A river runs through it

I like Port Elizabeth for specifically one reason – the freeways have a speed limit of 120kph. As much as this may seem quite a weird reason to like the town, this speed limit is not a given in other major cities. Just as Melrose Arch comes into view on the M1 South in Jozi, you have to drop 20kph. The drive into Cape Town as you approach the mountain on both the N1 and N2 are excruciating as the speed limit drops to 80kph. It’s the same with Durban – the Ridge signals slow driving across a glorious, five-lane freeway. This is coupled with men and women in blue out to prove that you are just a common criminal that deserves to part with a handsome sum of money. But no – Port Elizabeth completely rocks. The N2 through the city stays at the glorious speed of 120kph. It probably is like that because you really should be leaving the city limits as soon as you can…  

I don’t actually hate Port Elizabeth. But today, there were greater treasures awaiting me as I would be traversing the R72. The earlier road works on the N2 derailed my plans and instead of a leisurely cruise on this route, it would be a mad dash to make it to my destination before sunset. Luckily for the first 50km, which takes you to the town called Alexandria, I had a “marker.” He had obviously traversed these roads before as he set a pretty blistering pace through the spectacular curves that the road possesses. This marker pulled off in Alexandria and I thanked him with my hazards and sped past. I love the fleeting beauty of meetings like that where for around 30 minutes of your life, this unknown individual is the most important person that exists but once they’ve served their purpose, they leave your life never to cross paths with you ever again.

The R72 is called the Sunshine Coast. It’s a brilliant precursor to what the beauty that the Transkei section of the Eastern Cape holds. The beautiful browns and greens come alive as the sun paints over this magnificent landscape. You can’t help but just feel happy when you drive through this.

Nestled in-between the Kariega and Boesmans Rivers is the town of Kenton-on-Sea. South Africa does not have a Kenton elsewhere but I think the “on-Sea” part of the name does work. It’s serene. The main road is the epitome of laid back. Most private shops close at 13h00 probably because the owners want to chill on the beach for the afternoon. The town did not even have an ATM – to withdraw cash, you go to this swipe card machine thing, enter your details and the guy at the till gives you the money. I’m assuming they use this simply because maintaining an ATM affects the chilled out vibe. When you get to the beach, it all makes sense. Your mind drifts to a most beautiful place.

My accommodation is the Bethshan B&B. The couple’s grandkids are visiting in a few days so strewn around the lodging are little trinkets that would make a grandkid giddy with excitement. It is slightly weird yet homely and refreshing. The mementos of love add something special to the place. That and the DSTV.

This is my first taste of the wonderful Magnesium and Calcium rich hard water. Yummy! I do miss the lather effect though. I feel like such a spoilt city boy – I can’t live without my precious foaming liquid soap! My bath companions just laugh at me…

The fresh winter breeze slaps my face as I wake up, yet again, to witness the sunrise. But, yet again, the town’s orientation does me in. The beauty compensates for this. The morning peace is violently broken by the crashing waves and transforming sky. From a deep and dark blue, the horizon melts into this magma glow which gently softens as the day breaks.

Television can teach you many good things. Joanne told me that the Big Five is now the Big Seven and includes the Southern Right Whale and the Great White Shark. I always prided myself on seeing the entire list in their natural habitat (thank you Kruger National Park) but now, I’m missing the Great White Shark. I think I need to ready a chum bucket and go out for a swim. I also learnt, from the local paper, that a girl named Jerusha Govender won Miss Port Alfred. I didn’t even know Indians lived there! I know all this as Kenton-on-Sea had these spectacular, gale-like winds that made walking difficult. There goes my hike on the beach.

The two rivers that enclose Kenton-on-Sea are behemoths of rivers with seriously wide river mouths. The Boesmans is the second longest navigable river in South Africa. It is navigable for 32km inland and the Kariega for 16km. During the summer months, this is exploited with lazy boat rides up the river. When you view these rivers, it doesn’t make sense to see signage around town telling you to save water as this area is water scarce. But water is scarce here and around the entire country. Once again, the importance of saving water in our magnificent country is brought to the fore. Anyway, perched on the banks of the Kariega is a floating restaurant called Sandbar. The geographical location means it is sheltered from the gust on the coast. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a beer and the glorious afternoon sun.

Towns like Kenton-on-Sea bring into perspective this rush of life. The quick-turnaround, busy life of the big cities is necessary to keep the world ticking. It drives modern life and innovation. Other towns in the country such as Vereeniging, Gariep Dam and Mossel Bay exist to feed this every hungry economy of the country. Existing parallel to this is a life based on quality and bliss. That’s what you get here…

I hate the Garden Route

How can one justify taking four hours to cover a paltry 210km? When you are on a roadtrip, that sort of time actually is pretty good – it means that you have driven at a good pace whereby you noticed the scenery that dazzles and have stopped, enjoyed the sights, smells, cuisine and wares of the locality. In my case, the four hour journey was a nerve racking waste of time that totally spoilt the relaxation I had achieved in Mossel Bay.

