Fairlady|June 2020

Miraculously the rain has stopped when we step outside wearing swimming costumes, feet squelching in the mud. Slowly we circle the 530-litre chest freezer, incongruous next to a Victorian slipper bath. Both are brimful of ice blocks. The air is cold; even the girls in bikinis look blotchy, like they need a blanket, or a hug. Alex Vliege, our instructor, goes into a semi-squat, the ‘horse stance’. He presses his hands together, takes a deep breath, then leads us into a moving meditation, extending one arm past the chest with a ‘hoo’, then the other arm, ‘ha’. We build up a rhythmic momentum… ‘Hoo-ha, hoo-HA, HOO-HA.’ It is not inconceivable that the Cape Point baboons roaming the hillocks behind stop in their tracks. I’m trying to empty my mind, trying to focus, but I keep circling back to this: how the hell did I come to be here, grunting in the mud with strangers?

Bizarrely, it started with a winter trip to Rio. Floating in the womb-warm waters off Ipanema Beach, I reluctantly conceded that Rio trumped Cape Town, not because it is more beautiful (a close run thing) but because it is lapped by an ocean you can spend hours lolling about in rather than beating a retreat before your knees get wet, your ankles aching from the cold. It seemed such a wicked irony to be returning to my own seaside city, unable to swim.

Soon after this, I chanced upon Sea Change. Charting the transformative experiences of Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck in the Cape’s kelp forests, Sea Change is extraordinary photographic documentation of an equally extraordinary wilderness, populated with creatures as surreal as any I have encountered snorkelling in the Galapagos or off the east coast of Africa. As astonishing as the biodiversity spawned by the Cape’s cold waters was the fact that the authors chose to dive without wetsuits, believing that the naked skin gives a more authentic connection to the oceanic wilderness. Reading Sea Change was a game-changer for me: not only was the frigid ocean rich in treasures, but it could be explored wearing nothing but a swimsuit and snorkel. If I could just learn to deal with the cold.

'A marvellous elation started to flood through me. A real hoot-out-loud high, as good as that of any one of the silly narcotics I’ve consumed over the years.'

On an overcast day last August, I ventured into the crashing Atlantic. Three miserable minutes later, I retreated to the takeouts that line Camps Bay’s palm-lined beach, where serendipity struck in the Vida e Caffé queue. ‘But you must try the tidal pool!’ exclaimed Kim, taking in my bedraggled state. ‘There’s a group of women who swim there every day.’

Camps Bay tidal pool was a portal into another world. Before the sun’s rays breach the Twelve Apostles, a knot of women are already bobbing about, bodies submerged in the dark water, heads in woollen hats. These are the Water Babies. When (if) the sun reaches the pool, turning its mirror-like expanse into a sparkling aquamarine jewel, the Tribal Mermaids wade in, then the glamorous FireFish, rocking the looks vibe up a notch. These are Whatsapp groups comprising a loose mix of old friends and new – a lady in her 70s told me she had asked to join the Mermaids after she spotted them while walking her dog; only once in the water did one of the Mermaids discover she was the mother of a close friend.


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June 2020