Saturday, June 29, 2013

Today is one of two free days we have, the other being next Friday. I had originally planned to take the team to the Cape of Good Hope on Friday, which is the day before we leave, but Bill has suggested that if the weather’s good today, we should do it now, so we have 2 shots at good weather in this winter season. Great idea. I check the weather before 8 am, and it’s slated to be 64 degrees and sunny, so it’s a go for today. I pass the word that we’re leaving at 9:30. We’ve already arranged that Kevin and Lydia Simpson and their twin babies, Sarah and Noah, will accompany us. Since Kevin has some work to do on the church gate with his men in the morning—it was hit, for the third time, by a drunk driver—he says they’ll meet us down there around noon.

So we head south toward the Strand, intersecting it near Philippi, and follow it west toward the Cape. It’s a beautiful drive; the sun is shining, the beach comes up to within a foot or two of the road, and the waves are high. The place is eerily reminiscent of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It occurs to me that we ought to stop, so I pull over at a safe spot, and everybody piles out. For some reason I don’t understand, the girls, and only the girls, have an insatiable desire to get into the water. Here at the Strand, on the east side of the Cape, the water’s noticeably warmer than it is in the Atlantic; locals tell me that on the west side, it’s cold all summer long, and this is of course winter. But the kids splash around for a while, investigate the large lengths of kelp—10 to 20 feet—lying all over the beach, and generally act the way college kids would at the beach. In winter. I joke that we can start a picture collection called “BoJo Babes at the Beach”; the sweatshirts are a nice touch. Auria gets a little too eager and is swamped by a rogue wave. She’s thrilled; now she can play in the water without worrying about getting wet.

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After half an hour or so we pile into the vans and continue west along the Strand. We stop at the next town, Muizenberg, for a potty break, and the Simpsons pull up alongside us in the parking lot; he spotted us out on the road. Good; that’s efficient. On to more towns—Fish Hoek, then Simon’s Town.

I have to tell you, Simon’s Town is where I dream of retiring—if I believed in retiring. It’s a very British-feeling fishing town at the upper east side of the Cape. Lots of docks and boats, and even a small South African Naval Base. Plenty of shops and restaurants for the tourists and holidayers; Kevin tells me that you can’t find a place to park here in the summer. Behind the town, toward the west, are high, rocky hills, and the houses are nestled, or perhaps perched, up there in ways that seem to defy gravity. A little like Gatlinburg, maybe, except that there’s an ocean there, and the whole thing’s about 100 yards deep from ocean to highest house. A remarkably beautiful place.

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We find places to park—glad it’s not summer!—and walk a block or so to the center of town. Some hit the shops; I cross the street to the docks, where there are also some vendors set up. I wasn’t expecting this, but it’s a good development; there are lots of potential souvenirs and gifts to look at, and the vendors will haggle. I ask around a little and find the prices to be very good, so I tell the kids that if they want to buy things before they leave Africa, this is a very good opportunity. They go to work, and soon bags are full. I manage to pick up a couple of decorated ostrich eggs at a very good price—walking away, but not too far away, from a negotiation will do that—that I intend to give to our travel agent and our visa agent for their superb service.

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We have a little time before the appointed regathering hour, so I cross the street and look through a few shops. My eye catches a matched set of 5 cans of pate from various African creatures: zebra, wildebeest, impala, springbok, and kudu. I have to buy them, and to explain why, I need to tell you a story.

In July 2007, when the team was leaving South Africa, I bought a similar set in the secure zone at the airport at Johannesburg and tossed it into my carry-on, since my other bag was already checked. We flew to Nairobi, where we had a long layover and so left the airport to spend some time with friends there. I left the set in my carry-on. We then flew to London (this was about a week after the bombing), and as I was going through security they pulled my carry-on because of the pate. The cans are over 3 ounces; it’s a gel-like substance. Gotta confiscate it. But I bought it in the airport at Joburg. Yes, but you left the secure zone in Nairobi. Sorry; it doesn’t fly.

Now, as it happened, at the time I was carrying a small flashlight that had a cigarette lighter in the handle. (I carried a lighter because we were in the bush, and I thought I might need easy fire on occasion.) The flashlight was so designed that the lighter was much less obvious than the flashlight, and the security people let it through. In the other pocket I had a 3-oz. bottle of hand sanitizer, which is just jellied rubbing alcohol—napalm, basically. So I’m a walking bomb, and they’re taking my kudu pate. The comedy of it has stayed with me all these years.

So I had to buy the 5 cans of pate. This time they go in the checked baggage.

We all regather at the vans on time at 12:30. Then on a half hour or so to the Cape, a national park. We pay at the entrance and then drive several miles—er, kilometers—to the Cape itself. It’s an odd place; from the ground, it looks completely unimpressive, since it’s a much stubbier stump than Cape Point, which is just to its east. You park at the bottom, walk past the sign that everybody gets pictures at, and then climb 100 feet or so to the top. But when you stand there, your perspective completely changes.

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You’re at the corner of a continent. To the north you see the western coastline of Africa heading straight south; but when you pivot toward the east, you see the whole land mass take a hard left turn toward India, heading east as far as the eye can see. You can understand why da Gama—or was it Dias?—named it “Good Hope.”

