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The Cable Car is out of action. The three-hour hike up does not appeal never mind all the steps to the girls. The iron ladder up the Lions Head is deemed less attractive. Much to the horror of my credit card, I promise another dose of downtown Cape town for an assault up to an old Gun emplacement, which is situated halfway up the Table. It wins hands down. A short drive brings us to our departing point. A crabby Florence follows us along a track with super views of the city that is to be sure, to be sure, set in one of the worlds beautiful spots. Cape Flats where most of the Cape inhabitants live remains hidden to our view. My card pays the penalty for most the afternoon.
A day of rest is what the doctor orders. Where better than the municipal open-air swimming pool whose water is refreshed by the odd growler crashing on the sea wall. Cascading a shower of white surf on all unsuspecting oiled covered sun worshippers. Flo to her joy and ours makes a new friend living opposite the Hostel.
The sunset on the bobbing heads of a few seals, playing in the glimmering kelp. Yawns, yawns, bring a new day and time to head up the coast.
Williwaw is back to one of its old tricks behaving like a drunken sailor as we rumba along the N2. A long climb out of False Bay up over Sir Lowry’s pass test her worn out radiator to boiling point. The garden route starting at Mossel Bay ends at the Tsitskamma Coastal National park. With me fighting our odd tire we pass through one dreary town after another whose names seem to be added to over the years to make them more lifeless. Or perhaps there is a hidden agenda to overthrow Newtownmountkennedy from the Guinness Book of records. Riversonderend, Buffeljagsriver, Heidelberg pass by. So far the Garden route raved by many as being one of the most beautiful drives on the continent is not up to scratch. We are fast learning that it takes some considerable time for the scenery to change.
We stop at Mossel Bay, take a wind-swept walk on a grey beach and move on to Knysna Lagoon the first spot of some beauty. Resisting a Boerewor for lunch (large sausage), we push on to Plettenberbaai or Plettenberg Bay. All along this coastline short rivers to small to qualify naming on our map drag the muster colour soil from the Outeniqua Mountains into the sea.
The next eighty kilometres begins to live up to its reputation passing through South Africa largest native forest we arrive at Storm River. Here with cormorants that I have not seen before, we witness in dramatic colours the bleeding of the land. The clawless otter and the right whale, not the wrong whale favour this section of coast but we see neither. Just up the road, we pull into Tsitsikamma Forest national park where the otter has a trail the whale and snorkelers an underwater trail. A Swiss-style chalet accommodation takes our fancy. We have arrived well off-season so the overnight rand rental against the dollar is a snip.
Superbly positioned on manicured green lawns the chalets come en suite with all towels, pillow covers, and napkins, blankets embroidered with the emblem of the park. The shower is more than welcome after the day’s struggle with keeping Williwaw on the straight and narrow. With full stomachs, not even the Indian Ocean can keep us awake. Long before the girls stir, I am on the otter trail all 100k of it in two hours. Not a hint of otter to be seen anywhere but Yellowwood, Stinkwood, Bastard Ironwood with intense, exquisite flashes of deep blue ocean mix the shadows and beams of sunlight. My two hours are a spell-bounding encounter with the Garden Route.
With Williwaw still acting like a drunken sailor we are once more in search of a true competitor for the Guinness book of records. Eersterivierstrand, Gamtoosriviermond, don’t make it. Humansdorp (Dorp meaning country town in South Africa) does, however, have a ring to it to be twinned with some suitable complimenting named city. Opting for a short day’s drive we stop at Jeffery’s Bay, Sea View house perched out on a sandy point of a beach that runs all the way over to Port Elizabeth is our target sand castles and a spot of founder fishing put the last touches to-day with all my toes intact. The art of spearing a founder before you are lifted off your feet by the incoming swell not to mention the shock of feeling it wriggle from under barefoot soul takes practice.
