I'm attracted by the cries of excitement of the others. It means they have found food. Swooping down from high I see that they are fighting over some food on the beach. As I near the edge of the building a piece of food flies past me towards the ground. I dive down determined to catch it before it reaches the ground. Just before the food hits the ground, and the others with beaks open expectantly can anticipation grab it, I snatch it from the air, rising with a squawk of triumph.
“Wow, this feels like like Greece,” Nicky gushes as we walk the narrow cobbled alleyways between the whitewashed buildings towards our accommodation. We are staying at a timeshare at Club Mykonos in Langebaan, and the haphazard tiny streets and white buildings next to a tranquil sea remind us of our time in Greece. Langebaan, situated on the north cost of the Western Cape provides not only an idyllic place to chill, but a perfect spot to explore this fascinating area.
“It’s like being in a boat,” Joshua says as he stands on the balcony looking down at the beach. Our unit is built suspended just above the beach with the waves crashing below us. All of a sudden there is a flurry of activity amongst the seagulls on the beach below. Joshua has tossed a scrap of bread down to them. “Watch this,” he says, as he throws a piece of bread down towards the beach. “It won't touch the ground.” He’s right. A seagull comes sweeping from above and snatches the bread in midair, before banking sharply to rise again while the disconsolate seagulls below hurl abuse at it.
“Crayfish meneer? Crayfish?” a weathered looking fisherman says holding a live crayfish out towards us. Paternoster, just 45km north of Langebaan is a tiny fishing village that has become a popular tourist destination. Paternoster means "Our Father” and its old whitewashed stone houses that cluster together around the tranquil blue bay make it appear to be a “father” of towns. The beach is a riot of colours and activity caused by the brightly coloured fishing boats that have been pulled up on the sand and the customers huddled around the fresh catches that the fishermen have brought in. A lone yacht is moored in the bay that stretches out from the long white beach to the azure blue sky in the distance.
Nestled right next to the beach is a fish market where, in the busy season, the fishermen display their catches. It’s here that the best fish and chips can be bought. Leaning over those waiting to pick up their orders I shout, “Three hake and chips, please.” Through the hatch in the wall I can see a frenzy of activity as an endless procession of freshly fried fish and chips is being produced. There’s nothing that makes fish taste better than sitting on a hard wooden bench, hunched over paper-wrapped fish, surrounded by the sound of seagulls, and the smell of the sea hanging in the air.
Leaving Paternoster we drive further north to Velddrift. We arrive early for our sunset cruise, so we sit next to the Berg River and soak up the atmosphere as the boat makes final preparations to leave while the sun starts melting into the horizon bringing with it a welcome coolness to the hot day. “Hello everyone,” the captain says as we all seat ourselves on the boat. “Wil jy he dat ek in Afrikaans praat or would you prefer me to speak in English.” Thankfully there are some visitors from the UK on the boat so I won’t have my limited Afrikaans put to the test. “My name is Tollie,” he continues with a chuckle as those in the know laugh at the meaning of his name. I lean over and ask my father-in-law, who is Afrikaans, why people are laughing, and he says it has something to do with bulls losing their manhood. I ask no more. “I’ve been doing this for years,” Tollie says consoling the foreign visitors aboard, “but I am not old,” he quickly adds with a grin. “In fact I never want to be so old that I have to watch Sevende Laan,” he says referring to a South African sitcom. I nod in agreement - that would be old!
Soon we are cruising along the glassy smooth Berg river which has its source in the Franschhoek mountains, where we departed from a week ago. “This is the area to see birds,” Tollie says, as he points to a group of pelicans sitting on the edge of the water. With that there is a rush to the one side of the boat with cameras whirring. Thankfully the passengers are not super-sized so there is no serious listing of the boat. “Look there,” Tollie says moments later. And there we see a flock of beautiful flamingos. It’s like we have be transferred to South America. They stand gracefully on the edge of the river, in their iconic one-legged pose, surveying us with seeming indifference as we cruise quietly by. Their vibrant pink colours burst into life as the sun casts its final orange and red hues on them. We’ve traveled from the beach paradise of Greece to the tropical waterways of South America, and we have not left South Africa. This country truly is a world all in one!
