Archive | February, 2012

The Sausage Machine

23 Feb

When I wasn’t packing or thinking about packing, my last few days in South Africa were spent playing a game. The soundtrack in my head was permanently tuned to that old Rolling Stones number and I couldn’t switch it off.

Down the pub – This could be the last time..  In the hammock – This could be the last time.. Driving the back road from Hermanus – Maybe the last time.. In the outdoor shower – I don’t know-ow. And on and on. Nothing escaped it. Annoyingly so.

Leaving the bus, Bot Rivier, and South Africa was proving to be every bit as much a wrench as it was leaving Hobo, the waterways and the UK. It has become home – another home – complete with friends and routines and rituals. It won’t be the last time though, only for now, I will be back.

But I was well and truly in the sausage machine, on my way and nothing could halt its progress. That moment when you just want to say “Beam me up Scottie” and magically appear at your destination. You know that it will spit you out in the end but not before you’ve endured the bit inbetween.

John is staying on a while, which didn’t help, but he was brilliant. He temporarily abandoned his projects so we could just chill and do whatever; this was my time. It was good to hang around the bus, make our plans and generally do nothing. It helped no end. Thanks for that John. x

The one thing I did want to see this time was The Waterfront and John duly obliged. On my last day we set off for Cape Town earlyish so we could do lunch there and have a look around. It isn’t John’s cup of tea really and, having  been there now, nor mine.  But it had to be done. It’s massive and there’s loads of shops and a craft market but, to be honest, I’d rather wander round looking at the boats and do the Aquarium. So that’s what we did.

You do get that nice view of Table Mountain though.

It had been a pleasant day but it was time to head for the airport. I remembered to take pics of the huge townships this time but they don’t show the scale. The best view is from the air.

Neither of us like goodbyes so I was tipped out in the drop off zone. (Or was it tipped off in the drop out zone?) To be fair he did have quite a drive ahead of him, parts of which you definitely don’t want to do in the dark, so best he pushed off sooner rather than later. Anyway, why prolong the agony?

I’d checked in online and decided not to carry hand luggage. Just check the bag in then, go through and head for the smokers’ lounge (you don’t get that at Heathrow) relax and await the inevitable. Overweight! Must be all the books John’s Dad had given me. Bugger. Re-packing drama of note and wound up with a bag to carry after all.

Eleven and a half hours in the air (same old same old), ages queing at UK border control (some sort of a go slow but the ranting Brits proved excellent entertainment and I did my level best to wind them up further), two hours instead of one on the shuttle bus to Stansted (went all round Hatfield), mega expensive taxi (by this time I would have sold my soul to get home) before the machine finally delivered me.

But the taxi driver was brilliant, carrying my very heavy bag across a very muddy field that I call dog dirt alley (obvious reasons). Right onto the boat. What a star.

Hobo. The river. Home.

Owner finally admits defeat…

22 Feb

Interesting loading technique

Arniston camp

22 Feb

Considering I’d never set foot in a tent before I met John, I’m sure as hell making up for it now. Not that I’m complaining.

With one night only on the bus, post PE, we were off again. To the beach – where else? We’d promised Quentin some weeks earlier that we’d camp at Arniston one weekend (briefly visited before on Agulhas trip) and set a date. He was still ultra keen, grossly overworked and desperate for a break so no going back.

It’s an easy drive to Arniston, less than two hours, and the Municipal camp site there is good. Inexpensive, almost deserted (though I might give it a miss at Christmas, peak of their summer holidays) and hot showers to die for. The beauty of spontaneous camping is that you go when the weather is good. This was of course planned so it wasn’t. We pitched the tent in a minor hurricane and crawled inside for shelter as the rain came down. And then spotted that the bit that fits on top of the tent to keep it watertight was missing. We discussed possible items we may have that would do the same job but drew a blank. Eventually I went and grabbed a dustbin lid, which was just the ticket. Never let it be said I am not resourceful..

Saturday morning was sunny, dry and windless. To the beach then.

We found the caves that John wanted to see, no doubt hoping to find more bones and, when we discovered the secret way through to the main event, it was a beauty.

See the surfers?

John sees the light

Truth be told we followed a little girl who spotted it.

We just followed, Alice in Wonderland-like, through the hole

Splendid fishing boats

Then the hike along the beach and around the rocky headlands in the general direction of the hotel, seemingly the only commercial outlet in Arniston, and a much needed cup of coffee. This is a working fishing village, with authentic fisherman’s cottages and some splendid fishing boats.

All very unspoilt – they even managed to squash plans for a shopping centre development there. Well done, it would have totally ruined the feel of the place.

We rested along the way – beer and ciggie break – and when I requested a photo moment was told to…well the second word was off. Charming. Mind you, with sunglasses like that I might be camera shy too. Should have gone to Specsavers Q !

Bad shades Q

It was another great camp but I was looking forward to being back at the bus for my last few days in South Africa. We headed off on Sunday, taking the dirt road back. Not as thrilling as some we have done but we did see a strange phenomenum on the way…

Never seen anything like it....

