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…

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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…

Fairy Tales

I don’t really enjoy driving on dirt roads. But they’re oh so much fun. That being said, until fairly recently, most roads were dirt roads. Driving to Kruger National Park would mean a few hundred kilometres of dirt road. If you decided to take a slight detour, you probably would have had to get out the car, open a gate, drive the car through the gate, get off the car, close the gate and only then drive off. Cars actually were developed to work on dirt roads. And cars actually do work pretty well on this surface. The key is to know how to drive your car on these surfaces. That being said, the vibrations can wreck your car if the vehicle is not in tip-top condition. Anyway, it’s quite an amazing experience driving at close to 100kph and attempting to move the steering wheel and receiving no response at all from the car. I had 25km in each direction of this today. Furthermore, this included a rather steep mountain pass. Talk about fun…

Nieu-Bethesda is magical. Perched at the end of this 25km dirt road that begins around 30km North of Graaff-Reinet on the N9, it’s probably the most beautiful town in South Africa. Earlier on in this trip, I was told the town is like a Gilmore Girls town. It’s actually so much more amazing. The town is vastly inaccessible. The dirt road I took in getting there is the “good” road with a back-entrance being another dirt road that’s 30km from the N9. This seclusion has resulted in the town developing an aura that I honestly can’t properly write about in words. Unlike the clinical office blocks of Midrand which are cleaned on a weekly basis, the beauty of these buildings exists in a symbiotic relationship with the environment. The weather adds to the charm and the vegetation wonderfully accentuates the town. Inside you feel as if someone has removed you from the stress of the world and placed you into a dream. It’s a town best explored on foot. I naturally, and because I saw a few dogs walking around, explored it by car.

Being a guy, there was no ways that I was asking for directions and the first thing I did was search for the brewery. Instead, I found two unmarked labyrinths. These did freak me out just a little…

Around 80 million years before the dinosaurs, the Karoo, and particularly this portion of the Karoo was home to mountains higher than the Himalayas. Dicynodon and Aulacephalodon roamed the forests, dominated by Glassopterii in the valleys below. The towering mountains allowed for a lush eco-system beneath it bathed by meandering rivers. The sediment of these riverbanks provided the ideal climate for fossilisation. Any animal that got stuck or died on these banks invariably ended up as a fossil. The mountains around Nieu-Bethesda are teeming with fossils from this the Permian Age. The town has its own museum, the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre, which has an amazing selection of fossils that have been found in this, the Karoo Supergroup. Most fossils were unearthed by the renowned palaeontologist Dr. Robert Broom (who later unearthed the fossils of early humans in the Cradle of Humankind) and James Kitching. Kitching had a knack for identifying fossils and as a result of him finding a Karoo Therapsid in Antarctic; he established the notion of continental drift – something that has vastly helped mankind to understand the planet. The museum also has a step-by-step guide on how to become a fossil – something you should take heed of it you would like beings that in 250 million years time to dig you up and display your bones in whatever display cabinets they use then. The highlight of the tour, though, was an actual demonstration of how a fossil is recovered from rock. Using a pneumatic dentist’s drill, excavating fossil from rock is a painstaking job that could take several years. And yes, these palaeontologists have to sit and use this tiny drill on a rock the size of a football to recover a bone from rock that has the exact same colour as the bone. One slip up and well, the fossil is destroyed…

The town’s centre piece is the world renowned for the Owl House. Although from the name, one would think that this is a sanctuary for these magnificent birds, it actually is an entrancing artwork created by one Miss Helen.

Born in 1898 in the town, Helen Martins returned to Nieu-Bethesda after a messy divorce to take care of her ailing parents. Upon their death, she experienced depression until one day; she embarked on a single-minded mission to bring light into her life once again. Using meagre resources, she and a local sculptor transformed her dreary house into a magical playground with owls, colour and beauty. Outside her house are the cement sculptures depicting owls, people, far away lands and the nativity. The beauty is intense yet eerie. These enchanted figures protected Miss Helen in this universe that she created for herself.

Inside, the house sparkles in a cacophony of colour. Crushed glass has been applied to every wall making the house sparkle. This is amplified by the strategically placed stained glass murals, lamps and mirrors.

