Cape Cross Seal Colony: If it smells like a dairy farm and sounds like a goat…

I expected it to be bad, but it was more intense than that. And louder. They sound like goats, but worse. And the smell? Ugh.

Cape Cross: The Current Colony

One of our stops on the Namibian coast was Cape Cross, named for the cross erected there in 1486 in honour of King John I of Portugal by Diego Cao, the first European to set foot there.

But what people really come to see at Cape Cross is the massive breeding colony of Cape Fur Seals. There are currently almost 100,000 seals at Cape Cross, making it one of the largest (and smelliest) colonies in all of Southern Africa.

Mass of cape fur seals, Cape Cross, Namibia - AnywhereBound
Just one sepia toned monochromatic mass.

The Breeding Cycle

The colony is made up of only adult females and their pups; the bulls only come around for the mating season. When the females are about three years old, they are mature enough to breed, which they do shortly after the arrival of the males.

The bulls will mate with each cow in their harem (5-25 females), and she will quickly become pregnant. The ova will start development after three months (ultimately giving those few months to rest). Most pups are born between late November and early December within a 34 day period . The bulls, on land at the time, will mate with each cow within a week of her giving birth.

Seal cub suckling, Cape Cross, Namibia - AnywhereBound
A cow and her cub. This cub must’ve been just under a year old.

Did you catch that timeline? The female gives birth in November, gets pregnant in December, the ova starts to develop in March, and then she gives birth again in November, ultimately making her pregnant almost all year for the rest of her life.

Risks and Dangers

(WARNING: If you don’t like the sight of dead animals, skip the photo below).

The Cape Cross seals are vulnerable to two main predators, the black-backed jackal and the brown hyena, who stalk at night. However, the mortality rate is partially high because of “trampling by other seals, drowning and abandonment.”

Alternatively, the mom and pup might be separated during a stampede, or she may be killed while at sea.  We couldn’t fathom all the little skulls lying around the area, until we realized that they were of the newborn pups, likely picked clean by the vulturous seagulls that were around.

Seagull picking at dead baby seal, Cape Cross, Namibia - AnywhereBound
So sad. So gross.

Life at Cape Cross

The seals at Cape Cross have the whole coastline there to themselves. Most lie around on the sand, sunbathing, quite a few right underneath the boardwalk designed to let visitors get a better view. Others sit on the rocks closer to the water, where they’re constantly drenched by the waves and more in the midst of the action, fighting and playing.

Seal establishing dominance
Seal establishing dominance

The third group is largely devoted to the water, frolicking in the giant waves. Besides sharks, which there aren’t many of here, the seals don’t have much to fear in the water, and are most agile and most protected there.

When the seals get out of the water, which is an art form in itself, they are immediately honking, calling, crying, looking for their mother, their group. It is a constant noise. Some of the seals sound like goats, others like fat men coughing up their lungs, others like menacing lions snarling and growling, all in a cacophony of horror movie sounds.

Cute little seal cub
Cute little seal cub resting under the walkway

Why you should visit

Visiting the colony at Cape Cross really presented an opportunity to watch the seals in their environment. Because of the sheer number of them, it was unlike anything possible at the zoo; here we were able to see their natural behaviours, the natural parts of the life cycle, play out.

It was actually remarkable to focus on a small group and watch them interact or ignore one another, decide to feed, or decide to walk away. We could’ve stayed there and watched them for hours.

Well, once we got over the smell.

Cape Cross Seal Colony, Namibia - AnywhereBound
Thousands and thousands of seals lining the coast

West Baray: Siem Reap’s Secret Beach

I’ve mentioned my extreme like for Siem Reap a couple of times now, but I know that there’s a lot of people that are simply turned off by its touristy hustle and bustle.

Well, let me fill you in on a hidden little beach getaway that’s close enough to touch yet well off the beaten tourist path of Angkor, so off the path in fact that it’s only through a friend with a local contact that I heard about it at all.

Hammocks at West Baray, Siem Reap, Cambodia - YourLocalKat
Boats, tubes, hammocks and baskets of yummies: Ahhh, Baray.

West Baray: Not Actually Hidden and Actually Quite Significant

Referred to locally as just Baray (and pronounced more like the first part of “pariah”), the beach is in fact part of a two kilometer-square reservoir hidden 12 kilometers from the center of Siem Reap.

But the reservoir isn’t really hidden at all, in fact, it’s quite blatantly there as a giant chunk of water when viewed on a map.


View Larger Map

It’s also remarkably close to the Angkor complex (see those square marks in the top right corner?), and, along with the East Baray, now dried up, was a phenomenal reservoir in the Angkor civilization, thought to have either spiritual or agricultural significance.

The reason that the reservoir is ‘hidden’ at all is simply because it is highly overshadowed by the glamour of Angkor, with tourists rarely following the main highway to the narrow road that leads to Baray.

En route to West Baray, Siem Reap, Cambodia - YourLocalKat
The narrow (but busy!) road that leads to Baray.

West Baray Today

Today, Baray is used by locals and very few tourists for swimming and occasional boating.

Boys play at West Baray, Siem Reap, Cambodia - YourLocalKat
Two local boys play on the beach. Their parents were there too, but were fully clothed.

