text Lia Giovannelli
We leave early in the morning heading to Cabo de Boa Esperança, Southern tip of Cape Peninsula, but not, as everyone believes, the Southernmost tip of Africa and dividing point between the Atlantic ocean and the Indian Ocean. Both records belong to Cape Aghulas, but who does really know that? The Cape, instead, has always been considerate the real “finis terrae”, made even more suggestive by thousands of stories told about its rocks, the force of its water, the union of the two oceans, the Flying Dutchman that has always been sailing there and will do for eternity, playing dice with the devil in person on the deck of his tall ship. I’ll get back to this later, for now I have just left Cape Town. To reach Cape of Good Hope we travel along the eastern coast, finding on our way lots of nice beaches and seaside towns, some of them already known in Victorian age, like Muizenberg, where is believed that surf was born and, even more striking to me, beach that was habitually frequented by Rudyard Kipling. In this small town there are some of the oldest houses of South Africa, dated back to 1700 like Het Posthuys, customs and toll-place, toll that was imposed to be paid by farmers passing through to sell fruits and vegetables to the ships anchored in Simon’s bay, the only real sheltered bay of the area. Still on our way more beaches and bays until my first target, Simon’s Town, which has always been the Navy base and known for the colonies of penguins living on Boulders Beach, few kilometers away from the town. The name of the beach recalls its granite rocks; however it is a wonderful beach but it becomes legendary thanks to the colonies of penguins. The African penguins “jackass” arrived there spontaneously in 1985, when the beach was generally frequented by local people. They are so many and so small, not higher than sixty centimeters. They weigh about two kilos, they have black backs, black little paws and quite a nasty temper. Snobbish and insensible, they spend the day on the beach in couple or groups, they have a quick dip, they walk back and forth and they don’t care about who, like us, tries to get closer to them talking like they were little idiots. Done with pictures and put aside the idea of touching one of them (obviously I can’t, but can I at least dream about it!!!), we attend a nice show “seagull versus couple of penguins”. The seagull, that mean, aims at the egg that the couple is calmly protecting, and he goes round and round, with the same attitude, but as he goes beyond the allowed space and the proxemics is not only valid for human beings, the two penguins turn from gentle animals into wild biters, so the seagull has to leave. They told me that in 1999 a cargo ship sank in the bay, putting in jeopardy with the resulting oil pollution entire colonies of penguins, nowadays only few of them are left. Proceeding towards the Cape, we pass through a reserve, the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, made of about 7700 hectares of land and about 40 km long of a nice coast. We stop in different places to enjoy the landscape and some of the beaches are really breathtaking, alternating rocks and cliffs with white strands. Numerous species of birds live in this reserve, in particular ostriches in addition to antelopes, gnus and warthogs. Big communities of baboons too live in the area of Cape of Good Hope. The most incredible thing is that all these animals, that it looks like they live in perfect harmony, spread out to the shores, and it’s such a unique show, absolutely unexpected, to see big African antelopes, usually living in the savannah, walking serenely on the beach. We are about to reach the Cape. The last beach before the end of the world is a long pebble beach, where a big wooden sign tells us, both in English and in Dutch about latitude and longitude, that we are in the Southernmost tip of the African continent. On the sides there are only huge rocks, in front only the sea. The wind blows strongly and everything around is so powerful because of the fury of the water and the waves which, even though today they are not so high (during the worst season they can break up to eighty meters), are so turbulent and spectacular. Seagulls fly high above the rocks, not caring of the wind and the violent sea, and my thoughts too reach them so that I can see Africa meeting the Atlantic ocean and I’m so happy of living in this wonderful world that I start singing “What a Wonderful Wooooooorld”, dedicated to the beauty of earth, the diversity of the populations as an antidote to political and racial tensions and as an invitation to not fear the future. Earth is not round, there is no North and South, not even start and end. We know that Galileo fixed science in the most useful way for him and