The countdown has begun and it’s now 5 months before the Moving Sushi team officially plans to embark on the African Marine MegaTransect. But, like the past weekend’s storms that lashed the Cape coastline, thing have not been going as smoothly as we had hoped. Here’s the thing with expeditions, the images we see coming back to us show incredible scenes. Feats of endurance, epic discoveries and traversing massive personal and mental obstacles to achieve something beyond the mundane. But the blood sweat and tears it takes to get there, the toil behind the scenes is either very well curated or often overlooked completely.
So, in an effort to be transparent with our process and also to acknowledge the sometimes unseen, I sit back now and consider our situation. Currently we are made up of an expedition team of 6; Justin, Myself, Linda, Agg, Rhett and Roxy. Small, simple but highly effective at this point this is a team of all the essentials to get the job done up until we need to populate the crew of our boats. Each of us have our defined roles and are working flat out to literally launch these boats into the waters, so to speak. Planning an expedition and balancing the daily rigor of life, earning an income and with having limited operational budget things have quickly become challenging. Add into the mix the fact that Agg is in Poland, Justin is relocating to Kenya, Rhett may be in Tanzania or the UK in the next month and Linda, Roxy and myself, well, we are still boring and are at home in Cape Town. Everyone is working far beyond what is required and doing so with no financial compensation. It’s a tough ask from anyone, especially in the economic times we are experiencing in South Africa. So, let’s just say our backs are against the wall, and well, the wall is looking pretty high from this side.
Every so often the problems you face and the requirements needed to pull off such an expedition seem so immense that one has to start wondering what the point is in continuing. And as fierce winds battered down against the shores of my home town, I found myself sitting looking out over the rocks that form the home of the Stony Point penguin colony and all that immensity crashed into me, stopping me cold. No financial security of my own, knowing that we will need to cover costs for fiscal sponsorship from the US and like a pressure cooker, creeping up slowly, all these issues started to eat away at my logic. A voice of doubt emerges, we all know that one right? It sits there, leans in close and whispers into your ear, “surely this is all a crazy idea, surely the best possible plan would be to throw in the towel, life would be so much easier if this just got benched don’t you think?”
It is a hard voice to silence.
My only solace is that I have been here before. In fact I’ve been here, listening to that voice, many times over the years. It whispered to me not to go to Gabon, it definitely told me I was crazy to get in a car and drive to Japan and it practically screamed me down when I was in the middle of the last East African expedition and we had to abandon our first boat after a month of going nowhere. Fortunately, time and experience have taught me a remedy, a mental salve to fend off the spreading infectious fear. I know that there are a few things that make it all worthwhile. Firstly, it is why you have a team and more specifically a team like the one I have. They have your back, not only so that you can succeed together but to also have people on your side when you are deep in the trenches who you know are fully capable when things start to hit murky waters. Then comes the fact that the meaning and value of the expedition warrants the effort. It’s not a holiday adventure we are planning, it has very little to do with our egos or being known as people who create pseudo adventurer science for popularity.
For me, and the others, it is a sense of duty, and requirement that up to this point, is not being met. The data we plan to capture will provide critical insights into coral reef health and fish stocks in East Africa. We need this data, and if we have the means and passion to go and get it, then we should throw everything at the opportunity.
So, we go on. Even though I still have to sit with a whirlwind of anxiousness and self-doubt I hold fast on to ‘the why’, the reason that you choose to step out of the front door in the first place and turn on the key in the ignition. The path is there and I know the way, even if right now it does seem like a mountain to climb.
According to the United Nations Environmental Program, coral reefs are essential global life support systems. Along the east Coast of Africa lies one of the worlds most important coral reefs ecosystems. It represents the food lifeline to millions of people, yet we know very little and have focused hardly any attention to these reefs in comparison to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, or the coral reef triangle in the Pacific. The coral reef in East Africa, like many the word over is dying, but just how fast, and to what extent is largely unknown.
Climate change, increasing sea temperatures and ocean acidification are among the global challenges, while overfishing, the use of destructive fishing gears like dynamite and pollution represent local challenges. In Lieu of the importance of understanding the how fast the coral reefs are dying and the relationship between climate change and societal needs, Moving Sushi is launching the African Marine MegaTransect Expedition 2017 – 2018. The task is simple: “To use scientific exploration and open access data to fast track the understanding of the social, economic and biological needs for the conservation and sustainable use of key marine resources associate with the coral reef ecosystem of East Africa." In doing so the team will use new innovative techniques for fish assessments and coral reef health determination. Furthermore the team will explore new innovative techniques like fluorescence to unlock new scientific discoveries in the region. The expedition is line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals by increasing scientific knowledge, developing research capacity and enhancing our ability to conserve key resources and ecosystems.
By: Mike Markovina
Route 62 winds its way up the Western Cape passing through the Paarl tunnel and skirting along the edges of the 170km Langeberg mountain range. They call this road a “journey to the unexpected,” an alternative to the well trodden road from Cape Town to port Elizabeth that often attracts many a holiday maker. There is a claim that the longest wine route in the world sits between Tulbagh and Oudtshoorn, and I guess I can see that having some ground because just the short section that I went to explore for two days, closer to Cape Town, is continuously flanked by citrus and wine farms peeping over the valleys and hills.
‘Unexpected’ is exactly the kind of word I would use to describe my little jaunt out into the Langeberg area. We ventured into an excavated underground cellar at Weltevrede Estate, close to Bonnivale, for a wine tasting in the dark, a forgotten part of the farms history that was discovered by accident. Sometime in the late 50’s a series of wine tanks were carved out into the rock walls underneath Weltevrede farm to store up litres of red, sweet wine. Somehow the hidden vats of fermenting goodness fell into the back of the owner’s mind, and over the years the knowledge of these networks of chambers were lost in the history of the farm. It wasn’t until Phillip Jonker, the fourth generation to take over, and his team were cleaning one of the areas where they house barrels of wine that somehow a gap in the floor was discovered and the hidden tanks revealed. They potentially have a field of hidden wine cellars under the ground, and excavation is ongoing. But in the meantime you can sit inside and enjoy wine parings without the usual distraction of the typical vistas you would find on most wine farms in the Cape. As beautiful as it is to look at perfect blue skies and rolling vineyards, it’s always welcome for something a little different, and I can’t think of anything more unusual that cave wine drinking.
This entire area has a fascinating history. From the road to nowhere in McGregor to Robertson’s status as South Africa’s first irrigation district, there is a deep connection with agriculture, fruit and transport that connects each of the little outpost villages and towns. I discovered that beneath each farm, hidden in the citrus trees and nooks and crannies of the barrels of wine and berry farms, there is a lot more to Route 62 than just a pleasant drive.
At Wildebraam berry estate liquors are hand made and pressed into row upon row of bottled preserves and slim bottles of delightful hard tack with flavours like Peppermint, lemon, rooibos and chocolate chilli. Wildebraam forms the central focus of the Swellenberry Weekend Festival, where you can race though the farms, dance the skoffelsbessies dans, pick and get pickled or berry brunch under the shade of a farm tree. And if that all gets a bit to sweet for your taste, around the corner is Excelsior estate, what is now wine, was once home to one of the most successful ostrich breeders in the Robertson district. Back in the early 20th century ostrich plumes were all the rage with those looking to prance and pronk in high society haute couture. Jacobus Stephanus de Wet, who inherited the farm from his father saw this market potential and launched a massively profitable business sending ostrich plumes over to England. He created a small empire and displayed his new found affluence by building houses and farms in a Cape revival style known as 'feather palaces' , a Victorian structures embellished with Cape Dutch gables and filled to the brim with ornate European furniture. It all ended with the invention of the motor car and space inside these new modes of transport not conducive to large, feather brimmed hats, so the farm resorted back to cultivating wines.
Found along the bend in a road heading towards Swellendam in the southern tip of the Robertson wine valley is Jan Harmsgat. Established in 1723 a little bit of digging and I find out that in the farms history is peppered with tales of eccentric owners one who, after being riled up in a legislature meeting, took an axe to the vineyards surrounding the main farm house and planted a host of orange trees in their place. Another owner, a famous hunter, had his hunting career cut short when he was attacked and mauled by a lioness and soon after lived out his days under the watchful eyes of his 190 grandchildren. The farm is now home to orchards of fruit, nut and olive trees as well as a restaurant serving up some incredible dishes and wine to match. In the evenings, sitting around the bonfire amidst the orchard trees I can still imagine I hear the sounds of a roaming lioness…… it’s this area, it does something to your imagination. Jonty, our driver on a game drive we took up to the top of beautiful hill with sweeping sunset views over the Langberg mountains told us all about the shrubs and flora of the area. A particularity fun one being the Karoo num-num. “If you are out in the bush,” Jonty says with a laugh, “and you see a lion, you jump straight into this plant.” He crooks his head to the side and crushes a piece of the num-num branches in his hands, their thick thorns peering menacingly between the lush green leaves. “Personally, I'd rather face down the lion” he says.
The real gem was spending a night in Montague. I have heard of this town before, mostly because of it’s connection to the famous Health spas and mystical ley lines that traverse across the main roads. That, and they have the only road sign in South Africa that has a cat on it. Apparently the story goes that the popular town cat, whom everyone loved and adored, was accidentally run over while crossing the road. A sign was erected in the very spot the poor feline met his/her demise and he/she was buried underneath. It’s a one of a kind in the country, and that is befitting of this one of a kind quirky little town. It is as if Montague forgot that it’s 2016, preferring to inhabit everything that would make The Great Gatsby smile with delight. Between the quant local pub, the fantastically named Burgundy Gherkin you spot the smooth lines, lavish decoration, geometric shapes and sometimes garish colour mixes that celebrate all things Art Deco, and none more so than the Montague Country hotel and the nearby Hot Springs. I almost half expected F. Scott Fitzgerald to pop out from behind the Hot Springs weirdly wonderful 1920’s styled construction or bump into him propped up against the Country Hotel bar. It’s a trip back in time, and a trip well worth it. The springs themselves have their own myths and legends. Taken from Montague Tourism website the main tale goes like this; “according to our archives, the wagon on one such nameless pioneer venturing into the valley became stuck in the rocks of the river bed. In his efforts to free the wheels, the trekker’s hand was so badly injured that his party was obliged to pitch camp in the vicinity of the present-day Montagu. They drank of the clear, odd flavored water, found it wonderfully refreshing and traced its course through the Kloof where they discovered the hot spring. The injured hand, bathed frequently in the warm water, healed miraculously. News of the healing water was soon spread by word of mouth and as a result the sick and ailing visited the hot spring, sometimes from as far afield as 50 miles, which was a considerable distance to travel in those days.”
The pass through Cogmans Kloof that leads into Montague may be under some heavy construction, but it has not got in the way of the views of the area. We take a vintage1956 Cadillac Sedan De Ville up towards a lookout point with the perfect winters evening sunset for company. A few of us are sleepy and yawing as we descend back to the sanctuary of Montague Country Hotel, but apparently this is taken as a very good sign. According to some, Montague is an area where strong magnetic lines of energy traverse through the streets and hillsides. At least all that magnetic energy does not seem to affect everyone that visits, as this is also a premier mountain climbing destination in the area, and I would hate to think of all those climbers between the Langeberg and Riviersonderend mountain ranges battling both their physical and mental fatigue.
Where the beauty of this area really shines through is in the fascinating people that call it home. I may have only been fortunate to explore for two days, but the warmth and hospitality of everyone made a big impression , one that will see me gathering up my bags and ensuring that I make this section of Route 62 a part of my weekend away plans.