From the modest perch you can also see container ships working through the waters several miles offshore. It’s a key shipping lane, even though, especially in winter, the weather outside is frightful.

We linger there for some time, taking in the big sky and the big water, all 270 degrees of it. Then we begin to hike east, toward Cape Point. It’s about a 20-minute hike along dirt paths, across rock faces, and down boardwalks. But we don’t go straight to the Point; between the Cape and the Point is My Favorite Place in the World: Dias Beach, which is a small, maybe 300-yard strip of white sand that feels completely isolated. You walk down a long flight of wooden steps—255, Jon tells me—into a sort of half-bowl, with very steep cliffs on all sides but the ocean itself. At the bottom of the steps there’s a 50-yard, 45-degree slope of sand that just forces you to run headlong onto the beach. And then there’s the water, with 6- to 8-foot curls of abominably cold water. We all take our shoes and socks off, roll up our pants, and abandon ourselves to the gravity.

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We explore the place for an hour. At the west end are rocks that just have to be climbed on, where the spray decorates the sky, and the observers, with mist that feels cold enough to be slush. And yes, we’re barefoot. In winter.

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Team pictures, of course, of various poses and dimensions, with various themes. These kids are creative.

Then back up the stairs and further west along the walkways to Cape Point. The visitors’ center is noticeably higher than we were when we climbed out of the beach, and it’s just a staging area for the assault on the Point itself, several hundred feet higher yet. There’s a funicular railway, but we opt to climb the steep walkway punctuated by series of steps that seem interminable. At long last, with legs of jelly, we reach the summit, where there’s an old steel lighthouse and a signpost indicating distances to various world cities. I point out Jerusalem to Joy, who will be starting medical school in Beer-Sheba just 2 weeks after we return from Africa next week.

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But there’s more. This is the high point, and the beach is a looooong ways down there, but it’s not the mostest point; there’s lots of Point out beyond us that you can’t get to from here. So I take the crew back down a ways to the lighthouse keeper’s path, which runs out maybe 300 yards further. This is the End of the World.

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Time’s starting to get tight for our 6 pm dinner reservation an hour away in Hout Bay, at the top of the Cape. We hustle back to the cars, drive over to the big sign at the Cape to get the obligatory team picture, and then hustle north again. Back to Simon’s Town, then a westward turn to cross the Cape to the Atlantic side and then turn north to Hout Bay.

This last portion of the trip is a scenic drive called Chapman’s Peak Drive, which has to be one of the most scenic drives in the world. You’re working your way along the side of a mountain with a direct drop to the sea and a perpetually winding road. That would be treat enough, but as it happens, sundown is about 5:45 today, and our dinner reservation is a 6. I didn’t plan that, but it’s a really nice gift from a gracious God. As we round the last set of curves into Hout Bay, still high above the ocean, we see the sun sinking into the sea, and we pull off the road for pictures. The colors and textures of the sky are simply indescribable. Most take pictures; the rest just watch in amazement. What a work of performance art.

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Sun safely extinguished in the ocean for another night, we drive 10 minutes down into Hout Bay and quickly find our dinner location. Mariner’s Wharf is a well-known restaurant in the area, and among the best seafood places in Cape Town. My family always jokes that we want to go there for the next birthday dinner. It’s pricey by Cape Town standards, but most meals are under $20, the food quality and service are excellent, and I figure that the team ought to end their survey of the cuisines of Africa with an exclamation point.

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So we sit at a long table, 14 Americans, a South African pastor and his wife, and their two infants, whom the team members are happy to hold. The staff brings baby chairs, but we don’t ever use them.

The menu is diverse, and the team can’t believe its ears when I say they can order anything they want. We order a few appetizers, and most notably Keri orders grilled lobster, Jon orders lobster thermidor, and Will orders the fisherman’s platter, which turns out to be a plate the size of Nebraska. He eats it all and then orders dessert. I get calamari and prawns in a lemon, garlic, and butter sauce that really sings.

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One more thing. Monday is Auria’s birthday, and we just have to do something about that. I ask the waiter if they can do something special, and he says they’ll bring a special dessert and sing to her. He checks in with me a couple of times during the meal to let me know everything’s on track, and at dessert time, Auria gets a surprise.

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This waiter is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a French-speaking country that’s in quite a bit of upheaval the last few years. His French accent gives him away. He’s a very good waiter, and I leave him a big tip. He stops to thank me, and I tell him that it’s a pleasure to watch a professional do his job well.

Another multi-sensory way to teach the students about the diversity of Africa. Many on this land eat rice and beans every day, and they survive and even thrive. A few, in a few cities across the continent, live with much more variety. Africa is a varied place, rich in people and traditions and history and learning. But like every other continent, it is filled with people whose needs are basic and identical: they need sin forgiven, a relationship with God, and to love and be loved. For all our differences, we are all the same.

We waddle out of the restaurant to our cars for the drive home, which takes less than an hour. Most sleep on the way, bodies tired, stomachs full, the rhythm of the tires on the highway thrumming a lullaby. We’re home by 10.

I gather the crew in the girls’ living room and ask if they’re awake enough to have team devotions. There’s no response. Most of the girls are asleep or nearly so.

“Good night, ladies,” I say, and The Boys and I head to our house and our dreams.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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