On the road in Africa, Part Deux
More sights and sounds on our 3300km (and counting) road trip across South Africa, From Cape Town to Johannesburg.
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More sights and sounds on our 3300km (and counting) road trip across South Africa, From Cape Town to Johannesburg.
Supposed named after one of the three peaks overlooking the village, that when viewed from a certain angle, resembled a Hog’s Back, or from a certain Captain Hogg, commander of nearby Fort Michel near TorDoone. In any case, apart from a morning hike to the Madonna and Child Falls through the stunning ancient forest littered with moss covered boulders and ferns, it pretty much rained the whole time we were there. Visibility was barely ten metres at times, as the mountain village of Hogsback was shrouded in cloud. Whilst the novelty of running around ‘breathing in cloud’ entertained us for a bit, the damp and the grey soon got old and we spent the time curled up beside the fire watching the resident pooch entertain himself with a soggy pine cone.
It wasn’t until a 1000 km drive and 48 hours later in Clarens that we finally outrun the rain clouds, to be greeted for the first time in days by glorious sunshine and blue skies.
It had been raining for 3 days straight in The Crags, with grey, moody skies in between when the rain paused for a break. In contrast to our largely sunny days in South Africa so far, this was starting to feel a bit like my time in London.
The plan was to hike the Robberg Peninsula and we had put it off for the past couple of days due to the weather but we figured optimistically that we would take the chance and go for the hike, despite the grey skies showing no signs to abating. Afterall, we bought our rain jackets for a reason right?
We are by no means seasoned hikers, and the only hiking I normally do prior to this trip was probably just to drag myself to the supermarket around the corner to pick up bread.
Anyway, by the time we approached Plettenberg Bay on the N2, the skies started to clear, and we were driving towards blue skies ahead. With a bottle of water each and a couple of breakfast bars and chocolates for a snack, we began our 5 hour hike. The first half of the hike was relatively easy, passing The Gap and the Witsand sand dune (where we had to make the decision to continue straight and go the whole way round The Point, rather than loop back then). We spotted a large colony of Cape Fur Seals languishing on the rocks below, enjoying the sunshine. A number of them were lazily swimming in the water.
We reached The Point and stood at the top, staring at the magnificent view around us, relatively calm on the left, and pretty wild on the right, with huge waves pounding the boulder strewn shore and rocky cliff face. For some reason, after a short rest, we picked up the path again and carried on, on the return leg of the journey. It wasn’t until about 45 minutes later, when we were quite literally crawling through the bush and undergrowth with thorny bushes stabbing us as we wormed our way through them that we realised that although a faint path carried on ahead, this could not be the regualr hiking path. By then, we were somewhere quite deep in the undergrowth, with sunlight coming through the gaps in the leaves above. Unable to figure out if we should continue on the ever diminishing path ahead. Fortunately, I had my mobile phone and Google Maps confirmed that we had indeed taken a wrong turn, probably along a long abandoned path to the now unmanned and automated Cape Seal Lighthouse, the highest navigational light on the South African coast.
A laborious 40 minute backtrack and a few more scratches later, we were back at The Point and on the correct path for the second half of the hike back.
The way back was much more difficult than the first half of the hike, clambering on huge boulders at times and clutching on to for dear life on the sheer cliff face at others. The scenery was spectacular, but we were at all times aware that the beautiful and powerful waves crashing against the rocks below us can just as easily sweep us out in an instant should we slip. Progress was slow and I was determined not to stop in case we loose too much light. I had no intention of trying this hike in the darkness.
Near the end, when were were practically on all fours climbing from boulder to boulder, a guy in tights appeared behind us, standing on the huge rock with a smile. A brief ‘hello’ and a nod later, he disappeared in front of us, practically running and jumping from rock to rock, nimble as a gazelle, whilst the two of us, lumbering elephants, watched in amazement as carried on our slow progress towards the car park and to a nice cool drink.
A big beaming smile greeted us when we first met Johanna Christian, she stood outside the car window when we were driving by with Emma, who had volunteered in Kurland Village last year.
