And, so once again, showing my British heritage, I find myself talking about the weather.
A friend said to me last year that Johannesburg has a climate whereas Cape Town has weather. This was never more true than today.
We had been away for the long weekend to a farmstay near Montagu, around 2.5 hours drive from Cape Town. We had had ok weather (by the standards of the Western Cape- by northern European standards it was a stunning weekend weather wise- a bit of rain, some clouds first thing, burning off by mid-morning). The cottage we stayed in would have been perfect for a Karoo summer- searingly hot and dry- seeing as it was situated in a dip by a river and well-shaded. These attributes didn't lend themselves quite as well to a comfortable stay when the 2 days preceding our arrival had been rainy. Damp would be a good word.
The world is cruel- in South Africa too it seems-and after 2 days of so-so weather, we pulled onto the highway, heading home in sunshine marred only a few tiny clouds.
We knew the weather forecast for Cape Town was bad but nothing quite prepared us for what we- very suddenly- drove into.
The Western Cape is ridiculously mountainous and I always seem to be heading towards, away from or driving alongside a range of spectacular mountains, incredulous that the scenery here can still take my breath away. And so it was that I noticed that the day reflected in my rear view mirror was almost the exact opposite of what we were driving towards. Behind me, blue skies with a few smudges of clouds adorning the mountains. In from of me, the sky was darker and darker the further it went into the distance, the clouds menacingly swirling around the mountain.
As we first drove into the rain, just outside Worcester and before the feat of engineering that is the Hugenot Tunnel, the temperature dipped 8 degrees almost in less than a minute. At first the raindrops were heavy, this was no gentle introduction to rain. Within no time at all, the word "raindrop"- a word that implies grace, sweetness and smallness could in no way be applied to what happened. Honestly, it felt like a giant blimp of water was perpetually being emptied onto the car. The wind smacked the side of the car incessantly with a vigour I have never experienced before and I was gripping the steering wheel tightly as a passing lorry splashed my windscreen with such an amount of water that for a petrifying second or 2 I simply couldn't see. The car was moving and I couldn't see. The rain was just sloshing on the road, falling too quickly to drain off and be absorbed.
We reached the tunnel with some relief and enjoyed the stuffy, hot and airless 4 km more than one strictly should, knowing what awaited us on the other side. Predictably, as we emerged, the car was slapped with more rain than one would think possible existed at any given time int he world.
The route home from the tunnel is via the N1, one of the main arteries leading into Cape Town. This road- this motorway- was struggling to deal with the rain and cars, including mine, were hitting puddles on a motorway at high speed. My husband commented that if this was the rain in the supposedly dry and barren northern suburbs, then our house was probably swimming- seeing as we live in the wettest suburb of South Africa.
He was almost right, the area where we live was barely recognizable and the drains- unable to cope with the copious amount of rain- were bubbling over. Cars were taking turns to pass over thin strips of Tarmac in the middle of the road, eager to avoid to lakes forming near the overflowing drains. And Cape Town has pretty decent storm drains.
The strangest thing about all of this is that Cape Town was not recognizable at all. Had you shown an outsider pictures of the city in the rain today, they would never have been able to tally that bleak picture with the Cape Town of tourist brochures. The storm- the rain and the wind-seemed to have such intensity that it had sucked Cape Town dry of any color. The sky was a cold, steely grey which seemed to have imposed itself on everything below. As we drove down the N1, visibility was so poor, you could only see 50m in any direction. No landmarks of Cape Town were visible, just ugly electricity poles and street lights which shone a cold white, failing to add any warmth to the washed out scene.
The soundtrack to all this was from the film "Drive"- if you've seen the movie, you'll know the intensity of atmosphere. Today it didn't feel like I was driving through Cape Town at all, more like a deserted town, perhaps somewhere in the corner of deepest, darkest Russia.
I drove to the supermarket when we got back. The sky was dark and the shops were empty. It was really quite eerie.
The rain has now abated and we are predicted sun for tomorrow-I hope the city will start to feel like itself again.
I suppose this is what it's like to live on the tip of Africa, with nothing between you and the Antartic.
The weirdest thing of all about today? Both my children slept through the above, only my 3 year old emitted a shriek of displeasure when the car crashed through a puddle on the motorway. How rude of the storm to interrupt her nap.