|Subject: Widdowsons' Trip to South Africa - Part III- Capetown to Langebaan|
Monday, Sept. 20 started cloudy and turned to rain, so we took a whale
watching tour to Hermanus, east on the way to Cape Agulhas. How many Canadian
school children know that the Cape of Good Hope is not the southernmost
point of Africa? Past False Bay and Somerset West, we stopped at the Harold
Porter Botanical Garden. Here there was a detailed exhibit, supplemented
by our guide, on the structure of fynbos. To be recognized as proper fynbos,
a community must contain elements of four assemblages: 1. Proteaceae (mostly
Protea and Leucospermum) 2. Bulbs (mostly Watsonia, Gladiolus, and Clivia)
3. Heathers (mostly Erica) 4. Restios (broom rushes). Fynbos burns easily
and takes about twenty years to reach seed-producing maturity, so frequent
fires courtesy of idiots who smoke lead to impoverishment. The Garden
also had displayed some of the former forest trees, yellowwood (Podocarpus
spp.) and Cape Beech. Cape 'Beech' (Rapanea melanophloeos; Family Myrseniaceae)
not only is no relative of the European beech, it is quite far removed
from Notofagus, the southern beech of Cape Horn and New Zealand. To some
extent at any rate, the Cape area was covered by forests which are now
gone. It is unique for the scrub covering deforested areas to be as diverse
The coast east of the Harold Porter Botanical Garden has a scattering of upscale waterfront houses, old folks' homes, and Protea farms. It is illegal to harvest wild Protea, so these farms supply the cut-flower market. On this coast, a fine beach was reserved exclusively for non-whites under apartheid. There was nobody on it, because of the dangerous undertow. Then we headed inland, to the poetically named Heaven and Earth Valley and winetasting at the Hamilton Russell Vineyards. The wine was good, and the grounds have a lake with friendly black swans, and also representatives of what we found later to be two of the commonest birds in South Africa: weaver birds and the hadeha ibis. The male weaver bird creates hanging nests with a hole in the bottom by weaving (surprise!). He then hangs upside down below it and flutters his wings, inviting a lady to share it with him. There are many species of weaver birds, mostly brightly coloured, with the most common being yellow with a dark face. The hadeha ibis, so called because of the raucous noise it makes, is gray with iridescent wing patches. We were disappointed not to get a picture of one this time, but as the trip progressed, we got rather too many of them.
We returned to the coast at Hermanus where, in season, you are just about guaranteed sight of whales. The Southern Right Whale comes close in shore in winter to calve. On sunny days they are usually lively, breeching or at least waving their flukes. On overcast days as this one was -- with the rain just barely holding off -- they tend to lie like logs awash, occasionally blowing, while suckling. On the beach was the local kelp, Eckloniopsis, which looks very much like the bull kelp Nereocystis, of the northeast Pacific, but belongs to a different family. Abalone also grow here, but are being poached (I mean informally harvested) to extinction. Lookouts with cell phones completely frustrate police and game patrols.
Heading back, we went inland through the Overberg. This is the prime apple growing area in South Africa. The industry was started by a Cape Boer (not a politically correct term these days, one should say Afrikaaner) who fought against the British in the Boer War and was captured by them. Instead of being shot out of hand, the usual, he most remarkably talked his way into prison and then house arrest on his farm. Having no help, he started an apple orchard and never looked back. At a rest stop, we were introduced to roibos tea, wasted on Tom, who refers to all herbal teas as 'swamp water'.
In the Overberg we also saw the first of many, many exotic forestry plantations. The native yellowwood matures in 140 years; here pine and eucalyptus, all planted in rows, produce merchantable wood in 20. Sometimes they do not get to be that old, both are resinous and burn like torches, while yellowwood is practically fire-proof. Environmentalists who complain about 'industrial plantation forests' in B.C., where native species are planted at random, on a 60 to 80 year cycle, should come to South Africa to see the real thing.
