Saturday, January 30, 2010

African Chronicles: Day 4-6: WILD

Does anyone remember the WILD Puffalumps? It's one of those things that it seems were marketed heavily to my family and to no one else on earth.

There are six or so dull reasons as to why I haven't posted until now. One of which is that I left my USB key in Capetown. So we're going to start with day 4 and maybe we'll get Day 1-3 later.

Day 4 was the most structured day that we've had in South Africa, primarily because we were on a tour. There's a lot of stuff that we thought we probably wanted to do down here, but we knew we needed to go see the Cape of Good Hope, and so today was Cape Peninsula Day. We hopped on our tour bus and pretty well had the rest of the day planned for us. Not exactly prime adventuring, but a good decision.

First stop, Hout Bay. We'd been there the day before, but we didn't do much there. Hout Bay is famous for being both a snooty suburb of Capetown, and for having large harvests of crayfish and snook from the bay. Also, for having Seal Island. But not the real Seal Island, which is in False Bay. But another island, covered with seals, which is not Seal Island. I'm not sure why people don't go seal watching at Seal Island, but they don't (perhaps because it's shark infested.) Anyway, we went to see the seals, and indeed, there were seals. I'm not sure what to report, apart from the fact that seals are relatively amusing to watch, there were a lot of them, and I took pictures of them. It's actually low-shark season, which means it's high-seal season, so we saw them stealing food up at V&A harbor, lying on rocks elsewhere and just generally all over the place. Kind of like big, wet, fat dogs. The largest seal was up on the dock getting its picture taken. The seal's “owner” would flick you off in the picture if you didn't give him money, but since I liked the picture with him flicking me off better I didn't.

We stopped by the highway to eat cookies. They called it breakfast, and it was quite random. But we had a good view of Hout Bay from the top of a cliff. We had nine or so other members on our tour, and a number of them were insistent that they could see whales in the bay. It's not whale season, so we were quite positive they were seeing rocks. But it became a joke everywhere else we went to spot whales.

Next we made our way down to Simon's Town. I should mention that we had a tour guide named Mario, who was not the greatest guide in the world. He was pretty much a neverending stream of bad jokes, commenting on how we weren't laughing at his bad jokes, and some random trivia. Like Simon's Town was the first place in the world where a dog was drafted into the Navy. True story, maybe. But he was a nice guy. Simon's Town is a little picturesque town where rich folk vacation to feel rustic. It's also home of Boulders Park, the best spot to spot African penguins. Known to some as little British guys in suits. As with the seals, penguins are generally fun to watch, and there were a ton of them. It started to rain on us, but pretty well stopped by the time we left Boulders.

A neat twist on the tour was that we were able to bike through a game reserve. So we hopped out of the van and cycled for a while across the Cape Peninsula. Mostly we just saw ostriches, but I did glimpse a baboon for a second in the distance. And we met another dassie, which are among my favorite animals in South Africa. It was a fun little ride, even if it rained for a portion of it. Biking and hiking made for a more interesting tour than just riding around in a van.

The Cape of Good Hope was pretty impressive. Our guide kept asking us if we could tell the difference between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, which sadly I could not. But there were a lot of cliffs, beaches, a lighthouse, lots of old Japanese tourists and of course, the most South Western point in Africa. Unfortunately it's been proven by satellite that it's not the most Southern point in Africa, but I'm going to ignore that since there isn't a nice sign to stand by at the actual most Southern point.

Since I was the only one with vision keen enough to spot the baboon, our guide was kind enough to bring us to a baboon area. He warned us to keep the windows closed, not to frighten the babies, and not to feed them. As we pulled up on a dozen or so of them, we watched them chase people that frightened the babies, tear apart cars that had food in them check every door and window to try to get into vehicles. It was awesome. Not for the other tourists, who had baboons all over their cars, tearing up their stuff, but for us who knew better. We did help a bit, distracting them, using a tire pump to annoy them etc. Don't mess with baboons. They'll mess you up.

That pretty well ended our tour. We continued to suffer through bad jokes on the way back to Capetown. We decided to eat at a British pub that was playing Tegan and Sara. It was a pretty awesome place, and one that I'd recommend if you're looking for a good chicken banana curry on Long Street. We also decided to move out of our ghetto hostel. We took several steps upward on the social scene and moved into The Penthouse on Long. We had a doorman, our own rooftop bar, pool hall, kitchen, laundry, everything. We also had roommates and neighbors, which we'd enjoyed living without, but are really part and parcel of hostel living. The funniest thing about the place was the bizarre paintings. There were Primary murals, dragons, Spongebob, African landscapes, and pretty much everything in between. I imagine it's a great place to be high.

Day 5

Almost certainly the chillest day thus far. We slept in a bit, then headed to a couple bazaars in town. I'm not buying any knickknacks until I get to Durban, so really the morning consisted of me turning down every single vendor that approached me, which did get old. We were accused of being gay by a number of merchants after refusing to buy their wares, so that was a bit entertaining.

