Posts Tagged With: Stellenbosch

VIII: Cape St. Francis, Tsitsikamma, Knysna, and Stellenbosch

June 2nd:
I woke up a bit tired, and sore, but no worse for wear. I was now beginning the final leg of my route back to Cape Town and had 5 days left before the car had to be back. I left Graaf-Reinet and headed south on R75 towards Port Elizabeth, and then caught the N2 west about 20km to the town of Humansdorp. Thanks to Matt, and Mike, friends from back in the states, I would have a place to stay with their friend, Sarah, who was living in the coastal town of Cape St. Francis. I phoned her when I arrived in Humansdorp to get better directions, and was delighted to hear she had just gotten off of work and was currently in Humansdorp as well, so I could follow her from there. We stopped by the grocery store to pick up some food for the braai she was having that evening, the South African equivalent to a barbecue; when she got a call from her work. Sarah is a veterinarian and was on call all weekend and had just gotten word that she had to see a man about a cow. I was offered to tag along if I wanted, and jumped at the chance. I followed in my car to a farm, which was home to a couple farmers she knew quite well. Rob and James, both lawyers, who happen to have a passion for cows, and run a cattle farm on the weekends. When we arrived they were just finishing up artificially inseminating the last half of the heifers. They were bringing in genes from a well-known Canadian bull. Sarah’s friend Izolda also stopped by, she had 5 cows herself and was keen to see others. Rob and James treated us grandly and drove us all over their farm to look at their cows and would not take no for an answer when it came to treating us to lunch and beers. After this unexpected detour I finally followed Sarah to her place. A few more friends came by for the braai, all of whom seemed to be farmers or work with farms. It was nice to relax and sit by a fire with good company and I was very thankful for the place to rest my head.

June 3rd:
The most relaxing day by far. The morning and early afternoon was spent walking along the coast with Joe and Tonks, Sarah’s two dogs who were keen to tag along. The ocean was chilly but not unbearable, much like a spring dip in Lake Michigan. I waded in and was soon engulfed in the waves, enjoying a refreshing and salty swim. The Indian Ocean had now become the first ocean in which I had swum on both the eastern and western shore. My last dip had been in Palolem, India in 2006. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing what needed to be done, re-organizing. The last night I had spent camping I had woken up to everything blanketed in frost so I had just thrown it in my backseat. Having a small yard to use made it the perfect time to air out and dry my camping gear before continuing on.

June 4th:
I woke around a quarter to seven and bid farewell to Sarah and her two pups, extremely thankful for the hospitality. I was now headed to Knysna for the next two nights. On my way I stopped at Big Tree, which is part of Tsitsikamma National Park, and is home to a stand of old growth forest, the “Big Tree”, and the Ratel Trail. The “Big Tree” is a 1000-year-old yellowwood tree that stands around 36m tall. It is a huge tree, but much different then the redwoods, and sequoias of the U.S.A. The Ratel Trail is about 5km of boardwalk and trails that winds its way through the dense forest. There is a great deal of birdlife, although they always seem one step in front of me as I walk and they stick to the thick canopy that keeps the forest floor in constant shade. It was perfect conditions for mushrooms, of which I came across many; the most interesting had a burnt orange cap. As its mycelium colonized the decaying wood it turned the core of the wood an unreal bright orange color as if someone had dyed it.
I picked up the road again and pulled into a backpackers in Knysna around 1 pm and took a walk around town. I had surprisingly not run into anyone playing soccer for the whole of my trip thus far, but finally saw a few people at a field not far from where I was staying. I had passed plenty of empty fields, and it made me happy to come across this group of high school kids in Knysna. They all played for the high school team and I played some small-sided games with them until they had to go home.



Tidal Pools in Knysna

Tidal Pools in Knysna

June 5th:

For the first time on my trip I woke up to overcast skies, and it seemed it was going to put a damper on my day.  I made the short drive down to The Heads, two towering cliffs that act as a giant gateway into the port of Knysna.  It is proclaimed to be one of the most dangerous port entrances for ships in the world.  The coast here is also home to many strandloper caves.  Strandloper is Afrikaans for beach-walker, which refers to the hunter-gatherer peoples that first inhabited the coastal areas living off what the sea brought in.    The caves that dot the shores were their only shelter.  The only remnants left are the blackened ceilings from the fires kept inside.  It was a harsh existence that was truly dictated by the ebb and flow of the ocean tides.  It is also the ebb and flow that brings the food to all the hungry creatures trapped in the low tide pools that form in the craggy shoreline.  I spent my afternoon hopping from pool to pool finding all sorts of urchins, sea anemones, starfish, and little fish while catching the salty spray of the crashing waves.  The rocky islands on the shoreline are also home to large groups of cormorants that take turns diving into the ocean in search of fish.  The scenery allowed my over active imagination to envision pirate ships entering the foreboding port to hide their booty in the craggy sea swept caves.