I left the Whale-Phin B&B at 10h00 with around 450km to cover in order to get to my proposed destination of Kenton-on-Sea. The lady at the B&B told me I looked so much more relaxed than I did on the first day. Hearing that felt great. The golden rule of travel when one does not have set accommodation – get to the town before the Info Centre closes. In most places, this is at 17h00. To be safe, one should get there before 16h00 in case something happens and the Info Centre is unmanned when you do reach there. If that happens, then you will have to find your own accommodation. This, in itself, is not too bad but you aren’t guaranteed the cheapest rates or most hospitable accommodation. I reached my destination at around 16h50. That’s a grand total of SEVEN hours for, what turned out to be 500km. That’s an average speed of just over 70kph. Good? Hell no!

The Garden Route is, honestly, one of the blandest, irritating drives in this country. Earlier, I mentioned that the N4 drive from Pretoria to Waterval Boven was the most boring – I lied! Just as you leave George going east, you firstly are presented with speed limits that boggle the mind. The mountain pass just before Wilderness has a speed limit of 60kph. It felt like I’d get up and down that mountain faster if I walked. Actually, a cyclist passed me as I did less than 60kph perched behind a truck. Luckily, the truck moved and I waved goodbye to said cyclist in a puff of carbon monoxide. Not that I went anywhere quickly – several bright yellow fixed cameras signal that if you don’t stick to this speed limit, even if you have no torque to climb at that speed, you will be presented with an extra bill on your holiday. The pass was so tame. The bends were exquisitely formed, which would make for breathtaking driving. Alas, the bends were widened so much that the entire pass resembled a salt flat. I’ve had more fun picking the dirt from under my toenails.

Just before and after Knysna, you are bombarded with a myriad of roadside stalls selling rather sub-standard curios at prices that even international tourists would be shocked at. Being quite keen on pumping money into these local economies, I stopped at several – seems to be the dumbest thing I could do. I also had my mandatory Cheese and Tomato sandwich at a local shop en route. I never knew you could make a bad Cheese and Tomato sandwich. I did find one rather cool attraction in Sedgefield – paper made out of elephant poo. The last remaining, fabled, wild elephants still roam the Knysna forest. Less than 150 years ago, the Knysna lagoon and forest teemed with hundreds of these majestic beasts. This has dwindled to an estimated one to five individuals that are seldom seen. There continued existence is confirmed by tracks and their poo. Knowing that this poo actually is quite precious, I still couldn’t bring myself to buy it. There was also a pretty looking sign store. I couldn’t afford a thing in it though.

After Sedgefield, your patience is tested to the extreme. Urgh! Knysna is one of the country’s most beautiful spots. The view at the heads is amazing. Driving in the centuries old forest is spiritual. Entering the town via Prince Alfred’s Pass is magical. However, driving along the N2 through the town is agony in the purest form. Think of listening to a cat screech whilst it rubs its claws down a chalkboard. Think of that cyclically going on for 18 hours. This is worse. Thankfully, the road is being widened. This has effectively ruined business for the street-side traders meaning the big business owned curio shops in the business district are ripping of people even more.

When you thankfully leave Knysna, you reach Plettenberg Bay where it drops to 60kph on roads that have, at places, three lanes. There is some hilarity in watching cars crawl past the fixed cameras. I did the same – I received a ticket here in 2007 when I was doing a blistering 80kph in this three-lane 60kph zone.

When all this idiocy is over, you enter the “scenic” Tsitsikamma Route or whatever crappy name they’ve given it. On your left is the magnificent Tsitsikamma Mountains which, I must admit, are spectacular and do fit the scenic profile. After a short drive through some indigenous forest which makes you think that this route is going to be beautiful, you enter pine plantations. Both sides of the road are strewn with pine which will soon end up as matchsticks or built-in cupboards. To make matters worse, the road is sickeningly straight. You pass over several bridges – including the magnificent Storms River and Bloukrans River Bridge – but all you do is go straight. If one looks over the bridge, which you aren’t allowed to do due to the No Stopping signs, you can admire the sheer beauty of these lush valleys. Instead of respecting these by utilising pass roads, one just merely cuts off half the top of the rock formations and lays a road on top of it. Urgh!!

Luckily, I had driven this piece of crap, I mean road before. At the R102 Nature’s Valley turn-off, I took a right and entered fynbos country. Exquisite specimens lay on both sides of the road. It was spectacular. Then, the Grootrivier Pass greeted me with some of the sharpest bends I have ever driven. At points, I had to crawl at around 30kph just to get around these hairpins. Then at the bottom, the stunning river mouth set amongst the cliffs of the Tsitsikamma. Magnificent…🙂

Leaving Nature’s Valley, one encounters the uphill section of the pass. Starting of tame, a bridge marks the beginning of this pass. Beyond is your gateway to exhilarating driving.

