It’s Saturday morning and I’m in a tunnel underneath Upper Buitenkant Street with a guide who looks like Shane from The Walking Dead. This is definitely not a regular Cape Town tourist attraction.
The Below the Surface tour is run by the adventure and events company Figure of 8. The concept came about spontaneously when the company used the tunnel for a team building exercise. It was so well received that it became a tour on its own.
It was an early start with a rendezvous at the Castle’s parking lot from where we were transferred by a mini bus taxi to our first manhole. A quick briefing, a headlight and bulky gumboots later and I was down a drain, having a remarkable amount of fun.
For the most part the air merely smelt musty, like wet clothes that were left in a basket overnight. Not at all like a sewer. Happily there were no rats to be seen but there was more than enough wildlife in the form of cockroaches to get the get the skin crawling with mild revulsion every now and then, though the fascination of the tunnels themselves quickly distracted me.
Below the Surface is ideal for three kinds of people: history buffs, engineer types and dreamers. The history buffs will particularly appreciate the 200-350 year old sections of the tunnel. These older parts were made out of the bricks that were used as ballast to weigh down the slave ships that came over from Britain empty. The ballast was dumped in Cape Town, to be replaced with a cargo. At one place it is possible to see the stamp of a British brick company that went out of business a few decades ago.
The engineer types, and I use this as a broad term, will enjoy explaining the “why” to everyone, even if they just figured it out themselves. The first year chemical engineer student of our group was fascinated about the oldest part of the tunnel that was slightly less round than the newer sections. This led to a long discussion about the technology that was available at the time.
Meanwhile the dreamers were pretending to be in a secret passage, escaping marauding hordes or perhaps the attentions of an over amorous suitor. Until they slipped on slime that is. I am the latter category. Stop looking up at the mountain, people, and spare a thought for all that is going on under your feet.
by Jana van Heerden
Figure of 8 in association with Reclaiming Camissa is holding Walk of Cape Town in celebration of Wold Water Week. The tours include a historical and cultural walk around Cape Town ending in the tunnel adventure. The tours run from 19 – 25 March 2012. For more details of this tour and the regular Below the Surface tour go to www.fo8.co.za.