Kalk Bay

So the thing that I love about Kalk Bay is that it makes me smile.

I think the first time I visited Kalk Bay was also the first time I could actually see myself living in Cape Town. I was born and bred up-country, in a conservative suburb of Pretoria named after a nasty old white guy. I visited Cape Town a couple of times as a kid, and although I am sure we visited the Deep South area on those sun-bleached summer holidays all I really remember is melting ice-cream on the beach and the thrill of riding my first wave on a giant nartjie coloured bodyboard. I only returned to Cape Town a decade later, in my early twenties and in love with a girl.

We stayed in Obs with a friend for a week and I hated it. It was too busy, and crowded (we were living in a quiet seaside town with only three traffic-lights at the time) and it felt like all the smirking street-kids and gangsters were out to get me and that beautiful hipster boys were going to get the girl. The girl had been showing me around the city, she knew it well but had the fuzzy free spirited sense of direction that rewards the traveller with many u-turns and bewilderment. One day she decided we needed to see the south, and Kalk Bay. We edged our way out of Observatory and onto the highway and then headed north towards Milnerton, in exactly the wrong direction. I was doing the driving, she the directing.

Eventually, dropping into the industrial badlands of Paarden-Island I spotted a signboard to Muizenberg (the town next to Kalk Bay) in my rear-view-mirror. We stopped, exchanged withering looks, had sharp words about the existential difference between north and south, turned around, and headed back in the direction we had come from. Heading south now on the M5, we shared the road with low-riding hatchbacks and smoking busses passing brutal housing projects and angry graffiti and then suddenly reached Muizenberg at the end of the road, and a horizon of deep blue sea over white beach, which was lovely, like travelling through the dark cloud to reach the silver lining.

Driving through Muizenberg, I had the impression of being somewhere far away from the Cape Town I had seen that week. The alternately crumbling and “re-imagined” art-deco mansions, the mini-golf course and the squeal inducing serpentine slides on the promenade all reminded me of the gently faded English seaside villages I had visited in Devon and Cornwall. Then we passed Surfers Corner and turned south again and chased a clattering metro train along the spectacular coastal drive. The train slowed for it’s stop at St James and the view opened and we drove on alongside the sun sparkled ocean catching quick glimpses of silhouetted swimmers in tidal pools and surfers stretching and fishing boats bobbing up and down. We slowed down then to park and the train caught up and passed by screeching madly in front of us and then was gone. We had arrived in Kalk Bay, and I knew that this was my corner of Cape Town.

I was lucky, the hip local boys didn’t get the girl. I did. I married her and we moved to Kalk Bay. We never felt like we lived in a city. We knew, by first name or nickname; neighbours, the grocer, cafe owners and waiters. We loved living in Kalk Bay. With the ocean at the end of our road, the screeching train that took us to the city everyday, the busy little harbour and swarming tourists, we lived happily, worked hard, loved, laughed, cried, and had a child. When she came along we eventually left our little flat in Kalk Bay because we needed a more space and wanted her to grow up wild and free in the town with three traffic-lights. I part of me stayed behind though, and whenever I have an afternoon free and a hankering for fresh air and ocean views, this is what I do…

Time now for coffee, so I head back to the main road and leaving my car parked where it is, stroll into the village. Here then are the beautiful people passing up and down the main drag, the cafe’s and late el-fresco lunches, the street-side cappuccinos and boutiques and bookshops and the best ice-cream in Cape Town at the Ice Cafe (but please, no ice cream in the book shop because that is not allowed). I walk on to the far edge of Kalk Bay, to Olympia Cafe, a Kalk Bay institution. Depending on my mood, and how busy it is, I either take a stool at the counter that looks out towards the harbour or go around the back to the bakery which also has a small counter and seating area. Either way, I know what I am going to have, a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant. Always, there are new artworks on the walls, daily dishes on the blackboard menu and waiters who seem to know you even if they don’t. It’s quirky and bohemian but never pretentious. The New York Times and Vogue Magazine have both featured this iconic eatery but it is not and never will be, a place to be “seen” in.

So with caffeine coursing through my veins I quick-step across the busy road and continue walking up the pedestrian walkway towards the harbour. Past the small and rather scruffy looking beach which is bisected by the elevated railway line I turn left over the tracks and drop down into the harbour in the late afternoon light. All the usual suspects greet you as you enter the harbour, bleating seagulls, milling tourists, the spice of combined sea air, diesel fumes and the remnants of todays catch in the air. I like to saunter down the seawall towards the small lighthouse, eavesdropping on banter between local men who cast lines into the ocean every afternoon, reading the names of the boats as they bob. The seawall emits a sucking and blowing sound from vents on the walkway and it feels as if the whole harbour is breathing.

Wandering back through the village, catching glimpses of the ocean between the offbeat boutiques and restaurants that radiate amazing aroma’s I might or might not stop for a browse or meal. Either way I am satisfied, a little sun kissed and feeling like the afternoon has been fun and made me smile. Back where I started, reaching my car, I hand the car guard a tip and take a last deep breath of the sea air before I climb in and shut the door.