I end up at the peak – again, amongst the fynbos. The N2 approaches but I insist on taking the high road. Alas, the idiots that built the toll road had other plans for my crossing of the Bloukrans River. Urgh!!!

Dejected, I reluctantly pay my thirteen bucks at the toll and drive the straight monotony through this most picturesque of sceneries. The N2 has disappointed me – and then it disappoints me even more. This time, making me want to cry and wish I was back stuck in peak-hour traffic at the William Nicol offramp.

Just before you fall asleep on the dead-straight scenic route, there are road works. It seems that the road at that point was not straight enough and the toll people think more pine needs to be cut down and replaced with road. On the plus side, these ghastly pine plantations are better to remove than them removing pristine forest. Still, the delay took me on a roundabout, single-lane route wrought with speed bumps and speed cameras. I don’t think I did more than 40kph on this entire route so why they had speed cameras is beyond me. At this point I wanted to maim myself. Then, at a STOP and GO, I get stuck behind a truck. I brave another 10km of the abovementioned single-lane before I am released onto a non-construction part of the road. Being the N2, it is pretty busy. This means that overtaking is pretty difficult. The aforementioned truck then transforms into two trucks – I was about five cars behind and didn’t notice this. Neither of the idiots moved onto the shoulder to allow us to pass. I think at that point I exploded. The person that is writing this is not actually me anymore – but a well reconstructed mimic of what was before.

If you are driving up the coast from Cape Town towards Durban, I suggest, no, I plead that you rather take the R62 route. Do this by joining the R60 from the N1 North at Worcester and then joining the R62 around Montagu. Or if you are at Mossel Bay, like I was – take the N9 North at George and join the R62 just before Uniondale. I PROMISE you that it will be worth your time!

The first interracial killing in South Africa

It was late afternoon and as I travel back from Mossel Bay to the guesthouse, a strange mist unravels. This dirty grey haze is fed from the mountain overlooking the harbour and stretches far out into the beyond. About 20km eastwards, the same eerie grey mist kisses the foot of the Outeniquas as the Groot Brak Rivier guides it onto the Atlantic. In the distance, these two snakes meet and intermingle presenting me with a spooky yet stunning scene.

Racism is an inbred characteristic in South Africa. In no ways am I saying that we are the “world champions” of it. I would actually go out on a limb and call us the least racist country in the world. However, our colourful history bares testament to the want of a privileged few wanting to oppress others based solely on skin colour. Yes, this was legislative for the best part of the 20th century but this extends further right down to personal interactions you have with the general public. It all started in Mossel Bay.

My arrival into Mossel Bay was pretty eventful. These eventful endeavours tend to cause hunger. My quest for food landed me in a rather large pub just down the road from the guesthouse. I walk in. Intimidation engulfs me. I order what turns out to be a damn good vegetarian lasagne. My wait in the bar shows me the source of this intimidation. It’s an Afrikaner bar with clientele encompassing all the important demographics and stereotypes. Everyone in the bar is white (with the exception of the people behind the counter.) I gaze upon rugby jerseys, beer boeps and bad 80s hairdos. The intimidation weakens me. I finally get my food and leave.

None of the people in the bar actually stared at me disapprovingly. They merrily enjoyed the good beer and good food that flowed all night. That was it.

Bartholomew Diaz is credited with being the first European to set foot on South African soil. After his ship was ravaged along the shoreline of the Cape of Storms, on 3 February 1488, his ship landed at Aguada de Sao Bras which was later named Mossel Bay. For this, they named a museum here after him. A really cool exhibit in the museum is the life size replica of a giant squid caught in the area. The tales of the Kraken from myth weren’t totally unfounded. Outside the museum sits the Posboom or The Post Office Tree. Mossel Bay in past years was an important oasis for weary travellers on their way to procure spices from the East or one’s returning with these procured spices. Letters were left under the tree in a boot to relay news to other travellers. This tradition became a rather great quirk and nowadays you can send a postcard to a loved one by posting it into the (concrete) boot sitting under the tree.

The date 3 February 1488 also goes down as the day the first interracial killing occurred on South African soil. When Diaz and his fellow Portuguese brethren landed at Mossel Bay, the native Gourikwa were naturally scared of these alien persons. When they returned to their ships, the tale goes that the Gourikwa proceeded to throw stones at the ships that were docked. Being the 15th century, the only way to deal with this is to arm your crossbow and make it a permanent fixture to the sternum of aforementioned, stone throwing Gourikwa.

