Saturday, January 06, 2007

African Images #4, more travels

Pack your bags, we're finally off to Philippolis (bring sunscreen!!)

On Thursday 28th December, we set out for a visit to Max’s sister Joyce, and her daughter Shannon, who were celebrating their birthdays.
Joyce bought a lovely old historic home in the Karoo last year, and has been lovingly restoring it since then. (I’ll show you the amazing job she has done shortly!)
It is an interesting drive up from the coast, through the Northern Cape, and into the Free State, which gives a glimpse of a wide diversity of scenery and lifestyles as one travels North through South Africa.

Max is such a good sport. We decided quite spontaneously to hop in the car and go on this trip, and when I mentioned chronicling the journey for my blog, he immediately got into the spirit of it, and we stopped endlessly along the way to photograph the changes. It was rather nice traveling along a route which has become quite familiar to us over the years, but seeing it with fresh eyes as we looked out for things that may be of interest to someone seeing it for the first time.

We usually try to travel on new and varied routes and seldom return the same way, so the plan was to go via Graaff-Reinet, and return via Cradock, which is about the same distance. But there was so much of interest in Graaff-Reinet that we decided to come through it on the way back and we found so much great stuff and took such HUGE amounts of photos, that that will be the subject of other posts.

As you drive from Port Elizabeth, through to the small town of Uitenhage, it is mostly through built up outlying areas, and some wetlands, which were once beautiful, and home to flamingos, but have been spoiled by the industrial areas built around them now.
Uitenhage is based on the motor industry, with the major employers in the area being Volkswagen and Goodyear tyres, as well as many related car parts manufacturers.
The road swings round the outskirts of town, but you already know you are in Africa, with its strange blend of first-world/third-world.

The bush changes rapidly. It is dominated by aloes and succulents. I personally don’t find it the most attractive type of bush, but those who live there love it. I must admit that in their winter flowering season, the aloes are spectacular.

Leaving Uitenhage and heading for Graaff-Reinet, you are climbing steadily up to the central plateau that forms the main part of the country, and as you cross each ridge the bush changes.
It becomes more arid as you leave the coast, until you enter a huge landscape which generally goes under the title “Karoo” (ka-roower) which is characterised by sparse vegetation, scrubby bushes, and a few plants which typify the area are :
The acacia thorn bushes which predominate at first, and are in flower now. Their sweet smell permeates the bush.
the “noors” ,

and the “spekboom” (literally translated as "fat tree" because it has thick succulent leaves) which was flowering as we went through.
Jointed cactus has become a noxious weed in the area, and at one stage the cochineal beetle was imported to control it, as it had no natural enemies and was running rampant.
The Karoo has its own geological system named after it, and the flat topped hills with long flat stretches in between are very typical.
It is very dry, so the landscape is peppered with windmills, feeding borehole water into reservoirs for the animals and farmyards.
Because of the arid climate, the bush offers poor grazing for livestock, so the main farming activity in the area is centred on the hardy Angora goats and the mohair they produce.
However, many farmers have given up on traditional agriculture, and converted their farms into lucrative game ranches. Here you see the old sheep fences, raised to keep wildlife in. Even these are easily cleared by Kudu, who are amazing jumpers, and you have to be careful not to hit them in the road, especially at night when they get hypnotised by car lights, and stand in the road.

I touched on the subject of trophy hunting when we went on our canoe safari, unfortunately that is a big industry around here. It seems to attract a certain breed of testosterone charged non-hero (I mean REALLY! What is so heroic about killing a beautiful antelope who has no chance against high powered rifles, fast 4x4 vehicles and trained trackers, all these guys have to do is aim reasonably well and pull the trigger. Then back they go, complete with stuffed, glassy-eyed trophy, to brag to their buddies back home about how macho they are! I seriously do not get it!)
Then you get the REAL morons, who even have to kill the kudus on the road signs!

