Sunday, February 27, 2005

Pretoria, 27 February 2005

The Andersons (Rex, Rosemary, Storm and Sarah) are still in Cape Town for the long weekend, and John has been in Pretoria with his school Cricket team playing a 3-day something (match, test, tournament, meet, wicket, who knows what its called). So yesterday I drove up to Pretoria to pick him up. I had never been to Pretoria, so used the excuse as a day to be a tourist there. Andrew, one of the managers here, went with me, since he knows Pretoria pretty well, and would know where to take me, to maximize my time there. Pretoria is just north of Johannesburg, and in fact the 2 cities somewhat run into each other and its not real clear where one starts and the other ends. It took us about an hour and15 minutes to drive there. Pretoria is the capital of South Africa, and where their Parliament meets for 6 months out of the year (the other 6 months, they meet in Cape Town, which is odd to me, as it means duplicate office space, homes, etc. for everyone involved with Parliament).

Our first stop was the Voortrekker Monument. The Voortrekkers were the Dutch people who had settled at the Cape 300 or 400 years ago, but in the early 1800s, made the long trek into the interior of South Africa, where they settled as farmers (boers) and established their own governments and became the Afrikaner people that they now are. They made their trek in covered wagons much like settlers of the west in America did. And they fought and killed black tribes along the way, much like we did the American Indians. On Dec. 16, 1838, the Voortrekkers defeated the Zulu Tribe in a bloody battle, and made a vow with God that day, known as the Voortrekker Vow. They thanked God for delivering their enemies to them, and for the victory in battle, which made this land theirs (according to God). It all strikes me as just another case of humans believing God has given them the right to prejudice and kill in His name. Dont get me started.

The Voortrekker Monument is a tall tower, and in the very bottom (the basement actually) sits an empty grave (a cenotaph), symbolic of the men and women who lost their lives in the quest to settle the land. The grave is marked with Ons Vir Jou Suid Afrika (We for Thee, South Africa). At the very top of the tower, there is a small hole in the ceiling where on Dec. 16th every year, at noon, the sun shines down onto the empty grave. I have mentioned this before in the Blog, but December 16th, the day of their bloody victory over the Zulus, has always been the independence day for the Afrikaner people, their 4th of July. When Apartheid fell and the new government was elected in 1994, Nelson Mandelas new government felt strongly that they did not want to chase the white people out of South Africa, but that this country is big enough for all to live together and get along. So Dec. 16th was renamed as the Day of Reconciliation, and is in theory a day when they reflect on the message that this land belongs to them all.

Some pictures from my visit to the Voortrekker Monument:

We then headed into the heart of Pretoria, to an area near Pretoria University, where we hit a flea market and had some lunch. The area had a very college feel to it, with plenty of young people (black and white) out and about. After lunch, we went to the Parliament building, known as Union Building and walked around the gardens a little:

After that, it was time to go pick up John. We had a map and directions to the school where he was playing, and found it pretty easily. This was my first chance to see live Cricket at all, much less John playing live Cricket. Im still very fuzzy on the rules, but I can follow it. And yes, I still find it pretty boring. Fortunately we got there about 20 minutes before the end of Johns game, so I got to see just enough Cricket, and I got to see John make a huge play, a run out! I had no idea what had happened, and still dont really know what a run out is, but everyone around me seemed most excited that he had done that, so I was glad I got to see it!

I liked Pretoria a lot and wouldnt mind spending more time there. Johannesburg has always struck me as just a huge city, although it has its areas with character. Pretoria had much more of a small city feel to it, which I liked.

We packed up Johns things in the car and headed back to Stonehaven. It has been a relatively quiet weekend here, with minor crises. There was a fight in the bar on Saturday night/Sunday morning at 2am. Only one punch was thrown, but the punch thrower had a glass in his hand, so there was lots of blood. The punchee has actually ended up losing his eye, and the puncher had to have stitches in his hand. Ah, those drunk Afrikaners, theyre a barrel of laughs! The police have already been here to view our new security camera system, which caught the whole thing. Amazing to me that people can be so mean, aggressive and violent. Totally foreign to me.