“You have to come by later! Its so good to see you again!” she enthused.
For some years now, Johanna has been running a soup kitchen from her house to offer some of the impoverished local children what might be their only proper meal of the day. But more than that, her soup is her symbol of her love for her community and her willingness to take a step to reach out to them. Her kitchen is self funded and Johanna is hardly well to do, herself relying on the generosity of other people to make ends meet.
Her kitchen walls are a patchwork of salvaged plaster boards, with gaps in between, the cold wind never too far away. The wooden beam holding up the plaster boards was probably hastily put up and now leaning at an angle, threatening to buck under the weight.
As Johanna told us her heartbreaking story of making it through her trials and tribulations of a life unimaginably hard, we made a mental note never to complain about our comparatively insignificant First World problems, when she has overcome her great difficulties without compliant. She runs this soup kitchen as thanksgiving for having made it through her difficulties.
“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much great hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” ~ Mother Teresa
On the edge of the Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve in South Africa and in an area overlooked by Peak Formosa, is the rural township of Kurland Village. In stark contrast with the upmarket tourist haven that is Plettenberg Bay just down the road, Kurland Village is by and large, a poor rural community, with high unemployment, alcoholism, domestic violence and HIV.
A number of NGOs and volunteers from around the globe have been working to uplift the community, with an emphasis on the education of of the kids of Kurland Village as well as more immediate help with daily necessities and housing. I had the privilege of visiting Kurland Village as well as a couple of pre-schools with an ex volunteer and found the experience both humbling and inspiring. People are warm and welcoming and there are many people in and outside the community who work tirelessly to contribute in whatever way they can.
One observation I made was that the womenfolk of the community seem to be the doing the lion’s share of the work for the community, be it running soup kitchens or teaching in the schools. I noticed a lot of men just hanging around the street corners idling. Perhaps a longer stay in the community will reveal otherwise but this was my initial observation.
The children are the hope of the future of this community and it is not surprising that the majority of the community and volunteer projects are geared towards improving the education of the kids, often having to work alongside parental indifference towards education, as well as domestic violence or just the hardships brought about by poverty.
We have driven about 1400 kilometers thus far.
First and foremost, I apologise if this sounds like a short weekend drive to you. You, good Sir, are made of harder stuff than me. But let me put this into perspective; Singapore, where I come from, measures 41.8km (26 miles) across and 22.5km (14 miles) tall. Some place is ‘too far away’ when it is more than a 30 minute drive (with city traffic, this usually translates to not more than 15km). With that in mind, we have driven across the entire length of Singapore over 33 times over. This is a vast distance for a small islander, it was almost impossible for us to comprehend the distance, how each mountain range we pass leads to yet another bay, and another valley, and yet more mountains, surely we will be falling off the edge of the earth anytime now?
But no, dear reader, the road still stretches on far ahead, beyond yet more landscapes to be discovered, and if the map I’m holding doesn’t lie, it goes on MUCH FURTHER indeed, many more small towns, quaint churches, mountain passes, fields of flowers, fields of grass, fields of pretty much nothing at all to zip by outside the window before our destination of Johannesburg.
The mind boggles.
Its funny, the love affair we have with superlatives. Especially Singapore, perpetually striving to be the biggest, tallest, highest, busiest, largest in any public endeavour. Perhaps its our small island mentality and the constant need for relevance and to punch above our weight, superlatives define us.
So here we are, standing at the Southernmost tip of Africa, the wind lashing at our faces and jackets flapping about almost violently. The front had come in and the wind, merciless. The few visitors to the Cape fought valiantly against it, staggering at forty five degree angles and clutching on scarves and hoods that have suddenly becomes sails in the wind. Each crash of the waves on the rocky outcrops sent sprays in every direction. The rocks themselves stuck out at odd angles, looking rather menacing. They reminded me of the D-Day beach fortifications, the truth was probably not too far off, considering the huge number of shipwrecks recorded here throughout history, stormy seas, howling wind and jagged rocks do not make for a very safe passage for ships.