Lauren, my travel partner, grabs onto her jacket as she gets out of the car in the Llanduduno parking lot. We are on a insiders guide styled treasure hunt around the Atlantic Seaboard with CheapflightsExplorers and the rain is quickly closing in on us as we try to make our way to our first location. This small little village blue flag beach is found down a winding road along the Atlantic seaboard of Cape Town. It’s only a meagre 200 meters long and the parking lot can, at best, squeeze in 35 cars, but that does not stop hoards of locals and tourists descending down the hills laden with dogs, kids, fire poi balls and mountains of beach paraphernalia. It’s a circus in summer and being a devoted hermit of personal space this little hamlet does not cut the mustard with me during peak seasons. Fortunately, today is balmy winter perfection; rain squalls rolling in over Camps Bay, the sea a clean, deep blue and most importantly, no crowds. “I should have bought a beanie along,” Lauren shouts over the Southwester. She’s on point, this wind is biting though the layers of clothes. Luckily the topography comes to our rescue, the sloping stairs down to the beach quickly gets a little bit of a sweat going and in no time I barely feel any of the cold. Llandudno is an incredibly picturesque beach, a hidden cove of perfectly white sand framed by large granite boulders looming out of the rough sea waters. Sitting south is Cape Towns only nudist beach, Sandy bay, incase you were ever wondering where to suntan in the buff, for whatever reason.
We stop for a quick photograph on the roadside where there would normally be groupings of craft sellers flogging hugely cumbersome wooden giraffes to passing tourists. I often have a quite giggle to myself when I see these poor humans trying to get their new giraffe sculpture onto the bubble wrap machine at the airport. I can only imagine they regret the impulsive drive to get the largest one they can find when it comes time to check these things in on your homebound flight. The impending rain has driven everyone away, even the coffee vendors, which is a pity. We are bound for Camps Bay though, so not all is lost in the hunt for something warm and nourishing and I know of a little join along the corner of Bakoven called Baked Bistro that has wraps and coffee to die for. Bakoven is a real gem of a secret little area, filled with small, sweet beaches and the NSRI station tucked between bungalows. It’s main beach, Big Beach, was originally a small fishing harbour for the snoek, mackerel and cob local fishermen that needed a sheltered inlet along the shores.
Victoria road hugs the shoreline, the houses and emerging flats of Bantry bay at the foot of the Table Mountain National Park, large satisfying spaces of unique Cape fynbos flora and fauna between. Cape Fynbos, meaning ‘fine bush’ grows in an almost 200km belt from There are 9,000 species occurring in the cape area, and if you glance up at Table Mountain from the sandy shores of Camps Bay you are most likely looking at nearly 2,000 different species there alone. The first residents along Camps Bay were San and the Khoi before they were all but wiped out by smallpox. From 1652 onwards the 12 Apostles and Table Mountain were covered in thick forest and used as hunting ground for the governor of the Cape. In the 1800’s no one much cared about this neck o the mountain, it was actually originally named Schoenmaker’s Gat after an old shoemaker who, as the sole resident of the area, would mend passing farmers shoes. How times have changed. The beautiful wind free beaches could not be ignored and over the years holiday makers have turned this small little bungalow scattered cove into the home of some of Cape Towns most affluent and glitzy. Mighty mansions line the mountainside and a promenade filled with restaurants and bars often packed with the those wanting to see and be seen, runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean.
Then there is the wide stretching beach of Camps Bay, stretching out towards Sea Point , the curves of Clifton’s 1 to something or the other beaches peaking out from the rocks. I am forever getting confused whether it starts with Clifton 4th beach or 1st. There’s a big difference in the types of Clifton’s; one being a beach with far too much exercise and flexing muscles, one dog friendly, one for the ridiculously good looking and one for families. Get them mixed up and you could land up dodging beach bats in your one piece surrounded by models when all you want is to have a quite dip in the ocean. I digress, what I really love about the ocean in winter is that it is somehow actually a little bit warmer than in summer. If you wait for a passing squall to clear and the winds to change form north to south the normally mind numbingly icy cape waters rise by a few degrees, a clear ocean inviting you in for perfect surfing session or Sup paddle. Glen beach is a big favourite amongst the surfing crowd when the wave turns on, and because it’s winter you wont have to fight the crowds for a spot in the break. Winter also ushers in whale season, you can often spot pods of dolphins playing in the waves off the beach and whales spouting water into the air close to the shoreline.
We are only 18km for the city centre and we could be in another world. I think that’s the beauty of the Cape, you always have coves, valleys and hidden corners to explore. I’ve been here a mere 6 years and I still get amazed every time I make a new find. Summer may be for the beach bunnies, bronzed bodies and wine clinking by the masses, but winter is still my favourite season. The city slows down; there is no need to rush off anywhere to beat the queue, traffic or the hunt for a decent parking space. Sure its cold, that’s kind of obvious, but nothing can beat the invigoratingly fresh feeling of a brisk walk on the beach and then a duck into a warm café with the fire radiating heat, peeling away those layers of scarves and beanies and slugging down some fortifying wine. It’s the perfect way to explore the city without the hustle and bustle and stomp in some puddles armed with bright coloured gumboots.
The rain rolls in over the beach in splattering sheets. It's only been a few hours of exploring this deeply historical and beautiful part of the coastline that forms part of Cape Town. it's not hard to see why tourists flock here in summer. But do yourself a favour and give winter a shot, it might surprise you.
This blog post was part of #CheapFligthsExplorers but as always, the opinions are all my own, as with all the photos.
Welcome to Nosy Be
A few weeks ago Mike and i were lucky enough to be invited over to the island archipelago of Nosy Be in Madagascar.
Mora Mora in Malagasy translates to ‘relax, it will happen – it just takes time’ and it has taken us a long enough time to travel here finally and that is fitting because much of Madagascar is relatively unexplored and undiscovered, a good match then. We spent our days diving in this wonderful part of the ocean and exploring the different bays, beaches and ocean culture that makes up the Northwest coast of Madagascar. Nosy Be means "big island" in Malagasy, and one of its other nicknames translates to “the perfumed island", its first inhabitants believed to be 15th-century Swahili and Indian traders. There is a rich history of ocean life and folklore that permeates through the islets that dot the waters around the planets fourth largest island and we were very lucky to be invited into this space. We are continually amazed by the quality of diving here in Nosy Be, Mike remarking that we found numerous mature red snapper on the reefs- it’s a sign that heavy fishing is not happening in the MPA as these would normally be the first to go. Move over Zanzibar, with uncrowded reefs in such good condition compared to to others in East Africa , it makes you want to come back and see more.
This is a destination that I believe should be on every divers potential top ten list.
The crisp winter air moves over my cheeks as I tuck my scarf into my jacket outside strand street’s central train station entrance, a bustling transport hub of Friday morning commuters both local and international. Passing the delicate mosaics that depict the history of transport in the cape and beyond myself and some 300 000 other people will walk through these doors each day, revitalised after the world cup in 2010 now a free flow of transformed public space and informal trading. Weaving between bodies of the 08:00 am commute I make my way towards the Southern line, train number 139 bound for Muizenberg. The wheels squeal into a running start as we exit the station, clicks and clacks and wobbles along the Southern coastline tracks, easy to find an open chair this time of the morning with everyone concerned with getting into the city and not heading out of it. The real joy happens when you start to leave the edges of the city centre, heading out towards the coastline of False Bay. Bustling city noise breaks into leafy suburbs, the winter season creating rich palettes of brown and green between the flattening horizon of homes leading into the ocean. They may not always run on time, but the 50 minutes it possibly takes to get to my first stop for the day is worth sitting back and admiring without the hustle and rush through traditional traffic. And just before I have to to drift into a daydream brought on by the swaying of the carriage, there she arrives on the corner of the sea.
Muizenberg, sitting in the curve of the Cape Peninsula, is a seaside resort that for over a century has been the capes surfing heart center. The ?rst place where stand-up sur?ng was recorded in SA and a wave made famous by the cult classic of Bruce Brown’s “Endless Summer, a legion of long boarding 80’s hippies developing a surfing fraternity that has called Muizenberg home. It was here that, in 1919, Heather Price became the first South African to be photographed riding a wave while standing on a board and any surfer worth their salt will tell you that Cape Town in winter brings out some of the years’ best quality waves.
But I am not the best surfer, in fact I am no kind of surfer worth any kind of salt, but that will hopefully change today in a small way. I head down to the aptly named Surfer’s Corner, turning right outside of the old Edwardian station, the smell of ocean water and baking bread emanating from the array of stores and restaurants that have appeared between the traditional Herbert Baker styled houses inside this conservation area. My aim is to do a surfing lesson with Waves for Change, a programme that was developed to plug the gap in the provision of primary social care and emotional support for vulnerable young adults growing up in South Africa’s most violent communities. Surfing has some wonderful therapeutic benefits, not just because you are out communing with the ocean, which is always a good thing, but because some 400 children that have been affected by abuse and violence who come through the waves for change program receive essential support from the coaches, a change in some has started. Grabbing a wetsuit and heading out into the light foamy ocean, that is surprisingly warmer than the outside winter air, becomes more than just adding a fun activity to my day out, and I can never fault supporting a good cause.
It’s surprising how being out in the water lulls you into a sleepy and yet incredibly hungry state and after just two hours of falling in the surf with my arms flailing in multiple directions I have worked up a serious hunger. Learning a new skill is not always easy work, and even though I might not be standing to ride the waves with the best of them, the appreciation for natures craftsmanship in creating these perfect curls of water there for you to ride is not lost.
“The thing you cannot show is that fantastic speed and feeling you get in the pit of our stomach. It’s the kind of wave that makes you talk to yourself,” Endless Summer, the movie.
By the time the beautiful, tingling sensation of muscles worked and bundled out of wet wetsuits into cozy jerseys and jeans I am happily talking to myself about the waves in my future, the thrill of being able to try and one-day stand for the first time, something that will keep me coming back again and again. Back through the side streets to the train station to continue on the Southbound line only a hop away towards Kalk Bay to forage for steamy, hot food to fill a gap.
Leisure and labour live side by side in this fascinating little fishing village, an ex port for the Dutch in the 1700’s and home to emancipated slaves from Batavia, Java and Malaysia in the 1800’s to todays low key fisheries operations and antique, fashion, art and restaurant bric-a-brak shops. The walk along the road towards the harbor is filled with odds and ends, passing by Kalk Bay book shops, the famous Olympia Café (known for all things baked and scrumptious) and The Ocean Deck where I stop in to check if the Yoga classes have open up for a session, just incase my poor muscles need a stretch from the morning’s surf lessons. Kalk Bay’s streets are bustling with locals and tourists, winter jackets and beanie’s of varying shapes and colours bobbing in and out of nooks and crannies on the hunt for some antique bargain.
But food must be had, so I amble along the railway lines edge, towards the sounds of seagulls and sellers collecting inside the small harbour. Snoek is the winter fish of the Cape, a long bodied, silver, sharp teethed ‘kraafontein crocodile’ that is intimately tied to the ecology, history and culture of the Western Cape. Living in the temperate waters of the southern hemisphere generations of fishermen have gone to sea to gather up their catch using hand lines and small bits of rubber to cover their fingers as this ferocious fish twists and turns. ‘Snoekies’ I remember them being called, the middlemen who gather up the catch and ply it from the roadsides across the cape to land up in local households to be pickled, braai with marmalade or mulched into pate, a staple in many homes kitchens.
Sure there is the stylish Live Bait restaurant for tapas and Harbour House if table cloths and linen is more your thing, but Kalky’s, with it’s rich lashings of vinegar on hot-to-the-touch chips washed down with crispy fried sustainable hake amidst the shouting of waiters and fish sellers, is all a I can want in life. The saltier the better. Satiated, I stroll along the harbour wall, the resident giant cape seal barking and snorting its derision that it is not being thrown any fish scraps from the slabs of the fish cleaners. When my husband was a baby he and his father would come here to throw a fishing line over the harbour wall, along with lines of other men, to catch shad fish.
The sun starts to dip into the Atlantic and I walk back towards the station, flowing with the crowds and traffic back into the city for a night on the town. It’s cold, but it’s not that cold.
The evening lights perk up the buildings as the Fugard Theatre sneaks a peak through attractive brick work on the corner of Harrington Road. Named after Athol Fugard, South Africa’s most significant and internationally acclaimed playwright. Tonight they are showing a play by director and creator David Kramer called ‘Kanala, District Six,’ a poignant homage to celebrate the memory of the people and place that was declared a white group area in 1966 and over 60,000 people had their life destroyed under the Apartheid regime. Sober and delicate but filled with Kramer’s ability to crate a unique sense of place and music I exit the theatre and pass by the windows of the next door salsa club, sliding in to pass some hours in dance or thought while lithe and athletic men and women spin across the dance floor, warming me up instantly from the cold breeze outside. It could rain, it could not, but either way is fine by me.
