I've loved solo travel ever since my first trip across Europe a decade ago. Its sense of freedom and endless possibilities are the rarest gifts, and I find it difficult to give those up to travel with others for long.
Unfortunately, there are days when trudging alone grinds you down. Whether it's the petty uncertainties from being perpetually uprooted, or facing dinner on your own (yet again!), the challenges are always present. Then there are the more difficult moments, the emotional events that come on without warning and leave you limping and lurching through whatever city you're in at the time. It was on that note, and a heavy heart, that I started the sunset climb of the Lion's Head yesterday afternoon.
The Lion's Head is a jagged 669m guardian of rock overlooking Cape Town from a seat directly in front of Table Mountain. The peak thrusts clear from the brush and low trees on its flanks and to form a sentinel watching over the city's Atlantic suburbs and downtown core. It's stunning.
The hike is meant to last two hours, and I started out at twenty after five with the sun still pounding out of the clear blue sky. I was caught without sunblock again, as usual forgetting the relentless burn of the sun at these latitudes until it's all but sunk behind the horizon. But it was beautiful and fresh. The trail circled around the peak, bringing every corner of the city into view one after another before cutting up in a vertical chain climb to the final ascent. All in, it was about thirty minutes and several photo stops before I was crossing the summit to find a comfortable spot for to await the setting sun.
Immediately in front of me was the cold Atlantic and the Clifton and Camps Bay suburbs clinging to the slim line of coast. On the right the smaller peak of Signal Hill stood watch over my current home in Sea Point, and behind me spread the downtown core of the City Bowl nestled into the flanks of Table Mountain. It was a stunning and virtually private panorama until shortly after six when the summit started filling up. The company was nice, and the crowd grew to cover every open space without taking away from the quiet of the surroundings or the sound of my thoughts.
It's amazing how wrong you can get things, how incomplete your own version of the truth can be, and how blind you can be to the right way of simply being with things, most of all with yourself. You try to live from that place, but no matter how well you think you understand, you end up feeling like you need some sort of answer. Sometimes its moments like these.
The sun began its final descent behind the clouds and sea, and as it did the answer to a question I had only whispered rushed in. What a beautiful simplicity, and how terrifyingly easy it is to miss. It's as if you're capable of accepting anything in the world, except what's in your own heart, and sometimes you just need a place like this where you can be quiet for long enough and remember.
A few moments later the sun disappeared and eyes turned exactly 180 degrees to look out across the opposite face, for not only was this the rising of the full moon, it was also a lunar eclipse. The moon broke the horizon over City Bowl and the Sun and Moon embraced its creation, the Earth, in arms reaching from either end of the cosmos, touching every corner of our world and in doing so touching everyone I love.
I spent some time in that place and gave thanks for all the gifts of the day before beginning the trip down. It was time for a burger, and a beer.