When I was 18, I decided that Africa would be a good idea. And so I moved there. I lived in a little town called Luderitz on the Namibian coast and loved it. My friend Lucy and I worked hard producing the local town newspaper and working in some of the schools.
We had been there a few months when it was time to decide what to do for Christmas. A whole load of other volunteers were heading to Cape Town for it and before leaving England, I had had this romantic idea in my head of climbing Table Mountain on Christmas morning and sitting on the top sipping a hot chocolate. It was decided then. We would head to Cape Town and join in the fun.
It was lovely. It was a lovely way to spend our first Christmases away from home. At the Long Street Backpackers, where we stayed, all the guests gave about £3 each and a few people went to the shop and got loads of food and we all sat round a massive long table, relative strangers, and had a wonderful muddled Christmas day together. Later that evening, we got it into our heads that everyone needed to be thrown into the pool. And so everyone was thrown into the pool. Fabulous.
We weren’t exactly partying hard or anything but we were letting our hair down after an intense few months. One night, we went to a club called Jo’burg and this one girl decided she was going to have a ‘dance-off’ with one of the local South African guys. We recoiled in horror and ran off, leaving her to her own silliness in the club. So you see, we were being a little bit silly.
One day, however, we decided to have a more sedate day. We were a bit tired from the partying and felt a little off-kilter being around strangers at a time when people were usually with their families. We withdrew from it all and made a plan to get the train out to Simonstown, about an hour away, and walk along the coast a little and see the penguins. There was a massive colony there, apparently.
We boarded the train and made the journey but, given our state of tiredness, were struggling not to nod off. By the time we got to Simonstown, we kind of wanted another sit down. We walked along the seafront with its lovely old high street and started our walk out to see the penguins. It was going to be half an hour’s walk. After about five minutes, we spotted a cafe and agreed en masse, that sitting down and having lunch was quite quite necessary if we were going to make this walk.
And sit down we did. We ordered most of the things on the menu and scoffed them then had to sit very still for fear of exploding. One of the group had developed a crush on the waitress so of course we lingered for longer.
By the time someone was brave enough to mention finishing the walk out to see the penguins, the rest of us kind of looked at our watches and huffed and puffed a bit and said we didn’t know if we’d make it there and back in time for the train back (I’m sure we would have, it was mid afternoon, not midnight) and our little legs certainly didn’t want us to go.
So we walked the five minutes back to the train station and got the train back to Cape Town.
That’s what happened the day we went to see the penguins.