“Ein wonder if dey wud like some music? I think dey wud appreciate it. So I walk up the stairs and enter da restaurant. It’s not too busy although der is a family at one table and a couple at anudder table. As I walk in I see da ladies serving behind da counter and I pick up da guitar and begin to play.”
The obvious way to go from Plettenberg Bay to our next destination, Franschhoek, is to continue with the N2. It’s a scenic route, but it’s not the road less travelled - and that is our goal. So we turn off the N2 at Heidelberg and head north towards Barrydale and Route 62. This long and winding route is probably one of the most scenic and fascinating routes to drive in South Africa. While we will not be driving the whole thing, we certainly are enjoying the part we are experiencing.
The route winds through farmlands and small one horse towns where there is not even a sign of the one horse. Soon the road begins to climb as we make our way up the scenic Tradouw pass. A towering cliff rises on our right and a tree-clogged canyon falls away to our left. With our stomachs staging protests due to lack of attention, we decide that this is the place to enjoy an ultimate picnic.
We find a picnic spot nestled on the side of the road where a small table has been set near a waterfall that trickles down the cliff before struggling its way down a small stream through the forest. The area is beautiful and green, but it is clear that the long summer and lack of rain has taken its toll on the water supplies.
After our lunch, with the gastro-protestors having been stilled, at least for now, we continue on soaking in the beauty and enjoying the empty roads. Route 62 goes past many interesting road-side stores like the now famous Ronnies Sex Shop. The story goes that Ronnie, a local farmer, opened a shop to sell vegetables and called it Ronnie’s Shop. However, one night his friends, obviously having enjoyed more than just Ronnie’s vegetables, painted an extra word on his sign. The shop became an immediate success and Ronnie soon turned it into a pub for people to stop at on their drive along Route 62 and laugh with friends about the shop's name, while enjoying a cold beer (that’s all). Later in our travels we will meet the son of one of these so-called “friends” who confirms the story.
We arrive at the small town of Barrydale, that literally is just a 100m long stretch of shops before giving way to farmlands again. Yet this stretch of town is filled with interesting restaurants promising the best coffee on the planet or the best milkshake, and interesting shops selling everything from koeksisters to artfully created necklaces and sculptures. I follow Nicky into a shop with a warning sign posted above it…
“ATTENTION MARRIED WOMEN!
No admission without husband.
Too many complaints about excessive shopping”
I see why this is the case, as it does not take long and Nicky, who is not much of a shopper, has found a special cream, probably made from the juice of the hoof of a dassie, or something like that. “I’m sorry sir,” says the the owner of the shop as we are leaving, “I’m sorry I was not here when your wife arrived. I would never have let her in unattended.” He beams a broad, and obviously financially contented smile at me. Yet despite the small dent in our budget, its this fun, friendly spirit that you just don't find in superstores and busy towns.
With many restaurants attempting to woo us in with their offers of good coffee and cakes, the choice is not an easy one to make. However we are drawn to a restaurant called “Diesel and Cream”, both because of the oxymoronic name and the amazing decor inside. A retro pub with a flashing “Tattoo” light and corrugated sheet metal bar area dominates the one wall, while old style tins like Cobra polish and a row of yellow plastic ducks decorate the shelves behind the main counter. “This looks good,” I say pointing to the Waffle on the menu. “A Berry Waffle and a Flat White is just what we need to complete our experience here.”
The sound of a guitar playing suddenly breaks the tranquility of the restaurant, as we wait for our order to arrive. I look up and see a bespectacled man wearing a cap and toting a guitar standing in front of the counter. He begins singing a lively song about “Diesel and Cream” to the servers behind the counter. As the song continues the servers beam huge smiles in response to the man as he slowly makes his way around the restaurant while continuing his performance. He stops at our table and we have a personal performance for a few moments before he returns to perform for the ladies serving behind the counter.
“Is he from the restaurant?” I ask the waiter as she brings our delicious looking Belgian waffles, drizzled with a generous portion of berries. “Na,” she replies, “heez just a tourist.” As we dive into the flavour extravaganza on our plates, the minstrel packs his guitar, and in a thick German accent says farewell to everyone. This is the spirit of Route 62. Friends you haven’t yet met and tastes you wouldn't expect all blended in a slow motion.
