Even though I have been working on the site for almost ten years now, it is still very much work in progress. Here you’ll find what’s new on theonearmedcarb.com (and when I added it).

  • The follow-up of my East African entries – below – was a trip in 1991 to Southern Africa, which I have now put together in a diary. In the process I also added to the Zimbabwe page, and created the Namibia and the South Africa pages (June 2021).
  • After my years in Tanzania I briefly visited Zimbabwe and Botswana, for which I also put some memories and pictures together. Mostly pictures, really (March 2021).
  • I spent a few weeks sorting out old, now-digitized slides from my years in Tanzania, and wrote up some distant memories, on the East African Memories page. Apart from a, related, Tanzania page, I also created pages for Rwanda and Malawi (Feb. 2021).
  • Having been back to Italy in October 2020, I expanded the Italy page, and also included a Northern Italy page to list the relevant travel blog entries. In the process, and for completeness sake, I decided to add a San Marino country page, which is nothing more that the blog entry (Nov. 2020).
  • Following our trip to the Czech Republic in July 2020, which is described in the Czech Republic blog, I also created a country page Czech Republic, under the SE Europe section (Sept. 2020). The locations on this page link directly to the blog entries of these towns.
  • From the start of this site I have created the attic, with the intention to post items for sale that we have collected over the years, but have no space for anymore in our home. Instead of using theonearmedcrab.com, I have created two satelite sites, the ethnic attic and the artworks attic, where I have uploaded a few pieces already, and to which I will be adding in the – as yet vaguely defined – future.
  • Sorting through my old photos I came across the pictures of a trip we did in 1992 to Egypt and Jordan. Which I turned into an Egypt page and a Jordan page (both May 2020), both mostly photos because the memories are limited after such a long time.
  • And then I also put some reading material for Haiti on the site (April 2020, and an update May 2020).
  • I transfered the Back to Haiti blog, initially published outside this site, to theonearmedcrab, and whilst I was doing that, I also added the experiences and observations from three earlier years in Haiti (2000-2003), as The Haiti Diaries (March 2020).
  • Inspired by friends who went to Guatemala, I added the Guatemala page and filled it with our own experiences, from 2000-2003, when I traveled there frequently for work, and occasionally took some time off. A couple of locations, and also the exciting Semana Santa processions in Antigua Guatemala (Dec 2019).
  • Whilst on the Iran page, I added a Dutch language article I wrote some years back, just after we returned from Iran, about Ashura, the mourning for the profet Hussain (Dec. 2019).
  • I also added locations to the Chile, the Peru, ánd the Iran page, something I had not done earlier. I also added some slider photos to the latter. So now you can directly click through to a specific location we have been to, without first accessing the blog (the locations do refer to the blog entries, though) (Nov./Dec. 2019).
  • After our Caucasus trip of September/October 2019 I rearranged the blog, Travel in the Caucasus, on a dedicated page. I also created pages for the Caucasus, for Azerbaijan and for Georgia, with links to the blog and to the individual locations. And I added a short reading list for the Caucasus. (Nov. 2019)
  • Following our Chile and Peru trip I share a short reading list of the books we read on the way, and afterwards. (July 2019)
  • I wrote an entry on Trento, in Northern Italy, which we visited in August 2018. (June 2019)
  • After our Chile & Peru trip I have rearranged the travelogue for easy old to new reading, and called it Costa Pacifico (April 2019). And I created country pages for Peru and Chile (April 2019) – I still need to add some photos here, though, and the locations.

May 21st – Giant Castle National Park

view of the Drakensberg

Having had the Drakensberg in clear view for the last few days, it was time to explore in more detail. Not in the least, because the lower part of the Drakensberg consists of sandstones, some of them cavernous, in which Bushmen – the San people, more properly – have left their paintings.

