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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.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012 – Riversdale to Swellendam

With no reason to stay in Riversdale, but every reason to get to Swellendam (new tyre) we moved on. After recent Haworthia focussed days, today would be a Mesemb focussed day, with an emphasis on Gibbaeum.

Ironically, the first stop of the day was a Haworthia stop, but then, if your passing, why not? It was right on the outskirts of Riversdale, next to an industrial estate. We had hardly enough time to start digesting the excellent breakfast at McDonald’s and were already kneeling down with our cameras to take these images!

S2813 - Haworthia retusa

S2813 – Haworthia retusa

S2813 - Haworthia retusa

S2813 – Haworthia retusa

If you have been intrigued by the taxonomic controversies between Messrs Bayer and Breuer, try the website of Jakub Jilemicky at  http://haworthia-gasteria.blogspot.co.uk/2008/01/home.html as this seems to report both sides of the discussions.

We headed north on the R323 , crossed the Langeberg mountain range (one of my ‘ripples’) and stopped when again Gasteria flowers were spotted along the road, Gasteria brachyphylla ssp bayeri at S2814, but again grass hid the plants from the camera, so I’ll save my limited space here for another shot later today.

We turned west, passed the 1,730 m high Sleeping Beauty mountain and at another random road stop (S2815) took these pictures:

S2815 - Euphorbia susannae

S2815 – Euphorbia susannae

S2815 - Gibbaeum petrense

S2815 – Gibbaeum petrense

I believe I was first back in the car as I was really keen to see the next site, S2816, as it promised one of the star names of the trip during the planning stages.

We slowed down to find the exact spot and found it almost immediately, again it was right along the road and it was protected by a larger than life fence, with large padlocks on the gate. We turned back and across the road, drove to the farm house. We asked to see the owner, a man of few words, but after David had pleaded our case he gave us permission and advice on where and how to enter. Very much appreciated!

Having permission to enter a site adds another dimension to seeing and photographing them; I felt a lot more relaxed and it will come as no surprise that by the time we left I had added 216 images to my SD cards (+ another 216 duplicates, but in NEF / RAW format, just in case). Here is just a small sample:

S2816 - Gibbaeum petrense

S2816 – Gibbaeum petrense

S2816 - Muiria hortenseae

S2816 – Muiria hortenseae

S2816 -Gibbaeum album

S2816 -Gibbaeum album

One dimension that is almost impossible to capture by camera is the huge number of plants that cover this hillside, it was almost impossible to walk around here and not stand on and damage a plant or two.

Although Muiria hortenseae had been the main attraction, at this particular stage in their growth cycle I found Gibbaeum album the star of the show here. Something had been ‘having a go’ at the Muiria, birds? insects? tortoises?

S2817 must have been a comfort stop as there were no special images among the pictures that I took. On the other hand, we screeched to an emergency stop as we drove by a field full of clumps of silver leafed Mesembs, Gibbaeum pubescens.

S2818 - Gibbaeum pubescens

S2818 – Gibbaeum pubescens

What a shame that the fence was too high to cross, although David somehow managed to find a way in. Time was getting on and we’d be by this spot again on another day, so zoomed images across the fence would have to do for now along this busy road.