When you arrive at the end of the narrow road, vendors to the right and left wait to greet you. There is fresh cut pineapples, durian, mango and papayas. Sugarcane juice, coconut juice and coca colas. Grilled birds and fish and raw meat. And all the overpriced patterned souvenir dresses, hippie pants, bracelets and purses you could want, in case you haven’t gotten enough in town.

From the bridge, you can see the reservoir:

West Baray from bridge, Siem Reap, Cambodia - YourLocalKat
West Baray from bridge.

The Beach at Baray

A set of narrow stairs takes you down to the sand where boats line the water and hammocks dot the shore. A lady will come up to collect money for the tented hammocks  – 1000 riel per person – $0.25 that’s more than worth your time watching the locals dip into the water fully clothed, the fishermen tidying up their boats, and families peeling and eating quail eggs next to you.

The women and children that come around with food baskets will provide a much deserved snack. Almost anything edible is available: pineapples and mangoes, boiled eggs, crickets, beetles and scorpions.

.Yummy crickets and bugs to eat. West Baray, Siem Reap, Cambodia - YourLocalKat
Yummies hawked at West Baray, Cambodia.
Personally, the bugs just didn’t look that refreshing for a hot day.

The water is warm and it is a welcome reward, but the tented hammocks beckon – they are low to the ground, and wrap you in their pleather fabric unconditionally. Without you noticing they will lull you into slumber and you’ll have no choice but to pass out in the 35°C shade.

And between snoozes all you’ll be able to think is that two hours here is simply not enough: so close from everything and yet away from it all.

Hammock. West Baray, Siem Reap, Cambodia - YourLocalKat
Bliss from inside a hammock at West Baray.

Fun fact: You can see where East Baray was very clearly on the terrain map above – it still shows up as a block of blue!

Photo of the Week: The Only Thing I Liked About Kampot

Kampot is a small riverside town in the south of Cambodia, 60 kilometers east of Sihanoukville, known best for its pepper plantations and fruit farming – namely of the durian fruit.

 

Looking towards Durian Monument. Kampot, Cambodia - YourLocalKatIn fact, the streets all came together at the bizarre looking Durian Monument  – a tropical cocktail in statue form centered on an unnecessarily large roundabout.

Durian Monument. Kep, Cambodia - YourLocalKatOn paper Kampot screamed quaint, charming, and riverside French architecturey; in reality, the durian statue glared down from the deserted and dusty central roundabout obliterating whatever charm the town might have had left.

Bird infestation on a structure in Kampot, Cambodia - YourLocalKat

The roads leaving the Durian statue were wide, too wide for the town and gave it an odd sense of space; there was just too much of it, and it made the town feel quite the opposite of quaint.

French architecture lined the street towards the riverside in that rundown lovely kind of way, the decrepit structures and peeling paint casting a sort of creepy unconventional beauty filter on the town.

Green shutter, green palm. Kampot, Cambodia - YourLocalKat

Even the riverside wasn’t particularly alluring-

except for the blue structure that hung off the sidewalk and disappeared into the sky.

It didn’t stand out, but rather blended in so well with the powder blue yonder and the light blue water that its seamlessness was splendid to look at.

Powder blue horizons. The Kampot Riverside, Cambodia - YourLocalKatIt retained a sense of serenity that Kampot likely had in earlier years, a sense of calm that frazzled expats still maintain it has.

Maybe you will, too.  Or maybe you’ll feel Kampot’s haunting sense of a charming paradise now long lost.

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Note: Kampot is the go-to town for people from Kep as it is only 25 kilometers away and has necessities that Kep simply doesn’t like a pharmacy, a minimart, electronics stores, a book exchange place and a handful of decent restaurants (Captain Chim’s) and cafes (2 Sisters). Also, with ATMs lacking in the area, Kampot is the place to go for its decent Canadia branch, a bank that doesn’t charge any transaction fees – bonus.

Photo of the Week: Boats on Amphawa Floating Market

Sunday seems to be Market Day everywhere you go in Bangkok! From early morning, the streets are packed with vendors selling everything from hot dogs on a stick to freshly caught squid, and by nightfall, the sidewalks are littered with tee shirts and candy and cell phone covers like some exploding sidewalk sale.

The weekend is also the only time that the Floating Market in Amphawa is on, and while not as photogenic as the more famous Damnoen Saduak market, it is infinitely more authentic, and as such, provides its own photo opportunities. Boats at Amphawa Floating Market, ThailandHere, boats gather at the ‘ordering’ steps, each with their own food specialty – just look at the variety!

The Floating Market in Amphawa is in the Samut Songkram area and runs Fridays to Sundays starting late afternoon. To get there from Bangkok, get yourself to the minivan station right by the Victory Monument. Tickets cost 80 baht one way.

A long way up. and down. [fiesole]

Really, it’s only 8 kilometers. It seems fairly straightforward but of course you’ll have to find your own directions because there aren’t any signs en route, except the one at the bottom of the hill with the word Firenze, crossed out in red. So at least you’ll know you’re not in Florence anymore – that’s a good sign. Continue reading A long way up. and down. [fiesole]