June 6th:

Today was my last long day of driving before the next 6 days in the cape peninsula.  It was about 5-6 hours from Knysna to Stellenbosch were I would be spending the night.  Stellenbosch is in the heart of the wine lands and is also a bit of a college town.  I was feeling a bit out of sorts, and after a long day on the road I wanted nothing more then a leisurely night to make sure everything was in order before I got back to Cape Town.  I stayed at the aptly named Stumble Inn, which was a backpackers that also gave tours of vineyards.  My first priority was to take care of an unknown bite/wound on my leg.  It started out small enough, looking like a typical mosquito bite, but had grown in the last few days to about 1-2” in diameter and was looking far from normal.  The outer edge was swollen, and red with the inside forming almost a bulls-eye with a dark purple, and black ring around the center which had turned white.  It was quite apparent I had some sort of infection.  I got out my first aid kit for the first time on the trip and grabbed my Swiss army knife.  I cleaned and sanitized the knife before using it to scrap out all the dead skin, puss, and infected areas of the now open wound.  I liberally applied antiseptic, and antibiotic cream, and hoped it would look better in the morning.  After my mini operation I made a large dinner and curled up by the fire with some of the local cabernet sauvignon, and read a book.

June 7th:

It was an inauspicious start to the day as I left Stellenbosch in a heavy downpour.  I wasn’t feeling quite right, not sick, but not normal.  I journeyed forth to take part in the daily commute of start and stop traffic that slowly inched towards the heart of Cape Town.  I eventually found the car rental place, less by address, and more by the memory of the streets I walked about 4 weeks ago.  To my surprise and delight they said the car looked good, and I wasn’t one to complain about the less than thorough inspection.  The rain helped as well, washing away the last of the dust that clung to the car.  The guy at the rental place was kind enough to offer me a lift to a place to stay so I didn’t have to haul all my gear through the torrential downpour.  I quickly got settled and figured out how to get myself down to visit Sarah.  She had the day off from field camp and I was eager to see her after my 4 weeks out and about.  After a 20 minute walk, a 40-minute train ride, and a 10-minute minibus taxi ride I made it.  Wet and haggard looking, with probably a bit of funk to my odor, I think Sarah was the only one who looked pleased to see me as I stumbled through the doors of the guesthouse everyone in the field camp was staying at.  I unfortunately was only able to stay a few hours because I had to repeat the taxi, train, and walk before the darkness came.  We were able to take care of some necessary planning for our leg of the journey together, which would begin in two days time.  I was also able to get a second opinion about the mystery wound on my leg.  Although her lack of medical training, I was able to gauge by Sarah’s reaction to my leg that more research needed to be done to identify the problem.  Sarah researched things on the computer while I ventured back into Cape Town.  She later called with her diagnosis from her research that it could very well be an African Tick bite.  It was not the news I wanted to hear but it was helpful.  I decided to prescribe myself the course of antibiotics I had with me before things got any worse.  I had a less than pleasant sleep with dreams of all sort of parasites consuming my leg.

African Tick bite healing after cleaning out the infection

African Tick bite healing after cleaning out the infection

Tsitsikamma/Knysna from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

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I: To Cape Town and Beyond

Cape Town and beyond from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

Oude Molen Community Garden


Sarah and I arrived tired and exhausted from our 20 hours of travel from Chicago to Amsterdam then from Amsterdam to Cape Town.  Passing over the Alps we were treated to clear skies and great views of the French Alps.  We continued into clouds over the Mediterranean Sea, the Sahara, the Sahel, and the tropical jungles of the Congo before descending into darkness for the rest of the flight to Cape Town.  After getting off the plane we parted ways, each of us off to our respective destinations. Sarah went off to her geology field camp, and I was taken swiftly to a mental hospital, to be clear, an abandoned mental hospital on the outskirts of Cape Town, which had been repurposed as an eco village.  Oude Molen Eco Village contains living quarters, a farm stall, restaurant, guesthouse, and a working farm.  I awoke the first morning to the cock-a-doodle-doo of a rooster in a new and different world and was presented quite the welcome as I stepped out the door.  The clouds had just broken, the rain stopped and the sun emerged to create a spectacular rainbow stretching from the top of Table Mountain down to the heart of Cape Town.  My first morning got off to a slow and gradual start.  The night before I had been picked up from the airport by Helen, one of the two owners of Oude Molen, and discussing my previous farming work back in the states at Growing Power in Milwaukee.  She told me about her partner, John, and his ambitious plans to add a large aquaponics system to his permaculture garden.  Helen had told John about my arrival, and he was eagerly awaiting me with tea in the morning and a number of questions about installing and running aquaponics systems.  A good deal of my first morning was spent with John, which was nice as I could help him with what I knew and pick his brain a bit about Cape Town and South Africa before I set out on my own.  In the afternoon I made my first foray into the city of Cape Town, catching the train for 6 rand (about 75 cents) into the city.  It was a bit of an information overload, like the first time in any unfamiliar city, and I spent the afternoon running errands, and finding a cheap cellphone to keep in touch with Sarah so we could meet up easily in 4 weeks time.  Not normally being a big city person I am usually keen to get out as soon as I can after flying in, but Cape Town is definitely one exception.  It is as if you took the mesas of western Colorado and put them in San Fransisco, and then added it’s own unique landscape.  It is a city for everyone, and probably one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to.