Can you see what they are yet?


And only on one side of the road. Most odd.

Alternative Route

21 Feb

Who was it  that was boasting about knowing her way to and from PE? “Becoming and old hand at this journey” I think it went…

We were in the clouds as we climbed up and away from Knysna, headed back for Bot Rivier and the bus. Visibilty was atrocious, making the pass feel more scary than normal, and John said he would find us some sunshine. Once over the mountain and able to see again we took a detour off onto a dirt road, which led to the Rooiberg Pass, one that John knew of but had never driven. He said it would be a long stretch but spectacular and  hopefully the road would be in good condition. Conditions of these roads vary greatly, some can be horribly corrugated or potholed, and you never really know what you’re in for till it’s too late.

We were in luck; smooth and well maintained. And very spectacular. And it was sunny as promised.  Astonishing. It’s roads like these that make me enjoy driving all over again.

Hello Mr. Tortoise

This could be home

We didn’t see another vehicle, which is just as well because God knows how you’d pass. We did come across some creatures on the way though and stopped to say hello. I found a place I could maybe call home too – a bit of a project. We saw phone lines so presumably the internet would be available – miles from anywhere. Staggering. You could do a damn good job of being a recluse in these parts.

The Karoo

And then we are in the Karoo – a vast bush/desert area that stretches for miles and miles and miles and – you get the picture.

And just when you think you’ll never see civilisation ever again….up pops Ronnie’s Sex Shop. Really.

OK so it’s a bar actually; someone added the word sex as a joke and it just sort of stuck! I Like it there; super place, super people that have travelled from all over and of course it is a little quirky..

Johnnie and Ronnie share a joke in the underwear dept

Spot the dog?

Admiring my handiwork..

A couple of beers, a change of driver and off we go again. Me in the hot seat now as we negotiate another mountain pass, this time tarred, the Tradouw Pass. Stunning.

All this exploring takes longer than taking the freeway but well worth it.

Thank you John for making a liar of me.

I still have much to learn…..

Woody Cape

19 Feb

It all started three years ago when John and I were brand new. He was over here for the summer, me freezing in the UK, and flying long bits of the coastline while I followed his progress on Google Earth from Hobo. As he flew over this beautiful beach he spotted a giant staircase over the dune fields – which stretched for miles and miles – and surmised this was probably the only access point. This vision stuck with him and he has wanted to go there ever since.

Last summer (our winter 2010/11) we took a ride out there with John’s Dad to see what we could see land-side. It’s only a couple of hours, tops, from PE and throw in a lunch and you have a marvellous day out. Which we did. We drove through the Woody Cape National Park which is gorgeous green grassland and very much cow country.  You can see Bird Island on a clear day as you climb up through the hills. We saw a sign for the Ocean View camp site and made a mental note to give it a whirl at some point.

Which brings us to this year’s PE trip. We’d chilled around the house while the wind howled and rain did stair rods for a couple of days and then John spotted a weather window. One really good day coming up – Wednesday. On the spur of the moment we decided to drive out there on Tuesday, camp for the night and explore the next day.

It worked well. We arrived in time to find the place proper, for the wind to die, pay for the night and pitch the tent before dark. Just. A super place with only three spots, all sheltered and shady with braai area and facilities and a shower and loo just a short walk away through the trees. It was a great find and someone had put in a lot of hard work but had also had lots of fun creating it.

Braai area

View down to the sea

We woke to a perfect morning and before I was properly conscious, John had done the first recce and was back making my morning cuppa, excitedly showing me his fossil finds. He’s a bit of a closet archaeologist I reckon. The thought of  That Wonderful Beach spurred me on and we were soon descending the giant wooden steps over the dunes.

Top of the steps

Perfect and Pristine

What a fabulous sight. The beach was perfect and pristine, unmarred by detritus of any sort and totally deserted. As we left our footprints in the sand we were flanked by the warm Indian Ocean on one side and massive dune fields the other.

Footprints in the sand

You cannot see the end of it, let alone walk it all. We dipped our toes and splashed along the shoreline until we came to the site of what John thought was evidence of pre-historic life. There were indeed early stone tools, hand axes and hammer stones, loads of fossilised bones (we thought human) literally appearing out of the rocks as well as giant land snails and shell midden. It was everywhere you looked.

Giant Land Snail

Some of John's find

He collected up more specimens, intending to take them to the museum at PE, while I chose a few prime shells, which I thought would adorn Hobo’s bathroom quite nicely.  We spent a lovely time down there, taking advantage of the wonderful weather that we were so fortunate to have. It wasn’t blisteringly hot, thank goodness as no shade whatsoever and we’d have been in for a right sand-blasting if the wind was up to it’s usual tricks. But there wasn’t a puff.

Turns out the museum at PE is no more,  so John spoke with the ranger at the WC National Park re his finds. Much interest was shown and we were invited back to show and discuss, so trip 2 was planned for the following Monday; another reason for our elongated stay in the Eastern Cape.