I leave the house in awe. Outside, I purchase a little concrete owl made by a ten year old boy to mimic the creations of Miss Helen. Nieu-Bethesda took my mind to a world that you don’t believe exists. It’s exquisite. And I say yet again, it’s a town that has a beauty that I cannot explain. Do yourself a favour and visit this town – it will make you believe once more…

The spirit of Robert Sobukwe

I like Patricia De Lille. Okay, that’s a complete lie – I actually like her party’s ideologies are pretty good and if put into practice, they have the ability to do a lot of good. I still wouldn’t vote for her but that’s not the point of the story. Patricia came to prominence as a member of the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania, better known as the PAC. Nowadays, this once important party is reduced to, I think, a single member in parliament. This party though did a lot during the struggle that eventually ended Apartheid. It was started by a man named Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe.

Born in Graaff-Reinet, he was a man of high intellect and could be called a founder of black consciousness. His workings influenced Steve Biko and the movements in America. The 2010 World Cup is actually VERY influenced by these principles of having Africa stand on its own two feet thereby gaining the respect of its peers and the world.

Sobukwe has a lot of history behind him – if you don’t know much, I suggest you do a bit of research and learn about this important historical figure. He passed away in 1978 and was buried at the Kroonvale Cemetery in Graaff-Reinet. Additionally, his family lived in the uMasizakhe Township, also in Graaff-Reinet. Seeing that I am IN Graaff-Reinet, I really needed to see these monuments and pay respects to a great man that never did get to see his dreams of freedom realised.

Kroonvale is accessed via the main road of Graaff-Reinet. Go down the road and turn left into Middelstraat. I am guessing this is the centre of town. I must commend the designers on this. Anyway, I drive into Kroonvale with a rudimentary map, knowing my general direction around. Seeing that he was a rather important historical figure, you would expect at least a sign signalling the importance of such a site. No such luck. I drive past the cemetery, which is not in the most accessible parts of this suburb, and struggle to find even an entrance. After driving around (and doing powerslides on the dirt road) for a few minutes, I admit defeat and take solace in the fact that at least I will be able to see his house.

The short story: I didn’t see the house.

The long story: I drive into uMasizakhe, again with a rudimentary map. The map has a few significant points yet I seem unable to locate any of them. Driving along the road that Sobukwe lives, I pass many houses – now brick dwellings made as a result of the low-cost housing scheme. I look around for some sign that a hero of South Africa stayed here. Nothing…

Later that day, I decide to go to a museum in Graaff-Reinet. The town has a LOT of museums showcasing the illustrious history of the town and the surrounds. After being let down by Sobukwe’s shunting, I was in two minds about visiting any of these museums. The museum was the Old Library Building. In one wing, the Karoo Supergroup is showcased. Around 250 million years ago, just before the Permian extinction, the Karoo was home to a myriad of pre-mammals and pre-dinosaurs. A tremendous amount of fossils have been unearthed in the Karoo (and all over South Africa) showing us how life was eons ago. Evidence of enormous Glassopteris forests (that’s a fern) has also been found and these are responsible for our abundant coal seams in Mpumalanga, Northern Free State and the Waterberg.

The other wing is dedicated to none other than Robert Sobukwe! A brief rundown of his life is told through photographs, pictures and personal belongings. Along with this is a picture of his gravesite in Kroonvale Cemetery and a picture of an ordinary white house in uMsizakhe township. I didn’t go back to see them. I still do believe that this country has so many important monuments that are not properly showcased. The monuments of Bethulie were just as badly marked. I hope one day the people in these municipalities realise what they do have there…

After this tour of the museum, I take a drive north on the N9 to an unmarked white building with a security fence promising death to everyone who happens to breath in and around the vicinity of the property. The Karoo is the new home of another legend – tequila.

