15 October 2009


Every blue moon I get restless and am driven to drive randomly across our country looking for pictures and stories. This year it became the West Coast’s turn and from Schoenmakerskop on the east coast I reached as far as Lambert’s Bay on the west coast before turning back.

For the first time I noticed an increase in petty corruption and strangely it was mainly in the tourist mecca of the Western Cape. The nearer you are to a big city the greater the chances you have of being exploited. Something else were the inflated prices at some restaurants and cafes that cater for the international tourists. Do yourself a favour and shop around and look for reasonably priced menus.

I am a natural born cheapskate and spent most nights in caravan parks ranging from those owned and run by municipalities or the South African National Parks Board, the nights I was not camping I was sponging a bed off some unfortunate family member or friend. The municipal caravan parks have a serious problem with late arrivals at camp-sites. Being a photographer I arrive at times that are bad for photography and that is sometimes at noon when I experience the length of country lunch time or the evening after sundown when I get the security guard. In any case you will not get a receipt if you arrive after office hours and whoever is in charge just pockets what you pay. The strangest story was in Simonstown where the books had already been done by 3 pm and there was obviously no receipt book. Insist on a receipt if you pay anything. Camping sites are closing down and it is not because they are not viable but more because moneys end up in private pockets.

Municipalities have their own characteristics and I do not like what is happening at Hermanus, the whale watching capital of South Africa. I sat on a hard rock for a few hours waiting for a whale to do something interesting and eventually went back to the car. As I got in a parking officer came up and claimed some R20 in fees. I don’t mind paying for safe parking but I want to know about it before someone claims money. They need some visible signage. What added to the aggravation is that again I was not offered a receipt and had to ask for one. Irritating too was stopping to look if there were whales and having to tell the parking person that you were just having a quick look. The parking areas around the cliff have been neatened and tidied and are well paved but I get the impression that the number of parking places seem to have shrunk. The last surviving pont in the South Africa has the same receipt problem as the caravan parks have which is a pity. Ask for a receipt!

Also a worry is that local tourists are few in number and I seemingly met more international tourists than locals. It is always interesting to discuss and explain things to non-South Africans. At Hermanus I witnessed an interesting attempted pick-up involving a Spanish tourist and a local. The local was very smooth, wore too much cheap jewellery and was dressed far too fashionably to be convincing. His end-goal was to lure the tourist to a nightclub but luckily he was there with his wife (she was watching whales) and he avoided being lured away. I worry about what the intention was, probably just some serious sponging but one never knows and it does happen that tourists are lead away and relieved if their possessions. Be careful and don’t take chances with strangers.

In one village I saw a white male shout at a beggar who was rummaging through a rubbish bin. Sad when you can not tolerate a poor person looking in the bin for food but racism still flourishes in some small towns.

Traffic on the main roads was terrible with many large trucks. My car is slow and being overtaken by massive trucks carrying shipping containers was particularly scary and irritating. Have our railways collapsed and don’t we have the means of shipping containers between cities?

The good news is that off the national roads the secondary tarred and gravel roads are great. Cutting between Bredasdorp and Riversdale on gravel was wonderful and the snakes (Cape Cobra, Puff Adder and 2 large Molesnakes) were amazing. The Blue Cranes seem to be increasing and it is always great to know that conservation efforts are bearing fruit. It is irritating that camping at De Hoop, a reserve run by the Western Cape Nature Conservation, is so expensive and I just passed by; privatization does not mean cheaper and I am told it also does not mean improved facilities either. My other favourite bit of gravel was between Laaiplek and Lamberts Bay and even though it is a private road (you pay a R25 toll) the birdlife was great with hundreds of flamingos visible through a culvert under the Sishen Saladana railroad was amazing. The West Coast, apart from some ugly new housing developments, seems unchanged.

The seashells on a string sellers of Lamberts Bay are a pain and next year I will bring one from home just to be left in peace. In South Africa it has become a bad habit with many locals to try and sell cheap trinkets and use persistence as their method. Country food is great and the best fish and chips was at Lamberts Bay, the best surfing wave at “Famous Last Words” and the most dramatic wave in Lamberts Bay itself. I like to think that I invented the concept of Post Colonial Seascapes there too.

The best news however is that we still have much undiscovered and unexplored wildlife. To hear the beating of 10000s of cormorant wings in the morning mist was worth all the hassle and stress of the journey and being attacked by a furious shrew was priceless.

Of course I had to buy additional photo storage and now sit with a few thousand images that need sorting and naming and filing and I don’t have time to write anything because the roof still leaks, Frieda’s (my beloved combi) tyres need replacing and the firm that does my tax has screwed up and the lawn needs mowing and the dogs need a walk and the phone is not ringing (work is short)(my recession is bigger than yours) and and and…………..

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