Drakensberg sandstones
same, in a bit more detail
and you can see how caves easily develop, in this fairly soft sandstone, capped by a hard cover

I had booked a room in a hotel in the Giant Castle National Park. Unlike in Zimbabwe and Namibia, and other parts of South Africa, visiting rock paintings here is not a matter of turning up and finding the caves, but more of turning up in time for the next tour. So I joined the tour to the so-called Main Caves, together with a group of eight others and a guide. The walk to the caves was an easy half-an-hour affair, with nearly the entire path laid out with cement tiles, and steps wherever it became a little steeper. This is the highly-sophisticated and developed South Africa of the white minority again – and indeed, only the guide was black, the tourists were all whites.

At the cave, the guide opened the fence – these caves are fenced off! – and switched on a tape recorder with commentary on the paintings. And then let us explore the paintings by ourselves. It is claimed that the Drakensberg contains something like 40% of all San rock paintings in South Africa, and here it shows. There is a large collection on the walls of the two separate caves we visited, and also on the occasional large, loose boulders, in a variety of colours, although weathering has affected some of the images. Unfortunately, the photos I took are also not that good. There are more photos here, for the real enthusiasts.

animal panel of the left of the Main Cave
two figures in the Main Cave
a close-up of the left side of the central panel, Main Cave (top to bottom approx. 15 cm)
a painting of an eland, one of the sacred animals for the San people

The hotel I was staying in was more of the holiday resort type, which kept its customers entertained with activities from morning to evening. Not my cup of tea, so I spent the time after dinner in the bar, talking to the hotel staff, the bar tenders and the waiters, all Zulu people. Their solution for the future of South Africa was quite shocking, actually. They bluntly stated – when there was nobody else in the room – that change will only come through war, and they would fight for power, and don’t share it. Not with the whites, and not with the ANC either. And they justify this by the fact that it has always been this way, the people of South Africa have always fought in order to get what they wanted. End of story. Quite frightening, to be honest, in a time that people try to come to a negotiated solution between the various interest groups in this country. The conversation abruptly ended when the video showing next door was finished, and the other guests were pouring into the bar.

therianthrope – part human, part animal – figurines in Battle Cave, in the Giant castle area of the Drakensberg
another detail of the fighting scene below

For the next morning I had signed up for another tour, to Battle Cave, the other main rock painting site in the Giant Castle area. This time there was only one other couple in the group besides myself, and a guide. It took us a leisurely two hours to reach the cave, an easy, mostly flat walk along the river, with the spectacular Drakensberg peaks to one side. And a fabulous gallery of rock paintings at the end, these are perhaps some of the best paintings I have seen so far.  And it is obvious why this one is called Battle Cave. More photos here.

incredibly detailed figure with arrows and quiver, part of the fighting scene in Battle Cave (this painting perhaps 15 cm high)
and this is the full the fighting scene that Battle Cave derives its name from

May 23rd – Cathedral Peak

fairly limited vegetation, at this height

High up in the next valley north of Giant Castle is the Cathedral Peak Hotel, well below the 3000 m high mountain top of the same name. From here I was going to find the Sebaayeni cave, in the upper ranges of the Ndedema Gorge – also called the valley of the Bushmen, on account of the many San rock paintings in a number of caves along the gorge. Luckily, I didn’t have to find the Sebaayeni cave all by myself: I had been assigned a guide, Johannes, who – even better! – was also prepared to carry my backpack. Given that we were looking at an eight hour round trip, a pleasant surprise indeed.

