Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Day trip to see Whales - 21st August 2004

Life Change Teams are demanding, provoking and challenging - travelling thousands of miles, to another culture, living alongside people existing in extreme poverty. For these reasons, our Team Leaders wanted to build into our three weeks a few excursions so that we could experience being tourists in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. 

Our first outing was to Hermanus, on the coast, where we hoped to be able to see whales! The Southern Right Whale migrates the the waters off southern South Africa during the Southern Hemisphere winter. They seem to favour Hermanus' waters because of their unique warmth, which is ideal for birthing their calves.

We needed to be back in Grabouw for 2pm, for a teaching session from Angela Kemm. Therefore we needed a fairly early start to allow for the hour's journey and enough time to hopefully see some whales. Our journey began, following the route of the Grabouw bus, but when we met the main road we turned right, up the hill, past a farm shop and up to the N2 road. At the T junction we went left, away from Cape Town. On our left, away in the distance, we could see the mountains which surrounded Grabouw, but our route took us through rough scrub land, before climbing up again to go over the Houw Hoek Pass. Every so often we would catch a glimpse of the ocean; more so when we turned off the N2 and down towards Hermanus. 

After we had parked, we decided to head to a nearby coffee shop. Our early start had left many of us in need of a caffeine boost. We pulled tables together so we could all sit round, already we had bonded as a team. As we sipped our coffee a text message came through from my sister, Melanie - the British rowers had just grabbed gold in the coxless four Olympic Race in Athens. I had been disappointed that our trip coincided with the Olympics, but Melanie had promised to text me with Olympic news so I didn't miss out! She was true to her words! I replied, saying we were in Hermanus, and hoping to see whales. Quick as a flash, she replied, saying she could see Wales most days... (Living on the Wirral peninsula, you just need to look over the Dee Estuary!)

It would have been easy to waste our morning in the coffee shop, but Roger reminded us that we didn't have loads of time in Hermanus, so we roused ourselves and headed out into the overcast but breezy day. We walked down to the sea front and looked over the wall, our eyes raking the water for anything that looked like a whale. Someone shouted, and we looked over to see which direction they were pointing - but they were pointing down, to the low bushes the other side of the wall: dassies (or rock hyrax to give them their proper name). These small rodent-like mammals, were eating the leaves of the bushes - but a nearby information board put us straight. Not rodents, and their nearest living relation is the elephant! But they look nothing like an elephant! We watched the dassies for a while, before reminding ourselves we were supposed to be looking for whales.

Once again, we heard a shout go up, and this time it was for a whale! It didn't reveal much of itself to us, but we could just about make out that there was a calf with it, just seeing their backs rising out of the water. We kept watching, hoping that we would see them properly breaching the water, and maybe diving, showing their tails, but sadly that wasn't to be. We were aware of time ticking on, and slowly made our way back to the minibus, with the odd glance over our shoulders, to make sure the whales had not decided to party once they had seen us leave the sea wall...

We took a different route on our return journey, following the coast to the west. This offered us beautiful views of the rugged coastline with some spectacular sandy beaches with ocean waves crashing onto them. The sun came out as we stopped for lunch at Betty's Bay. The driver of the minibus knew of a good cafe there - his local knowledge was really useful, as it was an unpromising exterior, but the food was amazing! I had the Cape Malay style lamb curry, slow cooked and oh, so tasty. I've been looking for the recipe to recreate it ever since, but none has come close!

Roger needed to chivvy us again to get back on the road and we carried on driving around the coast - ocean on one side, steep mountain sides on the other. We turned a corner and suddenly we were looking across a huge bay, to mountains in the distance. This was False Bay, with Table Mountain and others in its chain in the distance. We stopped for a few moments to take a team photo with this backdrop, and then set off again, as it was already past 2pm. 

As we rounded another corner, we could see another town, Gordon's Bay, and there in the sea below, was what we first thought was a log, but then realised this was another whale! Much closer to our temporary home. The irony was not lost on us! However, we had enjoyed our outing, and would not have seen the dassies or had such a delicious meal had we just gone whale watching in Gordon's Bay.

From Gordon's Bay we drove back up to the N2, and turned right onto the busy road, at the base of Sir Lowry's Pass, snaking ahead of us up the steep mountain sides. At the top, the minibus pulled over into a small viewpoint car park, where we were able to take in the view, albeit hazy, across False Bay to the back of Table Mountain.

We were very late back, and apologised profusely. We settled down into one of the classrooms, and listened as Angela taught us - inspiring us with stories of how God had been moving in the Township, with miracles, and people's lives totally transformed. She encouraged us to pray with those we met, with the children with whom we were working; raising our faith that lives would be changed through us working on our team. 

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