L’Agulhas is where the icy Benguela meets the warm Agulhas current, the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian oceans. You were supposed to be able to see the line where the oceans meet but I have to be honest, between the wind, ocean spray and the crashing waves, we could barely stay still for long enough to make anything out. Perhaps on a calmer day.
It was after much deliberation that I sold my Canon 5DmkII to buy the Fujifilm X-Pro1 with all three lenses available at the time (18mm, 35mm, 90mm) in anticipation of the RTW trip that I’m currently on. Whilst I had always been happy with the image quality from the Canon workhorse, I had grown tired of lugging it around, especially when I was travelling for leisure, and on this ‘low weight, low budget’ trip, the Canon was certainly not the right tool for the job. The X-Pro1, with its promise of high quality, lightweight performance, seemed to fit the bill perfectly. That it looked gorgeous certainly helped too.
The X-Pro1 has certainly come a long, long way from when I first owned it. With this latest 2.0 firmware release from Fujifilm, it almost seems like a new camera, especially when you compare it with the camera I bought at firmware 1.0, with the slow autofocus and annoying aperture clicking.
AF speeds, whilst still not lightning fast, are definitely more than adequate now, especially with my style of shooting. I have tried it on all three lenses, including the reputed slowest XF 60mm, everything seems to be just snappier. I really like that the image freeze in the EVF whilst focusing is gone, making shooting a much more fluid experience. 6400 ISO selectable in Auto mode is also appreciated, since the images from 6400 are still plenty noise free and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it if I had to, instead of risking a slower shutter speed when the (low) light called for it. Pity the minimum shutter speed for the Auto ISO mode is still not selectable, and the camera still defaults to dangerously slow speeds, hopefully this will be an option in the next firmware release.
The ‘focus by wire’ design of the XF lenses, as opposed to a mechanically coupled design, has been much derided since it was first released, and for good reason. It was practically unusable before, requiring countless turns to focus on anything. With firmware 2.0, this has improved drastically, with fewer turns needed to achieve the same result, whilst remaining sensitive enough to dial in small focus tweaks. It still doesn’t have the same satisfying feel of a good Zeiss or Leica rangefinder lens but it is quite usable and I might start using it in low light when the AF starts to struggle.
The 3x focus zoom to check focus whilst in MF mode has also made it much more usable than the default 10x zoom on firmware 1.10, you can actually check critical focus without zooming in so much that you completely lose any reference of the composition.
I’ve been using fast Sandisk Extreme Pro (95MB/s) SD cards since I first owned the camera, so I can’t say that I’ve noticed much improvement in the write speeds, although according to the firmware release notes, there has been an improvement. I’m sure there is, but it was just never and issue for me.
Overall, I’m very happy that Fujifilm is committed to listening to user feedback and is continually improving their product for their existing userbase. For the next firmware iteration, I hope to see some more manual controls in video mode, as it can’t be more than a software implementation.
The town formerly known as Hermanuspietersfontein, now, more conveniently, Hermanus, is renowned as the best shore-based whale watching destination in the world, which translated into budget-traveller-speak, means whale watching without having to pay an arm and a leg to have a boat take you out in search of these magnificent mammals. Home to the only Whale Crier in the world, who blows on his kelp horn whenever whales are spotted, Hermanus is undeniably proud of its whale heritage.
That reputation has certainly not gone unnoticed, with streams of whale watchers doing their own annual migration to the town during whale season from July through December, as Southern Right Whales visit the relatively shallow waters off Hermanus for breeding and mating, other visitors include the Humpback Whale and Bryde’s Whale who also visit as part of their migration path.
Whale watching involves luck and patience more than anything else. Scores of people line the shores with camera lenses of increasing lengths pointed out at sea, dead quiet. Once a whale, or three, are spotted, an excited chatter would spread around the crowd with the requisite finger pointing and inadvertently, someone attempting to mimic whalesong, usually not too successfully.
I wonder what the whales must think of us, puny mammals in our North Face jackets lining the shores, perhaps they visit each season to watch us watch them.
Sugar and spice and all things nice!