SA Trip – July 10-11, 2014

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.

IMG_3143We 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. IMG_2988This 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).

Brick makerIMG_2991Some like this white one catch water in a cistern, very smart. IMG_2992I love the color in these locations, some of which are build right up to the highway.


IMG_2995This 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.IMG_2990And every one we saw had a large elementary school (at the top) and some a high school. IMG_3009People walk everywhere, as was this man not far from his town.IMG_3011I liked this one particularly because of the communications tower at the upper right.  Cells phones were everywhere.

The terrain changed many times, from the grassy areas to the wide open hilly vistas.IMG_2997 IMG_3018I would not want to tangle with these thorns!IMG_3007 IMG_3035

IMG_3015 IMG_3022They were at their blooming peak and ablaze of color everywhere.IMG_3023 IMG_3031 IMG_3037We 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!IMG_3040Franzi 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.IMG_3038 IMG_3044 IMG_3046I am constantly amazed are how many of our succulents and cactus in San Diego are indigenous to South Africa.IMG_3048 IMG_3054 IMG_3055  IMG_3060

IMG_3056The ever present termite mound; this one is past its prime.

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.

IMG_1590 IMG_1603 IMG_1605The 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.IMG_1606 IMG_1607 IMG_1615

IMG_3061Here’s an example of one of the hunting game reserves.

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.  IMG_3072 IMG_3103

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.

IMG_3127 IMG_3133

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.


Passed a BP tanker truckIMG_3147

And were inspired by the pioneering spirit of a growing nation.IMG_3148

What a fantastic day!

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1 Response to SA Trip – July 10-11, 2014

  1. Selina Heaton says:

    Great post!


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