We don't want your money, we want your love.
I think I severely underestimated what it would take to walk 120-something kilometers. The distance does not seem that long when you are whizzing past in the car. 25km in a day I said to myself as I was driving my usual route between Kleimond Spar and Betty’s Bay- whatever, easy a pie. I mean I hike all the time, I’m not drastically unfit and I have no major injuries so really how hard can it be to put one foot in front of the other for a couple of hours a day? Apparently it’s really hard, well it was for me at least.
I now have a whole different perspective when it comes to evaluating distances but above and beyond that I have a whole new respect for a little seabird that was the reason I decided to take part in the Waddle 2015 walk. The African penguin , or Spheniscus Demersus, is only found on the Southern African coastline and nowhere else in the world. There are 27 extant breeding colonies, eight islands and one mainland site along the coast of southern Namibia, 10 islands and two mainland sites along the coast of the Western Cape Province (South Africa), and six islands in Algoa Bay (Eastern Cape Province, South Africa). But this little guy is in serious trouble. The Minimum Viable Global Population is estimated to be 50 000 pairs and the current population is less than half of this critical threshold. The currant collapse of the penguin population of this species is the equivalent of losing 1600 birds a week, or more than 2 birds per hour over the past 100 years- and this is all the more reason that we need to start thinking and acting on why this has occurred and what we can do to reverse these numbers, because we actually can do something.
Its about participation in raising public awareness, putting something into the public consciousness in any way shape or form we can mange it and maybe someone will take notice or be compelled to act. For some its in the form of robust action; ramming into whaling ships, covert films and protest actions, shock and forcing people to face issues head on though film and photography and sometimes that action needs to be loud.
But you don’t have to be extraordinary just for giving something of yourself to a cause; sometimes it can as simple as going for a walk.
The reason I have decided to do a photography blog instead of a written blog is that a much larger blog piece will be coming out on another platform later next month and I do not want to get repetitive- so if you are not already following us on twitter or our facebook group click on over there so that you can be updated on any of our writings and content coming out across print and the interweb media. I hope you enjoy a little photographic journey of my Waddle 2015 and that it inspires you to either get involved with the Waddle 2016, make a penguin promise yourself or next year if you are on the road and see these beautiful bunch of people walking along the roadside- hoot like a maniac.
Waking up early in the morning is never my forte (as Mike love to remind me) but when you wake up to a week of adventure it makes it all the more easier to wipe the sleep out of your eyes and pull yourself towards yourself. I love the Cape because we often get a full spectrum of seasons in one day and our first venture out onto the road on our 26km journey from Gansbaai to Stanford started off cold and slightly rainy and then by the afternoon we had sunny, hot blue skies. The day before we got to set out minds in motion for the intention that was to motivate us through all the passing kilometres by visiting the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary ( see previous post here) It really set a great tone for understanding the plight and difficulties facing this and many other ocean going bird species. For instance were you aware that the African Penguin population is currently sitting at less than 5% of it's original population , and every year this number gets lower- not that honestly 5% is pretty much scraping the bottom end of the barrel hen it comes to low numbers. This is an IUCN critically endangered species thanks to years and years of destructive practices by us.
Things like oil pollution, over fishing and plastic pollution are just some of the environmental factors that are created by us and have put this species in the position it is now in. And this is the reason I decided to join this walk, along with a small band of equally motivated conservationists, scientists and like minded individuals because awareness is needed, and if I had to loose a few toenails in the process- then so be it.
