penguin sunday

so, 23 august, my last full day in cape town.  the sky was overcast and it was a bit foggy as i grabbed my backpack in pursuit of one more adventure.  i had a discussion with the receptionists in the hotel lobby about the best way to get to simon’s town.  i had hoped to take the train down, as i’d heard it is a lovely route along the coast with great ocean views.  but i was warned off for safety reasons (trains are quiet on a sunday, i’m travelling alone) and, slightly apprehensive given my experience the previous day, i opted for caution and called a taxi.

my friendly taxi driver, philip, took me on the mountain route: around table mountain, then climbing through a mist-shrouded twisting winding mountain pass, finally descending the mountainside down towards false bay and simon’s town.  there i met up with guides from kayak cape town for a morning paddle down to boulders beach to get acquainted with the local african penguin colony.  it was a larger group today, nine of us accompanied by three guides.  as the odd one out, i got to paddle tandem with one of the guides, sandy.

the sky began to clear as we headed out past the simon’s town naval base, the largest base of the south african navy.  we passed the break wall and rode the gentle swell.  the bay was full of large stalks of kelp and hundreds of funky pink jellyfish. we paddled at a leisurely pace , and eventually rounded a small outcrop of rocks into the bay of boulders beach.  and there they were: dozens, if not a hundred, of the squat tuxedoed sea birds. most of the penguins were just hanging around on the beach and surrounding rocks; an intrepid group made multiple attempts to sneak under water past our flotilla of kayaks, but kept ending up back in the shallows of the bay, with a wary eye on our actions.  we watched their antics for a while before setting back out to the open water.

the waves had picked up a bit, and we all had a blast trying to surf our kayaks on the swell. we were using sit-on-top boats, and the choppy surface ensured that we got reasonably wet. but the sun was out now, and we were working our way across to a large boulder where we’d spotted some seals catching the rays.  by the time we got there, though, they had slipped into the water and were happily rolling in the waves that were breaking against the rock, unperturbed by our presence. the substantial boulder was a popular resting place for sea birds, and our guides led us around to a crevice in the side so we could get the full experience of the resulting guano stench.  not pleasant.  we returned past the massive grey naval vessels, stopping to check a decommissioned submarine, before heading back onto the harbour. it had been another fantastic morning on the water, providing a very different experience of the region than can be had from land.  thanks to the guides for a great trip!

my taxi driver had taken himself to breakfast, and was waiting to escort me back to cape town. we traveled a coastal road for the return, partly following the rail line i would have taken if i’d been on the train. there are some spectacular beaches along the way.  we stopped at a lookout to enjoy the views, and chat with a woman who was standing in a small hut on the side of the road. turns out she’s employed as a shark scout: she watches the area out past the crowded beach for signs of approaching sharks, and sounds the alarm if there were impending danger. on the day, thankfully, all was quiet.

back at the hotel, i made a quick change, then walked down to the v&a waterfront for a bit of last minute shopping and a few photos of the views of table mountain from the harbour.  the newly opened watershed market is a converted warehouse, now home to more than 150 boutique stalls selling all manner of local goods, from artwork and jewelry to clothing and leather goods.  i had interesting chats with some of the vendors, picked up a few lovely little things, then went out to wander the harbour in the late afternoon sunlight.  i found nobel square, home to statues of the four south african nobel peace prize laureates: albert luthuli (1960), archbishop desmond tutu (1984), fw de klerk and nelson mandela (co-recipients in 1993).

my last dinner was at the same restaurant as my first: back to den anker for crispy fish & chips and a couple of “den anker” beers (brewed in belgium specifically for this restaurant), and views of the dusk settling in on the harbour.  finally, back to the hotel to pack for the long journey home.

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