posted by Noah
The "table cloth" on Table Mountain was extremely thick today, so our plans to start the day there were foiled again. That meant we had all day to head to Simons Town to see the penguins on Boulder Beach.
But first we headed to the pannekoeken place in the Waterfront to sample the Dutch-style pancakes we had enjoyed so much in Amsterdam. They had a limited breakfast menu, including only one pancake dish, a savory one with eggs and bacon. The last one I had was sweet, with apples, so this experience was almost totally alien. Tasty, though … I'd probably say I prefer the all-sweet. (They had some all-sweet on the menu, but it seemed somehow removed from the "real" breakfast menu)
We proceeded to a tourism office to get information about getting to Boulder Beach. We are told we are right that the train there is safe, cheap, and efficient. However, the walk from the train station to the beach is about 4km, too long to be practical, we'll need to take a rikkie.
Following the helpful tourism guy's instructions, we hopped a cheap (about R3, something like 50 cents) bus to the train station. But first we went to Green Market, a large outdoor marketplace. We browsed for a while, finally buying some elephant-print cloth for our quilt and some gifts for people. I probably could have gotten them for less if I had haggled, but I'm very bad at that, and it was still very cheap from my perspective, so I feel like we all won.
The train station was not terribly user friendly for visitors, but we managed to find the ticket booth and bought cheap, second-class tickets to Simons Town. We had an hour to wait for our train. Some aimless wandering filled much of that, until we decided to go to a Woolworth's to buy cheap shoes for India, since we've heard you'll want to throw your shoes away after India. Yes, Woolworth's is alive and well and living in South Africa. We bought those cheap shoes and barely made it to the train on time (okay, it wasn't THAT close, but we did hustle towards the end).
We dozed a bit on the train, which was largely empty, save for a mother and young daughter who were South African, but also seemed to be tourists, taking a first visit to Simons Town, and possible a first train ride, since the daughter seemed to greatly enjoy swinging from the luggage rack and, when we got the beach, sticking her head out the window. I kinda wish we had spoken to them.
The hourlong train ride, which did, indeed, take us through some distressed areas, before giving us lovely seaside views, took us to Simons Town. We left, saw when the last trains home would be, and headed out to try to find a rikkie. A local woman saw us looking confused and offered to let us share her ride in a private taxi. This woman clearly spoke English as her second language, but was always clear. Since we were a bit hesitant and closed-mouthed, she thought we were French. When I said we were Americans she said "Oh, Americans" with a sort of "that explains everything" lilt. Her ride never came, and she was feeling guilty for making us wait, so she called a rikkie for us.
Rikkie are essentially multi-rider cabs. Ours nominally sat eight passengers. That would have been very snug. I think eight, including the driver, would be more accurate.
Finally, we were at Boulder Beach and the journey was more than worth it. Admission was cheap and the penguins were everywhere, quite close to us. It's more than a little mindbending to think that we saw elephants in their natural habitat and penguins in theirs about 36 hours apart and all within the borders of one country. Even more so to think how close we got to both and how much we were the interlopers in their territory.
The penguins here are African Penguins, which used to be called Jackass Penguins because of the braying sounds the males make to attract a mate. The name was changed allegedly because South American penguins make the same noise. Yeah, but … c'mon. You changed it because you were sick of Shrek/Johnny Knoxville jokes.
Whatever you call them, the penguins were unbearably cute. This weekend is the Academy Awards and, for the first time since I was in elementary school, I won't be watching them. But at least I was hanging out with SOMETHING wearing a tuxedo. Boulder Beach (which would be impressive just for the boulders, if that's all it had), is a great story of rebuilding a population. From just a few breeding pairs in the eighties, there are now about three thousand penguins in the colony. Penguins mate for life, so we saw a lot of little penguin couples waddling together, looking out for each other, which is just as adorable and heartwarming as it sounds. It's not easy to tell the difference between a male and a female penguin … males have longer beaks, but you can only notice the difference if there's a male and a female together. There were a few young birds, bigger than chicks, but still with the fluffy gray feathers of their youth.
The greatest thing about penguins is the clear difference between the awkward waddle they use to get around on land and the elegant gliding the do underwater. They're really like two different animals. We enjoyed watching the birds alone, in pairs, and in groups, hopping up stairs, guiding little ones, surrounding human children, gobbling sardines, interacting cautiously with tourists and basically just being penguins. We got some great photos, including some very close. We ran into one SAS group where one girl got too close and got bitten by a penguin. Later we heard about a guy who DELIBERATELY got bitten by a penguin because he thought it would be a good story. I don't know if penguins carry any diseases transmittable via bite … or if he runs the risk if turning into a werepenguin or what, but this is about my five hundredth wince at a story of SAS antics.
We had lunch at a local café which had a cat … a stray someone had found in a penguin nest. He was adopted by the café and now had liver problems from all the rich food guests fed him from their plates. Amanda, of course, got some good petting time in.
We took a stroll along a boardwalk and saw even more penguins. Finally, when we knew the last train for Capetown would soon be leaving, we caught another rikkie back to the station and boarded the train. We rode with some SAS kids (who had lost a member of their party … doh) back to the Waterfront.
We did a little more shopping and headed back to the ship, since Amanda had to be on duty that night. I ventured back off the boat to try to hit an Internet café and get some dinner for us. Alas, I found the café unhelpful and realized I didn't have much money for food, so it was a disappointing evening … but an AMAZING day.