Site hosted by Build your free website today!

South Africa part 2

SOUTH AFRICA – PART TWO -end May to August 2004 (PIC ABOVE: Yours truely with new travelling companion - Koori-Koori the tame Meerkat - Soetvlakte Guest Farm, Kalahari Desert.) Friday 21st May: we returned from our 10 day trip to Botswana, crossing at Ramotswa border crossing – laid back and hassle free. Then it was onwards via Zeerust in the centre of the Marico bushveld area. An area of sheep and cattle and mining. Then via Mafeking ( or Mafikeng as it is now called!) - scene of the famous 217-day Siege of Mafeking during the Boer War. The British commander there was none other than Col. R.S.S. Baden-Powell. Today Mafikeng is a hot, dusty, untidy town, appearing quite rundown, unlike a Botswanan counterpart. Onwards across vast expanses of featureless savannah and occasional acacia trees and huge tracts of planted maize, with a brief stop at the hamlet called Stella, which is laid out like a star. It has a huge abattoir slaughtering up to 1,350 cattle a month and is also the start of the Kalahari Beast Route – a cattle drove road/route. Duly arrived in Vryburg where we spent a couple of days lazing away at the Kliphuisie Guesthouse – the former police station dating from 1887. Vryburg (town of freedom) was the former capital of the independent Republic of Stellaland in 1883 – founded by white mercenaries in the pay of the local chief of the Koranna Khoikhoi tribe. Then onwards west to Kuruman and Upington before hitting the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Friday 21st May: we returned from our 10 day trip to Botswana, crossing at the Ramotswa border crossing – where the formalities were very laid back and hassle free. Then it was onwards via Zeerust located in the centre of the Marico bushveld - an area of sheep and cattle and mining. Then via Mafeking (or Mafikeng as it is now called!) - scene of the famous 217-day Siege of Mafeking during the Boer War. The British commander there was none other than Col. R.S.S. Baden-Powell. Today Mafikeng is a hot, dusty, untidy town, appearing quite rundown, unlike a Botswana counterpart. Onwards across vast expanses of featureless savannah and occasional acacia trees and huge tracts of planted maize, with a brief stop at the hamlet called Stella, which is laid out like a star. It has a huge abattoir slaughtering up to 1,350 cattle a month and is also the start of the Kalahari Beast Route – a cattle drove road/route. Duly arrived in Vryburg where we spent a couple of days lazing away at the Kliphuisie Guesthouse – the former police station dating from 1887. Vryburg (town of freedom) was the former capital of the independent Republic of Stellaland in 1883 – founded by white mercenaries in the pay of the local chief of the Koranna Khoikhoi tribe. Sunday 23rd May: We continued westwards to Kuruman - famous for the Moffat family and their mission station and a natural spring called The Eye. This spring was discovered in 1801 by Samuel Daniel and produces an incredible 20 million litres of crystal clear water every day! This unfailing source of water led to the establishment of a mission here in the early 19th century. The Eye was described as the “fountain of Christianity.” We duly visited this natural phenomenon which still supplies water to all the gardens in the town to this day. Also spent most of Sunday afternoon in the bar of the Grande Hotel (not really a grand hotel at all) watching the Monaco Grand Prix – Sue and I and a morose barman – just the three of us nursing our drinks! We also visited the world-famous Moffat Mission – in a very peaceful and calm setting amongst mature trees – a must if in this area. Under the guidance of Robert Moffat (a Scots missionary born in Ormiston, East Lothian) the Kuruman Mission Station became one of the best known mission stations in all Africa. Robert and Mary Moffat arrived in Kuruman in 1820 and he laboured at the mission for 50 years – called the “golden age” of missionary work. He also built the Moffat Church (the Cathedral of the Kalahari) which seats 800 folk and is still in use; if this was not enough, he also translated the Bible into Setswana (the local language) and printed it on a hand-press. This was the first complete Bible printed in Africa. The Mission is also well-known as the first African home of David Livingstone who arrived as a London Missionary Society missionary in 1841. After he was attacked by a lion, the Moffat’s daughter Mary (jnr) nursed him to recovery and he proposed to her under an old almond tree in the garden – and she duly became Mrs. Livingstone! Don’t ya love a happy ending? The Moffat Mission was declared a National Monument in 1939 and is still active today – offering leadership training, theological education and community development. From Kuruman we headed north on gravel roads via Hotazel (a corruption of “hot as hell” and it certainly was at 28º C and this is winter!). Hotazel is a dusty wee village surrounded by huge manganese mines and not much else! Next came Black Rock, another manganese mining community in the middle of this arid desert landscape. Here we are only about 100kms south of the Botswana border post of McCarthy’s Rest. We headed west on sandy roads, every now and then engulfed in huge dust clouds as mighty cattle trucks thundered past, spotting vultures and other raptors circling overhead, passing huge herds of sleek red cattle. We drove through Van Zylsrus – a typical Kalahari town with the petrol station, small shop and hotel all lined up next to each other on the single dusty main street! Then we discovered two delightful oasis in the Kalahari Desert in the form of the Soetvlakte (Sweet Plain) and Loch Broom Guest Farms, where we spent 4 nights split between the two. Both are working cattle and game farms (for hunting) and also offer superb DB&B accommodation in excellently appointed thatched-roofed chalets. Like all other farms we stayed on in our travels from Argentina to New Zealand to South Africa, they all supplement their income with tourist accommodation and activities; just as is the case in parts of Scotland! (Loch Broom Guest Farm got its name when the Scots Land Surveyor Roger “Malkop” Jackson was commissioned to survey and parcel up all the farms in this corner of the Kalahari in the early 20th century. He was obviously very homesick as there are lots of Scottish place names (even in the Kgalagadi Park), e.g. Loch Maree, Montrose, Auchterlonie, Monro, Kielie Krankie and Cramond. The cuisine at both farms was out of this world – true farm-style cooking with gemsbok steak, roast springbok haunch - none of your nouvelle cuisine small portions as found in trendy city eateries. Boy did we eat and then some! Both farms also had an odd pet (in addition to the usual 3 or 4 dogs and cats). At Soetvlakte we met and fell in love with Kurri, an endearing 5-month old meerkat (suricate). She behaved just like a wee puppy following you on walks and was great pals with Jonty the fox terrier. The owners Louis and Dorette Hauman used to have a caracal called Portret as well, but she left to return to the wild: she would initially leave for a day or two before returning, then her absences got progressively longer until one day she did not come back to the farm. Louis put it very aptly when he said “She came and went, pacing her departure, so you didn’t know when to cry.” I reckoned this big burly Afrikaans farmer shed the most tears! Presumably Portret had found a mate out there? Meanwhile at Loch Broom, the pet was Maggie, a 16-year old cheetah. The owners, Llewellyn and Mariana Stadler had had her since she was orphaned all those years ago in Namibia. Being 16 she was an elderly lady now and no longer frolicked as she had done