The sun lances through the water scattering into bands of light as it sparkles off the bubbles rising from the sea bed below. With ease I slip through the rays of light, gliding above the sandy ocean floor below. The clear water and calm sea above makes swimming easy, although a slight surge causes the seaweed to dance back and forth as though in response to an unseen hand. Suddenly a dark shadow breaks the sun, and seconds later with a quick flick of my tail I dart to the side to avoid inevitable death from above. The water erupts in an explosion of bubbles as a huge beast lances through the water where, just moments before, I was swimming.
“I can’t believe this is low season,” I say as we pull up at the back of a line of 10 cars waiting to get into the Tsitsikamma National Park. “I’d hate to see what it’s like here in peak season,” I grumble as we wait for about 15 minutes in the rising heat for our turn. Once more I’m thankful for our Wild Card, it's saved us a fortune in entrance fees to national parks.
Once we’re inside it does not seem too busy as we quite easily find a parking. We unpack our picnic lunch and sit down to eat it in God's diner - endless deep blue sea stretching out to meet endless deep blue sky, wrapped together by the free audio ambiance provided by seagulls floating effortlessly on the light wind.
“Hey, look at the cool raft floating out in the sea,” Hannah says pointing to a small wooden pontoon secured about 30 meters out from shore. We’re sitting on the small Tsitsikamma beach, nested between the wooden structure that houses a shop and restaurant and the cliff that rises up next to the Storms river. “Let’s swim out to it,” Hannah suggests. With the early afternoon sun causing the temperatures to reach the low 30s, we don’t need a second invitation. The cool sea instantly washes away the heat as we swim out towards the pontoon. Pulling myself out I flop down onto its gently bobbing, warm surface. It’s like having your own private island as we watch the people back on the shore. It’s the sound of a motorboat that catches our attention, as it deep throaty roar rises in intensity as it bounds playfully out to sea. “Now that is what we need to do,” Joshua says looking on with excitement.
I’m warm now and it’s time to swim back to shore…there’s no other way off our little piece of tranquility. I stand soaking up a few more sun rays as I steel myself for the waters cool embrace. Diving in I frighten a silvery fish, that with a flick of its tail darts away looking noticeably relieved that we did not collide.
It’s not long and we have purchased tickets for the boat ride which promises to be a combination experience - some fun wave bouncing action, and a photographers dream ride, slowly up the Storms River.“You should hold on tight,” the friendly boat captain explains, as he we all put on our lifejackets and cling tightly to the seats. “We will head out to sea then turn around and return to the river. Once we are in the river you can walk around and take photos.” With that the powerful twin-engined boat roars into life and within seconds we are racing away out to sea. The sea spray whips into my face as the boat goes faster and faster, flying over waves and crashing down the other side in a spray of water and shouts of euphoria. The adrenalin induced smiles are still carved on our faces as we finally slow down to enter the mouth of the Storms river.
A hidden world of stunning beauty opens up before us, as the rusty dark water slowly makes its way between the huge cliffs that tower on either side of us. Our camera is smoking as we turn it from one stunning spectacle to another, from the grandeur of the cliffs, to the colors of the water, to the overhanging caves. It’s like a lost, quiet world in here, a stark contrast to the heart pounding, thumping noise of a few minutes ago.
With our souls satiated with beauty we turn around and a few minutes later we are once more white knuckled as we laugh with childlike glee as we bounce like riders on an untamed horse over the glassy waves, leaving a swathe of foam and memories behind us. As I step off the boat, the mixture of tranquilly and adrenalin, of beauty and adventure swirling in my mind, it seems like I’ve just enjoyed two espressos with a cream scone between them. Perfect!
Hurry, hurry, hurry. That's what today is about. There is so much to do. Food to collect, paths to be cleared, new ones to be cared for. So much to do. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Yesterday's rain kept us all below ground but now as the sun quickly dries the ground I move out following closely the scent of those ahead oft me. The trail leads to a new food source. Hurry, hurry, hurry. All of a sudden the path ahead is broken as a new smell rises powerfully towards me. In seconds there is a frenzy of activity as we divert towards the scent. In moments I've attached to the food with my powerful jaws. However it lifts me high into the air as I cling on.
