Journey’s End: Cape Town to Cork

We had arrived into Cape Town under cover of darkness and woke the following morning in a state of shock. We’d actually done it. We’d completed the trip and notwithstanding the occasional bout of food poisoning, dysentery, acute mountain sickness and malaria, we’d made it in one piece. Cape Town is… What is Cape Town like? Think Chicago – think skyscrapers, think big roads and bigger shops, think pretty cafes with outdoor seating and fine restaurants and the finest seafood you’ve ever tasted.

We spent several days exploring the city. We saw “Sleeping Beauty On Ice” one night. It was stunning. “How do they do that?” we would ask. The Two Oceans Aquarium was spectacular. The shark tank was my favourite – we watched the staff bobbing around in their wetsuits feeding the sharks. Table Mountain was quite enjoyable. It’s fitted with a cable car, you see. I wonder could they get one for Kilimanjaro? Of course, we had to visit Robben Island. The prison is famous because it was home to Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment. Tours are given by ex-political prisoners.

We travelled further afield too. We were staying at a friend’s house and were driving his BMW 3 Series. How could we resist? We visited the Wine Regions, we took a trip to the Cape Of Good Hope (stopping off along the way to swim with penguins at a colony at Boulders Beach), we drove to Cape Agulhas, Africa’s southernmost point, and we decided to do a spot of shark diving at Hermanus. Great White Shark diving, that is. You are taken out to sea where the crew attract sharks by throwing bait overboard. When the sharks arrive, you climb into a five-sided cage that resembles a lobster pot. While you hold your breath underwater, the crew toss out a baited line which is used as a fishing rod to lure the sharks within viewing distance. We had visibility of less than two meters so that means the sharks came close enough to bump into the cage. One particular shark had had enough of baiting and decided he was having that tender ‘fishy’ on the end of the line. While we cowered in the cage, he mashed the fish against the rim of our cage, mangled the hook and made off with the bait. I was a few feet below him watching his three meter body thrashing at the surface and wondering how long it would take him to finish because I would only be able to hold my breath for so long.

We were having a wonderful time exploring the country but we needed to formulate a plan. We needed to book flights. We’d been travelling hard since Dar es Salaam and found ourselves in Cape Town weeks ahead of schedule. That meant we could feasibly be finished in South Africa and ready to come home for Christmas. We had planned on flying back to Cairo and coming home by land, via the Middle East and arriving back in March or so. But it was Christmas. We’d been away for over eight months. The Middle East held huge appeal but it would be quite chilly at this time. There was a reasonable flight through Cairo to London. We chatted and agreed: home for Christmas.

We flew from Cape Town to Cairo in a single night. What had taken eight months by land would take slightly more than eight hours by air. We watched movies, ate airplane food, tried unsuccessfully to get into the cockpit and slept. In the morning, we were in Cairo. We’d arranged for a 24 hour stop-over for some emergency present shopping. It was very surreal to be back in Cairo. The same crazy taxi drivers, the same rich aromas of turkish coffee, hibiscus, musk, the same gangsters trying to charge westerners a fortune, the same men telling Malachy he was a lucky man and propositioning me, the same hostel even. But two very different pairs of eyes taking it all in. Our bargaining skills were much improved as was our arabic so we had a reasonably productive shopping expedition and a good night’s sleep before the final leg of the trip. It was bitter sweet to board the plane the following morning to leave Africa. We were both glad to be coming back but we really did love Africa and were loath to leave it. More movies, more food, more failed attempts to get into the cockpit and before we knew it, we were in Cork Airport.

From the moment we landed, it seemed that everything had changed. The airport itself, the roads, Mahon Point, the 24 Hour Tesco, my own kitchen had had a face-lift (I still don’t know where the spoons live). Everyone was looking wonderful having been shopping and getting the hair done for the festive season. It seems many people have been reading these articles. I don’t know how many people enquired about my bout of malaria and wondered if I was feeling better now. That was nice. I think they were all shocked that we(I) hadn’t wasted away to nothing.

It’s nice being back. Africa was wonderful. We both had a great time and would do it again in a flash. The people were fantastic. We saw and did amazing things. It was the trip of a lifetime. But it’s good to be home too. I’d expected to find our first world materialism a problem but the first thing I bought when I got back was perfume, possibly the most decadent substance ever created by man. It’s nice to see family and friends and cinemas and restaurants and Super Valu (you wouldn’t believe how many times I had visions of those laden aisles). We are both anxious to move on to the next project – whatever that may be. But if I learned anything from this trip it’s that life is really the adventure, not Africa.

– Written by Niamh O Riordan and published in The Imokilly People

Back up