previously but was very friendly and approachable! You could stroke her – and her purr sounded like a two-stroke engine! On both farms the owners took us on game drives (spotting zebra, eland, kudu, gemsbok, springbok, and red hartebeest) and it was noticeable that the moment the game saw or heard the vehicle approach, they would scarper! Because on game farms they have learnt to associate the vehicle and its occupants with being hunted! This is in direct contrast to the situation in game reserves where the animals do not feel threatened by vehicles or their occupants. The dining room walls at Loch Broom were decorated with mounted heads of Cape buffalo, nyala, bushbuck, red hartebeest, kudu, zebra, waterbuck, springbok, gemsbok, impala, letchwe, scimitar Oryx and warthog – all looking down at you with glass-eyes while you ate your meal. They had all been shot by Llewellyn at some time or other. The skin of a black bear (from Alaska) was draped over the back of a sofa while a stuffed pangolin graced the top of the TV set. This was definitely not vegetarian, anti-hunting country – Guardian-reader or not! Friday 28th May and it was on to Upington, a prosperous farming centre on the mighty Orange River. It is the last town before hitting the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Namibia and an important shopping and re-supply point, which is exactly what we did, as well as collect our Toyota Hilux 4x4 vehicle which we will be using on our travels for the next 5 weeks. Sunday 30th May to Wednesday 9th June was prime wild game spotting time spent in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park a further 260kms north of Upington. This was our fourth visit to this Park – one of our all-time favourites. We entered at the southern gate at Twee Rivieren (Two Rivers) – the confluence of the ephemeral dry beds of the Auob and Nossob Rivers – a source of water from underground springs and shade provided by camelthorn and acacia trees. These rivers have only flowed once in the last 100 years! The only two roads in the park are gravel and follow these river beds – one heading northeast and the other northwest for about 150kms – they are connected by 2 cross-over dune roads resulting in a giant H-shape. A bit different to the Kruger National Park in that respect. The former Kalahari Gemsbok Park was proclaimed in 1931 as an early initiative to combat poachers. On 7th July 1999 the Kalahari Gemsbok Park and the Gemsbok National park in neighbouring Botswana were formally merged to form the new Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – a total of 3.6m hectare of land! This is the first Transfrontier Park in southern Africa. As you drive along you are in Botswana one minute then again in South Africa the next and so it goes on – neither you nor the animals you are hoping to spot bothered by borders! Over the 10-day period in the Kgalagadi we stayed in s/c accommodation at the 5 rest camps: the 3 old established ones at Twee Rivieren, Nossob and Mata Mata and the new unfenced, tented camps at Grootkolk and Kalahari Tent Camp. At the latter two, the fixed tents have lower half walls made of sandbags and canvas uppers and roof and are fitted out to a very high standard, including gas-fridge and cooker and electricity provided by solar panels (there is a lot of sunshine in the Kalahari even in winter!). Because these 2 camps are unfenced, wildlife (including predators) wander through the camp at their leisure and pleasure (there is a resident ranger as well – just in case.) We had 3 hyenas strolling not 30feet from our tent one night while we were sitting around our braai fire – chewing the fat after dinner. Their eyes reflecting red in our torchlight – you could even hear the rustle of the grass as they casually sauntered past us! (If sauntering is the correct term to describe a hyena’s gait?) All this was preceded by the rasping cough of a leopard at the nearby waterhole some 200m away, followed by the laughing cackle of the hyenas. We heard them chortling on and off throughout the night – not very far away at all! Fortunately these bush-tents have loo and shower built in, as it would not be a good idea to go walkabout after dark! The daily routine was: up at 0600, Jungle Oats porridge for brekkie (don’t forget it’s winter here now and gets quite cold at night in the desert, only about 4º C at 0600); camp gates open at 0730 which coincides with sunrise in winter; then off for a morning game-spotting drive until about 1200; followed by lunch and a wee siesta (now the hottest part of the day at about 26º C); and then another late afternoon game-spotting drive from 1530 to 1800, by which time it is dark and the camp gates close. Then a braai (barbecue to you non-locals) or indoor meal, followed by bed – in order to get up again at 0600 and repeat same!!! On the night of 8th June while we were staying at the Kalahari Tented Camp in the north of the park the temperature dropped to -8º C during the night. Boy oh boy, was it bloody cold in the tent or what – we even slept with fleecy jackets and bonnets in addition to our tracksuit-cum-pyjamas. There was also ice on the tent’s roof in the morning. And it is not even Mid-Winter yet which happens on 21st June. Maximum daytime temp was about 20º C which is pleasantly warm with wall to wall sunshine and a cloudless blue sky – that’s the desert for you. A summary of wildlife spotted was: lion, leopard, brown hyenas and pups, black-backed jackal, giraffe, gemsbok (Oryx), wildebeest (gnu), springbok, red hartebeest (all big herds), meerkats, steenbok, African wildcat, Cape fox, Bat-eared fox, mongoose, spring and scrub hares, mongoose, eland. And not forgetting the birds: kori bustard, korhaan, ostrich, tawny eagle, pale chanting goshawk, secretary bird, martial eagle, Bateleur eagle, white-faced & barn owls, Namaqua sand grouse, lappet-faced vulture, lesser kestrel, swallow-tailed bea-eater and an unusual visitor: a pelican sitting on top of a camelthorn tree! It must have been blown way off course to end up here in the desert?!? And the slithery scaly reptiles: Cape cobra, puffadders, Karoo whipsnake. Special wildlife highlights included the following: A pride of 6 lions (2 lionesses and 4 cubs on first afternoon lolling around high on the sand dunes; A female brown hyena and her 4 pups lying in golden rays of the setting sun outside their den; Two fat sluggish, grey-mottled puffadders lying in middle of road one on top of the other, their tails intertwined – copulating. Yes, shagging serpents would you believe? When they both slithered away into the undergrowth one got harassed by a scorpion which had come out of its burrow; A 6-foot long copper-coloured Cape cobra slithering across the road into the undergrowth; An African wildcat seen during a ranger-led night drive; A whole family of meerkats right next to the road – some of them sitting upright on top of termite mounds all the better to see any approaching danger; Sitting around the fire at Grootkolk watching the Kalahari skies with myriads of stars and constellations above while listening to a leopard cough hoarsely (it sounds very much like a saw) and hyenas howling close by. (The skies are so clear with every star glistening like a diamond in a black sky – the nearest town is 260kms away and so no light pollution.) Watching a jackal gorily feasting on the freshly-killed carcass of an ostrich (the killer – lion or leopard? – had already disembowelled the unfortunate bird and eaten the best bits.) The jackal feasted for about 15 minutes on the carcass, before calmly “wiping” his jaws on a shrub and in the sand and then trotting off into the veldt – quite unconcerned by our presence a mere 6 feet away from him and his breakfast! We have seen lots