My mother and I had just arrived in Cape Town – it was 11 a.m. on a Friday.  The shuttle dropped us off at our guest house, a tiny, no-frills place called Lionscape in the shabby-chic neighborhood of Tamboerskloof. Paul, the proprietor, helped carry our bags upstairs.

Lionscape. This place flies below the radar — we had trouble finding it because there is no sign. It’s a great deal though — R300 (about $45) per person per night during Cape Town’s high season. Nothing fancy, but adequate and with amazing views of both Cape Town and Table Mountain.

“What should we do now?” Mom asked Paul.

“Go up the mountain,” Paul said.

It was hot and sunny with a light breeze. Paul told us that the weather can change at any moment so we should get up Table Mountain while the going is good.

Our next question was how do we go up. Paul suggested the easy route: Take a taxi to the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway and ride the cable car up from there.

We looked out the window. The mountain was right there. We looked at the map and saw we could walk straight up Kloofnek Road for a couple of kilometers to the cableway. Mom and I are always looking for a good workout. So we smeared on some sunscreen and started up the road on foot.

The road was steep and the sun was hot. Cars whizzed past at breakneck speed; no one else was walking. We climbed and panted. A couple of minibus taxis honked at us as they drove by but we waved them off. We’re very stubborn.

About an hour later, we turned off the road into Table Mountain National Park. It was a relief to be away from the traffic and we figured we were almost to the cable car.

As you can see, Mom was ecstatic to make it this far.

We figured wrong. We walked another half-hour up a switch-backed road. At one point we attempted a short-cut up some stairs in between two of the switch-backs. But the stairs were too tall for our short legs and we almost tumbled back down. No more short-cuts.

One of the many switch-backs.

Finally we reached the bottom of the cableway, where everyone else was hopping out of buses and taxis looking cool and and not out of breath.

We bought drinks and a Cape Malay chicken salad sandwich from the snack bar and sat at a picnic table. After eating and drinking we felt fortified. We sauntered over to the ticket window and learned that the cable car costs R170 per person for a round trip. $25!

“Let’s walk,” Mom said. “I think we can do it.” I enthusiastically agreed.

The next part of the story can be told in pictures.

This is the path up the mountain from the cable car ticket office. It was flatter at the beginning — this is where it started to get steep.

The cable car kept going up and down above our heads. I know that all the people in there were laughing at us.

It was around this time that we began doubting our ability to accomplish the mission.

We’d been going straight up the rock path for an hour or so, when a sign came into view in the distance. Mom stopped to rest and I climbed up to check out the sign. Two hours to the top, it said. I called down to Mom and told her the news. We decided to throw in the towel.

We climbed back down and sheepishly returned to the ticket office. If the cable car operator recognized us when we boarded, he was nice enough to pretend he didn’t.

When we reached the top, we forgot all about how hard it was to get there.

The view from the top, looking toward the Cape of Good Hope.

I was surprised by how much there was on the mountaintop. There’s a restaurant and a shop and miles of hiking paths.

Awesome.

We strolled around for 15 minutes or so, and then the weather began to turn before our eyes. Thick clouds started rolling over the mountain from the southeast and the wind picked up.

You can see the clouds creeping in from behind the overlook.

Sun, wind, and mist.

We stayed up there for an hour or so and took the cable car back down. This time we took a taxi to the guest house.

This is how the mountain looked from the window of our room when we got back — clouds tumbling endlessly over the mountain, carrying strong, gusty winds.

The clouds on the mountain were a harbinger for the weather in Cape Town that weekend. We didn’t get the actual cloud cover, but the winds picked up that evening and didn’t stop for the rest of our time in Cape Town. Paul’s advice was spot-on. It’s too bad we didn’t listen to what he said about the taxi, but in the end it really didn’t matter.

A full moon rises over the city, as seen from the balcony at Lionscape. You can see the wind bending that tall tree to the left of the yellow house.

Next up: Fishing towns, penguins, and biking the Cape of Good Hope.

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