Monday, 12 November 2012 – south of Riversdale

Not for the first time, Cliff and I set off for the tyre repair man before breakfast. We were shown the damage done and had to agree that while it was possible to put on an emergency patch, just to get us back to civilisation should the need arise, this tyre too had to be replaced. It was a familiar problem – there was no stock of this particular tyre size but the new tyre would be here first thing the next day, except that …. there had been some problems on the N2, the main road from Cape Town along the south coast. Last August, five workers had been killed at a protest meeting about low wages and working conditions at a mine near Johannesburg. After the riots that followed, things – as far as the daily UK news services where concerned – had settled down, but we had at times sensed an underlying tension. Now, things appeared to have hotted up again. The tensions were not primarily racist, but as is quite common around the world, it’s tension between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ complicated by cheap labour from outside the country. We understand that the seasonal workers in the wine industry, many from Lesotho and Zimbabwe, were protesting by blockading the main motor ways, like the N2, stopping tyre deliveries and more. We had come across a similar situation much earlier in the trip, at Rosh Pinah, Namibia where there was a rumour that due to road blocks and truck drivers striking, petrol was in short supply, immediately leading to long queues at the pumps. The tyre company had an outlet in Swellendam, our next ‘home’ for a few days, so they ordered the tyre to be delivered in Swellendam where it would be fitted when we got there. So we had another few days driving on a temporary tyre with a dodgy spare. We had survived before in much more remote areas, we’d survive again.

We had selected some more Haworthia spots to investigate today, which took us near the N2, so we could take a look at things for ourselves and once again, would keep an eye on fuel levels to avoid being caught out if things should escalate.

S2808 was only 1 km from the N2 as the crow flies, but we must have driven at least ten times that distance from the N2 to get there. No signs of anything unusual by the way. I can’t remember which Haworthia we were looking for, it mattered not, as we did not find it where it was supposed to be. In fact the images I took suggest that we did not find anything else of interest, we were surrounded by agricultural developments. Never mind, we had seen so many fine plants already on this trip that the urgency / slight anxiety feeling that sometimes drives you at the start of a trip seemed to have worn off. Appetites were satisfied. It was good that we were now counting down to our flight home in days rather than weeks. Earlier on the N2 we had even spotted Cape Town on the direction signs. Hmm. if we had to, we could do it on one tank of fuel.

S2809 was always likely to be a more certain target, one that told us that we had arrived:

S2809 - Haworthia magnifica ssp splendens reserve

S2809 – Haworthia magnifica ssp splendens reserve

Clearly this visit should have benefitted from some preparation. We would need to get somewhere where our South Africa bought mobile phone could get a signal, wait to see if the contact was available – it was unreasonable to expect him to drop everything and race over, and even if he could, how long would that take? Common sense suggested that what grows inside the fenced off area might also grow outside and so we took a look around near where we had parked the car and before too long:

S2809 - Haworthia magnifica ssp splendens

S2809 – Haworthia magnifica ssp splendens

… we had found 17 plants. Great, no need to enter the reserve and hang around!. Our goal had always been just to photograph the plants in nature. The fenced off reserves are a necessary evil, the efforts to protect endangered plants in nature is to be applauded, but it’s always more satisfying to see them ‘truly wild’. After all, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time, money and effort by going on a short trip of specialist nurseries in Europe or the US if all we had wanted was a picture of the plants.

You could tell that we had arrived in a much more populated part of the world, along the famous Garden and Wine Routes, with a much greater emphasis on tourism. While we are all aware of the medicinal properties of Aloe vera, I was surprised to see a number of Aloe themed tourist attractions popping up along the N2. We had to stop at one, just to see what it was all about (S2810). Back in the UK I had spent some time volunteering at the now defunct Holly Gate Cactus Nursery and had learned that minor skin blemishes, especially inflamed cactus spines under the skin, would benefit from the application of the slimy juice of an(y) Aloe leaf on the area. At the Aloe Fer Aloe Farm, the shop had an amazing array of Aloe based products, cremes, lotions, drinks, sweets etc. Posters told the story of the plant and its magical properties that you can read about elsewhere on the internet. I learned however that the much larger Aloe ferox is a much better source for the commercial production of Aloe related products than Aloe vera. Despite this plant related subject, I find that I pointed my camera primarily at a series of garden furniture statues that perhaps provided an insight of how we might look on future plant trips – much farther in the future I hope!!!

S2810 - just a few more years

S2810 – just a few more years

I can’t think what S2811 was about – it must have been another failed Haworthia stop as all I have are two images of terrain as flat as Holland at its flattest but without the windmills, with views up and down the track.

