Perfect weekend

Huddled under blankets, heavy sleepy eyes, need to go to bed, but want to just keep writing. The rain is hammering down outside, and has been all day. Working outside in it was interesting. Animal conservation unfortunately does not provide any breaks, there is no cancelled days, you work whatever the weather, everyday of the year. So today I worked in the pouring rain caring for two pens of penguins. In to my fourth week at SANCCOB my hands are beginning to feel the strain of continuous chomping and biting of penguins beaks, and flippers cause nasty bruises. I never expected my volunteering to be so mentally and physically draining, with such long hours and stretches of days. But when you come away from it all over your days off I’ve begun to realise that the work I am contributing towards really makes a difference. If it wasn’t for the volunteers the penguins would not be here.

I especially appreciate my days off more when I have worked for five days. This week was a Monday to Friday shift, which is unusual, as volunteers normally work weekends to cover the staff. This Friday at work we had a team in from a South African TV show, Braii Masters, where they were filming the volunteers at work. They interviewed me whilst I was tubing one of the penguins, so I will put the link up to the video on here once it is up. The day ended with the film crew cooking up a braii for all the staff and volunteers, frying the pilchards in a ginger beer marinade, the fish we feed the penguins. It was surprisingly delicious. Although I didn’t hang around as everyone from the house had planned to go out for dinner.

We all went to a quirky Ethiopian restaurant on Long Street, the street renowned for its buzzy bars, clubs and restaurants. For dinner a mixed platter of meats in sauces and marinades and bread that was more like a pancake was bought out, where we scooped it all up with our hands. After dinner we headed to the Dubliners, which was also on Long Street. To get through to the club you go through double doors that are locked either side, doesn’t make the place feel safe, but it was a pretty good bar. The experience of a night out in Long Street was a culture shock to what I am used to in England. Not having the worry about taking my phone and purse out, or even carrying a bag. Here in Cape Town your on watch the whole time, making sure your not being followed, carrying your personal belongings in your bra at night, and not giving eye contact to anyone in the streets. As we left the club at around 3.30am, the streets were still packed with clubbers, and many homeless beggars pleading drunk tourists for money or to buy a bag of groceries. It is difficult to see but you have to learn to ignore their pleas as they are not to be trusted.

Saturday, Tamara and I had booked the Robben Island tour, setting off from the Waterfront on a boat. At the time the hangovers were kicking in, Tamara had already been sick the night before, so the boat did not help! The boat trip took around fifty minutes, and once we had arrived on the island we jumped straight onto a bus for the tour. My first expectations was that it would be just the prison and flat lands, but rather a school, a doctors, a post office, and homes lay amongst the prison. Our tour guide explained very briefly some history of the island and prison; that it is 500 odd acres, pointing out the house where one of the political prisoners was captivated for years, the quarry where the prisoners hacked at the limestone, and a few tortoises crossing the road on the way. Following from the bus tour we stopped outside the prison walls where we were passed on to another tour guide, but this one was supposedly an ex-prisoner. Black, short and no front teeth, he was quite a character, although he didn’t explain what he was locked up for. He took us around the different prison cells, explaining how prisoners would only have a rough rug and four blankets to keep them warm at night.

My honest view of the tour was that is was extremely rushed. I felt there was no time to appreciate or respect the place and history behind it all; no time to read the detailed plaques that lay in amongst the prison cells telling the horrific stories of prisoners punishments. We briefly brushed past Nelson Mandelas cell, the size of a single bed. I can’t even imagine how horrific the many years he spent in there were like. All in all it was an interesting experience, however I would not recommend it to tourists, not worth the money, and I felt almost wrong being there.

Sunday we all headed to Big Bay, a beautiful beach not far from where we live. The sun was out and warm, finally a chance to wear my summer clothes, the only things I packed. South Africa’s spring is definitely on its way. Big Bay is the perfect spot for surfers, and a great place to go for lunch or a beer right on the beach. In the evening we made use of the bar and braii area in the garden at Aviva, finally a South African braii in the sunshine. A brilliant end to the weekend. Back to penguins tomorrow.

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