In the middle of nowhere with the sun at its apex, Williwaw still protesting about asphalt comes to a sudden halt. Sometimes I love her, other times I could take a sledgehammer and beat her to smithereens. After two days of battling her lee helm, I am in no mood for one of her characteristical qualities which are all blamed on me. With the girl’s reminding me that it I who attribute them to her in the first place a fuse is my first thought. No such luck. “The security system has cut off the fuel.” Any more bright ideas ladies! Bonnet up I might as well be looking over a field gate into the blue wonder. Not a thing I learned in my two-week car/engine/ change the oil course has a chance of reaching an electrode. Wiggle the battery and the like. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum my oil covered hand happens on a loose cable.
The accelerator cable has snapped or to be more precise a small split pin holding the cable to the accelerator has given up the ghost. I cannot believe that an off the road 4 wheel drive vehicle relies on such a tiny item. Let’s hope there is a spare in the box. Luck shines on us packed in its plastic bag is a spare cable pin and all.
We pass through Grahamstown arriving in East London where over the next few days we are turned into that strange couple that is endangering their daughter’s life in darkest Africa. To Florence’s delight, our friends live in a modern bungalow with the mandatory swimming pool. East London is a nondescript port town with an Aquarium was once named Port Rex after the illegitimate son of George Ш. We are introduced to friends of friends over braai (barbecue anywhere else in the world). Over the next few days our gnashers are biting into Kingklip (a fish) Bunny Chow (bread hollowed out and stuffed with curry) stakes with monkey gland sauce, and the trusty Boerwors. (Sausage) East London might be as dull as dishwater but we receive hospitality hard to forget.
Borrowing a hardtop flat caravan trailer and local knowledge we set off for a few days to the meeting of the three rivers. Williwaw blows a tyre giving us all a missed heartbeat followed by a half an hour of effing and cursing compliments of my good self. Our hand-drawn map and directions eventually lead us down a dirt trail with a steep gradient into a superb hidden cove. Apart from us, there is only one other visitor. Three fishermen, down from the Free State with a large deep-freeze. In the morning we learn that they spend each years holidays filling the deep freeze with kingfish, bass, rock cod, before returning to their dry farms. Steaks all year round with biltong as a staple diet might also give one the urge to fish non-stop. They fish from early morning to darkness, consuming enough beer for a piss every ten minutes.
We spend three wonderful days exploring our surroundings ultimately making the choice to give Swaziland and the Transvaal (Latin Trans meaning across and the river named Vaal) a miss. Rather than going up the Mozambique side where one is likely to lose a leg from landmines (It scoring ten pages of difficulties in the Bible) we opt for the Skeleton Coast.
After another round of east London social gathering, which sharpen my flirting abilities much to Fanny’s amusement we hightail it back to Cape Town. Apart from some wind-swept beach walks, oysters, dragging a stranded car out of a river and a meeting with a wooden Boar owned Land Rover (1960th model rebuild in wood.) we arrive back in Bunkers.
Over the next week, I sort out Williwaw sobering her up with new treads. Her carnet (proof of import and export document is out of date) valid for a year is in need of renewal. The South African AA turns out to be worthless so with a little doctoring I extend the validity for another year. Her larder is restocked, and Fox security system renewed compliments of its guarantee. We take in the Michael Collins movie, which I happened to be an extra in before leaving Ireland. Neither the girls nor I spotted me so the Oscar will have to wait. Seeing the movie left us with weird feelings of unfinished business. Bunkers backpackers provide a gossip shop of fellow wanderers. Some raw prawns like one Irish Looney that stands out with a bike. He is going to cycle to “Say that again Sam.” He arrives back with sunstroke a sore ass, and fear of wide-open places. Others, who opinions varied so widely they might have been talking about different subjects, would do well to take a leaf from Jonathan Seagull when advised by Chiang, “You must begin by knowing that you have already arrived”
The girls are reluctant to leave the civilized trappings. As usual, Fanny and I get our knickers in a knot as to which is the best route out of Cape Town. It is an observable fact that I have a short fuse relying on a sense of direction (navigation by dead reckoning) when it comes to motorways, bypasses, traffic lights, roundabouts, and the like. Sulks over, I being the lemon, we head for the land of Oranges and Citrus fruits. A three-hour drive brings us to Citrusdal, and on to Clanwilliam.