We had more luck at the last stop today, S2812, surprisingly only 5 km from the Ocean, near a place called Vermaaklikheid where it is associated with limestone. As the name paradoxa suggests, authors seem unsure of where it belongs – it has a number of synonyms: H. maraisii var. paradoxa, H. magnifica var. paradoxa, H. mirabilis var. paradoxa.

The plants grew not far from the road, but on the edge of a steep and eroded slope down to the valley some distance below us. I’m sure that during heavy rains, some of this habitat end up somewhere in the inaccessible valley below us – we were keen not to go the same way. Nice plants!

S2812 - Haworthia paradoxa

S2812 – Haworthia paradoxa

S2812 - Haworthia paradoxa

S2812 – Haworthia paradoxa

Sunday, 11 November 2012 – Oudtshoorn to Riversdale

After four nights at the same hotel, time had come once again to pack our suitcases and load up the car. We headed west on the R62 and David told us that we were now in the middle of Ostrich country, Ostrich farming that is! We had already seen many signs to ostrich farms and to ostrich themed tourist attractions, but the expected fields full of these massive birds were missing, although the tall fences, needed to keep them in, were in place. Along the tune of Marlene Dietrich’s famous song, we asked ‘Where have all the ostriches gone….?’

We made a legstretch stop (S2800) but saw nothing exciting, while south of Calitzdorp our question was answered (S2801):

S2801 - Ostriches

S2801 – Ostriches

David mentioned that this was nothing compared to 2005. A few more km up the road we stopped (S2802) hopeful to find another Haworthia, H. scottii, a 2003 Ingo Breuer name. After a lot of searching it would appear that there is a Bayer name as well; Haworthia arachnoidea var nigricans.

S2802 - Haworthia arachnoidea var nigricans sensu Bayer - Haworthia scottii sensu Breuer

S2802 – Haworthia arachnoidea var nigricans sensu Bayer – Haworthia scottii sensu Breuer

Still bemused with the taxonomic challenges posed by Haworthia – in my case, getting a credible label for my images – and remembering the mysteries around naming the various taxa of Argyroderma in the Knersvlakte, here we were presented with yet another challenge: the genus Gibbaeum. I think that there might be two different taxa here, let’s see if you agree the provisional IDs: [PS: Looking at my images in the British winter light, I only see one taxon. I had noted G. heathii as well, but now would not know which plant to put that name too.]

S2802 - Gibbaeum nuciforme (G. cryptopodium)

S2802 – Gibbaeum nuciforme (G. cryptopodium)

I was able to download Nel’s Gibbaeum Handbook from the internet and although it was published almost 60 years ago, there have not been too many changes. One change is that G. nuciforme used to be G. cryptopodium (Latin for ‘hidden foot’) as most of the plant is below ground level – we believed the literature on this point at it was boiling hot and I left my JCB digger at home. It is said to have pink flowers – but that did not help as there were no flowers on show.

A male ostrich at the top of the hill was taking a fancy to us and was making peculiar snorting noises, not unlike those that my room mates accuse me from making while I sleep. Was the ostrich’s noise a mating call or a warning to go away?

The next stop (S2803) had been recommended again, by Gerhard I believe, and was at a succulent plant nursery: The Douw-Karoo Succulant [sic] Nursery. The owner, Nellis janse van Rensburg showed us around and we had a nice chat about the local plants.  Nellis suggested he’d squeeze in the car with us and show us some of the local plants, growing in fields near by. Great!

