After a few months of regular life, I am just back from another wandering through South Africa. This was an exploratory trip to my favorite – so far – area of South Africa, a stretch of Indian Ocean coastline about 300 miles east of Cape Town.
The land along the “Garden Route” is made up of sandy beaches, blue lagoons, farmland and mountains. It is Seattle, where I grew up, as it was when I was growing up. It in many ways it is also like my favorite place in my second home state, an area we call “The Rivah” along the Northern Neck of Virginia.
Knysna, South Africa
I feel a great synergy with one particular town along the garden route, Knysna. Knysna (Nys-na) sits on a salt water lagoon behind two bluffs. Once a logging town and the site of enumerable ship wreaks the dangerous harbor is now closed to big ships and, with the
depletion of the valuable yellowwood lumber growing on the mountains behind the town, Knysna is now transformed by huge, mostly empty, houses competing for a sea view in a hard scrabble climb up the side of the many mountains and bluffs that surround the sea.
I spent 3 days there by myself getting a feel for the place before Steve came down. Steve and I talk about staying for a while in Knysna once he quits work. I like it there but it is a holiday boom town. Rents that are $500/month from May to November (winter) jump to as high as $100/night in the holiday season (December to April). Which is exactly the time we would want to be someplace other than the United States.
I like Knysna because it reminds me of the places I love in America. That said, unlike America Knysna offers good weather. Local Johannesburg people complain that it rains on the coast but I say, I can live with the rain because it never freezes. Rents are low: high season rents are only slightly higher than year around rents in America. And the quality of life in South Africa is good. Food is varied, fresh and inexpensive. Low labor costs combined with the current advantageous exchange rate provide for help with everything from housekeeping to gardening. And finally a diverse culture makes for occasional scary, outrageous or funny events. (I have no new ones to report but the potential is always there.)
So, we continue to explore our options. There is no rush because Steve is not yet ready to stop working.
Back To Our Travels
While in Knysna, we walked the beach along the Indian ocean, checked out the areas of civilization pocketed along the coast and walked into the mountains where, once, and perhaps still, elephants roam. We spoke with a 4th generation descendant of Italian silk weavers brought to South Africa in the 1850’s to initiate a silk industry in the Knysna forest. The mulberry trees failed and the Italians took to logging the valuable yellow wood from the forest. The gentleman we talked to lived his whole life high in the mountains, farming cattle with his brother and managing a small museum in what was once a church for the immigrant community. He claimed someone riding mountain bikes in the area had seen an elephant just a few months ago.
Of course we choose to believe him. We, however, did not see any elephants in the forest. We did see a frog.
De Hoop Nature Reserve
We, together with some Canadian friends, left Knysna for the De Hoop Nature Reserve, an isolated point of land at the southernmost point of the African continent. To get there we drove for miles on dirt roads through isolated farm land devoid of both cell phone service and Google maps. Two years ago, when we first arrived, this traveling into the heart of undeveloped South Africa would have terrified us. This time we carried on undaunted. We even had the courage to stop and ask a farmer for directions. A courageous move that provided me a chance to use my only Afrikaans word, “dankie” (thank you) which almost raised a smile from the dour farmer.
You see, after several years, (Steve has been here three years!) we have adapted to life in South Africa. Adaptation is the reason my blog posts are no longer scary, outrageous or funny. For the most part we have figured it out and we can adjust sufficiently to avoid the scary, outrageous or funny. I am not sure if that is a good thing or not.
While we were there, the weather was abysmal (That rain!). We suffered rain squalls and high winds the whole time. The weather kept the four of us trapped in a very small cottage reading books most of the day.
I formed the general impression that there is too much nature and not enough else of interest on that isolate coast to warrant as second trip so far off the beaten track. Maybe we will come back for the whale viewing someday.
Home Again, Home Again
Just as the weather cleared we returned to Jozi for Steve to perform in the annual Christmas Concert. A fun sing along with jingling bells and lots of laughter. A very different Christmas concert from the Warrenton Choral annual concert in the Methodist Church.
So that is an update on our latest travels. We leave tomorrow to spend the Christmas Holiday in Bali on the theory we should see Indonesia while we are more or less in the neighborhood.
We have time, over three weeks, and very little planned for our stay in Bali beside rest and relaxation. So, if I can find a good internet connection, I will send you updates.
I will be thinking of all my friends, family and other loved ones as you celebrate Christmas as it should be celebrated: with the people you love, good familiar food, presents under the tree and snow, rain and cold.