View of Table Mountain from the east

View from Table Mountain

The next day in Cape Town I made the most of being a tourist and got an early start to ride the cable car that takes you from the base to the summit of Table Mountain.  From the top you get an excellent view of the city and the surrounding bays, and is a good point to start hiking.  Table Mountain is over 3500 feet above sea level, which by mountain size seems pretty small, but it shoots straight out of the sea making the sheer rock faces look all that more daunting.  The cape peninsula also provides the perfect microclimate for the fynbos, which is the name of the biome found in the area.  The fynbos is home to its own unique floral kingdom and has over 9,000 different species of which over 6,000 are endemic, existing only on this little sliver of land in South Africa and nowhere else in the world.  Needless to say I spent the whole day exploring the unique landscapes on and around Table Mountain.  Scattered around on top of Table Mountain are little dassies, also known as rock hyrax.  They are about the size of a guinea pig, and are very interesting creatures with their closest living relative being the elephant.  They have very rubbery pads on their feet with sweat glands to help them stick to rocks while climbing almost vertical pitches.  They also seem to be one of the lazy animals I have ever seen, and on a nice sunny day you can find tons of them sprawled out on rocks just soaking up the sun.

Looking down on Cape Town from Table Mountain

Lionshead from Table Mountain

Proteas on top of Table Mountain

Lazy dassie sunbathing on top of Table Mountain

The next day, May 17th, I awoke early, stopped to say my goodbyes & well wishes to Helen & John, and then took the quick train ride again from Pinelands Station to Cape Town.  My original plan, based on the routes shown on the map above the ticket window, was to ride the rails northeast from Cape Town to the city of Bloemfontien, and from there venture into the small mountainous country of Lesotho.  To my surprise, although I caught on very quickly afterwards, all the routes on the map had been cut except one, Cape Town to Johannesburg.  After some deliberation I decided to purchase a ticket to roughly the halfway point, which would take me to the city of Kimberly.  Kimberly is a diamond-mining town and was home to Cecil Rhodes, and the De Beers Company.  It is about 80km north of Bloemfontein, and was my best bet for a jumping off point.  I bought the ticket and then waited for about 45 minutes as it was “processed” by the lady behind the counter while I waited on the benches.  I finally got the ticket and lugged all my gear down to sleeper car 11H and found myself across from a short, stocky Afrikaans man. He repeated the same routine of drinking a beer, snacking, and napping for the first 8-10 hours, which was then followed by a lumbering sleep with a snore that put the train whistle to shame.  I on the other hand spent the first 8 hours pretty much glued to the window watching the landscape slowly change from the capes fynbos, to the vineyards of Paarl & Stellenbosch.  The train stops as we passed through the wine lands were filled with hawkers selling fresh grapes to the passing train cars. I was easily won over by the one vendor’s shouts of “get the sweetness! 5 rand! Taste the sweetness”. I got 2kg of grapes and was not disappointed as the sales pitch lived up to its name as I mowed down the fresh grapes.  The vegetation slowly thinned out into jagged peaks covered in thick shrubs, and eventually into the sparsely covered karoo with its rocks, shrubs, and prehistoric looking succulents.   It was a dream come true, at least the daylight hours, as the train acted as a never-ending safari, with the only downside being I couldn’t stop when I wanted to take a picture.  Passing through the wine lands I was fortunate enough to spot a caracal not far from the track lurking in the brush. When the land gave way to the karoo it was open season as I spotted a number of springboks, ostriches, and elands.  As night fell I began to prepare myself for my arrival in Kimberly.  It was a 17 hour train ride with a projected arrival time of 3:30am, a tricky time indeed as nothing is open and I couldn’t very well go meandering around town in the dark alone with all my belongings.  I went to sleep around 8pm and was up about a quarter to three.  As 3:30 came and went, and the train hadn’t made a stop I began to feel a bit uneasy.  I set out to find a train employee to find out where we were.  I finally found someone who told me the train was running late, although they had no idea how late.  Afraid to go back to sleep and miss my stop I stayed up until we finally arrived in Kimberly 3 hours late at 6:30am.  Being late was actually beneficial though, as it now made my 3:30 am arrival dilemma null and void since the sun was now beginning to rise. However, it did cost me a bit of time I could’ve spent sleeping had I known the actual arrival time.