Day 2 and 3
Stanford to Hermanus was quite a challenge, weather was amazing and perfect for walking in but boy oh boy by hour 4 did those blisters start to kick in. One of the hardest bits was getting to the outskirts of Hermanus town and realising that there was still another 7km to hobble through. There in creeps my good inability to judge distances properly. When you drive past in a car it feels like nothing moving between the outskirts of Die Plaat and the town centre, but who nelly is it a whole other ball game when you are reduced to literally shuffling along as every blister really makes itself known. That nice little saying of 'what does not kill you only makes you stronger' was easy to whip up at this point, because A) It didn't kill us and B) We had 30km on one of our longest distances coming up still and if anything was going to kill, it would be that. What we were noticing along the road was a massive increase in litter, and particularly plastic bottles and bags. This kind of litter is one of the most common pollutants in our ocean and nearly 43% of seabird species have some form of plastic pollutants in their stomach contents. Guys this is not on. In this day and age we should really be more conscious of the amount of plastic we have in our lives and get active in reducing it. If I see someone simply discarding their plastic bottles, chip packets or wrappers on the side of the road I have no skaam in knocking on their car windows or picking it up myself and just letting them know that they dropped something that belongs to them. Just take your rubbish home with you, it's just lazy to throw it out the window. Ok rant over.
Day 3 was one of the more harder days to get through especially as all the aches and niggles have decided to really make themselves known. Added into that was the always predictable Cape Weather which saw us walk through a proper thundershower a mere hour into our walk, but as you can see from the faces not even squishy wet socks stopped us from covering the distance. I would have had the photos to prove it if I did not have my head down bearing into the rain. African Penguins can hold their breath and dive for an average of 2.5 minutes and frankly that would have been a handy skill to have while facing head first into the rain I can tell you. Fascinating little birds these penguins.
Day 4 and 5
Day 4 was the monster, the 30km from Arabella to Stony Point penguin colony. Bandaging and blister maintenance began in earnest in the morning and the weather decided to play ball and give us a wonderfully comfortable overcast day to manage the walk. We saw some incredible scenery along the ?Overberg and what made the long journey even better was the great support we got from SANBI , Cape Nature and so many lovely people along the way who hooted and waved at us as we marched on. There is nothing like the support of everyone around you when you are not feeling your strongest, and the team really pulled through that day. It all culminated in arriving at Stony Point, one of only 2 land based penguin colonies in South Africa and here we got to witness a penguin release. The feet were in a total sorry state of disrepair, I even had my trusty pen knife at the ready for any toe amputations we might have needed to conduct to...you know......drop any dead weight. But every blister is totally worth it for such a good cause.
Did you know that the African Penguin has pink glands above their eyes? The hotter the penguin gets, the more blood is sent to these glands and its body is then cooled by the surrounding air, thus making the glands more pink. I think the longer we walked on the Waddle the more characteristics we were embodying of the Penguins themselves, well some of us anyway. Day 5 was a short hot, warm and windy stride from Gordon's Bay to Strand kicked off with a massive surprise of hundreds of kids from TTP Primary school welcoming us into the beach and giving us a wonderful send off.
The final day
It started off on a low note. Our dear car was broken into overnight and completely ransacked. Fortunately all of our personal stuff was with us in the rooms, but all of our support food,water, promises cards and anything that was left in the vehicle disappeared into the night. The guys from African Wild Cats came to the rescue and had another vehicle dispatched to us asap with spare water for the day as we made the final walk from Muizenberg to Boulders Beach. The final stretch to reach our 124km journey was full of blisters, pain and relief but mostly a huge amount of gratitude not only for what we had accomplished but also because raising awareness of conservation issues is close to our hearts and I have no problem putting my feet or self on the line for when it's worth the pain.
Thank you so much to Two Oceans Aquarium and Penguin Promises for giving me the opportunity to be part of this adventure, and to my fellow waddles who pushed through rain, sun and bandaged feet to get the job done- you are all so amazing, especially my talented travel conservation companion The Incidental Tourist who never fails to say yes to me when I ask her to embark on something that will most likely result in blisters, dirt and exhaustion but always for a good cause.
Currently there are only 17 000 pairs of breeding African Penguins, in order for the species to be are we need at least 50 000. this is not an awareness campaign that ends here.
My #penguinpromise is to get rid of plastic in my life, but only lo a products and to be proactive - I think that's the most important one, getting people involved and literally walking the talk instead of waiting for others to invite me to