The Biggest Let Down in Cape Town


This blog entry about the events of Friday, March 26, 2004 was originally posted on March 28, 2004.

DAY 160: Originally I was only supposed to be in Cape Town for a week; my mental capacity for any one place while traveling can only handle so much with my overstimulated, MTV-generation short attention span.  It was supposed to be my “final day” in Cape Town before I hitched a ride with the two German girls in my room, but hanging out with alumni kept me in town another half a week longer.  It was my next “final day” in Cape Town before I did my Garden Route Tour, but it really wasn’t because I came back six days later.  The following day was to be my real “final day” in Cape Town, but then I was mugged at knifepoint half a block from my hostel, which caused a corporate and bureaucratic chain reaction that kept me another week. 

After multiple “final impressions” of Cape Town and all my issues finally settled, it was finally time for my final “final day” (at least that’s what I hoped that morning).  However, my “final day” in Cape Town had the biggest let down of all.

“WE ALWAYS LET YOU DOWN!” went the catchy slogan of Abseil Africa, the company that brought the extreme activity of abseiling to Cape Town.  Since 1994, they have been letting the “slightly insane” (as they call it) down a rope to rappel down the side of Table Mountain at a height of 1000 meters (3,281 ft.) — the “World’s Highest Commercial Abseil” (although you can never really tell how they twisted language to make this statement, like every other extreme sport company claiming superlatives).  The actual distance one rappels down is 112 meters (368 ft., about the height of a 36-story building), which is still pretty friggin’ high if you ask me.  In fact, it was high enough to be an obstacle for The Amazing Race in their second season.

I BID MY FAREWELLS to San Diego Sean earlier that morning and ran into Irish Sean later on.  He was on his way to the top of Table Mountain via taxi and so I joined and split the cost with him.  We journeyed to the top via cable car on a perfectly clear day with not much wind at all.  From my three-week experience in the Cape, I knew that perfect conditions didn’t last forever and went to sign up for the abseil right away.  It wasn’t hard to find the location; I just had to follow the crowd of spectators looking off the edge of the cliff at a lookout point.

Ahead of me was a Swedish girl and Colombian guy on vacation from their home in Japan and a German girl named Eva from Cologne, working abroad for a semester in Cape Town.  Peter the abseil instructor gave us a briefing on how to use the friction device that would keep you from falling off the cliff and pulling a Wile E. Coyote, and demonstrated how to lower yourself simply by loosening and tightening the amount of friction in the line with your arm.

Peter took the Swede and Colombian to the drop point off the edge of a cliff while Sean, Eva, some curious dassies, a crowd of spectating tourists and I watched them disappear down the ledge.  The Swede went down without much hesitation (picture above), unlike her Colombian partner who probably had built up more anxiety than needed with all his waiting around on the ledge.

“Do you mind if I go first?” Eva asked me.

“Sure.  Ladies first.”

Sean, who had dodgy knees from an accident, skipped out on the abseil to do one of the low-impact walking trails on the top of the mountain, while Eva and I strapped into our safety harnesses.  We signed our lives away (again) and Peter led us down to the ledge where we met Evo who manned the emergency safety ropes.  He attached Eva to the main line and guided her to the edge.  Feeling the support of the friction device, she wasn’t as nervous as she thought she would be and soon disappeared with her walk backwards down the cliff face. 

“You wouldn’t believe how many people ask if they’re going the right way,” Peter told me as we waited at the ledge.  “There only one way: down.”

When the top got radio confirmation that Eva had reached the bottom about ten minutes later, I was connected to the main line.  I passed my camera off to Peter who took my photo on the way down, including the obligatory “Hey Ma, No Hands” photo that he had everyone do.  The friction felt pretty secure — it better; it kept me from freefalling as I started my approach downward.

As everyone had been telling me, once you get over the hump and passed the first fifteen feet, the rest is cake.  Sure, that was true as I made my way down the cliff wall for the first 165 feet, but then suddenly there was no wall — what I was rappelling down was merely an overhang — and below me was a straight 197-foot drop (60 meters, about 20 stories). 

Um… yeah… They never told me about this part.  I soon realized that it was probably the big secret that everyone on the mountain kept so they could see the stupid looks on newbies’ faces when they discovered it.  You should have seen the stupid look on my face.  Talk about a “let down.”

The only thing between me and a pretty nasty demise on sharp rocks was the mere rope I was attached to, tied above to a rock — coincidentally where curious little dassies lingered with their curious little sharp teeth.  Having no other option but to just do it, I carefully lowered myself down with my right arm.  It got pretty strenuous for my arm muscles (I’m out of shape), holding the rope in the tight friction position to keep from falling.  Plus the glove I was wearing was getting pretty hot with all the rope burn.  I managed to make it down with that stupid look on my face in just under ten minutes.

“Uh, no one said anything about that part,” I told Eva who was waiting for me at the bottom. 

“Yeah, I was surprised.”

