Wild Coast

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November 2, 2008 - Sunday - Drakensberg to Coffee Bay

It takes almost an hour to drive from the main highway just south of Umtata to the Ocean View Hotel at Coffee Bay.  It's like traveling to another country, since the coastline along the Indian Ocean is warm, wet, and tropical. I have a room with a view of the ocean. This is a nice hotel, but well off the beaten track.  I take my first dip in the Indian Ocean surf before dinner, and body surf for awhile, which is great fun!  Coffee Bay is spectacular, with dramatic headlands at either end of a beautiful curved one kilometre long sandy beach.  There is also an estuary at one end of the beach where a stream enters the ocean.

Beach at Coffee Bay from the Ocean View Hotel
Beach at Coffee Bay
from the Ocean View Hotel
Wakeboarders, surf and waves at Coffee Bay
Wakeboarders, surf and waves at Coffee Bay
Headlands, surf and waves at Coffee Bay
Headlands, surf and waves at Coffee Bay

After dinner this evening, an African dance troupe comes in and does a similar floor show of Zulu singing and dancing as we saw at the Drakensberg Gardens with one difference - the young women are topless. The married men in our group go crazy, taking pictures and generally acting goofy. As I leave the dining room after dinner, the dance troupe are in the lobby counting the money they collected from us after the show. I complimented them on their dancing and singing.

November 3, 2008 - Monday - Coffee Bay to East London

We have a late 10:30am departure from Coffee Bay, which gives everyone time to have a leisurely breakfast.  There are some surfers and wake boarders out this morning, as well as some porpoises just past the surf line. I have plenty of time to walk the full length of the beach before we depart.

It is a long 200 km drive today. We travel through more of the dry Transkei Province, arriving in East London around 3:30pm.  We are staying at the Kennaway Hotel, which is an older hotel that is in pretty good shape. The hotel is situated right on the East London esplanade (shoreline), and our guide Craig says it is safe to walk outside. It is very windy this afternoon, but many of our group walk along the waterfront and enjoy the fresh air and beautiful shoreline.

Porpoises near the surf line at Coffee Bay
Porpoises near the surf line at Coffee Bay
Taking away the cut palm fronds at the Ocean View Hotel
Trimming off palm fronds

Windy waterfront at East LondonThere is lots of action to see from my front-facing window at the hotel: a boy and a young man beg for change in the parking lot in front of the hotel (the boy gives the man any money he is given); construction workers wait for a ride home in a big covered truck (which finally arrives); young joggers from the exclusive health club located in the nearby aquarium building run along the waterfront; affluent black people pull up in the parking lot in front of the hotel in their fancy cars to use the ATM and buy junk food from a nearby convenience store.

I go for dinner this evening to Guido's, a restaurant attached to the hotel, which is recommended by our guide Craig. The food is quite good. I have a calamari dinner and two glasses of wine (about 80 Rand or $9.50 including tip).  It is a family-run restaurant, so the service is very good. I join a Swiss couple from our group for dinner this evening. They are very interesting to talk to. She has a South African friend with dual citizenship who moved to Switzerland after apartheid ended.  Canada also has many immigrants from South Africa, so we were comparing notes. We both agree that the current security problems in South Africa will likely get worse before they get better. We also agree that the role that South Africa currently enjoys as the economic engine of the African continent will not last. We think they will experience further economic declines before there is any possibility of a return to their current leadership position.  As with other tour members, we agree prices of meals, liquor, as well as add-on tours is about one quarter to one half of what we would pay in Europe or North America.

Whale tail offshore from East LondonNovember 4, 2008 - Tuesday - East London to Port Elizabeth

Before we leave East London this morning, we see a whale with its tail sticking vertically out of the ocean. As we drive through town, Craig points out the Mercedes assembly plant where most right hand drive vehicles are made for export to the rest of the world.  We make a coffee stop in a quaint town called Bathurst, where we are served some lovely scones and coffee in a garden cafe. 

Next stop is Grahamstown, where many of us tour of the Observatory Museum.  There is a reflecting telescope and a working camera obscura in a tower on top of the museum.  Both were acquired and built by an early English settler to this area called H.C. Galpin. He made a living as a watch and clock maker. 

Craig tells us Grahamstown is safe to wander around in, so our group spreads out to take advantage of the shopping and banking.  I try to use my Canadian bank card in one bank, but the machine rejects it.  I walk down the street to another bank where the bank machine works fine for me.

Lunch is on our own account today, so I stop by a bakery and pick up a very nice deli sandwich for 9.50 Rand (US$1.15).

On our way out of Grahamstown, we stop to see the 1820 Settlers National Monument, which offers good view of Grahamstown from high on a hill, but it really doesn't have much else to offer.

View of Grahamstown from the Monument
View of Grahamstown from the Monument

The Observatory Museum
The Observatory Museum
Galpin reflecting telescope
Galpin reflecting telescope
Galpin's turret clock
Galpin's turret clock
Camera Obscura diagram
Camera Obscura diagram
Protea blossum in the Monument's garden
Protea blossum in the Monument's garden
Pink succulent flower in the Monument's garden
Pink succulent flower
in the Monument's garden

We have a fairly long drive to Port Elizabeth, with the salt ponds and new harbor appearing just north of the city as we approach it. Port Elizabeth is a busy city, and it's residents are quite affluent. We are officially now on the Garden Coast. The vegetation is much greener than before, and the rivers are no longer dry. Huge farms that appear to be very productive are visible along the expressway, and there are some spectacular sandy beaches as well. We are staying at the Paxton Hotel in Port Elizabeth - a modern hotel located next to the rail yard and main road.  After check-in I order a Beck's beer from the bar, which costs 16 Rand (US$2.25).

Salt ponds north of Port Elizabeth
Salt ponds north of Port Elizabeth
The Port of Port Elizabeth
The port of Port Elizabeth

We leave for dinner as a group this evening and drive to 34 South - a restaurant Craig recommends. The restaurant is located in a casino complex, and the dinner service takes over two hours for some of our group. I am served right away, and since the couple I'm seated with this evening don't speak very good English, I finish quickly and have well over an hour to kill after the meal.  I always find people watching to be a fascinating pastime when I travel, and this evening is no exception.  I sit at the bar so I have a good vantage point and order a cappuccino.  The barman sings to himself as he works, and is quite cute as well, which keeps me entertained until we board the bus to return to the hotel.

The Paxton Hotel has wireless Internet access available in each room, so I take advantage of this to catch up with my email and to post an entry to my JoeTourist blog.

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