A Short Tour of South Africa

Chapter 1   -   Home from the Sea

I left a panamax bulk carrier, the Ghent Max, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and flew home after a long seven month tour of duty. The voyage had taken me from Ventspils in Latvia with a load of fertilizer for Convent, 120 miles up the Mississippi. We then loaded corn and cookie meal, which is time-expired confectionary, at Ama, still in the Mississippi, for Damietta in Egypt. We got out of the Mississippi ten days before Hurricane Katrina hit the area. Then on to Yuzhny ("South Port" in Russian) in the Ukraine to load barley, through the Suez Canal (The pilots beg very forcefully for Marlboro cigs, it is now known as the "Marlboro Canal") to discharge at Bandar Imam Khomeyni in Iran. Our next load port was Goa in India for iron ore to Rizhao, China and then Albany, a nice town in Western Australia, to load barley for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. That was a seven month drag! The flight home from Jeddah was via Kuwait, Dubai and Johannesburg and as usual it was great to be met by the family and to be home in Cape Town again. Table Mountain looked great!

After a few days relaxing I had to do a Ship Captain's Medical refresher course and a Personal Safety and Social Responsibility course to update my Master Mariner's Certificate of Competency. This is done every five years as per international rules. The Ship Captain's Medical is a† very real medical course that goes well beyond first aid. It includes giving injections, stitching and CPR plus other interesting things like giving intravenous drips (putting that needle in is quite something, hurts the victim a bit but heck, that is just a small detail!). Time is spent in the casualty ward of a local hospital on a Saturday night (all night) which dishes up the full catastrophe of medical phenomena. These included hammer injuries to the face, a guy with terminal emphysema, a suicide (the professionals tried very hard to revive her), various stabbings, hackings and beer bottle gashes and a mountain climber who fell on his face while untying his boots after a long hard climb, he needed stitches in his chin. A number of cases involved a booze overdose. If you want to do some good in this world don't take up politics, become a paramedic.

So after all this relaxation and better-than-TV medical mysteries my wife and I decided to take a short tour of Africa. This page is all about a two week road trip....

Chapter 2  -  Depart Cape Town - In My Trusty Toyota

Voted for the Democratic Alliance in the municipal elections, packed the chariot and drove east. From Cape Town we took the N2 route past Cape Town International Airport and across the Cape Flats for the first 30km or so before climbing over the Sir Lowries Pass with some great views of False Bay. This is the start of the Garden Route which stretches all the way to Port Elizabeth. The weather looked great, all was set for a good time. We could have gone around the coast road with some amazing views of a very ragged coastline but took the shorter route over the mountains through a forest and fruit farming area. The road winds down into rolling wheat land with a continuous ridge of mountains off to the north. After a pleasant five hour drive with a couple of pit stops along the way we crossed the Gouritz River bridge with its world famous bungee jumping set-up. If you want to take a 65m jump off an old bridge this is as good a place as any. The open wheat fields give way to bush-covered hills dotted with aloes. We by-passed the small port of† Mossel Bay and left the N2 to head inland on the Robinson Pass road towards Oudtshoorn. Long before Oudtshoorn we turned onto a dirt road and trailed dust into the wilds of the Outeniqua foothills to an isolated farm called Cranes Crest.

Chapter 3  -  First Stop - Living with Pigs

Crane's Crest Guest Farm† (Miles from anywhere with twelve pet pigs) Set in high green hills with stunning views in all directions this farm is owned by Joy and Paul Crane and populated by a couple of cows and twelve friendly Colebrooke pigs (or Kolbroek, there is some controversy on the spelling). This hardy breed of pigs is named after a ship, the Colebrooke, that was carrying them from England to India that was wrecked in KoeŽlbaai south of Gordon's Bay near Cape Town on the 3rd of February 1778. KoeŽlbaai is a "Dutchified", version of the ship's name. "KoeŽl" and "baai" are "coal" and "bay" in Dutch. The pigs wander free-range on the farm and sleep under one of the guest cottages so expect some grunting in the middle of the night. The farm is in an area known as the Ruiterbos and is on the original wagon trail from the Cape into the interior of Africa. The wagons followed an ancient elephant path used by the Khoisan people or Bushmen. Take a walking trail to view some Bushman paintings or waterfalls and sparkling rock pools. It is wall to wall with birds.†Joy and Paul are not your run-of-the-mill hillbillies; Joy manages an NGO teaching wood working and Paul is a retired diplomat. Enjoy an evening with a cold beer and some good conversation. Don't feed the pigs.

