South Africa, Cape Town to Knysna
South Africa letter 1
We left home on the 4:30 pm ferry on Monday and arrived in South Africa Wednesday morning at seven in the morning. Quite shagged. We had three hours stopover in London Heathrow and just had time to have a nice breakfast for getting back on the next plane to South Africa. We would have preferred to break our journey but had been unable to get the ticket so just had to slog through in one go. We checked into our Cape Town hotel but of course it was still full of guests. We were just are able to have a quick wash in the bathroom, get changed and leave our bags and then we had to head out for the day because the room wasn’t ready. This often happens and when you’re jet lagged it’s quite a drag. Of course we could just collapse in the lounge but it’s best to make an effort, get your shoes on and try to enjoy something with the whatever energy you have.
The weather was lovely and we enjoyed central Cape Town and Long Street as best we could. We put local Sim cards in our iPhones for the first time and caught on to local service as we’re here for one month in South Africa to visit about 30 friends and family, something we only do about every 6 years. Around lunchtime we jumped into a cab and headed over to Woodstock to meet Dennis’s older son Ryan for lunch at his place of business. Woodstock Exchange is a very cool building, a whole design hub of young people doing interesting businesses.
Ryan’s business FatSak makes wonderful contemporary beanbag chairs and couches using very nice comfy fabrics and a comfy foam fill. They’re very hip and smart. We collapsed!!!
They had one long cutting table and a woman was cutting out a big beanbag by hand with big shears in a nice smoky blue wide whale corduroy. I’m surprised she wasn’t using some kind of electric shears. Even though it was only cutting one layer, it’s still a lot of hand work.
After two nights and a bit of urban sketching in Cape Town market, we hired a car and drove to Knysna (pronounced Nyzna), about six hour drive, a bit of an adventure. Got started a little later than we’d planned and then got stuck in the incredibly clogged Cape Town traffic. We finally were released and heading up the hill by about 11:30. We stopped at the top of Sir Lowry’s Pass for the obligatory quick overview of the city. The ever-present strong wind is always a challenge. Don’t bother wearing a hat because it will just fly away. The “Beware of baboons” sign is always there and you look up the hill at the amazing rock structures and hope you sure don’t see any. We’ve never seen them there ourselves but people do see them, very scary with great big teeth and of course very agile hands. Imagine these pictures below with the sharp snap snap of clothes flapping in the wind like flags.
It was nice to enjoy the scenery as we went along, just making a few quick stops for snacks and break up the driving. When we left Mossel Bay, we made a wrong turn and took quite a long detour to Outshoorn and then down through George instead of just going along the coast as we should have done. It had not been well signposted and we didn’t realize that we had turned in towards the mountains until it was too late to turn back. Unfortunately we’d complete the trip by night. By the time we left George it was almost completely dark at about 7:30. The road down from George is a mountain pass with a lot of switchbacks and was a bit of a challenge although thankfully it was very well lit up with reflectors.
We pulled into the familiar Wayside Inn just before 9 o’clock. It was nice to be greeted by the familiar face of Daniel, the night clerk who has greeted us when we’ve stayed there in the past. We pulled into the room and just collapsed. With the 10 hour time difference and all this travel it was hard to tell which way was up, what time of day it was. It did take us the whole week to actually wake up and feel that we were in the right time on the right day.
Visiting Knysna was all about visiting Dennis’s brother’s family. Next day, nephew Garron came by to pick up Uncle Dennis and go for lunch while I caught up with some much-needed rest. Eventually we went up to Garron’s house and met his fiancé and children. Cherice is a lovely young woman, they have a daughter 6 and son 3, quite a little pair of monkeys. Cherice has found a passion for bird rescue and they share their house with seven birds in big cages. Three take pride of place in the living room in three separate cages, two pretty blue birds and one wildly multi-colored one. They’re not the very large parrots but they’ll live quite a long time. She’s raising a grey one in her own office down the hall and had to hand feed it from a spoon twice a day. Very interesting and comical to watch. They get out for free flying time one at a time but we didn’t get to see that.
