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Archive for November, 2012

Tuesday, 20 November 2012 – Cape Town to home.

Yesterday I warned you that I am a completist. And this story would not be complete until I tell you about the journey home.

Fortunately it is a brief story and it has a happy ending. There are no images.

I redid my packing for the last time, mainly to redistribute the weight of the books so that I was making best use of the wheels on my large bag that would go into the hold and (hopefully) emerge undamaged in London.

Everything still fitted in the car. We arrived safely at the Budget Car drop off point and said goodbye to our home for so many weeks, since we received it in Windhoek in exchange for the car that we took from here at the start of the trip.

Airport formalities were among the smoothest I have experienced. Each of us did their own thing – we had spent enough time together. I spent the last Rands on some small mementoes and found a newspaper to become familiar with the current affairs and happenings in the world of which we had been oblivious for most of the time.

Flights left and arrived on time, including the stop over in Dubai.

By now it was Wednesday 21 November.

Angie was waiting for me as I walked out of the Arrivals corridor at Terminal 3 – Heathrow, laughing at my extra facial hair. Apparently I looked 20 years younger that night after I had met up with my raiser again.

We had just one more mission to complete – re-unite Eunice, who was a ‘in-transit passenger’ on her way home to Los Angeles, with some items of luggage that  she had left with us in Amesbury. I had grave doubts about her ability to enter the UK and get back through security again on her way out. Angie and I had to get from T3 to the car park at T1, from where Eunice’s flight home would leave. We waited for the phone call to tell us where she was so that we could meet up. Time passed and we were about to give up, fishing for UK money for the car park, when Angie’s mobile rang. Eunice was back in the UK! The hand over of items was quickly completed and goodbyes were said one more time – ET was finally going home!

75 minutes later, Angie and I arrived home. Holly the cat looked at me as if to say: ‘Oh, you’re back’ before ignoring me as usual.

I started writing day 1 of the Diaries, that are now up to date for another trip – phew!

To start reading this trip’s Diaries from the Introduction

Monday, 19 November 2012 – around Cape Town

Today is our last full day in South Africa. The last few days of any trip are always flat. Without having a camera to focus on some succulents plants, the mind started to focus on getting home more than ever. Eunice needed to go to the post office in the middle of Cape Town. I did not really want to go along, but as we needed to return our rental car in one piece I agreed to go along – driving in a strange town, especially (for Eunice) on the ‘wrong’ side of the road can be much easier with somebody reading the SatNav and giving instructions.

We’d underestimated the hassle of parking in any big town but got back with time to spare for lunch. Cliff and David had the car for the afternoon, to take a look around the waterfront and to get the car thoroughly cleaned inside and out to smooth over the hand back procedures tomorrow. Eunice persuaded me to take the cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain while I was torn between that and starting on the task of writing up these diaries. In recent years I had always done at the end of each day in the full knowledge that if it’s left to later the task may be too large to accomplish and may never be completed. For this 62 day trip, the task was significant and complicated by my lack of knowledge of the plants.

I’m glad that I decided to go along with Eunice – she ‘bribed’ me by offering to pay my admission charge that included the cable car ride, but I treated her to coffee and cake at the top which balanced the costs to some extend. As it is likely to be my first and last time in Cape Town, it would have been silly not to grab this opportunity.!

So here are some images from our last stop (S2832) of this ‘trip of a life time’ (yes, another one, I hear you say!)

S2832 - Cable car ride up Table Mountain

S2832 – Cable car ride up Table Mountain

S2832 - Table Mountain clouds

S2832 – Table Mountain clouds

S2832 - View from Table Mountain

S2832 – View from Table Mountain

S2832 - View over Cape Town from Table Mountain

S2832 – View over Cape Town from Table Mountain

S2832 - 9 weeks of growth on my chin

S2832 – 9 weeks of growth on my chin

The last picture is a reminder of how a 9 week long trip can age you! I look like an old man! (What do you mean? ‘Look like’! I hear David say.