We knew without anyone having to tell us that it was a secret to be kept from the newbies — although whoops, I’ve just blurted it out right here on The Blog.

EVA AND I HIKED the thirty minutes up the rocky trail back to the top where Peter greeted us with our cameras and a smirk on his face — the same kind he probably gave everyone who had just discovered The Secret of Table Mountain.  Eva continued on her way to hike the two-hour trail down the mountain while I waited around for Sean to come around.  Peter had no clients at the time, and entertained me with his tale of the day The Amazing Race was on the mountain.  “They closed it down to the public and we had to wait here all day, and these random people would just rush in,” he said, speaking from the spot where the yellow and red route marker once stood.

Sean arrived and we were both starving, so we took the cable car back down and a taxi back to town.  He checked into a single room in another hostel, the Ashanti Lodge, where he wanted to have privacy for his last night before taking off early the next morning.  We went off to one of the several Spur Steak Ranches chain restaurants in town, where we chatted over beers and good (and very inexpensive) steak meals.

We planned on meeting up at a pub on Long Street later that night, but when I went, Sean was a no show.  It wasn’t so much a let down because instead I just sat and had a couple of rounds with some locals.  But I headed back to the hostel pretty early, while people were still out and about, for fear of getting mugged again.  It wasn’t so much the mugging I was worried about, it was being stuck in Cape Town for longer than I wanted to be.  This must be my last day here!, I thought.  I had already been let down on Table Mountain earlier that day and I didn’t want to be let down again.

Next entry: Escape From The Cape

Previous entry: Mugged Again

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Comments for “The Biggest Let Down in Cape Town”

  • HEY GANG, I’m FINALLY out of Cape Town (and South Africa for that matter).  Greetings from Windhoek, Namibia!  I’ve already been warned about the knifepoint muggings around here.

    I’m in a LVIZ (Low Volume Internet Zone) right now, so the upcoming stories may be spotty…

    JEN:  Thanks for the donation! 

    CHRISTY:  Thanks for the donation… and the telepathic fondling!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/28  at  07:03 AM

  • Hey Erik! Congratulations on getting out of Cape Town!  I just bought one of your groovy baseball jerseys! Does this mean I get a postcard? smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/28  at  08:17 AM

  • MICHELLE:  Yes!  Make sure you send me an e-mail to my Yahoo address…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/28  at  08:39 AM

  • Glad to see you were able to work everything out!  Then again, Cape Town is not the worst place in the world to get stuck….  I’m really looking forward to Namibia, I’ve always wanted to go there.

    stuck here in the drcongo where we apparently survived an attempted military coup yesterday

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/28  at  09:07 AM

  • Whehoo!  You’re outta there smile Can’t wait to hear all about Namibia… I’m waffling about whether to make it a stop on my RTW smile

    Posted by Liz  on  03/28  at  09:52 AM

  • Eva..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/28  at  12:13 PM

  • Hey LIZ: WE are out of Capetown !!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/28  at  01:07 PM

  • Hey, at least the whole time in CT, you were in swanky hostels. I meant to say something the other day when you posted all those pics. Looks like the time you spent on that island was awesome too. Guess if you’ve gotta get stuck in a foreign country where you were mugged and trapped by DHL and red tape, you at least got to stay in nice places. Could’ve been worse, right?

    So I think I need to check a map… my African geography is a bit spotty (besides SA, I don’t know where anything is south of the Med coast). Damn euro-centric education! Anyhow, have fun now that you’re outta there!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/28  at  01:13 PM

  • CHRISTY:  Lesson Number One about backpacking:  “youth hostels” aren’t just for youths, they cater to any age, and are actually quite nice to stay in whether you are on a budget or not.  Perhaps that’s why the South Africans call them “backpackers” instead of “youth hostels.”  You should look into them the next time you’re abroad… this goes to the rest of you “hostel” nay-sayers too (you know who you are).  Hostels rock!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/28  at  01:34 PM

  • LIZ / AFREEKACHIK:  Namibia is on my itinerary because the last time I was in Africa (Botswana, Vic Falls), everyone wouldn’t stop raving about Namibia and Malawi.  (Malawi’s next.)  This time around, everyone’s been raving about Mozambique… perhaps that will be for Africa trip number three in the future…

    Hope to dazzle you with images of the Namibia desert once I get out there!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/29  at  06:17 AM

  • Erik - the pics from the mountain of the cliffs and the water are spectacular - thanks. Have fun - I’ve always wanted to go to Mozambique - not that you’re going there this time, but…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/30  at  03:49 AM

  • erik- glad you finally made it out of SA. hope you get a chance to visit swakapmund & the surrounding sand dunes- great fun . Also Etosha- awesome wildlife viewing by the lit waterholes at night!. a word of caution about malawi: great people,  nasty malaria! make sure your malaria prophlaxis is in order before going there,...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/30  at  04:59 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Escape From The Cape

Previous entry:
Mugged Again


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