Although the rock paintings were the day’s objective, the walk itself was already more than worth the effort. Like earlier in the Giant castle National Park there are fabulous views over the high peaks of the Drakensberg, whilst the lower ranges, where we are walking, are brilliantly red and brown in autumn colours. Not a lot of trees here, anymore, we are obviously much higher, but we do come across the occasional protea, South Africa’s national tree.  The last part of the walk was a long descent into the Ndedema River valley, from where it is a short climb up to the cave.

but whatever there is in vegetation, is in beautiful autumn colours
one of the valleys leading to the Drakensberg proper in the distance

Sebaayeni Cave is reckoned to contain some 1000 different paintings, by far the largest gallery in the gorge. And it is great to wander around here, on your own – Johannes had stayed down at the river – and admire the ancient rock art, however ancient it may be. In South Africa, like in Zimbabwe, there is not a whole lot of interest in this part of the cultural heritage, and thus not a lot of research, either. These paintings maybe 3,000 years old, or perhaps they are only a hundred years old, they are difficult to date, even if you show interest in the subject. I find them fabulous, whether depicting large animals, or hunting scenes, of shamanistic figures. More photos of the cave here.

the right side of the main panel in Sebaayeni Cave, animals and people (top to bottom approx. 85 cm)
detail of a group of dancers with remarkeble hats (top to bottom approx. 30 cm)
my guide Johannes next to the Zeni rockface with San paintings

Back down at the river, Johannes had made some tea, and we had lunch, before we returned to the car, and to the hotel.

The next morning I teamed up with Johannes again, for a few hour’s walk to a rock paintings site nearer the hotel, the Zeni rockface. Here the images were more domestic, and more monochromatic than those of the day before, but once again very vivid, and great detail: a wonderful gallery.

the domestic scene of the main panel (left to right approx. 30 cm)
and the rhebuck of the main panel (top to bottom approx. 25 cm)
a young giraffe, perhaps? (giraffe 8 cm high)
bright autumn colours, this time yellow and green
even the occasional tree is nice

May 24th – Royal Natal National Park

The South African side of the Drakensberg is dotted with national parks, and the Royal Natal National Park is yet another one, further north from the Cathedral Peak area. I had gone here to walk to the so-called Amphitheatre, with 5 km wide and some 1300 m high perhaps one of the most impressive cliff faces on earth. I had read about a walk to the base of the Amphitheatre, a good half a day along the Tugela River, with at the end a gorge and a real tunnel to pass! Since this appeared to be a very popular hike, I had decided to start early, to try to beat the crowds, and indeed, at seven in the morning there was nobody.

the Amphitheatre, from a distance

The first one-an-a-half hours were easy, along the river and occasionally through a forest. Then the path disappeared in the river bed, mostly dry as there wasn’t a lot of water at this time of the year. However, the further upstream, the narrower the river, and the more difficult progress became, stumbling from boulder to boulder. Finally I arrived at the ‘tunnel’, in effect a narrow passage, perhaps two to three meters wide, in between overhanging rocks, so that often the sky was no longer visible. Of course, such a narrow passage wasn’t dry anymore, and although boulder-hopping I got a long way, in the end I returned to the beginning of the tunnel, to avoid wet feet. This being South Africa, there is an alternative, of course. A real chain ladder allowed you to up a steep rock face, and through a joint in the rocks, helped by tree trunks and steel cables and metal pins I managed to bypass the tunnel altogether, and descent on the other end. Into the Amphitheatre!

the gorge in the Tugela River, wet feet unavoidable at the end
the chain ladder, start of the by-pass to avoid those wet feet
the Amphitheatre in its full glory

Difficult to describe, this Amphitheatre. You see before you a mountain of stone towering up, hundreds and hundreds of meters, up and up. Only near the top there are some joints and fractures, where in rainier days no doubt several rivers cascade down, but for the rest it is just one, immense vertical wall. And me, all alone, in front of it.

herdsmen (?) and cattle, and an eland on top, Sigubudu Cave (top to bottom approx. 35 cm)

On the way back, up the steep track and down the steel cables and the chain ladder again, and then back on the path along the river. Where I met all the other walkers, who had left later, more than 30 of them, in small groups or in couples, still on their way to the gorge. There is a funny sort a camaraderie, they all greet you enthusiastically, they all want to know how far they still have to go, and was it nice? Silly of course, but never mind.

