After the excitement of the penguins, I was terrified I had started my Cape Town odyssey at the pinnacle and everything that followed would be a downright disappointment in comparison. I half-heartedly flicked through the ‘Cape Town Official Visitors’ Guide 2016’ over breakfast (at THE best accommodation in the northern suburbs, Cape Sunset Villas, directly on the beach with frontline views of Table Mountain) and spied a picture of a cute row of primary-coloured beach huts. Now, I love to show off a good travel photo on social media so my sights were set on tracking down the aforementioned huts – camera phone in hand (I am not responsible enough to own an actual camera with lenses and things).
Navmii at the ready (THE best mobile satnav on the planet, works offline, no data used, and it’s FREE!) I set off 25km south to the beachside suburb of Muizenberg, and hung a left to St James. St James is a dainty community with a rich history. Imposing 19th century stone houses line beachfront “Millionaire’s Mile”, testament to a wealthy gold- and diamond-mining colonial past, and the more-than-a-hundred-years-old Southern Line Rail Route hugs the coastline, connecting Cape Town to Simon’s Town stopping at 28 stations in total, including little old St James.
But let’s not dwell on the fine detail, let’s talk about these beautifully photogenic Victorian bathing huts. Accessed by a tunnel beneath the railway, St James beach is small, sandy and best-known for those beach huts as well as a safe tidal pool which is a welcome few degrees warmer than the chilly Atlantic that surrounds it. When I showed up a group of energetic local school children were happily splashing about in it. I whipped out the phone and set to work trying to capture the huts in their best light, casually wandering from one end of the parade to the other, not a care in the world. Mid-wander I heard a soft but forceful “excuse me ma’am” and found myself face-to-face with a rather dashing man in a wetsuit. I recognised him to be one of the adults responsible for the schoolchildren.
Our conversation went a bit like this:
Dashing man in wetsuit: “Just be a bit careful wandering around on your own as there’s a crazy man over there with a six-inch blade in his hand”
Me: “What that man two metres away?”
Dashing wetsuit man: “Yes”
Me: “Oh how lovely, that’s different, thanks awfully for letting me know, goodly bye”
(wonderfully British response)
I then took a more measured look at the crazy man (dishevelled clothing, unwashed, glassy eyes, shiny blade) panicked, and immediately headed for a nice-looking trio of mums with toddlers and asked politely if I could pop my towel and my ass next to theirs. “Safety in numbers” was the reply and there we were, trying to act all nonchalant and jovial while a lunatic poked rubbish bins with a blade. Mercifully he made his way through the tunnel and off to wherever crazy men with knives go next and we were able to relax. When I say “relax” I mean sunbathe with my eyes on stalks and every muscle tensed for action. This wasn’t the kind of excitement I was looking for to top the penguins.
Moments later a TV presenter, sound man and cameraman rocked up to film a travel piece for pan-Arab TV channel, Al Arabiya. Using a vibrant beach hut as the starting point for his ‘walk and talk’, the handsome presenter enthused in Arabic about this stunning surfing whale-watching hotspot. After many takes (fluffed lines, compromised sound, reminded me of when I was a nautical TV presenter – however we could only do one take with this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8U9K015EPMg) the piece to camera was in the bag and they headed to film some surfers in action. As they bid farewell, I offhandedly mentioned how fortunate they were not to have been filming just a little earlier, or they may have had a six-inch blade in shot. Having picked their jaws up off the floor, we all agreed it wouldn’t have been quite such comfortable viewing for the Al Arabiya audience.