Sunday, November 16, 2008

Penguins and baboons (Nov. 14, 2008 - Cape Town, South Africa)

Never thought we would ever see penguins and baboons together in their natural habitats on the same day! But today we did. Our first stop on this beautiful cloudless day was Boulders Beach near Simon's Town on the east side of the Cape peninsula. There, African Penguins (formerly known as Jackass Penguins) live and breed on a select few beaches in southwestern South Africa year round, and this beach is home base. Boardwalks and viewing platforms let visitors get right up close with these cute little guys, who have a beautiful white sand beach bordered by large rounded boulders and backed by bush-covered sand dunes, all to themselves. Our first encounter with them, though, was when we spotted a pair of them peeking out from under the stairs on the boardwalk. This breed is only about 12 to 18 inches tall, and are one of the smallest penguin species. Since it's early summer now, it is molting season and they are confined to land for about 3 weeks until their new layer of waterproofing grows in. About 100 penguins were hanging around - some dozing in the sand, others huddled on the rocks, and a few out swimming in the ocean. We weren't too sure who was watching who, though, as camera lenses were within a few feet of their cute little faces.

The coastal drive is beautiful, as the turquoise water crashed into the big round rocks and white sand beaches. At some times of the year, Southern Right Whales and Great White Sharks can be spotted from the road. When we entered the Cape of Good Hope portion of Table Mountain National Park, the landscape gradually became barren and moon-like, with only short, hardy vegetation (including some pretty species of purple flower) able to withstand the constant and often violent winds that blow across the cape. We had seen a few signs that warned you to stay away from baboons, but we didn't actually see any until we were walking through the parking lot to follow the trail out to the cape lighthouse. Walking nonechalently amongst the visitors was a female baboon, grey and the size of a medium dog. She wasted no time in climbing up the back of someone's car and perching herself on top, holding the roof rack and scratching herself while people gathered to take pictures. She was actually pretty cute except for the gross baboon ass and the droopy monkey nipples! A few more baboons were climbing around on the rocks above the outdoor restaurant at the far end of the parking lot, and one of the waiters spent half his time chasing them away by throwing rocks at them, as apparently they're not too shy to steal food right out of your hand and bite you while they're at it.

The vista out at the windswept cape was incredible - barren cliffs of horizontally bedded siltstones and sandstones worn away into sharp peaks with teal ocean and white beaches fringing their base... sea birds hovered in the wind and wave after wave of intermixed Indian and Atlantic waters crashed on the rocks far below. It was quite a sight! Although the Cape of Good Hope is not technically the southernmost point of Africa, it is considered by most to be the end of the continent and the division between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. While gazing at the view, we met a couple from Victoria who were just finishing up a six month trip from Morrocco to South Africa. They looked well traveled, happy, tanned, and apparently a lot skinnier than when they left home.

Northbound, we passed ostrich farms and quiet little towns perched overlooking the sea as we made our way back to the town of Fish Hoek (!) in the north. Vineyards grew up the hillsides in Constantia, and vendors sold wood carvings at wide spots in the road where drivers were pulling over to take in the magnificent view south over the towns clinging to the hillside with smooth blue waves below. The lee side of the cape is definitely the west side, and we soon realized that people have capitalized on this in the areas of Camps Bay and Bantry Bay. These communities are suburbs of Cape Town, really, located on the southwest side of Table Mountain. This is more like what I had pictured Cape Town to be - seaside condos and resorts on every available piece of land, stores and restaurants lining the beach drive along white beaches bordered by palm trees and busy with sunlovers. We basically could've been driving through South Beach in Miami.

The road hooked right in with the main drag in Cape Town and we were able to drop off the car and get home in time to crack open our bottle of Lanzerac red from the vineyard yesterday. We shared a glass or three with a nice 66 year old British woman who has been traveling for years alone and is taking the train to Mozambique tomorrow with no plans and only 70 British Pounds in her pocket and a blanket just in case she can't find a place to sleep. Just because she can. Oh, and she was sure to tell us that she just became a great grandmother last week. We were humbled - what stories she has to tell, and all because she loves to travel. Funny how no matter who you meet while on the road, we will all have that in common :)

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