After lunch I went to see more rock paintings. The booklet I had talked about a 45 minute walk one-way, but after about 15 minutes the path ended, in the Sigubudu Cave. Which was adorned with great paintings of elands, considered sacred animals by the San people. I still find these pictures fascinating.

fabulous panel of several eland, Sigubudu Cave

May 25th – Witsieshoek Mountain Resort

although this is, technically, not a Homeland, there are black people living here

Witsieshoek was not in the original planning. But in the last few days I had been told that close to the Witsieshoek Mountain Resort there is a way to climb to the top of the Drakensberg plateau – so looking down into the Amphitheatre! – and back in one day. With a mostly horizontal geology, the base of the Drakensberg is sandstones, including the cavernous layers that contain the caves with San painting. And on top of the sands is an over 1300 meter thick layer of basalts, the vertical wall of the Amphitheatre. Having looked up at the basalt peaks for the past week or so, I though it would be nice to also get to the top.

The Mountain Resort is petty high up already, at some 2200 meters, in between the basalts, and from here it is but a short drive to the parking place from where the path up the mountains starts. It was foggy when I set out, but soon, zig-zagging upwards, I reached above the mist, which provided a whole new experience: Drakensberg mountains sticking out of this white blanket of clouds. As if you are in a plane, really!

slowly getting above the clouds, view of the Drakensberg
another view, with Devils’ Finger in the distance
and even higher, as if you are in a plane

The path is not for the faint-hearted. Part of it leads past one of the high peaks, the Sentinel, leaving you to carefully shuffle forward between a sheer wall of rock on one side, and the abyss on the other. Only to end up at a chain ladder, with a hundred rungs, or so, that takes you up – vertically up! – one of the main basalt layers.

And then you are on the plateau. Suddenly you see all these peaks, the ones I was looking up to the day before from the bottom of the Amphitheatre, now from behind. And I can look through the joints and fractures, down to where I had been the day before; I could see the gorge, and the tunnel, and the river, the path I had followed. Quite spectacular!

the chain ladder up Sentinel peak, to reach the plateau
the mountain wall itself is steep, made up of bare basalts
and this is how the plateau looks, flat, wet and grassy
with lots of cracks to allow a peep down
for instance, into the Amphitheatre, where I was the day before
close up of Devil’s Finger – that is to say, I didn’t get close

I spent another few hours, walking the plateau, occasionally encroaching the escarpment, holding my breath every time I bent forward to look down. The plateau itself is grassy, with a few streams meandering through. As we are at around 3000 meters, and the winter is nearing, some of the water had frozen over already; weird, touching ice in May, after having spent almost two months in the heat of Southern Africa, in the desert even. Yet I came to the conclusion that this was probably the most spectacular scenery I have seen during this entire trip, it beats the Namib Desert, it beats Victoria Falls from a few years ago, or the Tanzanian game parks of even longer ago. Really. How privileged I am that I could do this, and could do this all on my own, without any other tourists around.

Except that I still have to descent again, using that scary chain ladder. All on my own, too!

May 28th – Lesotho

The last few days of my trip I spent in Lesotho, with friends. On the drive here I passed the Golden Gate Highland National Park, another of the Drakensberg NPs. More scenery, a valley through massive sandstone outcrops on both sides. But after the scenery from the top of the Drakensberg, this is small beer.

In Lesotho itself I don’t do a lot. There is some political unrest, so we keep a low profile, don’t go out much. I do get to see the rock paintings at Ha Khotso, another San site. But having seen so many excellent examples already, in the past few days, these images look a bit more fainted, a bit of an overkill, too. Or maybe I am ready to go home, maybe I am mentally preparing myself for the end of this trip.

equally vivid paintings, of eland
the Ha Khotso shelter in Lesotho, the only rock painting site I visited here
and very detailed images of people

In a few days I drop my rental car off at the airport of Johannesburg, and I fly back to London. After some eight weeks of travelling. But what a trip it has been!