After the visit to this museum, I went off to the mall to find some breakfast. I happened across a home industry shop. This is where I purchased some, “Nikkerbols.” So I was wrong all my life. Great…

I’ve been a beach person for the bulk of my life. Living on the other type of reef has not diluted my love of the ocean. I’ve seen many a seaside town with either its quaintness or the splendour of beach side mansions. The Mossel Bay precinct stretching from Glentana all the way to the town is littered with immense houses. Kilometre upon kilometre is strewn with endless villas each trying to outdo the next in terms of size. Many dwarf the best that Umhlanga can throw at you. The architectural style is 70s and 80s. Being mid-June, many of these dwellings are asleep – biding their time till their occupants embark on their long journey to the coast to fulfil the annual pilgrimage that they’ve undertaken since their childhood with new additions that are now of age to start this tradition with a generation that is yet to set eyes on this wonderful coastline.

Driving back that night, I missed a turn and drove down a dark service road. In my headlights I glimpse a black family walking, in great summer clothing, hand-in-hand. A dog barks at them as they disappear into a greater darkness.

Did I mention it is June? I feel bad.

This road trip of mine was done to expose myself to the beauty of South Africa. Instead, just like my contemporaries that traversed the N9 in their VW Fox, I’m here on a hedonistic trip down a foreign path into a land that I shall now exploit. Some say I am here to support an economy that shall feed the locals that toil on these lands. These locals aren’t locals anymore. My contribution to this economy builds and grows this land into an ever expanding balloon. The land I now walk on is a Protea Hotel that once belonged to the family that now travel into a land far off that is foreign to them. They don’t live in Mossel Bay or Glentana or Fraai Uitsig. Just like Hoopstad in the Free State, the twin town is their home. They have been banished – expelled from this prime real estate because they have committed the crime of poverty. Poverty is dealt with in amazing ways – when someone is robbed of water, electricity, sanitation, a roof over their head and/or comfort and warmth, we fix this by taking away their dignity as well. Or at least, our pets do this as it is beneath us…

The blood that dripped from the Diaz arrow left a stain of fear on our land. From the outset, we have lived in a nation filled with fear. Racial fear has been entrenched into our psyche. It is part of us – an evolutionary dead end kept alive because there is no way to get rid of it.

Society has tried to change over the last few years of democracy. Our kids don’t see colour anymore. Your eight year old son will bring home his “girlfriend” one day to play in the garden. This act alone will cause your great grandparents to turn in their graves. It might make their corpses explode when said son, now being 25 years old, brings home this same girl but this time, as his fiancé.

Instead of getting rid of this racism, we, instead, have fed it and made it grow into something larger than it was. Ye olde nemesis – money – is now an integral part of the racism that infects society. As the race groups of our country slowly (an emphasis on slowly) reach an economic equilibrium, we have found new ways to segregate people.

Just like the apartheid government created the Bantustan homelands, we too create pockets of wealth that exclude those that don’t have a Platinum Credit Card. We boom off these suburbs and construct shrines of consumerism equipped with the obligatory Woolworths Foods. Outside these islands, we segregate the ones outside. We move away infrastructure from them or put infrastructure in-between that increases the cost of living. And seeing that this is not enough, we build low-cost houses ensures that we have several generations of workers being bred to serve and enrich our greed.

Maybe it is because we all live in fear. Maybe it’s this fear has allowed us to embrace incredible progress. Maybe out of fear of not having water to drink that we built the Gariep Dam. Maybe the fear of not being able to cross the dam made us build Bethulie Bridge. Maybe the fear of losing contact with Cape Town that we built the N1. Maybe it is out of fear of being poor that we dug a kilometre into the ground to find diamonds.

But it may be this fear that made me feel uncomfortable in the pub. It made Diaz shoot the Gourikwa. It made us ensure that there is a world where another human family has to walk at night, in the cold whilst our pets ensure there miseries are amplified.

I wish it could be different. I really do…

Blue Crane

My parents always used to love the sunrise. During winter (and partly because my siblings and I were too lazy to wake up so early in summer) my parents used to wake us up at around 5h30 on a Saturday and we used to take a drive down to North Beach in Durban. Armed with the Skottel braai and an extremely excessive amount of clothes, we set off to the beach. As the sun rose, the smell of eggs and bacon being lovingly prepared on an open braai wafted through the promenade enticing the early morning joggers as they scuttled along. I find it quite funny that kids always complain to their parents about experiences like these but when we are all grown up, they actually want to do exactly that.

