Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa / Godahoppsudden, Sydafrika

I am a land of unique fynbos flora, horror-filled racist history, and magic vivid scenery for the first time in my life. We will only visit the area around Cape Town (Kapstaden), and since South Africa is much larger than you might think, there is a lot that I won’t see. No elephants, lions, and Kalahari for example. But here at Cape Town the Cape of Good Hope Peninsula and National Park is very close and that is where we spend today. It was amazing, and I wished all of you in my close and extended family had been there to see everything. I am going to try to upload photos here too but this connection is very slow, so we will see how it goes.

The Cape of Good Hope and its sister Cape Point, are the most southwestern points of Africa. South of it is just water and the Antarctic. At the airport there was actually a departing flight listed with destination ‘Antarctica’; I have never seen a whole continent been a flight end point before. But back to Good Hope.

This peninsula is famous for its winter (June-August) storms and hundreds of ships are wrecks along the coast. It is rugged, dramatic, and windy. The peninsula has large mountains covered with the typical fynbos flora with geraniums, proteas, and ericads (blueberry relatives), and we saw lots of flowers in all colors. There are giant bird cliffs with black and white-breasted cormorants, seagulls, and Cape Fur seals, sea lions, and giant white sharks in the water. We actually saw a giant shark fin in one bay, swiveling around on the surface of the water. Our hole day was spent on shore, not in the boat, but we also saw at least 10 southern right whales, big plankton eating peaceful monsters that were blowing air and water, diving, frolicking by laying on their backs and flipping their flippers, and a few times we saw them breaking, which is when they come from deep below and cut straight through the surface and up in the air, with nearly ¾ of their giant bodies above the water for a short time. None of the whales were very close, but with my great binoculars (I am so happy I brought them) you could see quite a lot.

We also visited a penguin colony, where the penguins were totally unafraid and in their molting phase, so all they were doing was sitting still for three weeks until their old feathers had fallen off and the new ones have grown out. It is strange to see penguins in the wild, it was like a zoo. Down in the national park we saw an ostrich family along the beach, Mommy Ostrich, Daddy Ostrich, and about ten little ostrichlings. The beach and ostrich in the same view was not what I had expected. Not zebras either, but they were also there, as well as antelopes. We saw a Rock Dassie, a kind of hyrax which is a small animal related to elephants (but without trunk, tusks, and tail). Black lizards with fat bellies were skittish.

The flora is so different from anything else I have ever seen. Giant-flowered proteas are everywhere, as are geraniums and Aizoaceae (ice plant family)plants, from one of which they make Sour Fig Jam, and I bought some to have at home with cheese and crackers. There are lots of bushy Asteraceae (sunflower family), and we also so a parasitic mistle toe. Small bushes were flowering with everlasting flowers (eterneller in Swedish) with papery-thin and papery-dry petals.

Lunch was at an outdoor terrace looking out over False Bay, and I ordered Cape Malay Seafood Curry, a fantastic dish. They have lots of good fish and seafood here.

When I was standing up by the light house at Cape Point and looked out over the treacherous seas I was thinking about my grandfather who must have rounded the cape at least once during his years as a merchant marine in the 1910s to 1920s. I should ask Dad about when my grandfather was sailing here on his steamships, and if he ever visited Cape Town. It is strange to be in places nearly a hundred years after one of your relatives was there. I had the same feeling when I visited the Botanical Garden in Rio de Janeiro, where he also walked the paths and even bought a little guidebook I now own. Tomorrow we are going to Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, which is supposed to be one of the ten best gardens in the world. It will be botanical overload and ecstasy, I am sure.

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