Tag Archive: cape town


goodbye to africa


i have left cape town.  greetings from the airport in johannesburg, where i am waiting to board a plane that i will be sitting in for the next 18 hours – we fly via senegal, but i don't think we'll have time to get out and walk around.  i hear there is a tropical storm making its way up the east coast of the US, so i hope we can land tomorrow.

i'll post more when i get stateside.  wish me luck!

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two oceans aquarium

here are some shots from two oceans aquarium, which boasts one of two 'captive' living kelp forests in the world, some nice sharks and turtles, and the biggest morays i have ever seen. 

Octopus vulgarisSpiny lobsterHagfishCuttlefish, Sepia vermiculataCuttlefish, Sepia vermiculata

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castle of good hope

(31 may) yesterday afternoon i visited the castle of good hope, the oldest building in south africa and its military seat.  the castle is pentagonal and used to sit on the seashore (the dungeon floor was made of wet sand), until a large amount of land was ‘reclaimed’ and became the downtown area.  i had lunch (something interesting called ‘waterbluitjie soup,’ which as far as i can tell means soup made from water lilies – tasted a little like asparagus) and looked over my map to get my bearings, then wandered around a bit on my own before taking an official tour.  some of the highlights included the several-hundred-year-old graffiti on the cell doors, which have since been reversed on their hinges so you can see the carvings (made using nails pulled from the prisoners’ boots); the reconstructed dolphin pool; and the museum collections of colonial furniture and black-and-white portaits of san people taken in the early 1900’s.  oh, and the brass plaque outside – see below.  :)

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Alpine scrubApostles from aboveDowntown & cablesMountaintop 1Mountaintop 2Mountintop 3PassagewaySunsetThe house at the top

on monday evening after work, we went up the cableway to the top of table mountain to have a look around.  this is what we looked around at.  :)

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the SAM

(29 may) i realized that i have photographed and written about all the touristy things i've been doing, but not much about what i see the most of, which is the south african museum.  so here's a little about where i've been working.
 
the public museum encounter starts with a grandish ediface that fronts onto the company's gardens.  once inside, by continuing straight through the building, one arrives at the central atrium, which is hung with whale skeletons, and from which one can walk up to displays on three surrounding floors.  these include exhibits on rocks and minerals, south africa's geology, ancient rock art, sharks and other marine creatures, and a few requisite strange-looking taxidermied mammals.  plus some interesting skulls.  there are also many blank walls where exhibits have been taken down and not replaced; apparently the museum is suffering from a combination of renovation hassles, retiring staff and general shortages of funds, personnel and a unified plan for the future.  nevertheless, the displays that are up are informative and interesting.

by turning to the right inside the front door, one arrives at the planetarium, which is unfortunately suffering technical troubles (i found out today) and will most likely not be fixed before i leave.  :(

most of that is not what i see every day, though.  (in fact, today was the first time i looked through any of the upper galleries).  when i arrive in the morning i head straight in through one of the back entrances and up to the marine biology department, which is behind the scences.  here, too, the staff is dwindling – the collection manager tells me that when she started, there were seven working marine biologists and four technicians.  now there are two biologists and one technician.  the buildings have been undergoing various renovations for the past five years and apparently space is being reallocated, which contributes to the somewhat ghostly feel of the corridors.  still, they have the timeless feel of a natural history institution – faint smells of alcohol and other preservatives (mixed with wet paint at the moment), the almost inaudible hum of the ventilation, the office doors with far side cartoons relevant to the research interests of each inhabitant.
 
then there are the collections themselves.  i'm not sure what feelings shelves of preserved dead animals evoke in most people, but for me, there is something almost holy about the stacks.  they are a physical library of biological science.  standing amongst literally thousands of specimens, with thousands of scientific names, representing hundreds of years of cumulative taxonomic research, is infintely humbling.  in any sizeable collection, there are likely to be dozens of specimens that are new to science and haven't been described yet.  others are from well-known and well-represented species, but may have some previously unseen or unreported physical character.  some will change names several times.  nearly all, if the collections are properly maintained, will outlast the people who collected, fixed, preserved, and described them.

i recognize not many people want to spend their lives wandering through shelves of smallish corpses floating in a variety of semi-noxious chemicals.  but then, i wouldn't want to be a dentist or a banker, so i guess we all do what we love, however quirky.

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it's been nearly a week since i had the chance to post, so the posts below will separately detail a few of the interesting things i've done in the meantime.  i have a few more days' worth of work at the museum this week, but will also be taking in a few more sights before i leave on saturday.

enjoy!

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here are some more general around-cape-town photos, finally!

Cape town from rhodesCape town from signal hillEvening viewGroot constantiaLong way from homePlastic sandwichRhodes memorialSignal hillTwelve apostlesWaterfront

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(22 may) i have arrived!  and settled in.  and had a look around.  and been to the museum. 

the rest of the trip on saturday went fine – the woman i'm staying with (whose boyfriend calls her 'bugs' since she's the entomology curator) met me at the airport, where the rain was absolutely bucketing down.  i had gotten talking with my very nice seatmate, a woman who travels regularly to and from johannesburg on business.  we initially bonded over the disgusting sandwiches offered by the airline, then just got chatting.  she had bemoaned the early onset of winter – apparently it usually arrives around mid-june, but i seem to have brought it with me from new zealand.  it has been quite rainy, and fairly chilly – into the 40s at night, i think.  in any case, my seatmate left me with an offer to meet up for lunch and maybe head out of town on the weekend, so we'll see what pans out.

bugs' house is lovely, with good views of the mountains that encircle the city bowl.  the other residents include her son, two small dogs (a dachshund and an ex-street-dog maltese poodle), and a large leopard tortoise whom i have only seen from behind, since she stays in her little garage-type shelter in this weather, and bugs' 87-year-old mother.  all very nice.

on sunday i got to do a bit of sightseeing – bugs' boyfriend is a local tourguide (among other things) and he took me on a whirlwind tour of some of the local highlights, which included views over the city, seapoint and green point from signal hill, groot constantia (an old cape dutch colonial-style winery estate), the rhodes memorial, and a drive around the bottom of the twelve apostles and table mountain.  on the way we saw some interesting birds, a few wildebeest, and sealions on the waterfront.

yesterday was day 1 at the museum, where i took stock of the collections and assessed what i can accomplish during my visit.  the upshot is – the collections are quite extensive in certain groups of cephalopods, but smallish in my group, and some of the relatively few specimens are out on loan!  however, there is a good collection of Moroteuthis robsoni, a species in which i wanted to investigate beak morphology for possible dimorphism (as i found in the closely related M. ingens), so i can look into that.  there are also quite a few Notonykia africanae specimens, another species i wanted to look at more closely, plus a few other odds and ends.  so while i may not need the full two weeks to get through the collections, there is enough to keep me busy for a wee while.

internet is patchy, so i will continue to write posts as i find time, but i may have to keep stockpiling and posting several at a time, as opportunity allows.

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