Saturday, July 29, 2006

From South Africa 2005 Part 3 - Yzerfontein and Robben Island

Date: Tue, 1 Mar 2005 13:19:09 -0500
Subject: March 1 update

Well I got sunburned today though Dave is worse off than I am. We went up to Yzerfontein (pronounced Azerfontane) where Dave's dad and stepmum are building a beach house. The house was supposed to be done by November last year but it's still in progress and in fact there's still quite a bit of work to do. The builder seems to be working very slowly and not working according to the architect's plans so Dave's stepmum is a bit frustrated. Yzerfontein is a small village on the western coast about an hour or so from Cape Town. Once we got away from Cape Town there was very little habitation and the landscape became quite flat and scrubby with sand dunes. Since I've never been to the prairies it was quite strange to drive so far and not see any trees - there are large shrubs, almost trees, but they appear only occasionally. Another strange thing: the highway up there is a two-lane highway but the paved shoulders appear to act as additional lanes. When a car wants to pass, the slower vehicle moves onto the shoulder and the passer stays in the lane. Occasionally it's necessary to move into the lane for oncoming traffic and then any oncoming cars will move onto their shoulder. Seems a bit dangerous to me to have to pay attention to so many variables but it allows traffic to move much more freely than on two-lane roads in Canada.

So back to Yzerfontein - there's a lot of building going on, mostly large holiday homes of all styles of architecture. Dave's dad's house will be really nice with huge windows looking over the Atlantic ocean. The sea is very rough here and mind-numbingly cold, even just washing over my feet. There's a sand beach with lots of shells, rocks and tidal pools. There are also blue bottle jellyfish carcasses, which we must be careful not to step on. They look like small plastic bags blown up but apparently the stringlike thing attached to it is its stinger and it hurts a lot if you step on it - Peter says the only thing that will kill the intense pain is pee, so the Friends episode was accurate I guess. Their house is on a steep hill or koppie, surrounded by the native flora, fynbos (pronounced fanebose).

Anyways, Dave and I strolled along the beach, collecting sea shells and taking pictures for about an hour and a half at midday and got burnt. The breeze was cool so we didn't feel the heat and I was totally covered except for my legs... I didn't think they'd get burnt because my body seems to cast a shadow over them but the reflection of the sea changes all that. Dave's shoulders are a nice shade of magenta now and he feels rather foolish.

Yesterday we went to Robben Island... it's 11 km from Cape Town's waterfront and the boat ride was fairly bouncy but fast. We took a bus tour of the island, saw the quarry where Mandela and others were virtually blinded by the glare from the rock (it was closed in 1978 because of international pressure), and other buildings... the island housed a leper colony in the mid-nineteenth century... the island has a long history of people banished to it for one reason or another. The jail was built by prisoners, and a church was built by lepers... We also saw some bontebok and springbok (deer-like animals), and there was a penguin colony too - they're shy birds but not too shy: they just hide behind a tree or under something waiting for you to pass. I got a few shots... mostly the walking tour of the jail was very rushed and overall I would have liked more time. But they don't seem to like tourists wandering around on their own. We saw Mandela's cell: small but at least it had a window.
And Mandela's garden:

Our guide's name was Benjamin and he was sentenced to 20 years there for high treason (i.e. protesting apartheid) but he didn't have to serve the whole term as everyone was released in 1991 I think. It was part of Mandela's negotiations with the state to make the jail into a museum...

We returned to the waterfront around 1:30 or so and had a nice lunch on a patio right next to the water. We drank Castle lager (a South African beer - quite nice) and watched seals frolic. They have no fear of people or boats it seems. After a trip to the aquarium and a quick wander around the shops, we went to Dave's stepsister's place for dinner. It's in Nordhoek, on the other side of the mountain and it was insanely windy there. She lives with her husband and 4-yr-old son on a smallholding... it's quite beautiful and they have a menagerie... a huge great dane, two horses, chickens, ducks and a pig...

I found out later that most of the people we've met drink Windhoek (pronounced Windhook), an independently produced Namibian beer.

I've now shot about 8 rolls of film... tomorrow we're going to try to hike up Table Mountain. Apparently, when Sir Edmund Hilary (he climbed Mount Everest - I think he was the first?) visited Cape Town not too long ago, he refused to climb it, saying it was too dangerous. There's a lot of wind here and the mist comes over the mountain very quickly, making it impossible to see your way down. It's called the table cloth. But we'll give it a shot, despite being unfit...

I think Dave's dad is showing signs of liking me... he's difficult to get to know, very reserved but he's got a lovely if rare smile... it's a lot like Dave's in that it overtakes his whole face... I'd like to try to take a picture of him with that smile but it's not the kind of smile one can do on command, I think.

Hopefully tomorrow night we'll go to Camps Bay to watch the sun set while drinking beer on a patio... we can't really the see the sun set from Dave's dad's house.

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