We were fortunate to have seen these views on such a clear day. Most days, the mountain had a ‘Table cloth’ over the top, which would have provided quite different views. But then looking back over the trip in writing these Diaries I realise how fortunate we were on so many occasions. And how much I’ve learned about a huge group of plants that I knew very little about before we left. As always, the more you learn, the more questions it raises.

With the Diary project behind me, I can start on the next project: preparing talks to share this adventure with more people at some 30+ talks to BCSS branches this year.

And to start looking at plans for the next trip: Chile 2013 in Autumn.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 18 November 2012 – around Cape Town

Last night we had managed to find accommodation for the remainder of the trip at the Best Western Cape Suites Hotel – convenient, comfortable and at the right price, which means that we had to book in at reception via Eunice’s internet link on her iPad – hotels around the world seem to have widely differing prices, all depending on where and how you book.

From the beginning, we had scheduled a few days to wind down – in a way, ‘reserve days’, in case car or personal health problems had forced us to experience delays during the plant hunting phase. Although this Diary is primarily focussed on our plant stops, I’m a ‘completist’, so in the words of the BBC Mastermind series on TV: ‘I’ve started, so I’ll finish’, I’ll briefly report on the remainder of the trip.

Picking up any tourist brochure for Cape Town, some major attractions stood out for me. We had already visited the Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden on the day after our arrival and yesterday we had seen the whales at Hermanus Bay – from a great distance. Today we paid a visit to the Penguin Colony at Boulder Beach in the Table Mountain National Park.

I have been on a number of succulent plant related trips that have taken me into the tropics and allowed me to photograph plants that are iconic of extremely dry and arid places.  At the same time I have then seen these peculiar birds that are just as much iconic, but of icy cold regions of the South Pole – the two icons seem to represent complete opposites in nature, and yet ….

On a trip to the dry Atacama Desert, to places that are ranked as the ‘driest place on earth’, we visited Isla Chanaral, part of a Penguin colony and saw the Humboldt Penguin. They actually made their nesting burrows underneath the stems of Eulychnia chorosensis, one of the local cacti.

A few years later, on a trip to Patagonia and its cacti, on a beach south of Trelew we ran into another penguin breeding colony. I tried but failed to take a picture of an Austrocactus or Gymnocalycium  alongside a penguin – they do co-exist but in the reserve were encouraged to stay on paths to avoid damaging the burrows where they were rearing their young.

After a trip to Baja California, Alain and I spent a similar ‘reserve day at San Diego’s Sea World that has a simply wonderful penguin display, although of course in nature, these birds occur only in the southern hemisphere.

So it was only natural to me, after a trip to see the African succulents, to want to see a local penguin colony. This was by far the most accessible reserve I have visited – we were here during a Spring weekend and there were easily more tourists than penguins about – what a contrast with Chile where our little group of 9 and our guide were the only people in the colony at that time.

S2831 - Sphenisus demersus - African penguins

S2831 – Sphenisus demersus – African penguins

S2831 - Sphenisus demersus - African penguins

S2831 – Sphenisus demersus – African penguins

S2831 - Sphenisus demersus - African penguins

S2831 – Sphenisus demersus – African penguins

We got stuck in the expected spring weekend coastal traffic jams that are so common in the UK but still found time to pop by the Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden to visit their book and souvenir shop. There were some books that I had seen during my first visit that I decided not to get at the time as they would only have been extra luggage to lug about. Now was the right time to try to optimise my luggage weight allowance!

 

Saturday, 17 November 2012 – Bredasdorp to Cape Town

We had planned two more Haworthia stops, S2828 and S2829 around Napier, the last plant stops of our trip before some more tourism – whale watching at Hermanus (S2830). Today our luck had run out.

Haworthia badia‘s type locality is at a now disused quarry (S2828) where it is said to be also threatened by an invasion of alien vegetation. We searched here for about 45 minutes but failed to find any Haworthia. It seems we should have looked higher on the hill.

As we surveyed the scene at S2829 my heart sunk – another side-of-the-road-stop, cottages near by. Again we could not find any Haworthia roadside of the fence and again, after the Swellendam experience, we didn’t really want to cross the fence. Perhaps our appetite for plant photography was finally satisfied – at least for now.

