02 March 2010

South Africa 2010

Was back in South Africa for a week doing some field work. The overnight trip down was with the Luftewaffe and was fairly grim, the plane was full and we were stuck at the back with virtually no leg room. Managed to get about 3 hours sleep and then just watched movies for the remaining 6 hours, “An Education” was the best, thoughtful insight into early 1960’s Britain. The pilot did at least treat us to a fly-by of Table Mountain, seeing Cape Town again brought back so many memories and all of them good, lots of good times from field work in the Karoo and the parties that inevitably followed the IAS in 1996 when Nige, Dougal and I drove from Namibia after 3 months in the desert, through to 2002 and 3 days of solid partying with Dougal and his south African mates when we someone metamorphosed into a band on tour and attracted a fan base of models and posh kids at Club La Med. I love Cape Town.

We arrived and met Andy from Liverpool at the airport and he, Andreas and I drove straight to Lainsburg, 4 hours through the Cape Fold belt, amazing scenery. Simon stayed behind to met the helimap folk. Next morning we headed down to Matjesfontain for breakfast. Entering Matjesfountain is like stepping back about 100 years in time. The town is a single drag along a wide dusty road lined with old colonial buildings. There is a strong Scottish theme with a pub complete with imported stags heads and a large collection of whisky. Breakfast was at the hotel which hasn’t changed very much since it was built. It sits in an ongoing state of dilapidation, steadfastly trying to resist both the erosion of the elements and changing social and political attitudes. The restaurant was busy. The people mirrored the buildings. Once good looking and majestic they retained their arrogance despite looking tired and haggard.

We headed to the field and reccied the first sections, then in the evening we met up with Simon, our friends from helimap and the chopper pilot, an Aussie called Bronte. Bronte was, like most heli pilots I have met, an interesting character. Stories of flying in Angola during the civil war, hanging out with Mandela during the first elections and various other stuff, reminded me that no matter how cool you think your life is, there is always people who have a more interesting time of it…

One man and his machine
Next day Andy headed off to co-pilot the first flight and we headed to collect the supplementary field data. A good day was had by all, although Andy decided that chopper time was not for him. That evening we moved to Sutherland. This small town in the northern Cape has an impressive church and not much else. This always makes me wonder why so many crappy communities spend all their spare cash and more on a building that gets used once a week! Sutherland is also famous for being so far into the arse end of nowhere that there is no light pollution, and therefore it is a great place for star viewing. It is even the home of SALT, the South African Large Telescope which is actually a collection of telescopes on a hill. Unfortunately the weather was rapidly crapping-out so we did not get to see too many stars.

Heli in the Karoo - note the shitty weather in the distance

Apart from the telescope and a church there is not much else in Sutherland. Lots of bottle shops and the obligatory Woolworths, a single hotel and some shitty guest houses. The people in these parts of South Africa are fascinating. Its easy to dismiss the white South African and a bunch of arrogant, racists has beens. Spitting image summed up that stereo type nicely. But there is more to it than that. This is a tough place and these are tough people. They are racists and they are bigoted, they are conservative and they are small minded. But they are also kind and welcoming to outsiders (I guess as long as you are white). They are polite and friendly. Many, especially the younger ones you meet in the more cosmopolitan areas are also trying to move on from the past These are tough people who live in a tough environment. They bear the scares of hard outdoor lives. The women are as tough as the man. All those that we met in the Karoo are old, the young fled to the cites long ago, and you can see that they were once beautiful but the harsh environment has abraded their looks as cruelly as it has weathered the bedrock we come to study.

Volcanic plug intruding fluvial sediments

So we worked the next couple of days. The weather was not especially kind to us. It was either very hot, 40+ degrees c or it was stormy. Andreas and the helimap guys spent a very eventful day being buffeted and bounced around by storm force winds only to discover that the data were no good, I spent a long day as co-pilot collecting lots of data and eventually we got everything done within the time allotted and by Thursday evening we had finished.

The delights of Suderland

Good advice from the bottle shop, the sign above the door says "home of headache"

Thursday night was spent in Stellenbosch, which is on route back to Cape Town and so different to the Karoo that it might as well be another planet. The town has beautiful tree lined streets with great colonial architecture. We had an excellent vegetarian meal, taken with G&T and fine wine, sat outside a really lovely restaurant. The streets are filled with young people, it’s a student town, and while it is still conservative there is a real sense of optimism. I guess it’s the kind of optimism you get from being rich and privileged and I am sure that if you spent time there it would drive you crazy, but as an antidote to the harsh Karoo it is great.

Friday morning we headed back to Cape Town and spent the afternoon being tourists. Hit the beach at Camps Bay for the sunset, had a quick and bracing body surf before dinner in Club La Med.

Camps Bay

The tourist theme continued on Saturday when we drove down to Cape Point. I have been there several times but always in a rush, drive down, quick picture by the famous sign and then whiz off. This time we spent most of the day there including hiking around for several hours. It was windy and classic sunburn weather, but it was nice to get some fresh air and relax a bit. On the way back we stopped at a vineyard and did the wine tasting thing before buying a couple of crates to bring back. The day was capped off with dinner at the awesome Mama Africa followed by cocktails in Cape to Cuba.

Sunday we went up Table Mountain. There was much deliberation about walking or taking the cable car. The lonely planet said “there are no safe hiking trails on the mountain take a rope and be prepared to die”. I was pretty sure that this was bullshit and persuaded them to have a go. In the end the path was absolutely fine, although steep. It was about 600 m vertical of steps and it was bloody hot, but certainly not dangerous. It took me just under 2 hours while the youths did it in an hour and a quarter! Very impressive I am definitely feeling my age and the impact of my sedentary lifestyle.

Steep enough for a heart-attack but probably not a rope

On top

Quick shower, lunch and then the airport for another 12 hours encased in a very small German torture seat. The bitch at check-in wanted to charge us 400 euro for being 8 kg over weight but after some arguing she graciously said she would be nice and waive it. I hate these people so much…

Arrived in Frankfurt Monday morning and was back in work in the big B just after lunch. While we had been boiling at 40+, Bergen had got another half metre of fresh snow. Amazing!


Parag said...

Many famous people have made the trip to the top including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. A number of currently world famous celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Tina Turner have included a trip up the Cableway as part of their Cape Town holiday.
Table Mountain Cableway

Anonymous said...

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