of lion and leopard spoor in the sandy roads but other than our first lion sighting on our first day, we only had a brief glimpse of a solitary leopard one morning sitting on top of a red sand-dune – quite far away and only discernable through binoculars. The big cats are certainly about if the spoors are anything to go by (a pride even came outside the gates at Mata Mata one night!) But overall we have been rather disappointed by our lack of sightings of the big cats – compared to previous visits here. Still, this is winter and apparently they all head off into the dunes for warmth and shelter – so the ranger said anyway. The “Twat of the Week Award” must go to two 2 Americans we saw at one of the watering holes – called Craig Lockart as it happens – who had got out of their car and were blithely having a picnic on a huge log about 30 feet from their Mercedes hire-car! It is expressly forbidden to leave your vehicle (for obvious reasons) anywhere except at designated picnic spots and then you do so at your own risk. We pointed this out to them only for the bloke, innocently munching at his smoked salmon sandwich, to respond “But we will be careful.” I had told him of our leopard sighting only 4kms away about 20 minutes earlier. Perhaps old Pantherus should mosey along to Craig Lockart for a snack! Incidentally, while listening to the news on BBC World Service on Thursday 3rd June we heard the very welcome news that the Skye Bridge tolls were to be abolished. Why has this taken to long? And have the fools on the hill in Embra at last seen sense? Thursday 10th June we departed from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and headed for Namibia via the small border crossing of Rietfontein – 210kms down a gravel road, but it is the most direct and nearest border crossing from here. So, go and visit the NAMIBIA PAGE in due course to catch up on our travels and adventures in that country – more desert to come! Friday 18th June: we crossed into South Africa again at the small Ariamsvlei/Nakop border post: another painless and very efficient border crossing. Then it was foot down for 150kms to Upington to drop off our 4x4 vehicle and pick up a “normal” car from Avis. We stayed the night in Upington, treating ourselves to dinner at the exquisite Le Must Restaurant where eland shanks where on the menu and just had to be tried! Next morning it was onwards – southwards – long stretches of road undulating across the vast, almost horizon-less, veldt: via Kenhardt and Calvinia, before hitting the main N7 and travelling via Clanwilliam (the “rooibos” or red bush tea capital) and Citrusdal (centre of the citrus industry), nestling beneath the mighty and very impressive looking Cederberg mountains. We reached the family home in Paarl at 1715 – having covering 850kms in just over 8 hours. The weather has now taken a distinctly chilly flavour at night and first thing in the morning, but once the sun has risen things warm up nicely and temperatures of between 20-24º C are soon reached during the day. Which is not all that bad considering Mid-Winter is only 3 days away! 21st June – MID WINTER’S DAY: it was a bright day with blue sunny skies and the mercury hit 24º C. Now that I am prepared to wager was warmer than Mid-Summer’s Day in Scotland? Correct me if I am wrong. We watched the first day’s action at Wimbledon and that evening had a Mid-Winter feast of roast chicken with gem squash, butternut and couscous and for desserts? Why fresh strawberries and cream, of course! We are initially spending a week or so in Paarl, just chilling out and soaking up the early winter rays. Regrouping in other words. And let’s see what the doc says re my foot – hope he finds the correct bullet (silver or otherwise) for it! Then we shall go on further explorations of the Western Cape and Little Karoo as there is still so much to see. So, watch this space for further and future developments. From Mid-Winter to 8th July was spent mainly indulging in a veritable feast of sport on the telly, sitting around and soaking up the very warm winter rays (although at night it does get quite nippy – so much so that we have had the open fire blazing away on a few evenings!), catching up on some reading, visiting the local internet café for ether contact around the globe, paying our respects to a winery or three in the immediate area and sampling the goodies (the 2003 vintage amber port - released in May - from the Muratie Winery is particularly tasty) and also signing up at a gym in Paarl in an endeavour to regain some fitness and lose some flab – the latter accumulated over the past 10 months or so! Sport was amply provided for, amongst others, by a rain-soaked Wimbledon (only marred by the inevitable collapse and departure of “I’ll win it this year” Henman); Grand Prix motor racing in which every race is won by the Red Baron astride (or rather seated in) his Italian stallion; cricket made notable by the thrashing of England by the Windies and the Aussies beating everyone else (no change there!) and memorable Euro 2004 football (following the spectacular departures of the “Big Guns” Italy, Germany, France, Holland and England (yes, the Portuguese goalkeeper was impeded, despite what the English tabloids foamed at the mouth about next morning). A cartoon in the local paper said that perhaps Beckham and Henman should swap sports: old Tim is good at putting the ball into the net while David is very adept at getting it over the net!!! Good to see the underdogs Greece battling through the rankings, thereby picking up the silverware. (I had backed them and should have put some money where my mouth was as the bookies had odds of 80:1 against them here in South Africa. I believe in the UK the odds were 125:1 against them winning!) Then it was “going places” time again: went around Paarl taking photos of beautiful Cape Dutch architecture lit by the warm winter sunshine and also visited my old alma mater, Paarl Boys’ High School nestling on the green slopes beneath Paarl Rock – a huge granite dome. Paarl is also the place where the Afrikaans language was “born” in 1875 through the endeavours of a group called “Die Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners” (Society of Proper Afrikaners). To get a “Cinemascope” view of the town we drove up Paarl Mountain and clambered to the top of Paarl Rock complete with its old iron cannon dating from the early days of the Cape Colony. It was fired to let local farmers know when sailing ships were entering Table Bay in Cape Town in order for trade to take place! The wide Berg River valley lay far below us with the town of Paarl, surrounded by endless vineyards, spread along its length and Franschhoek in the blue-hazy distance. On a very clear day you can even see Table Mountain from the top of Britannia Rock, the highest (729m) of the 3 gigantic granite domes. We also visited the beautiful university town of Stellenbosch with its oak lined streets complete with water furrows still carrying stream water to gardens. It has a vast concentration of many fine examples of Cape Dutch architecture. In 1679, the governor of the Cape Colony, Simon van der Stel left Cape Town to explore the hinterland for further settlements. He found this very fertile valley between the mountains which became known as “van der Stel se Bosch” (forest) – i.e. the Stellenbosch of today. Some of the original oak trees dating from 1683 are still alive and standing! Thursday 8th July: in contrast to the above, we then went on a tour of some 4 townships on the Cape Flats outside Cape Town. There were just the two of us and our 26-year old African driver/guide who introduced himself as Blackie! He was from Port Elizabeth but now preferred living in the Cape. Our first port of call was