he also forswore, but above all he never looked at the horizon from this beach. If you stare at the sea from Cape of Good Hope, the world has no ends and I’m sure that this feeling was the same of the one felt by great seamen, the one that pushed them to go farther, beyond limits, beyond the known, beyond storms, to pass beyond the South Pole and then the North Pole and to keep travelling constantly toward new lands and new seas, in an harmonious continuity that has no limits. Let’s go back to this wonderful world. From the beach we can see two lighthouses. The oldest one had been working from 1860 until first years of the last century and now it is only a piece of history, but also the second one is often ineffective because of the usual dense fog of the area. A little far to the North East there’s the highest place of Cape Point, reachable only by cable car called symbolically “Flying Dutchman”. Who was really the Flying Dutchman? I expressly ask that to the ghost of Bartolomeu Dias, who has been waiting for me here for more than five centuries and now he’s flying around me, longing to talk to me. “It’s a long story” he says “as almost old as me, many people think it was the Dutch captain Bernard Fokke who in the XVII century went back and forth from Holland to Java island at an unbelievable speed that someone might have thought he made a pact with the devil”. “His real name was Vanderecken instead” Bartolomeu whispers “captain of the Dutch East India Company, brave and resolute, but also greedy and scornful, who never walked back from difficulties”. “Look at the today’s waves” he keeps telling “they’re nothing compared to the ones of the storm that the Flying Dutchman faced in this very sea. Dazzling lightning, strong wind, imprecations and prayers of his sailors who begged him to revert his course, they were all useless because he wanted to go further with his ship, that risked to break in two with every higher and higher wave. He prayed the patron saints of the sea and seamen, but he didn’t care about his sailors or adventure, he only cared about the goods he had to sell to make money from his Company. The saints didn’t listen to his prayers and so he cursed them and invoked the devil, who’s been always ready to exchange souls with advantage and help. What their conversation was about is not known but obviously there was no deal, so the ship broke and wrecked”. “Not even death wanted this greedy captain, who went back to the helm of the wreck and he’s been sailing ever since, more than five hundred years, more and more evanescent, more and more bored, not able to scare anyone, not even seagulls. Sometimes the devil, whenever he has time, even though he has not that much time considering all the problems of the world today, passes by and says hi, they play dice on the deck of the ship, but nothing more than this”. “It’s true, he had his moments of glory, for example Wagner dedicated a work to him and he is in books of literature and famous novels, but since many years it looks like he only lives in videogames (such devil trickeries to me) and maybe in some signs of restaurants”. “Believe me my dear” the indiscrete Bartolomeu concludes “nothing good never happened after pacts with the devil…” Too bad, I wished I could get eternal youth, but I take your word for it, Bartolomeu. Poor Flying Dutchman, what a sad story. Bartolomeu hasn’t finished yet and he speaks proudly (a little too close) of Luis de Camoes, great Portuguese poet often compared to Shakespeare, who tells in an epic poem about his journeys to Cape of Storms, often with references to the Greek and Roman mythology. In the poem, the Cape turns into Adamastor, a giant transformed in rock as punishment for his love to Thetis, the most beautiful nymph of the Nereids, who Peleus too fell in love with. Bartolomeu’s voice is dreamy and his heart seems pure to me until, not enough happy of what he told me, he starts telling about his personal bohemian life in Lisbon, his love for a dame who died too young and he cries for her all his life, even if many more passions came after that, that lighted his heart up in the following years. He tells me about various love affairs, too many according to me, but it’s known that sailors were not that good at monogamy. Well, my dear captain, it was a pleasure meeting you, kisses and hugs to you, the Flying Dutchman and Cape of Good Hope. Tomorrow I’m leaving for the second part of the journey. You can’t stay in South Africa without spending few days in a reserve and seeing animals you can only admire here. They’re waiting for me, elephants and lions, rhinos, warthogs and zebras, acacia trees standing out against the sunset and coloured in fire red, and nights with the Southern Cross and different stars from the ones I’m used to.