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  • Your story, Ben, reminded me of our adventure in Hermanus several years ago:

    At the Cape Town Airport. We pick up our luggage and head straight for the Alamos Car Rental office. My husband has already rented a car with GPS through the Internet, everything should function quickly. There is a young woman with a round face behind the counter. She reads and rereads our printed out contract many times. She repeats shaking her head and mumbles words we don’t succeed in understanding. She calls somebody, hangs up and dials a new number. She does not seem to be happy with what she hears on the other end of the phone. Finally she manages to look up at us and says,” In the price you paid neither the GPS nor the insurance are included!”

    We protest. We show her where in our contract it says black on white that the GPS and the insurance are very well included. She wrinkles her forehead and starts dialing numbers on the phone again. We keep discussing with her. Behind us there is a queue of others now who want to leave off or rent their cars. I watch how their faces become tenser by the minute. I understand them. We let several pass. But our issue does not get resolved independently of how many people get called up by the woman who attends us. Finally she announces,” You have to wait until my boss comes in tomorrow morning or you have to pay extra!”

    We pay extra, of course.

    It is late now and dark outside. It is raining. Even though I have anxiously waited for rain for months with the Namibians, I experience this rain like any other in Mexico or Hamburg, it bothers, and it makes driving harder… We sit down in our car and listen to the automatic voice of the GPS. It guides us quickly to the highway that leads out of Cape Town and towards the town of Hermanus. We have not been in tight traffic for a very long time. This is a highway with four lanes on either side, packed with cars. Their bright lights attack us from everywhere. There are many curves. All other drivers seem to know exactly where to go and they want to get there as fast as possible! I am night-blind and admire how my husband can see where to go into a curve and how to once and again avoid being overrun by the fierce lights. We hardly talk anymore; I just try to guide him in time for a necessary turn, as it is easier for me to read signs than it is for him. It is late at night when we finally arrive at the Misty Waves Hotel in Hermanus. Also through the Internet we have booked for five nights for us. A couple of days ago my husband nevertheless called to confirm our reservation and a so called Michele at the reception confirmed. We are tired. We just want to drop into our beds. Behind the reception desk stand a black and a white young woman who alternately study our reservation papers not unlike the young woman in Alamos has done a few hours ago at the Cape Town Airport. They, too, shake their heads, and in the same rhythm!

    They open their mouths and tell us in perfect chorus,” We are sorry, we do not have a room for you. We are fully booked!”

    “But…!” cries my husband out

    We are speechless. We protest. We explain. My husband mentions Michele. “Michele is not here, we are sorry!” Our confirmation paper leaves the two women cold.

    “Where do we sleep now?” we finally ask

    The white woman puts a small piece of paper into my hands and says,” Drive there. Michele has reserved a room for you there!”

    We get back into the car. Once on the deserted street I discover that on the paper it just says: first left, then second right. There is no name or address or house number. First left and second right we just see private homes. We drive back to the Misty Waves. When we enter the lobby I discover that the door to the reception is closed nobody awaits any guests anymore, but there, the white lady from before is just leaving the lobby! I call her. When she recognizes us her mouth goes into a grimace, but she returns to us.

    “You are just trying to get rid of us!” I complain. I am angry now, very angry. “You don’t seem to care if we find a bed tonight or not!” “I want a name of a hotel with the full address and you find us that hotel now!”

    The black receptionist also returns and finally a young man. The three of them open their computers and start using their phones many times. They hang up, search who knows what in tiny booklets, call again. We are standing at the reception desk watching the three in their now feverish activity for a long time. They find out that at the guest house first left and second right there is no room for us either.

    “Maybe tonight we will sleep in our car!” I tell my husband. He cannot at all laugh about that at this point. I cannot either. I would love to cry.

    After nearly an hour the two ladies assure us that now, yes, they have a room for us, they give us a new piece of paper. This time I check it and yes: there is a name and an address on it. But even with this information we drive the main street of Hermanus several times back and forth until we spot a blond woman with a friendly smile waving to us: she is the owner of the place. Her friendliness and the pleasant holiday apartment she has for us calm us down immediately. Actually much nicer than the Misty Waves Hotel! We fall asleep in no time at all.


    Photography by Kiki ( We have come to Hermanus, because between August and November Grey whales come here. After breakfast we walk straight to the bay. It is a picturesque bay deep down under a rocky coastline. Sun and clouds play hide and seek on the ocean’s surface. I look and look but cannot make out any whales. Where the waves break close to the shoreline they throw lines of algae back and forth. Right behind this line I spot a few low rocks barely sticking out of the water. At first I suspect that these might be the backs of whales.

    “No, those are just rocks!” explains my husband.

    I check the water’s surface further out and then return my eyes to check the shoreline. I notice that the small rocks from before have moved.

    “They are no rocks but whales!” exclaim my husband and me at the same time. Now we discover a long back and a short one swimming beside each other in the water. Obviously this is a whale mother with her little one. Looking through my Tele – lens I can recognize them for what they are and follow their trail through the water. I shoot like crazy, but when I check the images later on my camera, everything looks very small and much too tiny. It does not impress like the living whales I observed impressed me.

    For hours we stand in front of our tripods and graze with our eyes over the water’s surface. We receive gratifications for our patience and our eyes learn fast: wherever you spot a small ring of air bubbles, you know that underneath a whale is breathing. Is there a fountain jumping into the air, the whale is breathing out. Suddenly a huge tail fin breaks the surface; Water flows down from it like rivers and back into the immense ocean. The fin usually stays for a while, turns here and there as if occupied in a water ballet-.

    Behind us stand many more tourists. They are all looking for what we are looking for: parts of whales. When suddenly the back or tail of a whale appears, the whole bunch of us breathes in and moans together. If I am occupied looking through my camera into a different direction the huge moaning of so many tells me that I have to put my eyes quickly elsewhere. My heart starts beating faster and I anxiously look for whatever caused the common moan. If it is a whale tail I am mostly lucky and still have the chance to pin that on the camera’s memory, but is it – and that is a deeper and longer moan – a whale jumping, I am usually too late to still catch it. Three times, though, I am still able to catch the jumping whale with my eyes before he or she disappears again into the water.

    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________
    Photography by Kiki ( Coastline in Hermanus - No whals , I did not capture not even a fin of a whale, today I know why: my vision was already very "tunnelly", I just did not know it then. A miracle that I still could spot them with my eyes!)
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