a longer commute to Harlem, I find myself arriving home later than I am used to and often having run out of steam. Since steam doesn’t do me any good and an after-commute jog has become less practical than it was in Brooklyn where I was one subway stop away, I recently tested a simple run home from work.
The run I wanted to test was simple. I work right down at the bottom of Manhattan, a half-a-block away from Wall Street. Yes, I am surrounded daily by bankers and traders. Oh well, it’s not entirely their fault. They are victims of the system.
So I would run home along the East River, leaving finance behind and crawling into relative poverty. Relative, I say, because it seems that in modern America, the richest and the poorest drive the same vehicles: huge, fuel-hungry, chrome-plated, tinted windows-equipped black or white SUV’s.
The problem about that run is, and I had experienced this on an infamous long run that was my first unofficial marathon, that the East River path is not smooth sailing. There are interruptions to the bicycle and pedestrian paths that end up being quite a nuisance.
I started the run a bit late, around maybe five o’clock, having walked fast to the South Street Seaport to warm up. A point-and-shoot camera, ID, money, subway pass and phone were in pouches on a belt. I hate wearing a belt while running. Whether it is water or stuff, it bounces up and down and distracts me so much I swear every time I will never carry it again. And yet I do, out of necessity.
The run had been plotted to be around fifteen kilometers, which is roughly one-and-a-half times my usual run, no sweat. But with the recent move to Harlem and huge impact some one-hundred-and-twenty floors climbed up and down had had on my knees, running had been sporadic at best lately and I had lost my rhythm. I started slow. I always do.
The starting point was the South Street Seaport. I ran northeast along the East River, the FDR highway casting its loud shadow over my GPS like a cloak. The Brooklyn Bridge was passed, then the Manhattan Bridge. They are much closer together on the other side and when watching from Manhattan, perspective seems to play tricks with one’s mind.
Further up was the Williamsburg Bridge. A long straight shot and the river seemed to curve left along huge projects. I was in Midtown. Around 35th Street, I had to abandon the waterfront and cut inland to detour around the United Nations, the tall and slick slab of diplomatic immunity standing proof that freedom comes at an urban cost.
I rejoined the East River path around 61st Street past the Queensborough Bridge, having lost most rhythm and some patience. I really hate running through traffic and lights.
Roosevelt Island stretched to my right in the middle of the river. I passed below the Rockefeller University and its strange stone walls, still taking bad pictures now and then. I would never stop for more than 15 to 30 seconds for a photo. That did prove tiresome though, because while each stop let me catch my breath, it also allowed the legs to fall out of sync and by mid-run, heartbeat had not even awaken but all joints were beginning to complain. They are like our cat, they need routine and regularity.
Around 70th or 80th Street, there was another interruption in the bicycle path and I got fed up. I decided to cut across to Central Park. I hit every single traffic light wrong and by the time I had reached the park, energy depleted by the multiple interruptions, knees in agony and darkness upon the city, I was seriously wishing I was home. That’s a bit embarrassing with five kilometers to go.
I finished slow. I rarely do. Normally, the end of the run is a moderate sprint. This time it was a crawl, even with the multiple traffic and photo stops.
Joining the main road inside the park, I followed it counterclockwise along with a few cyclists and runners. Central Park at night loses its depth and becomes simple dashes of street lights, linked together by paths and roads like pearls on a string. The ice rink at the north end was open and people played hockey.
Finally, I ran up Lenox Avenue to 125th and stopped. I would not have gone any further that night. There will be better runs. The pictures are bad too, blurred by light panting and a bullet-proof high ISO.
But it was my first run home to Harlem.
It’s not that I’m all that stubborn.
It’s not that I’m even all that crazy about running.
If I totaled all the miles I’ve ever run, half were aching drudgery.
[But] There’s something so universal about that sensation, the way running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure.
Christopher McDougall – Born to Run
The lions roared again at dawn as we were packing up in the Karoo National Park.