I remember the first time I was in Cape Town during summer. As it was a family holiday, my siblings and I were lazily messing about when we looked at the time and compared it to what we believe the sky should look like. The whole thing where it’s 8pm and it’s still as bright as the afternoon gives you quite a shock. This whole messed up time zone issue has the opposite effect in summer. My yearning for this sunrise experience means I wake up pretty early to catch the sunrise. My guess of 5h30 was a bit off. I reawaken at 6h30 and well, it’s still pitch black! I finally get out of bed at just after 7h00 and only then does first light creep through the cracks of cloud to adorn the sky with its faint twilight

Okay enough about this romanticised sunrise, the geographical location of Mossel Bay means that unlike Durban, the sun rises from a point above some hill perpendicular to the sea. It was very much a non-event and I did some mental swearing (okay, it was verbal) when I realised that I had woken up so damn early for nothing. The sun was actually supremely lazy and actually appeared not to rise! Nevertheless, even though Mossel Bay would be the most westward sleepover, my travelling spirit coerced me to soldier on. It knew that there was something special coming along today…

I have love for industry and how humanity has used their ingenuity and intelligence to extract so much from the earth and make such amazing use of these raw materials. Take the computer you are staring at right now – most of the insides are made from sand that went through a complicated process that extracted the silicone in order to provide the chips sitting under your fingers. Mossel Bay is home to PetroSA. They are responsible for most of the petrol that you use in your car. A rather large refinery is stationed at Mossel Bay with some of the crude being provided by the offshore drilling outside Mossel Bay. I’m not entirely sure if drilling still takes place. The actual refinery is one of pure industrial beauty. Behemoths in the distance cloaked in the morning haze whilst the towering flares pierce through the fog, proclaiming their power through the clouds.

Just next door to PetroSA is the Gourikwa Power Station. Named after the inhabitants of the area when the Portuguese discovered Mossel Bay, it’s one of the newest power stations in South Africa and is a gas-fired Station. Unlike the coal and nuclear stations, this one works on the exhaust gasses of diesel (or a similar gas.) These types of power stations give us some of the highest efficiencies for fossil fuel power stations and are pretty common in Texas and the Middle East. This is simply because diesel there is abundant and cheap. This is exactly why South Africa has coal-fired stations – we have one of the biggest coal seams in the world so we use it for our power generation. Anyway, this station and its sibling, Ankerlig Power Station in Atlantis, are used as Peaking Stations – when the demand for electricity cannot be met by the base load coal stations, these stations fire up. They can start generating in just a few minutes and are great at supplying immediate electricity. The downside is that the running cost of these stations is exorbitant. These stations were built for several billion Rands but the hope is that the stations will never be used. This might not make sense to you but when you’re working with this much of electricity and money, having an expensive but reliable back up plan is a GREAT idea.

Anyway, a traveller can only marvel at the man-made world for a limited time. As I head westward, I take a dirt road down to Vleesbaai and Fransmanshoek. I’m assuming some French dude did something important (or not) at this point. That’s just a hunch…

The waves down at Fransmanshoek had the echo of traffic on a freeway. The sound was so much purer and in this pureness, came a brilliant tranquillity. There is such a sense of serenity and solitude here. I decided I want a house here.

The dirt road down to Fransmanshoek is littered with various ostrich farms. I’m assuming a lot of these birds are destined for the Global Wrapps menu. However, a strange site catches my eye whilst driving past one of these farms. On an open field, a flock of around 50 of these strange, wild and blue creatures merrily strut their stuff like models down a runway. On closer inspection, this is none other than our national bird, the blue crane. A weird feeling of pride engulfs my innards as I see them in all their natural glory. These birds are truly majestic. As i get off the car, they sense me and as I walk, they threaten flight until they have a 50 or so metre barrier between them and I. They truly are national VIPs complete with this eloquent, regal persona.

The bird is now classified as vulnerable with an estimated 27000 remaining in the wild. Compare that to the 6 billion people on Earth and you will figure out that is a rather small number. The reason is pretty much the same as for most other animals – human encroachment onto their territory. Being such an amazing national symbol, there is heavy government protection afforded to this animal and hopefully this shall help this bird thrive.

These seriously are such beautiful creatures. I sat on my car just watching them for several minutes before they decided that their present location wasn’t suitable and they flew off, again with the grace of royalty. The sense of pride and joy that these birds brought to me lingered within me. We can only hope that these birds can continue giving this feeling to many, many future generations…

Sailing to Australia

The waves crash onto the coast. The evergreen flowers emit heavenly odours that permeate through my, uh, lavender dwelling. The sun lazily creeps up from the ocean. What a great way to wake up – pure relaxation. What a great day to sail to Australia. Wait, what?

Maybe it’s the power of the solstice that gets to me but I find it a great day to immigrate to Australia aboard the 12m long Romonza. I reckon it will probably take a month or to reach there – enough time to perfect my Aussie accent.