Sebaayeni Cave

In the Ndedema Gorge and River, part of the Cathedral Peak area of the Drakensberg, some 17 shelters have been identified with Bushmen paintings – San people paintings, really. Sebaayeni Cave is the most important site, with over a thousand individual images. Unfortunately, the photos are not very good, a combination of youthful incompetence in 1991 and the deterioration of the slides before I had the chance to scan them. But these do give you an idea of what to expect, except that being there yourself beats any pictures.

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=2146412000

Zeni rockface

Not far away is the Zeni rockface, with more paintings, although less varied than the Sebaayeni Cave.

Other caves nearby are Main Cave and Battle Cave.

lovely little a young giraffe, at the Zeni rockface near the Sebaayeni Cave (giraffe 8 cm high)
a panel in Sebaayeni Cave, with female dancers and orange-white eland (left to right approx. 50 cm)
a battle scene, perhaps? or hunting, with the rhebuck on the left (top to bottom approx. 50 cm)
a group of dancers, in a trance (top to bottom approx. 70 cm)
several figures and rhebuck (left to right approx. 30 cm)
a battle scene, people fighting? (top to bottom approx. 20 cm)

the next series of photos are of the main panel of the cave, and several details – all but invisible from a distance.

the main panel in Sebaayeni Cave (left to right approx. 550 cm)
detail of the left side of the panel, group of dancers (left to right approx. 75 cm)
detail of the previous picture, three dancers with remarkeble hats (top to bottom approx. 30 cm)
and another detail of the main panel, two shamanistic figures (top to bottom approx. 40 cm)
the elands under the dancers of the main panel, being hunted (left to right approx. 65 cm)
two more eland, right top of the main panel, maybe walking in a stream? (left to right approx. 45 cm)
another detail of the main panel, two dancers and an eland (top to bottom approx. 55 cm)
three delicate figurines, armed with bow and arrow, and two eland, with another person superimposed on one of them (top to bottom approx. 30 cm)
the right side of the main panel, more animals and people (top to bottom approx. 85 cm)

Below some of the images from the Zeni rockface, more monochromatic, and less varied, but equally finely executed – note the detail in the people, and the rhebuck, and not to forget the giraffe at the top of this entry!

overview of the panel at the Zeni rockface, note the orange eland on the top, and another, red one, upside down in the left lower corner (left to right approx. 55 cm)
the domestic scene of the main panel (left to right approx. 30 cm)
and the rhebuck of the main panel (top to bottom approx. 25 cm)

The Battle Cave, near the Injasuti camp in the Giant Castle area of the Drakensberg, has been so named because it is one of the rare places where San people – more commonly known as Bushmen – have painted what looks like a battle scene, with arrows flying in all directions. But there is lots of other subject matter in the paintings, like a variety of animals beyond the usual eland and buck, and shaman-like images of people. Not the best of photography, I am afraid, but all the more reasons to go there in person. A beautiful gallery.

http://ringingrocks.wits.ac.za/locations/public_rock_art_sites/kwazulu-natal/battle_cave_i/

Near by is Main Cave, one of the prime San rock painting galleries in the area.

a small panel with people and animals, superimposed (left to right approx. 50 cm)
therianthrope – part human, part animal – figurines in Battle Cave, in the Giant castle area of the Drakensberg
the fighting scene that Battle Cave derives its name from
detail of the left side of the fighting scene panel
detail of the central part of the panel, with arrows flying in both directions
detail of the figurines on the right of the fighting scene panel
a rare depiction of a cat-like animal, lion or leopard perhaps (left to right approx. 25 cm)
other unusual animals, maybe warthogs (left to right approx. 40 cm)
and two rhinoceros, also not often seen here (left to right approx. 70 cm)
eland and hunters (left to right approx. 90 cm)
group of buck – note the almost invisible white elements, too (left to right approx. 70 cm)
another panel, with eland and people, probably hunters
detail of the panel, two point-headed figures (top to bottom approx. 35 cm)
very dark-coloured eland, very expressive painting (left to right approx. 75 cm)
in the same area as Battle Cave is also Fergy’s Cave, a smaller overhang, with this family scene (left to right approx. 60 cm)
also in Fergy’s Cave, this small, flower-like structure (and note the pots at the bottom) (top to bottom approx. 25 cm)

