I started my first trans-African trip in South Africa, more
specifically Cape Town. When I got there, the Parliament of World Religions was
taking place. This meant that many prominent religious leaders were in town, as
well as a bevy of bizarre fanatics, spiritualists and representatives of almost
any religion one could think of and many one can't or wouldn't want to. I saw a
number of these delegates inside and around the main exhibition centre where the
event was taking place A spin off from this was that the Festival of World Sacred Music
took place at the Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens, a lovely setting in a natural
setting with Table Mountain as a backdrop. The keynote speaker before the
concert started was the fourteenth Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan
Buddhism (photo). He spoke eloquently and interestingly, particularly about the
third millennium (it was in December 1999) and was at times very funny,
especially when he implied that the Queen Mother was a slut.
When I visited Table Mountain, the impressive flat topped
mountain in Cape Town there were a number of PWR (Parliament of World Religions)
delegates having a look around occasionally stopping for a bit of a pray. At one
time a bunch got together for some group worshipping (photo 1). I was talking to
one of the PWR organisers at this time, and we both agreed we had never
witnessed such a competitive display of humility before, as they all tried to
out pray each other without making a direct reference to any deity.
After witnessing the strange human spectacle, it was time for a
natural one and the sunset from the top of the mountain with the wispy cloud of
the 'Table Cloth' was certainly spectacular (photo 2).
In my explorations of the Cape area I visited vineyards, where
excellent wines are produced at low prices. There was also wildlife to observe,
including the penguins at Boulder Beach (photo) which seemed quite desensitised
to humans, ignoring us most of the time.
Five years later, I was back in South Africa. This time to
investigate a business project. I had the opportunity to see some lovely places
and meet some good people.
The southern most tip of Africa can be found at Cape L'Agulhas,
also supposedly where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet and home to a nice
The area of De Kelders, where I was based is probably where the
world's best land-based whale watching is possible, where the Southern Right
whales come right to the shore in their droves, for six months of the year. The
whales were not the only wildlife. One could sometimes see meercat, steenbok or
hyrax (photo 3). Sometimes two at the same time (photo 4), with a whale in the
background and a hyrax (or rock dassie) in the foreground.
The whales come to the bay to mate and calve, sometimes just a
few metres from the shore. Their callosities are not an attractive feature, but
are distinctive and make individual identification possible and apparently have
recently been found to aid their movement through the water. A lot of their
behaviour is quite standard, yet still open to interpretation as to its purpose.
Another famous marine creature in the area is Andre Hartman and
the Great White sharks he has spent so much time with. On the way out to see the
sharks with him, we saw a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins with young.
It took some time before we got a shark, but when it came, it
decided to hang around for some hours. When it first came, it seemed to be a bit
pre-occupied with the bait or perhaps Andre's foot, after all, a few days
previous another shark had decided to nip his foot. The first story that was
released by "Die Burger" the Afrikaans newspaper said that Andre's
foot had been bitten off, then that he had been diving with the sharks, when he
lost his leg. These were not true reports, as you can see from photo 2, it
wasn't a severe wound at all. The story Andre would tell of what happened was -
the young shark saw his foot dangling in the water and his toes looked like a
mummy shark's nipples and thought wow, there's five of them what a great feed
I'll get from them. It took a bite, realised it wasn't milk and got confused, so
had to be released and went off. The other story he would tell was - the young
shark decided to munch on Andre's foot and when it took a bite, went
"ghat" ("shit" in Afrikaans) and went off. A little while
later, a dead shark was reported in the breakers near Kleinbaai, so Andre went
and got it and took it to the doctor and insisted on having an autopsy
performed. The doctor found the shark had died of foot and mouth disease (or
The real story is that Andre was sitting on the engine on the
back of the boat and brought the bait and shark past his foot and forgot to move
his foot. The shark was chasing the bait and ended up on his foot. Andre turned
around and told a photographer on the boat "hey there's a shark on my
foot", so the guy dropped his camera and opened the shark's mouth and Andre
had about twenty or so stitches in his foot, appropriately in the shape of an
This trip, the shark stayed around for long enough that we got
to get in the water whilst it was there and see it properly in its own
environment. Three different sharks in total came by, all of them majestic and
graceful in their environment.
The reason that the waters in the area are some of the most
shark infested in the world is due to the plentiful food source, namely the cape
fur seals from the Dyer Island colony.
Me and my buddy Andre, who sometimes gets a bit frisky.
Some of the wildlife is not so big or dramatic, such as the
stick insects, that don't realise when they are in the wrong place for their
camouflage to be really effective.
One of the things I got to see was how different and attractive
the scenery was from the air. Table mountain, the icon of Cape Town looks
flatter and Robben Island looks smaller.
The country around Stellenbosch and the Strand looks like a
One of the great things about the aerial view is the distances
one can see. At times one could see from Gansbaai, across Hermanus, Kleinmond
and all the way to Cape Point (photo 2).
Another thing that looks different from the air are the whales,
for which Walker Bay is famous. Particularly found around De Kelders, the
southern right whales can be easily seen from shore but seen in their entirety
from the air. In photo 2, one can see a mother and calf, it took me years to work out what was odd about this photo.
The fastest land creature on the planet (apart from anything in
a rental car) is the cheetah. The ones I saw didn't move that much, but they are
cute, particularly the cubs.