the District Six Museum housing an important collection of photos and articles recalling the former vibrant, mixed-race, cosmopolitan area of Cape Town called District Six. This was destroyed by the apartheid regime during the 1960’s (the buildings were bulldozed to the ground) coupled with the forcible removal of all the residents (who were suddenly all classified as Coloured) to the soulless townships which you see so well as you come in to land at Cape Town Airport. The authorities plainly felt threatened by the existence of District Six in such close proximity to the affluent and White city centre – this could not be allowed to continue! Today, a few new developments have taken place in an endeavour to recreate what once was a very lively part of Cape Town, but large open spaces are still very evident. Then it was on to the 4 African townships of Langa, Gugulethu, Nyanga and Khayelitsha – home to hundreds of thousands of African citizens as well as huge numbers of economic migrants and refugees from neighbouring African states. Most of the housing was small and basic with electricity and water (or water from stand-pipes), although outside toilets shared with a number of other residents were the norm. There were also very smart and much bigger houses, which would not have looked out of place in a white suburb (complete with razor-wire topped walls!) which are occupied by the new black middle-class. But squatter camps have emerged on the edges of the townships proper – even here there are the “haves”, the “have-nots” and those who have even less than the “have-nots”! The refugees and migrants predominantly live in the squatter camps. Presumably living in a shack, made from bits of wood, corrugated iron, sheets of plastic, anything they can lay their hands on, and with no facilities is preferable to where they have escaped from? A wide variety of stalls, lining the narrow mainly untarred streets, sold all sorts of foods – from household goods, drinks, fruit & vegetables to cuts of meat you would not find on a high street butcher’s shelf! These “cuts” included piles of offal lying in red heaps on wooden trestle tables awaiting your cooking order and what are locally known as “smileys” – i.e. whole sheep heads toothily grinning at you while gently roasting on griddles atop sawn-in-half 44 gallon petrol drums. No kettle-braais here! And everywhere there were lots of people, shopping or just standing about or going about whatever business it was they were engaged in, barefoot children playing, minibus taxis disgorging their passengers – it was certainly lively! We felt quite self-conscious (not intimidated), being driven around and prying into people’s everyday lives like that. It made us both feel uncomfortable but the locals did not seem to notice or mind – they are probably used to the white tourists coming to gawp at their way of life by now? We were also shown the site where an American Fullbright exchange student Amy Biehl was killed in on 25th August 1993 by an angry mob just because she was white and at the wrong place at the wrong time! (Her killers - PAC members - were subsequently also granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission). We were shown around some accommodation – like a hostel where you rented your bed by the week for R18 (£1.50), shared the tiny kitchen with 22 others – everybody provides their own primus stove to do their cooking on a rotational basis; the communal loos were outside somewhere I think. There seemed to be lots of bottle stores (off-sales); beer-halls had been destroyed and there must have been shebeens (illegal or “informal” drinking dens) around but we were not shown any. Blackie did take us to visit a “Sangoma” or traditional healer in a smoke-darkened, unlit room cluttered with all sorts of roots, plants, herbs, horns, animal parts and skeletons which he used to dispense a cure and/or medication for all sorts of complaints and ailments. The sangoma obligingly donned the skins of some wild animal or other so that I could take a photo of him in all his finery! After our 3½ hour tour we were quite exhausted by this experience! It was also very depressing and at the same time, a revelation, to see how the black majority live – no, survive, in South Africa today – even after the much-trumpeted 10 Years of Democracy. To continue our cathartic day, we went to the pictures at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront to see a newly released film called Forgiveness. It tells the story of an apartheid era security officer – who has been granted amnesty for his crimes by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission* – who then travels up to the tiny west coast fishing community of Paternoster to visit the family of a coloured man he tortured and killed. Needless to say, there are those prepared to forgive and those who are not. An excellent film with superb acting by an ensemble cast – harrowing and very moving to watch. *(The TRC – Truth and Reconciliation Commission – chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was set up to grant amnesty to all those (black and white) who admitted their crimes during the apartheid era and therefore help heal the nation’s scars.) Being in an exploratory mood we went on a long weekend trip (Friday 9th to Monday 12th July) to visit, see the sights and experience life in the Karoo interior and Eastern Cape. The Karoo is an archaic, semi-desert landscape created from sedimentary rock about 250 million years ago. It is a huge plateau, taking in almost a third of the total area of South Africa. It is rich in palaeontology, fossils and Bushmen paintings. Nothing but vast open spaces peppered with Karoo bush and blue-purplish mountains rearing skywards in the hazy distance. The Karoo bush is the staple diet of the vast numbers of grazing Merino sheep in this area; cattle, angora goats and horses are other major agricultural aspects. Then there are all the tiny hamlets and settlements sporting perfectly preserved Victorian, Cape Georgian and Edwardian buildings – all still in use! After leaving Paarl, our first stop was Worcester, the last area of vineyards and orchards before entering the dry Karoo. Here we managed to locate the Stargazer Cinema (hidden away in a small shopping mall); entry is through a wrought-iron gate down a corrugated-metal tunnel. The cinema was a former warehouse used to make the 1995 Rugby World Cup clothing. Brothers Derek and Trevor Daly bought the warehouse in the late 1990’s, deciding that Worcester needed an independent cinema after video had killed off the commercial one. We hope to visit this cinematic site soon to see for ourselves. Next we stopped at the historic outpost of Matjiesfontein in the middle of nowhere, situated at an altitude of 2,959 feet (almost Munro height – for those in the know). It came into being when a young Scot, Jimmy Logan from Reston in Renfrewshire, who was an official of the Cape Government Railways in the 1890’s, started supplying steam trains with water and drinks and meals to the passengers. His house called Tweedside Lodge is now occupied by his grandson. Logan, known as the “Laird of Matjiesfontein” developed a village into a Victorian health and holiday resort, patronised by the rich and famous. The author Olive Schreiner lived in the village for some time and Cecil John Rhodes was a frequent visitor. The Lord Milner Hotel followed and was used by the British forces as a military headquarters during the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902) – its 3 turrets making excellent look-out posts! A vast Remount Camp with 10,000 troops and 20,000 horses was established here and the surrounding veldt is still littered with rusty old bully beef and biscuit tins – so