I went to a braai (cookout) on Saturday night at the house of one of the managers here. Delicious lamb and boerwors on the braai; Im going to miss things like that. We sat around late into the night having after-braai liquers too. I have noticed here that all houses here (OK, Im exaggerating, but almost all houses) always have 3 things. They have a pool, they have a braai area (often thatch roof-covered) and they have servants quarters as a separate, small building. Once again, as we sat around drinking, the conversation turned to crime everyone has experienced. Knock on wood I have still not encountered it first hand, but its always surprising to sit around with people here and hear the personal crime stories start. Our hosts that night had actually come home from work one day to find their long-time maid (who was 2 months from retiring) tied up dead in the bathroom, and the house ransacked. As I have said before, there is racism in these people, and I think racism is a human condition to a point. These people feel as they do towards the blacks because the blacks are the ones who commit the crimes, which they have all encountered. It made for interesting discussions.

There was actually a car-jacking last week involving a Stonehaven vehicle. Our oldest bakkie (truck) is often used for running errands during the day. 2 of our waitron staff had gone to run some errands, stopped at a red light (robot) and 2 black men jumped into the bakkie and pulled guns. They were made to drive to an ATM and withdraw money, and then they had to drive to a nearby township where the guys jumped out and left them (I think the old bakkie is in such bad shape, the criminals dont even want it!). They both lost their cell phones (cell phones are BIG theft targets here) and about R1700.00, and they were scared to death when they returned to Stonehaven (The guys are only 19). In describing the details of their car jacking, they used the K word a lot (kaffir). But who could blame them, I think.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Midterm Break weekend, 24 February 2005

The kids get a long weekend from school (midterm break) this weekend, so the Andersons have gone away, but Im staying to tend the nest at Stonehaven. Rex and Rosemary had some free air tickets to use up before they expired, so theyre going to Cape Town for the weekend, and took Storm and Sarah-Pat. (John has a 3-day Cricket match in Pretoria with his school team, so he will be there for that.) They will be staying 2 nights in Cape Town, and 2 nights in Langebaan, where Rex and I went to see that boat last month. It should be a nice get-away for them. Honestly, when theyre here, Stonehaven drains them almost 24 hours a day, so the only way they can get away from it is to go away on trips like this. The managers here are all very capable and can run the place just fine, though Im sure there will be a crisis or 2 along the way. There are daily tasks that Rosemary takes care of (printing menus for functions, personalized cards for birthday parties, special occasions in the Pub, and things like that), so I will be taking care of all that, and helping out when the crises come along! (They have only been gone 2 hours at this point and we have already had a power outage and the music in the Pub wont play. Great.)

Rosemary and I had a hot date last night to a jacket and tie affair held at a local hotel to kick off a promotional DVD just being released to promote the local area (known as the Vaal Triangle) as a tourist and business destination.

Isnt she beautiful? Yes, my shirt, tie and jacket were all borrowed, as I didnt bring any of that with me from home. Eeeew. Ugh. Rex was conveniently busy with a Rotary meeting last night, which is why I went along as Rosemarys escort. The promotional DVD was nice, and shows off the area well. I will try to bring home a copy if anyone wants to see it. The Vaal Triangle has long been known as a very industrial area, and was very smelly from pollution until a few years ago. Now however, there is no smell, the industries have cleaned their act up, and the area has some incredible homes, hotels and guesthouses on the river. It is sort of an unknown secret how great it is around here now.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Diggin the Dancing Queen, 20 February 2005

Yep, we went to see Mamma Mia! last night in Johannesburg. If you have never seen this show and ever get the chance, you owe it to yourself to see it. Its the musical that is based on 20 ABBA songs from the 70s and 80s. I dont know anyone who was an ABBA fan, but I also dont know anyone who has seen this show that doesnt have a wonderful night seeing it. When I saw it was coming to Jo-burg (advertised last November), I immediately went online and got us tickets. I wanted the Andersons to see it and I wanted to expose John and Storm to some culture (Storm wore make-up to it!). I think they all had the idea that it would be a fun show, but We-re not ABBA fans. But I think they were all blown away by the show and how good it was. We all had a fun, fun evening. It was nice to see some of Johannesburg that I hadnt seen, as the show was running in Sandton, kind of the Buckhead of Jo-burg. (In South Africa, a Jewish Princess is known as a Kugel, so Sandton is called the Kugel National Park, a word play on the Krueger National Park. We saw lots of Kugels on our trip to the theatre! We did not pet or feed any of them though.)

