Rounding the Peninsula

On my last day in Cape Town, I took a wonderful Cape Peninsula tour.  My tour guide was coincidentally from Drakensberg, and he knew of all the hiking trails and cave dwellings that we saw while we were there!  Others on the tour included a Dutch student pursuing her doctorate in psychology and a Mexican student pursing his engineering degree at a Texas university.  It was a great group to chat with about global travel, language, and culture!

One interesting detail we learned on the ride along the coast was that there is a major controversy regarding the large presence of Australian gum trees (a species of eucalyptus) in South Africa.  Because of South Africa’s generally arid climate and landscape characterized by grasslands and savannas, the British began importing many varieties of beautiful Australian trees, including gum trees, during the mid-nineteenth century.  The gum trees were especially favored because they were believed to drain mosquito infested marshes and would therefore eliminate malaria.  In addition, these trees grew quickly and could produce strong timber for telephone lines and scaffolding.  Despite these apparent aesthetic, ecological, and commercial advantages, it has become evident since the 1930s that the gum trees are responsible for soil erosion and the drainage of a considerable amount of river water.  As global temperatures continue to rise, these trees become a more considerable threat to the local ecosystem for a number of reasons.  First of all, they drain water from the supply shared by other indigenous flora and fauna, and this results in the decline of biodiversity as monoculture plantations of gum trees replace the forests that were once filled with a variety of local species.  The trees also affect the human population, as the trees drain water that is needed to sustain many rural communities.  Due to these concerns, the ANC has passed new laws and created programs that are dedicated to protecting indigenous flora while removing a number of invasive foreign plants.  For more information on the debate over the presence of Australian gum trees in South Africa, please read this dissertation by Brett M. Bennett and this article featured on the Climate Change Media Partnership webpage.

Our first main stop on the tour was Cape Point, the famous landmark that offers a spectacular view of the ocean.  We saw firsthand why navigator Bartolomeu Dias named this point the “Cape of Storms” in 1488, as the rain and mist prevented us from seeing most of the landscape.  Nonetheless, it was great to explore what we could of the area, and we did have some success in viewing the scenery from the renowned Cape of Good Hope!  It was unbelievable to stand at the point where Portuguese explorers Vasco de Gama and Bartolomeu Dias first set foot!  While along the route, we also had great views of Table Mountain, False Bay, the Hottentots Holland mountain range, and even some wild zebras!  These zebras looked camouflage and extremely still during this chilly winter day, and they faced the opposite direction of the wind current so that the wind would predominately reach only their backsides.  It was great to see such beautiful animals and landmarks, even in the dreary weather!

Our final tour stop was to Simon’s Town and Boulders Beach, where we saw a large number of African penguins!  Many of them were hidden near rocks or plants while trying to keep their shivering babies warm.  Perhaps most interestingly, these penguins are famous for their vocalizations that strongly resemble a donkey’s bray!

Once the tour had ended, we decided to spend our last few hours in Cape Town in the city center.  We saw St. George’s Cathedral, where Desmond Tutu famously led many sermons that promoted resistance to the apartheid regime during the mid-1980s.  In addition, we saw the Cape Town City Hall, where Nelson Mandela gave his first public address just hours after being released from prison on February 11th, 1990.  Finally, we explored Greenmarket Square, the well-known open market where one can barter with a number of individuals who are selling paintings, crafts, garments, and other handmade specialty items.  I particularly liked the art pieces for sale that incorporated recycled materials such as soda cans, as this style reminded me of the unique fashions we saw at the Durban July!  It is great to see how creative and resourceful many of the local artists are.

I am sad to say farewell to Cape Town this evening, but I hope that this was only the first of many trips I will make to this wonderful city!  I cannot wait to make the most of my last week abroad in South Africa.

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