Day 15: Cape Town, Cape Point National Park

The day began at Boulders Beach, one of the classic tourist stops that I normally would avoid and would encourage others to do the same—I overwhelming prefer authentic, impromptu experiences, not mass-produced ones. However, Boulders Beach is an exception—nearly everybody who visits Cape Town visits the beach, and I’d recommend you do as well. Located south of the city, it is home to a large colony of African Jackass penguins, which from afar you’d swear is actually a corral full of donkeys—“Hee-haw!” The park service has installed a boardwalk and roped off the main colony to minimize the effect of visitors, but you can still get shockingly close with the stars: if you threw down a blanket on the beach a few penguins would likely walk right over it; and in the summer you’ll see locals swimming side-by-side with them. If this beach were in the US I’d have to think there would be much tighter restrictions on public use of and access to the beach—but, in South Africa, environmental regulations are a bit more lax, as most of the country is focused on more immediate things (e.g. funding an operating budget through admission sales to Boulder Beach) than on protecting a penguin colony, with little consideration for long-term implications.

There are some stories of legend involving the penguins in this area. My favorite was about a local resident who squashed a penguin egg inside of his slipper. Apparently a penguin from the colony wandered into the house and thought that the dude’s furry footwear made for a good nest.

Our next destination was Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, which is marketed incorrectly as where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet—in fact, that point is Cape Agulhas, another 100 miles to the east-southeast. Again, super touristy, but again, it’s one of those things that you kind of have to do—after all, it’s not everyday you have the opportunity to stare out at the ocean and ponder what explorers like Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan were thinking when they rounded this corner of Africa during their history-making voyages. Plus, Cape Point in particular is visually spectacular—it sticks into the water a half-mile out from the mainland, it is 750 feet above the deck, and it’s surrounded on three sides by vertical sandstone cliffs where numerous seabirds nest.

Apparently not having learned my lesson from Drakensberg about going out for long runs just before dark, this evening I headed out for what started as purely recreational but evolved into a daylight-chasing race up Lions Head, the most distinct peak in the city skyline; it has countless false summits and short sections rock scrambling towards the top. The bell boys got a good laugh as I exited the hotel in my short shorts and polyester t-shirt: “Where are you going?” one asked. “Somewhere up there,” I replied, pointing towards Lions Head, the summit of which was shrouded in clouds. “Beware of the mist,” he warned, implying that he was concerned I’d become one of the hundreds of people who get disoriented on Table Mountain every year and end up needing rescue. “Why?” I tested back, “Is it poisonous or something?” which was my implicit way of saying that everyone’s concerns about my safety were foolish and borderline insulting.

Posted in on May 16, 2008

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