Cape Town, South Africa: When Fight Means Flight


South AfricaAfter many years of travel, my first trip to Cape Town brought the rush of excitement that experienced travellers don’t often get. I went there on business and fell in love with the city, the beautiful beaches, the view of Table Mountain out of the office window and… outdoor adventures. I used to be the kind of person who prefers opera, nice hotels and long brunches to outdoor activities. Adventure for me was to fly to see a new country.

Cape Town made my heart stop like no other place ever would. Standing on the trail, looking at the cliffs of the Cape of Good Hope and the ocean stretching beneath them felt like being at the end of the earth. Breathtaking views, the feeling of the wind on your face, thoughts about how timeless this is and how travellers must have felt hundreds of years ago watching the ships battle at sea. You can’t capture this on pictures. It will always be part of my memories. I suddenly understood what timeless meant. There may not be another time for us to experience this but the place of eternal beauty will remain for others to enjoy and be inspired by.

That year at an event in the office we used a simple warmer at each of the tables before getting into the main exercise of the strategy rollout: “What’s your name, where were you born, what’s your favorite place to vacation?” The answer to the last question almost every time was Cape Town! I was beginning to understand why. I decided to give it a try and get out of my comfortable shell but do it at my slow pace. Luckily I had an opportunity to return to my new place of inspiration a few times to get new experiences.

I started out with sandboarding. It’s like snowboarding but on sand dunes. It has turned out to be very tame and fun even in the heat of summer, which, of course, is winter where I lived. No skills were required, just willingness to try, fall a lot, get up and go again. Quadbiking was the next adventure in store. Driving around the tracks with fantastic desert scenery, chasing after a group of German adventurer-tourists I have just met, was a real thrill. I had to go to the next level. Stepping off 1,000 meter above the sea level top of Table Mountain to abseil was when I understood what adrenaline really meant. Now, I am not afraid of heights, but that 112 meters descent, vertical drop that is, despite the encouragement from the adventure company team screaming “Yes, you can!” was really beyond my limits. Having come down alive, to my huge surprise, I acquired a huge amount of strength and made it back to the top as fast as if I had been training to sprint uphill all my life.

What else was left to try? I have watched paragliders landing on the beach with envy many times. What better place to go for it than Cape Town? I was fully committed to do it and signed up for a tandem flight when even a better idea surfaced. What if I could convince two other women, my friends from work to do it with me? This is going to be a bonding experience of a lifetime. My friends are local to Cape Town but their taste of adventure was more like mine before the first sandboarding run. I didn’t fully expect them to commit but they did. So one early Saturday morning we drove up to Lion’s Head mountain and met up with our tandem partners. As we hiked up to the takeoff site, the fear was growing with every step. All of us seriously considered thanking the pros and running back as fast as we could. Fight or flight was the only thing I could concentrate on. I am going to freeze instead of run. Natural body response, don’t you agree? And that’s when my tandem partner and I would crash and die. No, worse, we get hurt. Badly. We were the first to take off. I could not hear anything around me, just blood pumping in my head as we ran together in what seemed to be a slow motion. The next thing I knew we were gliding through the air and everything around us was so peaceful and colorful. My friends landed shortly after me, each conquering their own fears during the flights. I won’t get a paragliding certification but am really proud of choosing to fly!

About the Author: Yelena Parker is a serial expat and founder of Moving Without Shaking Ltd, expat and executive coaching consultancy. She blogs about expat life and success.

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