Monday, February 1, 2010

Here be Baboon Feces

Simon's Town

Near the end of our Cape Town stay we popped down to Simon's Town, an hour south of the city by train, for two nights. The single-street harbour town has three claims to fame, most noticeably being home to South Africa's navy– fit, uniformed people often outnumbered pedestrians on the sidewalk. While epaulettes are pretty and all, we visited mainly for the other two: it is the town farthest south along the Cape Peninsula (and therefore closest to the Cape of Good Hope), and habitat to SA's largest and only protected colony of African Penguins.

Boulders Beach, where the penguins be, is an easy walk from town. As with most tourist pulls in the country, the parking lot was fringed with vendors behind overstocked tables of curios and souvenirs, in this case mostly penguin-related. Also present was a talented group of traditional African singers busking to an empty patch of lawn. For R35 ($5) we were permitted access via boardwalk to a raised platform overlooking the small cove the penguins call home.

We'd already seen penguins on Robben Island but these ones were more accustomed to a human presence and we could get much closer. The birds are certainly entertaining in their nonchalant, waddly way – their walk is akin to a man running with his pants down. 'African penguin' is a relatively new name for the species, having replaced 'jackass penguin,' for the mule-like braying sound they make. I'm not sure they've forgiven us yet for that one (though the sour expression they carry makes me think not). Upon arrival the viewing platform was empty, but when we left it was stuffed with tourists, and on our walk home I was happy to see the singers had an audience. We also passed through a graveyard and I found a terrifying bug.


The following morning we'd planned to rent bikes and ride to Cape Point. The two hostel loaners were taken so we had to procure ours from a grizzled Afrikaaner running a small bike-rental outfit from his café. His only patron was his friend, another grizzled Afrikaaner, who introduced himself as an artist, and offered to draw our portraits. A tattoo artist from next door (more leathery rather than grizzled) dropped by to point out Alanna's sunburn and warn us about the intense Cape Town sun. The artist gave me a bikini-woman drawing as a parting gift.

Our bikes were 'CaliforniaBike' brand and lacking front deraillers. The route was beautiful, every bit the raging coastline one would expect at the edge of a continent. There were a significant number of signs warning not to feed the baboons, but for all our looking we did not see a single one on the ride down. A generous amount of droppings though, mostly deposited on the tops of rocks and highway markers like dung-trophies. The ride was 20 kilometers of gradual uphill with occasional steeper sections, and at times very windy. We stopped for lunch at an info center 5 kilometers from the Cape but I think we both knew at that point we wouldn't be riding any farther. Our asses hurt.

The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, which we entered (for a fee) a little over halfway through our ride, is apparently home to more plant species than the entire British Isles. If so, most of these species are in bush format, and away from the coastline the landscape is scenic in a subdued, homogenous way. We ate lunch (samosas from the 7-eleven in town) and after admitting to each other we weren't eager on biking to the end, we resolved to instead walk through some dunes to a beach visible in the distance. That was too far as well, unfortunately. We turned around, refilled our waterbottles and began pedaling home. It was a day of unreached destinations.

Cape Point is visible here in the distance.

After a false alarm (a grey dog), we finally got our primate on the ride home. We stopped at a man-made swimming lagoon and Alanna was accosted by a solo baboon coming down the trail. We watched for awhile as he sat and munched a plant, alone in the wind.

a man-made swimming area, as coastal currents make open-ocean swimming dangerous.

our monkey

Upon dropping off our bikes the tattoo artist came by again and suggested a tattoo as a souvenir. He and the café-owner came off as a little bored, but pleasant people, and eager patrons of the Simon's Town spirit.

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