The soil in the Cape Flats is very sandy; to stabilize it wattle was introduced from Australia. One would think that one of the hundreds of species of Acacia native to Africa would have served, but no, and now wattle is extremely invasive all over South Africa. To control it, a parasitic gall-forming wasp has been introduced. This does not kill the wattle directly, but the stress of producing galls causes it to fail. Fingers are now being crossed that the wasp, when it runs out of wattle, will not turn its attention to some native species, such as yellowwood. (One gall has been reported on yellowwood.) From the freeway back to Capetown, we had a good view of affordable housing in Khayelitsha. Also on display was a two storey pre-fabricated shack designed to be assembled over an existing shanty, which is then disassembled and carried out the front door. In this way, the occupants have a roof over their heads at all times. The ANC promised a million new houses during their first mandate, and have delivered 800,000. This achievement looks pretty good until measured against the need. However grim housing (and 45% unemployment) may be in South Africa, it is still a land of hope and opportunity for everybody else in sub-Sahara Africa, who struggle to come in and overwhelm whatever improvements are made. Farmers are also at risk. Because of the bad old days, it is now against the law to evict squatters (sorry, informal occupants). A farmer may wake up in the morning to find two on his farm; the next morning, twenty; and the next, two hundred. Back in Capetown, we had dinner at Hillebrands; Italian, with good service from multiple waiters.
Langebaan, Kamieskroon, and Springbok
On September 21 we had a last breakfast at Vicki's. All of us, except Katherine, decided in honour of the occasion to change our order of 'regular English breakfast', to the great confusion of the waitress, who had got used to us. Budget delivered our car to the Breakwater for R20, which saved us the hassle of going downtown to pick it up, back to the Breakwater to check out, and back through town again heading north. We were alarmed to hear that the spring equinox was a bit late for the wildflowers, with the festival at Darling over already. However, it had been a late, cold spring and we were in luck.
In order to get used to driving on the left side of the road, Don planned a short first day to Langebaan. We passed a large nuclear power plant on the way. It was built in the days before public opinion mattered, but a proposal now to enlarge it, using a new, untried design which, it is suggested, could be sold overseas, has lead to a big outcry. We arrived at Langebaan and found 'The Farm House' without difficulty. This is a B.& B. at the high end of the scale, Cape Dutch style, blindingly whitewashed, but with iron roof instead of restio thatch. There was a weaverbird colony in the eucalyptus overhanging the parking lot, (watch where you park). Our room had a small stove in a fireplace, two upholstered chairs, carpet, TV and fridge hidden in a fine wooden cabinet. Lunch in the dining room was very good, with servings big enough for two, served by two elegantly dressed young ladies. In front there was, of course, a swimming pool, wasted on us as a fierce southerly (cold) wind was whipping the turquoise waters of the bay and the treeless peninsula beyond. Except that the whitewashed houses were scattered instead of crowded, the scene looked very like many we have seen in the Greek Aegean.
Heading around to the peninsula, we passed a hillside of yellow composites -- our first massed flower experience -- and a bird hide where we watched various seabirds standing head to the wind, but no flamingos, which were on Katherine's must list. The peninsula is the West Coast National Park, while closer to the tip is the Postberg, which is only open to the public during the flower season. This was the site of the first farm area outside Capetown. A variety of game animals, long since exterminated, have been re-introduced: Eland, Gemsbok (oryx), Ostrich, Gnu, Cape Zebra, Steenbok. We saw many tortoises, including one unwisely hunkered down in the middle of the road. When I moved it off, it showed its appreciation by urinating copiously. Back at The Farm House, dinner was even more elegant, with a fantastic wine-list. It was perhaps uncouth, but at least unpretentious, of us to order a carafe of the house white.
This was the first time we had the breakfast part of a B.&B. I had a good meal of cereal, fruit, juice, toast and coffee, and then discovered that bacon, eggs, sausage, and kipper were still to come. We continued to follow R27 north, but after Velddrif it peters out into dirt. This was OK in the dry, with some pot-holes and washboard, but might be bad in the wet. The Rocher Pan looked interesting, but it was closed. We passed a few hard scrabble farms, and a few which had quit scrabbling. There were a few flamingoes in Elandsbaai, but they were too far away to photograph. The town of Elandsbaai seems deserted except for a few blacks. The beach facilities, while deserted, seemed to be in good repair, with the toilets clean and functional. We used them, and carried on some distance to Lambertsbaai.