Saturday, July 28, 2007

Driving us wild

Picture Sarah and I laying in a small bed in a dark, simple, mud-walled building….

*Scratching noises on the wall.*
Me: What do you think that sound is? Rats? Hyena?
Sarah: I don’t want to know.
*More scratching.*
Me: Whimper.
Sarah: Do you want to turn on the headlamp and check?
*I click on the head lamp and peer around.*
Sarah: See anything?
Me: Yeah. There’s a chicken under the bed.
Sarah: What’s it doing?
Me: Just sort of sitting there. I might be blinding it with the head lamp.
Sarah: Ok.
*I click off the headlamp and we fall to sleep.*

The next morning, Hesaan woke us a little before 5AM. The plan was to hit the road early and try to reach Maasai Mara Reserve, do a quick safari, and then make the long haul back to Nairobi. In addition to myself, Sarah and Hesaan, Vincent and his son, Alex would be coming with us. Vincent would get dropped off in Narok, while Alex would tag along with us to Maasai Mara, since he was familiar with the park.

So, after some bread, butter and milk tea, we hit the road. At first, while driving to Narok, I had been nervous and cautious with driving on the unendingly potholed dirt roads of Nairobi. But, by this point it had started to feel like second nature. In addition, I was struck by how amazingly cool it was to be roaring down dark a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, in Africa, with rabbits scattering in front of you and three Maasai jammed into the car with you. With that in mind, I found new driving confidence.

Unfortunately, I also discovered that the breaks seemed to be going out. And, by the time we hit the first gas station on the main road, I was convinced that we were going to have to have them looked at. Kuckily, it was most likely dust getting into the break pads (or something like that… I’m not even vaguely a mechanic), and by the time we dropped Vincent off, they seemed to be fine again.

The drive to Maasai Mara was only supposed to take about an hour, but this was Africa, and we were on Africa time, so it took closer to two hours. Two very long hours down a bumpy, dirty road, with tour vans roaring past us like they had a death wish.

Then, as we got closer to the park, we noticed four figures in blue robes and strange head-dresses making there way across the plains. They were a set of young men who had just been circumcised, and were wandering in the bush as part of there ceremony to become men. Hesaan, seeing them, called them over to our car.

Traditionally, they weren’t supposed to talk or interact with anyone. But, they seemed more than happy to chat with Hesaan a bit. After talking to him, Hesaan said that if we paid them 200 shillings (about $1.50), we could take their picture. As a rule, we haven’t been paying people to take their picture since we feel it just encourages a bad behavior (I mean, no one paid us to take our picture in India), but we decided to make an exception here because their outfits were so amazing and unique.

The headdresses were effectively a fan of wood wrapped in a variety of bird feathers.

Suddenly the four boys became nervous and started to leave. In the distance, another figure appeared making its way closer to us. Hesaan explained that it was probably an elder member of their tribe who would be angry if we were all caught talking. So, the boys made a hasty departure and we sprinted to our car. But, the car wouldn’t start! As the figure drew closer we panicked.

But, as it turned out that the solitaire figure wasn’t an elder, so we weren’t in trouble. And, after playing around with the battery a bit (the connection had been shaken free by the bumpy road) we got the car running again.

A short time later, after giving a Maasai women and her baby a ride, we arrived at the entrance to the park. At this point, it was 9AM, and we knew that it would be at least a 6 hour drive back to Nairobi, so we would only have about 3 hours in the park itself. In addition, the entrance fee ended up more than we had thought it would be. Luckily though, Hesaan knew one of the guys were at the entrance (because he knows half of Kenya), so the guard waived part of the admission fee, and we were able to enter.

This picture was actually taken while leaving the park, but still.

Hesaan also ended up knowing a driver of one of the tour trucks that was also entering, so the driver suggested we follow him and he’d lead us to the animal.

So, following the tour truck, we made our way into the park. Our main mission was to see the famous Wildebeest migration herds. We weren’t sure if would be able to, but it was our hope. At first the safari went slow, some buffaloes, a few distant elephants, rumors of a cheetah being in the area, and a few strange elks and warthogs.