Today is a Seattle-rainy Sunday, so Ill catch up on some Blog posting while Kali snoozes on my bed. Rainy days like this are unusual here, and its too bad it falls on a Sunday, since the throngs that usually come for Sunday brunch will no doubt stay home today. But the day started for me when I got up at 5:30am to help man the Royal Stonehaven out on the river. There was a triathlon / Half Iron Man in the river this morning, and they were using the Royal as a turn around point in the swim, so we anchored out in the river and sat and watched the swimmers. We took Guinness out with us, and he got overly excited at all the people in the water. We were really holding him back from going in the water at some points. Im not sure if he wanted to save the swimmers or be one of them. Some pictures: (at first, Guinness had no clue why we were out there on the river at that ungodly hour)

On that last one, Guinness wasnt yawning, he was howling. The swimmers seemed to think he was just cheering them on, which maybe he was.

Last weekend we had a Mongolian Braai down at Shag Pad. A braai is a cookout, and Mongolian means its basically a stir-fry type braai, where everyone brings a meat, some veggies, and some delicious sauces and on the cooker they all go:

Then you just walk around with your plate and take some from whichever pile looks tasty (they all did). It was delicious! I always enjoy seeing the Shag Pad gang (its made up of 10 couples and their kids, parents, and dogs). Here is a picture of me and Cheryl, who might look familiar from the Botswana pictures from last August:

Earlier in the weekend, I went to play Squash with Rex, John and Storm:

I may look like I know what Im doing there, but I didnt. My tennis skills didnt help me much in Squash. I hit the ball well, but those corners and angles and side walls and and that damn back wall… ugh! I managed to beat Storm, but not by a lot. It was a lot of fun though.

Storm went for a late afternoon swim in the river last week and tried to get Guinness in there, but he wasnt going. And yes, Storm dove in in her school uniform. Kids.

Some customers flew in by helicopter for lunch one day last week and landed on the Stonehaven helipad:

No, that doesnt happen often, and it had all been prearranged (it was someones birthday, I think) and we had given them the coordinates here so they could find us when flying down from Jo-burg.

One afternoon last week, 4 kids and 5 dogs invaded my room and we had a little impromptu party:

My room is upstairs and next door to the cottage (above the Wine Cellar, a function room that is rented out for parties of 24 people and below) and the kids and dogs sometimes forget that my room is up there (except Kali of course, who is a regular). But now and then they all converge on me. This was one of those times. A good time was had by all, then they all went back downstairs and continued their days.

I dont think I have ever posted the Stonehaven diagram before, but it might give you folks back home a better idea of the layout here (since you have seen so many photos of it):

(The cottage where the Andersons live is pretty much upper right corner where the Stonehaven logo is)

We found a mouse in the living room in the cottage last week one night. OK, it was more like a rat. The 7 cats that we have were nowhere to be found, and when we finally located 2 cats, they couldnt be bothered. Mr. Cat was interested for a minute, when he actually saw the rodent, but lost interest and gave up when it ran behind a filing cabinet and became too much trouble to chase. Plus I dont think he liked the pressure of all of us standing there looking at him expectedly. Sheesh, those cats are really falling down in their jobs. The rat got away, as far as we know and could still be lurking here somewhere.

Last week we also had a big meeting with the South African Department of Labour (DOL) (speaking of rats) when they came to Stonehaven for an inspection. The government of this country is big on passing laws and then doing spot checks to make sure theyre being followed, even before the laws are known or understood. (They passed a new law in November that no one under 21 may serve liquor. Of course, you can drink liquor at 18, but you cant serve it till you are 21 according to the new law.) So we went through an emergency re-writing of our employee contracts last week, to get them signed, and be official for the DOL people, plus we had to produce all sorts of other paperwork for them. We actually came through with flying colours, which is a good feeling, since we expected them to find something they could nail us on. I think I have written here before about the governments classification of some people as PDIs (Previously Disadvantaged Individuals), i.e. those that were kept down by Apartheid. Businesses are obligated to employ a certain number of PDIs, and not just in menial labour jobs, but also management and skilled positions. Its the right idea, to help undo what Apartheid did, but honestly, its a pain sometimes. I hear stories of big corporations that are forced to, for instance, have a black CEO, even though the people put in the job are completely unqualified and become lazy and sit back and collect a check, knowing the company cant touch them because they are a PDI. Like I said, its the right idea to overcome the Apartheid years, but lordy to people take advantage.

