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Entry 29C - Third week with the Penguins

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Entry # 29 C – Third week with the Penguins

Monday, October 9

Busy morning grading, bleeding and weighing the penguins in pen 10 to see if they can be released. I got to pick up the struggling penguin and put it in the crate to be weighed, avoiding the beak, pick it back up and hold it while two new people were being trained to take blood from their feet. Not the best combination for efficient production line, but we got is done and I only got one additional slice out of my hand.

All but # 364, partially blind and with a leg wound can be released tomorrow. YAAH! 401 and 408 will be free at last! With 14 birds being released tomorrow, we will be down to 10 penguins. That is one staff person and current foreign volunteer per penguin.

As there are so few penguins and no idea when more might come in, Carole is suggesting that all the volunteers go on the boat release tomorrow, as there may not be another one anytime soon. As tomorrow is my day off, I will sleep in, or probably henna my hair and then arrive at the Center at around 10:30.

During lunch, I walked down the road to locate the house for my massage later this evening. It did not appear far, and I felt I could get home, take a quick shower so I did not smell of fish and then get back by 6:00pm.

After work, I walked to my massage and was 10 minutes early so I rang the bell and waited. No answer and by 6 minutes past still no answer. Finally, an elderly gentleman asked what I wanted and I told him. He said he lived in the house and that there was no person who gave massages in the area. I walked home feeling a little frustrated.

As I got home, Nicole said that Marta had rung twice and she had told her that I was probably lost. I called her and apologized and she was very kind and we rescheduled for the following evening. When I looked back on my notes, I had the correct information, I had allowed myself to be swayed by what someone else, who also was not sure, that I had the wrong information. Looking back, I realize that I had to release some feelings I had before I went into the massage. Another lesson.

Tuesday, October 10 – DAY OFF and Boat Release, Massage

I tried to sleep in late, but it didn’t work. When I called, I was told to arrive at 12:45, so I went to a local market that was supposed to have wonderful fruits and vegetables. It did so I bought a few things, found a health food store and walked home. I was pleased to find that is was closer than the other grocery stores.

When I got to the center, most of the birds had already been loaded into boxes. We were taking 8 boxes, 7 for the 14 penguins and one box for a Cape Cormorant. Nola, the vet, said that number 401 and 408 were in the same box. As the boxes were lined up to be loaded into the bakkie, sometimes a little beak would appear out of the hole for your fingers. Sometimes almost the entire head would appear.

There were 4 volunteers going, so Claude from Belgium went up front, and Nicole, Zita and I crawled in the back with the 8 boxes. I asked Francis and Gabriel to give us a calm drive for the penguin’s sake. We were just on the highway when we did a U turn that sent the cormorant’s box tumbling. We had begun our journey with the wrong driver, so once that was resolved, we were back on the road. To make a long story short, we finally got there after three false turns. We were happy to be there as the penguins were becoming increasingly fractious. At one point we had four boxes with little heads stuck out the holes and stuck for sure. I finally had my baseball cap over one hole and Nicole’s fleece stuffed in the hole of another one.

As we unloaded in the busy waterfront-shopping district, many people asked what we were doing. We had 40 minutes to wait until the whale watching boat came back to the dock. We put the boxes in the shade and waited. There were several people who stopped and looked and some got a little too close for safety. We loaded on the to the boat, the penguins were loaded first, and we were ready to go. Just as we were ready to take off, they told us that the whales were in a different direction than Robben Island where we were to take the penguins, so they unloaded penguins and us. We were going to go on a speedboat instead. After we donned life vests and waterproof jackets we were given instructions on how to straddle the seats, hold on the handles, brace out feet in the straps and absorb all the shocks with our knees.

The speedboat was fun and I soon saw that I would have to take off my baseball cap or loose it for good. On the way out to the island, we slowed to an idle and watched a pod of lovely common dolphins. There were at least 20 playing along side of us. As we left them, we sped off to the island. Along the way, we zipped past a solitaire penguin heading to Cape Town. As we arrived at the island, we pulled up close to the former prison. We did not have landing privileges, but we would put them out over the side close to the resident penguin colony.

We started to open the boxes and let them into the sea. Some of the boxes emptied quickly, other had to be coached out of the box. Some had to be literally poured out of the boxes. At one point, 6 of the little pod were heading out into the open water, away from Robben Island. Most of the blues, the immature penguins were eager to be away and once they hit the water, they did not surface for quite a time and far away from the boat. At one point, I recognized #271 swimming away. He was a large sub-adult who was finally being limited to only eating 2 fish each meal. It was fun to be able to recognize him and to send him off with a good wish and a thank you.

On the way home, we really sped up and did some very fast turns. It was good fun. All in all, our trip lasted 1.15 minutes. We made it home in good time so that I had plenty of time for dinner before I took off to my massage. I was walking up our street as I always do to get to the center and because it was early evening, I got a lovely view of Table Mountain just slightly illuminated and all the lights at it’s base in full glory.

