I wake up in a new bed. There’s a smile on my face. The blankets are warm. The room is warm. I’m at peace.
This is Abalone House and Spa, a boutique hotel in Paternoster. And even though I’m in one of South Africa’s oldest fishing towns – home to only 2 000 people – experiencing the luxury of city life makes it hard for me to leave my suite.
But venture out I must. Never mind that it’s the morning after the launch of celebrity chef Reuben Riffel’s five-course brandy pairing dinner, which ended towards midnight.
Never mind that the evening involved a few too many cocktails, all the while swopping war stories with other journalists about the hardships we face and who’s been on the best trips.
For some reason, we’ve agreed to go kayaking. It’s for the readers, we tell ourselves. Or perhaps, since we tried something new the night before, we might as well try something new the following day.
It’s an early start for the first group – 7am! What were we thinking? The sun hasn’t come up and it’s so damn cold. It’s not like my first weekend at the hotel a few months earlier.
On that trip, I didn’t do much besides relax in the rooftop Jacuzzi overlooking the ocean and indulge in an African Shea Butter massage at the Healing Earth Spa.
But, this time, we’re doing something more adventurous. And, given that not everyone could hold their liquor the night before, I’m not surprised to see more than a few groggy faces, assuming those faces showed up at all.
As for me? I feel nervous. There was lots of talk the previous night about capsizing kayaks and people struggling to get back into their boats. I don’t want to end up in the frigid West Coast waters. Never mind the prospect of getting the perfect Life of Pi shot, I’d like to keep warm and dry, thank you very much!
Our drive to the beach takes us down St Augustine Road, the winding street in Paternoster that seems to separate those that have security guards watching over their beach homes from those that have stray dogs barking the night away.
We see a group of army recruits getting ready for a walk to Saldanha. I wonder how much they’ll sweat carrying heavy backpacks on that 30km trek. All I have are shivers in T-shirt and swimming shorts.
We meet Ian, our instructor from Kayak Paternoster. We sign our indemnity forms and get into the banana-shaped boats.
As much as it might have been faster to go as individuals, I’m happy that we’re pairing up. And I’m happier still to be with someone who’s done extensive kayaking before.
With me in the back as the engine and him in the front as the steering wheel, it’s as if we’re a 4x4 on the sea. Parallel parking is something we’ll have to figure out later.
As we paddle out into the ocean, we pass by one of the seaside restaurants where I had a lazy lunch during my last stay. Seeing it makes me think of all the other yummy seafood dishes I had on that trip.
I wonder what it would be like to have my own “bakkie”, the term they use for the colourful fishing boats or to spend my afternoons drinking wine on the porch.
But the waves are getting choppy and the swell is getting high. The boat is rocking me out of my reverie. And as much as all this thought of food is appealing, I’m glad that I didn’t have anything to eat beforehand. Now wouldn’t be a great time to get seasick.
In the distance, I can see the Cape Columbine lighthouse. Built on Castle Rock in 1936, it’s the last manned lighthouse in South Africa and the first one European ships see when sailing down the country’s coast.
Again, I’m caught up in memories of my last visit to Paternoster. The plan for our final day was to enjoy a two-hour beach buggy tour to St Helena Bay, where we’d learn about the shipwrecked Portuguese sailors whose “Our Father” prayers give the town its name. But the trip was fully booked, so we took a two-minute walk down to the 8km of beach instead.
I remember climbing boulders in flimsy flip-flops (all the while fearing the high offshore would blow our phones away). We didn’t see any dolphins or whales, nor could we tell if a clump of seaweed was a colony of seals. In truth, although the area is famous for watersports, we didn’t see much of anyone else besides a trio of young boys carrying heavy bags of shells for reasons we were unable to find out before they scurried away.
But it’s different now. There are plenty of birds (the region has around 200 species), and their smell is almost as overpowering as their sight. And this time it’s clear that there are seals, not just seaweed. Ian assures us there are no great white sharks but that there are other species. I can’t tell if he’s joking but feel eager to make the return journey nonetheless. I’ll save the Life of Pi moment for another time.
It’s a bit tricky to get back to the beach, with the kayak almost capsizing right at the shore. But it’s good that I don’t get soaked. And it’s even better to get back to my suite and find a heated floor and heated towels welcoming me to my temporary home.
Down at breakfast, I fill up on muesli, fruit salad and yoghurt in a shot glass. Some people are drinking sparkling wine “to start the day right” or brandy to warm up from the inside. I decline. Instead, I indulge in a nap on the bus, with the sun shining through the window. There’s a smile on my face. I’m at peace.
* Eugene Yiga was a guest of Abalone House and Spa. For intimate weddings (up to 40 guests), small conferences (up to 30 delegates) or a private getaway, call +27 (0)22 752 2044, e-mail [email protected], or visit www.abalonehouse.co.za.
Robin Fortuin, an NRSI volunteer rescue swimmer who saved six people from drowning in rip currents at Monwabisi Beach near Cape Town when he was only 21, offers these tips.
Avoiding rip currents
The best way is to not go into the water. But if you are on the beach and there are lifeguards on the beach, stay within the areas that they set out or mark with the red and yellow flags. As lifeguards, they know exactly where the danger is.
When caught in a rip current
The trick is not to panic. Let the current take you out. Eventually the velocity of the water will calm down. Then all you need to do is swim from your position parallel to the shore and then swim back in. Do not swim straight back from where you came because you will swim straight back into the rip current.
Other beach safety tips
* Don't swim when you're intoxicated.
* Always listen to the lifeguards on duty.
* Donâ€™t go out alone. Stick together when swimming.
* Always tell someone where you're going, where you're launching from (if you're launching from a boat) and what time you'll be back.