Saturday morning starts and after a night of sweaty dancing a piece of quite contemplation and relaxation is called for. Opened in 1908 Long Street Baths on upper long have Turkish steam rooms, the women’s only admittance for the morning luring me out of the early morning cold streets and into a wall of hot steam.
Afterwards I rush into my uber, steamed and pressed and ready to explore the city centre. First stop is the Old Biscuit Mill, a red bricked standout in the artsy and rejuvenated area of Woodstock. It’s Saturday and if I am not early enough I know there will be no parking along the tight street corners, but that wont be a problem for me. Tucked inside the Mill is the the Neighbourgoods market, jam filled with the young and hip, the odd wandering plebe scouring the lanes of handcrafted local goods and seasonal winter food delights. Sure, the Biscuit Mill market is one of the more well know markets in the city, but as far as great SA inspired fashion goes this is the spot for all things locally glamorously crafted. It is also where the infamous Test Kitchen, currently sitting at number 61 on the Worlds Best Restaurants list of 2016 and the best restaurant in Africa-intrigued? There is always the sister restaurant, the Pot Luck Club, to tempt you away from the stands of baked, roasted and toasted pieces of the fresh food section of the market. Being a newly christened surfer I sneak out the main gate, just opposite on the right hand side of the street to Bantu Wax, an African original surf and beachwear company creating board shorts and bikinis inspired by traditional African textiles. Founded by Yodit Eklund it seeks to break the clichés of blonde, blue-eyed surf babes with images from Africa's own surf culture and what has been produced from that are funky – unique for the next time out on the water.
A short ride late I pull out my phone as I stand outside of Atlas Trading Company spice shop in Bo Kaap. Logging on to my Voice Map app the sounds of storyteller Shereen Habib fill my ears, her laughter and personal stories of an area she calls home, built on the slopes of Signal hill with a rich and colourful history as the multi coloured walls of each house. I remember to bring my headscarf so as to avoid offending anyone when I enter the mosque on the hill. It’s an easy hop over the streets from here down to the Two Oceans Aquarium. A little bird has told me that they have a brand new exhibit, a first of it’s kind in South Africa to boast a ten-meter-long tunnel where you can learn about the ocean life that makes this country so special, and when rain is potentially threatening and the lure of heated walls and an education into the underwater world that I plan on spending some more time in while the winter waters are so inviting is not something to pass on lightly.
Dusk comes over the mountain and it’s officially been 48 hours in my city, light winter rain settles in over the mountain as I wander along the fan walk back into the bustling city centre down Buitenkant street to tuck myself into the nearest available table at Tigers Milk, off Long Street. The night is coming alive with Saturday party goers, the winter months holding more promise of finding a good drink and food special outside of the heavier tourist season, nooks and crannies filled with warming fires and wine beckon. Some will wile away the evening hours over the lines of tables, the quirky modern hipster decorations and craft beer on tap swilling around wooden platters of delicious roast leg of lamb pizza and Jack Daniels-spiked chocolate mousse. As for me, Alice through the looking glass is screening at the Labia Theatre, an old Italian Embassy ballroom that for the past 37 years has served as the cities alternative movie circuit.
My night ends with popcorn and wine amongst the old-world ambience of a city I call home, the perfect winter escape.
There is no clear estimate but it is suggested that as humans we produce over 300 million tonnes of plastic each year, and nearly half of this we use only once and then throw away. This has a major effect on our environment where small fish ingest tiny plastic particles, seabirds and marine animals like penguins and turtles often die as a result of consuming or getting tangled in various plastic products like straws and plastic bags. Plastic is a huge problem in our environment and being ocean people we had to think hard about our reasons for participating in the campaign, because ideally in this world we would want zero plastic all together, but until that is the case or a feasible reality we reason that we are going to have to get proactive and not let it find it's way into the ocean. And this means that we start taking responsibility for the plastic we find in our immediate space and reusing and recycling it. The great thing is that it is actually pretty simple and easy to recycle. If you have young ones this can become a fun way of getting them to understand their impact on the environment and get creative to minimise this. In South Africa local artist Mbongeni Buthelezi collects plastic bags around Johannesburg and melts them to create art he calls "plastic fantastic" (video link here) Canadian Artist Aurora Robson makes some of the most ethereal and mind bending sculptures using recycled and use plastic bottles (do visit her website here)
Our only limit here seems to be our imagination and for us as travellers we decided to take a page out of these creatives books and find was that we could be more responsible with reusing any plastic we come across in our travels.
As part of the #Tangledtreelovestravelling Campaign we decided to take the different bottles and find creative ways to recycle and reuse them with this series of short videos. These are not our original ideas, we spent days scouring the web for different ways to reuse plastic bottles and picked the most applicable ones for people like us who love to travel a lot.
These wines are packaged with PET, a recyclable polyethyline terephthalate, unbreakable thermal polymer that is also up to 80% lighter than glass (even the cartons they come in are recyclable.) Very handy if you are wanting to carry these wines far and wide.
So instead of telling you how much we like the wine, you will have to buy some to find out for yourself, we decided to take the different bottles and find creative ways to recycle and reuse them with this series of short videos.
Enjoy your wine, travel with it, but bring it home and find creative ways to reuse and then recycle, it's not hard.
Self Watering Garden with a recycled bottle.
If you don't have the finances to install a home watering system for when you are away, plus you want to recycle, this is a handy slow drip system to keep your plants happy till you get home, just don't forget to remove the bottle and drop it off at your nearest recycling depo when you are done. (link Here for Cape Town recycling drop off points )
Homemade Mosquito Trap
Camping is something that Mike and I love to do, but as anyone who has been out in the open will know , nothing destroys a good night sleep than the sound of a mosquito, it can ruin even the best of travel adventures. The Mosquito is attracted to moisture, heat and carbon dioxide, so here is where our trap comes in. The yeast breaks down the sugar and creates carbon dioxide,which is heavier than the air we breathe, so it sits in the bottle and the mosquito is attracted into the bottle , as opposed to your feet, leaving you to enjoy a good nights sleep. We tried this trap out and we caught a lot of small flies, give it a go and tell us what you think?
Using a recycled plastic bottle we made a little mole deterrent. The concept is quite simple, it's known as the "singing bottle." The vibrations created by the bottle that turns in the wind thanks to the cut squares is said to annoy the moles and they make their way somewhere else instead of your garden. This is a favourite method that my father in law uses all the time in his long standing feud with the moles on his property that has been going on for the past five years. Good luck!
Join our guest post this week by Paul Trevino as he takes us on a journey through ten exquisite destinations that should be on your travel list this year
It’s 2016, and we’re finally becoming more aware of the complexity, fragility and inestimable value of our planet Earth. Ecotourism is gaining increasingly more popularity, and that’s mainly because the destinations revealed are exclusive, stunning, and particularly alluring. Today’s traveler wants escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and escape into a world of serenity, abundant vegetation, and sheer peace. The following green adventures are the best on Earth, so if you want to visit a new and breathtaking destination this year, make sure to add them to your travel plans.
1. The Norwegian Fjords
Commonly known as the "Land of the Fjords", Norway prides with over 2,000 fjords. Some of them are thousands of years old, and they’re truly spectacular. These rare natural beauties attract travellers from all over the world; so if you’re looking for a wild, adventurous travel spot, the Norwegian Fjords should be on your list. Among some of the most famous, we should definitely mention Nærøyfjord and Geirangerfjord.
2. Kerala, India
Kerala is one of India’s finest travel destinations. It prides with stunning beaches, virgin forests and adventurous boat tours. If you like hiking and trekking, explore Gaths Mountains and relish in the green biodiversity; but if you’d rather sit in the sun and enjoy swimming, then you should head to the golden-sand resorts of Kovalam and Varkala.
3. Table Mountain, Cape Town
Cape Town’s landmark and probably the most recognized natural attraction is Table Mountain. The flat-topped mountain is a significant point of interest in the city because it offers stunning views, a varied fauna and flora, and incredible hiking and trekking spots.
4. Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon is located near Reykjavik, its stunning city capital. Formed in the middle of a lava field due to intense volcanic activity, the lagoon is an all-natural outside swimming pool with geothermal water. Those hunting for a place to relax their mind and body should definitely check out this amazing place.
5. The Canary Islands
This surreal Spanish heaven is the best place in the world to spend a rejuvenating getaway. The Canary Islands are surrounded by dramatic mountains, charming seaside villages and quaint pueblos. You’ll instantly fall in love with the cultural diversity and scenic beauty of the surroundings.
Palau is a place like no other on Earth. It prides with an underwater ecosystem you’ve never seen before, as well as with endless natural wonders. The archipelago spans nearly 200 volcanic and limestone islands, most of which have never been touched by human foot. Diving is the most common type of activity here, but also snorkeling and kayaking.
7. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a tropical adventure land with misty crater lakes, secluded beaches and alluring waterfalls. Explore this place foot, with a kayak or on horseback and relish in its natural beauties. Costa Rica offers a wealth of outdoor adventure for travellers, such as world class surfing, high altitude trails and exceptional vistas of the abundant vegetation.
8. The Amazonian Rainforest
The amazing Amazonian Rainforest is home to the world’s highest biodiversity of plants. The whole basin encompasses 7 million sq. km; nearly 60% of the forest is included in Brazil. This wonderful natural reserve has over 40,000 species of plants and close to 1,300 birds. Exploring it will be like visiting a wild zoo.
9. The Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands are an isolated amalgam of volcanic islands with an incredibly fragile ecosystem. It is completely secluded from the rest of the world, located in the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean. If you’re searching for peaceful, remote travel destination to enjoy a relaxing holiday, Galapagos Islands is the answer.
10. The Great Himalayan National Park
India’s Great Himalayan National Park is home to nearly 180 species of mammals and rare birds. The wildlife surrounding this reserve is breathtaking, as well as the scenery and the cultural diversity. The best activities onsite are hiking and trekking; explore untouched trails by human foot, get to know more about the fascinating Indian people and their customs, and have the time of your life admiring the world’s highest peak – the Everest.
The world is packed with exquisite travel places. However, only some are truly spectacular. Now that the modern tourist has started to value eco-tourism more than in the past, the 10 amazing destinations we mentioned above will certainly exceed all their expectations.
It’s the holiday season again. Boney M and Mariah Carey (you know what I’m taking about, the shameful CD that you hide and pretend you never bought once upon a 90’s day) is blasting through Clicks. Michael Buble has got another singing x-mas holiday special coming out. Everything smells like coconut tanning oil and those that can, and actually those that shouldn’t really, start wearing their shirts unbuttoned with shorts and flip-flops in the shopping centers shamelessly.
AAAh the sweet smell and sounds of summer are here. Even M-Net has got their go-to-summer season song playing on endless adverts at every opportunity. Time to dust off the beach umbrellas, get out those dam silly paddle bat ball things that clog up most of the Clifton beaches available space and get sunburnt.
Most that might know me well know that I am a bit of a giddy x-mas fool. I love the lights, the tinsel, decorating a tree or the house or pretty much any available surface I can find all the while singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” on a manic loop. As much as I love all things x-mas related I have always never really connected with the image of x-mas that is projected at us through mainstream media this time of year, mostly (and to state the obvious) because it is unlike any kind of x-mas I have ever experienced. I don’t know what a white X-mas is. There are no sleigh bells in the snow, there’s no snow actually, and the thought of watching all these people huddled around fires wearing turtle necks and wooly socks makes me ill, mostly because we are going through a giant heat wave south of the equator.
X-mas time is blindly hot sunshine; the smell of braai’s and family both wanted and unwanted arriving on doorsteps. And of course the beach, I mean just look at these amazing beaches we have in this country http://blueflag.org.za/wessa there is a reason that we are a top holiday destination and its etched in the silky soft white sands and dynamic vegetation that covers our coastlines from point to point.
So in the spirit of a South African x-mas filled with all things sun and surf I’ve put together some little tips and tricks for maximising your time spend at the coastline.