they say! The whole village was bought by hotelier David Rawdon in 1968 and today all the original buildings have been extensively renovated and are all still in use. Then it was on to Prince Albert (founded on the loan farm “De Kweekvallei in 1792 but renamed in honour of Queen Vic’s hubby in 1845) where we spent the night in the delightful Onse Rus Guesthouse run by Lisa and Gary Smith – a thatch roofed farmhouse on the main street shaded by tall Karoo ash and Pepper trees. Prince Albert, lying at the foot of the majestic Swartberg Pass rising to 1583 meters, is a seemingly sleepy little village, but is brim-full of interesting architecture comprising a Dutch Reformed church dating from 1860 dominating the town, a tannery, old mill, mohair spinners and fruit farms (figs, oranges, apricots, olives) in abundance. A local alcoholic clear spirit with a kick like a mule is called “witblits” (white lightning) – this is for sale at the museum! We enjoyed a scrumptious dinner to die for (Karoo lamb with various vegetables followed by malva pudding for desert) at the Karoo Kombuis (kitchen), located in the dining room of a residential house, complete with wide wooden stoep (veranda) and corrugated iron roof. As the owner Denise said “ons is ‘n eetplek en nie ‘n restaurant nie” – “we are an eating place and not a restaurant” – the food was out of this world. Who needs fancy restaurants in small villages? The next day we continued north eastwards, through the spectacular Meiringspoort pass – soaring cliff walls with majestic rock formations, kloofs and crevices lining the 25km section of road winding its way along the floor of this mighty gorge, crossing the Groot River 25 times. Meiringspoort has been flooded several times in its 140-year history – floods in 1885, 1968 and 1996 were devastating leading to the construction of a high road (Swartberg Pass) over the mountains. The gorge road is often closed after heavy rainfalls to this day. We stopped briefly at Graaff-Reinet, founded in 1786 and the oldest town in the Eastern Cape. It now boasts 200 old buildings which have been declared national monuments – these classic buildings, bathed in warm winter light with oak trees as frames are a photographer’s paradise. Graaff-Reinet became a big trading centre on the new eastern frontier, especially after the introduction of Merino sheep by the English settlers in the 1850’s. That night we stayed at Wheatlands, 50km south and along a dirt road. Wheatlands is a 7th-generation family-owned working mohair farm (mohair is derived from angora goats) providing superb hospitality and accommodation in the 1912 homestead (designed by Charles Bridgeman) filled with family treasures, antique furniture, piano, book-lined corridors, Persian rugs and roaring log fires. The latter were very welcome as it is winter here now and very cold at night – viz. ice on puddles in the morning! The building is a mixture of Cape Dutch and Edwardian styles – white pillared veranda and immaculate lawns – very English! Wood-panelled hall, huge bedrooms and dining room with vast oak table – like staying in a museum or in a big Scottish estate house. The guestbook dated back to April 1942 – there were quite a few entries from Royal Naval personnel on R&R at Wheatlands during the Second World War. Out the front of the house was a huge sandy courtyard in which to turn those ox-wagons around surrounded by white-washed outhouses and a brick-built slave-bell in the centre. Dinner that night was a whole shoulder of Karoo lamb, just for the two of us which more than sated our hunger, followed by a whole malva pudding – all again for just the two of us! Our hosts Diana and Arthur Short live in the original farm house dating from 1816. The tower in the centre of the farmhouse was used by both the British and Boers (though not at the same time!) as a watch-tower to look for the enemy during the Boer War! Wheatlands comprises 15,000 acres and runs 1 sheep to every 5 acres – not much to eat around here for them. It has been in the same family for 6 generations – Thomas Parkes arrived from Argentina, married Emma Bevans and they arrived on the farm in 1849. (The Parkes name died out when there were no more sons left but the Shorts are direct descendents.) From Wheatlands we visited the tiny dusty hamlet of Nieu-Bethesda – some 50kms north of Graaff-Reinet down a dusty gravel road amongst the mountains. It was once a vibrant centre for the local farming community but was eclipsed by larger towns in the 1950’s and went into decline. This resulted in isolation and impoverishment for the community, but the lack of development left the village with a rare historical and architectural integrity. But the celebrated town still has no tarred roads or street lighting because the town wants to hang on to its rural aspect. There’s no light pollution, no industry, no noise at all – elemental Karoo – serene and unspoilt. Only the mighty Kompasberg nearby invades any space. Nieu-Bethesda was put on the map in the 1980’s by the unique appeal of Helen Martins’ glass-encrusted, statue-filled Owl House which we just had to visit. Helen Martins, born in 1897, was a local eccentric who lived a hermit-like existence devoting her time to her art and Eastern philosophies. She was particularly inspired by biblical texts, the poetry of Omar Khayyam and works of William Blake. Most of the walls and ceilings inside the house are decorated with elaborate patterns of ground coloured glass embedded in bands of brightly coloured paint. Behind the house is an enclosed yard known as the Camel Yard – filled with hundreds of sphinxes, camels, owls and other figures made from cement and glass, created by Helen and Koos Malgas, an itinerant sheepshearer and builder she hired to help her. Although she thought of, or “designed” most of the creations it was Koos who actually made them. The Camel Yard is a land of mystery and enchantment, but Helen Martins had a troubled relationship with the outside world. On a cold winter’s morning in 1976, Helen Martins now 78, took her own life by swallowing caustic soda. It was her wish that her creation be preserved as a museum which it is the case today. Her artwork, once an object of derision and embarrassment has become the single most important asset of the village of Nieu-Bethesda. The acclaimed South African actor and playwright Athol Fugard wrote The Road to Mecca here. From Nieu-Bethesda, it was southwards via Graaff-Reinet, Aberdeen (yes, there is one here as well!), Willowmore, Uniondale and Oudtshoorn (ostrich farming capital) to our final night’s resting place at Calitzdorp. Here we stayed at the Port Wine Guest House, a historic building dating from 1830. Despite huge open log fires in the lounge and dining room (freezing at night), it had a difficult and unenviable task to live up to the pleasures of Onse Rus and Wheatlands. Sadly, it did not manage it. But we reckoned that 2 out of 3 was not bad! Calitzdorp, situated at the foot of the Swartberg mountains, is the port wine capital of South Africa and we bought some of the delicious nectar from Boplaas Winery. As is the case in all towns hereabouts, it boasts an imposing Dutch Reformed church: this one built in the New Byzantine style – whatever that is? Although the other architecture has a strong English influence – simplified versions of Regency, Late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian became fashionable for the dwellings. From Calitzdorp we made a detour to drive the Seweweekspoort gorge gravel road, with huge soaring red and brown and yellow cliffs soaring hundreds of metres above the floor of the gorge; some of the rocks twisted into grotesque and bizarre shapes and forms by mighty geological processes and pressures in the