Table Mountain is one of the most famous tourist attraction in Cape Town, South Africa. It has the signature flat tabletop when viewed from its profile, and when low flying clouds descend on its plateau, the resulting looks are called a table cloth. Table Mountain is not the tallest mountain in South Africa. That honour goes to the Drakensberg, which is among the top 10 tallest mountains in Africa. However, Table Mountain has both the looks and the location. It has earned a glamourous status.
Back in 2012, Mark Mlambala, a friend in Cape Town arranged a hike up Table Mountain as a birthday present to me. Mark, who is an outdoors enthusiast, quickly assembled a team of friends. There was Gerald Abraham, who I had grown up with in Nkolokosa, a high density neighbourhood in Blantyre, Malawi. He was now trying his luck in the vibrant film industry in Cape Town. Grecia Fulumame was also there. He too was once a resident of Blantyre City before he went to Cape Town and established a business in the transport industry. He had a private shuttle service offering luxury rides from the airport to areas of interest around the city.
Table Mountain has well developed trails with multiple access from different parts of the city. We opted for the route overlooking Cape Town’s Water Front, next to where the Cable Car starts its ascent to the top of the mountain. Being that this was my first time to climb any mountain outside Malawi, the excitement was through the roof. There was also some concern beneath the thin veneer of courage. My recent experience with a big mountain had been physically taxing and I expected nothing less. Nevertheless, it is not everyday that one has an opportunity to go up this world famous bastion right at the bottom of Africa.
Apart from the mountains of Lesotho, I don’t recall ever seeing so much exposed rocks and stones on a mountain as much as is on Table Mountain. It is basically made of Legos blocks sculptured from stones of all sizes. You get to see rows of craftily arranged cascading layers receding to the sky. The trail itself was cut in stone. And all this is then smoothed out with a carpet of low lying vegetation popularly called fynbos. The ecosystem is world famous for being only endemic to this region. One step on the path, and one is drawn into a fantastic world of swirling ruggedness and silky delicateness. The balance between the two worlds has perhaps not been achieved in many places around the globe.
At the turn of last century someone introduced a wild population of goats. They thrived and dominated the area, and soon started posing a threat to the fynbos species. A tough decision was then reached to remove the goats permanently. It looks like they were probably exterminated. Whatever method was used, the goats were completely removed from Table Mountain. It was therefore, a surprise for our party to spot a she-goat with her baby goat. They were very quiet and hardly made any movement. So despite being not very far from the trail, they blended into the terrain and went unnoticed by the steady stream of hikers going up and down the mountain.
We quickly figured out that there must have been a third goat around as a daddy. We searched everywhere but we were not successful in locating it. I wanted to alert the officials about their presence, but the idea of the extermination team pouncing on the kid choked my throat. In the end, I foolishly rationed that a single goat won’t eat all the fynbos. There was still time before the population could explode again and become a threat. At that point – in the way future -something will need to be done.
What I found very fascinating was the fact that the goats had learnt to shush their mouths. Now I know goats love bleating, so how did they figure out to control the urge to melodiously express the glee of eating fresh grass in the morning? And importantly, how did the she-goat teach her kid to hold its peace? How I wished I spoke goat, and got to have a small chat with the mother. Anyway, there was a hike to have, so we proceeded with our adventure.
There was so much to learn on this particular hike. At one point we met an old man who had had a knee surgery but he still insisted on having his weekly hiking. And he had been doing it for aeons. And on our way up, we were overtaken by a group mountain runners speeding up the trail. Before we had reached the top, the group returned still running, and still energetic. And when we reached the summit, we found someone proposing to their beloved! He went down on one knee, held out his hand with a beautiful ring on it, and cameramen were busy doing their job. She said yes, and we all cheered.
The view from the top is simply amazing. You get to see where the land meets the ocean, Robben Island and beyond. Of all the international destinations, it is safe to assume this is the one spot that has been visited by a lot of Malawians with a passion for mountains.
As I reminisce with fond memories the birthday present of 2012 from my brother Mark, I have a side thought with an incessant itch. How did the mountain goat figure out to teach its baby to remain quiet in the face of imminent extermination?
I can only conclude that the wonders of nature are indeed without end. Praise be to God.