East London exists commercially around the harbor, automotive plants and parts suppliers, agriculture and tourism. It was actually the Mercedes plant that brought our friends Bernd and Eva to East London several years ago. Bernd was HR for plants in different parts of the world, including Beijing for many years. BMW and VW are the other two, so a lot of people are employed in these plants and the support businesses. Traffic gets very heavy at peak hour going to and from these plants which are all on the outskirts of town and near the airport.
We found out on Wednesday that the National Arts Festival was in its final days in Grahamstown, just 180 km away. So leaving Friday morning, we took the R72 past the airport toward Port Alfred. We passed “locations” with wonderful names like Umgwenyana, Ncherha, Ncera, ran into a speed trap near Chalumna, passed other locations called Mt. Pleasant and Kwasandile, and saw the turnoff for Mpongo, which has a Game Reserve. So many sites to see. This wonderful four-plex construction near Kiwane was fascinating. My guess is that someone from the village became successful and came home a built a big house, but in honor of his villages traditions. The rest of the village showed signs of an upgrade from tin houses to cinder block structures (we later saw a group of men making the blocks with a hand operated machine, something like this, but without the holes in the blocks; they were solid).
This is what they used to look like before the block built houses came along. We saw only one place that was incredibly poor with all tin or makeshift houses. Most of the area had the more substantial ones.And every one we saw had a large elementary school (at the top) and some a high school. People walk everywhere, as was this man not far from his town.I liked this one particularly because of the communications tower at the upper right. Cells phones were everywhere.
They were at their blooming peak and ablaze of color everywhere. We actually stopped to take a picture of the succulent tree above, and as soon as we did, we saw this women with her pineapple stand across the road. She immediately ran over to coax us to buy one or more. After we bought two of them and got on our way, we counted at least ten more only 20 yards apart!Franzi had told us on a previous trip that where there is a game reserve, these fences are build to keep the animals in. These high ones are especially for the various antelope (Nyala, Impala, etc). The much heavier ones, which we haven’t seen yet, are for the elephants and rhinos. I am constantly amazed are how many of our succulents and cactus in San Diego are indigenous to South Africa.
As we drove along, I noticed a sign for Coombs View, so since it looked like a viewpoint to the great scenery, we pulled over at what was a disappointing locked gate. However, behind the fence, the scenery was fantastic.
The one in the back with the white down his face is a Blesbok. Not a clue what the white one is. At this point in my adventure, trying to identify anything beyond an Impala, Nyala or a Springbok is beyond me.
Once we turned off the R72 onto the R395 – definitely not a main road – we encountered several very deep potholes (we had wanted to photograph them on our way back, but they were miraculously all filled in – Michael was pissed that he didn’t get a picture of them). We passed two men flailing their hands wildly. They were warning us that their cattle were about the cross the road. Saw a Black-headed Heron perched on an electrical pool, a White-necked Raven eating the entrails to some large animal alongside the road, cattle grazing amongst the scrub bushes, and goats feeding on the grassy slopes or trying to cross the road. The landscape was dotted with small ponds or reservoirs as watering holes for the animals.
The R395 ended at Peddie, a substantial town of about 5000 where we connected with the N2. Because of a detour due to the road construction, we drove a block into town past a street market. One vendor had a stack of cabbage that were each at least 12 inches across. Amazing. The construction work to widen the road was extensive, extending at least 2 miles beyond the turn off to Peddie, a major infrastructure project far from any significant town/city.
As we approached Grahamstown, we saw a new mode of transportation for the first time :
Once in town, we saw many of these donkey carts hauling both goods and people. Grahamstown is a bustling metropolis of about 70,000, of whom 78.9% described themselves as “Black African”, 11.3% as “Coloured” and 8.4% as “White”. Since independence in 1994, there has been a considerable influx of Black people from the former Ciskei Xhosa homeland, which lies just to the east. The Rhodes University, with 7000 students hosted many of the venues for the National Arts Festival, which was our motivation to make the trip the Grahamstown. In our 3 1/2 hours there, we saw only one performance, and it was wonderful. Tribute ‘Birdi’ Mboweni was singing at The Vic (Victoria Hotel) and we’re oh so glad we went.
I will upload our recording of her as soon as I upgrade my blog to allow that format.
Cafe de Loco lured us with their “Tapas” subtitle, only to discover their electricity was out, and they were only serving “Funky Fajitas.” We felt right at home. They were delicious, especially with the South African brews.
With little time before we had to get back on the road, we stopped at a street market to buy some longed-for souvenirs. My bargaining skills from my Peace Corps days in Nigeria were right there for me, and I felt right at home. “I give you my best price.”
Arriving back in East London before sunset, we were greeted by a wonderful MacDonalds Billboard.
What a fantastic day!