"Let's go for a run," Nicky suggests as I stare languidly at the calm sea in front of me at Plettenberg Bay's main beach. "OK," I reply, "I suppose we should." We've registered to run the crazy Comrades Marathon again this year but our training has been on holiday.
As the sun starts to paint the thickly overcast sky with light in the early morning we set off from our timeshare at River Club chalets towards Robberg. "Eish, this is a long hill," I point out the obvious, just in case Nicky hadn't noticed. After about 9km we reach Robberg where the Cape weather treats us to a summer gift of rain and driving wind. This is why I love running...it makes you feel alive, well at least until you die of the cold. The reward for the run is our discovery of Clare's Coffee shop where we grab the most delicious roll and coffee to enjoy as our run winds down.
The next day the sun has chased away any memory of cold as it rises triumphantly into the cloudless sky. On a day like this the beautiful peninsula of Robberg provides not only stunning walks but spectacular views too - well that’s what we have been led to believe. Dressed in shorts, slops and T-shirts, our standard hiking gear, especially in hot weather, and with a picnic packed we are ready for our hike. We look disdainfully at the English and other obviously European tourists also heading out. They are easy to spot by their white legs, socks and shoes or socks and sandals. They don’t know how to hike in slops like us and really enjoy the hike.
Minutes later we are questioning our laid-back hiking attire. It seems that some ants have decided to use the path as their walkways necessitating us to do some quick shuffling to avoid them crawling all over us. “Don’t worry kids,” I shout encouragingly as we walk quickly, “the ants won't carry on for…EISH!” I reach down to try and dislodge a particularly tenacious ant that is clinging to my toe with its razor pincers. I begin to jog as I notice that my feet are quickly being swarmed by a crazed mob of razor-pincer ants. Soon we are all running.
“Not far now,” I pant as sweat streams into my eyes and I race up a steep path heading to the top of the hill. “This is crazy!” The onslaught of the ants is unabated. Every now and then we find a rock that is free of ants, and like rats clinging to a piece of flotsam in the ocean, we huddle together catching our breath, while the swarming ant-agonists search frenziedly for the human feast they are determined to drag piece by piece into their nest. Finally, short of a few bits of my toes and other body pieces that I had grown attached to, we reach the long sandy dune that stretches down towards the sea. The thick beach sand, thankfully, proves too much for the ants, but I’m sure I hear them call out as we leave them and their salivating jaws behind us, “We will finish you off on the way back!”
“Bliss!” That’s the only word to describe the feeling of running into the cool sea. The cool water instantly washes away the sweat and heat and helps begin the curing of our bites. The wounds to our soul and pride will take longer to heal, and possibly may require a counselling consult-ant.
An island, joined by a beach when the water is low, separates a raging sea on one side from a tranquil sea on the other. A walk around the island on the beautiful boardwalk, which is an ant free zone, gives us a glimpse, for the first time, of the beauty of this area. After enjoying a lunch on the beach and slowly letting the memory of our experience recede, we have to consider the return trip. It’s a circular trip, and so I’m hoping the ants have received the memo that they are not allowed on this side of the pennisula.
Setting off it seems we are in luck as we walk past a cave that once housed people in this area thousands of years ago. I wonder if the ants were cat-sized then? We are laughing at our luck as we can see the car park just ahead, once more enjoying our open shoes when out of nowhere they attack. In seconds the path is a swarming black mass of enraged beasties, all with just a single intention - to take us apart skin cell by skin cell. We run, dancing, skipping, slapping, screeching….and yes, laughing. It’s just crazy, but that’s what makes these moments memorable and why I would do it all again…but next time, at least for Robberg, with the shoes those foreigners were wearing.
I stroke her long soft hair through the box. It feels like silk and her dress is so beautiful. One day I will take her home. Never have I see someone so beautiful. Never have I ever dared dreamed that I might be mother to something so precious. One day. One day I will take her home and she will be mine. My own precious baby.
