All entries for Sunday 12 February 2006

February 12, 2006

Travel Report: Penguin flu and giant crabs in Cape Town

Follow-up to Travel Report: Simon's Town day 2, and Cape Point from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

After seven great days of touring, I rode back over the Cape Penninsula and onto the big highways leading through the sprawl of Cape Town to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, ending my journey at the BMW showroom where it had begun. I returned the bike to Celia of Karoo Biking, who bemoaned my bad luck in the Karoo mud, and seemed to agree that the damage was not too bad or expensive (more on that matter later).

This seemed like a good time to collapse with exhaustion, so I did, falling into the hospitable arms of BMW (free coffee, comfy chairs). Most friendly of all was the head of security, who pointed me in the direction of a good hotel nearby, and arranged for my equipment to be transfered by taxi.

Protea Breakwater Hotel at the University of Cape Town

The hotel to which I was directed proved to be a great choice. It was a little confusing at first. I had booked into a Protea three star hotel. I found myself within the rather luxurious campus of the University of Cape Town Business School. And yet the building had the appearance of a prison…


…quite a pleasant prison…


…which it had in fact been for a short period of time. This reminded me of the importance of the prison system within the history of South Africa, a subject that I had discussed with Elizabeth in Simon's Town. And the links between that culture, the colonial administration, poor laws in the UK, and the concentration camps.

But this was no longer a place of punishment, rather a place of learning and luxury accomodation combined. The UCT had clevely allowed a leading hotel chain to take over the accomodation business within its best campus. And it certaintly was doing a good job of it. For under £50 I got this view from my window…

Table Mountain

…and a short walk away…


Unfortunately, I was unable to enjoy myself fully, having contracted some hideous sickness which I suspect was linked to swimming with penguins.

The following day, before returning to the airport, I visited the Two Oceans Aquarium, next to the hotel. Despite being in a weakened state, I managed to be impressed by the many fishy exhibits, including giant crabs as big as a labrador, and scuba divers cleaning the tanks…



And that was it. I returned to Cape Town International airport to board the first of my two flights to take me up to meet Emma and Lawrence in Gaborone, Botswana.

Travel Report: Simon's Town day 2, and Cape Point

Follow-up to Travel Report: Simon's Town day 1 from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Riding to the end of Africa

In the morning of my second day I rode further south along the penninsula, as far south as is possible, right to the end of Africa. In fact there is a more southerly point, but the Cape Point nature reserve is considered to be special. The large wild area that occupies this part of the Cape is certainly worth a visit, with its pristine fynbos landscape and animals, including baboons, ostrich and bontebok antelopes. It is also a good sea watching platform, with sightings of many kinds of cetacean possible.

Cape Point 1

Cape Point 2


Later in the day I returned to the harbour. The many interesting small shops were now open, including art galleries presenting a wide variety of innovative work. I again sat in the restaurant admiring the view…



In the afternoon I had a fascinating appointment. Elizabeth van Heyningen of the University of Cape Town is a leading expert on South African history, currently working with Iain Smith of Warwick on the historical database project Morbidity and Mortality in the Concentration Camps of the South African War, 1899-1902 She is also a resident of Simon's Town. It was therefore an ideal opportunity to meet up with a historian doing work related to that in which I am involved in England. Elizabeth proved to be full of fascinating insights, not only regarding methods of historical research using computers, but also the many interesting topics that we dicussed over coffee.

I had a great time finding out about South African history, Simon's Town and its people, and how this all connects with and shapes the politics of today. Elizabeth proved to be a charming and clever lady. The meeting left me with a greater understanding of the importance of projects such as that on the concentration camps, and a determination to support more such activities in England. I hope to meet up with her when she comes to Warwick later in the year, and intend by then to have much positive news to report concerning databases in history.

Last lunch in Simon's Town

Later that evening I sampled yet more of the delicious sea food, this time a "fisherman's platter" of hake and calamari…

Fishermans Platter

I reflected on Simon's Town, and just how surprised I had been about it. I have, I believe, never been anywhere quite so relaxed. One can easily walk around the town without fears, even at night. People are friendly and welcoming, and there is plenty of interest, including several museums that I failed to visit. On passing the tourist information office, I stopped to assemble a collection of leaflets advertising cottages to rent. My plan is to return soon with Lawrence and Emma.

