This may be beginning to sound repetitive, but I think today was actually my favorite day of the trip so far. We hopped on a bus for a tour of greater Cape Town along the coast and all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope and Table Mountain National Park. As the cliché goes, pictures speak louder than words; and in an effort to both keep things interesting as well as attempt to share some of today’s stunning natural beauty, I’ll be structuring today’s entry as a bit of a photo blog….
We stopped along several quaint towns as a journeyed along the coastline. Each town exhibited a laid-back, artful atmosphere, beautiful beach views, and interesting architecture. I checked out an art shop called “Artvaark” at the first town we stopped it. I spent almost the full 30 minutes of our free time in there looking at a multitude of artful products ranging from photography to painting, woodworks to metal works. The artistic genius of the South African locals was on full display.
Our next stop was a much-anticipated one: the penguin beach. Sounds a bit paradoxical, right? Penguin beach? Sure enough, we stopped along the coast and had a bit of a hike down to the shoreline. As we grew nearer, we began to smell a very foul stench. We began to see penguins moving about below us and in the dunes. Then, as we turned a final corner (and my nostrils were crying “Uncle!”), we found a group of 50-60 penguins on the beach! We saw it all – big penguins, baby penguins still lacking their black and white coloring, and even mother penguins lying on a nest of eggs! Despite the smell, it was well worth the trip. Although seeing penguins on a beach during a sunny, 70 degree winter day made me think one thing: to question the validity of everything I have ever learned in school!
Following the penguin escapades, we were on our way to Table Mountain National Park to visit the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost point of the Cape peninsula. We hiked to the lighthouse at the very tip of the peninsula, and were greeted by a spectacular panoramic view, but the highlight of this trip was the animals we saw during our trip. As our first venture to an African national park, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It certainly didn’t disappoint! I was very excited to be able to see a pack of baboons crossing the road right in front of our bus, a pair of very large ostriches (fun fact: one ostrich egg is the nutritional equivalent of 27 chicken eggs), and zebras while in the park! It was cool to finally see what many Westerners think of then they hear “Africa.”
Our final stop of the day was at Hout Bay where we boarded a boat to go on a seal-viewing cruise. However, before the boat even left the dock, we saw three seals. In a short, but scenic, boat ride of about 15 minutes we reached our destination. Like the penguins, we could smell the seals before we could see them. We then reached “Seal Island,” a collection of huge rocks that were literally covered in seals. Thanks to the nautical expertise of our boat captain, we were able to get very close to the action. Some seals were big, while others were seemingly still babies. Some were quite lazy, while others scampered about the rocks or jumped in and out of the water. The seal fun didn’t end there. When we returned to the dock, a massive seal was waiting with several local men. Little did we know, one of the men had been training the seal for 8 years. While it was still completely wild, it was well trained. We crowded around, and I went to go pet the feed the giant seal first. “When in Africa!” To cap it off, with the encouragement from the trainer (and his assurance the seal wouldn’t bite my face off), I fed the seal a fish right from my mouth! Despite the fish taste and the seal’s horrible breath, it was the experience of a lifetime. Not many people can say they’ve achieved that level of interaction with a wild animal!