Then, we came across a gutted zebra on the side of the road. At first this sighting seemed more gross than important, but it would play a key part later in our safari.

After the dead zebra, we then saw some vultures picking at the bones of another animal… at this point, with so many dead animals, we started suspect we were nearing something.

After looking at the zebra for a moment, we noticed a small group of about twenty wildebeest crossing the road ahead of us… Then, we noticed that the wildebeests were making their way another larger group of wildebeests. Then we noticed that that group was part of an even larger group. Then we noticed that all the black dots we had presumed were rocks on a distant hillside weren’t rocks… they were more wildebeests. Thousands and thousands of other wildebeests.

Those aren’t rocks! Unfortunately, our camera proved unable to accurately capture the scope and number of wildebeests.

Almost as impressive as the number of wildebeests was the number of zebras. Mixing amongst the wildebeests were thousands of zebras too. And, mixing amongst those were the various tour vans and jeeps.

some wildebeests, with a herd of zebras behind them.

So, following the tour vans lead, we slowly drove into the herd. Even staying to the roads, we quickly found ourselves in the mix, surrounded by legions of wildebeests and zebras. For the second time that day, I thought of how cool it was to be driving my own car. Around us, other tourists were packing into tour vans and jeeps; but here I was driving my own vehicle across the savannah through a sea of wildebeests.

After driving around a bit, we noticed a small group of tour vans parks nearby, the tourist’s cameras all aimed in the same direction. So, we drove to where they were parked, and peered in that direction.

It didn’t take long to see what everyone was looking at: Three cheetahs making their way through the grass toward the herd. As we watched, they weaved through the tour vans, passing not more that fifteen feet from our car. As the approached the herd, we thought we might see them pounce. But, instead, they took a scenic perch on a small hill.

The cheetahs pass between the line of tour vans.

The three cheetahs relax on top of a small mound overlooking the herds of wildebeests and zebras.

After taking dozens of pictures and making endless comments like “I can’t believe this” we realized we were running out of time in the park, and started making our way toward the entrance. As we drove out, we passed Hesaan’s friend in the tour jeep who told him casually: “There’s a lion eat that dead zebra we passed coming in.”

A short quick drive later, we were back at the sight of the dead zebra. As the guide said, there was a massive, male lion happy munching on the remains of the lion. As we watched, the lion tore at the dead zebra mere feet away. Amazing! Then, as other tour vans approached, it got up and made its way farther into the field.

Here you can see how close we were. I took this photo over the roof of our car, with Hesaan leaning out the window on the other side. Since he’s Maasai, he’s not supposed to be afraid of lions. I, on the other hand, can be as afraid as I like.

After eating a bit, the lion stood up, providing us the opportunity to see it even more clearly.

We took that as our sign to leave. As we continued down that road, Alex made a comment about how we hadn’t had a good elephant sighting. No sooner had he said that, then we came across of herd of about ten elephants, including several newborns. We stopped to take pictures, but weren’t able to linger long, since one of the mother elephants started to become agitated: flaring its ears and bellowing in our direction.

The elephant mother, with her newborn calf nursing. She wasn’t too happy to have us there.

Having left the park, we began the long trip home. As we drove, Alex made a casual comment about not having seen giraffes… and suddenly we came across a herd of over a dozen giraffes. We stopped the car, and got out to take pictures. Then Hesaan and Alex ran closer to the giraffes, causing the whole herd to run, their necks swaying and bobbing as only giraffes can.

We’ve had even closer encounters with giraffes, but I think this was the largest group we’d seen on the trip so far.

After dropping Alex off in Narok and seeing several of Hesaan’s endless number of family members, we continued on to Nairobi. By the time we hit Nairobi, I had been driving for about twelve hours… but, unfortunately, we also hit downtown right in the middle of rush hour. And Seattle’s rush hour doesn’t even begin to hold a candle to Nairobi’s. So, long story short, we finally made it back to Donald and Caren’s place about 14 hours after we hit the road that morning.

We were beat. But, after seeing the things we’d seen over the last couple days, we were also amazed and happy.