I like harbours. It probably started when I went on the cruise ship, Rhapsody. That ship has since been renamed and sold off to some other non MSC shipping consortium but that is not important. These behemoths are just amazing. These chunks of steel that weigh thousands of tonnes are kept afloat by pure engineering ingenuity (and physics but let’s forget about that for now.) Anyway, the Mossel Bay harbour is a pretty shallow harbour due to the coastline being very steep and, like offshore from Cuttings Beach in Merebank, there is an offshore pipeline that is utilised by ships to transfer oil and gas. As the water around Mossel Bay is pretty cold, there is an abundance of fishing trawlers here with several fish processing factories around the harbour.

The day was amazing to sail the big blue. The wind was pretty negligible and the sun did not gaze down and drain us of all our energy – it was just right. We blissfully sailed towards the horizon at a brisk pace. Sailing away from civilisation is very much like taking off in a plane where the houses below rapidly shrink. Here, though, this shrinkage does take some time but I think this does have a better effect. Mossel Bay has an abundance of enormous houses – as you sail into the bay, these houses slowly shrink until the houses look like mere specks. At this distance, it’s difficult to discern a large house from a smaller one. Weirdly, this does make you realise the unimportance of these large materialistic possessions of man. Anyway, this is a bit too much thinking for this marvellous day – I lay back and just enjoyed this. It would be a few more hours before we pass Mauritius and Reunion.

The Romonza is a whaling vessel equipped to catch Southern Right Whales. These whales are, on average, around 14m long. That is big – trust me. These whales are slow swimmers that keep to the surface. When harpooned, the excessive blubber, which is meant to keep them warm in the Antarctic Ocean which is where they spend most of the year, makes these whales float. The meat is pretty palatable and the oil is pretty useful. Hence, this was the “right” whale to catch. Seeing that it lived in the South and that there already was a Northern Right Whale, the early whalers christened this beast, the “Southern Right Whale.” It’s pretty amazing how man just shows his power over an animal several times his size through a name.

Southern Right Whales actually are amazing creatures. Even though I was told that these creatures are 14m long, you can’t fathom what that means until you see these in the flesh. About an hour into our journey, a mother and calf decide to put on a show for us. As the waters in the Antarctic get colder, the whales and calves make their way up to the coastal waters of South Africa. Hermanus is famous for its abundant land-based whale viewing. These animals aren’t shy and nonchalantly play and speak even though our boat comes within 10m of them. The whale’s call is majestic yet eerie. Hearing it for the first time will give you goose bumps. Despite their size, the whales come very close to shore – a few fishermen on the bank actually stopped fishing to view these whales as they put on a show which lasted almost an hour. Anyway, we harpooned the mother…

A feature of Mossel Bay is the Seal Island maybe a kilometre out to see. Home to 3000 Cape Fur Seals, it is a sure fire way to clear your sinuses. It is also Happy Hour for the Great White Sharks that frequent these waters. When I say frequent, I mean frequent – this week, SIX Great White Sharks were spotted in these waters. Although the waters around Mossel Bay have an abundance of fish, these Cape Fur Seals are rather choosy and prefer the hake that reside up to 60km from the coast. They go out in groups of around 15 and return with 12-13. The rest get eaten by Great White Sharks. If you have watched any of the nature channels, you might have come across the flying Great White Sharks. These sharks breach in their pursuit of seals. It is terrifying. These multi-ton animals force themselves out of the water then reaching dizzying heights of up to maybe 3m above the water surface. Go try and jump 3m into the air and then imagine these killers doing the same from underwater. These sharks inhabit the Mossel Bay coast. You are welcome to go deep water swimming in these waters – I’m pretty cool chilling at the shore hey.

Seeing that we’ve harpooned a whale, it wasn’t advisable to sail all the way to Australia. I was pretty hungry after all and whale braai is undoubtedly the BEST braai you could ever have! ANYWAY, in all seriousness, the trip was absolutely stunning. I didn’t actually plan to go on the boat but in hindsight, this four hour cruise relaxed me oh so much. These creatures are best left alone to roam and rule the oceans that they grace. It is great that we live in a country that allows these whales to live in peace and the only hunting that occurs is in my over-active imagination. The crew of the Romonza were pretty clued up and could answer all the questions we asked them. The boat is pretty large and the swaying and rocking was pretty agreeable – no seasickness detected anywhere here. Mossel Bay, also, is the cheapest place to go whale watching from a boat. As you go further west towards Cape Town, the price slowly creeps up until you get to Hermanus where you have to sell a kidney and your bottom left molars to afford the ticket.