The local police are just as bad about spot checks and they often are just hoping for a bribe offer. We had a police officer a few weeks ago who got bad service from a waiter one day, so told management he was going to cause trouble for us. He showed up at 9:30am the next Sunday morning and ordered (and got) a beer from the bar, and promptly informed us that we cant serve liquor before 10am, and nailed us with a fine (plus was a jerk about it). Dont they have better things to do with their time? Its not like the crime rate in this country is anywhere near acceptable. It just seems like its always something lately, with the government or police looking for reasons to fine us (or hoping for a bribe offer instead). Even when you are trying to run a clean business, and help PDIs in anyway you can, it gets exhausting having to do so much extra work when someone from the government shows up on a busy day demanding to inspect something.

We went for a boat ride one afternoon last week. Rex, John and Storm all had a ski. I enjoy sitting in the boat too much to bother with the skiing part. We took Sarah and Sisipho:

As you can see, getting Sarah-Pat to smile is a challenge. Sometimes we do, sometimes we dont.

And a couple of pictures from my window last week, showing Stonehaven at full summer bloom:
Did you know that South African teenagers cant get their drivers licence until theyre 18? They can get a learners permit at 17. They are just amazed here that back home, my 15-year-old niece is driving a car.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Big Brother is watching! 18 February 2005

We have got a new toy at Stonehaven, installed last week; security cameras throughout the property. We are all a little obsessed with it right now. It was done for a couple of reasons: to help stop or control employee theft, as well as record customers doing things they shouldnt do (and they do plenty they shouldnt do, from leaning over the bar to starting fights, to selling drugs). So last week, a security company came in and installed 1,435,898 new cameras around the property (Im just saying that in case any Stonehaven employees read this, we want them to think cameras are everywhere, which they are.). The monitor where everything can be viewed from, we decided to put in the cottage, in the living room, which is where Rosemary and Rex and I work from anyway.

Well, the first weekend it was installed, we didnt watch any TV and we hardly left the cottage. We just sat and watched things on the monitor, like a bartender standing around with his hand in the ice bin (we have no idea why) and a kitchen staff-person leaning on the counters for 14 minutes 34 seconds straight (we watched in fast motion, while everyone else zipped around her, and she was just this blob in the middle of the screen). We also learned to go back in history to view things, so when a manager told us about a Harleys Angel biker falling off his motorcycle at 10:45pm Friday night in the parking lot (he was trying to pop a wheelie), we practiced our sleuthing by going back to find the video of the incident. Its pretty funny and belongs on the Internet, but we would probably be breaking all sorts of laws doing that. Also, Jenny our Functions Coordinator flashed one of the cameras in the kitchen, just for the hell of it. We missed the live shot, but promptly found that clip when she told us she had done it. Also Internet material. (We only have one camera that is in a semi-private location where I am hoping we can catch someone doing their own porn movie at some point.) Storm and Sarah went and preformed a dance for us in front of one of the cameras and we went back and played that, again to practice our researching techniques. See, we are kind of obsessed. We-re hoping this gets better.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

R.I.P. Judge Roy Beans, 17 February, 2005

We are even mourning here in the Southern Hemisphere. The emails have been pouring in here, including links to newspaper articles and pictures of the disaster. (It is truly a small world, isnt it?) Judge Roy Beans bar in Daphne burned down this week. Fortunately, we hear the goat and the macaw survived unscathed. Judges was an institution. I have a picture of me and some college friends (who are still my closest friends) in front of the sign there from the late 70s. I saw Jimmy Buffet there once. Here at Stonehaven, there is a picture hanging of Rosemary and the goat, from 1993. In fact, spending time at Judges and at the FloraBama gave Rex and Rosemary ideas to start the Pub at Stonehaven, which led to it being the business it is today. We have seen pictures of what Hurricane Ivan did to the FloraBama. Now Judges. We here in South Africa feel your pain back home. It MUST be rebuilt.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Back at my home away from home, 11 February 2005

I have been about a week behind on the Blog postings lately, in case you havent noticed. Everything I wrote about the trip to Cape Town and back happened last week, and I have been safe in the arms of Stonehaven for a few days now.

