Alte Kokkers in Africa travel blog

Bontebok hike Aloe Hill Trail

Bontebok 2

Knysna Head

Featherbed Reserve Nature Trail

Sad to leave Rothman Manor and our little animal and fowl friends, we headed to a nearby nature preserve, Bontebok, for a hike. This terrain was different from anything we had seen before; arid browns and greens on rolling hills. We took the aloe trail which lead down to a lovely little damed lake. South Africa is a major producer of aloe products ( who knew !?)

Much of the afternoon was spent on the road. We took N2 which is a major highway, by SA standards, so easy driving, but still quite beautiful. Farm land and more rolling hills. The drive of the next 3 days is called The Garden Route( I think it got its name from the rich and varied vegetation). It runs parallel to the coast on one side which is sometimes visible and sometimes not. Parallel on the other side are impressive mountain ranges. Miles and miles of spectacular and varied scenery with lots to do: nature preserves, hiking, beachfront towns, kayaking, shark diving, bungy jumping (actually the highest one in the world), surfing, and animal sanctuaries. No urban sprawl, strip malls or tacky billboards to ruin the landscape.

I am beginning to get a sense of the pattern of residential areas. No urban sprawl on the scope of the US, but outside of most medium size towns were a graduated series of communities in tight clusters. Farthest out were the shacks made of wooden slats with corrugated roofs, then the slightly larger brick houses still with corrugated roofs, all in the same rectangular style. Finally a community of slightly larger houses, some with decorative variation and a bit of yard, but all in the same basic rectangular shape. In some places there were also upscale communities with houses of varied styles and actual small yards. So it seems that while US has slums inside the city, SA has slums outside of the city. Among the differences between urban and rural poverty, are lack of access to services and transportation (there are always black men walking or hitching long distances on the side of the road). It is so easy to be critical of how SA is and isn't dealing with poverty, segregation and inequality, but it is making me think a lot about how similar things are in our own country.

In the late afternoon we stopped at a small beachfront town called Wilderness. Steven thought it was pretentious to give a town that name, but I liked it. I bought some wooden bowls from a young man selling his wares. There are men selling a variation on the same items at most tourist places: wooden bowls,spoons and statues of African animals, beaded animals, beaded key chains and flowers, and sometimes animals made from bottle caps. The fun is in the bargaining. We learned from our guide in Israel how to bargin and apparently the “rules” are the same in each culture. As soon as I started looking he approached me with an offer at a pretty exorbitant price. In response to my lack of interest he offered a few slightly lower prices “only for me”. Still unenthused. With a beautiful flirtatious smile He asked me to name a price, “whatever your heart tells you”. I thought and came back with the price my heart told me. Apparently our hearts were not in agreement. But then my heart told me that he had a beautiful smile and this was his livelihood so I agreed. The whole idea of bargaining is so strange because for the venders they are scraping out a living and for the tourists it is play money.

We bought lunch and ate on the beach. A long, sparsely populated beach with gently rolling, crashing waves. SA has so much and such varied coastline, from gentle beach to, rolling waves to surf crashing against rocks and cliffs. Every beachfront we visited was distinct. How lucky to live in a country with beauty everywhere.

We arrived at our accommodations in Knysna, a mid size vacation town on a huge lagoon ( actually an estuary which is the second largest inland body of water in South Africa ). The Waterfront Lodge is right on the lagoon. Our room and outdoor siting area overlooked the lawn with pool and many resident fowl and cats, leading out to the lagoon. The room was nothing special, but the common areas felt like a British African lodge.

We ate dinner at the waterfront area, fairly unassuming by waterfront resort standards. We were a bit weary from so much driving and Steven talked about missing being in one place for a few days and missing being able to feel a sense of place. I realized that since leaving Cape Town every place we visited was a vacation spot, and primarily a white South African vacation spot. These areas appear very segregated with white tourists and business owners, middle class blacks holding the better service jobs, and poor blacks as gardeners, road crew and the more menial jobs. We are learning a lot about how South Africans enjoy themselves (seemingly very much since it is such a gorgeous and varied country), but less about real life. But, is vacation real life too? I have always thought of vacation as a break from real life. It is revolutionary and comforting to think that vacation can be real life too. And all of the gorgeous countryside, the natural wonders we have seen, that has been around well before some developers decided it should be a vacation spot, so that is real life too.

Real life, or shall I say life, visited us the next day in different forms. Yesterday's food caused Steven stomach problems and light headedness. We got a series of missed calls from Emily at midnight State time,early morning SA time. When we called back Emily had been throwing up for an hour and was frightened and panicked. We had to stay on the phone trying to get her to calm down and breath. We texted Catie to go home, she took one look at Emily and decided to take her to the emergency room. We got ready for a morning hike, under ominous skies, but were mentally focused on the girls. Not surprising we got lost on the way to our hike (another beautiful drive in the mountains, though) and just walked on the road while helping Catie navigate Emily’s medical care. In the end, Emily got the care she needed and was released. Catie did a masterful job of taking care of everything . We completed our hike and soothed our nerves with some retail therapy and all was well. (Oh, and earlier in the week Lily had a medical problem and Catie had to take her to the Emergency room late at night as well. That problem got resolved by the afternoon as well!) A bizarre juxtaposition of our different lives and different selves. And the sun came out in the afternoon too!

In the afternoon we took a ferry across the Knysna lagoon to Featherbed Reserve. For many years there was a port on an island in the lagoon. Ships would reach it from the Indian Ocean by sailing through the very narrow mouth. Knysna is known for the very high and beautiful cliffs on either side of the mouth known as The Heads. It was a very treacherous sail due to strong currents, rocks and narrow depths. In order to help ships enter, a skilled

captain was stationed at the Heads, would let the ship know when it was safe to enter, then board the ship and sail her in. After 45 of the 140 ships that attempted to enter were shipwrecked Lloyd's of London refused to insure any more ships and the port was closed.

An interesting tidbit about the particular species of seahorse that live in the lagoon. They mate for life ( 6 yrs.) and the male is implanted with the eggs. About 200 little seahorses are released into the water to fend for themselves ( no braces, summer camphor college) and he immediately gets impregnated again.

We rode to the top of the mountain in an open cart pulled by a truck. Many spectacular views on the way up and as we walked down. We completed our day with a quiet, simple dinner on our deck and early to bed.

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