That bit between the arrows, thats a rip current
Safety At The Seaside:
Every year across this coastline we have deaths related to drowning’s and they are incredibly tragic and can often be avoided if you just do a few simple things.
-Parents, watch your kids. I cannot enforce this enough. To many times now I have had to be on the beach watching helplessly as a young child is being given CPR, sometimes with no result. It takes a fraction of a second for the little ones around us to get washed off their feet, even in the smallest of waves, and go under the foam.
- If you see that someone is in trouble in the water first up appoint someone as a spotter and then get another person to find/call help. Put the spotter at the best possible vantage point, and they need to point at the person constantly. Don’t loose sight of whoever is in the water; this is so critical for a boat or lifesaver to get some kind of direction to find the person in trouble as quickly as possible.
-Rip Tides: If they draw you out to sea, conserve your energy and tread water. They normally dissipate after the backline of the surf, which means you are not going to drift out to the horizon. It’s going to feel worse than what it is. Try and draw attention to yourself by waving your hands, but the main thing here is relax, especially if the water is cold. Once the currant dissipates and even while you are drifting, swim sideways or 90 degrees to the direction you are drifting. You can’t swim against it, and this is where people land up in serious trouble. Once you have slowed down and stopped don’t panic, you are not in the middle of the ocean and you will most likely be able to calmly get back to shore. To not get in this situation in the first place, look out for the lifeguard flags. Those lovely guys are not there to sit around in red shorts looking pretty. They put those flags on the beaches so that you can see what areas are best for bathing and they are there for your safety. Listen to them if they tell you to move. If in doubt, don’t paddle out.
-Accidents happen when beginner surfers take their boards and try and surf where lots of small kids or groups of people are swimming. One ill-timed wave and suddenly you have a giant board careening through people's faces at pace. I’ve seen broken teeth and noses from these kinds of things. Be conscious of where you are surfing, especially if you are a beginner and don’t have such great control over your board. Looking cool in the surf is going to drop down a few notches when you axe little jimmy in the nose and there’s blood and angry parents on the shore.
-Even when you are swimming or surfing keep an eye out on everyone in the water. Take notice around you, just care a little because when/if something does happen your quick reaction can be the difference between someone drowning or going home to their families safe and sound.
-Don’t dive into tidal pools. This is just asking for a spinal injury.
-Sunscreen, Sunscreen, Sunscreen. Don’t feel like putting it on? You have been warned.
-Choppy, windy waters? Just put down that fun little inflatable dingy you got in your x-mas stocking because there’s a good chance you are not a South African Olympic rower and you could end up drifting out to sea.
-Raise the alarm or assist depending on your capabilities. You know what you are capable of; don’t create another person for the rescuer to have to look after if it’s not necessary.
-Learn basic CPR, it’s so easy and quick to learn and can save someone’s life. I know, I’ve seen it first hand a few times.
The Big Guns:
By now anyone who is remotely ocean going might be aware of the Shark Spotters program in the Western Cape. They have those little huts with flags situated at specific beaches across the coastline. Pay attention to them, here is a quick guide to the flags for reference (above) If you hear a siren, don’t go into a blind panic, just quietly swim back to shore- these amazing people are doing what they can to try and keep you safe on your holidays, so don’t dismiss them or their warnings.
The NSRI is your first port of call if someone goes missing in the water, be it a swimmer, board rider or boat. Memorize or write down the time, place and direction that you last saw the missing boat/person and then phone them asap.
They also have a handy app if you are out on the sea boating and run into trouble called SAfeTrx. It works by having certain details of the trip you are taking at sea logged into the app and then if something happens you can hit an emergency button and an emergency contact will be called. They can then call the Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC) who will have your trip data over a server (which sends your location to their servers periodically anyway) allowing the NSRI to get to you.
112 - National Emergency from your cell phone.
Saldhana: +27 (0)22 714 1726
Cape Town: +27 (0)21 449 3500
Port Elizabeth: +27 (0)41 507 1911
East London: +27 (0)43 700 2100
Durban: +27 (0)31 361 8567
Richard's Bay: +27 (0)35 753 1991
021 938 330 –MRCC Emergency Number
Some Basic Beach Etiquette:
-Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave a giant mound of mess behind you because it’s incredibly damaging to our amazing environment that we have and really you can be better than that. If there are not dustbins at the beach, or they are overflowing, bag it and take it home.
-Decant your drinks into anything that is not glass if you can. Ideally I would love everyone to only use reusable glass because it’s better for the environment and for our oceans, but you also don’t want to be that guy/girl who shatters glass all over the parking lot or on the beach sand so that the rest of us have to spend our holidays pulling out shards of glass bottle from our bleeding feet. Try using a water bottle, or anything that you can use again instead of buying mounds of plastic containers.
-I love music. You love music to I bet. But I might not like what you like, and here we need some mutual human respect. Don’t play your soundbox or cell phone at full tilt. Just wear headphones or I’m going to have to strategically kick sand on you.
-Our sweet little four legged friends need to be on leashes. Never mind that on certain beaches if you are caught without your dog on a leash you face a very nice hefty fine. The beaches are going to be full and as much as you love fido, not everyone else wants a wet, hairy canine crashing through their neatly setup beach party. And don’t even make me tell you to pick up any mess after you.
-If you are going to smoke, be a nice person and do it down wind or around the corner from the rest of the population. Just because you smoke doesn’t mean everyone around you has to as well.
-Man don’t you just love playing sports on the beach? Yay for you. But for god’s sake, can you and your super selves please not demarcate your rugby field to include the rest of us who are also using the beach for normal activities, like sitting on a towel and eating sandwiches. Unless you are Victor Matfield with your top off I don’t want you and your tennis/rugby/cricket/soccer ball crashing through everyone each time you miss.
-Shake that sandy beach towel downwind you heathen.
Right, so now at least after reading this you are going to be leaving for that perfect day out in the sun with hopefully a few more tools than when you started. Have a wonderful time soaking in some sand and sea everyone.
Merry X-mas form Mike and I
The boat engines revs in the water.
“Out, out , out quickly here come the dolphins!”
Blazing out of the water and hauling yourself onto the dugout you shake off any of the water from your snorkel mask, awkwardly kicking your fins round your body and onto the base of the boat. It doesn’t matter that it’s a frenzy of feet and salty water, there is a pod of wild dolphins cruising past the atoll and your boat captain is hell bent on giving you that perfect island experience- a chance to swim with dolphins and if your lucky get a underwater selfie.
I’ve seen this first hand, especially in places like Mnemba Atoll in Zanzibar. On any given day I could count at least 20 boats out, filled with divers and snorkelers under the water and bobbing on the surface throughout a good diving day. As soon as a pod of dolphins moves through the area the boats speed around like the pod, chasing them down in an attempt to get in front of the group and quickly plop their tourists in the water. If you miss the pod because they are moving to quickly through the area, not a worry. The dive boat hauls everyone out the water, races ahead of both the pod and other boats to try and deposit you in the prime position. What is effectively happening here is that the dolphins are getting harassed. Even if you have been taken in by the romance of adventure holidaying on an exotic island, some part of you must feel a little bit uneasy when this kind of interaction takes place. How far do we have to go to force a wild animal encounter, and can our drive to have wild animals interact with us be to their detriment?
As humans we cannot seem to help ourselves. We have this desire to want to touch and find a connection with wild animals. It the exact reason why you will find programs on people who have exotic pets and why people are enthralled by Animal Planet series that have a presenter in speechless ecstasy as a wild animal comes into the camera frame with them mere whispers away.
But that’s Attenborough, not us tommy tourists that travel across the globe, and we are not experts. As more remote areas are now becoming accessible to tourism the chances of having an encounter with a wild animal is far greater than back in the day where you needed a whole bullion of cash, large boats and an army of Sherpa’s to get even remotely near the area of a wild species habitat.
Seeing an animal in the wild is probably one of the more memorable moments you will have as a traveller, and I think in this day and age we have to realize that truly wild places are not that easy to come by, albeit that they still are around us. People are going to want to interact with wildlife whether we agree with it or not, so perhaps its time we start talking about the ethics around this practice because there are some seriously dubious experiences out there, and like the just released documentary Blood Lions , which is looking into lion petting and its links to the canned lion hunting industry, we need to really think about how our small actions contribute to a bigger problem.
Interacting with animals is generally
considered a “hot topic’, and if anyone has ever peeked into online forums and
comments sections when people write articles on the issues around animal
interactions, you will often be inundated with many, many heated responses both
for and against. It is like wading into the deeper ethical waters and it can be
incredibly intimidating if you don’t have a background or deeper information on
the issues. There is a lot of shouting, unflinching beliefs and sometimes
name-calling. It can get ugly, but that should not scare us away from
addressing the issue. This might feel like a long list of don’ts, so on the brighter side DO support the guys that are getting it right!! Thank them, congratulate them, give them shout outs and all other means of encouragement because in a world where it is very easy to jump on the band wagon of wild animal tourism only for profit, the people working passionately to try an adhere to their ethics as well as protect a species are to be applauded for their effort.
A good example of a sanctuary that works to rehabilitate would be SANCOB in and the African Penguin and Sea Bird Sanctuary based in South Africa. Here they have exactly all the right mixes that you would require of a research and rehabilitation facility, but the key is that their primary goal is what is in the animal’s interest. They are also dealing with endangered species and species that are at risk, but they don’t charge tourists to sit in the pens with the birds that are at risk. I have been criticised for speaking up about projects that I feel are not really adhering to standards of a rehabilitation centre and sanctuary should be, but I think that if we as tourists and travellers don’t speak up, then we are only be complacent when it comes to accepting bad practices.
A lot of the things we can do are actually quite simple and if you want to make subtle differences, as tourists and travellers we should really not feign ignorance and make it somebody else’s problem. You don’t need to support bad practices, because if you do it will just keep happening.
-If you are diving in the ocean, DON’T TOUCH!
Really now, I can’t actually get over the idea that this still needs to be explained to so many divers, and on many occasions I have seen this happen. One of the first things that you are taught when you start diving is to keep your paws to yourself. This is not just for your safety (so you don’t go provoking or popping your delicate fingers into potentially poisonous creatures-which can result in serious injury and sometimes death) but also for the animals and the ocean environments sake. Harassing and chasing after ocean creatures when they are not interested in you can affect them and their behaviors, and breaking off pieces of coral, picking up souvenir is just a blatantly stupid thing to be doing. The ocean is a mysterious place, and even though sea creatures can be pretty resilient we still don’t fully know the effects of our unwanted interactions with them. Compound your negligent action with the thousands of other divers that also visit the same dive sites throughout the year and don’t assume that it wont have an effect. Your actions do count, you special little human you.
-Let your money do the talking.
If you are out on a boat and going whale/dolphin/seal watching and you feel as if the boat driver is harassing the animals in order to get you to an encounter, say something. Speak up; it’s your right to as a paying customer and as someone who cares about our impact on the environment and you should not be made to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about it. If speaking up is too much, then make a point of letting the company know that you found the experience disturbing. Sometimes companies that run these kind of programs are not even aware that this kind of practice is happening, it’s not about naming and shaming but helping them to understand that as a paying tourist you would like better standards from them. If that doesn’t work or they don’t seem to care or take future note, then take it online and let others know how you feel in forums like trip advisor.
-If you are in the water and you are lucky enough to have a wild creature swim past or find you something of a curiosity-let the animal come to you. Don’t chase after an experience, it dulls the beauty of the entire interaction and you are not fooling anyone.
-Don’t just accept culture as an excuse for animal cruelty. Just because people have been doing it or eating it for however many millennia does not mean it is still applicable in this day and age where we need to be more conscious of what we are doing to our environment.
-Don’t have your picture taken posing with wild animals, especially if it is out in local markets where a wild animal is kept on some kind of leash and made to pose with tourists for cash.
-Don’t purchase any souvenirs made from animal products. No shells, turtle shell, coral, fur and do I even have to say ivory and rhino horn? Many of these are also illegal to transport home, so just don’t.