Muzungas in Maasai Land

We've learned the trick to having a great trip to Kenya: have a friend who has a friend who wants to show you around. As Tyler mentioned, our friend Donald connected us with Hesaan, a student of his who is a proud Maasai with an interest in showing others what his culture is like. So when Donald asked what we wanted to do while in Kenya and mentioned that a student could take us to stay with a traditional Maasai family, we jumped at the opportunity. While there had been times along the trip when we would have liked to do some kind of homestay or other kind of local immersion, they hadn't worked out or we hadn't had the time, so this seemed like a great opportunity to do tourist-y things in a very un-touristic way. After a few hours of trying to secure a car to drive to Narok, the closest town to the village we'd be staying at, we were set to leave early the next day.

Our first stop was a viewpoint over the Great Rift Valley from the Escarpment along a road built by Italian POWs the British held from World War II. We'd heard since we'd arrived in Kenya how bad the roads were, and I was having my doubts. For the first hour or so, they had been well-paved and--fortunately for Tyler who was again stuck doing all the driving in our rented non-automatic car--people seemed to drive pretty reasonably and follow the rules of the road. But shortly after descending into the valley, we learned that the reputation was well-deserved--huge potholes, unpaved, dusty roads, and lots of "diversions" for road work that was going on. Suddenly we realized why a town that didn't look that far on the map from Nairobi could be a four-hour drive.

Viewpoint of the Great Rift Valley

Our next stop was at a local market along the way. Tuesday and Saturday are market days, so we were able to see where people come from all over the area to sell cows, goats, jewelry, food and clothing. Unfortunately, I was too shy to pull out the camera while we were there, so I only have the memories of all the traditionally dressed men and women, the huge pens of men haggling over the animals, and the dusty environs comprising the market.

Then after picking up one of Hesaan's aunts who was coming back with milk from the family shamba, or garden, we were finally in Narok, a small but bustling town made up of lots of Maasai who had left the villages along with the usual smatterings of Indians and Somalis. Touring around town, we saw the market and met most of Hesaan's family, including his two younger siblings, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. And we got a better understanding of the concept of "African time." While there is a lot of joking about people running late and being slow for appointments, walking through the market with Hesaan showed that it's likely because you know so many people or see family and need to chat with them. I think it would be the height of rudeness to suggest you didn't have time to say hello and spend a few moments with people. We also learned that it seemed that Hesaan knows half of Kenya and was always running into schoolmates, friends and family. After time spent securing the proper permissions and introductions for us to stay with the Masaai, we finally headed out the 22 kilometers through the bush to reach the family home with Vincent, the patriarch, with us in the car.

Tyler and Hesaan buying traditional shoes made from old tires--great recycling!

One thing we were quickly learning in Kenya--and Narok in particular--was how friendly and welcoming everyone was. I quickly learned another Swahili word--Karibu, or welcome--because we heard it so often. And this held true as we entered the family boma, filled with children, chickens and manyattas, or traditional buildings. Right away, they built a small fire so we'd be comfortable and made tea. And while our Swahili and Kimaasai are virtually non-existent, the older boys and the father could speak English and tell us about their home and life, including walking 20 days to and from a market to sell cattle and how Maasai have no fear of lions or other animals.

The entrance to the family's boma, or fenced area that includes a cattle enclosure and several buildings called manyattas

Inside the boma

Hanging out with some of the family before tea

More family--Vincent, two wives and fifteen children live together in the boma

After some time getting settled and taking some photos, Vincent took us for a walk outside the home to the local school. The school was in the process of getting some additional buildings from a major Swiss benefactor. There were nine girls there currently staying in the dormitory; a boy's dorm and a cafeteria were being built. Three teachers who were on the premises gave us a tour of all the buildings. They had some challenges. Most of the classes were still in an old traditional building, short on room and light. Classrooms for the older classes had been repurposed from a building with larger rooms that had been subdivided so that they could accomodate all primary school classes (nursery or pre-K through standard 8). But from what Vincent told us, this was an improvement from when students had had to travel very far distances to attend classes.