distant past. This road was opened in June 1862 as one of the earliest routes used by farmers to cross the Swartberg mountains, following the valley cut by the Huis River. A rare species of protea, Protea aristata, was rediscovered in this area. Then it was down Route 62 (the longest wine route in the world) passing through many picturesque and historical towns en route: Ladismith dominated by the twin pinnacles of the 2,203m high Towerkop or “bewitched peak” - according to local legend it was split by a witch; then Barrydale with a stop at a lone roadside building called “Ronnie’s Sex Shop”. It is not really a sex shop at all but a failed farm stall called Ronnie’s Shop and some wag has spiced up the name with the additional risqué graffiti. As it was billed as a well-stocked bar and oasis for thirsty travellers it was doubly disappointing that it was shut! Back in wine country now we passed through Montagu, Robertson, Worcester, over the Du Toit’s Kloof pass and were back home just in time to watch our favourite South African TV soaps Egoli and Isidingo. Hermanus, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town up the east coast, warranted another visit as we are now in the whale watching season from July to December. Southern Right Whales [Eubalaena Australis] migrate up from Antarctica and the Southern Ocean to seek out the sheltered bays along this coast for breeding. We were lucky and saw about 12 whales besporting themselves in the gentle swell about 500m offshore. They were wallowing about – lifting their tail flukes clear of the water, or just lazily sticking one fin up in the air (probably waving at us humans on the cliff tops watching them?) and every now and then blowing sprays of mist into the clear air – the echoing noises from their blowholes carried clearly to where we were standing. There were mothers with their calves in close attendance and single whales as well. It is always awesome seeing these immense marine mammals at such close quarters. None of them seem inclined to give a display of breaching - when they lift their entire bodies out of the water and crash back into the sea – not on this occasion at least. We also popped along to Stony Point near Betty’s Bay to enjoy the antics of the Jackass Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) colony there. This is a small reserve to protect a small breeding colony of these birds, one of the few places you are guaranteed to see them breeding on the mainland. The Jackass penguin has now been renamed the African penguin – part of a concerted attempt (faceless bureaucrats sitting behind a desk in Brussels gone mad again?) to rename all birds all over the world so that they have one universal name instead of the local name of a particular country or region. Personally, I think Jackass is more apt – it perfectly reflected the donkey-like braying noise they made as they went about their business amongst the rocks and their burrows in the coastal fynbos vegetation. They breed between February and October: there were numerous chicks in evidence and some penguins were still incubating eggs as well! During the last fortnight of July we drove along to the Helderberg Farm/Vineyard for a walk through acres of vineyards and up the slopes of Helderberg Mountain where the viewpoint at a height of 390m provided expansive views over the entire False Bay area and the Cape Peninsula all the way down to Cape Point on the one side and Gordon’s Bay on the other side. Due to haziness, both Table Mountain and Robben Island were invisible. Helderberg Farm was granted to one Klaas Vechtman in 1692 by the then Cape Governor, Simon van der Stel, with instructions to cultivate crops and plant oak trees. (v/d Stel seems to have had an obsession with oak trees – viz. the ancient ones still growing in Stellenbosch today.) In return, Vechtman had to deliver part of his wheat crop to the “Compagnie” – the Dutch East India Company which ruled the roost in the Cape in those distant days! We enjoyed the walk, the exercise, the warm weather and the views. We also went to look at that huge concrete phallic symbol on the lower slopes of Paarl Mountain – i.e. the Afrikaans Language Monument. This was unveiled on 10th October 1975 on the centenary of the founding of the Society of True Afrikaners who were instrumental in the founding and acceptance of Afrikaans as one of the official languages of South Africa. Despite looking like a huge phallus, the monument does fit in well with the surrounding granitic outcrops and fynbos vegetation – proteas, et al. On 22nd July we celebrated my mum’s 84th birthday in grand style with a wide selection of cakes, cookies and the like. My brother had flown down from Durban for the occasion as well, so Mum had her 3 children with her for the big day. Two days later we had our first winter deluge – it rained and rained and rained solid for two days. The rain, however, is much needed as all the local dams are only 30% full and talk of water restrictions is rife! And the farmers will be ecstatic as they are crying out for rain. Some of the rain has even fallen as snow on the high mountain tops – easily visible from down here in the valley. There have been significant snow falls in the Eastern Cape, on the Drakensberg and in Lesotho with the winter ski-ing season kicking off in grand style at Tiffindell in the Eastern Cape. 27th July saw the sun blazing down again from a cloudless, blue sky. It was time for a long-promised visit to the Cape Peninsula and the southernmost tip of the African continent. The four of us (Sue, my sister Monika and brother-in-law Pierre and I) set off. Our first port of call was Boulder’s Beach, near Simonstown, and its resident colony of African penguins (Spheniscus demersus). (They were formerly called Jackass penguins due to their donkey-like braying calls). These comical birds can be viewed from very close by via a cleverly-constructed series of raised, wooden walkways wending their way through the penguin colony. There are about 3,000 breeding pairs, chiefly due to the reduction in commercial pelagic trawling in False Bay which has increased supplies of pilchards and anchovy, which form part of their diet. The penguins are listed as a vulnerable species in the Red Data Book. There were lots of chicks about – some quite small and fluffy and recently hatched – others older and already beginning to moult and get their adult plumage which made them look even more comical. (More chicks here than at Betty’s Bay earlier this month.) Their distinctive black and white colouring is a vital form of camouflage – white for underwater predators looking upwards and black for predators looking down into the water. The pungent smell of guano and incessant braying left you in doubt as to where you were! The second port of call was the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and Cape Point. Perhaps because it was winter we did not spot any of the resident wildlife, namely zebra, eland and other antelope or smaller mammals like “dassies” (rock hyrax) and mongoose; even the virtually always-present and very cheeky Chacma Baboons (Papio ursinus) troops were conspicuous by their absence! The entire peninsula is covered with indigenous plants called “fynbos” (fine bush) which comprise proteas, ericas (heath) and restios or reeds. This is all part of the Cape Floristic Kingdom, the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms. After a superb seafood lunch at the excellent Two Oceans Restaurant with breathtaking views over the Atlantic Ocean far below, we forsook the funicular and walked up to the lighthouse where we enjoyed extensive views across the Peninsula, False Bay and out to sea. Leaving Sue, Monica and Pierre at the first lighthouse to soak