My first night in Cape Town, I could not sleep. I had spent over 36 hours in transit, between Seattle, Dubai and this new city at the bottom of the world. My internal clock was all wrong, and I was dead tired and desperately willing myself to sleep. I woke up at roughly 4 am local time and saw for the first time a skylight in the room I shared with my best friend and travel partner, Joan. She was soundly sleeping. I was counting the stars I could see through the skylight, and I watched as the light in the window turned from black, to pewter to rose to light blue. And I still could not sleep. My mind was racing through all that happened in the past two days. A brutal flight in coach to a hot city in the middle east; a view from the top of the tallest building in the world; dinner (minus cocktails) with veiled women and robed men; a picturesque landing on my sixth continent; and a white-knuckled ride on a South African freeway past townships and into the city of my dream. It was enough to make my head spin. It still does.
How I ended up in Cape Town is both a mystery and obvious. In basic terms, I spent a few weeks planning, gave a paycheck to Expedia and then got on a plane. Mysteriously, I didn’t ever mean to travel to South Africa, at least not now. But I had a dream and in that dream I saw what I believed to be South Africa, near Cape Town. I still believe that. And then I called Joan, my college friend and frequent travel partner, and asked her to think about a trip to southern tip of Africa – we’ll see animals and oceans, I said. She said she was supposed to be paying off student loans this year….but, sure, why not! This is why I love her and also why we travel so well together.
We planned and discussed and planned some more, and then we got on the plane to the city that I never knew I wanted to see but that I cannot imagine not knowing. We did see oceans and animals, and sheer cliffs for roadways, and warthogs on runways, and ostriches sunning themselves on blustery beaches at the south-westernmost point of the African continent. We saw it all, and we saw nothing – only a glimmer of the mirage that is one of the most profound places on our planet. Like a view through a skylight, what I could see was only one window into a vast space, but it was still magnificent.