It seems that the whales were out at Hermanus (S2830). During his previous visit, they parked the car, looked over the cliff side and saw whales swim by right beneath them. Today they must have been on a weekend break, because although the sea-front was heaving with tourists, the seas stayed calm and smooth. occasionally a little cheer would go up as some one spotted a splash in the distance, but when others looked – nothing. These giants can sure hold their breath!

I managed about half a dozen shots, mainly of just missed tail flukes disappearing and giant splashes as the reaction time between spotting a whale jumping and pressing the shutter was just that little bit too slow. The last image was of a whale who seemed to cheerily wave at us before disappearing. Bye!!!

S2830 - whale waving

S2830 – whale waving

 

Friday, 16 November 2012 – Swellendam to Bredasdorp

Although we had slept well enough, we were all up before 7. We phoned the tyre man’s mobile phone to see if they were open. Yes, we are now, but we’re not sure for how long – come quickly! Which we did! And got our tyre!

Breakfast was waiting when Cliff and I got back. It didn’t take long to complete our packing and quickly settle our bill and by 8:30 we were off. We reached the N2 without incident, but saw the result of yesterday’s riot along the way. Once on the N2 we pulled off at the first opportunity to fill the petrol tank. We now had enough fuel to reach Cape Town if need be, and could get there later today if we wanted to. Later on we learned that Swellendam had been again cut off from the rest of the world, when demonstrators took over the town at 9:00, when the courts opened to deal with those arrested during the previous day’s riots.

We reminded ourselves that we were on a plant trip and still had locations to look at.

In broad terms we were aiming to go to Cabo das Agulhas, “Cape of Needles”, a rocky headland in the Western Cape. It is the geographic southern tip of Africa and the official dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans although the actual division between the ocean currents is a different matter. The point where the Agulhas current meets the Benguela current fluctuates seasonally between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point. It is the cold Benguela current from the south pole that gives rise to the Namibian fog desert that was my main motive to come on this trip – to see the fog dependent flora of South Africa.

We had turned off the N2 and headed south, driving through agriculturally developed lands – huge fields of grain and stopped (S2825) near some cottages to inspect the side of road cutting. We were supposed to find Haworthia  maraisii here, a taxon that was previously included under magnifica, until Bruce Bayer separated it, now calling it “mirabilis“. Breuer uses the name schuldtiana. It matters not, we could not find it, suspecting that it grew on the other side of the fence. Given of the tensions caused by the situation in near by Swellendam, we did not want to cross the fence. I photographed Aloe ferox, Anacampseros lanceolata ssp nebrownii, Cotyledon sp, Euphorbia sp., Gasteria carinata and lichen, so it was far from a wasted stop.

S2825 - Anacampseros lanceolata ssp nebrownii

S2825 – Anacampseros lanceolata ssp nebrownii

Next we headed through the low rolling hills – we might have been in the UK if it had not been for the odd ostrich in the fields – to our next Haworthia stop. We drove past the coordinates to investigate and decide which of the two farm houses we should call at to ask permission. Of course we picked the wrong one, but the lady of the house was very helpful and jumped in the car with us to introduce us to her neighbour and help us to obtain permission. This was readily granted and the farmer jumped in his car to drive us to the best access point and even opened up the fence so that we could drive most of the way up the hill towards where the plants were. Very nice – thank you very much!

S2826 - Haworthia maraisii

S2826 – Haworthia maraisii

S2826 - Haworthia maraisii

S2826 – Haworthia minima

And that was it as far as plants were concerned today – we now slipped into tourist mode to go as far south as we could go on the African continent.

S2827 Cape Agulhas

S2827 Cape Agulhas

We spent the night at a nice comfortable hotel in Bredasdorp. Although I never lived in the town of Breda in the Netherlands, when we moved to England in 1967, both sets of grand parents lived there. On a near by cemetery lie the remains of the grandparents, my parents, an auntie and an elder sister who died soon after birth – Breda is a last link with my ancestory. As a result, all these people ran through my memory while we were in the village (dorp) that carries the name in South Africa.