up the sunshine and views, I continued along the clifftop promontory to the very tip of Cape Point – well as far as you are allowed to go on safety grounds. A narrow, but good path meandered along the ridge to the last viewpoint at Diaz Point, providing yet more jaw-dropping views. Getting to the tip of Africa was like attaining the summit of a Munro – you simply have to get to the top or end! The cliffs at the southern point tower more than 200m above the turquoise blue seas below. Cape Point is situated at the junction of two of the earth’s most contrasting water masses – the cold Benguela current on the west coast and the warm Agulhas current on the east coast. (However the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet at Cape Agulhas; many people mistakenly think it is at Cape Point – this is merely the southernmost point of Africa.) Having rejoined the others, on our way down we also saw a whale lazing about far beneath us and some sharks surfing in the swell. All in all – an excellent day out was enjoyed by all! Despite the fact that it is winter, there were still many visitors about with quite a few big tour buses in the car park – but nothing like as busy as it gets at the height of the summer season when the place is absolutely mobbed. So, if you can, visit during the quieter winter months. 30th July to 1st August and the 4 of us drove up to Langebaan on the west coast, about 2 hours drive from Paarl. We had the use of a self-catering time-share flat (courtesy of friends of Monica’s) in the Greek-style coastal holiday resort of Club Mykonos at Langebaan. The kaliva or flat was right on the beach ensuring you went to sleep with the sound of the surf thundering in your ears! Despite our earlier misgivings about a purpose-built holiday resort we were very pleasantly surprised by the accommodation and facilities offered and, of course, the views across the sea were first class. And it did not cost us a cent! The resort also boasts a casino, shops, gym, restaurants, pubs and so on – and sleeps over 1,000 people! The whole thing is built to look like a Greek-village community. Langebaan the town started life in the 1880’s as a wee fishing village, but today it is an ever-expanding mosaic of holiday homes and developments – a property speculator’s haven surely? A lot of the small former fishing villages up the west coast are slowly but surely undergoing this transition as Capetonians increasingly seek to escape from the Mother City over weekends and holidays. The problem is they are destroying the original look, feel and nature of these quaint wee hamlets and villages. But this is not a problem unique to South Africa: it occurs wherever city dwellers escape to the country and start to impose their city values and expectations, thereby destroying what they initially came to seek and experience! From Langebaan we explored further along the coast. Nearby is Saldanha Bay – South Africa’s deepest natural harbour – ergo a big naval base and more recently, home to a huge iron-ore wharf. It is the terminal of the Sishen-Saldanha railway (built between 1973-76) for the transportation of high grade iron-ore from Sishen in the Northern Cape to Saldanha for onward shipment by boat. The railway line is 861km long with only 3 bends in the line. It got a Guinness Book of Records entry in 1990, when a 7.3km long train comprising 660 loaded wagons and pulled by 16 locomotives made the journey. Today you can still see long, long lines of wagons standing in the sidings at the ore processing plant. Not having made one for some time, we made a filmic homage: this time to Paternoster where the film Forgiveness was shot – it was not difficult to identify the various locations (see earlier in this section.) Paternoster (meaning Our Father) is a really typical small west coast fishing village, but it has a thriving Cape lobster export business which sustains the local, mainly Coloured, population. Legend has it that a ship Meermijn (mermaid) with a cargo of slaves aboard, anchored here in search of fresh food and water supplies. A priest on board said the Lord’s Prayer to give thanks for the abundant supplies found – hence the name Paternoster. After yet another grand seafood lunch – this time at the Voorstrandt (foreshore) Restaurant, we visited Tittie’s Bay (yes, that’s what it is called), Cape Columbine lighthouse and then on gravel roads to Stompneus Bay and a look at the Vasco da Gama monument. This Portuguese explorer and navigator landed here in 1497 after 3 months at sea! Then it was on to St. Helena Bay – named by da Gama when he anchored here with 4 ships in November 1497. Sunday 1st August and we went to the Boesmanland Farm Kitchen in Langebaan for lunch: excellent buffet-style, traditional Afrikaans farm-cooking in a superb setting on a headland with the waves crashing close by. The food was prepared in huge black pots (like those see in “cannibals cooking a missionary” cartoons!) over open wood fires and the delicious sweet-sour dough bread was baked overnight in clay ovens. The rest of the menu consisted of BBQ snoek (fish), mussels straight from the sea, thick farm soup, fish stew, prawns, crayfish, leg of lamb, roast beef rib, roast chicken, rice, roast tatties, caramelized sweet potatoes, veggies and salads; and for afters (if you had room left!) proper ground coffee or rooibos tea with milktart and koeksusters – a sweet, treacly delicacy. What a feast! And the house policy is: “Eat as much as you like.” And all for R85 (£8) a head – and we did!!!! 4th to 7th August: and another excursion into the vast semi-arid hinterland of the Karoo and Hantam regions. We travelled from Paarl via Wellington, over the Bain’s Kloof Pass which provided breathtaking views, through Ceres (heart of the fruit growing area: peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and apples although at this time of the year all the trees are bare!) We even came across snow patches at the side of the road as we crossed the 1,051m Theronsberg Pass. Then it was onto a 130km gravel road section through the bleak, desolate Karoo landscapes – over more mountain passes – passing huge sheep farms – vast red rock outcrops and everywhere the Karoo bush which is the staple diet of the merino sheep. On this 130km section we did not see another vehicle at all, except for a bloke on his bicycle on his way to only he would know where; and a family comprising ma, pa and two wee ones walking along the dusty road: they were carrying a huge bundle each, probably all their worldly possessions? We also saw the carcase of a big African wild cat hanging from a fencepost – presumably put there by the farmer who had shot it as a warning to other cats to keep clear of his lambs! At last we arrived at our first destination – the small dusty town of Sutherland at an altitude of 1,550m. We found our B&B called The Galaxy (with good reason). The reason for our visit to Sutherland was further up the mountainside at a height of 1,800m: the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) with its huge SALT structure. Sutherland was chosen as the site for the observatory due to its semi-desert location, its altitude and its isolation from towns and cities, which means no light or other pollution. SALT stands for Southern African Large Telescope – construction started in 2000 and it is due for completion in 2005. It will be the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere. Since 1970 an array of 6 other telescopes, ranging from 0.75m to 1.9 diameter reflectors, have been operating here, but the new SALT will have a whopping 11-meter diameter hexagonal primary mirror array! This will consist of 91 segments each 1 metre wide. SALT will be able to record distant stars, galaxies and quasars a