I am recapping, excruciatingly slowly, the two-week trip we took to South Africa last year. Here is part one, about our layover in Paris, and here is part two, about Cape Town. Expect me to be finished with this sometime in 2014.
Now listen, I'm giving you fair warning: this blog post is going to be mostly about penguins. You see, penguins were one of the things I was most looking forward to about South Africa, and I talked about them incessantly—"Penguins! How excited are you about the penguins? Can you just totally not wait until we see the penguins? Hey, did I tell you South Africa has penguins?"—for much of the run-up to the trip. The way I felt about those penguins was, I am willing to bet, the way Charlie Sheen feels about uncut cocaine and high-end hookers. Well, apart from the fact that I wouldn't want to lock myself in a hotel room with those penguins, I guess. They're scratchy, I've heard. And bitey.
On our second day in Cape Town, we picked up our rental car—one of those boxy, brightly-colored, European-made things that might as well have a sign affixed to its roof proclaiming ATTENTION! THE PASSENGERS INSIDE ARE TOURISTS DRIVING A RENTAL CAR!—and set off for our first drive out of the city. Our destination was Cape Point, a promontory at the tip of the Cape Peninsula, about an hour and a half south.
First, though, we had to go see a man about a penguin, and the right place for that was Boulders Beach, which boasts an entire colony of them. This colony, we were told by the taxi driver who picked us up from the airport, was established in 1982, after—and I swear to god, these were the exact words he used—"a family argument" prompted two of the more adventurous penguins to leave the original penguin colony at Betty's Bay (with a flounce, one can only imagine) and set up their own on Boulders Beach. The particular wording of this explanation kept us amused for days, as we gleefully pondered exactly what sort of "family argument" might have torn apart a hitherto happy group of penguins. A steamy affair with a brother-in-law, perhaps? A disagreement over a great aunt's will? A toilet seat left up one too many times? Hey, I've done worse for less.
"I'm sorry, but if you'd just listen to the point I'm trying to make, I think you'd agree that Abbey Road is FAR superior to Rubber Soul."
The scenery on the drive down was spectacular. That's the thing about Cape Town and its environs, though; there's nothing that isn't spectacular. We hugged the coast for much of the drive, taking in the jaw-dropping panoramas of Hout Bay and winding over Chapman's Peak, stopping every so often just to get out and marvel over the sheer beauty of the landscape.
And when we got to Boulders Beach, it did not disappoint. For the princely sum of $4, we were pointed through a turnstile, handed a leaflet—which may well have explained the root of the penguin family argument, though we'll never know because we were too excited to read it—and shown the path from which we were to begin the five-minute meander towards the beach.
And all of a sudden there they were, a mass of wriggling two-tone bodies, strutting and prancing and flopping and sprawling, oblivious to the gaggle of onlookers pointing lenses, paparazzi-like, towards the show.
I do not mind saying that it was one of the best things I've ever seen in my life.
Of course, I wouldn't have been averse to taking one home with me, but the authorities of Boulders Beach had other ideas.
Spoiler alert: we were all good.
Our run-ins with wildlife, however, were not over. From Boulders Beach, we continued down the coast towards Cape Point, scoffing a little—I must admit—at the rather ominous signs on the road.
"Baboons!" we hooted. "Can you imagine just seeing a baboon? Just, like, having one run out in front of your car? Ha! A baboon!"
Turns out when a baboon does run out in front of your car, you're not hooting quite so much. No, you're not hooting, you're screaming, and that screaming turns to full-on fear and panic when the baboon invites a couple of his burliest friends to join him and suggests they all play a rousing game of Climb Up On Top Of The Screaming Tourist's Car.
Oh hey, what's up, we heard you had beer.
I'm not sure you can accurately predict how you'd react to three wild baboons suddenly jumping onto the roof of your rental car, but I decided to handle it with the utmost grace and poise, by which I mean I turned immediately into a hyperactive toddler and started shouting BABOONS! BABOONS! BABOONS! BABOONS! while flapping my hands helplessly in the air. Sean, meanwhile, was alternating between driving a few feet, stopping the car, and then driving a few more feet again, while also trying to calm me down in the least calming manner possible, which is, in case you were wondering, by yelling CALM DOWN! CALM DOWN! in a really irritated voice. In the middle of this terrible fracas, a tour bus drove by—twenty faces pressed against the glass, observing us with undisguised amusement—and the driver rolled down his window to shout "hey, there are baboons on your roof!"
THANKS, BUDDY. GOT IT. WE GOT THIS ONE.
Once the baboons had finally jumped off and our breathing (and marriage) had stabilized, we continued on to Cape Point, where—in the absence of a small bottle of whiskey in the glove compartment, unfortunately—we steadied our nerves with a bracing hike to the lighthouse at the top.
Now I am not typically a hiker—I don't mind walking, I just prefer to call it walking; the term "hiking" makes me think I'm going to need special shoes and crampons—but this was a truly gorgeous route, and besides, I was sort of tricked into it, because it looked a lot closer from the bottom. Still, the views across the Atlantic and Indian oceans—this is where they meet—just got more and more beautiful the higher we climbed.
We, however, did not get more and more beautiful the higher we climbed. We just got sweatier.
Once we were at the top—that picture above is not at the top; it's only about halfway, which should show you how high it really is—we took a cursory look around ("yep, water; yep, land; yep, three hundred German tourists") and retraced our steps all the way down to the bottom again, offering encouragement to the other sweaty climbers we encountered on the way. After that, it was on to the Cape of Good Hope, just a five-minute drive away. Apparently, it isn't true that the Cape of Good Hope is the southernmost tip of Africa—that honor belongs to Cape Agulhas, about 90 kilometers away—but the sign I posed awkwardly with called it the "most south-western point of the African continent" so I'm going with that.
This is what happens when you do your hair hastily on a slippery rock in front of a splashy ocean. Be ye forewarned.
On the way back to Cape Town that evening, we got hopelessly, foolishly lost trying to find a little town called Kalk Bay, which we finally located just in time to catch the evening light. We sat in a shabbily charming spot called Olympia Cafe, where we sipped lattes and nibbled on baked goods hastily chosen—the selection was so great and the names so unfamiliar that it just became a case of pointing to what looked good and going with it—while outside the gulls circled and the waves crashed against the shore. It was such a lovely end to the day.
I know it seems like I've shown you every single picture possibly taken of Boulders Beach, Cape Point, and the Cape of Good Hope, but there are a ton more of our excursion down the South African coast right here, if you're interested (although they're pretty much all Sean's, so I can't take any credit for them.) For now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a soap opera idea to pitch to ABC, about a family of tight-knit penguins whose idyll is shattered by a terrible argument that splinters the community in two. I'm thinking star-crossed lovers. I'm thinking emotional turmoil. I'm thinking Mumble from Happy Feet in the starring role and the entire cast of March of the Penguins as extras. I'm thinking Hollywood, baby. It's going to be huge.