I found Marta’s house and it was exactly where she had told me it would be. #7 Frere St, just as the top of the hill before the road curves. Marta is lovely, very short, dark hair lovely energy and a studio with two suites for massages and beauty treatments.

We had a lovely time and as she was giving me my massage she said that she didn’t feel any stress in my body. Little tensions here and there, but no stress. YAAH! She also said that the tensions in my shoulder and neck are items that I have no control over, but things in my hips and lower back are areas of my life where I have the ability to change them. I had never heard that before. An interesting concept. She offered to take me home, as it was so late. I was a wonderful way to end the day.

Wednesday, October 11 – DAY OFF

Today, I was going on an adventure. I took the local bus into town. Not as fast as the taxi, not as thrilling a ride or as risky as the minivans, but down back streets with lots of local color. I spent the ride with a high school girl who hopes to go to law school in the US. She was reading a local circular put out by the police about local crimes to watch out for. Apparently, there is a new scam here where by unsuspecting people are given toxic drinks at a party or bar. When they wake, they are naked and submerged in ice in a bathtub with a note on their chest and a number to call. As they call the number, the nurse asks them if they have long cuts down their back. If the answer is yes, they are told to immediately get back into the tub with ice. Their kidneys have been removed and their only hope to live is it stay very cold until they can be taken to the hospital and put on dialysis. Not quite the way I had planned to start my day.

As I exited the bus, I had to walk through the train station to get to Artscape, where I was to buy tickets to the ballet for Friday night. It should be lovely and fun to see a dance performance. There have been several articles in the papers about the guest artists from Cuba. Nicole, Ditte and Zita will accompany me.

Then I walked over to the Riverfront again to get information about the tour buss that circulates in the city. I went to a movie called Junebug in the Art House. It was bittersweet, but a really good film. I then went on a circuit on the double-decker tour bus. We went to the cable car station to get to the top of Table Mountain and ended up going back down the backside of the mountain and along the beach into the city. It really is a great way to see the major sites of the city and where you want to go back and spend more time.

I went to bed having had a good two days off and I was ready to go back to work.

Thursday, October 12 – Gannets, dead mosquitoes, cobwebs

Vibes Card – Ask your Angels – I have been calling on them a lot lately, mainly the guardian angel and Gabriel. They have given me a lot more confidence and calmness as I face my life.
We are still at 11 birds and today they would be evaluated to see who would be able to be released next week. 8 passed the test, so on Tuesday, we will be down to 3 birds. Not sure what we will do as there will be 5 foreign volunteers, not to mention the local volunteers and staff.

Today I was assigned to ICU, 5 gulls, 1 gannet and one oiled penguin. As most of the staff were going to be off site in the morning, I was in charge of all the treatments. My first time by myself. First, I had to be taught how to catch the gannet. The size of a large swam, sharp and long beak and the most amazingly startling blue eyes, they are very quick and strong. This one has an injured shoulder. After you manage to capture the head, which you need to do first thing, then you capture the upper part of the wings between our fingers and then clamp the birds and his wings between your knees so that you can administer fluids, medications or fish. I watched the first times for each of the different treatments and after that, I did the treatments under the watchful eye of my supervisors.

The little oiled penguin is very new, very dehydrated and weak and very anxious and angry. He had something going on with him every hour on the hour so I got very good at handling him. Only one bit of skin gone after all of our encounters.

In addition to my working in ICU, Nola was cleaning the surgery area just next door. She asked me to de-cobweb the room and wash the walls, as they were not sparkling. Around all the other things I managed to get two walls and the cobwebs handled, but more is needed tomorrow.

It was a good, busy day for me.

Friday, October 13 – I am ready for my close up Mr. DeMille #2 and Ballet

Pen 2 – lots of medicating and handling. 10 birds, plus the oily in ICU.

Zita was helping in pen 2 with Nicole and I, but is still not comfortable with feeding and medicating. This put most of the work on Nicole and I, but it was nice to have someone recording and running for items that we had forgotten.

Midget would not get out the pool! Took the net in the scoop her out and was scolded about bringing in a net. Lana will be away for a week and she asked Nicole and I to keep an eye on home pen for her and keep up with the spraying, as Midget continues to have ticks around her eyes.

Photos for 10 with Zita catching, Nicole placing them in position and I removing them and putting them in the pool. Went a lot better this week, but the little blues that we thought would not be such a problem, turned out to be escape artists and were more trouble than the big guys last week. Still, we finished in less than 20 minutes. YAAH!

Had ordered a cab for 5:45 and even with arriving early to pick up Ditte and Zita, we were down town and at Artscape by 6:20. Our reservation for dinner was for 6:45, but they didn’t even have that on the list. Luckily, they were able to accommodate us. Our waiter, Lee was charming and hearing impaired, but was by far the best service we have had in South Africa. Dinner was rather delayed and we had already had our drinks and when I mimed that I was starving to death, he worked magic and our food appeared. The others had chicken stir-fry and I had grilled beef salad. Yummy. We all enjoyed desert (cinnamon roll with chocolate for me) and I had a wonderful coffee and then it was time for the ballet.