I got to see the Super Bowl live Sunday night / Monday morning. It started about 1:30am here, so I basically moved from my bed to the couch and watched most of it and snoozed some too. We got an international broadcast here, it seems. Former Dallas Cowboy Darryl (Moose) Johnson was one of the broadcasters for us, but they would now and then refer to the game as American Football, and once, they compared something to a scrum in rugby. Plus, they would show graphics for NFL development programs all over the world, like websites for NFL China! Who knew? So I got the feeling I wasnt watching the same broadcast that Americans back home were watching. Oh, and no commercials here, dammit! They would announce they were going to commercial break, but the video would stay on the cameras in the stadium the whole time, so we got to see fan shots, Jacksonville skyline shots, and things like that. So I missed all the big commercials of the year.

On Tuesday we had our own little Mardi Gras party with me, Storm, Sarah-Pat and Sisipho. We caught lots of beads (without having to show anything!):

Also, I never got around to writing about this, but back in January, before I left for Cape Town, the Vaal River Police Unit came to Stonehaven for a day to dive in the river in front of Stonehaven. They used the day to practice their techniques and certify new guys (yes, for things like looking for bodies in dark water, etc.) and also to clean out the riverfront for us. They do this periodically, and often find items like bicycles and TVs down there, but this year only found a lot of glasses from the Pub, some beer and Coke bottles, and a womans shoe (Im sure there is a great story there that we-ll never know). Here are some pictures from that day:

Kali was most interested in the proceedings all day:

Also, some other recent pictures.
The kitchen on a busy day:

Miriam (Sarahs nanny) dressed up to go out:

And Kali and Guinness playing one of their favorite games on the front lawn:

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Hogsback to Stonehaven, 5 February 2005

I woke up the next morning after my peaceful sleep, and opened the backdoor to my little cottage to this view:

As you can see, I was in the woods, and the storm clouds from the previous night were still hanging around. The place where I was staying was called The Edge because it sits on the edge of a huge cliff that drops off the mountain into a ravine below (the edge of the cliff being just beyond what you can see in those pictures). Well, thats what they told me anyway. However I walked right to the edge to look down and could see nothing but cloud. It was like when I was on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town. Just grey and wet as far as I could see. I had a delicious breakfast in the main lodge, then went for a walk through the forests around the guesthouse. More grey and wet. They had a beautiful garden area called the Labyrinth, also set out on the edge of the cliff, but again, the damp weather dampened my experience:

I took a drive into downtown Hogsback and this was all I could see:

I am sure it is a beautiful place, but I just wasnt having good weather luck here. No matter where I drove or walked in the woods, it pretty much all looked the same, for the few meters in front of me that I was able to see. So I made my departure from Hogsback.

I asked for directions out, because I had come in from the south but wanted to leave towards the north. But the maps I had showed northerly roads all as secondary roads. Secondary roads sometimes have a pretty broad interpretation here. It could have been a path through and ostrich field. The girl at breakfast who gave me directions asked what car I was driving, and when I told her a Land Rover, she said I would be fine on those roads to the north. So off I went. It was a spectacular drive, almost 2 hours before I hit a tar road. I think I went about an hour without seeing another person or vehicle. Some parts were muddy and tricky to get through, all of it was rocky and bumpy, but what a blast! Here are some landscape pictures from that part of the drive:

(I know, I know, the glasses need to go. But they were cheap and functional)

I eventually did hit tar roads and headed northward through Queenstown, toward Bloemfontein and then up towards Johannesburg (see the map). I had brochures for things along the way, but there really was nothing between me and Stonehaven that I felt I needed to see or do, so mostly I kept driving. More landscape pictures are below, so you can see how the landscape went from rolling mountains back to the flat Kansas-like terrain nearer Johannesburg.

