Port Elizabeth: Land of Sand

April 23, 2019

‘I speak of Africa and golden joys.’

Henry IV, Act V, Sc. 3

 

 

April 16, 2019, Port Elizabeth, South Africa — Another port I had never heard of! This ‘Dolphin Capital of the World’ turned out to be a nice place. Our guide, Dutch by birth, obviously loves it here. There are about 1 million people in the city, and 2 million in the whole metro area. And up to 200 dolphins at a time. Plus humpback and southern right whales. 

 

Guess who arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries, on their way to Goa — hence the name of Port Elizabeth’s Algoa Bay, or ‘to Goa.’ The Dutch East India Company settled in 1652, looking for grazing land so they could raise meat to resupply passing VOC ships. (Remember VOC? The official name of the DEI Co., Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie.) Of course the native tribes were here first, and they also needed grazing land. Conflicts ensued. Native inhabitants did not want to work for the Dutch and, needing a labor force, the Dutch brought in Muslim slaves.

 

In 1820, 4,000 Brits arrived in Port Elizabeth (aka P.E.), commemorated by this campanile near the spot where they landed.

​Sixty years later, the Brits were fighting the Dutch in the first and second Boer Wars (1880-81 over diamonds and gold and 1889-1902 over who would govern whom). 

 

Today, P.E.’s main industry is automotive: Mercedes, VW, Ford, BAIC (a Chinese brand), but unemployment is high. Back in Victorian and Edwardian days, there was a huge market for African ostrich feathers, for ladies’s sumptuous hats. Today they produce mohair (think angora goats), merino wool and citrus for export, and mine manganese. And squid — they catch lots and lots of squid. They export all they catch.  They import squid to eat from Spain. Go figure. 

 

The start of my shore excursion was a ride through downtown then the suburbs en route to our actual destination. So you can see what I saw along the way and get a feel for Port Elizabeth...

 

Their old buildings need help.

 

 

Heading out of town to the suburbs.  We drove by mountains where our guide regularly hikes — amid free-roaming leopard and zebra, mongoose, antelopes, kudu and snakes. We saw wind farms along the way. 

Note the thatch roof — and the very sturdy wall. Crime — as elsewhere in South Africa — is always in the news. We had passed a fenced home with this sign on its gate: ‘Protected by the Good Lord and a Gun.’

Note the rain barrels. Water is a major environmental and social issue throughout southern Africa. At one of our ports, I was told they were in the midst of a three-year drought. In a shopping mall restroom in Cape Town, there was a notice in the loo that it was flushed with ‘gray’ water, and a notice above the sink to use as little water as possible. 

 Note the parched lawn.

Mine was not an historic or sociological excursion, but a natural one up the Sunshine Coast to Cannonville. We bivouac’d at a local angling club, where we were served tea, instant coffee, and muffins. ‘Do you know what a muffin is?’ our tour guide had asked as we left port. Why wouldn’t we? ‘Aren't you all Scandinavians?’ she asked. ‘I was told you’d all be Scandinavians.’ Nope. We’re just on a Norwegian ship!

 

After our muffins, we boarded our two ‘ferry boats’ for the trip up Sundays River, with the Addo Elephant refuge on one side and on the other side, the 31-mile-long Alexandria coastal dune field, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Addo park was a major development that created employment for locals who work as rangers, guides and in park lodges. One of the country’s 19 national parks, it currently ranks third in size after Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. (The latter was formed by merger of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana.) Addo was formed in 1931 to prevent the extinction of one specific elephant species. Today local dairy farmers are turning their land into game reserves to earn money and promote land and animal conservation.

We were told we might spot Vervet Monkeys — I did not, but we did see lots of birds including terns and several species of very large herons. As we neared the dunes, we all moved to the back of the boat so it could be beached... 

 ... and I could prove to you I have stood in the Indian Ocean. 

Being intrepid Vikings, almost all the passengers on the two boats trudged — and I do mean trudged — up this dune...

 ...to get this view.

What’s he doing? Waxing a ‘sand board.’ 

Volunteer #1... riding with the boat skipper.

The board — which looks like the skipper made it in his garage out of leftover scraps of wood and veneer — is shaped so that it follows the contours of the sand and ‘steers itself.’ And the answer is, No, I did not volunteer.

This is my Priscilla Queen of the Desert shot. At this point in the trip, I look more like Priscilla Queen of the Desserts.

The ride back to the boat slip. Yes, there are Swan Boats in South Africa as well as on the  Boston Common. We were told these houses might cost $200,000 to $400,000 US.  

Road shots on the way back through the very nice little city of Port Elizabeth... 

City Hall, completed in 1862, with the clock tower added in 1883. According to my phone, I don’t think that was the right time, but I might have been in the wrong time zone. 

 

This is (or was) the Port Elizabeth Labour Board. Far prettier than the monolithic new building on its right. 

I noticed a street sign: Athol Fugard Terrace. David and I saw his famous play Master Harold and the Boys in San Francisco in around 1982, starring James Earl Jones.

 

I haven’t given you many clouds this trip, so let’s end with that day’s sunset. We’d just set sail for Cape Town. #

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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