Dinner with Ida and Nicolai; Poking penguins; The Two Oceans Aquarium; A braai with the temporary relatives; Lost ATM card

One of the odd side-effects of doing an overland tour is that you have a circle of acquaintances at your destination. We hooked up with Ida and Nicolai, two of the infamous Three Crazy Danes from the Nairobi-Livingstone section of our tour, for a drink down at Cape Town’s waterfront. The original plan had been to meet for dinner, but it was their last evening together - Ida was continuing to travel, while Nicolai was returning home to Denmark - so we didn’t want to intrude and settled for a quick drink instead. They didn’t put up even a token protest, so I think it was the right thing to have done. The whole waterfront was painfully loud, so we spent some time trying to find a nice quiet spot to talk and have a drink. We’d just found one, sat down and ordered drinks, when the house band started up. We gave up on the subtleties and shouted over the music at each other. Naturally, I always got caught by those embarrassing moments when the music suddenly stops and you find you’re shouting over dead silence. Anyway, it was good to see the two of them one last time. They’d spent the past month between Cape Town and Johannesburg, maxing out Ida’s credit cards and having a grand old time.

There’s a colony of penguins near Simonstown, south of Cape Town (I’m still having a bit of trouble with the South African accent and until I saw it in print I thought the place was called “Salmonstone”). African penguins are the only non-Antarctic penguins, as I understand it. Joan, our host, was nice enough to drive us down toward the Cape of Good Hope so that we could see them. There’s a national park there called Boulders Beach where you can actually swim with the penguins, but we turned off the main road a few blocks early and went down to a different beach. Sheryl and I didn’t realize that this wasn’t the main attraction, so we were a bit disappointed to see a beach completely free of penguins. But we walked up and down and eventually spied a half-dozen on a rock at the end of the beach. We thought it would be our only chance, so we crept up on them very slowly and carefully. They let me get to maybe ten feet away before they started edging toward the water. They really are the funniest-looking creatures, I love them. I lay on my stomach looking through my camera, keeping still, and they decided after a while that they wanted to be on the other side of me and waddled around me right in front of the camera.

We thought that was excellent, but then we went on to Boulders Beach. It was crammed with people and with penguins. They’re ridiculously tame, lying there on the rocks and swimming around with the people. There were park wardens around warning people away from them if they got too close. Sheryl sat down beside some to have their picture taken and the penguin did this comical head-cocked weaving bobbing motion. We thought he was curious or posing for the camera, but learned later that it was penguin language for “come any closer and I’ll bite your face off”. Also, I’m not proud of it, but I have to admit - I poked a penguin. Well, wouldn’t you? I had to know what a penguin felt like. They look so strange, all smooth and oily, I thought it would feel like a wetsuit. Guess what? It felt like a bird. I did pick one that was sleeping at the time so I didn’t get my face bitten off, but I didn’t need to worry, since all he did was stand up, shake his head and look around in confusion, and then go back to sleep, which is what penguins do most of the time, I think.

We saw more penguins at Cape Town’s aquarium. It’s a modest affair but well worth spending a couple of hours at. I could have spent hours just watching the jellyfish, to tell the truth. They’re behind curved, thick reflective glass so it’s virtually impossible to get a good photo of them, but they’re mesmerizing to watch. The aquarium also has a big torus-shaped predator tank with the obligatory sharks, but also a huge turtle and some rays and things, and a kelp forest exhibit that was fascinating.

A couple of days later we were introduced to our temporary extended family here in Cape Town - Joan’s son Russell and his household. They live in a gigantic rambling house ringed with big trees. They made us very welcome and we felt comfortable there. The South African word for barbecue is braai, and Russell does a good one. His wife Jill provided backup for his chicken and it was all great. If we spend much time in South Africa I’m going to gain a lot of weight, I can tell.

One of the more annoying things about South Africa is the business hours. Everything closes a lot earlier in the evening than we’re used to, and most businesses are closed Saturday afternoons and Sundays. We’ve learned to work around this, but it caused a real problem when we took a short trip into town on a Saturday to get our passport photos done. We wanted to exchange some of the leftover American dollars from the overland tour into Rand, but the banks were closed by that time. We tried to find a foreign exchange place that was open, but no luck - the closest we could come was a diamond store that changed currency. The rate didn’t impress me, so we decided to wait until Monday and withdraw a little bit of money to keep us going until then. This turned out to be a bad idea - the ATM ate my card right after I typed my PIN number in, with the message “PIN retries exceeded”. This puzzled me because I’d only typed it in once. Sheryl was very suspicious that this was one of the many ATM scams you hear about, where the stupid tourist walks away from the ATM that just ate his card and the con artists come along and collect it. I was pretty sure it was on the level, because the ATM had displayed the message on its screen and had given me a receipt saying the same thing, so if someone was running a scam they’d have to have hacked at ATM - and if you’re that good you’d just make it give you money instead of annoying tourists. But we watched the next couple of people retrieve their money successfully anyway, just in case. I was really irritated and a bit apprehensive - banks can be absolute bastards to deal with, after all. I called my own bank back home as soon as we got back to Joan’s place and had them detach my accounts from the card - again, just in case. Monday morning found us back at the bank, at the customer enquiries counter, trying to convince the woman there that the machine really had eaten my card. She opened the box with all the cards retrieved from the machines over the weekend, and it wasn’t there. She insisted that those were all the cards there were. I’m very glad I kept my receipt from the ATM, because it convinced her to call the person who empties the machines every morning. Turns out that she had only emptied one machine - the one that hadn’t eaten my card. Nobody was quite sure why she’d only emptied one machine and not both - including the woman herself - but after being yelled at she trundled off and emptied the other ATM, which - no surprise - had my card in it. I had to show my passport to get it back, and that was that. Much less of a tragedy than it could have been. I hope very much that it doesn’t happen again, though, since our passports are currently with the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria and won’t be back for weeks.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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