Girl students boarding at the Iltumtum village school

We returned in time for dinner preparations. While Tyler was left with the older men, I was escorted to the kitchen with the younger wife and many of the younger children to help with dinner. Besides helping hold the meat that was being cut up for dinner, mostly it was a time for the children to open up and ask me lots of questions: Are there elephants where you live? What kind of animals are there? Can you see stars where you live? What are schools like? Do you live in houses like this? Do you cook over fires like this? And I got to see some traditional foods, like ugali and udjee, being made. Finally, we sat down for a dinner of goat meat, spinach and ugali (a play-doh-like starchy substance made of flour and water and used like Ethiopian injera bread for eating).

In the kitchen with the young wife and children

After tea, it was time to play dress up the muzungas (white people). Tyler had bought a traditional Maasai blanket when we had visited the market, so they just added some beads, and a traditional weapon, while I was draped in women's sarongs and beads. Then we took lots of pictures with each other, the kids, and the important cattle. When it was time to go to bed, Malida, the young wife, started undressing me but kept me from taking off the large square beaded necklace and insisted I keep it as a gift. I was very touched. In such a short time, we really felt so welcomed and embraced by the family. In fact, Vincent told Tyler that if we ever wanted to live in Kenya or teach in the school, he would let us stay on 10 acres of his shamba, or land, as long as we wanted.

Tyler in his Maasai gear and Vincent, the family patriarch

Sarah as a Maasai woman, with Malida. I'm laughing because I was trying to copy their dance to a song the boys were singing and felt rather ridiculous not to get it!

More Maasai dress-up photos. We're not sure why all the boys staring doing these salutes

The family then had us go into the cattle enclosure for a photo--cows are incredibly important in traditional families

We then took off to our respective manyattas. The one we stayed in was essentially a guesthouse that Vincent had built for another muzunga friend who sometimes stayed with them. It was small and cozy, with an entry area for bathing and then two built-in beds with a small pit for a fire if it was cold in the middle. Fortunately, the weather was pleasant. Even better, the family lent us a mattress to use on top of the skin that made the bed's base but was very hard. After one small scare when we thought something was trying to scratch it's way into our home for the night (it was a chicken who'd snuck in and was roosting under the other bed), we went to sleep--at least until about 4:30 when it was time to head out again.

Inside our manyatta the next morning for tea and bread before heading out to Maasai Mara

I can't really say enough about what an amazing experience this was. I only wished we had had more time to spend with the family. For small gifts of groceries (some sugar, tea, bread and butter), we were welcomed with open arms, told we could come back and stay with them any time--even for a month. They were anxious to know when we might visit again and were invited back for an important rite of passage for Maasai girls happening in December. While I don't think we'll be back that soon, I do hope that we'll see them again.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Sleeping in Nairobi

As I mentioned in our last blog entry, our flight from Cape Town to Jo'burg and then on to Nairobi was a bit of a beast. After having a "traditional Xhosa meal" at our hostel in Cape town, we caught a cab to the airport, and boarded our flight to Johannesburg.

Our flight arrived in Johannesburg shortly after midnight. And, since our flight on to Nairobi departed early the next morning, we decided to wait it out in the airport, instead of paying a lot of money for a hotel room that we'd only use for a few hours. Unfortunately, in the middle of the night, the Jo'burg airport was a desolate place. After hiking our bags from the domestic area through a winding corridor of contruction barriers and a parking garage to the international departures area, we hunkered down in a closed food court.

At that hour, the only other people there were a few bored looking security guards and one of two pairs of similar, weary-looking travellers trying to make themselves comfortable in the food courts stiff plastic chairs or on the cold marble floor. With about six hours to burn, Sarah's main consolation was that the new Harry Potter novel was supposed to be released that night, and if we made it to 5AM, she could buy a copy in the bookstore downstairs when it opened.

So, at 4:59, I went downstairs for her and was the first person in line (OK, the only person in line) to buy a copy of the final Harry Potter installment. With her new book in hand, Sarah and I boarded our flight shortly after 8AM.

We'd been worried, for a number of reasons, that when we arrived in Nairobi, we'd have trouble with getting our Kenyan visas. But, our worrying turned out to be unfounded, and getting through immigration and customs in Kenya proved to be easier than the last couple legs of our journey. Soon, we were waiting for our luggage while waving to Donald and Caren who waited for us outside.