The main roads in South Africa are very good for the most part, and drivers are very polite. The cross-country roadways I took were 4-lane around the cities (i.e. 2 lanes in each direction), but out in the in-between countryside, they were mostly 2-lanes with very wide and smooth shoulders. It is customary that if a car wants to overtake (pass) you, you pull over onto the shoulder to help give them room to go by. After they overtake you, they wave and/or flash their hazard lights at you, as a gesture of thanks. In the same way, if a car coming towards you is overtaking a car that is over on the shoulder, you also go to your shoulder to make sure they have room to pass. And they would normally wave thanks to you. There was a lot of waving and flashing going on out there!

I am pretty much completely comfortable with driving on the left (knock on wood), even around crowded Cape Town city streets where Im not sure where Im going. I do still have a little difficulty getting into tight parking spaces (and parallel parking) because all the angles are backwards from what Im used to. But in most parking lots here, they have these wonderful little men called Car Guards, who do things like point you to empty parking spaces (so you dont have to ride around looking for one), help direct you into the parking space, watch your car while youre gone, and then direct you out of the parking space (like those men who direct 747s). You normally tip them anywhere from R2 to R5, and its once again an example of cheap labour and jobs being made out of nothing in this country. Im going to miss Car Guards when I get home. Im also going to miss gas station attendants. Here, just like our old days, they pump our gas and clean our windshields for us. No such thing as self-serve at the gas (petrol) station!

It was an all-day drive, but I arrived back to Stonehaven Friday evening. I had driven 3,950 kilometres in over a week, and I lost track of the hours, but I had definitely seen a lot of South Africa along the way.

Kali seemed beside herself to see me, as she had been looking for me everywhere:
And I was glad to see everyone that I had been away from for over a week. How am I going to leave this place in a couple of months?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Hogsback and wood faeries, 4 February 2005

My first stop out of Knysna that morning was Monkeyland! Here, one could take a hike and walk freely (with a tour guide of course) through a small jungle where the monkies lived freely, and we even walked over a suspension bridge where the little guys were playing (and didnt want to get out of our way).

We were visitors in their world and they mostly just looked at us as much as we looked at them. Very worthwhile stop for me. Most of my drive that morning was through the Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve.

