Dear Ed, A Tale of Table Mountain

Dear Ed, mi hermano,

You came to mind on numerous times today; in fact, you have been close to my heart ever since we arrived in Cape Town, as we are basing parts of our itinerary on recommendations you sent me a couple months back. Thank you. As per usual, you are helpful, caring, intuitive in ways beyond anything I could have anticipated. You often seem to know what area I could use your guidance or advice, without me having to request your support (which is not the easiest thing for me–or you, if I may be so bold). And I know I am not the only you help on a regular basis. May I thank you, on behalf of everyone who benefits from your sensitivity and attunement? I’m going to go ahead and give myself permission, whether you approve or not. “Better to ask forgiveness than permission” is not always an adage I live by, but in this situation, I deem it appropriate 😉

I’d like to spend most of this letter sharing with you about our Table Mountain hike.

We started at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, meaning we briefly walked through the gardens before starting our ascent. A highlight was the “scent garden,” a short stretch where signs invited us to rub the leaves of plants between our fingers, then sniff. Though not all the varieties of shrubs and flowers and herbs were native to Africa, the smells were decidedly of this place: some intoxicatingly sweet, some pungent and woodsy, and a surprising few almost aversive and fecal. I was reminded in particular of anise, citronella, lavender, helichrysum. (I occasionally long for a phone that can take pictures that also share smell–it would come in handy here, as words really can’t do my descriptions justice.)

After satiating our noses, we made a turn, off the well-manicured walkways to a dirt path that pointed toward Skeleton Gorge. From that point onward, our path was essentially uphill nonstop for the next 3 hours, and I’d say probably 75% of the path we chose consisted of rugged stairs.

Hermano, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I got bored. Not with the hike itself, and not intellectually or mentally–but physically, without question. So much of the movement required from my body was the same: one slightly smaller step up, one slightly bigger step up, one really really giant step up. One step up on rougher ground, forcing me to take a moment to decide where to place my foot; one step up on smooth rocks, gentle and supportive. There were stretches we were climbing up ladders, and others we were clambering with arms to assist–but honestly, after so many kilometers (pronounced KIH-lo-mee-turs. What dolts would put the emphasis on “lo?”) of uphill, I actually longed for a real climb. My body felt inefficiently used; my legs screamed for mercy, my core and low back supported and assisted with the stability needed for particularly high steps, but my arms were generally passive and woefully underused. There were a few moments when I imagined my arms saying “pick me! Pick me!” and my legs saying “good God, woman, really? More?!”

Once we emerged from tree cover, we left the Skeleton Gorge route and headed to the highest point on Table Mountain. The last leg was occasionally less steep (Iris and I had a moment of literal happy dance when we came upon a stretch that was flat for literally about 15 steps. “It’s flat it’s flat it’s flat!”), and the wind picked up as clouds rolled through and then passed. I was glad to have my jacket; our proximity to both sun and wind was intense. Once we reached the top, we took only a few moments to pause and gaze before heading toward the cable car, another hour-long stretch that ended in a crowded mass of tourists ooh-ing and aah-ing at purportedly the best views of the city center and recognizable popular beaches below.

The hiking route was relatively busy all morning; we were there at the busiest time, as it’s recommended to hike before the sun gets too hot or, more importantly, the winds pick up. There were the same several families that we passed, or who passed us, throughout our ascent; all seemed to be tourists, though several from other parts of South Africa, and I only heard one other American accent the whole day. Lots of Europeans, a couple Brazilians, and a fair amount of Afrikaans. People were kind, polite, and everyone–even the fittest–were huffing and puffing for most of the uphill foray.

I mentioned the winds in my past letter; they were striking when we finally emerged out of the trees, and made the epic final hour-long stretch from the highest point of Table Mountain to the cable car. Thankfully, the breeze didn’t ever become extreme (quite importantly, the cable car stops running if the wind is too strong, and we weren’t interested nor equipped to make the hike back down), though the gusts were certainly unpredictable, and surprised me with their suddenness and force. The message behind the wind? Still TBD. Ask me again some other time.

And now, speaking of another time: my parents spoke of Puerto Rico, at our dinner tonight. Fast forward several hours after our triumphant trek, as we sat at a laughingly Pacific Northwest-vibey restaurant; thank goodness it was delicious, else I would’ve been disgruntled to not experience something that felt more authentic to the area (though, admittedly, Cape Town is a city full of expats of all different stripes–so “authentic” could very well mean “gussied up just like a trendy American”). So there we were: watermelon & feta salad dappled perfectly with mint & light dressing; grilled Cape sardines with broccolini & anchovy/caper garnish; roasted cumin-spiked carrots & beet salad with watercress & cilantro. Glasses of white South African pinot gris, Pimm’s cups, local craft beers dotted the table. Jack Johnson, Mumford & Songs, and Tallest Man on Earth played in the background; Table Mountain surveyed from overhead, hypothetically nodding in approval though I didn’t look that closely. I was too distracted by our conversation about OTHER upcoming travels; my parents suggesting Puerto Rico as a destination in 2019. I felt divided, energetically, in so many different places all at once. Flavors distinctly of South Africa marrying spices and ingredients I recognized. Aesthetics, decor, layout, ambiance so comfortable and familiar, with a scenic backdrop that reminded me we could be nowhere BUT Cape Town. My physical body in South Africa, my energetic body feeling of Portland, my brain considering Puerto Rico, my heart considering New Mexico. And all that, in just a breath.

One more moment I thought of you today: when Sarah Jarosz came on my shuffle, just as I was stretching and sighing my way out of a post-hike nap. I love how music can bring such sweet familiarity, no matter where in the world one is. (And, word to the wise: waking from a nap in this home on the coast of Africa feels almost identical to waking from a nap on the coast of Oregon or Washington.)



PS There were so many beautiful shots taken along the Table Mountain hike that I am disgruntledly* choosing just one for today’s cover photo. This is a panorama taken at the highest point of the mountain; not the most spectacular view we encountered, but likely our most triumphant moment.


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