Chapter 4   -   Second Stop - Port Elizabeth

With friends in Port Elizabeth† (Three days in an informal ship-wreck museum)
The road from Crane's Crest to Port Elizabeth (PE) back-tracks down to Mossel Bay and then follows the beautiful Garden Route coast through very green bush and indigenous rain forest inhabited by some genuine hillbillies. This is premier tourist country and the town of Knysna is tourist heaven. Get your slice! There are some very deep river gorges crossed by beautiful concrete bridges such as the Storms River bridge and if you are out to top your bungee jump at Gouritz just try the one at†the†Bloukrans bridge! At 216m it is the highest in the world. We didn't turn off for Jefferys Bay (known as Jay Bay to surfers) as somebody sold my classic longboard years ago. Finally got to our friends Gerry and Malcolm's place in Port Elizabeth. Their house is on top of the only hill in town and has great views of the city, an ostrich farm in the valley and mountains to the north. Malcolm used to be a wreck diver and has a huge knowledge of the wrecks around the coast, wrote the definitive book "Shipwrecks & Salvage in South Africa" in 1988. He didn't mention the pigs of the Colebrooke nor did he ever find a fortune or Captain Kidd's treasure but his house is a bit like a nautical museum, very interesting with canons and things. The canons are unlicensed so he is not allowed to fire them. The Addo Elephant Park near PE is well worth a days visit but as we had been there a couple of years ago we gave it a miss this time. We all went to a production of sixties and seventies music at the local totally authentic century-plus old Opera House. Got a load of very good ABBA, Beatles and Rolling Stones type music. The other big thing we did was to go bird watching for a day with Gordon and Linda, friends from way back. There are some indigenous forests, unique sand dunes and a replica of a stone cross erected by Bartholomew Dias at Cape Padrone, near a small town called Alexandria, an interesting place. Malcolm seemed to know all the local lore.† Saw a Eurasian Blue Roller and a whole herd of other birds as well as caracal tracks, had a good time.† Didn't see the caracal but did he see us?

Chapter 5  -  Third Stop - Morgan Bay

Morgan Bay† (Unfortunately no family connection!) Once more packed the chariot and headed north-east, this time towards a small village north-east of East London near Haga Haga called Morgan Bay. If you need to unwind this is a great place to do it. We stayed at the Morgan Bay Hotel, an old fashioned family hotel with a great friendly feel to it. Met some really friendly people, including Piers and Helen. Piers was involved with building the giant Kariba Dam on the Zambezi.† Got hooked on sudoku, thanks to Alistair and his wife who were out from England. Did something everyday such as a long hike on the beach, taking a boat ride up the Kei River to the umThombe Kei River Lodge where we appreciated the lush subtropical vegetation and rare, protected cycads. Also canoed up the local lagoon where we saw a fish eagle. Walked down to Double Mouth past some impressive cliffs and krantzes and found some blue and white porcelain from the Santo Espiritu which was wrecked in 1608 with a cargo of silk, spices and Chinese porcelain. Waved at a passing helicopter. Had a beer or two with some friends from Cape Town who had been in the helicopter.† Watched the greatest one day cricket match in history on TV when we beat the Ozzies in a nail-biting finish!† There are some hiking trails along the beach which take a few days, such as the Standloper Hiking Trail or the Wild Coast Meander. When you come to this area set aside a couple of weeks.†

Chapter 6   -  Fourth Stop - Blowout!

Jansenville B & B† (A bad place to have a blow-out) This day started off well. Got going from the Morgan Bay Hotel and decided to check out Haga Haga just a few kms doing the road.† Haga Haga was neat with a nice beach and seventies style hotel. Well, that delayed us by an hour. Then we really got going, bypassed East London via the freeway and headed for Bisho/King William's Town and beyond. Good road and scenery all the the way to the town called Alice where the University of Fort Hare looked very neat and well kept. There had been some rain so the veld was green grass with bush and aloes on the rocky hill slopes.† Carried on to Fort Beaufort, Adelaide and Bedford, all old frontier towns that have gone to seed. One day they will be discovered by the arty crowd and be rejuvenated. Next was Somerset East where my wife had taught junior school for two years. She then spent some time in Europe before returning to Cape Town, where I rescued her from the teaching profession!! Life is played by our own rules and seems to be working fine. The town is a busy agricultural centre and seemed to be prosperous, unlike the towns further east. Our planned route was to take us to Pearston and via some dirt roads to Jansenville and Willowmore where we would find a B & B for the night. The plan had a blowout! On the rocky dirt road from Pearston to Jansenville the right back tyre popped, the car handled it very well but that was the end of a nice new tyre. Changing it took a bit of time, I left a couple of beads of sweat in the Karoo dust. Not my first blowout and probably won't be my last if I keep driving on dirt roads. So on towards Jansenville with hopes of getting a new tyre there. It was getting a bit late when we arrived so looked for a B & B in this half dead has-been farm town. Found the only B & B in town, The Cottage, run by the very hospitable Elna van den Bergh who supplied a dinner of juicy kudu steaks done just right and veg with sweet pumpkin fritos, just what we needed. A couple of beers also went down well. There were some other travelers in residence who supplied an evening of great conversation on subjects from poverty alleviation and the weather to the high quality of the local mohair and sheep's wool of the grade called moils. All good local stuff. For any Americans reading in, moils is the dirty, short staple wool from the underside of a sheep, it is used in the manufacture of tweed material, especially on the island of Harris.