-Avoid riding wild animals like elephants as part of a tourism experience. And if you are on the ocean, for goodness sake don’t attempt to ride whale sharks/sunfish you will come across like the noddle head you are if anyone gets a photo of it on social media.
-Ask questions, and no question is to dumb, if someone makes you think that it is a silly question to ask then consider that a red flag. I do. When a project is open and accessible with what they are doing and can give you validated reasons why they are doing it (backed up by actual science mind you- I cannot tell you how many times we have come across projects that say they are helping the environment with their research but cannot produce a single paper that has this research in it.) If you are not sure or don’t understand what the project is telling you do some research before hand and ask around for some experts opinions in the respective fields. The Internet is an amazing tool for gathering information on projects, and believe me if something is a bit off, chances are someone is talking about it online.
-Don’t go on any swim with the dolphins programs. There is a very good article written by Journalist Christina M. Russo that goes into the deeper issues of why we feel the need to have these kind of interactions, and the damage that we are actually doing: Please don’t do this….ever.
It’s too easy to not ask the difficult questions, harder still too admit that there are faults and to work on changing a practice so that our wild animals are protected and educate the public at the same time. Not everyone can get it right, but we can join in the conversation and make it possible to change, we will see a difference.
Animal tourism only exists because of tourists- it’s time to start being a responsible one.
“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” — Lawrence Block
There is a rolling little hamlet found at the foot of the Riviersonderend mountains, 20 km from Robertson tucked between orchards, vineyards and farm lands some two hours drive from Cape Town. Proclaimed in 1862 the town was originally named Lady Grey in honour of Eliza, the wife of Cape Governor Sir George Grey. But thanks to a bit of a same-name issue with another town in the Eastern Cape, in 1904 a beloved village pastor inspired the official gazette name change of this quint little village to his namesake, that of McGregor.
Hans and Mary Cook, authors of Old Buildings of the Cape described the homesteads that are spread along the tree lined roads as being some of the best preserved examples of a mid-nineteenth century townscape in the Western Cape Province, and sports nearly sixty five listed historical homesteads, the oldest being nearly 153 years. If you get a chance spend a few minutes reading through the recorded transcriptions of the oral histories of the area in the McGregor museum, they offer up some lovely insights to life in the area in the early 1900’s.
The kind of signage you can expect from McGregor
Hazel and the car that broke down exactly 5km outside of Robertson. I didn't get to show off my car rescue skills. I was disappointed.
The really splendid thing about visiting a town like McGregor is not just that it has so many visually appealing aspects to it, but it is pretty budget friendly when it comes to the different types of accommodation on offer and for a relatively small town there is surprisingly a lot to do. Hikes are plentiful from the more famous McGregor to Greyton walk via the Bushmanskloof Pass or trails that run through the Krans Nature Reserve and Kleinberg Trail. Tributaries of the Breede River run near to the village and makes for a great rafting experience in spectacular surrounds.
Celebrate the small and beautiful places that this country has to offer, because in them you find the most wonderful collection of people that can often restore your faith in humanity. There is so much turmoil in the world these days that its comforting to know that there are still places out there where walls are low and community spirit is in abundance. It might sound simple and idealistic to romanticise these kinds of environments, but where you find good, well, I don’t feel that there is anything wrong with talking about it.
My favourite moments came, not from the bounty of
wine farms and delicious plates of goodies and nibbles that you find on
pretty much every corner, but from the subtle interactions with the different
people of McGregor where they allowed us a little window into their daily lives. And this is a subtle kind of place. People will not bombard you with advertisements of what they have on offer in
glossy coloured flyers or loud and brash roadside billboards. Sure there are
signs on the one and only main road, but they read something along the hand
painted lines of weekly lunch specials, bargain books for animal welfare and a soup
of the day being listed as ‘whisky’. The Saturday village market lasts for
exactly an hour, more than enough time to gather up some home made snacks,
share a cup of coffee on the back of a bumper and then trot off back home, dog
in tow- if that’s how you roll.
Edna Fourie is a very intuitive painter and has nooks and crannies of her art studio packed with pieces. She is a subtle person who doesn’t need to brag about how lovely her work is and her gallery is well worth a stop.
Want to be left alone in serene surrounds? Temenos retreat has snug little stone cottages hidden between what I can only describe as the kind of place that the movie (if anyone remembers, now I’m showing off my age) The Secret Garden would resemble, a fantasy garden full of unique spaces lovingly crafted over time. In fact there seems to be quite a bit of magic in McGregor and that’s not just because of the supposed converging energy of ley lines that run though the village. There are numerous holistic healers and programs that are available for you to enjoy at leisure; from Yoga, Jin Shin Jyutsu, Reki and Pilates to therapies like herbal massage, Iridology and EFT Therapy. Pop on a smile and pull up to the local pub on an evening out and there will be no shortage of friendly faces to provide you with some entertainment for the evening. For some reason I felt the urge to sing a lot of Fleetwood Mac during my three days exploring McGregor.
The tranquil gardens of Temenos retreat. If you are in the area stop in for a bite at their restaurant, one of the best in town in my non foodie opinion.
Late at night myself and Hazel wandered the lamp post lit streets of the town, completely clueless as to where our beds for the night were located because we were so busy chatting away that we didn’t pay attention as we left the lodge, but it didn’t matter. We had a world of milky way stars above our heads, wine in our bellies and armed with a trusty eskom blackout approved torch we somehow located our home, but only after much wandering about flashing lights into peoples windows and gardens. Perhaps the locals thought a prowler was on the loose, but maybe that’s just my city mentality getting the better of me. That happened a lot in McGregor, constantly asking if my bags in my car would be fine, casting nervous glances up the street to make sure everything was still attached to my car in one piece. It's an unnerving habit that flares up when I am faced with a place where it is rendered totally pointless.
They might have an actual road listed as going nowhere, but in a place this cozy and homely you revel in going nowhere, and slowly, with a glass of whisky in one hand and a jar of local olives in the other. Seriously…. I’m ever so slightly smitten; it must be all that magic in the mountains of the area. Or the olives….might be the olives.
The Next Step Dance academy aims to see the girls of the dance group graduate High School and enter University, a Dance Academy or Theatre School in Cape Town or overseas.
Take time to visit the Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary whose Patron is David Kramer none the less, a permanent refuge for abused, neglected and elderly donkeys where they can live out their lives in peace and tranquility amongst their own kind. Did you know that donkeys can live till they are 50 years of age, even all the more reason to look after their well being.
The olives made by Annalien at the Rhebokskraal Olyf Kombuis and Farm Stall that were my undoing.
Wine tasting by river boat, is there really any better way, with Viljoensdrift Winery
Thanks to McGregor Country Getaways for putting together this educational and to our lovely host Mira, who was an utter Jol. I really have not laughed so hard to the point of exhaustion in a while, the group was fantastically fun and the people, both in McGregor and on the media group, were wonderful to adventure and explore with.
If you are looking to find some accommodation for your next weekend out into the McGregor countryside check out the www.mcgregor-accommodation.co.za
Also if you want to plan for something special, be sure not to miss the McGregor Poetry festival in August
Over the last 50 years it is estimated that we have dumped some 50 million tonnes of plastic and other waste materials into the oceans. Just the amount of beach cleanups that happen across the country every weekend is testament to the constant stream of rubbish that is out there floating about in the oceans. But it’s not just plastic that ends up in our waterways. Wastewater, or any water that contains what is effectively human sewerage, has a massive impact on human health, ecosystems and never mind the potentially interesting pathogens that might tag along with it. A very concentrated example of this is the two Nigerian waterfront front communities of Makoko Waterfront in Lagos and Chicoco in Port Harcourt where there is little infrastructure that cannot support the effective waste management that comes from some 85,000 residents occupying every square inch of land. Al Jazeera put together this interesting report and footage of the area (link Here)
Now, this is an extreme example mind you. We don’t have nearly the same problem here in South Africa, but it’s always good to see the far end of the spectrum of what serious waste mismanagement can look like. Back to home and in Cape Town the Department of Waste and Sanitation is responsible in South Africa for overseeing the effective, appropriate and environmentally sustainable removal of human waste. A lot of the waste we have gets pumped out into the sea around Hout Bay, Camps Bay, Green Point and Robben Island. But lately arial photographs taken by marine photographer Jean Tresfon show large plumes of apparently untreated effluent that every so often waft into the shorelines along the city of Cape Ton’s coastlines.
Spike of Wavescape put together this stellar article on the recent photographs that have been circulating on Facebook around the City of Cape Town. It’s an absolutely fascinating and well-researched read and worth hitting the link if you really want a good understanding on the issues at play here. He said it so well there is no need for me to repeat here so follow THIS link for the article.
And that got me thinking back to last year when I asked a very talented friend of mine to do a guest post for this website, and aptly it appeared on my computer screen just as I was reading about the plumes off Hout Bay. Bernelle is a Bioprocess Engineer and known around town as bit of a water maverick and all round disrupter. She somehow always manages to shift the bigger system by pushing hard against existing structures and if you have ever been to a braai with her you would know she is a firm believer an integrated approach to education, resource management and profitability is achievable.
I think her words are pretty fitting to add into the discussions around waste management.
Follow Bernelle’s work at:
So while waste management is the main issue here, one should also start thinking about waste in general and how we manage our own personal waste. Hey every little bit counts right? There is also no better time than now to start as September is the Clean-Up South Africa month and the 19th is International Costal Cleanup day- so if you were thinking of making your own personal changes, even if it is just in the recycling department than September is a good time to start.
Some Resources from Bernelle:
And extra reading to take home:
Here a young lass in New York City, called Lauren Singer, has found a way to live a Zero waste lifestyle. Now while this might not be practice for everyone and lets be honest she looks like a bit of a hipster, but some of her recycling tips and ideas are pretty nifty.
I found this interesting little clip online that gives an easy, simple understanding of what wastewater is: Two Minutes on Oceans with Jim Toomey: Wastewater
Beach clean ups near you:
I think I severely underestimated what it would take to walk 120-something kilometers. The distance does not seem that long when you are whizzing past in the car. 25km in a day I said to myself as I was driving my usual route between Kleimond Spar and Betty’s Bay- whatever, easy a pie. I mean I hike all the time, I’m not drastically unfit and I have no major injuries so really how hard can it be to put one foot in front of the other for a couple of hours a day? Apparently it’s really hard, well it was for me at least.
I now have a whole different perspective when it comes to evaluating distances but above and beyond that I have a whole new respect for a little seabird that was the reason I decided to take part in the Waddle 2015 walk. The African penguin , or Spheniscus Demersus, is only found on the Southern African coastline and nowhere else in the world. There are 27 extant breeding colonies, eight islands and one mainland site along the coast of southern Namibia, 10 islands and two mainland sites along the coast of the Western Cape Province (South Africa), and six islands in Algoa Bay (Eastern Cape Province, South Africa). But this little guy is in serious trouble. The Minimum Viable Global Population is estimated to be 50 000 pairs and the current population is less than half of this critical threshold. The currant collapse of the penguin population of this species is the equivalent of losing 1600 birds a week, or more than 2 birds per hour over the past 100 years- and this is all the more reason that we need to start thinking and acting on why this has occurred and what we can do to reverse these numbers, because we actually can do something.
Its about participation in raising public awareness, putting something into the public consciousness in any way shape or form we can mange it and maybe someone will take notice or be compelled to act. For some its in the form of robust action; ramming into whaling ships, covert films and protest actions, shock and forcing people to face issues head on though film and photography and sometimes that action needs to be loud.
But you don’t have to be extraordinary just for giving something of yourself to a cause; sometimes it can as simple as going for a walk.
The reason I have decided to do a photography blog instead of a written blog is that a much larger blog piece will be coming out on another platform later next month and I do not want to get repetitive- so if you are not already following us on twitter or our facebook group click on over there so that you can be updated on any of our writings and content coming out across print and the interweb media. I hope you enjoy a little photographic journey of my Waddle 2015 and that it inspires you to either get involved with the Waddle 2016, make a penguin promise yourself or next year if you are on the road and see these beautiful bunch of people walking along the roadside- hoot like a maniac.
