Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Great Road Trip

Well, here we are in The Mother City as Cape Town is known. There is internet in the hotel room so here goes with the first part of the Great Road Trip

Thursday 26 June 2008. Gauteng to Free State

We left Benoni around 9.00am and travelled down the highway towards the Free State, stopping after 3 hours for an early lunch. Just after the stop, we saw the first sign for Cape Town…only 1174k to go to our halfway point! We reached River Destiny lodge around 4.30. It was 3.5k down a red dirt road. (See pic of car!).We passed a herd of small bok and a large ostrich en route. The lodge was situated right on the banks of the Orange River and in summer would be an idyllic spot, but this was the middle of an African winter, so it was just above freezing by 7.00pm. The room was clean but spartan and had no heating! We spoke to the young man at reception who told us, “No we have no heaters, but you’ll be warm enough in bed with the blankets pulled up tight.” Africa is not for sissies, eh! The dinner menu was predictable but delicious nevertheless and also enormous! We had lamb chops with chicken kebabs (called sosaties). We resorted to type as true Scots and saved a kebab each to take away for Friday’s lunch! Having utilised all the spare blankets and pillows from the two spare single beds, we slept well enough and awoke to a severe ground frost. The river was shrouded in mist.

Friday 27 June. Free State to Eastern Cape
Breakfast was enormous and then we were on the road again by 9.00a.m.
We stopped for lunch at one of the many beautiful picnic spots along the road and enjoyed the “free” lunch! The flowers and wildlife were amazing! (See pic)We stopped to let a meerkat cross in front of us and he then reared up on his hind legs to watch us go off down the road. Soon a small monkey crossed and as we were remarking on that, we saw a herd of wild ostriches by the roadside. Just a shot while later, we stopped again to watch a huge bok looking at us from the verge. This was a leisurely journey, not all on motorway, with sunshine all the way. We reached Port Elizabeth around 3.00pm and just as we entered, via the not so pretty industrial area, the rain began. We drove right down to the main beachfront area but the rain and a decidedly winter feel made it seem slightly seedy to our eyes. We didn’t linger long and within an hour we were in St Francis. Our next port of call was the Port View Place B&B, in Port St Francis and it was absolutely stunning. We were met by the caretaker who showed us into the most spectacular lounge and kitchen then up to our fabulous room. (See pics of lounge and view from balcony).She then told us that we would have the whole house to ourselves! The Eastern Cape is reputedly the poorest province in South Africa but a tour round the fabulous houses here would belie that! The main village of St Francis is built around a series of canals or inlets on the Kromme river estuary and most of the houses had access to the water from their garden. The roads were connected by a series of pretty bridges. Our location, in next door Port St Francis, had a decidedly Mediterranean feel, with stunning houses and apartments built around a working harbour which has expanded to include a marina and a good selection of pubs and restaurants, all easily reachable on foot via a series of alleys and covered boardwalks. A wonderful seafood dinner and a stroll home ended a long day.

Saturday 28 June. St Francis
Breakfast was specially cooked and served for us by two people and afterwards we set off to the small shopping area in St Francis. It really was a bit of a backwater…they were still selling Friday’s newspaper! After a browse round some very upmarket shops, we drove to a nearby beach at Seal Point and spent a couple of hours walking along a beautiful shell beach. There was no one else in sight and the beach was covered in the most beautiful shells, all whole, so not many people ever walk there. Next we headed for Cape St Francis, to visit the lighthouse and penguin sanctuary. Back at Port St Francis, we watched some chokka boats at anchor and then booked for dinner. This restaurant was also wonderful. Chokka means squid or calamari and having watched some fishermen preparing the calamari fillets on the harbour side, we had to sample this local delicacy. They are prepared without the use of any implements. In the natural state, they are reddish coloured and altogether about 10 inches long. About half the length comprises head, stomach and tentacles, which are all pulled off in one tug, leaving the “tube”. The red membrane is peeled back then the whole tube is turned outside in revealing a long thin transparent bone just like a piece of strong clear plastic. The resultant tube is rinsed and soon enough finds it way to the table, either served as steaks or cut into rings. The taste and texture are nothing like I have tasted back home; they are soft, with just a little give and very sweet. It was an excellent dinner, especially as it was accompanied by grilled kingclip, our favourite fish

Sunday 29 June. St Francis
After our personally prepared breakfast, we took a look at the private beach. A tame cat latched on to us with little encouragement and when we went onto the sand, he came too. I’ve never seen a cat on a beach before! Next we drove to Jeffreys Bay, the premier surfing spot on the Eastern Cape. It was a little too “Blackpool” for our liking but we did find a very nice art gallery and bought a painting before heading back to stock up on deli items so we could eat in, to watch the UEFA cup final. We had a lovely spread of pate, olives, mussels, cheese and fresh bread. Mmm….

Monday 30 June. St Francis to Plettenberg Bay via Dehli (belly)
At 4.00a.m., I saw the whole deli spread again… and at 6.00am… and at 8.00.a.m...
I skipped breakfast and soon after, Les reappeared to hog the bathroom as our deli spread wreaked havoc on his insides. We took it in turns before finally having to hit the road by 10.00.a.m. in order to reach our next destination, hopefully in time to catch the owners who were to hand over keys. After a shaky journey, we reached Plettenberg Bay just after noon and were met by the maid. We were too poorly even to unload the car so we just sat in the sun on the deck, looking over the Indian Ocean. What an amazing location! The house has access right onto the beach in the bay, bordered by the Tsitsikamma Mountains on one arm and Robberg nature reserve on the other. An idyllic spot indeed. The house is homely and comfortable, with a “Chamomile Lawn” feel to it, very much a family home and not often rented out to others, I would guess. It was built in 1952 by my friend’s grandfather and is used mainly by family and close friends, so we are quite privileged to get to use it. You know the kind of people you are mixing with when the first entry in the visitors’ book is Cynthia Bagshawe-Smith .
We ate and drank nothing and were in bed by 8.30p.m.

Tuesday 1 July. Plettenberg Bay
We woke feeling a little better and I felt even better still when Les shouted, “There’s a whale in the bay!” And there it was, right outside the window! Close enough for us to identify as a Southern Right whale, so called because they were the “right” kind to hunt, yielding the best crop of oil for lamps and bones for Victorian corsets. After a quick trip to the shops and a very light breakfast, we were well enough for a long walk on the beautiful beach right outside our door. The sun was shining and although there were a few people on the beach, even a couple in swimming, it was almost deserted. The sand was soft and golden, absolutely perfect. There were a few more unusual shells to add to my collection, as well as some lovely pieces of driftwood, but they were left behind as I don’t know about the import regulations on things like driftwood! We watched as a “whale tour” boat passed by, everyone standing up to get a picture of “our” whale. We just hope they didn’t scare it away, or worse encourage it inshore as it already looked to us to be near enough to paddle out to! In the afternoon we felt well enough to venture into the small town which had loads of fancy interior stores and a very good bookshop. The sun was out and it was warm enough on the “sunny side” of the street, but pretty chilly on the shady side. We bought some fire logs and Les collected some kindling from the shore so he could make a nice fire in the lounge. Now, after a light chicken dinner, this is a scene of tranquillity as I type this and Les reads by the roaring log fire. There is a television, but so far as we can make out, it has picture only, no sound comes out no matter what Les does to the remote or box front dials. I am quite glad of that as he would watch any old rubbish! At the last place, as well as football, we were entertained to a darts match.

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