Monday, September 28, 2009

weekend adventures and whale love

On Saturday morning I had reason to head out of town to attend an event up the coast. Due to high temperatures and excessive grouchiness I left Child home with Husband and set out on my own with the iPod set to stun and the delicious anticipation of a few hours to myself.

All was going well 'til I hit some hellish beginning-of-the-school-holiday traffic but just the fact that I wasn't sharing an over-packed SUV with a bunch of kiddies and their assorted paraphenalia was enough to keep my spirits up.

At last I broke free and got onto one of the most beautiful roads in the Cape (and this from a place with many, many exceptional roads), Clarence Drive (follow the link for some images which just about vaguely do it justice).

I've had a life-long relationship with this road. It was the most direct route from the small village where I grew up to anywhere resembling civilisation and when I first started school one of my parents would drive me, and a smattering of other (English speaking) local kids, along it to school and back everyday. We'd leave super early and I have memories of the drive in all kinds of weather, through all seasons. We saw baboons, seals, penguins, whales and once, a porcupine, all on the way to school. An education in itself. Less romantically I also remember many hours of car sickness along the drive's windy (and windy) bends ...
I practically learnt to drive on this road too, or at least perfected my technique. Through high school we braved it to and from a night out in the 'big city' (the next town, just enough bigger than ours to count as glamorous) and one of my favourite memories of the road is driving it very slowly in the rain while my cousin hung out the window manually operating the bust windscreen-wipers. Good times.

I was in a bit of a hurry this time though, so sped past two scrapping adolescent baboons without slowing down to watch, executed some masterful over-taking of slow tourist types and, with a pang of regret, had to keep driving even when I spotted a whole pod of whales close to shore in one of the bays.

I got to my destination with minutes to spare, just in time to proudly watch my Dad launch his new book, the biography of a wonderfully eccentric botanist who discovered all kinds of gorgeous fynbos in the region. I saw lots of people I've not seen since I was a child, had many little old ladies patting my baby bump and my cheek and reminiscing about how I used to run round their gardens stark naked. Ah, more good times.

Then after a huge cream tea and with a gathering storm darkening the sky, I headed off back home at a much more leisurely pace. And discovered the whales still frolicking in the bay.

Southern Right whales are an inherent part of my childhood. They come to the Cape every year between May-Oct to calve and the arrival of the whales was always a big deal for us. Spotting the first one of the season was an event celebrated with ice-cream, long cold windy walks along the coastal paths to spend time with them was part of our winter routine.
I have memories of watching them jumping and jumping and jumping out to sea, of sitting on the rocks with a giant whale eye surfacing just metres from us. I've countless surfer friends who tell tales of suddenly realising they were surrounded by them just beyond the break, I've one friend who had a whale surface right under him, lifting him on his board right up into the sky.

But since moving to the city I've not had nearly as many opportunities to hang out with whales, so on Saturday that's exactly what I did.
Still plugged into iPod, with no camera to distract me with trying to get a great shot, I stood on a rock for what felt like hours, being buffeted by the strong stormy gusts, and occasionally spat on by small flurries of rain, hanging out with whales. A big pod of mothers and calves, sheltering in the bay from the choppy seas further out, rolling and splashing and waving their tails, calling out to each other with those distinctive deep and melodius whale calls. Bliss.

After a while I noticed a path down through the milkwood trees, which seemed like it would get me closer to the sea, and thereby closer to the whales. I gamely set off, with the branches crashing round my head, but as soon as I got a little way I realised it was quite skanky down there, lots of rubbish lying around, and at a bend I saw that the path came to a dead-end so I quickly turned around to get out of there.

And turned straight into a branch. And poked my eye quite badly. And stumbled backwards. And by god very nearly stood in a pile of human shit. And had a little dry heave. And scrambled back up the path as fast as I could!
And waved goodbye to the whales with one streaming throbbing eye and retreated to my car out of the wind.

Stinky vile humans.
Lucky old whales.

But a couple of hours later, home to crawl into bed with Husband and Child curled up asleep together, to have lovely dahl and home-baked bread for supper, to watch a movie on the couch with my beloved, I was feeling that maybe human life wasn't so bad afterall ...


omchelsea said...

How lovely! I'm a little relived - it was sounding like the perfect, idyllic day, so far out of my grasp - but all's well that ends firmly grounded in a little self-harm and dahl :)

MissBuckle said...

Sooo jealous. You describe the whales and the landscape so well. I so want to go to South Africa now.

Hope you're eye isn't bothering you too much.

Naomi said...

an abiding memory for me too. we've done some amazing drives over the years.

julochka said...

what i want to know is do you still run around naked in the garden?

spudballoo said...

Fabulous! Reminds me of my honeymoon so much, whale watching along the coast near Hermanus...happy days x

Tessa said...

Oh my oh my oh my oh my god. Another Kaapie. I was with you there...with the whales and the fynbos and Clarence Drive and the sea salt air and the buffeting wind and stark naked garden running...

Okay now I'm crying as well. Sniff. How lovely to 'meet' you...I popped over here from Julochka's place because your '- agtig' rang a very loud bell! I'm going to snivel off now and read more of your writings and no doubt become a devoted follower.

PS Your father's book sounds fascinating...would it be available in England?