I stopped for lunch and did a short nature walk down a cliff into a ravine, and stretched my legs. My destination for that night was unclear, but I wanted to make Port Elizabeth and then decide. Check the map if you need to. I got to PE about 4pm. Port Elizabeth is a beautiful seaside city, but seemed a little too commercial for my tastes. I went to the local beachfront, and to the information centre to gather yet more brochures and maps, but PE wasnt grabbing me enough to make me want to stay the night. So I had options to explore.
Now the place I really had in the back of my mind to stay that night was called Hogsback, and is a small remote village in the mountains inland of East London (near Bisho on the map). But it was a little further drive from PE than I had thought (another 3 hours), so I needed to look at other options. There was a nature reserve with wild animals near PE, so I called a couple of guest houses near there and they were over R1000 (divide by 6ish for dollars) a night, which was more than twice what I had been paying up till now. And Ive seen wild animals. So I ended up gathering some guesthouse brochures from PE and continued to drive east. I called a couple of the guesthouses along the way, and they were full. They suggested alternatives for me, which I had already passed, but I decided to continue forward. I called Hogsback and I was still quite a way from them, but yes they had room that night for me if I made it that far. I got to a point in my journey where there just wasnt much between me and Hogsback, so I was sort of committed, yet still unsure of where I was going or how long it would take, and it was getting dark and there were storm clouds on the horizon. Still, on I trudged. The area was not very populated, and got less so the further I went. The roads were narrow. I had long since left the seaside route I had been on and was now heading into them thar hills along a winding mountain road. I got a beautiful lightening show up ahead of me, which probably would have been a lot more beautiful if I hadnt known I was driving straight into it. The rains soon came in buckets. The thunder and lightening were all around me. Still I trudged up the mountain road. Abruptly, the tar road ended and I was now on a dirt (mud) gravel road. Forget Shirley Valentine, I was having a Rocky Horror Picture Show moment. But the Land Rover can handle dirt and rocks and mud, so I had complete confidence, and finally, I arrived in Hogsback. The woods there are said to be inhabited by wood faeries, and JR Tolkein is said to have spent time there and was inspired by the forests to write his Lord of the Rings books. It probably was beautiful, but it was dark and rainy and I couldnt see a damn thing except now and then a sign pointing off to a guesthouse. I was truly in the deepest darkest forest Ive been into in a long time. The guesthouse I was looking for was called The Edge, and I saw no signs for it. So I came to a hotel with 2 lights on, and stopped there for directions. The hotel had a small restaurant and bar and was warm and dry. I ordered some dinner to go, since it was after 8pm by now, pitch dark and I knew The Edge didnt have dinner waiting for me. The bartender lady took my order and I sat there to wait for it and chatted with her a little. Once again, life is just weird sometimes. I started realizing that the bartender was no lady. Well, she might be a lady now, but the more I looked, the more certain I was that either she was a man or she had been a man at some point in her life. One especially bright zap of lightening gave me better light to see her by. She wore a high collared jersey (sweater), no doubt to hide the Adams apple. Not that theres anything wrong with what she was or had been, its just that Im out in the middle of freaking Nowhere, South Africa, and a transvestite/transsexual bartender was just not on the list of things I expected to encounter that evening in this neck of the woods (literally, woods!). I really WAS having a Rocky Horror Picture Show moment! (Or maybe an Alfred Hitchcock Psycho moment!) Hell, maybe she was a wood faerie! But she was real friendly and told me how to find The Edge, which was basically to keep driving through the forest until I saw the sign for it, then follow the signs. So thats what I did. I finally did come to a sign and followed it down a road even smaller and muddier than the one I was on. Then it forked off into a smaller road. Then it forked off into a smaller road. And again. And again. Where the hell was I going? At long last I saw a light up ahead and there it was, The Edge. Quaint from what I could see, which wasnt much. A small black girl was sitting in the office there, and though she didnt speak much English, she was expecting me and gave me a key and a map where I could go down yet another small dirt/mud road into the woods, to my cabin. So off I went yet again. At last, my headlights caught the sign to my cabin, named the Kudu. Honestly when I opened the door and saw the place, it was all worth it. I loved my little thatch-roofed hut in the woods! Very rustic, but very clean, and I felt like I was truly part of the landscape. The rain had let up a little, but a brilliant lightening and thunderstorm still continued as I unpacked and bolted myself into my little cabin. A fire had been laid in the fireplace, and though it really wasnt cold, it did feel a little cool and damp, so I lit the fire and kicked back with a big ole glass of wine and ate my dinner that my transsexual/transvestite/wood faerie had organized for me. Aaaaah. What a beautiful setting. What a great life. Its funny how the setting I was in tonight was so totally opposite from the seaside setting I had been in the night before in Knysna. But that was a goal of this trip from the start, to see different parts of South Africa. I felt like I was doing that for sure! I fell asleep looking at the dying embers in the fireplace and listening to the rain and thunder. Talk about peaceful!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

On to Knysna, 3 February, 2005

As you will see on the map, I headed northeast from the southern point to Swellendam, where I picked up the N2 roadway, which goes along the coast. A portion of this road going through George to Port Elizabeth is called the Garden Route. As I travelled this stretch of road, I should say that I had in mind a destination for the night, but I also tried to be flexible and stop along the way to see sights, do walks, and generally not be in a hurry to get through one of the most beautiful drives in the country. I did stop that day at an Aloe factory for some coffee, and to watch a guy bungee jump off a bridge, which I had never seen happen before:

I contemplated doing it myself, but after a brief nano-second, regained my senses and drove on.

More scenery from the drive:

I kept the radio going usually on talk radio, as I drove, or sometimes music instead. Now and then I would listen to the news in Afrikaans, or talk radio in Afrikaans, just to see if I could figure out what they were talking about. If I heard the words Michael Jackson, I changed the station.

So as I drove, I usually had a general idea of where I wanted to end up for the night, but always tried to stay open to change, if I drove through a town that looked nice, or if my chosen destination turned out to be further than I thought, etc. Late afternoon, I would sometimes stop somewhere for coffee and browse through my mass of brochures and maps that I was accumulating (and sometimes ask the waitron for input), and call ahead for a room somewhere. Knysna (see the map again if you need to) seemed like a central place to end up, with a lot of good tourist destinations in that area, plus it is a town I had heard only good things about from people I talked to before and during my trip. I had picked up a brochure in Cape Town for a Knysna Bed and Breakfast that looked too good to pass up, called Frankly Oscar.

