Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Moody Mountain

My photo "subject today is Table Mountain - known to the Khoi-Khoi (or the Quae-Quae, as I prefer what the original Dutch settlers at the Cape called "Hottentot") as Hoerikwaggo, the Sea Mountain.

The view (above) of Table Mountain with Devil's Peak in front and Lion's Head to the right is from a north-westerly direction, where my brother and his family live in Plattekloof.

A view from the "front" (from Bloubergstrand) with Devil's Peak and Lion's Head flanking Table Mountain. Whilst Table Mountain is Cape Town's premier tourist attraction, I think of the mountain as "moody" - you'll see what I mean from my selection of photographs today. At its highest point the mountain is 1085m above sea level and the flat summit measures nearly 3km from end to end. 350 recognised paths lead to the summit; or the easier route - use the Cableway, which was originally opened in 1929. The cableway was upgraded in 1997 and the 2 cars are known as Rotairs = they have turning floors which allow the passengers a 360 degree panoramic view during the approx. 5 minute drive (up or down).

The mountain as seen from Cape Town's city-"bowl" during sunrise (right). On a clear day, it is said, Table
Mountain is visible from 200km out at sea. On the other hand and from the summit, a visitor has spectacular views all around or a birds-eye-view of the city. The most common vegetation on Table Mt is fynbos (= Cape Floral Kingdom = richest floristic region in the world!) and over 1500 species of plants occur on the mountain alone! Amongst a great variety of fauna (mainly invertebrates) visitors will encounter the Dassie (= rock hyrax).

OK here we go - why do I think of it as The Moody Mountain? Because the weather in Cape Town is so unpredictable, so much so that Capetonians agree - all 4 seasons can be experienced on 1 day! The reason? The wind, especially when it blows from a south-easterly direction or from False Bay. The clouds over Table Mt (above) and the city centre at it's northern "foot" are still harmless.

You see? The "mood" has definitely changed (right). There's a meteorological explanation for that. The moisture-laden south-easterly wind is blowing against (the back of) Table Mt and at a height of about 900m reaches the colder layers of air - thick clouds form. The clouds are then "forced" (by the wind) over the mountain and down towards the city - and voila, we have the characteristic tablecloth (which forms when the clouds reach the warmer, lower layers again and dissolve).

A "pretty" picture - from the infamous Robben Island (left). Through the ages seafarers viewed Table Mt as a beacon. Nobody said it better though than Nelson Mandela: "To us (political prisoners) on Robben Island, Table Mountain was a beacon of hope. It represented the mainland to which we knew we would one day return."

Recently Table Mountain was chosen as South Africa's representative for the New 7 Wonders of Nature Competition. The "race" is on (internet voting until 7 July 2009)! Table Mt also qualifies as one of the most instantly recognisable geographical landmarks in the world (what a mouthful!).

The south-easterly wind (responsible for the "tablecloth") blows mainly in summer and is also known as the "Cape Doctor" - because this powerful wind clears the air of pollution along the Cape Peninsula (and surrounds) and "delivers" (like a good doctor) rain to the country's interior. On the previous photo the "start"of the tablecloth is visible (between Devil's Peak and Table Mt) whilst on this photo (above) the tablecloth is starting to "deck" the mountain.

The Cape-Doctor part is for real, BUT there's a legend of how the tablecloth originated: a pirate and eventually a successful businessman in Cape Town during the 18th century, Van Hunks, retired to live on the slopes of Devil's Peak. He often sat on the mountain smoking his pipe. One day a stranger approached him and challenged Van Hunks to a smoking contest. Since this lasted for days, smoke clouds built up and a strong wind blew them over Table Mountain. Van Hunks eventually won the competition and the stranger revealed himself - it was the Devil. Since nobody can meet the Devil and live to tell the story, the two disappeared in a puff of smoke.

So today, those who love this story, as many in the Coloured community in Cape Town do, say: Van Hunk and the Devil (= Devil's Peak!) are at it again, smoking up a storm; isn't that much more "romantic" than calling it a tablecloth?

I'm aware that various variations exist to this story/legend/myth, but I presented "my version" to you.

I've posted this photo (left) on this blog before with other magnificent sunsets (Thursday, 1 Jan 2009) but think it "deserves a place" again today - the "angle" from which this photo was taken is from the same location as today's first photo.
Can you see Van Hunk and the Devil smoking?

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