From Boatsheds to Battlefields 2 Collecting Orchids

End of 1st entry:  Another impatient call from his companion tore the younger lad from the scene, and the two tramped off into a forest of scented gum and beautiful broad-leaved Silver trees mingled with patches of bracken and fields of protea.

Their road soon brought the boys off the hill to the narrow neck between the corner of Table Mountain and the timbered slopes of the Lion’s Head. Below to the East lay Cape Town wrapped in the mantle of night, to the West the Ocean breaking on the white beach of Camps Bay and the rocky coastline beneath the range of Apostle Mountains.

Pausing for a drink of cold mountain water the two climbed to the pipe track which cut across the slopes of the Apostle and at a long swinging stride proceeded on their way. A dark glen gave an occasional steep run down one side and up the other, loosening leg muscles and breaking the monotony until the path crossing the Castle Gate gorge began to climb upwards towards the walls and buttresses of the Apostle Heads.

Soon came the flight after flight of stone steps and the narrow path ran above a gorge many hundreds of feet deep. Cut into the living rock, whose rugged walls hung menacingly over it, the narrow roadway at length reached an iron gate the entrance to a long tunnel through the mountain.

Turning to the right the boys clambered into the ravine itself and toilsomely worked their way up the watercourse strewn with loose boulders until at last the broad ridge which crowned the Apostles was won.

For a few moments, the youthful mountaineers lay panting in the bracken then sped down a long steep slope into a narrow glen through which rippled a burn of brown mountain water cold as ice.

Slipping heavy rucksacks and Alpine ropes from their shoulders the two began to search in the darkness for sticks, with the ease of long practice soon gathering enough to start a fire.

The rucksacks yielded a kettle, frying pan, gridiron and amongst other foodstuffs a packet of chops. Fragrant coffee, grilled chops and thick bread and butter followed, then donning coats the boys curled up next to their fire and carefree slumbered heavily.

The chill of dawn wakened them and stretching stiffened limbs the boys rose, made up the fire and fell to on a packet of sardine sandwiches – the kettle coming to the boil coffee was again made, then slinging their rucksacks the pair climbed back to the Apostle ridge.

Separating the boys began to seek the beautiful blue mountain bell orchids and their red cousins the cluster of gnomes caps – it was early in the season but now and again success crowned their efforts in spite of the still clinging mistiness of night.

As dawn began the ushering in of day the boys abandoning their hunt crept out on a jutting rock two thousand feet above the Ocean’s level where filled with nervous thrills they watched the ancient Sun emerge in all his glory from beneath the Eastern sky. On a host of mountain peaks fell the kindly eye of the proud old God and flushing with devotion a thousand grim pinnacles stood rank upon rank to welcome his gifts of warmth and light.

Spellbound the two lads gazed on the majesty and wonder of the old old world – far beneath them lay thousands of human habitations – great churches, proud colleges, mighty houses of business, the huge dockyard and the homes of the wealthy.

The Cape orchids are somewhat different from the extravagant tropical showpieces you see at art galleries and on smart dining tables. In the Cape’s wind-buffeted, fire-ravaged environment it pays to be small and to spend most of your life underground. But the flowers produced by the Cape orchids are no less astonishing than those in jungles of Ecuador, and their often ephemeral nature, coupled with limited distribution (a single wetland or mountain for example) means they can be as rare as black rhinos, blue whales and snow leopards.