When I think of Sedgefield my heart is lifted up. It's not only by the memory of my first flight but by the memory of dreams given flight. "Sorry Joy, but we are lost," I say as we call Joy yet again from our cell in the car. "Just tell me where you are and I will come and find you," Joy says. "No, don't do that," I quickly reply, "just explain again how I get to where you are. I'm sure we will find it." A few minutes later we are winding our way through the poor township of Smutsville "Hello, waar is die skool?" I ask some school kids on the side of the road in my limited Afrikaans. Equipped with our final set of directions we soon find the school where FreshStart runs their Swop Shop.
A long line with several hundred children snakes its way from a colourful container set next to a school all the way out the school grounds and up the street. We are met at the gate by Joy. "Hello," she says, "I'm Joy," she beams her welcoming smile. We walk through the gate which is closed with some children lined up inside.
Soon Joy is showing us around this amazing gift of love. "The children start here," she says pointing at a smiling man operating a scale. "They weigh their bags here." A small child stands by staring expectantly at the scale as he hooks the bag of glass bottles on the hook. "Vier punt vyf," he calls to another person seated nearby under an umbrella. "Each bag is weighed," Joy explains and they get Moola points for plastic, glass, paper and tin." The small girl, now relieved of the huge bags she had somehow manage to get here, waits quietly while her points are recorded and a sticker is placed on her hand. Her eyes light up as she sees the number and moves to the lady seated at the entrance to the container.
Two ladies sit at desks hunched over boxes filled with cards before a brightly colored container with wide open doors revealing a treasure of dreams. "This is where the children's Moola points are recorded," Joy says. "We currently have over 700 children on our card system." I look on as the children give their names and their card is extracted from the box. "Hoeweel wil jy spaar?" the lady asks. All of the children have cards that records each visit. They can choose to spend or save some or all of the Moolas they have earned. "Most of them save some or all of their Moolas," Joy says as I watch the young girl hand her card to a smiling man sitting at the entrance to the container. There is a look of awe and excitement on her face as she is about to step into this vault of dreams.
"Ok copy me," Joy says to an expectant group of children watching her from the line where they are waiting to have their bags weighed. Soon the kids are laughing as they copy the fun dance and exercise moves Joy is doing. "The kids get bored waiting, so I like to keep then entertained," Joy had explained to us. She gushes enthusiasm and a genuine love and care for these children. She is Joy in name and attitude.
The little girl is now in the container and looking in excitement and awe at the shelves lined with items. "Do the children use their Moolas to get toys?" I ask. "No," Joy replies. "Many of them buy toiletries and other basic products that they can’t usually afford. Just the other day a young girl who had saved her points for a year came and cashed in. Did she buy herself a present? No, she bought clothing and toiletries for every member of her family."
FreshStart is more than just recycling it's about teaching children responsibility. Unlike other similar programs that use the Swop Shop concept, FreshStart is focused exclusively on children. The children are taught important lessons like recycling, earning money, saving, and responsibility. However the wonderful part is that the lessons are not confined to the children.
“Just the other day one of the children’s parents, who works as a maid, was asked by her employer why she was looking through the garbage. She replied, ‘It’s recycling. My daughter does it. Do you know about recycling?’” The impact of love, of joy, of hope cannot be contained.
The little girl walks out the other side of the container, she is clinging to a box with both her hands. She looks lovingly at it as she carefully carries it with her. She turns it to show me, as a smile breaks across here face. The day has come. She holds her dream, her own precious baby.
For more information visit www.freshstart.org.za
In an earlier post I shared our 8-hour adventure with, led by Caine our guide, to see one of apparently only two waterfalls in Africa that plunge directly into the sea (the other thousands of kilometers north). However what he shows us is not what we expect at all, it blows us away, as we explore the unsigned, unnamed, and unexpected places of the Wild Coast of South Africa. Click here to read about this adventure and our surprising discovery...or join us on a short video experience by watching the video below.
The sun is warm now as it rises towards its pinnacle high above. With the warmth comes energy and more opportunities to eat. I move slowly through the grass away from the view of prying eyes. However if I'm to get to the succulent food I will need to cross the gravel road. It's not something I relish doing because it exposes me. I pause as I emerge from the grass on the edge of the road. I cannot sense any danger. I begin making my way across it...on and on and on I go...it should not be long now. All of a sudden a dark shadow looms over me. I immediately retreat into my shell as I'm lifted high into the air.
