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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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…

“Now that’s a Fire,” and other events that lead us to the Fish Eagle

A highly recommended attraction of Kimberley actually lies some twenty kilometres north of the city. Taking the N12 north, one takes the Riverton turn-off to get to, well, Riverton. Then, after what seems like forever along a road straighter than freshly GHD’d hair, here is where the Northern Cape Aquatic Sports Club is situated. It is also where the Oceanos was recovered and left.

Kershen has this pretty awesome friend named Rowen that I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago whilst in Jozi. Rowen’s job is to be professionally awesome. He is probably the best in his field as well. 🙂 Anyway, Rowen has a boat. Boats are pretty cool. These marine contraptions have fascinated me for years. I never did get into the mechanics of their inner workings but nevertheless, travelling freely on the open water with the wind blowing in your hair is a great experience. My aim was to drive the boat. The aim never did materialise as I think they DEFINITELY have laws against driving whilst intoxicated. Also, if I make a mistake, we will tip over into the mighty Vaal to freeze to death like Leonardo Di Caprio did.

The Northern Cape is not renowned for its water. The solar potential of this province, however, is immense. Even in winter, the sun glares down on you with the intensity of summer anywhere else. The vast space available in the province gives promise to the renewable energy potential of the area. With the hopeful advances in solar technology and what is energy’s Holy Grail – energy storage, maybe one day our country’s electricity supply will come from the sun. Looking over at the mighty Vaal though, one would never guess that we had a water problem. Then again, crossing parts of the Amazon takes 30 minutes by commercial airliner. This river, I reckon I could swim across. Though I didn’t hazard trying – it being cold and all and all and all.

After a quick launch, Rowen took the boat for a spin. I’m pretty impressed with this picture. That boat was doing some speed and I managed to capture it pretty well. Kudos to my little Canon SX110 IS…

Riding shotgun in a boat is breathtaking – partly because the resultant wind does not allow much air to enter your nose successfully. This icy cold breeze cleans your face of all the pollutants brought on it by our modern, industrial lifestyle and allows you to become one with this natural beauty. Vegetation lines this mighty river as far as the eyes can see whilst the animals faunacate on the branches, in the air, on the ground and in the depths.

A boat is not a boat unless it has 6×9’s in them. Our boat did. Classic rock, a dop and the Mother Nature makes for a great life.

As we laze, floating down the mighty Vaal, the sun leaves the sky as gloriously as a phoenix. The river shimmers whilst attempting to reflect the grandeur of the sun. I sit back, close my eyes, and smile.

It’s pretty hard sailing at night. I wonder if sailing is the right word here seeing that we had no sails! Anyway…Man must make fire. Man must eat. We made fire. We ate. It rained. The fire was a Man’s fire. That pitiful rain stood no chance! Bwahahaha! It did rain pretty heavily though. Rain in winter is cold. Man solves this with Brandy. I did not feel cold. Whenever Rowen stepped into the rain, it seemed to rain harder. I should warn him to go check out his karma – apparently your local GP can do this along with your normal check-up.

The night was hectic. Apart from questionable hygiene, the night took its toll in other ways as well. My eyes were eaten by a savage beanie. Kershen lost his hand to a Corsa Diesel. I must say he did show good form by not spilling his dop. Kudos to Kershen…

Back on the river on this glorious morning, we see the sights that were rather dark last night. Kimberley also has a meteorite crash site. Scientists have studied this area alongside the Vaal River and attributed the rock formations to a meteor strike sometime in the past. It’s not a hugely impressive site but maybe this is where all the diamonds came from – OUTER SPACE! Booyah!

As with all Apartheid creations, the riverside resort of Riverton is partnered with a resort for the oppressed. Named Langley, the area where it is situated is actually better than Riverton with a flat piece of land cleared to allow for easy picnicking whereas Riverton’s picnic spot is built on a slope. Apartheid infrastructure: FAIL. We did discuss and deduce that the Apartheid planners probably got sick of the flat Platte land all over Kimberley and added this slope for a bit of excitement.

Dams aren’t the only ways water is collected from the river. There are two huge towers sticking out the Vaal that collect water and provide it to the town and surrounds. Kimberley is not small – it has over 300 000 residents yet this method provides ample supply. There are shock stories about the supply though with bodies being found in reservoirs and the like. I still drank the water – impurities and bacteria are a way of life and bottled water just makes you more of a sissy. I’m still not drinking the water in India though! Anyway, apart from the swallow nests, one can see a few holes about two-thirds the way up the tower. This is the overflow and either in 1998 or 1988 (I know there was an eight somewhere in the year); the river was so high that these were covered.

Even the breathtaking sunset of the previous evening could not come anywhere close to what happened as we sailed down river. Atop a branch in yonder distance, I spot a large brown bird perched and watching the world. It majestically takes of and flaps its graceful wings as it sails across the blue sky. It lets out its call – next to the lion, Africa’s most powerful and unmistakeable call. I witness the Flight of the Fish Eagle. I close my eyes and take this in. And I smile…