Actually, just as Champagne cannot be used when describing the stuff JC Le Roux makes, Tequila is a Mexican trademark so this drink has to be called Agave Spirit. Mexicans do speak Spanish and it’s a much more intimidating sounding language than English of Afrikaans so we don’t want to mess with them. The actual company has been formally liquidated but through the protection schemes offered through liquidation (of which I understand absolutely nothing), the company has been “saved” and is soon to be in production again, albeit smaller. At peak, they were producing thousands of litres. I never did ask why they liquidated when production was so high. I think I rather not know.

The gates promise one a swift and speedy death upon unauthorised entry. After dodging a few landmines and killing the level’s boss, I save the princess who gives me the golden key and I’m greeted by Dennis who has been working for the company for nine years. He’s extremely knowledgeable about the entire process and he gives me a very technical overview of the distillation process and about the Blue Agave plant as well. The plant is pretty nifty in that it lives for seven years, then “shoots” out a stalk with flowers that then pollinates others and then this huge plant just dies.

The tour ends with a tasting. The company make three products:
Agava Silver: normal clear tequila
Agava Gold: oak aged tequila
Agava Premium: oak aged for two years
I have a taste of all three. Yes, I TASTE three shots of tequila – not down them and go WOO! Agava Silver tastes better than Olmeca. Agava Gold tastes amazing akin to a medium-aged whisky with the tequila bite. Agava Premium tastes out of this world. The brewing, distillation and aging process means this is smoother than all but the most mature whiskies. I do believe that one could serve this to whisky drinkers and they would compliment you on the great whisky you have given them. I told this to Dennis. He smiled and gave a knowing look. Deep in his eyes, one could see that the stigma behind non-Mexican brewed tequila has meant that this world-class drink has not been given the recognition it rightfully deserves. I get a bottle. All of these cost less than any of the inferior Mexican brands we get here.

I get back home and wonder. In a single day, I’ve had a chance to experience two South African legends – one in the form of a human and the other in a drink. Neither has been given the respect and honour they deserve. It is sad. I then realise I had three tequilas meaning I should be ready to hit the floor. Good times.

Camdeboo

Groenhol. Somehow, the Afrikaans equivalent of this does not do it justice. The Plains of Camdeboo are magical. Placed in the middle of the Karoo, this is land of legend and splendour. In ancient times, our ancestors trekked the land and saw the future in the stars that paint this sky. In more recent times, Pauline Smith and Eve Palmer documented life in this beautiful landscape in their classic South African novels. More about Eve a bit later…

After a brief sojourn on the R75 Mohair Route, I turn east onto the R63 Blue Crane Route. This road takes you down through the real Plains of Camdeboo. It’s a desolate road of bleak Platte land with the Camdeboo Mountains to the north and nothingness to the south. It’s a landscape that tests your mind at the sheer beauty that this desolation provides. This land, however, is not desolate and is home to many a South African that lives his or her life in this solitude.

Pearston lies about 70km south-east of Graaff-Reinet and, well, it’s a town that characterises the nothingness of this land. To call the town laid-back would be wrong – it’s just so much less. It had the vibe of a town that has long since died but was just not buried. It’s obvious that poverty is the main industry of this town – something that saddened me. While Jozi grows from strength to strength, economic strides taken by South Africa do not permeate this society.

I couldn’t find a place to eat in Pearston. That is partly my problem – I never enter establishments that have a dog outside. I leave the town with a bit more sadness than I entered it with. However, every town has a story and as I left, I encounter the strangest site. Standing outside a house, much like a Janda pole, is the flag of Cyprus happily dancing in the wind. Sometimes, you really can’t explain things…

“The Plains of Camdeboo” by Eve Palmer is one of South Africa’s great novels. Detailing life through several generations, this book is a quintessential South African novel. Beautifully written, Eve details life here on these exquisite plains. My pilgrimage took me to the Cranemere Farm that provided her with the basis of her novel. Generations of Palmer’s have lived here and descendants of Eve still inhabit this oasis in the Karoo. I’ve seen the book at several second-hand bookshops – it is a highly recommended read.

Musings on the Valley of Desolation

I recently read an article in Wild Magazine – the magazine to accompany the Wild Card that gets you entry into all the National Parks for a year. It had a picture of a baboon eating an animal it seemingly killed. I knew that baboons are omnivorous and are capable of murder when the need arises. Most people do think they only eat fruits and berries but the reason why we are told to keep away from these animals is exactly because of this – they ARE capable of killing!