Apparently they are aware of the existence of these relics – indeed the whole area is quite a hotspot – but this site was new to them and they wanted to be shown the exact location. After giving us a bit of a ticking off for removing anything in the first place and then a thank you for taking it back, off we all went in the back of their 4×4. All consisted of the ranger, his assistant, a worker to unlock gates and suchlike and a professional photographer and writer. Check out where you will see more info and pics (including one of us).

We drove through private bits of the park until we came to a steep sandy road which led us on to the dunes. The driver, who was very competent, gunned the Toyota but didn’t quite make it over the top. We all jumped out, he rolled back and, after getting stuck and being dug out, tried again without the load and  a good run up. This time he made it no bother. Everybody back on the bus for the ride of your life; through the dune fields then fast along the shore till we reached the right place, then into dune city once more. Exciting doesn’t cover it.

Digging out the 4x4

It was surprisingly hard to spot. The wind was blowing and the sands had shifted (and were still on the move) but we got there eventually after the one bum steer from me. John pointed out all his other finds, neatly laid out on the rocks, official pictures were taken and, after a good look round the area, it was pronounced indeed another new site of interest to be logged and properly looked into. Result. The ranger took us to another midden on the way back to his office and invited John for a further visit when he could be taken to other sites of interest. Quite a privilege as they don’t promote these areas for fear of folk removing the artefacts and, needless to say, John is very keen. A very interesting visit and the people were super. I wish there was time for me to go back there again – I could shuffle around that place till the cows come home.

It’s funny, on my last trip to SA we did very little coast but travelled huge swathes of the interior, which was mind-blowing. This time we have done beach upon beach and they have all been marvellous. You really can’t do it all, even in three months, and there’s still much I’ve not yet seen.

Next time eh…

PE revisited

14 Feb

My fourth trip to Port Elizabeth to visit John’s Dad.

I just love these crazy roads..

The freeway into town

I’m becoming an old hand at this journey and now recognise the landmarks and know which town/coffee shop/loo stop is coming next. But it is nonetheless exciting for that and the scenery still stuns and grabs my spirit.

We break the journey at Knysna, roughly halfway, where we stay with Rudi and make witblitz (moonshine) from a batch of wine that Rudi had made and rejected.

Still in situ at Rudi's

Despite having worked well on previous batches, this lot produced pure acetone – not to be taken internally. Still – pardon the pun – I got to see the illicit machinery in action; a first for me and most intriguing. It’s a home-made set up, manufactured by John, and very much a prize possession so, whilst we left this with Rudi to play with while we were at PE, we would be collecting it again on our way back.

Have still will travel

John’s Dad was as accommodating as ever. It’s always a treat to stay there and not only because he has a bath. There was added interest this time as Uncle David (John’s godfather) and wife were also on a visit, breaking their cruising adventures, so I get to meet more of the family and hear more stories. We visited the Yacht Club where I almost got a sail. Sadly the weather was not quite suitable but we did get a nice lunch.

We tootled about the town and the beach, generally relaxed, tormented the dog, read lots and John and I visited the Swartskop Hotel. Therein lies a tale. Very atmospheric shall we say in purple and lime green, with loud music and even louder South African males. For every lewd comment they made (in Afrikaans so I can only surmise) about the barmaid they chucked money in a pot on the bar. It was all very jolly and she must have gone home considerably richer – we reckon to the tune of at least R200.  And that’s 20 quid ish!

Swartkops Hotel

Before we knew it, our stay of one week had turned into two. A major reason for going there was to sure up the rear of John’s dad’s property as he had been broken into twice. Only the workshop and studio above (our treehouse in SA) but nevertheless a concern. This involved filling the gaps that had been opened up in the undergrowth with razor wire. Nasty stuff, as John’s scars will attest to, but hopefully would keep out the local baddies and prevent any serious security breaches. Progress was held up for a couple of days when it rained, bigtime, like nothing normally seen here at this time of year. But as a water scarce area, everyone was well pleased.

We took a couple of days out to go camping at Woody Cape, which is another story to be featured here very soon. Also the journey home was pretty epic as we strayed from the main roads in favour of the dirt roads and mountain passes – also to be blogged about soon.

The one bad thing about PE this time was poor signal, which initially made using the computer a nightmare, Internet constantly dropping out, and eventually a must to avoid if you valued your sanity. Hence lack of blog to date but that’s not to say it will end here; stay tuned for river-flavoured tales to come.

Be patient with me, I will try to catch up but time is running out on me. This evening we are attending my farewell braai and tomorrow will be my last day at the bus as we head off for Cape Town early on Thursday morning so that I can get a glimpse of The Waterfront before I have to fly north to the UK, where it will certainly be colder but at least I have Hobo’s stove to look forward to. A kind friend has stocked me up with wood and coal and some shopping.

It’s a strange time, feeling neither here nor there, but soon England will be the reality and this will become a fond memory. For now.

New bird feeder at the bus in action