Breakfast was included in our stay and served in the main restaurant, right behind the reception desk. Full English was the word and I daringly ordered lamb kidneys, which turned out to be butchered, pardon the pun.
We ate quickly as the room filled up with semi-serious gamer watchers. These were the people who needed coffee and toast before driving out in search of wildlife. They would get the left-overs, better than nothing but no longer prime sightings. The hardcore, as always, had long departed our camp and were already scouting remote locations and stalking their photographic prey.
Leaving the camp with a sigh, we detoured towards the edge of town to fuel up. The Landcruiser heavy and content, we hopped back on good old N1 and steered south. The Nuweveld escarpment eventually disintegrated into Karoo emptiness over our right shoulder and we ventured into dryness.
As always when going home, miles seemed to tick slower than when the goal lay forward. Our mission was to arrive without hiccups and we stopped only when absolutely necessary, taking pictures in motion, right and left, and far ahead. Taking pictures while driving is like shooting from the hip for cowboys and cops; very cool, much quicker, but accuracy takes a hit. So be it. The newly paved road stretched into arid and washed-out land where it met the sky. Even from a car, our horizon was steady as the universe itself.
Marie and I spoke little, lost in thoughts, taking comfort in each other’s presence but unwilling to breach the silence for small talk. Our inner eye was still turned backward, watching the Kruger unfold around it. Our hearts felt a mix of sadness for leaving the wilderness behind and joy for the promise of Constantia’s solid shelter. Homecoming, no matter how wild the ride has been, despite the glory of discovery and the treasures left behind, is probably the sweetest feeling to a human mind and heart.
After relentless emptiness and hours of flat, unforgiving vastness, the mountains of the Cape Fold Belt appeared once again on the horizon. We had received reports of more snow on the peaks and were looking forward to our crossing of the belt. Like Hannibal through the Alps, we would plow our way across a mountain range and conquer the other side.
Soon snow was indeed covering the mountains that lay against us. We followed our previous tracks through the Hex River Valley, allowing ourselves the brief luxury of a very slight detour on a small road parallel to the main. Vineyards were brightly colored and contrasting starkly with the snowy heights.
We hopped over the range, continued into the vast plains that extend to the next barrier, the Hottentot’s Holland mountains, a last shield of stone to be crossed through a dark tunnel. Unlike Bilbo, however, we did not have to fumble. The underground way was well lit and our GPS, ironically out of a signal, kept tracking our progress by dead reckoning. The light soon reappeared, and not long after it the ocean too, and the climate tempered itself.
We were back. Cape Town was surprisingly hazy and we had to smile at how tolerant we were of the smog here compared to what it had been up around Johannesburg. We eased our way past the Flats, climbed into the foothills of Table Mountain, wound our way onto Rhodes Drive, into Constantia and arrived home.
After letting the engine idle a few minutes as always after a long, high speed drive, the ignition key was turned anticlockwise and as the silence settled in, we took a deep breath and patted the Landcruiser’s dashboard. “Good car,” I whispered, “gooood car.” We had just driven over 3,000 km on a timing belt that had to be changed “immediately”.
Silence didn’t last long. The front door opened, two exuberant corgis were released and the festivities began. We always get the best welcome home. As if we had been away for centuries. They might be low on their legs but their enthusiasm is high, and so is their affection.
We unpacked the Landcruiser hastily, dispatching mountains of gear throughout the house, the garden and the two garages. Then the hose came out and mogashagasha was given a first wash, naked in the front of the house, at the bottom of a very quiet residential cul-de-sac.
Nobody watched, though, other than maybe a couple of hadedas and a chameleon I have not yet found. Like a child torn between the fun of the spray and a growing sense of self-awareness, the brave car stood there and as the mud and dust dripped from her flanks and she began to shine, she seemed to be taking a deep breath.
We looked at the Landcruiser affectionately. Apart from a momentary hiccup in the Kruger which we might never explain, it’s taken us so far on close to 15,000 kilometers of open road and desolation, a good third of which were unpaved – from the searing heat of Namibia to the frost of a Bloemfontein night, from the salty sea level of the southern tip of Africa to the peaks of the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, through dust, sand, mud, floods and moods, bravely, evenly and ever so powerfully.
