All the way to the Cape of Good Hope...almost!
After a long Friday night, Saturday started on the late side. I had agreed to make a Spanish tortilla for breakfast and, in spite of getting up later than just about everyone else, pulled off a decent version of go-to classic dish. Since I was cooking for 9 people, though, I used 10 eggs and had some trouble getting the whole thing out of the frying pan in advance of flipping it.
Our planned activities for the day were to watch the Oranje (The Netherlands' team) play Japan and then head down to the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost point of the Cape Peninsula and a must-see for any visitor to Cape Town. The people who run the house rental agency that we used are Dutch, and they told us on the night we arrived that everyone congregates at the Holland House near Mariners Wharf in Hout Bay. I should have known that there would be a Holland House here...those of you who've been following this blog since its inception at the 2008 Summer Olympics may recall my description of the large facility in Beijing that had been swathed by Heineken in orange. The version, at least what we saw, was much more subdued: a second-floor bar with a large, covered balcony. It just so happened that virtually everyone there (aside from our group) was Dutch. Seven of us, however, were wearing orange so we fit in perfectly in spite of not understanding the conversations going on around us.
I've always marveled at the legions of Dutch sports fans who faithfully traverse the globe to support their teams. They were in full force at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, though I didn't spot many of them since they were all camped out in Richmond, BC, near the long-track speedskating oval (of course!). I knew they would be here as well, given the daily non-stops from Amsterdam (and various other European cities) to Johannesburg and Cape Town, plus they have linguistic and ancestral connections to the Afrikaans people in South Africa. To most people, myself included, Dutch and Afrikaans sound like they're the same language. I know that the Afrikaans lexicon includes more than a few words that don't exist in modern Dutch, and the grammar is supposed to be relatively easier. So I wonder how Dutch people feel when they encounter an Afrikaner. Is there some sense of shared identity? Does the stereotypically progressive-minded Dutch person maintain a safe distance from the even more stereotypically bigoted Afrikaner? I wonder.
Anyway, it was a decent match to watch - nothing out of the ordinary, but enough for The Netherlands to pull away with a 1-0 victory. Afterward we took a short walk around the dock area, passing craft sellers who were packing up their wares for the day. Regardless of where I am in the world, I always encounter people plying mass-manufactured items that normally don't have any appeal to me. While I find it a bit sad watching multiple sellers offering the same exact goods at pretty much the same exact prices, I have to admire their pluck and optimism, that someone is going to stop at his/her stand for whatever reason and buy something.
From there we got back into the cars and headed south towards the Cape of Good Hope, about an hour away. The first part of the drive was along Chapman's Peak Road, which follows the coastline and is a close relative to Highway 1 in northern California, due to the striking views of the sea and the mountain crashing down to the shore. Again, I took on the role of navigator for both cars (one following the other) and got us to the front gate of the park, right across from the Cape Point Ostrich Farm. By this time it was already 4:50pm, and we were instructed by the guard that we needed to be out by sunset (5:43pm on that day). How ironic that we were at what's traditionally been known as the southernmost point in Africa (though Cape Agulhas National Park to the east of Cape Town looks like it's further south) on one of the longest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Oh well...a small price to pay for amazing views, beautiful blue skies, and interesting vegetation.
Rather than race to the Cape Point Lighthouse and back to avoid the R500 fine for being in the park after closing, we decided to head up the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula along False Bay. At Simon's Town we saw some signs for penguin watching and spontaneously turned off to the right at Boulders Beach, one of the main nesting sites for African penguins (commonly called "jackass penguins" due to the braying noise they make). Sure enough, there were penguins by the time we got to the wooden boardwalk-type path set back from the beach. When we think of penguins, they're often fully exposed to the elements - on a rocky ledge in Antarctica or somewhere. These penguins, however, like to nest underneath bushes that may provide protection for their young from predators. We spotted quite a few chicks, noticeable for their gray, fuzzy coat, hiding in the branches. What surprised me was how the only barrier separating these birds from human onlookers was the wooden railings. You literally could have reached over, plucked a penguin from the sandy soil, and taken it home.
After our penguin adventure, we continued up the M4 highway a bit and stopped in the town of Fish Hoek. We decided to have dinner there and found a restaurant right on the beach that served local fish and seafood. Not anything inspiring but decent food with sizable portions. When we sat down the restaurant was empty aside from one other person (also clad in Dutch orange), but it eventually filled up - this allayed my concerns that we had stumbled into a tourist trap and would end up with less-than-mediocre food at exorbitant prices. I had a meaty whitefish called cob paired with grilled calamari, both of which were quite good (especially with the trio of sauces served on the side: garlic, lemon, and chili).
I guess I didn't go into much detail about how beautiful the scenery was on this drive down the Cape Peninsula. It seemed oddly familiar, especially since I had been on two different stretches of Highway 1 in California over the past eight months. The one main difference was the type of rocks and the shapes of the cliffs...if I were a geologist I'd be able to explain them better. I also wish I knew more about botany so I could identify more of the plants that make the fynbos ecosystem (a very unique and well-studied one) surrounding Cape Town so renown among ecologists. A missed career opportunity, I suppose.