We were in the first row of the balcony, right in the center, fabulous seats for only $11 each! The ballet was called Ballet Nouveaux and was 5 short ballets. I had been reading reviews in the papers and knew that there were guest artists from Cuba and one of the choreographers was from the US.

The first ballet was the Pas de Six from the third act of Swan Lake, very nice and excellent technique from the primary ballerina. The second one, Like So, was more of a modern, jazzy ballet with everyone on in white. Interesting and fun, I always admire when ballet dancers can take on a totally different form and not look totally like bunheads. The third one was Diane and Acteon with the two Cuban stars and while they had fabulous technique, I must admit I found the choreography a little limp.

The fourth piece, Four Last Songs (based on the poems of Hermann Hesse and Joseph von Eichendorff) was the one that I really enjoyed and was created by a Danish choreographer. It had four couples representing lovers in the various seasons of life and dressed in appropriate seasonal colors and a backdrop that changed its appearance with simply a change in lighting. There was a dancer that represented death and he introduced them and wove himself within the lovers within each season. The end found all of the couples clumped in the back of the stage (it reminded me of an Agnes DeMille ballet). It was charming. I will look to see that one performed again when I have the chance.

The last one, Entre dos Aguas, was a ballet that incorporated Spanish and flamenco themes with the Cuban stars and the entire company and it was bright and colorful. I really enjoyed the performance and was so please we had decided to see it. The other offering is Giselle, one of my favorites, but if I was only going to see one, I am glad it was this one.

Ditte called for a taxi and he was a little disconcerting and kept trying to chat Ditte up and making strange jokes. It ended up being the cheapest fare I ever had from Cape Town and I breathed a sigh of relief when I arrived home.

Saturday, October 14 – Mats day and early evening

Today at work it was Ditte, Nicole and I this morning and all of us exhausted from our day and late night. We had intended to go out to dinner again tonight but we all opted for an early evening.

Pen 2 – now up to 14 birds including 4 newbie’s who are very small. #200 rather sweet and tends to overheat and does not go in the pool very much.

The pelican and the gannet are an item! Such an odd couple

Mats – the new loaner machine is very powerful but you cannot not turn off the hose and leave it, unless you turn off the entire machine, which you have to start like a gas powered lawn mower. With three people working on the mat, we had all four of the bins almost done in less than 1 hour – one on the hose, one turning the mats over and taking them out of the way, one adding new mats to the floor.

Not sure how we got so far behind in our schedule, but we were all running late by the end of the day. The mats must have put us off schedule. Luckily, we were not on a time line, so we could finish our work and them go home for an early night.

Sunday, October 15 – Dinner with Cheryl

Forth day in a row of work and my hands are VERY tired. I allowed it to be a day of making wrong and grouchy

The gannet is finally eating from the pool! YAAH! We hid his med 2 x’s today in fish so if this keeps up, we won’t need to catch him at all in days to come.


  1. 364 (Mr. half blind guy) gave me 3 nips over the boots. OUCH! I lobbied Nola to up his food, as most of his crabbiness is that he is hungry. He is now on a 3 fish limit. We also hid his medicine in the fish that was much easier.

I worked today in Pen 2 with Nicole as supervisor and we make a very good team. I also raked in home pen. We had very high winds today and walking home was a bit of a challenge.

Cheryl, one of the other hostel owners that I could have stayed with, had invited Nicole and I for dinner. She has been working with SANCCOB for over 12 years and has a very efficient operation. She told us a lot about the oil spills that they have worked on and with all the experience and training that they have had over the years, during the last spill with over 60,000 birds affected, they saved and rehabilitated 96%. (Earlier spills they only managed to save 50%)

She lives farther away from the center and in addition to handling 2 full time jobs, plus raising all the orphaned chicks for SANCCOB, also rescues and has a household of 76 abandoned cats. Both Ditte and Zita had begun staying with her, but ended up moving for a variety of reasons. They are now happily living at the Endless Summer Backpackers which is within walking distance of SANCOOB, the shops and has a lot more young people staying at the hostel.

The house is in two sections, one with all the cats and her parents’ house that is cat free where we had dinner. As we arrived, Cheryl had just taken in 9 new abandoned chicks between 4-8 weeks of age and all needing to be checked in. We ending up having to eat without her and then we joined to help her admit the chicks and give them their first medications, fluids and food. They are very sweet looking, all downy and dark gray with little tiny beaks.
They all took their fluids and even the smallest managed to get two fish tails down. Cheryl says that this is very early for them to be seeing abandoned chicks, which means that the parents may be molting early. (During the month long molt, the adults live off their body fat and do not go into the ocean to feed, as they are no longer waterproof.) The ocean around Cape Town is a frigid 8 degrees C or 46 degrees F.

South African Vocabulary

Bakkie – small truck, normally with a camper shell.

Pleasure – Your welcome. I say thank you and they respond, pleasure

Shame – Sorry, that’s too bad or that’s okay – I say that I have leave early and they respond, shame

Posted by ladyjanes 04:32 Archived in South Africa Tagged postcards

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