Thursday, July 2, 2015

We’ve improved the attention-span problem a little at the Eindhoven VBS by having Mrs. Payne tell a missionary story in Afrikaans. That helps. The kids pay better attention.

Our plan for the rest of the day, our last long day (all afternoon and evening free) is to climb Table Mountain, Cape Town’s major tourist attraction and landmark. It’s a mesa that towers perhaps 3000 feet over the city basin; the bay where the city was later built was originally called Table Bay, since the mesa is the biggest thing around.

We bring Salvin with us. He’s been helping us in VBS all week, and he’s been a lot of help. Plus, he’s fun. So he jumps in the van with us, and we head back to the house and grab some stuffed baked potatoes for lunch, then head for the city.

I rented a GPS for use with this rental van. That was a wise decision. It gets us everywhere. In a few minutes we’re at the ticket office at the bottom cable-car station, about halfway up the side of Table Mountain from the city proper. This is as high as we can drive. Half the group—Gershon, Michaela, Emily, Charity, and Salvin—are planning to hike, so we drive about half a km past the ticket office, about halfway to the start of the trail, and park. From there they’ll walk 15 minutes or so to the trailhead. The employee where we park says it’s about 1.5 to 2 hours up. The weather’s clear and warmer than it could be. So it’s a good day for the hike.

The rest of us—Amber, Jessica, Jess, Sarah, and I—briefly browse the gift shops at the bottom, then buy our tickets and head for the cable car. It’s a steep ride up—more than 45 degrees—but the car is roomy, and the floor rotates 360 degrees as you ascend, so you see the whole view no matter where you’re standing. It takes just a few minutes.

At the top there’s a gift shop and café. We have plenty of time while we’re waiting for the hikers, so we decide to walk the several km of trails on the mesa. There’s a lot of beauty on the top itself—lots of flora and fauna, including some beautiful birds and something they call a “dassie,” or hyrax. They claim its closest relative is the African elephant; not sure how they know that, since the dassies are notoriously taciturn. I would guess the family tree has closer branches with groundhogs on ‘em. But in addition to this elevated ecosystem, there’s the beauty of the view, which is literally all around you, every time you look up. The nearby mountains are rocky and sharp, much like those of the American West, say the Sierra Nevadas or the southern Rockies. There’s a sense of timelessness here, of enchantment.

We walk to the far end of the mesa and then begin back on the southern side. About a third of the way back we find a spot looking over the Cape itself, with the Twelve Apostles dominating the skyline. We each find perches and just sit. We’re 15 yards or so from the path, and between groups of hikers—the Americans always noisier, and seemingly less aware of their surroundings than themselves—we’re blessed with episodes of deep silence, which feels like a sound in itself. We sit. And watch. Two redwing starlings coast in with no warning and settle on a rock not 5 feet from us. They look us over, decide we’re no danger, and engage in a little conversation before flitting off on their altitudinous play.

We sit quietly, for more than 20 minutes, not moving, just watching and thinking. Worshiping, I suppose.

And then, knowing it’s about time for the hikers to arrive, we walk the rest of the way back. We’re at the gift shop for just 5 minutes or so when the others show up, and we step into the café for some coffee on the terrace. After finishing their coffee, the hikers want to see some of the top, so they hike around for a while and the rest of us chill.

Last car down is at 6 pm. We opt for the 5:30, to get downtown and find something to eat.

Salvin keeps talking to us about gatsbys. Apparently a gatsby is a really big sort of submarine sandwich. He’s determined that we’re going to have some before we leave. But he doubts there will be any downtown—apparently it’s a blue-collar thing. Maybe another night.

We drive down to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and park behind Victoria Wharf, a large and modern mall that fronts on the harbor. There’s a food court in there—no gatsbys, but a really good fish and chips place, where most of us eat.

Fish and chips here is a food group. They have several kinds of whitefish; hake, snoek, and kingklip are the most popular, and there’s also calamari (I know, not a whitefish). It’s all fresh—in the bay this morning—and the portions are large, roughly the size of your liver. (I know that for some of you that’s no help at all.)

After supper we walk out on the waterfront, enjoying the lights and activity. There’s a large lighted ferris wheel, but it’s closed, oddly enough. Well, since we were just up on Table Mountain, the ferris wheel doesn’t look all that high anyway.

Eventually we decide to head back. On the way I look for a spot out by the breakers where the last team spent some time. The place looks different—was the Table Bay Hotel here last time, or is it new? We go out to the end of the boardwalk, but there’s little to no surf. I see something across the way that looks familiar and excuse myself for 10 minutes, walk across a parking lot and up an obscure stone staircase, and there I am, on the jetty, reliving the experience of 2013. Memories.

Back to the parking garage and out the N2 to the R300, then up to Keurboom. Salvin’s dad comes and gets him—they live pretty close—and we have devotions before bed. You know, sometimes I think I have more stamina than these kids do. They sure are tired at the end of a day.

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Dan Olinger

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

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