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…

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Day 19: Procrastination

The one certainty about this course was procrastination. It has actually been such an awesome week that has gone pass but each day, I keep on procrastinating and saying that I will start my project tomorrow or I’ll update the blog tomorrow.

Well, first things first, this blog won’t cover the whole week but I will (hopefully) get back to that in time! This week started on Tuesday actually – the weekend, which extended to Monday was brilliantly spent around 700km away in Durban. So that meant that on Tuesday morning, at 5am mind you, I had to trek from my place in Johannesburg to Witbank. Leaving at 5am wasn’t too bad especially since there was no mist and I encountered one of the most beautiful sites – the sunrise over the Highveld. It’s nothing compared to those beautiful sunrises one sees in Durban, where the sun slowly peaks over the ocean on the horizon and within an hour, it blazes and warms the souls of Durbanites. On the Highveld, well, the sun peeks over the, um, veld! The stunning red crept over the hills in the distance and bathed the barren landscape in a weak shade of yellow. It’s as if the sun wasn’t trying that hard to make any real impression on the Earth. It was beautiful though!

Driving in the dark, though, has a major problem – you can’t see pedestrians. And when you are travelling at 120kph and some random guy wearing impressively dark clothing takes a casual stroll across the freeway ten minutes before 6am, it’s something that makes you go “WTF!!!” I was lucky that this brave soul had comfortably crossed the freeway and was a good metre away from my car as I passed. You never know what you would do in a situation where you hit someone who is crossing the freeway. And the scary thing that I thought about was that with life as it is nowadays, the one n problem that people will consider is the time you lose on your travel schedule. I had to be at Duvha Power Station before 7am and if I had hit the guy, I would have never made it there in time. So the choice would have been stop, see what happened and help the guy or just drive on. It’s scary that the second option is an option that really could be taken!

The day was interesting with a walk down of some auxiliary systems of Duvha Power Station. This included the Precipitators and Water Cooling Plant. It’s amazing how much water is actually used at a power station. And when you look at the clouds coming out of the cooling towers, it just amazes you about the huge scale that power generation exists upon. There will be more about this later in another blog.

These three weeks have exposed me to something that I can’t make sense of just yet. Apparently, a South African peculiarity is that people of especially White and Black origin eat meat at every meal! A meal is almost not considered a meal if there is no meat present. And this meat is properly prepared steaks, chops and chicken – it seems the fish are lucky as they aren’t considered a proper meat! I was in Ermelo yesterday and at the Spur, where I had supper, I ordered the Enchilada and the waiter asked me if I’d like Beef or Chicken in it. When I said I want vegetables (because I’m vegetarian) it didn’t register as a proper choice. It appeared as if he was pre-programmed to either bring Enchilada meals that have Beef or Chicken in them and anything else is just wrong and the world might explode. Similarly with my sister, who was also somewhere in the bundus like me (Zeerust in the North-West to be precise) relayed a similar story. She is also vegetarian and she was forced to eat meat because the chefs didn’t cook the vegetables in a way that would constitute a meal. The vegetables were just boiled and were meant as an accompaniment to the meat. The meat that they did cook was almost gourmet – perfectly cooked steaks, roasted lamb, grilled chicken and the like. And, people ate this at every meal! Anyway, when I was a meat eater, I think I ate meat a maximum of four times a week. This is not because I fasted but because eating that much meat was not necessary. There are countless vegetable dishes that provide a more than adequate meal. Eating meat 21 times a week (yes, even at breakfast) just doesn’t register in my mind. Yet, I have witnessed people eating meat for all three meals in a day and they do complain if there is no meat!

The interesting thing about this is that it does show that the prices we pay in South Africa are really low. People from all socio-economic classes eat meat everyday which does give an indication that meat is readily available at a reasonably affordable price. When I discussed this issue with some people, they did point out that meat overseas does have a high premium attached to it and this means you can’t cook meat at every meal. This forces you to search for an alternate and, as a result, this helps in health terms. This whole meat issue does explain the size of some people I’m guessing. Then again, I’m not a doctor so I won’t factualise that link! But anyway, this has made me think of the state of things in South Africa and the world as a whole. Globalisation has meant that everything around the world is slowly settling towards a common price. Whether you buy an item in Hungary or in South Africa, because of global competition (and price-fixing!) you will pay around the same amount. And that is what is happening in several sectors. Coal, for example, is needed around the world for energy use and because South Africa has so much, they can supply everyone! This means that to buy coal in South Africa, you will need to pay a higher amount than before because there is a market outside the borders that is willing to pay a higher price than the historical price that a local paid. At some point, there will be equilibrium as such – the local price will compete against the international price so the miners will be happy selling their coal to either market. I hope that makes sense!

Now, how does this tie in with the meat? Quite simply, South Africa has historically had cheap meat. Maybe it was the self sufficiency of the Apartheid government that put us in this situation but because we were forced to have enough livestock to sustain the country, it was possible for meat to be sold cheaply as it was abundant. Cheap meat means you eat meat – and lots of it! So your culture is grown around providing meat to eat at every meal. As a child, you grow up expecting meat and not having meat means the meal is severely deficient. Now, taking the coal example of above – I hope you can see where this is going? The globalisation is going to drive food prices higher and now, people won’t be able to afford “eating” (i.e. eat meat!) and hence, they go on strike! They couple this with a grievance against the high electricity prices which is directly related to coal and what do you get – a nationwide strike which we had this week!

All in all, this means that the global energy crisis is caused by the smugness that South African’s have of eating meat at all meals! Wow, who would have thought that!