At S2804 we were not disappointed. Nellis explained that the high-fenced fields and pens had been for ostriches but since the bird-flu out break (WHAT?!? – they kept that quiet on the UK news!) the bottom had dropped out of the ostrich meat trade when the US and Europe banned the import of ostrich meat. Most of the birds were destroyed with some of the feathers going to Brasil for use in the Carnavals. With the economy flat / shrinking, there did not seem to be money available to invest in redeveloping the land. Government agencies were encouraging farmers to let the fields go unattended to give the original local flora a chance to re-establish, call it conservation if you like. When we stopped there was encouraging evidence of this recovery. We found or rather were shown a miniature Aloe, A. longistyla, two different Anacampseros sp. two different Asclepiads, Avonia papyracea (? in my own ignorant broad sense), Crassula columnaris, Crassula hemisphaerica ? Crassula tecta Crassula tetragona. a Euphorbia sp. Glottiphyllum regium, Haworthia truncata, intermediates with A maughanii, Sarcocaulon sp and a couple of bulbs, bare and sitting on top of the soil, some with their leaves eaten away by tortoises.

GS2804 - Aloe longistyla Glottiphyllum regiumlottiphyllum

S2804 – Aloe longistyla regium

S2804 - Haworthia truncata fa and Crassula tecta

S2804 – Haworthia truncata fa and Crassula tecta

We carried on deeper into the old ostrich farm area. Nellis used the term ‘Triangle Farm’ for this area which once belonged to a single farm, but over the years has become broken up into smaller parcels. Years ago (as David remembers) this area had also been intensively used for Ostrich farming.

Here we were shown more Gibbaeum – this looked to be the G. heathii that I had noted from the earlier stop, but now could not find. Nellis confirmed the ID.

S2805 - Gibbaeum heathii

S2805 – Gibbaeum heathii

Back at the nursery we were each given an envelope with Aloe seed – a new challenge for Spring. Thank you Nellis!

Taking his advice, we took the scenic route over the hills rather than the somewhat faster route over the main road. Eunice advised that there was another location of Haworthia emelyae sensu Bayer; Haworthia picta sensu Breuer, ahead of us. Well, as we were passing anyway, we might as well take a look, although our appetite for Haworthias seemed to have been largely filled. There was a slight delay as we circumnavigated and photographed an amorous tortoise couple. She was much larger than the male and he was struggling to keep up with her. I’m sure that we can all think of human parallels in our own circle of friends and acquaintances. By the time we arrived at S2806 we were well past ‘best light’ time, but still managed to take some OK pictures:

S2806 - Haworthia emelyae sensu Bayer Haworthia picta sensu Breuer

S2806 – Haworthia emelyae sensu Bayer or Haworthia picta sensu Breuer

We still had one more treat in store. I’ve mentioned before that the geography of this part of South Africa reminds me of a piece of paper where two opposite edges are pushed together, forming ripples in the paper. We found ourselves on a road that followed the east-west valley with ridges on either side. These ridges were the ripples that I alluded to. Here, a mass of clouds was pouring over the ridge to the south, probably the last ridge between us and the ocean. I say pouring, because the clouds moved at breakneck speed. It was watching an enormous wave coming at us, but as the clouds streamed down the hillside, they suddenly evaporated into nothing. More and more mist followed, but again evaporated, I suppose as it hits warmer air rising from the base of the hill. With it came a very strong wind that made the car swerve all over the road and the temperature outside the car dropped quickly by some 10-15 C. Amazing! We had seen similar scenes, but from a greater distance, along the coastal range in Chile, as clouds from the Pacific hit the mountains that create one of the driest places on earth in its shadow. I had also seen clouds roll over the island off the Baja coast at San Quintin. Useful images for a future talk on fog! We stopped to take pictures (S2807).

S2807 - Camanchaca

S2807 – Camanchaca

We found Riversdale much as we had expected to find it late on a Sunday afternoon – deserted.

We turned down one hotel as there was an unpleasant smell in the rooms, but there was plenty of choice. Enjoying a refreshing drink before dinner, the bar man checked if we were the owners of the Nissan XTrail parked in front of the hotel. Yes we were, although it is a rental car. ‘You’ve got a rear wheel puncture’. Great! Not. At least we knew what we’d be doing first thing in the morning: get it fixed!