billion times too faint to see with the unaided eye – as faint as a candle flame at the distance of the moon!! It will indeed be Africa’s Giant Eye. We went on a brilliant 2 hour tour of the site and were shown all the telescopes, including SALT – where we could see some of the mirror arrays being put in place – ever so delicately and slowly – by a huge gantry-located crane. It is all on such a massive scale and was quite mind-boggling. Outside it was quite cold and windy at this height despite the bright blue skies above laced with high, fluffy cirrus clouds. (Later in 2004, night-time tours of the observatory will start where visitors will be able to look to the heavens above.) After a dinner of succulent Karoo lamb that evening, we stepped outside into the freezing night air to marvel at the Milky Way, heavens, galaxies, planets and stars above. And a few shooting stars were thrown in just for good measure. From Sutherland our route followed 113km and 93km gravel road sections to Fraserburg and Williston – two more small villages in the middle of nowhere. Fraserburg was named after a Scots missionary, Rev. Colin Stewart in 1850. While looking for a place to have coffee we stumbled across the Fraserburg Merino Club Fleece Competition in the village hall, where judges were busy awarding marks to the various piles of fleeces entered by local farmers in this annual competition. After coffee and pancakes in a corner of the village hall set aside as an impromptu coffee-shop, a local guide took us to look at dinosaur prints on the paleo-surface at Gansfontein farm just outside the village. These fossilized prints were discovered by a farmer in 1968 following severe flash flooding. Karoo fossils provide the most complete evolutionary record in the world, documenting the change from reptiles to mammals. We were shown footprints of a Dinocephalian reptile - a 250 million year old quadruped, a 5-toed beast called Bradysaurus – as well as those of the much smaller Diictodon – known as the “dassie (rock hyrax) of the Karoo”, also primitive worm trails and casts and various ripple marks caused by “primordial soup” flood events. All these prints, perfectly preserved in the exposed mud flats, date from the late Permian Age, when Africa was part of the super-continent called Gondwanaland. Seeing them was equally as impressive as our visit to the observatory and somehow made a fitting counterpoint: observing the origin of spaceship Earth’s life and its earliest denizens via both the distant black void above our heads and the brown mud-plates beneath our feet! Then onwards via Williston (famous for its Corbelled Houses which are built entirely of stone with flat stones forming a scaffolding which protrudes from the roof) and a coffee-stop at The Hantam Huis (our favourite pit-stop) in Calvinia – this is a big sheep farming centre. It also boasts an excellent local museum, which used to be a former synagogue dating from 1920 (as in most rural South African towns, the Jewish community eventually moved to more urban centres). Calvinia also boasts a Giant Post Box on its main street. This 6.17m high red pillar-box is used to promote the spectacular spring wild flower displays in the Hantam region – and is also an operational post-box! Onwards again on another 116km section of gravel road, winding its way through the Cederberg mountains and valleys. The Botterkloof Pass was steep, stupendous and spectacular – and narrow! Not for the faint-hearted. Then it started to rain cats and dogs, thick mist set in cutting visibility down to a matter of meters. The red-earth of the road turned into thick, gooey red mud which saw us crawling and slithering over the Pakhuis Pass; front wheels spinning as they scrabbled to maintain any sort of grip on the steep muddy uphill sections. But slowly and surely the Ford Focus pulled us through safely and we arrived at Clanwilliam as it was getting dark by 18.45. Who said adventurous driving was over? I can see why the Ford Focus is such a good rally car as well! The family-run (since 1910) Strassbergers Hotel in Clanwilliam was our base for 2 days. Clanwilliam was named after the Earl of Clanwilliam, who happened to be the father-in-law of Sir John Cradock, Governor of the Cape in 1814. It is a big agricultural centre for the surrounding vineyards, citrus crops, cereals, tobacco and rooibos tea farms, nestling along the Olifants River which provides the much-needed water for irrigation in an otherwise very dry region. From Clanwilliam we drove northwards to Nieuwoudtville – known as the “bulb capital of the world” – to look at the spring wild flower displays. Although the first rains had fallen, the temperatures were still down and it was still a bit too early in the season to see the endless carpets of different coloured flowers which cover valleys, fields and hillsides in a wild riot of floral brilliance. We did, however, see a reasonable display of wild flowers in the Nieuwoudtville Wild Flower Reserve: various succulents and fynbos species were in flower and looked stunning. The Hantam and Namaqualand region are home to more than 3,000 species of wild flowers – a veritable botanical treasure trove. Another excursion was a walk in the wild Cederberg Wilderness Area – starting from the park HQ at Algeria. Due to the dodgy weather conditions and time constraints we only managed a 3-hour hike up Hell’s Kloof, following a well-constructed zigzag path up the steep slopes to some spectacular waterfalls at about 1,000m. The Cederberg comprise over 250kms of paths wending their way alongside rushing streams, past plunging waterfalls and deep, cold pools and twisting past amazingly (mis)shaped rock formations, e.g. Maltese Cross, Wolfberg Arch, Wolfberg Cracks, Lot’s Wife and Valley of the Red Gods. The highest summit is Snow Peak at 2,028m – also home to the rare snow protea (Protea cryophila). We will have to keep this summit for a future visit in the summer months! We did see some of the last few remaining stands of Cedar trees (Widdringtonia Cedarbergeensis): these trees which live to 800 years and once covered all the slopes were ruthless felled over many years for telegraph poles and beams for houses. Now a strict conservation and reforestation policy is in force, but nobody is sure whether it will succeed or not. There was no sign of the different species of antelope occurring in the mountains, but we did see Chacma baboons as well as hearing the early warning barks of their sentries to warn the rest of the troop of approaching danger. Leopards also still roam freely (they are protected nowadays) in the Cederberg; but they are rarely seen - being highly secretive and nocturnal beasts. Then it was back to our base at Groot Drakenstein just outside Paarl, with one week left prior to our departure for bonny Scotland on Saturday 14th August. We will probably spend this last week catching up on things before we come to the end of our year-long travels. All of a sudden, the last 11 months or so have been concertinaed into one last week. Saturday 14th August - we departed from Cape Town at 1935 - uneventful flight (not counting the crap catering on BA) and arrived at Heathrow at sparrow's fart i.e. 0610 on Sunday 15th August. Our connectin to Edinburgh was at 0915 and we duly arrived in the Scottish capital city at 1035 and back in our flat in Morningside by 1115. A very smooth trip all the way. More news once we have found our feet and sorted out the domestics - e.g. belongings from storage and so on. Nice to see we have not missed any brilliant weather!!! Thanks for keeping track of our progress and more news and "end of trip" summary to follow soon.

Owl House - New Bethesda
S.African Astronomical Observatory
Southern African Large Telescope - SALT