Let's Talk About My Vacation Part 3: Cape Point With a Side Of Penguins

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!" 


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. 

Jan 16, 2012

I caught the beginning of a documentary about those baboons! Apparently one of them had to be euthanised as he'd been terrorising tourists (he learnt how to open car doors to steal food). http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/weird-wide-web/bab...

Whilst looking for that, I came across this http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/southafri... DRUNK BABOONS!

Jan 16, 2012

baboons on the car is both terrifying and hilarious. i'm going to be thinking about it ALL DAY. (on the car! baboons! on the car!)

Jan 16, 2012

Those pictures are amazing! South Africa is still on my list, we really wanted to go for the World Cup but it was just too insane! One day we'll get there! Until then thanks for sharing all of your photos!

Jan 16, 2012

your post made me want to pack up and just go to South Africa...like RIGHT NOW!

Jan 16, 2012

You should definitely get a rebate from the South Africa Bureau of Tourism for this post. Baboons *and* penguins? Immediately added to my personal "must experience" list!

Jan 16, 2012

I cannot believe there were baboons on your car. That is hilarious. What a great story to tell. Your pictures are beautiful by the way.

Jan 16, 2012

One time time when we lived in Nairobi my mom and brother and I were at Nairobi National Park, which is a game park right outside the city (kind of like Muir Woods in terms of location for you). We had driven around and seen some animals and we stopped at a picnic area to have lunch. Just as we got our whole spread on the table, this pack of baboons saunters up. I am talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 or 20 baboons.

My brother and I start to silently FLIP THE SHIT OUT and hastily start packing the lunch back up and mutter things like "do NOT make eye contact" and my mom is all, "Oh! Look! Baboons! Look at that! What? We're leaving? Huh?"

We got it all back in the car before they got too close but boy howdy, as soon as we got the doors locked my brother and I exhaled so loudly with relief you would not even believe. My mom was all, "What is the deal?" and we had to explain that baboons were not kind and generous creatures when it came to potato chips and please drive away rightthissecond go go go. They can be SO aggressive and our classmates were full of gruesome stories related to baboon behavior on safari.

I hate monkeys.

Jan 16, 2012

Love your Cape Town posts! I went there as part of Semester at Sea and speaking of Baboons... they are terribly scary! While on safari in Tanzania one actually broke into my hotel room by opening the slider door from the balcony and then rummaging through my suitcase and the drawers and waste baskets. Thank god it left me alone and then left the room, but yes frightening! Penguins are much, much cuter.

Jan 16, 2012

Ok now I have GOT to go to S Africa! Great post. And baboons are scary! Once we were camping in the Sahara and we hiked into this canyon (us, staggering red-faced and sweating up giant dune at entrance, our guide, 70+ and wearing a long robe, cruising up with ease) and there were baboons who formed a sort of loose circle around us and followed and barked at us and it was most unnerving! My son, then about 10, was really scared (although the 8 year olds weren't).

Jan 16, 2012

Love this post Holly. I am still laughing at your reaction at the baboons because I would exactly do as you did (complete with hand flapping!) because that's how I deal with scary stuff like that! It's highly entertaining for others to see.

Jan 16, 2012

Oh, Holly. How adorable the penguins are! Awesome pics of the scenery, too! I'd have freaked in the proximity of baboons though! Love your travelogue!

Jan 16, 2012

Okay, so regarding your penguin soap opera.... you're saving the baboon invasion for season two, right?

Kate in Ohio
Jan 16, 2012

I have always wondered if there is some sign that shows where the oceans actually meet. Where does one begin and the other one end?

Oh Yeah, those baboons would have scared the living daylights out of me. I wonder what would have happened if you just took off as fast as you could. Would they have been able to hang on? How did you finally get them off? How did you not require a change of clothing?

Sheesh, I don't think I have what it takes to visit South Africa, but now I feel as though I have been there with you posts.

Super Sarah
Jan 16, 2012

Olympia Cafe is one of my most favorite spots in Cape Town! Am loving your prolonged recaps, although you are making me homesick with each one!

Jan 16, 2012

I am a relative newcomer to your blog, but your posts make me laugh, as do the comments. Thanks!

Jan 17, 2012

South Africa looks stunning. It is climbing higher on my list of places to visit! The penguins are utterly adorable.

Anna A
Jan 17, 2012

Oh my hell, this is amazing. We're already planning on Africa for Christmas and everything here was just added to the schedule. Cannot wait for the remainder of your updates :-)

Anna Louisa
Jan 17, 2012

Ok, I was so freaked out by the baboon story that I had to go back and spend some quality time with the penguin photos to calm myself down. And it worked :)


Alison Presley
Jan 17, 2012

Oh don't mind me. Just booking my tickets to Cape Town right now.


Jan 17, 2012

Oh my God, I may never be able to THINK about this sentence again without laughing until I cry (which I can neither confirm nor deny I am doing right now): "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."

Jan 17, 2012

great post! The penguins were my favorite part of Cape Town, which is saying something, for sure.

At Boulders Beach, my best friend's 3 year old picked up a rock and offered it to one of the penguins. It got a little curious and a little greedy and pecked at the rock, nipping Jake's finger in the process. He cried a bit but in the end gave the penguin the benefit of the doubt saying, "I think he thought it was a hokdog (hot dog)"

Jan 17, 2012

I would like to go there, but only if I can be assured that BABOONS would, in fact, jump on our car. I kind of want to see my husband's reaction when that happens. BABOONS! (I feel it deserves caps lock, don't you?)

Jan 18, 2012

So beautiful! Except the baboon part which made me think of that horrific scene from The Omen. Had I been in your shoes at the moment I think I would've poughkeepsied my pants.

Jan 18, 2012

I think the internet needs a video of your Baboons on the Roof reaction.

Nothing But Bonfires
Jan 18, 2012

Oh, Amber. I had one -- or just about; it was a few minutes before -- but I deleted it in the Great Accidental iPhone Deletion of November 2011. I can barely talk about it.

Jan 19, 2012

Ok when you got to the part with the helpful bus guy telling you about the baboons I just gave up and put my head on my desk and laughed for a while.

Can't wait to see the rest of the vacation posts!

Alicia M.
Jan 19, 2012

I am so happy you are excited about penguins! I recently returned from a trip to Peru and the penguins in Paracas were one of the greatest parts!

Camels & Chocolate
Jan 22, 2012

Ahhh so glad you made it to Olympia Cafe. Wasn't it just divine?

Also, one of my co-workers on the ship was ravaged by baboons, and they were pounding her windshield and pulling on her windshield wipers. All the ones we saw when Mom and I did that drive two years ago just ignored us.

We didn't have a penguin under our car, but there was one hiding in the bush outside the park just beside where we parked, so the sign is not for naught.

Jan 29, 2012

Wow, Holly! It looks like such an amazing trip. I just finished blogging our Sept/Oct trip to the Swiss Alps, so no judgment here on slow blog posts.

Feb 06, 2012

If you are having penguin withdrawal symptoms, they have jackass penguins at the California Academy of Sciences and you can watch them being fed. We did this for my birthday in January and I was enraptured, although it was slightly embarrassing as it was mostly me (aged 38) and lots of small kids. Ahem.

Jul 11, 2012

I'm planning a trip there right now! What rental car company did you use? Were you able to book online?

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options

Just to make sure you have a pulse
Enter the characters (without spaces) shown in the image.