Upon leaving the train station I found no taxis, and no buses. Figuring I was perhaps too early I decided to set out on foot to find a place to stay.  I headed about 3km northeast to where a reasonably priced place was supposed to be, only to find out it was another 5-10km outside the city.  With only my feet to carry me I found it too impractical to be so far out of town because it would’ve been about a 20km round trip walk if I needed anything while I stayed there.  I backtracked the 3km I had already walked and continued south down the main drag another 2km, all this while carrying my 40-50 lbs. of gear on my back.  The weight I was carrying and the fact I had only eaten grapes for the last few meals, albeit vast amounts of grapes, on the previous days train ride was taking its toll.  I ended up heading into the tourist information center another half kilometer south for a break, and to see if I could get a better map and find some more information.  While I was in my last ditch effort to find an affordable place to stay, two backpackers stumbled in looking as worn down as myself.  They were Lance & Kristi, a couple from Illinois who were on their last leg of a 4-month trip through southern Africa.  They had run into the same problem I had a couple days ago, and had settled on an overpriced under construction guesthouse on the south side of town ironically named “Stay a Day guesthouse”.  They only intended to stay a day but had become virtually trapped in Kimberly and were on their third day of attempting to leave.  It became increasingly apparent that public transport had suffered some major cuts since 2010 when South Africa hosted the world cup.  Guide books, ticket offices, websites, everything lists all these trains, buses, taxi routes, etc. but when you enquire about them, or worse, when you assume they are functioning, when in fact they don’t exist anymore.  The only public transport left are mini bus taxis, which are unreliable, inefficient, and can be dangerous.  This is why the couple from Illinois was on their third day of attempting to leave Kimberly.  They were headed the same route I intended to go on the next day departing from Kimberly to Bloemfontein, and on into Lesotho.  The catch with mini bus taxis is that it must be full, completely full, every seat must be filled and are often times beyond the recommended capacity to depart, otherwise you just may not go that day.  This is what happened to them the previous two days.  Fearing this was a distinct possibility for me since I was planning the same route out I made a executive decision to join Lance & Kristi.  Whether I was the weight that tipped the scale in their favor or if it was just their lucky day, the mini bus taxi filled up for the hour and a half jaunt to Bloemfontein.  I learned two important things on my first mini bus taxi ride.  The first being that there is no place to stow baggage (although some do occasionally have little trailers) so everything you have must fit on your lap.  The second is that, seemingly, all the South Africans like to ride in the jam-packed mini bus taxis with the windows up with no airflow. As I soon found out when I was politely asked to “please close the window, the air is getting in my nose”.  Confused and now uncertain about where air was supposed to go and the function of the nose on my face I held tight for the short drive to Bloemfontein.  After the first success and with no real reason to stick around in Bloemfontein, and luck on our side, we found a mini bus taxi headed to the border of South Africa and Lesotho with 3 seats left.  We all squeezed in and headed to the border town and capitol of Lesotho, Maseru.  After the border formalities and a taxi ride around Maseru we were finding accommodation to be quite tricky again.  The one affordable place we found happened to be booked with all the 40 beds taken up by a church group.  The owners were kind enough to recommend us to another place, which ended up being nicer, cheaper, and closer to the city center.  It also happened to be an Anglican church with whom the owners were part of. We arrived and told the people at the church who had sent us and they fixed us up with rooms in the priest training center next to the church.  Maseru contains about 400,000 people in its massive sprawl, which is almost 50% of Lesotho’s population.  Lesotho is one of the poorer countries in Africa, and has an extremely high percentage of its population with HIV/AIDS, somewhere around 25%, and with the life expectancy of around 40-50 years, the majority of the population is quite young.  In stark contrast to other poor nations though, it has a literacy rate of about 85% and from my brief walk through the city that afternoon people were extremely friendly and welcoming.

Sunset over the karoo from the train


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Gianaclis Caldwell

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