Donald is an old friend of mine from back in College. Technicially, we both went to Western Washington University, but by the time I transfered there, he'd left to live and travel in Kenya. Eventually, on one of his trips to Kenya, he met Caren, who he married a short time later. Now, him, Caren and their two children Cortez and Bradley split their time between Kenya and Washington State.

Donald watches over Bradley ...or "Badley" as Cortez calls him.

"Cortez, are you mopping the deck?" "I am mopping the deck." Cortez enjoys turning every question into a statement of intent.

After a quick reunion in the airport, we all loaded into a van and made our way to their rented house in the outskirts of Nairobi. There, we were introduced to several of Caren's sisters and one of her brothers, and we treated to a wonderful homecooked meals before crashing out in their guestroom.

Sleeping would play a major part of our first several days in Kenya. After all these months of guesthouses, hotels and hostels, Donald and Caren's house proved to be a welcome oasis for us. I don't think Sarah and I had realized how much we'd missed the sensation of "being home." No matter how comfortable the hotel, I don't think you ever sleep quiet as heavily as you do when home... or in this case, at a friend's house.

In addition, they continued to feed us huge and wonderful meals (Sarah's going to enjoy doing her Kenyan food entry). And, just catching up with Donald and Caren, and playing with Cortez and Bradley proved to be a great change of pace. Hopefully, all the lounging on their couches, eating, drinking and staring at the TV doesn't reinforce any "lazy American" stereotypes.

After a day of resting, Donald (with Cortez in arm) took us into downtown to do some sightseeing. Now, reading Lonely Planet, you'd think that Nairobi was a dirty, lawless, boarderline warzone to be avoided at all costs. So, I think that Sarah and I were a bit surprised to find the downtown to be a surprisingly clean and green city. All the buildings looked like they were built in 1974 and then promptly abandoned to gather layers of brown dust, but apparently the current government has made some recent strides to improve the downtown and it's safety. It's still a place where you don't want to be wearing expensive jewelry, but (as we've found with other places on this trip) Lonely Planet has been a bit -shall we say- melodramatic when describing it.

The following day (after sleeping in, of course), Donald took us downtown again. This time, he was going to show us the school he'd started, the East African School of Media Studies. Several years ago, when people asked Donald what he was doing in Kenya, he'd give vague answers about how he'd "started a film production school in Nairobi." But, I think it was safe to say that my friends and I generally had sort of presumed that it was a crackpot scheme... the sort of thing that many of my friends seemed to get mixed up in the years immediately following College. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was, well, a real, legitimate school!

First, Donald took Sarah and I to Nairobi's central park, where we were met a well dressed Kenyan man who introduced himself as the head of the school's Music and Drama Department. He escorted us to a field filled with a group of about fifty twenty-something Kenyans: the school's choir. They were practicing for a competition that will (unfortunately) start the day after we are scheduled to leave Kenya. While we stood there, the choir performed four songs for Donald and his guests of honor... us. Standing in the center of a half-circle of young Kenyan's singing traditional music proved to the first of several "whoa" moments we'd have over the next couple of days.

After the performance, Donald addressed the students briefly, and then let them ask us any questions about America they'd like. These questions ranged from ones about music ("Do you listen to Hip Hop? Or Country?") to politics (Obama's a local favorite here, because of his father's Kenyan roots).

Peeling us away from his students, Donald next took us to the school itself. The EASMS school is made up of several classrooms, a computer room and a make-shift studio in a high-rise downtown. The student body is about 150 students, with about 8 instructors. As he showed us around, I couldn't help but think that might career of making webpages and pop-up ads seemed sort of trivial in comparison to founding a techincal school in Kenya.

While at the school, Donald introduced us to one of his students, Hesaan. Hesaan is a Maasai at the school pursuing his dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker. Talking to him, I could help but think that he reminded me a bit of Dao from our motorcycle tour in Vietnam; he had that unique combination of having one foot in traditional culture while also being modern, media-saavy and looking toward the future. Donald had talked to him before our arrival and asked him to take us around, introduce us to Maasai culture and see some of the local wildlife.

Hassan seemed eager to show us around, so early the next morning we hit the road in a hired Rav 4.