Waking up early in the morning is never my forte (as Mike love to remind me) but when you wake up to a week of adventure it makes it all the more easier to wipe the sleep out of your eyes and pull yourself towards yourself. I love the Cape because we often get a full spectrum of seasons in one day and our first venture out onto the road on our 26km journey from Gansbaai to Stanford started off cold and slightly rainy and then by the afternoon we had sunny, hot blue skies. The day before we got to set out minds in motion for the intention that was to motivate us through all the passing kilometres by visiting the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary ( see previous post here) It really set a great tone for understanding the plight and difficulties facing this and many other ocean going bird species. For instance were you aware that the African Penguin population is currently sitting at less than 5% of it's original population , and every year this number gets lower- not that honestly 5% is pretty much scraping the bottom end of the barrel hen it comes to low numbers. This is an IUCN critically endangered species thanks to years and years of destructive practices by us.
Things like oil pollution, over fishing and plastic pollution are just some of the environmental factors that are created by us and have put this species in the position it is now in. And this is the reason I decided to join this walk, along with a small band of equally motivated conservationists, scientists and like minded individuals because awareness is needed, and if I had to loose a few toenails in the process- then so be it.
Day 2 and 3
Stanford to Hermanus was quite a challenge, weather was amazing and perfect for walking in but boy oh boy by hour 4 did those blisters start to kick in. One of the hardest bits was getting to the outskirts of Hermanus town and realising that there was still another 7km to hobble through. There in creeps my good inability to judge distances properly. When you drive past in a car it feels like nothing moving between the outskirts of Die Plaat and the town centre, but who nelly is it a whole other ball game when you are reduced to literally shuffling along as every blister really makes itself known. That nice little saying of 'what does not kill you only makes you stronger' was easy to whip up at this point, because A) It didn't kill us and B) We had 30km on one of our longest distances coming up still and if anything was going to kill, it would be that. What we were noticing along the road was a massive increase in litter, and particularly plastic bottles and bags. This kind of litter is one of the most common pollutants in our ocean and nearly 43% of seabird species have some form of plastic pollutants in their stomach contents. Guys this is not on. In this day and age we should really be more conscious of the amount of plastic we have in our lives and get active in reducing it. If I see someone simply discarding their plastic bottles, chip packets or wrappers on the side of the road I have no skaam in knocking on their car windows or picking it up myself and just letting them know that they dropped something that belongs to them. Just take your rubbish home with you, it's just lazy to throw it out the window. Ok rant over.
Day 3 was one of the more harder days to get through especially as all the aches and niggles have decided to really make themselves known. Added into that was the always predictable Cape Weather which saw us walk through a proper thundershower a mere hour into our walk, but as you can see from the faces not even squishy wet socks stopped us from covering the distance. I would have had the photos to prove it if I did not have my head down bearing into the rain. African Penguins can hold their breath and dive for an average of 2.5 minutes and frankly that would have been a handy skill to have while facing head first into the rain I can tell you. Fascinating little birds these penguins.
Day 4 and 5
Day 4 was the monster, the 30km from Arabella to Stony Point penguin colony. Bandaging and blister maintenance began in earnest in the morning and the weather decided to play ball and give us a wonderfully comfortable overcast day to manage the walk. We saw some incredible scenery along the ?Overberg and what made the long journey even better was the great support we got from SANBI , Cape Nature and so many lovely people along the way who hooted and waved at us as we marched on. There is nothing like the support of everyone around you when you are not feeling your strongest, and the team really pulled through that day. It all culminated in arriving at Stony Point, one of only 2 land based penguin colonies in South Africa and here we got to witness a penguin release. The feet were in a total sorry state of disrepair, I even had my trusty pen knife at the ready for any toe amputations we might have needed to conduct to...you know......drop any dead weight. But every blister is totally worth it for such a good cause.
Did you know that the African Penguin has pink glands above their eyes? The hotter the penguin gets, the more blood is sent to these glands and its body is then cooled by the surrounding air, thus making the glands more pink. I think the longer we walked on the Waddle the more characteristics we were embodying of the Penguins themselves, well some of us anyway. Day 5 was a short hot, warm and windy stride from Gordon's Bay to Strand kicked off with a massive surprise of hundreds of kids from TTP Primary school welcoming us into the beach and giving us a wonderful send off.
The final day
It started off on a low note. Our dear car was broken into overnight and completely ransacked. Fortunately all of our personal stuff was with us in the rooms, but all of our support food,water, promises cards and anything that was left in the vehicle disappeared into the night. The guys from African Wild Cats came to the rescue and had another vehicle dispatched to us asap with spare water for the day as we made the final walk from Muizenberg to Boulders Beach. The final stretch to reach our 124km journey was full of blisters, pain and relief but mostly a huge amount of gratitude not only for what we had accomplished but also because raising awareness of conservation issues is close to our hearts and I have no problem putting my feet or self on the line for when it's worth the pain.
Thank you so much to Two Oceans Aquarium and Penguin Promises for giving me the opportunity to be part of this adventure, and to my fellow waddles who pushed through rain, sun and bandaged feet to get the job done- you are all so amazing, especially my talented travel conservation companion The Incidental Tourist who never fails to say yes to me when I ask her to embark on something that will most likely result in blisters, dirt and exhaustion but always for a good cause.
Currently there are only 17 000 pairs of breeding African Penguins, in order for the species to be are we need at least 50 000. this is not an awareness campaign that ends here.
My #penguinpromise is to get rid of plastic in my life, but only lo a products and to be proactive - I think that's the most important one, getting people involved and literally walking the talk instead of waiting for others to invite me to
This short video describes the inseparable link between a traditional fishing community and the Olifants River Estuary on the South African west coast. Although there are many challenges facing traditional fishing communities, the focus of this video is just to explore the link of livelihoods and the passing down of fishing knowledge from the elders to younger fishers. This video is a short version of a longer film, exploring in more depth the personal, emotional and cultural links to this incredible estuary system.
Our condolences to all those fishers who have passed on since the making of this short film, may your knowledge and experiences live on through the generations of fishers to come.
There is so much that can be said about Grootbos, so much that many before me have talked about and I have no doubt that many after me will continue to talk about simply because it is a space like no other in the Cape. A wondrous collection of over 765 fynbos species that cover the 2500-hectare property, ancient Milkwood forests, fantastic food and rooms that cohesively blends into the landscape giving you sweeping views over the hill and into Walker Bay.
Despite all the beauty of this place the main reason mike and I packed up Johnny and hit the road was to explore the Grootbos foundation and more specifically to meet people that form part of the sustainability tour that Grootbos offers it’s guests. The foundation was established in 2003 with the idea of assisting the surrounding community in creating sustainable livelihoods and active citizenship through its three programs and inn the process conserving the local environment. Grootbos itself is situated along the Walker Bay coastline, a half an hour drive from Hermanus in the Western Cape. One of the closest towns to the property is Gansbaai, a small traditional fishing town that is famous for it’s great white shark cage diving and a deep historical connection to the sea from the early nomadic Khoi-descendants that made use of Klipgat cave to todays modern Abalone farms, shark and whale watching tourism industry, working fishing harbour and fishmeal factory. This is a town where life revolves around the land and the sea , where both are deeply intertwined into the very fabric of everyday life for anyone that calls the area home.
Gansbaai and its surrounds, albeit a beautiful space, is one where unfortunately there is a very high percentage of unemployment. From a few of the locals we chatted to it seemed that there was a very large population of families that had relocated here from my home town of the Eastern Cape in the hopes of finding better jobs than the ones that they had in their home town. Unfortunately what this means is that there are a lot of young people coming into an area where jobs are already limited. Many young people that graduate from high school, often single female headed households, in the area are having an incredibly difficult time finding permanent employment and this can lead to a whole series of social problems, one in particular that Mike and I are very familiar with – poaching.
Ask anyone who is familiar with the area or in the know when it comes to fishing and they can tell you that Gansbaai has over the years developed a rather notorious reputation for being amongst the main areas of illegal fishing activity in the Cape, especially when it comes to abalone. This of course does not mean that everyone in Gansbaai is a poacher; obviously, it just means that this is a well-known area where this activity occurs for a whole host of reasons.
And here is where we begin to look at the Grootbos Foundation.
Once a year a call is put out in the area where anyone regardless of skill and level of education can apply for a one year Horticulture and Life Skills College, named Greening the futures, for 8-12 young adults. As part of their training they are awarded a nationally (SETA) accredited certificate in horticulture and are assisted in work placement or students can take the option to apply for a second year of tuition in (FGASA) field guiding level 1. Currantly due to the program a group has landed a contract to do indigenous landscaping on the new road to Elim in the area, creating a social enterprise that has the ability to generate it own income for all the people involved. This is just one of what they call three integrated ‘umbrella’ programmes that foundation. There is also the Football Foundation focused on utilising sport for development and Siyakhula which focuses on the creation of sustainable livelihoods through enterprise development. Through the pograms the students develop the skills and confidence necessary to market themselves and become employable, while at the same time contributing to the conservation and promotion of our region’s unique biodiversity, and as of today over 119 young people have graduated with more than 90% of graduates having found employment on completion of the one year long course. As part of the project each year three students are selected to be part of the Eden Project – where they are sent on an exchange visit to Cornwall in the UK for a three week experiential training opportunity to further their studies and experience. Due to the success of Greening the future , in 2015 a hospitality training program was additionally created and now trains 10 local residents in housekeeping and life skills and this is further developed in the in house training at the Grootbos lodges themselves- gaining work experience.
With 10 volunteers at any given time as well as 3 interns per semester to assist with communications, sports management and research and impact surveys the foundation appears to have put genuine thought and intent behind it’s programs and time will tell as it develops the degree of success that they will attain in creating this as a community success. The main point I feel is that is they are on the path. No program is perfect, especially in an area of green washing where ‘ecotourism’ is the word de rigueur of 2015 and debates swirl around how effective volunteer projects actually are. There are some big challenges facing our coastal communities and it is far to easy to fall into illegal operations and activities because its quick money and it’s easy to get caught up in the system of poaching because there is a payout at the end of the day. But by offering certified accreditation both locally and internationally it allows people access to opportunities and this is the fundamental requirement in building a belief in a community and an individual person that they don’t need to resort to illegal activities just to survive.
The thing about Grootbos is it is high end, but through the foundation and the accreditation courses people are getting jobs to be able plant and learn landscaping and these are tools that make you more employable beyond just offering a small skills course with no further development. The only way you can create a functional change is to have a long-term investment with genuine intent and we feel Greening the future has this potential. Handouts don’t create a incentive to change, it makes you dependent and unmotivated which is something that we have often seen in other countries around the world. Accreditation it frees young people to be able to become entrepreneur of their own future and it allows accountability towards the development that the foundation offers, and that credibility allows you to look over the landscape and know that the people are included to. When you have something accounted and credible you are contributing to the generation of alternative incomes, which is something that is desperately acquired in a place like Gansbaai and other places around South Africa.
There is another beautiful story behind the spectacular scenery – one that with right people who drive the project forward, the framework is there and the propensity for it to be highly successful is also there. It’s one of the few where you can look, listen and feel that there is a real possibility of a benefit to the community- and this makes that sunset over the fynbos that much more profound. Sincerity goes a long along way and I’m glad it is found in a place like Gansbaai.
You can find out more information at the Grootbos Foundation website or you can visit their Indigenous Nursery in Walker Bay which is open to the public.
If you would like to enquire about volunteering at the program you can fill in a form on the website and send in a motivation letter but keep in mind you must have had previous experience as volunteer and have to be able to coach sports and interact well with kids.
A big thank you to Phil and Karin for being our hosts for the day and showering us with a massive amount of information on the foundation and it’s operations in the area, and Thank you to Grootbos for hosting us for the night while we took all this information in.
“Without our natural heritage there is nothing for us. It is what is good for our planet, our people and our country” - Derek Hanekom, Minister of tourism
Gansbaai is classed as a small fishing village, a tiny settlement that came into being around the 1800's as the first permanent fishing cottages were built by Khoi-descendants under ancient Milkwoods in Stanfordsbaai and inside of a secluded cove in De Kelders. Long stretches of uninhabited beaches reach out to acres of natural fynbos making this area, famous for it’s shark cage diving tourism industry, home for many different species of land and sea animals. Just a mere 8,5 km out form the coastline of Kleinbaai sits Dyer Island, widely accepted as one of the most important costal inland systems in South Africa and a recognized Important Bird Area. Here endangered African Penguins, Cormorants and some 29 different species of seabirds and cape fur seals (and a whole host of Great White Sharks mind you) call the island home throughout the entire year.