"It's just two steps and you lift high into the air," Lucille from FlyTime paragliding says as we sign our lives away…quite literally. As a family the dream of paragliding was just that - more a dream than a reality. It just seemed too expensive, and I suppose a little intimidating too. Yet here we are, standing on top of a hill looking down on the beautiful town of Sedgefield below. Above us a rainbow of colours fills the air as a myriad of floating paragliders look like colorful butterflies rising into the blue sky above.
Soon Joshua has his harness on and is being attached to Jorg, the pilot for the tandem flight, as they stand near the edge of the steeply sloping hill. I watch as our youngest child takes a few steps towards the edge…something we normally discourage our children from doing, and seconds later they are off the edge…as I am projecting “rise, rise, rise” thoughts to counter gravity’s “fall, fall, fall” law… and they begin to rise into the sky. Soon Sarah and Hannah follow. "It's getting closer to my turn," I think, as I attempt to keep track of which floating color spots are my kids. It’s a natural parental instinct that keeps you watching out for your kids, although it’s getting hard to remember which colourful speck is which.
As Josh and Hannah land, with huge smiles on their faces, Nicky launches into the air to join the aerial dance of colour. My vigil is not over as now I have to watch my wife, although her shouts of excitement reaching me from high above, do help my tracking.
"Ok," Deon says, "just keep walking until I say stop." "OK," I reply as I look at the ants walking on the road below…Oh, they're not ants, they're cars! Wow this is high! Quickly, but nonchalantly, I enquire as the edge looms nearer, "So how long have you been doing this?" I'm hoping for, "about four hundred years and I'm the current intergalatical champ and actually I'm a reincarnated eagle which means I can’t fall from the sky" or something like that. However it's too late for conversation we are running towards the edge and destiny. “I wonder if our life policies are up to…” The ground vanishes!
It's like magic! Three steps and the ground drops away and we gently rise into the air. I'm flying! I'm actually flying! This is where words become pointless. I suppose that is why eagles don't blog, they just can't put into words the feeling. This is truly specilirating - I need a new word to augment our language's limitations to capture the feeling. The first thing that strikes me is the quiet. There is no noisy engine keeping you afloat, it's as if you are magically floating high above the trees and sea far below.
We magically bank to the right as we continue to rise joining he colourful carnival of flight as the dance of the paragliders swirls around the invisible thermals. I breathe deeply of the cool air drinking up the surreal beauty and inexplicable sensations with even fibre of my being. I'm flying. I'm truly flying. All those dreams where I've awoken disappointed to discover it was only a dream. And now I'm experiencing flight.
It seems too soon and we are spiralling back towards the same spot that we took off from. It seems incredible to me that we can rise and fly in the air for as long as we wish and return to the same spot once again. Like stepping down a staircase..one, two, three, four and we are standing still back on the the ground once again. However my heart and mind are still flying, and I fear, judging from the family’s enthusiastic conversation, this is just the beginning. We've soared with eagles...and our horizons have been set free.
“Make sure you pack the beer in the cooler box,” Nicky says as we pack a picnic lunch. We’re experts at picnics now, as finding a beautiful place to eat lunch is a near daily occurrence. The good news is that doing this in Sedgefield is particularly easy. A short walk from our timeshare unit on the beautiful Sedgefield Island, as it is called, and we are on the waters edge. We follow the gravel road along the edge of a tranquil estuary framed by a tree-filled hill rising to touch the perfect blue sky on the other side. “Hey look here,” Joshua says, as he bends down to pick up something. He holds up a small tortoise that had been slowly making its way across the road. It immediately retreats into its shell as we look at Sedgefield’s symbol - the tortoise which represent’s the town’s “slow town” motto.
“The water is warm, come let’s swim to the other side,” Nicky shouts from where she is a few meters out in the river. Our senses have been satiated from the high’s of the flight, to the taste of our picnic. And now once more we are flying, this time in the warm water of the estuary, as I float on my back and look up at the vaulted blue sky…I’m lifted high into the air.