Oh, but first I got another haircut:
From this.... this!

Note: Sarah is set to do the following blog entry, but she's sleeping (surprise!) so her entry will be posted later.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Waiting for take off

On a trip like this, our last few days in any country are a little bizarre. On one hand, we're are still visiting the foreign country we are currently in. On the other hand, our minds start to move on to the next country we're scheduled to visit. In addition, inevitably we end up with a long list of simple "housekeeping" type chores to take care of (buying toiletries, doing laundry, making sure we have all the tickets and visa stuff for our next stop) on the last day. All this adds up to a weird liminal state not dissimilar to what Sarah described in one of her early entries.

Yesterday, we awoke planning on going to Robben Island, the famous prison island off the coast of Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela was held for most of his 27 year imprisonment. Unfortunately, it turned out that tours of the island were sold out through early next week, so we had to scrap that plan.

Instead, we decided to make our way to the waterfront, and wander around. It was a pleasant, sunny day, but we quickly decided to check out their aquarium: Two Ocean's Aquarium. As Sarah arelady knows, I enjoy a good aquarium. And, we'd heard that the Two Ocean's Aquarium was one of the best.

Capetown's waterfront, looking back at Table Mountain.

Statues of South Africa's four Nobel Prize Winners.

As the name implies, the Two Ocean's Aquarium features fish from both the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic. In addition, we had the good fortune of arriving in time to catch the seal feeding ("Dipsy, Daisy, Tea and Mullet. Up Mullet. Good seals!"), the penguin feeding and the predator fish feeding.

Rock Hopper Penguins. These penguins aren't native to South Africa, but a half dozen of them were stranded here, and taken in by the zoo.

A sea turtle. Most of my attempted to take pictures of fish and animals through the glass turned out blurry, like this.

These spdier crabs creeped me out. They're huge. Their main body is, like, the size of my head.

After that, we decided to follow up the aquarium with a trip to the movies. Sarah's been itching to see the new Harry Potter movie since it was released. And, with this being one of our last days in the comparatively modern (and English speaking) South Africa, and with the final book being released tonight at 1AM, we decided it would be a good time to see it. The movie going experience in Capetown proved to be pretty standard with teh amin difference being the fact that the items at the concession stands are still reasonably priced.

After the movie, we headed back to our hostel for pizza, beer and dominos. Since we left on our trip, we've been holding what we've dubbed the World Dominos Championship. Several times a week, on a slow evening or afternoon, we play dominos. We generally play to 100 points. But, in addition, we also have a running score with both country winners, continent winners and -eventually- a grand champion. Currently, I'm winning overall but Sarah has the lead for South Africa.

This morning, we awoke to overcast skies and chores to take care of. First, we had to pack up and check out, and arrange a ride to the airport. Then, after some tea, we had to go to the chemist to get medicine and toiletries. Then, not sure what to do with ourselves, we decided to have fish and chips and a Guiness at an Irish pub for lunch as the rain started to fall outside.

Now, we're in the Internet cafe again, finishing up our online business. Then after this, we have to go pick up our laundry then burn a few more hours until our flight.

First, we'll be flying back to Jo'burg, were we'll be in a bit of a bind. Our flight gets in right before midnight. But, our flight onward to Kenya doesn't leave until early the following morning. So, we're still trying to decide if we should check into an airport hotel for 6 hours, or just crash out in the airport itself - transit-hobo-style.

So, yup, that's how we've spent the last couple days in South Africa. And its pretty similar to how our last days in any country usually play out. Not too glamourous, but not bad.

I mean, you can't ride ostriches every day, right?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Cape

Thanks to the wine tour in Stellenbosch, Sarah and I were feeling a little rough around the edges when we reached Capetown. As a result, we checked into our hostel, and spent a good portion of the day lying low and regrouping (and rehydrating). Later in the day, we were able to explore a little in our neighborhood. Then, later on, we met Marcia (one of the people from our safari, who had also made her way to Capetown) for a nice traditional style dinner, and to find out about her adventures since the last time we'd see each other.