Even though this is a main highway to the North, there are long stretches of wild bush, and you see wild animals and large birds all along the way, which is great.
We saw springbok, black springbok, blessbok, kudu, tortoises, secretary birds, ostriches, black wildebeest, vervet monkeys, mongooses (mongeese? …... we saw a mongoose, then we saw another one!!)
and (watch out girls) TONS of storks! With cars on our tail, it was not always possible to stop for photos in time, but here are some of them….
Here we have springbok (yes, sorry, Max caught one of them in the act of relieving itself, almost as ungainly as a dog, and there are few things as ungainly as a dog taking a dump!!)
Because of the large distances between towns, many farms have set up roadside shops where you can get cool drinks, tourist gifts, BILTONG (Yum yum, dried out salted meat, called Jerky in the US) and home made jams and other fresh farm produce. Some of them are quite picturesque, like this one, covered with Zimbabwe creeper, and this one sporting a sort of “grandpa scarecrow” on a bench outside!
You come across other interesting and unexpected creatures along the way, but who woulda thunk it… a garden gnome in the middle of NOWHERE???
The sisals (agaves) were in flower, I adore the colour combination of the grey green leaves with the lime green flowers. Leaving Graaff-Reinet (which I will leave out for now, but don’t worry, in the immortal words of the Governer of California “I’ll be Back!”)
There is a huge grove of agaves, and a factory which produces Tequila from them.
We then do some more serious climbing, first over Naudesnek pass, then the beautiful Lootsberg pass. This is about the closest we ever get to snow, so it is a 3 hour drive from PE if we want to see it! And usually, by the time you get there it has melted.
Here I have to digress and introduce you to another love of my life, my car “Bloublitz” which means blue lightning, and is a very apt name. She is a little pocket rocket, Opel Kadett 2 litre IS, designed as a high performance sports car, and she handles like a dream. Sadly, she is getting a little long in the tooth now (aren’t we all!!)
As you can see from the onboard computer, it was a SCORCHER of a day, and we were incredibly grateful for the aircon! (it does over-read slightly, but still, YIKES!!)

So, as we went up Naudes pass, we stopped to take this picture of the moon over the mountain…

And heard all the water hissing and bubbling out of the car. The computer warning came on “low coolant level”, and we knew we were in trouble. We had just bought 2 small bottles of spring water in Graaff-Reinet, so in they went, but we knew it would not be enough. We took off, looking out for anything that may help, and surprisingly soon came upon this farm dam, with a sheep trough nearby.
The intrepid Max got back into his super hero’s cape (last worn HERE) and bravely climbed a wobbly barbed wire fence, at grave danger to the family jewels I might add, to collect water.
Sadly for his dignity, the only thing we could find to hold the empty cool drink bottles was a pink handbag, which somewhat diluted the macho superhero image!! I sat at the side of the road screeching with laughter while the poor man grunted and snorted and sweated his way back to the car, very unkind!

We stopped in the little town of Middelburg to see if we could find a mechanic, but the garage was FULL of cars with heating problems. We realised it probably was not one of the dire scenarios we had been speculating about, like a blown cylinder head gasket or something equally awful, and was probably just the insanely hot weather… and pressed on, going through to the Northern Cape town of Colesburg and taking the side road to Philippolis. Bloublitz seemed to settle down, and the temperature stayed within safe limits.
We crossed the Orange River, which is the major river in South Africa, flowing all the way from the Lesotho highlands to the West coast, where it pours diamonds into the sea! This forms the border into the Freestate,

and the vegetation changed again, with typical short grasslands taking over from the scrubby bush. The same flat topped rock formations persist here. Perhaps because it is so arid and univiting, there are derelict houses all over, sad but picturesque.

We finally got to Philippolis, and had a delightful couple of days with Joyce and Shannon. As this has been such a long post, I will deal with Philippolis, and her renovation of her historic home there in a later post.


Ali Honey said...

That was a great journey to follow. I think they should put up more of those signs for guys to shoot at and leave the live ones alone!
Guess you'll take some spare water containers with you another time.

VW Parts Blog said...

Great blog! Its really nice to travel, for you can see lots of beautiful sceneries, experience new things and can meet lots of new acquaintances. During travel, problems might occur [like overheating of parts, blown volkswagen head gasket , etc. ], that's why we must re check all car parts before we go especially if its going to be a long drive, to avoid delays on our trip. Having a trip from one place to the other is really fun and relaxing.