Nostalgia centred around Donald Duck cartoons

There was a cartoon that I had taped back when I was a kid. It had a variety of Disney cartoon shorts featuring Mickey, Donald and the gang. There was one where Donald Duck was in this car and he drove past all these motels each showing a NO VACANCY sign. He finally gets to one but alas, the NO light illuminates as he reaches. I actually have forgotten the ending to that cartoon. Anyway, driving through the outskirt suburbs of Mossel Bay made me feel very much like Donald Duck. We’ll get to that in a bit…

I had just traversed the Outeniquas and entered George. I have been here twice before and, like most South African towns, it has changed drastically over the last few years. It is one of the bigger towns in South Africa – I mean; it has an airport that is serviced by some of the low-cost carriers! I also have great love for this town because it is here where I saw a really attractive Indian girl speaking to her sari-clad grandmother in AFRIKAANS! Indians don’t speak Afrikaans. Even though most people do it for at least 10 years at school and end up with a distinction for it, Indians just don’t speak Afrikaans! Afrikaans is not a sexy language – it does rank right up there with German as one of the least sexy languages you can come across. But this combination – Indian girl + fluent Afrikaans – I was like Donald with those hearts in his eyes when he sees Daisy. I didn’t speak to said girl though – it did happen eight years ago after all. But still, it is a cherished memory…

Back to reality, my little road trip buds that I met suggested I stay in George for the night and go clubbing that evening. It was enticing but, alas, the sea, she was calling. The issue I have with George is that it is painstakingly close to the vast blue of the Atlantic (or is that the Indian – I think it is the Indian) but instead, it’s built maybe 15km away from the surf. This did not and still does not make much sense to me. I avoid the turn down to Herold’s Bay – I have been there before but I actually didn’t like the town at all. That was probably because I had visited Nature’s Valley the day before – these two are incomparable…

I join the dreaded N2. My sincere hope was to avoid the main National roads. This avoidance philosophy was heightened due to my short stretch on the N1 earlier on in the trip. A few kilometres west of George, the brown tourist boards point to the seaside village of Glentana and the R102. Having never heard of the place, I hurry along as saltiness thickens the air. Just like the roads around Amanzimtoti, the roads are an intricate maze that eventually opens up to a large parking lot terminating in a dune. It’s pretty deserted with only a learner driver attempting to park. I park right up against the misty dunes. The weather holds much passion and excitement with the threat of a downpour and maybe a few lightning bolts. It, however, has waited for me and holds back. I get off the car, have the sand caress my feet and I experience the icy blue of the magnificent Indian Ocean…

The water is indeed freezing. The ocean, however, has this mystical property being able to draw out all your worries through your feet. I linger for a few minutes listening to the symphony of crashing waves. The beach is deserted and perfect. I want to linger but the mist that has made its way from the Outeniquas tells me I need to make my way to some shelter soon.

Now this is where the fun starts. In Glentana, there is a B&B perched maybe 300m away from this beach. Called The Shamrock, Lassie proudly guarded the establishment. She guarded it so well that I didn’t dare go up to the door. A lady comes out with her frown et al and asks me what I want. And I thought all these small town folk were friendly…I tell her I require lodging for the night and she blurts out a ludicrous figure that probably caused some thunder. I smile and make up some excuse before I depart again – this time in search of somewhere to stay. From here on in, it gets worse. I happen across a rather exquisite B&B right on the beach – NO VACANCY. I try another two with the same result – NO VACANCY. I head further west leaving the riches of Glentana for the riches of another small town Groot Brakrivier. Again – NO VACANCY! This might be a good thing because the town’s founder laid down a law that no alcohol may be sold in Groot Brakrivier. This law stuck till fairly recently – I don’t actually know if it was reprieved…

As the sun sets over the Outeniquas to the north, I start to panic. I frantically look for numbers of B&B’s in the vicinity. Many just ring. Others are already fully booked. This is when I enter the Reebok and Fraai Uitsig suburbs of another town – Klein Brakrivier.

The suburb’s name is indeed Reebok. There was no hopeful branding around though – just the now common huge houses that litter this coast. Finally, I find an overdose of lavender that shall be my lodging for the night.

Yes, the lavender was severely overwhelming. However, the folks at the B&B were incredibly friendly and the room was pretty cosy. Coupled with a spectacular view, this did make for a great place to stay.

It really is pretty weird that every time I do visit the coast, it rains. As darkness fell, the heavens opened up in a torrential downpour. I wonder if this is some sort of blessing in some way. The lights of Mossel Bay glitter in the distance promising so much…

Fresh Karoo Mutton

I really love Graaff-Reinet. Seriously, I do. It’s such a quirky town with just so many little anecdotes that make you love life in South Africa. It is not a small town and has enough of the modern niceties to make living there pleasurable. But, it has not been swallowed up by corporate South Africa. Stopping by the Information office one morning, I proceeded to park my car on the main street and walk into the office. After being hit on inside by the rather attractive young receptionist, I go to the bookstore next door which is pretty well equipped. A sign proudly notes that all proceeds go to some animal shelter. Uh…yeah ok. I found Mario Puzo’s “The Family” for ten bucks. Good purchase. I emerge to depart on my daily travels. As I’m about to start my car, a lady points some space-age device at my window which silently prints out a little till slip. I start getting scared wondering if this is my death notice and I ready myself for assimilation by some alien spaceship. I lower my window and she smiles, shows me the slip (uh, oh) and tells me, “That will be R1.” That’s when my mind went, “kapweeoissh,” because it blew up. Behold the all-knowing device in the hand of a Graaff-Reinet local. It was undoubtedly the coolest device I have ever encountered in my life, ever.

