On this blog post I thought of talking a little bit about the different activities I have been doing here in Cape Town. The greatest adventure of them all happens definitely at work, where I analyze over 3000+ responses of beneficiaries for the project we are evaluating and design with the feedback of my colleagues an evaluation matrix that will guide the quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data. I cannot believe how much I have learned during my time here. I remember it took me a whole day when I arrived to figure my way around Excel, whereas now I feel so much more comfortable creating graphs and doing analysis. I have also grown to really enjoy the work I am doing and the field of Monitoring & Evaluation. My boss, Eleanor, who is very passionate about her work and is a super-woman juggling between tens of projects at a time, has definitely contributed to that.
I have done lots of fun stuff after work, but what I definitely have to share is my experience hiking up Table Mountain. The cable car up the mountain is closed during July-August for construction work, so we had no choice but hike up the mountain. Hiking up alone is not recommended (please never do it), so I was actually behind the formation of this very international group of people that I knew from different places to go up the mountain together: it was me, an American guy whom I had met during a free city walking tour; a Zulu South African guy whom I had met while waiting to pick up food at McDonald’s (that’s a funny story for another time); a Greek guy working here whom I met because Greece is a small place and a friend of a friend of a friend (of a friend) connected us before coming here; and a Belgian-German-Portuguese guy living in Johannesburg who was visiting my Greek friend.
We agreed to go up the mountain on a Friday, and take Skeleton Gorge, the route from the back side of the mountain that starts at the botanical gardens, then walk on the trail on top of the mountain (it’s a flat, “Table” mountain so you can walk on top), and hike down from the front side from Platteklip Gorge. That might sound a little ambitious, but we wanted to see the views from both sides and we were also told that the botanical garden route is beautiful. When we got to the garden, the sky was clearly cloudy and a lady there advised us against going up. “Two weeks ago we rescued a group of tourists who went up when it was cloudy and panicked. You guys are going to get lost, you won’t be able to see anything, it’s going to be windy, there is a water stream coming down to the trail, if you go, go at your own risk.”
Ouch. That’s all I needed to be convinced to go home but my friends reassured me (or tricked me into believing!) that we will just hike for a bit and turn back when things get rough. Of course, this never happened and there are at least 3 scary instances worth sharing.
First instance. 1 hour in the hike, we ran into the water stream that the lady was talking about and that was essentially covering a part of the trail. The South African and Belgian guys had the fine idea of jumping over a fence and doing that part off-trail until we had passed the waterfall. I don’t understand why but a group of American students who were behind us also thought that that was an excellent idea, so we all jumped over the fence and were walking for a little through bushes until we stopped to let the two of the guys walk ahead of us and tell us if it’s worth continuing from this unconventional path. After ~15 minutes waiting standing on a cliff, they came back to tell us we had to turn back and go through the waterfall. So we turned back and went through the waterfall.
Second instance. We thought we made it to the top after ~3.5 hours in. When we got to what we thought was the top, there was nothing around us but fog. It was so foggy that if the person in front walked 10 steps ahead, it would be impossible to see them. I was starting to get very tired and the more we were going up, the fewer people were around us. It was also really cold and humid up there, because we were essentially inside a cloud. When I thought we had made it, we took a turn and saw that there is another part we would have to hike and were not still quite there. We ran into a French couple that was coming back from where we were going, saying that there is nothing, they couldn’t find the way out and they decided to go back. That moment I felt like I really wanted someone to come and take me home, but there was absolutely nothing we could do – we HAD to walk to go down. A rescue team would take 3-4 hours to hike up to get us and a helicopter wouldn’t be able to get there because of the fog (and also these can cost up to 50,000 rand!). We took a rest break to have a bite and pushed on.
Third instance. We are finally on top of the mountain. We reach a point where we have to decide whether to take a right or left turn. It’s foggy, cold, the ground is wet, there is nobody around, I see no end of this huge mass of land around, and the guys check their phones to see which route we should take. They decide on taking the one that looks shorter on the map. Lesson of the day: don’t take the route that looks easy, it’s a trap. For a few minutes of the trail, we were walking close to the cliff, I had no idea what was below because it was all foggy, we were splashing water with our feet and the worst of them all – the wind was really strong but luckily blowing the opposite direction (not towards the cliff). At that point, I thought that if I really become conscious of where I am, I will get really stressed so I thought of distracting my thoughts and started asking “would you rather” questions to my friends. For a second, that was a very surreal scenery – walking on top of a mountain with no humans around, nothing but fog when it’s cold, wet and windy, and talking about whether ketchup or mustard goes better with burgers. After an hour of walking, we saw a map that said that the route we came from was the “Alternate, non-recommended” route.
7.5 hours later, we were finally back to the asphalt. I might have exaggerated a little bit about how scary the actual experience was (apparently none of the four other friends ever worried about their life during their hike!), but all in all it remains one of the highlights of my time here (and my life, probably).
Four lessons I have learned from this experience: Don’t go up the mountain when it’s cloudy. Don’t jump over a fence thinking it’s going to be a good shortcut. If you see people walk back, maybe walk back with them. Don’t take the route that looks shorter.
But if despite this, you still end up finding yourself on top of a foggy and windy mountain, at least make sure you have some really cool people around you that will make you laugh, encourage you in moments of doubt, and stay calm and positive. So shout out to Tutu, Miguel, Manolis and Kyle for being the most fun and supporting hiking buddies. I don’t know if I would do this again, but if I did, it’d be an absolute honor to do it with them!
PS. We randomly discovered a lake (!) on top of Table mountain! How cool is that!?