I saw him in the distance, waving me towards the patch of gravel along the side of the mountain road. As we neared him, I contemplated our options: take our chances and try to find a spot further up the road (closer to the base of Table Mountain), or take the safe bet, given that we’d already passed dozens of parallel parked cars on this beautiful (and busy) Saturday morning.
We took the spot.
As we emerged from the car (a protracted process at the best of times), the man greeted us with a heavy dose of cheer, and deftly slipped me his “card,” a faded piece of flimsy paper bearing his name – Bernard – and an inordinate amount of numbers. This was a first.
You see, there are “parking attendants” along ever road and in every parking lot in the Cape. They aren’t employed by anyone. These entrepreneurs (who I should note, always wear official looking reflective vests) help you find a parking spot, watch over your car while you’re away and guide you as you maneuver out of a tight spot. They even stop oncoming traffic if need be. All in the hopes that you’ll give them a few Rand – “Two at the most,” we’ve been advised by locals. “But it’s not necessary to give anything.” (For context one Rand is the equivalent of about 10 cents Canadian.)
We’d interacted with many such parking attendants during our time here. But none had been as affable as Bernard — or given us a business card.
It made me like him all the more.
And then he said, “I take good care of your car, no worries. You can give me a payment, by donation, only if you want, when you return. You know, ten Rand, twenty Rand… fifty Rand.” He even shot me a wink after the “fifty.”
Now I really had a soft spot for this guy. He had gumption. He set the bar high. It worked.
Bernard and his colleagues are just one example of the creativity folks on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder display in filling market needs. It just happens to be one of the most clever, tapping into the collective psyche of the well-to-do here. You see, South Africans of means (i.e. those with cars) are extraordinarily preoccupied with the safety of their belongings and themselves. It’s a national obsession, and has fueled a booming home security industry.
At 20 cents per customer (if they’re lucky), these attendants are not on the fast-track to prosperity by any means. But it sure beats their alternative options, which include criminal activity and procuring leftover food tourists have thrown into garbage cans (we’ve seen the latter, but fortunately not the former).
Once again, we are humbled by how hard people in developing countries work just to get by. This goes double for the hardworking folks we’ve met who are well into their sixties. They should be relaxing and enjoying their “golden” years instead of continuing to labour through long, hard days.
When I’m next feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to cast my mind back to Bernard and the others we’ve had the good fortune to meet throughout our trip…
On that note, and with a big dose of irony, we’re now going to show you photos of us doing the most touristy of tourist things – visiting the peak of Table Mountain.
We had read that it was one of the most spectacular places on earth — after all it’s designated one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature.” I have to admit my first thought was, “I’m sure it will be a nice outing, but come on, it’s just another mountain. We’ve seen lots of those, even from our own home!”
I was wrong.
I’m not sure if it’s the flatness of the peak, or it’s 360 degree views and proximity to the vast ocean, but it’s simply breathtaking. The photos below don’t do the experience justice. I can’t even explain the illusion that the horizon is much, much higher than the mountain. Another must see in South Africa!