Here we pick up brochure advertising a camping spot on the Krom River, which borders the Cederberg Range. The Cederberg is the Western Capes wilderness covering seventy-one thousands hectares of Quartz and sandstone rocks and Bushman’s Art. A 57km gravel drive brings us to the gates of our first pitch since leaving Ghana. Pitch no 64. We have arrived at a place called Algeria situated on the western side of Pakhuis Pass. Algeria how are you. Just goes to show where one can end up with dead reckoning.
Our first problem is getting a spot on the camping site. Although several sites are obviously visible from the gates are not occupied we are informed that they are full. The gaffer turns up, and in no time the ramp is lifted. Morning reveals a stunning setting of a landscape. We have indeed found a gem of a campsite to explore the area. Famous for its sandstone formations I pick the Maltese cross a massive rock begging a Michelangelo. After a false start, I eventually find a small sign pointing up a shale track to the start of the hike to the cross. Top TIP: Apart from the common sense things such as a cap, water, lip salve, decent shoes, sun block, tell someone where and when you are going.
Following a small stream. It’s banks peppered with wild orchards we climb up to a high of 1700 meters. Emerging onto the flat Fanny has had it. She and Flo’s head back. Continuing on, the first thing I notice is that the balancing monk of Tibet has been here. Small mounds of rocks like spoor to the trained eye mark the way to their shrine the Maltese cross. The cross appears and I have to admit it is an impressive piece of Cederberg art. Back at base, we decide to move up-country to the Wolfberg cracks.
Pitch no 65 is a farm overlooked by a large cliff with four deep cracks. “On the top, it’s like walking on the moon,” we are told. Watched from a long way off by a large population of rock bunnies or to give them their proper name Hyraxes we arrive at the foot of the first crack. (It is hard to come to term according to genes that these little buggers are related more to the horse, Manatee or elephant) Our way up is blocked by a large rock fall. We watch a man coaxing a four to five-year-old along a ledge on one of the other cracks. Two teenagers looking more than anxious are following them. They convince us that crack three is the quick way to the moon and blue yonder. Crack two and four are for the Hyraxes. High up on our rock fall a small mound of stones is a sure giveaway sign that the balancing monks pass this way. With some hoofing and pushing, we scramble over the rocks into the gut. One hour later we are emerging out onto a rock plateau.
A wander around confirms that the monks have been at it in every direction. Not willing to follow any given trail we lunch, descend, and nurse our shock absorbers over a whisky or two.
We sleep late. Florence has teamed up with two kids her own age. We are free to go on an archaeology sniff around with two keen UK geomorphologies. After a wonderful day of red sandstone caves in all shapes and sizes each sculptured by thousands of years of erosion we move on to Vredendal (Vale of Peace) on the Oilfants river valley gateway to Namaqualand.
After a drive of some considerable beauty, we arrive in the middle of Vredendal. About 25 kilometres from the Atlantic coast with its cold Benguella current giving the region a very low rainfall. It is only a very large irrigation scheme that allows viticulture. Canals covering a distance of 261 kilometres deliver water to over 600 farms. It is the Cape Garden of Eden producing watermelons, spanspek (muskmelon) summer fruits, and vegetables, flowers. The wine harvest is in full swing with lines of tractors waiting their turn to have their golden loads crushed in the local Co-op. It’s not long before our lips are dipping into, Grand Cru, Ruby Cabernet, Merlot, Colombar, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Sweet dreams come early in a local pad.
Still half asleep we slip out of the vale of peace on our last day in South Africa. Leaving the Western Cape we head for Springbok in the Northern Cape. A long easy drive gives us time to reflect on our stay.
There is no arguing that Europeans have given Africa its written history and that South Africa contribution to its future history lies unknown. Its own path will in our opinion be shaped by land and by the sharing of its wealth for little has changed in the conduct and mentality of men. There is no getting away from the feeling that Africans snatches from the present while the land takes them back to familiarity to something that has always been there. Our last Pitch no 66 is behind razor wire. Early morning we check out at Vioolsdrif without a hitch.
(To be continued)
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