We went out for dinner that night with older brother Jack and Maureen at a comfortable little open air restaurant overlooking a playground where the kids could just run around and play and be kids. Super! It wasn’t noisy so Dennis got to speak even though he has a quiet voice. Jack and Maureen have had some health scares this last year. Maureen had a quadruple heart bypass surgery last June and Jack had a leg vein replaced about a month ago. Unknown to us they also had been robbed at gunpoint a few months ago in a quite a serious fashion, being forced down on the floor and having many things robbed from their house. They live in kind of a remote place and since then have had big iron gates installed on the front and back doors so they can leave the doors open but have the locked outside cages, as well as some light beams flashing around the house which set off the alarm if something comes to close soon. It’s the harsh reality of living here in South Africa especially in a more remote place where robbers can prey easily on the older and less fit victims.
We had five nights in Knysna, a nice mix of exploring by ourselves, taking it easy, and visiting with the family and enjoying the view from Jack’s place, above.
The local family gave us lots of instructions on not going out for walks at night and other important local safety rules. They were completely horrified that I had walked alone through the local communal taxi center, above, and along the side street to view the local vendors selling fruits. Really, it was just behind the main shopping mall in broad daylight with many people around. The only thing I carry worth stealing is my camera, absolutely nothing else. I didn’t feel unsafe at all but it’s not a comfortable place to be unless you’re in a more controlled situation where you can somewhat control your own security.
One morning Garron brought a friend to meet us over breakfast at the hotel. This guy is a South African plumber who wants to emigrate to Canada. He has the green light and in fact will be visiting the Sunshine Coast and then Vancouver Island at the end of May to try to get a feeling of what life is really like there for a family with young children. One of the biggest points I stressed was the fact that you don’t feel this omnipresent physical threat of assault or burglary. Here in South Africa the radar is always on although of course most of the people are super friendly and very nice. The problem is the imbalance. There are just so many people living in a state of squalor, not having much to lose and having lots to gain by burglary and seeing it I suppose as easy pickings and part of what should rightfully to be theirs.
On our last day we drove over to the next town called The Wilderness and had a beautiful lunch at a fabulous hotel overlooking a long long white sandy beach. What a view! It reminded me of the Oregon Coast we visited last summer, very lovely and impressive, a nice long quiet lunch with Jack and Maureen for a final time before leaving the next day.
Knysna is quite out in the country and near the mountains and both families had had baboons come into the house and be on the dining room table, making a mess in the kitchen, quite terrifying! The new burglar bars that Maureen has had put on the house will stop the baboons coming in the windows too. Imagine living in a hot country not being able to open your windows because big strong monkeys will come in, yikes! They don’t have screens on the windows so I guess they don’t have huge mosquito problem and of course baboons would just shred them in a second.
It’s very challenging to take good photographs of people down here. The sun is SO blazingly bright it casts the shadows into deep darks and the faces and situations I really wanted to photograph were happening too fast and too close to me or too far away. It’s MUCH easier to take good photos in more overcast weather with a softer more diffused light than this harsh burning bright one.
After 5 nights, we waved goodbye to Knysna and headed back to Cape Town taking the right road this time. We were able to have a nice long stop in Swellendam, charming town in a very lush fruit growing area, a valley with mountains beside. This town didn’t seem to be overrun with thousands of local people suddenly dropped off by busloads to build their new homes on the tops of the hills nearby so seemed quite peaceful and ordinary in comparison to Knysna and Hout Bay where thousands have been relocated to the hilltops and wander down each morning to town in search of work. The land here in this valley was very very rich, the trees were spectacular.
Our friend Mary had given us instructions on how to find their old home Moulmanshof, above which is now a beautiful bed and breakfast. We made our way there and happily were able to visit the house before any guests arrived. Very beautifully decorated, very peaceful and tranquil overlooking the valley. We were able to take lots of pictures and post them on Facebook so Mary’s family could enjoy them. We definitely need to hear the story of how their young family came from this landlocked town to sail across the ocean with three children and another adult, six of them on 31 foot Miura sailboat! They introduced us 35+ years ago in the Caribbean and are in fact the reason we live in Gibsons. We first went to Gibsons to visit Mary and they went there because her cousin lived there. Years later, we all found our way back there to live.
When you stop for gas, a full service team springs out and gives your car a quick full clean and top up!
This is the first of 4 letters from South Africa. I hope you enjoy them!