Thursday, 15 November 2012 – Swellendam

Cliff and I set off before breakfast for our appointment with a tyre company to have our 4th tyre replacement of the trip fitted.

As we drove out of the side entrance of the hotel there were three or four cars waiting to the right to enter Voortrekker Straat. Mums taking their kids to school, we thought. We decided to take a left turn instead, followed by two rights and were now at an empty junction with Voortrekkers. A police car with sirens and flashing lights on came by and stopped about 1 km along to our left. Oh dear, early morning crunch! Never mind, we had to turn right anyway. We drove past the hotel and at the next junction found a line of riot police in full riot gear – helmets, shields, sticks and guns, two lines deep. That was useful to know – obviously more trouble on the near by N2. Never mind, we had to turn left rather than past the police line.

We turned left and … found a group of some 300 rioters running towards us, screaming, shouting, waving arms and sticks and various items of gardening tools! Not good!

Where do we go? Cliff threw the car into reverse and we went back to the supposed safety of the police line, but their ranks remained closed. Then back down Voortrekkers and we pulled into a petrol station across from the hotel. But the horde had caught up with us and had now engulfed the car, hands and faces against the windows and were starting to rock the car. Not good!!

What should we do? Then we heard some voices issuing commands. The crowd moved on, apparently following instructions from marshalls. With the road now clear of people, we now zigzagged around the debris – burnt out tyres, rocks and bottles and arrived at the garage where everything looked closed. The manager must have spotted us and came out of hiding from behind the building. Hurriedly he explained that the protesters had called a total strike last night, any business breaking the rules would be thrashed or burned to the ground. We looked at him in disbelief. He pointed at another petrol station next to his tyre place: every window was broken and the mumps pulled apart. It appears that the rioters had wanted to obtain petrol to cause more damage but had found the fuel sealed away below ground with the pumps switched off. It would be a long time before they could serve customers again. He confirmed that our tyre had arrived and would call us at the hotel later today or tomorrow.  A little worried, we drove back to the hotel where we found staff and guests cowering away from windows.

Eunice and David were OK, but scared. Did we get our tyre? No, may be later. Should we make a run for it and try to get to Cape Town?

It seemed that police and marshals were keeping the crowd on the move, marching them along a circuit through the town. Sooner or later, they were bound to get tired and fed up. There was a knock on the door and some policemen came with a protester’s spokesperson. Although most staff at the Hotel had stayed away from work, without telling their boss, five employees had turned up. The strikers had become aware of this and now demanded that the strike breakers left the building. They were given a police escort for their safety but looked very scared as they left.

Three trades reps who had stayed at the hotel for a regional meeting decided to make a run for it. They knew of roads and tracks that would get them around the problem area. They had received information by mobile phone that the N2 away from Swellendam was clear of trouble. They promised to ring if they got through. An hour later they were back. No go.

We now felt like prisoners under siege. Tyres were still burning and smouldering around Voortrekkers. Earlier we had witnessed the crowd coming round again and attacking a middle-aged man, the manager of the petrol station across the road from the hotel, now closed, receiving a beating.

We decided to sit it out for the day. A police officer came to collect prepared meals for some 40 people – the hotel had the contract to provide food for the local police cells! Although tense, he tried to reassure everyone that everything was under control. The strikers had broken into a liquor store in one of the townships and helped themselves to its contents. Soon after they went on the rampage. By walking them around they expected that they would walk off the alcohol and would eventually tire. Everything should be back to ‘normal’ tomorrow.

The owner and his wife, an elderly couple, originally from Portugal did their very best to make us feel comfortable and started to prepare a limited menu dinner for the evening. Fortunately the internet connection in the entrance hall area stayed up so that I was able to chat with Angie in the UK who advised that there had been no news of the events around us on the news. Eventually she managed to get on the eNCA Africa News channel and could watch the story there. I looked around various other news sites on the internet and learned that although today’s events were very real and worrying for us, in the middle of it, it hardly ranked as a news item compared to all the other violence and conflicts around the world. For a start, no one was killed.

