Good hope

Tuesday night, March 16 2010
As we anticipated this trip, Steve several times commented that he expected we would be seeing some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. And we have, but I have to say our encounters with the inhabitants of those landscapes — human and animal — have been at the forefront of our attention. Today was different. Our interactions with other humans was limited to jockeying for photo-op positions with the Chinese, British, Dutch, English, French and other tourists we encountered throughout the day. As we drove from our hotel to the Cape of Good Hope, the physical world took center stage.
Actually, we did have two memorable animal encounters. One came after we had entered Table Mountain National Park, toward the bottom of the long cape that Cape Town sits astride. We passed sign after sign warning of the highly endangered baboons who inhabit the area. They bite. They are wild animals who must not be approached or fed! If you feed them, you will be fined!! We didn’t need the warning, as we’d already heard stories about these creatures, as clever and menacing as the bears of Yosemites. So we neither fed nor approached the troop of about 20 animals — little babies, juveniles, adults — who stopped traffic on one section of the road. One of the biggest baboons clutched what looked like a woman’s duffel bag. Pilfered? We couldn’t tell, but two rangers grimly followed the troop on foot, one with a mean-looking leather whip in his hand. I think he cracked it, sending the baboons off the road and away from additional human contact.

The other animal interaction came on our return drive back to town. In the little town of Boulder Beach, we detoured to see the resident colony of African penguins there. We’d already been introduced to these birds yesterday, during our brief visit to the excellent aquarium at the Waterfront. The African penguins (once known as jackass penguins because they supposedly make a braying noise) are only about a foot tall, and their black and white plumage is set off with a band of pink eye shadow. They were very cute as the marine biologist parceled out fish, which they swallowed whole.

But it was wonderful to see them in the wild this afternoon — hundreds of them lining the beaches and grooming each other and waddling around and sitting on eggs. If Boulder Beach is a tame suburban setting, the wind today made it a savage place. It whipped the water into a mass of white caps. Some of the gusts shoved and jostled us, like bullies, and after we’d climbed back into the car, our skin and scalps felt like sandpaper.

Despite the wind, the sun shone brightly all day long, and the drive to the tip of the cape was splendid. Just outside Cape Town, we wound along roads that hugged the steep cliffs, overlooking huge white beaches encrusted with picturesque towns. By turns, the water looked cobalt blue, then clear turquoise, then emerald green. It made me think of a combination of the most beautiful coastline in both Hawaii and California. Later, approaching the tip of the cape, the land grew starker, stonier, and clad in fynbos, the South African version of coastal chaparral, but lusher and more beautifully colored than any chaparral I’ve seen.

Our primary goal for this outing was the Cape of Good Hope, often thought of as the tip of Africa, the southernmost point, the place where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. It’s none of those — those honors go to Cape Argulhas, several hundred kilometers further south. Still it felt a little like an omen to me to be standing with Steve on this wild and beautiful spot, on our 36th wedding anniversary, rounding another important landmark on this fantastic journey, with good hope for what we’ll find further down the road.

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