As a resident of nearby betty’s Bay myself, I have often found it tricky to deal with any injured or distressed sea birds we would often on occasion come across. Because of overfishing, oil pollution, by-catch and our own pollution like plastics that find their way into the ocean and along the coastlines many populations of endemic seabird species are struggling, as their slow rate of breeding does not allow them to compensate for their population loss. Simple things like plastic bags can enter the water system and pose a big hazard to various marine animals if they ingest the bags, often resulting in horrible deaths.
If we did happen to come across a bird or penguin in distress out in our Overberg area the nearest centre that was able to deal with anything beyond domestic animals was SANCOB, all the way in the city. So you can imagine my delight when we heard that a new state of the art rehabilitation centre was opening up in the Overberg. The African Penguin And Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) open it’s doors this year to house and protect seabirds and penguins that cannot function in the wild. The community is able to report cases of injured seabirds, and with an in-house staff trained in animal rehabilitation, hopefully these injured birds will be able to make full recoveries and then be released back to their natural habitats.
Their goal ? To create a “first-of-its-kind facility that will restore the balance of this incredible area by rescuing, researching, and rehabilitating these unique marine species, while educating passionate individuals on how their choice can make a difference.” The center itself is very impressive, with state of the art conditioning pen’s where birds in the last stage of their rehabilitation can prepare for eventual release behind one-way glass that allows the public to view the birds without disturbing them. With a bird hospital and a laboratory and clinic onsite guests are able to view the activities of the centre on large television screens. One thing that is really important it to get the general public educated about conservation issues. Tourism can be about making a positive difference in peoples lives, and with the added attraction of a rehabilitation center in the Overberg, it means that visitors can be educated about our natural environmental heritage as well as us locals having a sense of pride in what is being done in conservation in the area. I enjoyed the minister of tourism comments when he suggested that ; “ You speak of tourism, you speak about the environment , you speak about conservation –they are all interdependent”
One of the things I found very fascinating was the “floating” floor grid, slanted sections of removable blue-squared flooring that allows for the floor to be immediately drained and removes moisture from the area, affording the Penguins a wonderfully dry and clean surface to stand on 24/7 which is important to their recovery and general health and well being.
As always I love a good centre that provides a point of research in the area, so I will be watching to see what comes out of this centre in the future- hopefully a lot of happy and healthy seabirds along with some exiting new research into the critical role these animals play in our ocean ecosystems.
If you find any injured birds or penguins you can contact APSS at +27 82 907 5607or on twitter @APSSZA
Visit their website or visit their centre directly http://africanpenguin.org/
I’m sitting in the car watching as the town of Bredasdorp fades into the dust filled distance. It’s taken three hours of listening to bad radio stations playing Celine Dion and Bryan Adams on a torturous loop and touching the side of the window all I can feel is radiating heat of midday threatening to swallow me whole if I venture outside of the air-conditioned safety of the car. But what journey would not need a little bit of adventure, albeit with a bad soundtrack. Brown landscape slowly starts to give way to patching’s of green fynbos poking out over the hills of the Cape Agulhus and finally as we past a final huddle of sheep, it’s up over a ridge and right into the lap of the De Hoop Nature Reserve. Nothing is quite as refreshing as the feeling of being dust covered and having the crisp, cool ocean in immediate sight. De Hoop is quite a spectacular site from the top of the reserve; the Cape Floral kingdom layered out as far as you can see with a diversity of over 1 500 species. Two rivers gently merge into a vlei bordered by large golden sand dunes falling into a turquoise ocean complete the picture postcard. Our car is heaving with cameras and wetsuits and thanks to the summer sun it doesn’t take us long to head over to shoreline, ready to explore this unique Marine Protected Area.
Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) are incredibly vital when it comes to protecting our ocean world. They are a refuge for exploited species, key breeding grounds and a safe harbor for migrating ocean life, a space where marine life can return to it’s pre-exploited state. In this day and age of overfishing and exploitation these reserves might be the only thing standing between certain ocean species demise. They also serve as a scientific marker for information on the differences form exploited ecosystems compared to ones left untouched. Our first MPA, Tsitsikamma, was declared in 1964, and since then we have gained 20 other MPA’s across the coastline, including De Hoop. When a MPA is working well it can serve as a great example of civil society, government and communities working together to preserve our natural heritage.
“The objectives of MPAs as described in the Marine Living Resources Act No. 18 of 1998 (MLRA) of South Africa are to protect the marine life, facilitate fisheries management and reduce user-conflict. The concept of “no take zones” is important in South African MPA management, in that “no take zones” affords complete protection of the MPA, it however also is the reason conflicts arise between traditional resource users and management authorities. In South Africa MPA’s often adopt a mixed management strategy, i.e. a portion of the area set aside as no-take, which fires up hot debates over community exclusion vs. species protection. According to WWF South Africa of the countries 21 MPAs only eight are completely “no take areas” which begs the question, is that enough?
Now lets face it, not all MPA’s are built the same. One of South Africa’s biggest challenges at the moment is how we go about enforcing the legislation that covers our MPA’s. According to Cape Nature, De Hoop MPA has the highest level of protection, meaning you are not allowed to remove a single thing and the impact of this is does not go unnoticed by the trained eye. Unfortunilty many of our other MPA”s are not as lucky as they are locasted alongside traditional resourse dependant communities. Argumanets over unjust allocation of MPA’s and “No-take zones” are highly politicle as communities have been marginalized from the process in creating the MPA’s in the past, and this has contributed to undermining the legitimacy of the MPA, which ultimately destabilizes its fundamental goal in protecting the marine life from complete destruction from a history of poor management. The fact that De Hoop has been in relative isolation and borders the South African Defence Force means that it has a natural buffer against human impact, soemthing that has allowed the marine life to live in a relatively undisturbed state for so long.
Around 12:00 the tides slowly starts to recede around Koppie Alleen, overlooking the vast ocean expanse Mike and I sit with camera gear at the ready. What once was a shoreline of blue slowly starts making way to rocky outcrops scattered underneath the limestone caves as far to our left and right as we can manage to see. De Hoop has a really spectacular coastline stretching 70km and 3 nautical miles out into the ocean. The reason we have come down here is to not just experience the natural beauty of the reserve incidentally one of the better places to do some up close southern right whale watching during calving season and is also an important nursery area for the depleted angling species, the Galjoen (our national fish incase you were not aware) We came to get stuck in to the underwater life of the area- and fortunately we had the most perfect weather one could ask for. The summer light illuminated all the little corners and crags as the crashing waves retreated into the horizon, giving the fish life a change to peek out into the sunlight streaming into the somewhat stilled water.
Rock pools are fascinating things, a microcosm of the wider ocean. Inside is a unique habitat filled with life that is dependent on tolerance and exposure to light and air. Filling up with salty seawater at low tide, the shore between the high tide and the low tide mark is a place for adventure not just for you but for the many organisms that have to survive in this space between sand and sea.
The underwater life was prolific and inspiring to see. From Two-Tone Finger fins to Blacktails and Streepies there was wonderment in every pool we dipped our heads into. It was the kind of fish life we would have seen all along the coastline any years ago. Mike was particularly encouraged to see that simple management in protecting an area can definitely lead to the recovery of various species of fish, especially as our home beach break of Betty’s Bay is sitting in a rather dire position when it comes to its biodiversity- mainly because we have very serious poaching issues and disregard for the law inside our home MPA. But it just goes to show, when something is working and when something is not in an MPA comparison the sights speak for themselves.
You don’t need any diving experience at all to be able to see what is inside a rock pool- just some booties for your feet and a mask really. The great thing about them is that you can never really predict what you might find nestled inside of them. The deeper the pool the more stable it will be, making it a great place for more bio diverse fish life, but don’t shy away from peeking into the smaller ones as well, it’s a great way to get young kids interested in our marine life.
A part of me never wanted to leave Melkvlei cottage. Spending the day driving around scouting for good photography spots with the best possible light, sitting with my camera on the beach while Mike jumps in and out of the rock pools with his underwater setup, scaring the odd tourist every now and then. The dusty road would see us bundled salty and satisfied back to our cottage on the lake, downloading the days work, setting up the fire and lighting hurricane lamps as dusk settled across the vlei. No television, no electricity, no distractions to get in the way of quality communication time. Way back when Mike and I were young and full of beans there honestly was nothing better than turning off from the outside world of influences, grabbing the nearest seat around the fire and telling stories with a cold beer in hand. Life, work and all that other grownup nonsense has meant that we often don’t get time to do just that, so when the opportunity arises for us these days I seldom say no to a good session of being disconnected from the outside world. There was even little to no cell reception on our river bank- the full unplugged experience was a little slice of heaven.
MPA’s in South Africa still don’t receive as much attention as their terrestrial counterparts, which is a pity, but I think that might be down to the fact that it can be harder to see the spectacular underwater bliss that is out there if you don’t get stuck in. And I mean that in a literal sense. Go and get a wetsuit, and if you are like me and need a little bit of buffering against the chilly cape waters get a thick one and go take a peek inside your nearest rock pool our very own shoreline of natural aquariums. The more we take ownership of our MPA’s , the more legitimacy they will have in protecting our marine life.
*Take care when you are in a rock pool to not do any damage to the beautiful organisms it houses. Try to be gentle and definitely don’t remove anything, souvenirs should just be lovely memories and some photos and nothing more. *
This year De Hoop is celebrating 30 years as a Marine Protected Area. Throughout the year they are hosting a whole load of different activities such as whale watching and music and intertidal workshops to name a few- visit the site here for more details
Thank you to the team at De Hoop Collection for Hosting Mike and I for a few days and giving us the space and freedom to explore at our own pace- it was such a pleasure to get into the water, we will be back.
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*We discovered today that Tintswalo Atalantic has been affected by the raging fires that are currently ripping through Noordhoek and Hout Bay. Both Mike and I are glad that none of the staff were injured in the fire and wish Tintsawlo Atlantic a speeding recovery.
“A sustainable community food system is a collaborative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management in order to enhance the environmental, economic and social health of a particular place.” SAREP
We all either know or have recently been exposed to the concept that our oceans and the life that it holds are facing some serious threats. We have overfishing, illegal fishing, climate change and a worldwide call for Marine Protected Areas to be established on a larger scale to help preserve marine life both close to shore and in the high seas. A word that often crops up a lot in the literature around these issues is the idea of sustainability, but even though we might have some clear written definitions of what it is to eat sustainably- do we really understand it?
One of the reasons that started me thinking about what sustainability means and how we use the word was after meeting a very talented young chef called Jeantelle van Staden, who works as head chef for Tintswalo Atlantic. She started working in the hospitality industry at the tender age of 15, and has now been a chef for almost 11 years. After some time spent in Johannesburg she was drawn to the shores of the Atlantic and as part of her ideas as head chef at Tintswalo she wanted to create her menu of fine dining where all of her seafood would only be sourced form the SASSI Green list. Now the different color lists, for those who have not been exposed to it, was created as a data base to inform and educate all of those involved in the seafood trade about the types of choices they make and encouraging voluntary compliance of the law through education and awareness, amongst other things. The green list is made up of the most sustainable choices from the healthiest and most well managed populations.
According to SASSI, “These species can handle current fishing pressure, or are farmed in a manner that does not harm the environment. Some green species are not targeted by any particular fishery, but are managed as a sustainable bycatch. Developing a sustainable seafood industry requires a holistic approach, one which addresses all aspects along the chain of custody from the fisherman's hook all the way to the final product delivered to the consumer at their local fish shop or restaurant”
Creating a menu around fish only on the green list was not the easiest task. She tells me; “In the beginning it was quite hard as guest were not always familiar with most fish and considered some of them to be of inferior quality. I also had to get to know these better in order to explain to guests what they’re like and describe them in a more palatable way. Once you get to know the structure and flavour of the sustainable fish it becomes quite easy to pair it with certain dishes and components.”