The next day was our last day with Chico, so we decided to make the most of it. First up, we drove up to the base of Table Mountain, and then took the gondola to the top. The gondola ride was, as Sarah noted, "cool but discombobulating" - In addition taking its passengers up the mountain, the whole gondola also slowly rotates 360 degrees, giving everyone a full view of Table Mountain and Capetown spread out below it.

Arriving at the top, we took several moments to take in the fatastic views from the top. Capetown is one of the most scenicly beautiful cities we've ever seen. In many ways, I feel it compares to cities like Seattle or San Fransico, where everywhere you look is georgous blue bays and rising green mountains.

EDIT: Sarah's brother, Tim, was so kind as to stitch together the three photos I'd originally posted here. I've decided to replace those photos this this one. It more accurately reflects the stunning view (click on it!). Thanks Tim!

After soaking in the scenery for a bit, we took off on an impromptu hike. Initially, we'd planned on just staying up on the top of the mountain for a short bit, and then riding the gondola back down. But, after seeing their was an hour and a half hike our to McLean's Beacon on the top, we decided a short hike would do us some good. The hike also allowed us to take in all the views from different parts of table mountain. The top of the mountain is surprisingly boggy at times, but the hike was brisk and relaxing.

Me on the hike to McLean's Beacon, with a view off the other side of Table Mountain.

After finishing the hike, and riding the gondola back down, we hoped in Chico and headed for the Cape itself. After a little driving, we stopped at a small part to eat sandwiches and take in another stunning bay view.

Our lunch break view... really, Capetown is just silly with stunning views and quaint neighborhoods.

After a short bit, we arrived at the Cape Point National Park. The Cape itself is desolate and windy in all the right ways. And, as you stand on its rocky shores and stare out at its breakwaters, you can't help but imagine all the hundreds of shipwreckes that sit off the coast.

Sarah embraces the breeze at the Cape of Good Hope. Those same breezes helped create many of the 650 odd shipwreckes off the coast.

The Cape of Good Hope juts defiantly into the ocean. To the east is the Indian Ocean, to the west is the Atlantic.

First, we took in the Cape of Good Hope, which is the more famous Cape before moving on the the lighthouse covered Cape Point itself. In reality, neither cape is the southern most point of Africa, but historically they were considered to be the tip of Africa so who are we to argue, right?

Tyler and Sarah reach the most south-western point in Africa.

A Dassie. These large rodents (which are like marmets, or short-eared rabbits) scurried across the rocks around the Cape. There was also a number of savage looking baboons here, but we didn't take an photos of them, because they were scary.

Where am I again?

This photo is a little backlit, but on the left you can see the Cape of Good Hope, while on the right you have the original lighthouse perched high up on the Cape Point. Sarah took this picture from the lower, newer lighthouse.

We could have lingered at the Cape all day, enjoying its windswept beauty, but the sun was disappearing fast... and we had penguins to see!

A short drive northeast of the Cape is Boulder Beach which is famous for its colony of African Penguins. The African Penguin is also called the "Jackass Penguin," but not because they're a bunch of jerks, nor because of their fondness for performing live-endangering stunts in front of MTV camera crews. Instead, they are called Jackass Penguins because the sound they make sounds almost exactly like a donkey braying.

Braying Jackass Penguins. They were surprisingly loud, and when they made their noise, you could see their entire chest compress and expand.

This braying surprised us as we parked Chico and stepped out to find a nearby bush screaming "heehaw" at us. The park was set to close soon, but Sarah and I were still able to slip in and see the penguins. Penguins are amazingly entertaining to watch (if a bit stinky). In addition, we must have caught the tail end of breeding seasons, because their were penguins guarding nest, baby penguins and "teenage" penguins in the process of loosing their downy baby-feathers.

We were actually quite suprised by the number of penguins in the colony; especially when we looked up to see several dozen of them come flying out of the water and spilling onto the sandy beach in unison.

The main portion of the colony, though there were hundreds more in the bushes around it.
Several dozen penguins spilling onto the beach together.

"Warning, please looking under your vehicles for penguins." Note the little diagram on the lower left part of the sign.

Having enjoyed the penguins, and with the sun setting, Sarah and I made our way back to the guesthouse. It had proven to be a great (if busy) day, and the perfect send off for Chico.