It’s funny how one grows fond of machines. Vehicles, particularly, seem to help us widen our horizon, push our limits and test our resolve. They become an essential part of the journey, taking on a personality of their own and reflecting ours. As a race, we would be nothing but a bunch of rats in a cave if we had not invented, and loved, our transportation machines.
Well, we might still be rats, but the rats have grown and learned about the world and themselves as they rode, sailed, drove and flew to places once forbidden. I wish I could now, casually, pick up the phone – or Skype – Lindbergh and ask him about the Spirit of St. Louis. Or Cousteau about the Calypso. Or, why not, Armstrong about an incredible rocket named Apollo 11. What an interview it would be! The stories they would have to tell!
I think that this is the very reason why Marie and I, every once in a while, with the generosity of others, seize the chance of escaping the comfort of routine and drive a valiant Toyota Landcruiser towards places whose discovery will shift our vision of the world and make us ponder what lies even further than we can see.
It’s because the moment our hands land on that wheel, a bond is created. I think Cameron called it “Tsaheylu” in Avatar. Human and beast feel like one.
And then it wants to drink diesel.
This will be the first of a series of Harlem-related posts. Following our recent departure from Brooklyn and arrival in its antipodean Harlem, we have carried, lifted, unpacked, sorted, arranged, moved, attached, re-organized, sorted, cleaned, questioned, doubted and trialed our new surroundings. The process is a lengthy one, much rougher than we had expected – but then again, we had not really contemplated the future beyond the very immediate necessity of our move.
While the dust settles in some areas and keeps swirling in others, we are beginning to lessen the priority of unpacking and urinating in corners to mark our new territory, and have begun expanding our horizon a bit. Not far yet, but last weekend we took an autumnal walk down Lenox Avenue – aka Malcolm X Blvd. – to nearby Central Park.
It would normally be a 15 to 20 minute leisurely walk, but we were stopped in our tracks by a huge sign on 116th Street that said “Fish Market”. We had to check it out. So we walked in, found row after row of fish strangely stacked vertically in ice holes, fresh vegetables cut and packed in individual portions, and a fried fish sandwich counter. After a bit of trial and error, we figured out a way to order our sandwiches. Marie chose blue fish and I, flounder. We waited a few minutes as the pre-battered fish fillets were deep fried for us. The vegetables, we figured, could be steamed for you upon request.
This was a bit surreal. Three huge pieces of fried fish each, squeezed between two slices of American sandwich bread, served in a to-go Styrofoam box, which was handed open to us so that we could choose our sauce and spray the dish before the box was shut closed and bagged. We were charged a total of $8.50 – because my flounder was above average cost – for so much food we would not finish it. We could not believe it.
Briskly walking the few blocks that separated us from the park, our late lunch swinging at arms length, we entered the second largest urban park in North America (yes, Vancouver’s Stanley Park is still larger), walked around a pond away from the crowds that stuck to the perimeter and settled on a bench, under a willow tree that cast a chilly shadow on us.
It was really a lot of fish. We both left a full fish slice and agreed that next run would require more sauce, and less food. And a lemon slice maybe. But for the price, we were well fed.
Fall colors were starting. A great heron landed in the water near us and we went on exploring the northwestern end of Central Park, which we don’t know so well. There are streams and little hills there, and a depression theatrically called the Ravine. It’s actually quite pretty, the water is clean and the woods, thick. Other than the city buzz and occasional fire alert sending trucks rushing down 5th Avenue, one would be hard-pressed to say where they were if transported there by Scotty’s machine.
We then walked to the east side of the park and visited the Conservancy Garden, off season. Tulips had been replaced by chrysanthemums but the scene was as pretty as in spring, and no less busy.
We walked home along a stretch of 5th Avenue interrupted by a smaller park, and were home. There will be more outings.