Capetonians are strange people.
When it was decided that the cooling towers at the Athlone Power Plant were to be demolished it became an entertainment event for the entire city. Understandably, the roads in the area were closed, but that was not the reason that the city came to a standstill – rather, it was the public’s fascination with the implosion of two enormous structures that brought the city to its knees. Thousands of Capetonians flocked to the nearest high vantage point to witness the event.
The Buckham family made up some of those numbers and we battled the masses to get our spot on an open hillside at UCT to make sure we had as good a view as possible. Well, we all know that it happened 10 minutes earlier than scheduled with most people missing the 10 second display and then we all stood around and watched a huge cloud of dust eventually settle as the rain came down and wet not only the site of Ground Zero.
Not completely normal behavior but an indication of how seemingly simple things can turn a city on its head.
Returning to the present, on Friday morning, on my way to work, the buzz on the radio stations was about the snow that had settled on all the high-lying areas in the Boland and, remarkably, on top of Table Mountain. It had been a week of icy weather that had culminated in one of the heaviest snow falls in recent memory.
I had always avoided the mad rush to the Matroosberg to see the snow as I have this aversion to huge crowds in remote places. It just doesn’t seem right. But, being a parent of young kids that are not likely to be winging their way to the Alps for a snow-boarding holiday anytime soon, I figured it may be a good idea to take advantage of this unusual event and we would make our way out there to witness the winter wonderland near Ceres.
Yet again, another example of some strange Capetonian behavior afoot.
Ordinarily I would blame the rest of my family for this idea, but I have to acknowledge that I was the main instigator. Whilst driving into work that morning I just thought it was something we had to do as a family. Ironically, Tommy had it on his bucket list to throw a snowball and build a snowman but it had always seemed inconvenient to battle the masses and I had avoided it at all costs.
This time it would be on my terms and it would not be a bunfight for us. We would get to the prime snow spot before anyone else, and we would have our picture postcard moments before the masses arrived.
This strategy required the kind hospitality of Jean’s farming cousins in Wolseley, Philip and Michelle and their three boys.
We would leave straight after work, drive out to Wolseley and be up at “sparrow’s” with a 90 minute head start on the rest of Cape Town and we would have our choice of spot. It was, however, a heavy snowfall and so I didn’t expect to have too many problems up on the slopes. The pictures coming through showed thick snow on top of the Gydo Pass between Prince Alfred’s Hamlet and the Koue Bokkeveld and that was way more accessible than the traditional spot in the Matroosberg Nature Reserve.
Our arrival at the cousins coincided with a heavy downpour and Phil was confident that we would be in for some bumper snow-viewing the next morning. I suspect I went to bed more excited than the kids.
We awoke early after a night of constant rain. It was chilly outside and the prospects looked as good as they had looked the night before. We were possibly in for a new covering this morning and that was going to be even more exciting.
Nine of us climbed into the car with tons of layers to cover ourselves with – gloves, jackets, hats and scarves. I was armed with different cameras and different lenses to capture all the right moments and the buzz amongst the kids was palpable.
The negative signs started coming through early, though. The killjoys were starting to rear their ugly heads. A quick phone call to friends of the cousins up at Klondyke Cherry Farm revealed that the snow up there had disappeared overnight with the rainfall. The temperature in the car was not plummeting as quickly as Phil had expected and a quick stop at a petrol station had the “knowledgeable” petrol pump attendant telling us that the conditions were not right, but he wished us luck on our quest.
Hmmm. Not what we were expecting.
A glimmer of hope revealed itself as the clouds parted briefly above the Gydo Pass showing quite a bit of snow on the mountains and Phil made the decision that we would forsake the masses at Matroosberg and head up the Gydo Pass.
Our moods started dampening as quickly as the Grinch-like rain continued to come down and spoil the party. The whiteness almost seemed to be disappearing in front of us as we ascended the pass. We counted down the temperature as it went from 7 to 6 to 5 and eventually to 2 degrees but that was where it stuck as we got to the top of the pass at 1050m above sea level. The clouds were low and miserable and we could see pockets of snow turned to ice amongst clumps of fynbos on either side of the road. Phil was at pains to tell us that this was as good as it was going to get. It wasn’t the first time that morning that he would tell us that “this was covered in thick snow this time yesterday”.
So, that was it. Our trek from the Mother City had brought us to the top of the Gydo Pass and we weren’t going to leave without at least an attempt at some fun in the snow. The kids bundled out of the car and within minutes there were snowballs flying from behind one clump of bushes to the other. It was pretty desperate stuff but I don’t think the kids really cared.
We posed for the obligatory photos by all squashing onto the most convincing patch of ice with which I actually had to tell the kids to stop making snowballs, otherwise we would have no snow in which to take the pics.
After a few minutes the rain started to fall and it soon turned to painful icy sleet that briefly and magically transformed into floating snowflakes. It was possibly the highlight of the morning to see the flakes coming down but as soon as they hit the ground they melted leaving us nothing further to play in.
We spent the rest of the morning criss-crossing some beautiful scenery, albeit without any snow. There were more comments about where the snow had lain thick the previous day or in a previous year, none of which really helped my disappointment. In fact, when I think about it I reckon I was more disappointed than anyone else that the snow had all disappeared.
All was not lost though. We spent an excellent day with Phil and Mich and the kids and it would not be the last time we would request their hospitality at the last minute for a winter snowfall.
I suppose it wouldn’t surprise anyone that we spent 30 minutes in a queue the next day at the newly opened Burger King to get a burger half the quality of the Steers next door where there was no wait.
We are Capetonians, after all.