On the east side of the Cape of Good Hope is False Bay, so named I presume because ancient mariners rounding her would think they’d gain the passage to the east, when in reality, the terminus of Africa lies just beyond to the east at Cape Aguhlas. From Cape Town, it’s just a short drive to another world of Africa, one that’s beyond the world of humans and wild. I find that writing about this place makes word and phrase choice sound a bit too intrepid or romantic. But that’s what this writer feels at the end of a continent, a place with 60 percent of the biodiversity that’s found throughout it. In short, it’s wild. Yes, at times it’s difficult to get past the disparity, the political and economic residue of apartheid but seeing that, too, reminds one of America’s problems with race and resource distribution, too.
But here there are the penguins. Here there are the baboons. Here are the vast open spaces with exposed rock that’s been beaten by millenia of wind and rain. The microclimates steal the senses, much like San Francisco’s landscape in weather but without the buildings. Here is where two oceans meet. The Atlantic is much colder than the Indian because of a dominant current that skirts the west coast of Africa that originates in the Antarctic. The difference in temperature and salinity makes for upwellings of nutrient rich waters that feed ocean and land animals alike.
Just off the coast are some of the sharkiest waters on the planet, and as we drive we see black flags at beaches with a silhouette of these great creatures, alerting surfers and snorkelers to their presence. The regular road signs alert us to animals that I only have seen in zoos – like baboons, penguins, ostriches – and a deery animal with horns called a Schonbock.
At a beach reserve named Boulders we find the penguins. Hundreds of them walk about, no more than 18-inches high. These are called African Penguins, previously known as the Jackass Penguin because of a donkey-like honk that they make. There are bachelors and bachelorettes alike, as well as several mating pairs. As they go about their business, just watching their awkward terrestrial movements inspires joy. They are some of the cutest things I’ve ever seen in my life. As we continue towards land’s end of the Cape of Good Hope, we happen upon a family of baboons along the side of the road. Signs warn travelers not feed them, as doing so makes them accustom to humans as a food source which often ends tragically. A fed baboon is a dead baboon we’re told, and house break ins by the creatures is not uncommon. As we watch from the care window, the dominant male in his majesty keeps look out after his clan, and the babies are playing like children do. They wrestle, they tumble, and on has stolen a flower from the other and is playing keep away with it.
The wind is howling, also a symptom of converging ocean currents. Many ships have foundered on these rocks, the winds blowing them to shore. I myself have gotten lost in South Africa, lost in love with landscape, the people and the complex convergence of the two.
Editor’s Note: This is part 10 in a special series. Voyage with Stiv and catch the exclusive each week here at EcoSalon during his months-long journey into the heart of the South Atlantic Gyre and beyond.