Anibonani, Ninjani ? That’s how we say it in Zulu!
We continue our journey by discovering the smallest of South Africa‘s 20 National Parks… the Bontebok National Park, covering an area of just 10.76 square miles. The park is part of the Cape Floristic Region, a World Heritage site. It was established in 1931 to ensure the preservation of the 30 Bonteboks that survived at that time. The Bonteboks is a tall, medium-size antelope characterized by a chocolate dark brown color interspersed with white areas on its belly, around its tail and the pads of its feet, but above all the Bontebok has a white stripe from the forehead to the tip of the nose that symmetrically divides its head. The horns of the Bontebok are lyre-shaped and distinctly ringed. Looking at them you capture some of the soul of a lyric poet, “He dreamed till nightfall in this peaceful field / He saw what glorious contours lie revealed / What rich forms Nature takes / All day he wandered through the narrow glen, admiring first the sky’s divine face / then The Divine mirror-lake!” – Victor Hugo, Tristesse d’Olympio.
Although the Bontebok was near extinction in the 19th century, this preservation project is a success. The park now houses a large number of Bonteboks as well as other antelopes and Cape mountain zebras which are characterized by black and white stripes, unlike plain zebras that are striped white and black with a neat mane and manicured up to the end of their hooves… And vertical stripes, as Obelix says, “everyone knows that vertical stripes make your body look thinner“. The fauna of the place does not stop at stripes. There are also feathers (checks are not fashionable this year ?). We cross paths with a guinea fowl Numidia or helmeted guinea fowl. It is easily recognizable with a large body and a small blue head. The body plumage is gray-black and dotted with white flakes, the head unfeathered. Personally, I prefer stripes… but the variety of tastes found in nature as it is well known !
The park is also home of an abundance of fynbos (in Afrikaans, fynbos means “wild bush” or “maquis”) among which is a 10-foot height native aloe called the Cape Aloe and Aloe Ferox (known for its yellow and bitter sap, with laxative properties ?). All these emotions work up quite an appetite. As Michel Déon says, “Pour bien aimer un pays, il faut le manger, le boire et l’entendre chanter“, which can be translated as “To love a country, you must eat it, drink it, and hear it sing“. Tonight the menu offers crocodile sashimi, carpaccio of Koudou, and samosas of warthog, followed by a Springbok tenderloin; all washed down with a good bottle of Pinotage… But if you want to savor the flavor of the country, many South Africans would tell you must taste Biltong, a form of dried, cured meat… Biltong is not found anywhere else in the world. It consists of thin strips of beef, salted, possibly marinated, and dried for preservation. It is related to American beef Jerky. All types of meat are suitable for Biltong: rump of wildebeest, warthog loin, ostrich steak and beef Rib Eye !
Ah, these zebras are proud of their stripes. We can almost continue our visit in black and white, which is appropriate as the next stop is Boulders Beach on the Indian Ocean near Cape Town, a residential area and beach home to some 2,200 penguins… So we remain in a B & W atmosphere … The penguin is about 28 inches tall and weighs about 7 pounds with a black upper body and a white underpart. Their distinctive black and white coloring is a form of camouflage, called countershading. The scientific explanation is as follows… the black dorsal makes them hardly visible to predators looking down into the dark water while their white ventral is less visible to underwater predators looking up – QED. Ok, for the explanation but “if they were all white, we could not see them on the ice floe“, is also a valid comment. Shortly before our trip, many chicks had been born. It is easy to spot them with their little down (not waterproof!) The penguin is far from stupid… it builds its nest in a burrow to protect itself from predators and heat. The proximity of man offers many artificial burrows… The only discordant factor is that while we have left behind the neighing of zebras, we have moved on to braying (no one warned us that there were donkeys around ?)… These penguins have been called “Jackass Penguins” because they sound like a donkey … and with 2,200 on a beach… imagine the cacophony !
Just a bit of silence… We are at the southern end of the Cape Peninsula at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve (the Cape was named by the Portuguese sailor Bartholomé Diaz in 1488). The Cape of Good Hope is surrounded by vast spaces, rich fauna, deserted beaches and rugged landscapes. Contrary to what many believe, the Cape of Good Hope is neither the southernmost tip of Africa nor the point of division between the Atlantic and Indian oceans even though it lies in the southwest corner of the Cape Peninsula. Instead, the Cape of Needles or Cabo das Agulhas 90 miles southeast of the Cape of Good Hope is the southernmost point of the African continent and the dividing line between the Oceans. The Cape of Good Hope nonetheless remains a psychologically important point for navigation because it is at the junction of contrary sea currents, which create major storms ! In fact, Bartholomeo Diaz named it Capo Tormentosa – Cape of Storms. Just over one mile to the east is Cape Point, famous for its two lighthouses and breathtaking view of the Ocean. The first lighthouse dates from 1860, built 810 feet above sea level, it can be seen 42 miles out at sea. Unfortunately, this lighthouse was totally ineffective for its beam was often obscured in clouds or fog, normal weather in the region! On 18 April 1911, a Portuguese liner named Lusitania ran into Bellows Rock below the lighthouse and sank. After that accident, a second lighthouse was built only 285 feet above sea level. One can reach the lighthouse on foot via a paved path and also via a funicular named the “Flying Dutchman Funicular” after the legend of a ghost ship “The Flying Dutchman” (see the series of fantasy films Pirates of the Caribbean).
Against the background of these grandiose cliffs, we encounter the largest of the antelopes, the Common Eland also known as the Southern Eland or Eland Antelope. The animal can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, but, contrary to its appearance, can run up to 25 miles per hour and maintain a speed of 14 miles per hour for several hours at a time. It can jump up to 9 feet. The physical aspect of the Common Eland can be gleaned from its scientific name Taurotragus Oryx: the Greek Tauros for bull combined with Tragus for a male goat (referring to the tuft in the eland’s ears and also to its resemblance to horse’s ears or a deer’s muzzle) and Oryx from the Greek orygos for the pickaxe, the pointed horns. The eland is easily domesticated for meat and milk production. Its milk contains three times more milkfat and two times more protein than cow milk.
Destination Cape Town, a little paradise lost between sea, mountains, and two oceans. Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa after Johannesburg. The ubiquitous wind reminds us every day why the first explorers baptized this country “the Cape of Storms.” However, Cape Town has a favorable and pleasant Mediterranean climate. Some even think that the Cape naturally enjoys a balance or “Fen Shui” because of the unique configuration of rugged mountain ranges, extensive coastline, and exposure to sunshine and wind. Right in the middle of the Cape the famous “Table Mountain” rises to 3,000 feet to its flat-topped summit. Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountains in the world, over 360 million years old. As you will easily have guessed, its name comes from its form that strangely resembles a tabletop. A thin strip of cloud forms frequently at the top, known as the “tablecloth”. Table Mountain is one of the landmarks of Cape Town and the main tourist attraction. Tourists can walk or take a cable car (Swiss design !). We preferred to climb the Lion’s Head on the far side of the mountain in the sun, which does not spoil anything, for a panoramic view of Table Mountain and the entire bay.
We now leave the Cape Peninsula, a city full of history and a biodiversity hotspot, including slums such as Khayelitsha, now the largest in South Africa with a population estimated at 1.5 million… this is also South Africa !