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South Africa's Cape Town Is Currently Frigid — But Swimmers Are Still At The Beach

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Cape Town in South Africa is going through one of its coldest winters in recent memory. But NPR's Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta - who is a Floridian, by the way - found something that baffled him - swimmers still taking to the water. He sent us this postcard.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CALL)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Camps Bay is a beach all the way on the southern tip of the African continent. It's where the jagged edges of Table Mountain dive into the Atlantic Ocean.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAVES CRASHING)

PERALTA: Not far from here, there are penguins. Right now, it's winter. And in the past few weeks, it's dipped into the 30s, and the water is in the low 50s. And yet, as I look out into the ocean with the fog hugging the tops of the mountain, swimmers cautiously wade into the water.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Unintelligible).

PERALTA: I see Tania Ritter emerging from the bay. She's shivering, even though she's German and even though she's wearing a wetsuit.

How do you get the courage to get in there?

TANIA RITTER: (Laughter).

PERALTA: Because I have to say, I stepped in it, and I was like, no way, no way.

RITTER: Well, I just needed a little bit of me time.

PERALTA: She recently moved, and things haven't gone as planned. So she jumped into the water trying to shake life off. And it worked, she says.

RITTER: Yes.

PERALTA: Somehow (ph).

RITTER: It helped (laughter). I have a clear head again (laughter).

PERALTA: Cold water swimming goes back to antiquity. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, wrote about its therapeutic use. Thomas Jefferson swore by regular cold water footbaths. Maybe because I'm from Miami, but a foot bath in this water felt like walking into shards of glass. On the rocks overlooking the beach, I find Joy du Plessis watching the swimmers. This is crazy, I tell her.

JOY DU PLESSIS: Oh, yeah. But Cape Town people are, like, different. They do like swimming in the winter.

PERALTA: In the winter.

DU PLESSIS: Yes. It's a thing, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You have like a benefits...

DU PLESSIS: It's good for you skin...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah.

DU PLESSIS: ...And to start your day and...

PERALTA: That's what I hear over and over. Joy's friend did it to team build. I spoke to a couple who had their first cold water swim to get away from their comfort zone, young dancers who wanted to cool off their muscles.

Wow.

DU PLESSIS: But especially when you're hungover, it's such a quick fix.

PERALTA: (Laughter).

There's nothing like a plunge in freezing cold water to bring you back to life, apparently. Nearby, Luke Hanning walks out of the water wearing just his boxers. It's his 20th birthday. He had no plans for a swim, but his aunt said there would be no cake if they didn't get in the water. So he took the plunge and emerges smiling, pumped with adrenaline.

Is it painful?

LUKE HANNING: No. It's actually a exciting feeling.

PERALTA: (Laughter) So you get out, and you feel like, oh.

HANNING: You feel good. You feel energized. Why? Do you want to try?

PERALTA: I entertain it for a second. But honestly, there's no way I'm ever getting in that water. But what I do come to realize is that this is not as crazy as it seems.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Cape Town.

(SOUNDBITE OF A MAN CALLED ADAM SONG, "MOUNTAINS AND WATERFALLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.