If you ever take the bus down to George from Jozi, you’ll stop at the Engen on the main street in Graaff-Reinet. Here is a 24-hour shop. It probably is the coolest shop ever. Instead of some bland Garage Shop with prices that make you cry, it’s a typical corner shop with everything you need and then some with prices that will make you cry with joy. I picked up a soda and popcorn here. The soda is a locally brewed drink called Bashews (well, it’s bottled in Cape Town) that tasted pretty good. The popcorn was about double the size of the biggest cinema popcorn box. Together, these cost R5.50. Down the road is a supermarket NOT run by Checkers, Spar or Pick ‘n Pay, Here I get wine in a one litre milk container. It cost me R12. Yeah…

In my lodging, which is bigger than my present place of resident yet costs about half as much, I came across a little relic from the past. We once had a plastic bin purchased in the late 80s. It was pretty awesome but it disappeared. My mum did relay the story of its disappearance – an older cousin came to visit and my mum told him to take out the bin assuming he would take out the plastic bag and dispose of it. Instead, he took the entire bin outside for disposal…Its pretty odd how when things from your past pop up, the objects bring back a crystal clear memory and that warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia yet you will never be able to just bring up the memory under normal circumstances.

I love the town but I want the sea. The sea is a few hundred kilometres away but I have spidey-sense you know! My parents loved the ocean and its blue calmness. This has been passed down to me – a holiday is not a holiday if there is no sea involved. I set off down the N9 – sad but happy at the prospects that lie ahead. I enter the real Karoo.

It is a mystical land. Similar to the Free State, all one sees is rolling fields of nothing. This is the land of the Karoo sheep and the black crow. The romantic Camdeboo and Sneeuberg Mountains are but a memory. The wind is harsh and so is the sun. The sun is surprising seeing that it is mid-winter. It’s a landscape that tests your sanity. You feel like you are on a never ending journey that has no destination whatsoever as there really is nothing that looks remotely interesting that pops up at all. The drive, though, did bring back memories of those Binky books I read in junior primary school.

It must have been an hour and a half when I see the undulating mountains of the Grootrivierhoogte – the only blip in the landscape. I stop on the side of the road to peer at, well, this difference really. After seeing nothing for an extended period of time, it’s great to actually see something! I do spot a buck grazing…

At the foothills of the Grootrivierhoogte is the Beervlei Dam. Built in 1954, this dam stands completely empty and in disrepair. The authorities are so confident that this dam will never be used that the N9 is built through the catchments. A period of 55 years is not a long time when it comes to infrastructure and I was amazed that this skeleton graced the landscape. It does show us what a precious commodity water is in this land. The Karoo, Highveld and Lowveld are what characterise our country – not water. We need to respect this. The great Gariep is an anomaly in this land of drought. I do meet some road trip buddies that are on their way to Cape Town via George…

Another anomaly is the town of Willowmore. I drive into Willowmore in desperate need of some sustenance. I happen upon two quaint little eateries on opposing ends of the street. On the left is a pretty establishment called Sophie’s Choice. On the other is a more traditional place – a corner café where even the menu is made of meat! I opt for Sophie’s Choice. Apparently Sophie liked an antique shop with a very colonial vibe with a fire going in the fireplace even though it’s the middle of the day. The antique shop was ostentatious. Out back, however, was a fairy tale like garden. It seemed a bit out of place at the foot of the Baviaanskloof. But hey, they made some good quiche!

Willowmore is known as the gateway to the Baviaanskloof. Recently declared a World Heritage Site, this wilderness is undoubtedly the most beautiful part of South Africa. I’m tempted to take this route but the route is taxing. It is a complete dust road. Several sections of it require a 4×4 to cross. It is on top of my to-do list though…

I soldier on and am greeted by the unmistakable rock formation of the Outeniquas as I traverse the Potjiesberg Pass. It’s a quiet beauty broken only by the calls of an unseen bird.

Clouds and mist kiss the mighty Outeniquas as I snake down the N9 towards George. It is a drive of spectacular beauty. It is familiar territory – I’ve been up and down this magnanimous pass several times before – but it still leaves me breathless. I sit on a rock, gaze and smile…