We'd intended to go to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was kept prisoner, but they canceled our tour due to rough seas. Evidently the whole thing is pretty horribly run (the tour, not the jail, though that as well I suppose) so I didn't consider it a huge loss, historical value notwithstanding. So instead of going to a world heritage site we went to the mall next door. I'm cultured, I know.

To try to infuse some culture into the day we did go to GOLD, which is a museum by day, restaurant by night. We paid a bit extra and got some drum lessons before dinner. I'm sure Bryce will say differently on his account, but I was clearly the better drummer. We even asked the instructor later and he said so. The dinner was a set course, so they just kept bringing us small portions of African foods. Patat, bobotie, samosas, curry, fresh fruits and vegetables etc. It was all quite good, extremely filling and moderately educational. They also had some singers, dancers and puppets to round out the evening. But despite the good food, quality entertainment (though the dancers wore Converse, so I'm not so sure about that authenticity) the most amusing element of the evening was how much the staff hated us. I think it was because Bryce was wearing his Utes hat. The animosity started when we asked about the price, which was different than had been quoted to us. Then we wouldn't order wine. Then we wanted tap water and not still water. Then Bryce knocked over a dish the waiter was holding. Then he asked not to have the prawns since he's allergic. I know, what a jerk. Other than a lot of eyerolling and making us find them in order to pay our bill, they didn't really retaliate. That we know of.

Day 6

Bryce had been going on and on about shark diving for the last month, so we found ourselves a shark diving tour. They picked us up in Capetown and drove us down to Hermanus, the whale watching capital of the world. When there are whales, which is not in January. We then went down to Gansbaii, which is Goose Bay, which is funny to some of you. Our tour group consisted of a bunch of old Portuguese people, a couple locals, a Canadian, ourselves and our guide. I forgot his name, but I'm going to call him Sven, because I'm pretty sure he is the South African equivalent of Sven. He looked like he might've killed a few sharks with his barehands. For fun. But he's a nice guy.

South Africa is pretty much the premiere spot for seeing Great White Sharks. So, when in Rome. We got into our boat and went about fifteen minutes out to sea. The cage was already set up, so we docked the boat to it, dropped anger and threw out some chum. Before we even had our wetsuits on a shark had snuck up on the boat and eaten the chum. That jerk. It was a pretty awesome first meeting. You kind of imagine sharks as living torpedoes, just shooting from kill to kill. But when the earlybird shark took the chum it popped out of the water, curving it's slategray back and twisting back down into the water. It was much more dynamic than I'd anticipated, and more awesome. Actually inspiring awe.

The wetsuit wasn't the most comfortable or flattering suit I've ever worn, but it worked out well enough. We generally had about five people in the cage, and I got to go in during the second shift. It was quite cold, but you get used to it quickly. You don't really get used to the sharks swimming a couple feet away from you. Other people were keeping track of whether they were male or female, how long they were, how many there were etc, but the extent of my thoughts were pretty much “Holy cow, there's a shark!” I thought that over and over. Evidently we had 6 sharks, the largest about 3.5 meters, and a mix of males and females. Sven said this was a very good turnout, especially for this time of year. Bryce and I were the last ones in the cage (we got to go in twice) and for the last shark they let him get the chum and he went to town on the fish chunks right in front of us. He spun around and the force from his tail pushed me backwards in the cage. It was pretty awesome.

We decided to stay in Hermanus for the evening. I wanted to have a sharky meal, but the Great White's favorite food in these parts is seal, which isn't on the menu anywhere we tried. Their second favorite is other sharks, which also wasn't. So I had to settle for snook, which was good, but quite a compromise. Hermanus is basically there for whale watching, shark diving, and summer resorting for the wealthy, with little industry of any other kind. So it's a nice place to relax but that's about all there was to do. Bryce dubbed our new hostel Hippie-friendly, and it's actually quite fun. There are a lot of scantily clad slackers (one girl spent most of the next morning in her underwear and a t-shirt), a bit of a commie mentality about the food, and a number of cats and dogs wandering the halls. It'll be an interesting couple days.


anna. said...

i LOVE sharks. i am sooo jealous right now.

esodhiambo said...

Baboons are a huge nuisance--they ruined all my students' agriculture projects. There are stories, though, of them waiting on the road for hours after a car had killed one for that same car to return and pelt it with stones. Also in Kenya, they would act as an army to protect water holes from people who came to get water. Scary.

I forgot to give you my bargaining advice--let me know if you want it. You are wise to wait to buy stuff because, generally speaking, you'll see the same stuff, but if you see something you love, don't pass it by.

Love dassies--I think that is what the lady in Born Free had, and although you may not remember the time in your life when we watched that movie over and over, you saw it quite a bit in your under 5 years.