Saturday, July 29, 2006

From South Africa 2005 Part 4 - Cape Peninsula and Knysna

Date: Sun, 6 Mar 2005 04:28:53 -0500

Subject: in Knysna

Hi Everyone,

we're here in Knysna after a bit of a marathon yesterday. We left Cape Town at 6:30 am on the bus and watched the sun rise over the mountains. We had to go through a very long tunnel through the mountains (it had to be a mile long at least) and the scenes were breathtaking once through. We drove through part of the winelands I think, which was fairly lush agricultural land, though I noticed they had to water even the pastures for cattle, then some towns in the Klein Karoo, which is a fairly scrubby area with (big) hills and not too many trees.

We arrived in George around 12:45 pm to take the last steam train in SA to Knysna... unfortunately no taxis were available so we had to walk with all our luggage to the steam train museum (Dad you would have liked the museum). A woman took pity on us (it was hot hot hot! and heavy) and picked us up. She owns a guest house in Wilderness, which we passed on the train, called Wilderness Beach Lodge so if anyone comes to SA you must stay there to repay her extreme kindness. As we were walking, there no other people around and I thought if any time we were going to get robbed it was then and they would take everything we had. I've not seen any evidence of crime here... generally people are extremely friendly and seem very happy.

The steam train journey is less than 100 km I think but it took 2 1/2 hours because the train goes quite slowly and has to go up and down the mountains... this leg also involved some short tunnels, which were pitch black inside. The views of the sea were stunning and the kids in the houses (some more like homemade tin shacks) as we left George were waving and cheering at us as we passed - very cute. Once we passed Wilderness, though, we learned why they don't really use steam trains anymore... we became covered in soot that blew in through the open windows (it was far too hot to close them) and it took a very long time to arrive in Knysna, especially after a 6-hour bus ride. The coal smoke is also polluting I imagine and the soot can cause fires (some days they run it with a diesel engine to prevent forest fires, which are a major problem... there were several while we were in Cape Town). The flora is remarkable along the train tracks - I even saw some arum (calla?) lilies growing wild - they're indigenous here - and some bizarre looking plant called a candelabra flower I think... it has huge red flower heads and you can't see its flat leaves on the ground so it looks like a large red carnivorous plant.

The place we're staying in here, Inyathi Guest Lodge, is beautiful but a little hot. Wooden chalets each with their own balcony on different levels so it's quite private. The day before (Friday) we spent the day with Dave's dad and stepmum driving around the peninsula. First we went to Hout Bay, a beautiful fishing village where I took lots of photos of the people working on the fishing vessels and a group of minstrels. It has a nice sand beach and the water is beautiful. We drove along a road over Chapman's Peak where there was a huge rock that killed a woman in her car. They closed the road for repairs for three years (I think it destroyed part of the road) and have now reopened it but it's still prone to rock falls when it rains and seemed rather perilous. We saw baboons at Cape Point, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean... I really got a sense of just how tough the fynbos plants are - it was extremely windy and rocky, very exposed. The southwesternmost point of the continent is also in this park though we didn't go out to it (I took photos of it though before I knew it was the southwesternmost point - it was just so beautiful).

Finally we stopped at Boulders Beach in Simon Town where many many African penguins have made their home. They're also called Jackass Penguins because they sound like donkeys - their homeowning neighbours apparently are not so keen on them because it's difficult to sleep. The beach has huge rounded boulders (hence the name) and the water is very sheltered in a little inlet (lagoon? bay?). Lots of people swim here and the penguins just go about their lives with no concerns for the people.

That night, Dave's dad and stepmum took us out to a small Thai restaurant that, unlike the Thai restaurants I've been to in Canada, actually had atmosphere and nice decor. I think it may have been the best meal I've ever had. When we left Saturday, Dave's dad thanked me for marrying Dave so I think that means he likes me. I really liked him and now I know how Dave ended up so nice.

Thursday we wandered around downtown Cape Town, bought books, a couple of cds, clothes, etc. Greenmarket square has a whole bunch of craft vendors, who are very friendly (some may say pushy but I didn't think so, just more friendly than vendors in Canada).

Wednesday we hiked on Table Mountain for four hours (!) but we must have missed the path we wanted so we didn't actually make it to the top. There were many locusts, which were bright red and black and the size of a mouse. Dave says the red colour means they're poisonous. The government (I think) is trying to kill off the pine trees that were planted there and are now interfering with the indigenous flora. We walked to the blockhouse where there are canons pointing over the city and there was a plaque commemorating the man who forested the whole mountain with pine trees. Apparently he also started working on other nearby mountains... it was kind of funny next to all the dead and dying pine trees. I'm pleased with all the work the government is doing to preserve the indigenous flora - Canada could take a lesson from it.

I noticed it was garbage day as we were driven to the mountain, which is a bit different here. We don't separate garbage here but apparently there is recycling. It gets separated on the roadside in the baking heat by (black) people. I do see evidence of white privilege, for sure. It seems like if you're affluent, you're really affluent and domestic labour is cheap. I think Dave's stepmum pays her maid R80 (less than $20 CDN) per day.

On Thursday we had dinner with another uncle of Dave's on his mum's side, his wife and two kids. They couldn't make it to his granny's place on Sunday to visit and they didn't seem overly keen to see us. But whatever, they're busy and Dave said he wasn't very close with them when he lived in Joburg so maybe they're just a bit shy. His uncle mostly talked about money, property values, etc. and I think he would be shocked to know that Dave once had a job sorting garbage at the wet-dry... when I pointed out that people don't sit in the backs of trucks in Canada, he asked, "but how do the workers get to their jobs?" It was said in the tone of voice like "those workers" as opposed to "us" and I felt like answering, "Well we can take public transit or drive ourselves..."

A woman I work with mentioned that her cousin was horrified with the poverty of people while she was in Cape Town but I haven't been at all. Yes, many people don't have much and many live in homemade shacks. But modern conveniences are not the meaning of life and as I said before, people in general seem very happy... gas attendants dance between cars, people happily carry your bags to the bus for a few rands, and I see a lot of laughter.

Anyhow, I think I'll sign off now. I probably won't be able to email again until we get to Joburg on March 10. This afternoon we're taking a ferry across Knysna lagoon to Featherbed Nature Reserve... tomorrow we head to Tsitsikamma, then to Addo for 2 days...

Love Kate

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