It was a day that I won’t forget in a hurry. The few images that I have of the day are filed as stop S2824.

S2824 - Swellendam riots

S2824 – Swellendam riots

Wednesday, 14 November 2012 – around Swellendam

Tourist brochures described Swellendam as a peaceful quiet backwater along the Wine and Garden route and that was certainly the impression that we had as we drove through town last night and again this morning as we looked out on the main street (again, another Voortrekker Straat) over breakfast. We had booked into the Swellengrebel Hotel for a few nights, providing an opportunity to take another look along the road on which we had arrived yesterday. There was talk about more road blocks on the N2, one at the Swellendam exit, but as we were heading in the opposite direction, we were not concerned. Our new tyre would be in tomorrow, so we had another day of taking it easy.

We left on the R324, the road that we had comne in on last night. Past Suurbraak, the road turns sharply north, while straight on is the R322 where almost immediately after the turn was a track with an open gate. Open gate = come on in, doesn’t it? As it happens, we knew of a location for Haworthia magnifica within meters of the gate.(S2819).

S2819 - Haworthia magnifica

S2819 – Haworthia magnifica

Jakub Jilemicky speaks of ‘plants from the Tradouw Pass locality’ and says that they are extremely variable. Our next stop (S2820) was on the Tradouw Pass, so was this the ‘Tradouw Pass population’? As you can see, they are nice plants.

As we were getting back into our car, a young farmer came down the track and asked what we were doing. As usual we explained our plant photography mission. He tried hard to sound angry but failed. In a kinder tone, he said that really we should have asked permission (where?), adding ‘these are tense times!’. We apologised and left.

At S2820 we were entertained by some great views and a small group of baboons along the road – they had been here last night as well, but the light was better today and we had our cameras ready. Shame that we had other cars on our tail so could not stop for pictures until a lay by farther along.

Next we were looking for Haworthia mucronata, a common species that is found from Barrydale to Oudtshoorn. Here (S2821) at Barrydale, near the municipal rubbish tip, the plants were originally described as H. unicolor, rather pale green in colour with elongated sparsely setate leaves.

S2821 - Haworthia mucronata

S2821 – Haworthia mucronata

Was this going to be another Haworthia day? Perhaps not, as we were now heading into Gibbaeum country. We passed Ronnies Sex Shop, and for once Cliff did not comment about the missing apostrophe – what a strange thing to see right along Scenic Cape Route 62, in the middle of nowhere. We did not stop to check out the services offered, but according to their website, when Ronnie was restoring an old building, hoping to turn it into a fruit & veg stall, friends added the three-letter word as a joke. Initially not amused, Ronnie noticed that more and more people stopped by for a chat, curious about the sign. Later it was suggested that he should make it a pub and today it has become a regular pitstop for bikers, local farmers and other passers-by.

We took the track signposted for Warmwaterberg and Brakrivier for S2821. Signs warned that the Barrydale Plaaswag was operating her. It seems that the Plaaswag is a cross between a Neighbourhood watch scheme and a cooperative vigilante scheme; a security set up to reduce the theft of goats, sheep and cattle. It might well be that plant photographers with their cameras could be confused with rustlers, so perhaps we would need to be a bit more careful crossing fences.

The fences were of such a height that not even David was contemplating taking a look at the other side. We had to be happy with pictures of Crassula arborescens in full flower instead.

S2822 - Crassula arborescens

S2822 – Crassula arborescens

We drove on a few more km and finally found that the fences had gone. So what might we be able to see? Lots!

S2823 - Gibbaeum heathii

S2823 – Gibbaeum heathii

S2823 - Gibbaeum nuciforme (G cryptopodium)

S2823 – Gibbaeum nuciforme (G cryptopodium)

S2823 - Gibbaeum pubescens

S2823 – Gibbaeum pubescens

Satisfied after another great plant day, we drove back to Swellendam, swinging by the tyre place for our fitting appointment the next morning.