Return to Cape Town

The following morning, on my way back to Cape Town, I had planned to take a boat trip into the bay, with the hope of seeing sharks and dolphins. Unfortunately, that night a fierce wind blew up, and by the morning the surface of the sea was far to rough. I proceeded instead on to the big city, stopping to get the bike washed ready for its return to Karoo Biking. It was still carrying a heavy load of Karoo mud…

Bike wash

Part 11, Cape Town

Travel Report: Simon's Town day 1

Follow-up to Travel Report: Boulders Beach in close up from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

For my first morning in Simon's Town, I revisited the penguin colony. It promised to be a fine hot day, perfect for swimming, and perhaps a boat trip into the bay. Some good photographs were taken…


penguins 2

I walked along to the National Parks Board information centre, which offers exhibitions and a shop, as well as a screen showing a movie about the invasion of the penguins. I sat down for half an hour to watch the show, revealing just how far the penguins have gone in taking over the town.

Once the show was over, I walked out of the TV room and back into the sunlight…sunlight?...confusion! Within thirty minutes a heavy sea fog had engulfed the bay. The land was wet, and the sky dark. As it wasn't actually raining, I decided to continue my walk into town. The mist cleared a little, but by the time I reached the restaurants, I was quite damp.


I sat down overlooking the harbour, and ordered a cape malay line fish curry – "line" referring to the method of capture. This is a common feature of Cape menus, and usually indicates that the meal comprises of whatever fish had been brought in that morning, In this case it was angel fish, with delicate but substantial white flesh. The cape malay curry, in this case slightly hot, is a traditional sauce with a degree of sweetness typical of cape cooking.


Looking out across Simon's Bay, I could see vessels of the South African navy, docked in their home port. Almost 190 years ago, the same anchorage would have been occupied by the wooden sail boats of the Royal Navy's South Atlantic squadron, charged with the task of keeping the French and Dutch out and, more importantly after the fall of Napolean, of putting an end to the slave trade.


By the time that I had walked back to my rondavel, the weather had started to clear and the sun had broken through the clouds.

Simons Bay

Part 10, Simons Town and Cape Point

Travel Report: Boulders Beach in close up

Follow-up to Travel Report: Big skies into Cape Town from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

The Cape Peninsula curves out into the Atlantic Ocean like a great arm, catching passing marine life in its grasp. To its east, False Bay provides shelter and a few vital degrees of warmth. Dolphins, whales, sharks, sea-birds and humans enjoy its waters and beaches. Of the many settlements along the mild coast of the bay, Simon's Town stands out for a unique combination of reasons. As a finale to my trip, I planned to stay for a couple of days, renting a small rondavel (thatched hut) in the well kept Caravan and Camping park.

penguins 2

If that sounds like rather humble accomodation, consider the views available within just a one minute walk…

penguins 3

penguins 4

And the neighbours, who employ rather unusual security guards to man their gates…

penguins 5

For the southern end of town is home to one of the world's most famous beaches, Boulders…

penguins 6

During the hours of darkness, I discovered, the penguins roam freely. I seemed to be surrounded with them and their strange braying calls. You may recogise them as of the sub-species Jackass, a most appropriate name. That is now considered by the penguin-naming authorities to be some kind of insult. And so as with many things in South Africa, they are renamed: the African Penguin. The birds themselves don't care. They know who is in charge in this town, and neither nomanclature nor penguin-proof fences will stop them.

Besides, we humans get our own back, both through overfishing and through the less serious persecution of the tourist camera…

penguins 7

The reward for us may be that perfect souvenir snapshot…

penguins 1

Or the childhood memory of a game of penguin netting…

penguins 8

But remember these are sensitive creatures, and if you try to walk like a penguin…

penguins 11

They may well confront you for your mockery…

penguins 9

Signs dotted around this National Parks Board managed beach warn that penguins can bite, but more usually they just retreat into the sea…

penguins 10

They do, after all, have a much nicer beach reserved for their own use…

penguins 12

What a marvellous place for both penguins and people.

Part 9, Simons Town day 2