Chapter 7  -  Fifth Stop - Route 62

Le Roux B & B in Ladismith (On Route 62). So there were no new tyres available in Jansenville! Not surprising as it is not the mechanical capital of anywhere although it does have dirt roads from hell. Plan #9 was cancelled, plan #10 was to stay off the tyre-busting dirt roads and take the tar road to Graaff-Reinet, a bigger town which would have a tyre dealer. The road is very good but it was so hot the puff adders were sticking to the tar! Found a very friendly Hi-Q tyre dealer, fitted a new tyre, stowed the not-so-good spare, had a coke and headed for Willowmore and Route 62. The road passes the hamlet of Aberdeen in the Karoo, a semi-desert area with low scrub and grass, sheep are big business here. Willowmore is off the main road and the tank was half full so we carried on to the turn-off to Route 62 and De Rust. This is scenic! De Rust is a small one-horse town that has discovered tourism and does it very well, it has a nice feel to it. We stopped at the House Martin Cafe, not shabby at all. Topped up with 95 octane unleaded and got going. The road winds through hilly country with high ridges of fold mountains to the south and north. Fruit farms line the river banks and ostriches are more popular than chickens; then we got to Oudtshoorn where there are NO chickens! It is the centre of ostrich farming. One can ride an ostrich like a horse but don't mess with it, you do not want to be kicked in the chops by a struthio camelus! We didn't stop. The mountains got more rugged as we drove on, passed Calitzdorp, through the Huisrivier Pass, we decided to stop for the night at Ladismith. Ladysmith is in Natal/Kwazulu, Ladismith is in the Western Cape. There is no point in driving through such scenic countryside in a fatigued state so we stopped and smelt the coffee or whatever. Spotted a B & B sign that advertised a swimming pool so checked it out. The Le Roux B & B was great, pool, bar, friendly owners, guests and beds fit to sleep in. Every second house in Ladismith seems to be a B & B, being on Route 62 helps.

Chapter 8  -  Sixth Stop - Ronnie's Sex Shop and The Roadkill Cafe

Once upon a time there was this farmer, Ron, who decided to put a small farm stall next to the main road. The road was called Route 62, the farm was somewhere between Ladismith and Barrydale. So he built a square shack and painted it white with the name "Ronnie's Shop" in big red lettering. It was actually a pub for the locals. All was peaceful in the valley, except late on Saturday night. Then somebody who shall remain nameless wrote SEX between "Ronnie's" and "Shop", Route 62 has never been the same since! Ron recovered from the shock of owning a sex shop and settled down to make lots of money. Ronnie's Sex Shop is still a pub, with lots of things such a caps, flags and other things from around the world hanging up. The walls are covered in signatures, it has some character. And it is famous. While we were there a tour bus stopped in the road just to take photos, minutes later a herd of motorcyclists stopped for some tea or something. They were mostly from Germany with some Americans, all on rented BMW's, all were very friendly happy individuals. Maybe the hells angles types come out on weekends. Right next door is the Road Kill Cafe run by some friendly ladies, also part of Ron's empire. It is just a† roadside cafe with a catchy name, good service and great coffee. Don't ask for the mongoose pie, it might just be a fresh road kill!

Chapter 9  -  Last stop - Cape Town - Home

We had seen spectacular mountain passes, dry and dusty semi-desert, unique sand dunes, indigenous rain forests, rolling green hills, the rugged wave-bashed cliffs of the Wild Coast, wild cycads, dust roads from hell and had coffee at the Roadkill Cafe on Route 62; the world in ten days. Unpacked, had a mug of coffee, fed the cats and got stuck into some sudoku. Home at last!