2 hairdressers named Frank and Oscar run it. I called ahead and booked a room there, and when I arrived, as I would expect, it was faaaaabulous. The motif is Art Décor, and their 3 corgi dogs (same breed the Queen Mother always kept, God rest her soul) were there to greet me at the gate. Frank and Oscar go off to their hair salon in the day, and leave their innkeeper, Maggie, to run the place. Maggie took very very good care of all of us guests, fixed us incredible breakfasts, and was always there if we needed anything. And she was a dingbat. It was rumoured she dipped into the bottle when no one was looking. Bless her heart. Other guests had arrived there the same day I did, and we had a veritable United Nations put together. There were Colin and Rolf from London (our newest readers to the Blog, everyone wave hello to them.), Hans from Amsterdam, and a couple from Norway (I had trouble pronouncing and remembering their names, so my apologies for not listing them here). I ended up staying in Knysna for 2 nights, because it was nice to have a small group to hang out with for a while. I even had a couple of moments when I found myself explaining something South African to them, and I would stop and catch myself and realize Im usually the one having things explained to me. I felt almost like a native.

There were plenty of things to do in the area. Knysna seems to be the oyster capital of South Africa. Every restaurant in the country that serves oysters, gets them from Knysna. Stonehaven even has Knysna Oysters shipped in fresh as a special sometimes. Im not sure if they have a rule opposite ours about never eating an oyster in a month with an R in it, but theyre very seasonal here too. There was a small lagoon out in front of the guesthouse that was totally empty at low tide, then full at high tide. The main Knysna lagoon is guarded by these huge rock formations called the Heads.

There are 10 places in the world that Lloyds of London will not insure a ship that travels through, and the Knysna Heads is one of them.

Not far away from Knysna is Plettenberg Bay, with massive sandy beaches.

I also found a great little Internet Café in Knysna that I would hit every day to check email, update the Blog, read papers from home, and meet the locals, including their dog Jethro who was always there to put his head in my lap as I typed. I should mention that I was constantly amazed at Internet Cafes along my trip. Maybe it was being in the touristy areas that make them marketable, Im not sure. There were 4 in Knysna alone that I saw. There was even one at Cape Agulhas at the southern point of Africa. In that small little town at the end of the continent, right there between the grocery store and the wine store, was an Internet Café. Most of the ones I visited on my trip were able to hook up my laptop to the net. Prices ranged from R15 an hour to R50 an hour (divide by 6ish for US dollars). And the people I saw in them were not just techno-geek-nerds, they were often people my age and older, dashing in to check their email from home or take care of a banking transaction, before they headed off to the tourist attractions in town. It was also useful to look at a web site from a town further along my route, and check out accommodations available there.

So after 2 nights in wonderful Knysna, I got up Thursday morning, said goodbyes to my fellow United Nations members (they were all heading west towards Cape Town) and hit the road once again, heading east towards Port Elizabeth. And yes, I fully realized how damned lucky I am to be able to do a trip like this!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Southern Tip of Africa, 1 February 2005

Even though the small town where I stayed was near the southernmost point, I was still about 30 minutes away, so bright and early the next morning I set off to that point. I was on a mission. Down dirt and gravel roads (taking a short cut I saw on the map), I reached Cape Agulhas to see yet another small fishing village with signs pointing me to the southernmost point. This is truly the point that it has been decided by governing bodies, where the currents of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. So for this moment in time, I was the southernmost person on the continent of Africa:

One of lifes surreal moments: As I drove down to that southernmost point to pose for my picture, I had a talk radio station on the radio that I was picking up from Cape Town (I do love my talk radio!). So there I am, on this desolate point of beach, at the end of the world, with nothing but air and water between me and Antarctica. What do you think the topic of discussion was that morning, as I arrived at that point furthest south on the continent? The Michael Jackson trial. Ugh. It just didnt seem right.

So my moment as the southernmost person well documented, I jumped back in the Land Rover and headed north and east, to continue my drive along the coast.