My last post about the Valley of Desolation was just pictures – the stunning beauty of this geological formation required it. Getting those pictures was quite a mission in itself! The drive up to the valley – the actual “valley” is at the top of a mountain meaning the Valley of Desolation is actually what is below – is amazing. It’s a mountain pass cut in the 1920’s for the cost of around R2000. I’ve had arguments with people on the value of infrastructure especially roads and the way used to determine how much money a piece of road has generated. Seeing that since the 1920’s, several millions of people have driven up to the valley, I think it’s safe to say this road HAS made the municipality a fair share of money. Back to the road, it’s a breathtaking drive cut as close to the mountain as you can get. On the one side of the road –sheer rock face. On the other – a verge-less sheer drop. Put one tyre wrong and you are no more. No correspondence will be entered into. Luckily, the road is well-kept tar but yikes, the hairpin bends on nasty inclines test every driver. If you have no care for natural beauty, I suggest going up the mountain just for the drive.

Reaching the summit, I had the normal task of sun-chasing. I crave sunsets and well, I didn’t want to miss this one! The Valley of Desolation has several lookout points and a hiking trail that takes you to most parts of the summit. The summit is pretty big and the hike would normally take you almost an hour to complete. Seeing that I got there late, I ran up this superlatively rocky hiking trail with my off-road sandals that aren’t really meant for off-road use and my short sleeve t-shirt worn in the middle of winter. I got to the first lookout point, and was frozen in awe. I took quite a lot of pictures there and spent a great deal of time just sitting in silence admiring the wow. Oddly, for maybe 20 minutes, I was the only person there. I guess you could just call that perfect. However, the viewpoints’ placing meant that I would miss the sunset – a cardinal sin punishable by death. The hiking trail appeared to go to the far end of the summit. I ran. I approached a fork and took the path less travelled as the other led to the parking lot. Well, it appeared to be a path. I ended up with a magnificent view but alas, it was a dead end with thick tree cover with many crevices and no real view of the sunset.

I stood for a while admiring the view and figuring out what to do next. The quiet is pierced by the unmistakeable bark of a baboon. I’m in awe, yet again. That awe is interrupted by a second bark by the same baboon. This time, it’s closer. My brain jolts and I wonder whether there is a reason for the bark getting louder. The third is unmistakeably MUCH closer than the other two. A large grey speck appears in my field of view. It hits me. I bolt! I keep running through the non-path through undergrowth and low branches. I can hear the barks following me! At this point I am freaking out and going over situations in my mind. The baboon has the advantage of living in this wonder of nature and does know the area better than I do. I keep running whilst the baboon barks from the shadows. However, the intermittent barks aren’t getting louder – which is a good thing. By this time, I am on the path and my odds of escape are better. I get to the other side of the trail as the barks trail away. I encounter some people and everything is safe.

I did trespass on the kingdom of the emperor of this valley. It has been his to rule for many years – and before that, it was his ancestors that saw over this glorious land. When one enters his kingdom, one must respect the kingdom and its way of life. I got away and perched on a rock on the other side of the valley. In the distance, he still barked – signalling to all those in earshot that he is the true ruler.

You can’t leave the summit – especially whilst witnessing the extraordinary palette that the sky presents to you. The winter sky, however, erases all light with great swiftness. My new found friends and I make our way to the car park. Well, except, this doesn’t go as planned and we veer wildly off-path. The light disappears faster and faster but we eventually find a path. Jumping into my car, I face the splendour of the mountain pass with more failing light. Moreover, the scenery on the descent marvels the mind even more – the panoramic view of Graaff-Reinet at night was truly stunning. I reach the bottom safely – but by then, it is night. I think to myself about my horrifying experience (it was for me – don’t judge me!!!) at Hluhluwe a few years ago where we were in the park after dark with buck jumping over the car. All of a sudden, a magnificent Eland crosses the road in front of me, then another. I’m in awe, yet again. Two others are scared away by the light and I use this opportunity to get to the gate, which I got to just in time.