The pain is excruciating. It's been days and the rope is now so entangled around my mouth that it's impossible to feed. For a while I could make do, but now I'm weak. Slowly but surely it's becoming harder to even stay afloat. A wave suddenly crashes over me pushing me towards the shore. Normally I wouldn't even notice a wave like that, but now it causes me to roll onto my side. I right myself but not for long. Moments later another wave smashes over me and a sudden searing pain rips across my belly. I'm confused, disoriented by my weakness and pain. What's happening? And then I realise as the water recedes...I've been washed up onto a jagged rock. I cannot move. I try one last time but my energy is depleted. I lie still...waiting.
"It's all salt water," the skipper of the small boat explains proudly. "That means that we don't have no mosquito problems living around these canals." There are just the five of us and two other retired couples - the joy of traveling out of season - on the river cruise. As the skipper deftly navigates along the canals of Port Alfred we cannot help but be impressed by the mansions lining the sides of the waterways. Huge mansions, testifying to the wealth of Port Alfred, adorn the canal sides, although most are shut up until the next holiday season. I suppose to afford these palaces you can't spend much time away from work. It reminds me of what someone wise once said, “wealth is not an abundance of money but an abundance of time.” Our friendly skipper gushes enthusiastically with information as we cruise slowly along the mirror still canals making our way further up the waterways.
After our serene cruise on the canals we head off for some cultural growth. One of the key principles of our journey is to learn - not only academically, but also about the history and culture of the places we visit. Nestled in the old station is Port Alfred’s small museum. This beautiful building once welcomed excited visitors arriving at Port Alfred, or saw fascinating cargoes departing for inland towns. Today the building is quiet, the puffing steam train, and shouts of a conductor rising over the chattering passengers is gone. Yet the beauty and memories of this place are still real as I stare at the railway board that once welcomed visitors to the station.
Entering the small museum we are immediately welcomed by two ladies. They usher us inside into the cool, dark - thanks to Eskom - space within. The sound of seagulls fills the air as sailors shout out from high up in the rigging of their ships. Traders line the shore waiting for the cargo to be unloaded from the sailing vessels.
The leather harness creaks as the whip cracks above the oxen as they pull valiantly at the laden wagon behind them. The smell of the salty air and animals mingles in the warm midday sun. The whip cracks again as the oxen heave in unison.
The report of a rifle shot shatters the silence and the bullet whistles dangerously close to the young man crouched behind the rock. In fact so close that as he sinks further down behind the protection of the rock he notices a hole in his hat. Inches lower and he would be dead, just like his older brother whose name he bears.
The stories weave into a living tapestry as our guides transport us back in time. It's not a museum, it's a time machine, and we are privileged to have tickets to travel.
Smiling and waving us off...I've never experienced that from a museum guide before, we head out for a walk along Port Alfred's beautiful beach. A pair of local fisherman smile a toothless greeting at us as we watch them attempt to catch their dinner.
We've heard about a whale that's beached so we drive to see what has happened. There's a hive of activity when we arrive, as various official looking people are gathered around a huge whale lying on the jagged rocks. It is a pitiful sight to see this magnificent, beautiful creature ending like this. "What happened to it?” I ask as we approach. "He has fishing rope caught in his mouth," the person removing samples from the whale’s side says. Looking at the whale’s mouth I see the rope twisted all around it. What a terrible way to end for such a beautiful and gracious animal.
Heading back to our accommodation at Kowie River chalets we are in time for the lunch time braai at the pool. The smell of the smoke from the fires is like a siren’s call that no South African can resist. Soon we are sitting at the pool, soaking in the glorious sun beaming down from a perfect blue sky, while our meat sizzles away. Yet it’s not the smell of the meat or the perfect weather that is most wonderful, it’s the friendly staff. “My son is now running a transport company,” the manager of the resort tells us, while our daughter is deep in conversation with the lady helping serve the salads they have provided. We share our lives with each other, not as tourists passing through, but as friends we have not yet met.
This is Port Alfred, named after a prince who apparently never even turned up for his scheduled visit because something more interesting came up. Surely it should rather be named Port alFRIENDLY, because that is what sets this special town apart.
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