Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Penguins and Snoek and Sharks, Oh My! - Erich

Today we headed south down the rail line along False Bay. So where is that? Okay, the southwestern tip of Africa is the Cape of Good Hope, a bane of sailors due to the storms that frequently occur there. Back in the day when wooden ships sailed around Africa to get to the far east, they had to go around that. Well, just past that point, when you get from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, the continent has a bay. And sailors of that time would round the mountains of the Cape of Good Hope, and if it was foggy (which it often is there), they couldn't see the mountains at the other end of False Bay. So they would sail along the coast, thinking they were progressing around Africa only to discover they were not in the open ocean. They were in a bay. (This happened to sailors coming from the Indian Ocean hoping to get to the Atlantic as well.) And so it got the name False Bay.

But back to modern times. We took the train to Simon's Town. From there we walked a bit less than 3 kilometers (which here is spelled kilometres) to reach Boulders Beach. Along the way, I read a plaque that talked about how Horatio Nelson, later to be Lord Admiral Nelson, when he was just a midshipman, was injured and being sailed back to England. And during that time his ship was anchored for awhile in False Bay. And it was likely that at some point he had come on shore and been in Simon's Town. The plaque didn't promise that Lord Nelson had been here, just that it was likely. Sort of a George Washington may have slept here kind of thing.

Boulders Beach is an amazing place. You walk out on a boardwalk over the beach itself. But on the beach are penguins. This is one of the few places that you can see penguins in their natural habitat. (At least it is one of the few places that isn't frigidly cold.)

These are African Penguins. It is a species that lives only in South Africa and tends to lay its eggs on some islands off the coast of South Africa. They waddle like the penguins you see in zoos. They dive into the water in a similar way, but in a different way too. Because here, unlike in the aquarium or zoo, the water had waves and tides!

Carver and I watched how the penguins got into the water. It was very interesting. They would waddle out into the shallow water. Then at some point they would lay down on their bellies and begin to swim. But right by the shore, the waves would come in and some penguins would be pushed back to the shallows. The ones who successfully made it out to the water would dive just as the wave was coming and swim under the wave.

After watching this for awhile, we went to a restaurant in Simon's Town called the Salty Sea Dog. Very British sounding name, with a very British looking menu. This was a fish and chips restaurant. But one of the fish varieties that was being served was snoek. Snoek (which I think is pronounced more like snook, rhymes with shook) is a fish found in South Africa that is line caught and has its own distinctive flavor. Both Alrica and I got snoek and chips, and it was delicious. Though snoek has lots and lots of bones in it. So there was a lot of picking the bones out of it.

Next to the restaurant is a short wharf and here someone was filming a movie. I don't know what movie, but everyone was in period costumes from English imperial times (I'm guessing turn of the 20th century). And one of the security people told us they were filming a scene in which the queen arrives to visit. I don't know who was playing the queen. I didn't see that actress. Or if I did, she didn't look royal enough.

From there we headed to Long Beach. Here we swam in the incredibly cold water until we were chased out of the water by a shark! Okay, I made that sound a bit more intense than it actually was. The beaches on False Bay do have shark attacks. The geology of the area is such that beside the beaches are the cities and behind those cities are mountains that have a flat top. Up on these mountains are shark spotters: people who watch the water for sharks. And if they see any sharks, they radio down to the lifeguards at the beach. And the lifeguards clear the water and raise a white flag that means a shark has been spotted in the water.

So when I say we were chased out of the water by a shark, we weren't really. We didn't personally see any sharks. But the shark spotters did and the lifeguard told us to get out of the water. So still kind of intense, right? (It makes a much better story if I say we were chased by a shark and that Syarra was nearly eaten alive! A less true story, yes, but much better.)

So now I can say, with much more certainly than Lord Nelson, that I indeed have been in Simon's Town.

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