Monday, October 12, 2009

A great introduction to South Africa

While on this voyage I have come to realize that the small amount of time;  4 days in Spain, 5 days in Morocco, 4 days in Ghana, 6 days in Cape Town, is never enough to really explore a country.  This time in each country merely gives us time to sample some of each country’s food, a little of their culture, and experience some of the great things the country has to offer.  Nowhere was this more evident than in South Africa.
As usual PL, ED, and I were up on the 7th deck in the faculty staff lounge to watch the sunrise over our latest port.  Dawn came early at 530 I could see its brilliant color peeking through my cabin window even before we went up to the 7th deck.  When we arrived we were met by an unusual amount of other staff and faculty who are usually not there.  Then by 6am the students were out on the 7th and 8th decks.  PL and I were a little annoyed, usually at sunrise on an arrival date there were only a handful of people there.  Now we were vying for space.  We watched the South African mountain range bathed in bright hues of orange and red and then as the sun started to peak from its resting place behind the mountain there was an audible gasp.  

We were amazed and for the next few minutes captivated in silence as the sun ascended into its rightful place in the sky.   Blinding and brighter than I had ever seen it, on this voyage it seems I am more aware of the sun ascending and descending from the heavens, I’m usually most reflective at these times and today was no different.  As the ship continued on its path into Cape Town we noticed to our left a quiet distant island, Robben Island; once a prison which held many anti Apartheid fighters including Nelson Mandela and then on the right the amazing site that is Table Mountain as the sun lightened up the sky the brand new 68,000 seat World Cup Soccer Stadium came into full view.  We were all so captivated by the beauty that The Cape Town harbour was revealing to us as the morning grew brighter.  We screeched in delight as we realized there were harbor seals swimming and frolicking alongside the ship, it was as if they were coming out to welcome us to the Cape Town Harbour.

As usual the Pilot boarded the ship and assisted the Captain in navigating into the port, the Captain had previously explained this port was a little tricky since the entry way was very narrow and where we were scheduled to birth (park) would require us to make a sharp turn.  We were so unconcerned with this somewhat technical process so much so that we went to breakfast and get prepared for our disembarking.
My first day in South Africa was slow paced.  I had a few hours to kill before I was to lead a trip to walk amongst the baboons.  So I met my shipboard brothers, PL, ED, and GH in Tymitz square to disembark, when we first arrived someone pointed out that PL, GH, and I were all wearing green tops, looking like we had planned it.  It was just a funny coincidence.  Well we all hit the mall which was literally 100 steps from our ships birth.  We went and exchanged our US dollars to Rand, a nice exchange of 7.4 Rand for each US Dollar.  Then we walked about the beautiful Harbour area with its nice mall, and great little shops along the way.  Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the ship to prepare to for my trip to the Baboon sanctuary.

Due to urban Sprawl in the Cape Town area, baboons are being relegated to small slivers of natural forest between suburban neighborhoods.  As you can imagine this is not only a problem for the baboons, but the surrounding neighborhoods as well.  When we arrived to one of the neighborhoods where a non-profit group was keeping track of the baboons, we were immediately greeted by a foot chase.  One of the guardians of the baboon was chasing the Alpha Male trying to prevent him from escaping the protected area, with little success.  We saw al Tommy ran through an opening with ease, quickly crossed the street and jumped to the top of a 6 foot fence with the greatest of ease.  Our guide informed us that this in fact is one of the problems.  Tommy being the Alpha male is larger than the rest of the baboons in his troop partly because he runs into the neighborhood and steals human food.

We entered the baboon sanctuary and were led by one of two guides through thick, high grass and led about 100 yards from the street to where two handlers were sitting watching the troop of about 30 baboons.  One of the guides led half of the troop past a few of the baboons directly into the thick of a tree.  Before I could even prepare myself, I and 6 of the students were standing within 5 to 10 feet of these beautiful baboons, there were about 25 of them and about 5 youngsters.  They were all over, in the trees above us and at eye level.  The youngsters frolicked and played almost at our feet.  Our guide constantly reminding us to be very mindful of our proximity to the youngsters, a cry from them could send the entire troop into a frenzied assault on any one of us.   We were introduced to the former Alpha male, kind of the grandfather of the troop, George.  The entire time George was in this one spot just observing his surroundings.  The guide informed us that George had lost his canine teeth and could no longer fight to protect his status in the troop and was now just an elder in the troop, still respected but no longer the Alpha male.  Just then Tommy returned from his run of the neighborhood and we were further instructed to watch him at all times, as he was clearly watching us and if he didn’t like something we were doing we could be in danger.  We were there amongst the baboons for about an hour though it did not seem as long.  As we were walking throughout the troop taking pictures our guide pointed out a mother baboon with the youngest of the troop, a small baby that had been born about a week ago, they were just adorable.  As we were fawning over  the baby we heard a ruckus about 20 feet from us, the guide said, “quick , quick, this way” and started to escort us past George and away from the troop, no sooner had we passed George we heard screaming and clearly saw fighting.  Two female baboons were going at it and it was for real.  One female had her teeth out and had the other by the head and was gnashing into her back biting and jabbing. The guide informed us he had been watching this one female constantly trying to grab one of the baby baboons and finally the mother of said baby tried to put her in her place.  As the guide was explaining what happened we saw Tommy rush over to the mêlée and intercede, teeth full out.  He was breaking up the fight.  It was all so fascinating yet scary, our guide informing us that we surely did not want to be in the midst of a full out fight.  He led us out and just like that our experience with walking amongst the baboons was over.  It was amazing, while we were in the troop they seemed to calm and docile and just like that our adrenaline was pumping.  It was a wonderful experience. 

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