I do believe that there would be enough resources out there for all of us if we really took the time just eat less and make better choices when it comes to what we are eating. I always find it encouraging when people like Jeantell will forgo what is easy and well known, to make an effort to implement this kind of change of choice in a constructive and creative manner.
“I always try and keep my dishes fresh and colourful; I believe that you have to love and respect your basic ingredients in order to create a mouth-watering plate of food. One can’t be a good chef if you don’t appreciate food in its raw form. I’d like for my grandchildren to be able to enjoy the same foods I have thus far and therefore feel that sustainability plays a large role in this. It’s also about respecting mother nature and what she gives and not being greedy or having the mindset that using a certain product makes your dish the best; imparting flavour and beauty into something is a talent and a chef should be able to do this with any ingredient.”
Sustainability is less about the definition of the word; it is more about a responsibility. It is not just about the fish, but what surrounds the cultural heritage associated with that particular fishery. We are at a stage where our resources are heavily exploited, the push towards sustainability is more important now than ever before. The word is easily defined, but very difficult to implement- for example Bokkoms. Here you have old traditional fishermen going out and catching mullet with gillnets, something that it has been happening for many years. On the surface it would seem sustainable from a cultural, traditional and technological point of view. But in this process of fishing often there is a bycatch of juvenile linefish species, like Leerfish and Shad/Elf, which can impact negatively to their sustainability given the greater context of the poor management of various linefish species over the years. Because the resources are not managed properly at a higher level then the impact catching those particular juveniles can be felt.
So now would that mean that you would be comfortable eating the mullet that they catch? You are supporting traditional fisheries and a local livelihood, which is one aspect of being sustainable but you are also supporting the catch of a juvenile linefish species and that can affect their sustainability in the long term. The point is that suitability and what it is and what it is not, and there are different levels, is often not as clear-cut as the definition provides. So does that mean that if we can’t make any clear decisions, should just stop eating fish all together?
Some advocate for a total abstinence from consuming seafood completely, and in an ideal world this would be a perfect solution towards rebuilding our fish stocks. But we cannot pretend that people are suddenly going to cut out all kinds of seafood altogether. In some countries, think of the coastline of India, or any coastal African country where local communities rely primarily on produce from the ocean to survive, totally abandoning all kinds of seafood is just not an option. Here we have to work together with communities to use less harmful equipment, find alternative income generating activities to be able to alleviate fishing pressure and educate people on how to use the ocean sustainably. We should consider the ocean and its resources as the fundamental building block of global development, as its health is our health. If however you don’t rely on the ocean to sustain you directly, if you are able to make the choice financially to be a conscious consumer, a privileged position to be in – then you need to lead by example to.
The Harder fishery is very complicated politically, scientifically and socially, however as the general public you are not expected to have the in depth knowledge of each species. But if you are going to go the route of consuming consciously at the moment in South Africa the only reliable way to is to use the SASSI green list guide. Although it is a complicated issue at heart, the consideration of all those parts is why SASSI is a good guideline for those wanting to make better choices.
I found a fantastic quote from a National Geographic article ( link here ) Which stated, “How do we balance our taste with what is right for the oceans? When humans consume seafood, we leave an indelible mark on the ecosystem. It is critically important for our own well-being—and that of the oceans—that we understand the impacts of our choices.”
Time to become a conscious consumer and make the decisions we need to in order to sustain our blue planet. It’s not just about eating a fish because we feel like it, but balancing what we want with an informed decision for what is good for our oceans and supporting people like Chef Jeantell who are going the distance to lead by example. In the end we could all benefit form this.
Resources: SASSI Sustainable seafood guide http://www.wwfsassi.co.za/?m=1
Marine Stewardship Council: http://www.msc.org/
Thank you to Tintswalo Atalantic for introducing me to the lovely Chef Jeantelle.
" My Camera has now become a part of my life. It is now my weapon of change" -Athini Mbiko (2011 Ilizwi Photographer)
Once a year Greenpop , the tree planting power force of all things green in South Africa, hosts an event in Zambia called Trees for Action. Hosted in Livingstone, the three week event brings people together from around the globe to plant thousands of trees, learn, connect, give back, grow and get active. I joined them last year and was lucky enough to meet the students and organisers of Ilizwi Photo club, an exiting bunch of talented young photographers working to become actively involved in their communities and tell the stories that matter most to them. Through photojournalism we are able to gain an insight to societies needs and values, it is such a valuable tool in making sense of the world around us and I was very lucky to meet with some of the students to gain an insight into their lives.
"Photography is one of the most important parts of journalism because it reaches people so powerfully. It’s quicker, it’s more visceral than text. Photography is immediate.” ~ Geneva Overholser, Director, School of Journalism, USC Annenberg School for Communication
Founded in 2011, Ilizwi Photo Club works with young people in under-resourced communities by encouraging creative self-expression through photography and socially informative youth media pieces. What really resonated with me was their idea that people (especially youth) and communities are often portrayed in a stereotypical, negative fashion, and stories in the news are rarely more than crime reports. What Ilizwi does is create a space for the youth to tell their own stories from their perspective. Cameras in hand the photographers from various schools in Khayelitsha Township, Cape Town and the sister project in Livingstone ,Zambia the youngsters are put through a course guided by experienced professional photographers and produce a body of work that is exhibited and sold to give them a potential start in generating an income and turning a passion into a potential career. Below is a selection of some of the students photography and stories around their portfolio projects- I hope you get as much inspiration from them as I did. Unfortunately I could not get hold of all the write ups from their exhibition in Livingston, but I still wanted to show off some of the photography.
You can support these young up and coming photographers by hiring their services or purchase the students' photographs, something I remember being a great help to me for extra cash when I first started out way back when. Contact Meghan Sinesipho Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well done to these young people and I look forward to seeing their images across the media space in the future.
‘The North West Mansion is an old ruined building that was originally built in the 1900’s. The building’s initial purpose was to serve as a train station and it was later transformed into a hotel. This project focuses on the history of the building, it’s structures and how it has reinvented itself over a period of 114 years.’ My choice to photograph this building was inspired by the fact that it has always stood out and grabbed my attention whilst walking around town. This ongoing fascination prompted me to take a closer look at it and learn more.
‘My name is Jackson and I am 23 years old. I am a painter. I started painting when I was 16 years old because my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my school fees. When I was young my Father used to take me with him to the place where he painted himself and taught me some of the required techniques. I always wanted to be like him. My Father stopped painting because he got too old and couldn’t work anymore to pay for my school fees. I then stayed out of school for three years, until one day I said to myself that I cannot live without an education, that I should use some of the skills that I got from my Father. I started painting to raise money in order to go back to school. Now I am happy that I am able to go to school and pay for my own school fees. It sometimes feels like I am living a double life as I need to go to school and I need to go to work. Yet I am proud to be able to find a balance between school and work.’
Photographers in action, I wish I could show more of the photographs of these lovely talented guys, but alas you will have to go an join Ilizwe on one of their courses to see more of these guys in action. They will be at Trees for Zambia from the 28th of June to the 19th July.
Time for a road trip.
Last Year over the December month South Africa was treated to a whirl wind tour by Dr Sylvia Earle and Mission Blue as they launched the first 6 Hope Spots on the African Continent. As part of the Overberg community we were lucky enough to be involved with the launch of the Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot and got to tour with Sylvia for the three days she was in the region.
Right so for those not in the loop here is a breakdown of what this was all about.
First up- Dr Earle.
Affectionately know as “Her Deepness”, when the name of Sylvia Earle is uttered around diving circles, ocean conservationists or marine scientists you will see eyes glaze over with a kind of fevered, glossy almost tear-like giddy appreciation. I have observed a similar affect when the likes of the Arch Desmond Tutu walks into a room. She is an ocean rock star on the Beatles fever level when she makes an appearance. Never mind that she is one sassy betty. This powerhouse of ocean conservation and exploration has had six decades of achievement under her dive belt that have included being a pioneer for women in diving and ocean science. In 1979 in a male dominated industry she set a new women’s deep-diving record when she descended to 1,250 feet (381 meters) off the coast of Hawaii. She served as the chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean in Google Earth, was named Time magazine’s first Hero for the Planet (1998) and served as the first female chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 1990 to 1992. 25 doctorates, 16 years as a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, a children’s book, leader of more than 50 expeditions worldwide involving in excess of 6,000 hours underwater in connection with her research and heading up the first team of women aquanauts during the Tektite Project in 1970. She really is a living legend.
And here’s where the Hope Spot’s kicks in.
Thanks to her massive contribution to our blue planet in 2009 Dr Earle was awarded the TED prize (details of what that is here) where she was allowed to make her vision to inspire change in the world a reality through the support of TED and other partners. From this Mission Blue was born. An organization with an idea as a means to ignite public support for a global network of special marine management areas, or Hope Spots, which are critical to the health of the oceans and the planet. Now an area that is designated as a Hope Spot can either be formally protected under government legislation, like a recognized Marine Protected Areas, or an area that is not protected at all but is recognized as being a special place that are critical to the health of the ocean. The idea is using an inclusive approach where science, tourism, education, sustainable development and use of marine resources are possible- call it an actionable way to address the tremendous existential challenges the ocean faces by using all the stakeholders relevant to try and bring about change and custodianship of the resource. So far there have been 51 Hope spots designated around the globe creating a conservation network that reaches from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and from Europe to Australasia.
And then last year South Africa became a part of Mission Blue as 6 Hope Spots were launched for the first time on the continent.
Our six areas includes;
Algoa Bay and the islands: Includes the principal breeding colonies of the African penguin, now down to 2% of historical population levels
The Cape Whale Coast: From Rooi Els to Quoin Point and includes offshore islands, just over 200km of coast line and then out to sea
False Bay: All of False Bay from Cape Point to Cape Agulhas
Plettenburg Bay: Links the Robberg MPA to Tsitsikamma MPA
Knysna: Includes the Knysna Estuary and marine coast and offshore waters
I’m still working out exactly how effective the practicality of the Hope Spots is right at this moment. I really do believe in getting the local community to be custodians of their resource and by using a figure like Dr Earle to bring attention to areas that are in need of support. It’s a wonderful concept and frankly a good direction to be heading in when it comes to finding ways to get people to stand behind ocean conservation issues. Realistically we are facing some trying times ahead when it comes to ocean conservation. The numbers are looking a little shy-off pretty bleak at the moment. Illegal and unregulated fishing is rampant across the ocean. Roughly one-quarter of coral reefs worldwide are already considered damaged beyond repair, with another two-thirds under serious threat from ocean acidification, destructive fishing practices and human pollution. Ocean overfishing is simply the taking of wildlife from the sea at rates too high for fished species to replace themselves.
What I am trying to say is that the test of time is only going to show whether the public does take on these Hope Spots and they become as affective as what we all wish they might be. The industry, NGO’s and organizations around the Hope Spot hopefully will develop a long term plan to be able to work off the initial attention that was created by Dr Earle’s presence, but not just rely on Mission Blue as some kind of wonder pill that will bring in funding and solutions to all our ocean issues. It’s not that easy, a great force of Dr Earle behind you sure helps let’s not kid ourselves, but it takes work on the ground to keep the momentum going. And that work is often long, hard and unrewarding.
With 51 Hope Spots now recognized around the globe and even with her unflinching stamina that she still possess at her age, she cannot be expected to visit on a regular basis (even though there are Mission Blue Expeditions-she has 57 across the globe to try and move between) and we cannot rely on her public persona to drive the mission of the Hope Spot forever. It is really up to us around the Hope Spots to take cognizance of why it was created in the first place, and that we have to continuously drive the education of ocean conservation and growing momentum of ocean conservation.
Follow us on twitter and the blog through this year as we will be making a point of trying to send out the message of as many different projects, people, initiatives or ways you can get involved on a local and international level and be part of, or at least participate in any small way, in an ocean conscious community.
In the words of Mission Blue “We must find a way to live sustainably within the great systems that sustain us”
Let’s see where this takes us.