South Africa, in the mind of most people, is synonymous with game. Not poker. Not soccer. Game. As in big animals. No, not B’ush. Animals that are hunted down. And go on four legs. Oh, wait a minute, ok, maybe there are animals that go on two. Well, B’ush actually goes on all four when it comes to political games. But that’s not the kind of game I’m talking about. Or the kind of animal. My animals are much more human. And by game I meant the African kind. But it’s still hunting, and I despise it. Hunt B’ush down, yeah, but not animals. Any way. I digress. What I meant to say was this: even though South Africa equals lions and zebras in most peoples’ minds, very few have actually thought of… penguins! And yet, they are there, thriving, and we visited them!
The place is called Boulders Beach. It’s located to the south of Cape Town, on the western shore of False Bay and the eastern side of Cape Point. Driving past Muizenberg and the pretty fishing town of Kalk Bay, one reaches Simon’s Town. For some reason, a colony of African Penguins (used to be called Jackass Penguins, please don’t let me go back with this to my earlier ramblings about a certain animal…) recently elected residence there on a very short stretch of shoreline, merely a few hundred meters in all. The scenery is spectacular, reminding me of the Baths in Virgin Gorda with its giant boulders thrown into pristine turquoise water…
As always, tourism has gotten a hold of the place and a National Park has been established on the northern end of the area, with limited, paying access, informative displays, toilets and elevated boardwalks to prevent damage to the dunes (and the tourists) and leave the poor penguins alone. Hundreds of tourists are spat out daily by buses and the parking lot looks like that of a major shopping center. However, unknown to most visitors, the southern part of the colony has free access, is much, much prettier, and lets one wander freely on the beach around the penguins who don’t seem to mind human presence at all. So that’s where we headed after experiencing the crowds at the first stop.
And once we had been there, as Da Vinci said it of the sky, we longed to return. So we did. Low tide, high tide, the place was exceptionally beautiful, and surprisingly quiet. To get to the nicest spot, we left the main beach and its towels behind, walked around a few boulders, crouched and crawled through a narrow tunnel inside one, and emerged in a peculiar no-man’s land, a neutral zone where humans and penguins co-habit peacefully.
There, almost alone with the colony, we swam, sunbathed, photographed and relaxed in the company of the strange flightless aquatic birds. They really didn’t mind us, tolerating our close proximity very well and obviously not affected by the typical tourist-to-pet feeding pattern. Their personal space is strangely small; many a time, a penguin would walk straight up to me from 20 or 30 feet away, only to stop about 2 feet from me and wait patiently for me to yield sideways – which I would once I understood the rules – upon which it would resume its slow funky walk to wherever it were going.
Once in while, a school – or should I say a flock? Any way, a bunch – of them would come in from open water through the half submerged boulders, charging passed us for the beach, and they would jump out of the water and head up comically through a gully to a point where they would stop and face a rock to dry in the sun, head tilted sideways as if staring at the ground or the sky, or both…
I wondered for a while if penguins feed on lobster. To illustrate my question, I turned into one. Marie told me they have a big hole in the ozone layer down there, and if you mess with the suntan lotion, you get checkers and stripes. No kidding! The Caribbean son found its Waterloo. I didn’t burn, I fried. Que dis-je? I fried… I baked! So for a couple of weeks, I had red diagonal lines where I’d quit rubbing the gooey stuff before the shoulders. Oh well. They don’t know what a red neck is in Cape Town.
But really, what a magical place! Two days of pure fun. And I even learned the penguin posture. Oh, yeah, you already know, Marie was kind enough to post a picture of that… ;-)
N.B. The tone of this post might sound a bit frivolous, and that’s because it is. There are noble and very serious endeavors in life, such as supporting Amnesty International, abolishing Apartheid, encouraging the John Lennon fund for the protection of the African Beatle, and baking flan. And then there is sunbathing with penguins which is probably as frivolous as going on a road trip in a 4X4 without a shovel. But that’ll be fixed soon.