The Main Caves are one of the most accessible San rock art sites in the Drakensberg, an easy half hour walk from the nearest accommodation camp. The paintings are distributed overs several caves, and although weathering has taking its toll, many are still in good condition. I am afraid my photography at the time – slides, which I have since scanned – wasn’t up to standards, but the photos do give an impression of what San rock art involves. Nothing beats being there in person, of course, a really fabulous gallery of images.

https://drakensberghikes.com/directory/explore-by-category/bushman-paintings/main-caves-at-giants-castle

Nearby is Battle Cave, another great San rock painting gallery

a painting on a loose boulder, outside the cave
image of four dancers (top to bottom approx. 50 cm)
animal panel of the left of the Main Cave
detail of the previous photograph, left side (left to right approx. 35 cm)
another detail of the panel, now right side (left to right approx. 40 cm)
and a third detail, in the middle, of two fighting eland detail of the previous photograph, left side (left to right approx. 40 cm)
detail of the left side of the central panel, Main Cave (left to right approx. 30 cm)
a close-up of the picture left (top to bottom approx. 15 cm)
right half of the central panel in the Giant Castle Main Cave, from left to right perhaps 200 cm
two figures in the Main Cave detail of the panel above, right top corner (top to bottom approx 50 cm)
a tiny detail of the fighting scene, righthand top corner of the central panel (top to bottom approx. 40 cm)
a panel full of dancers, on the right-hand side of the Main Cave
close-up of two of the dancers (top to bottom approx. 25 cm)
another close-up of dancers (top to bottom approx. 30 cm)
detail of feline figurines in the right hand bottom of the dancers panel (left to right approx. 30 cm)
the main panel in the second cave, full of animals (left to right approx. 200 cm)
detail of two elands, in the right top corner (left to right approx. 60 cm)
and a detail of people, right of the middle, above the crack (left to right approx. 20 cm)
a second panel of paintings, in the second cave of the Main Cave site (top to bottom approx. 100 cm)
a painting of an eland, one of the sacred animals for the San people

May 21st – the Homelands

Today I drove from Fort Beaufort to Kokstad, with a detour via Queenstown and Ladygrey and Barkley East. A long drive, some 700 kms, but the detour turned out to be fully justified, by my first views of the Drakensberg. This is South Africa’s central mountain chain, and its highest, with peaks to almost 3500 m.

view of the Drakensberg
the Homelands, with Ciskei in yellow and Transkei in orange

However, starkly contrasting with the beauty of the Drakensberg is the landscape in the Homelands to the south, Ciskei and Transkei, where I also drove through. The Homelands, also called Bantustans, were created by the South African Apartheid regime in the 1950s to establish a sort of quasi-independent territory for Blacks, outside the areas where the White people lived. Well, not so independent that I could not drive in and out without being stopped – for the white person there are no limitations, only blacks need a reason to leave and enter white areas. And there are plenty of reasons, of course, because the total land surface of the Homelands is some 15% of the country, and is supposed to house 75% of the population. Without any local economy to speak off, as the agricultural land is of poor quality, suffering from soil erosion and overgrazing. So most black people find work outside their homelands, in white-owned factories or on sumptuous white-owned farms. However, no work, then you must return to your Homeland, assigned to you by your ethnicity. Which essentially turns the Homelands into a labour reservoir for white South Africa, without the responsibility to look after their workers. Charming.

I had read about this situation, of course, but seeing it is believing. Entering Ciskei, suddenly there were huts built everywhere, along the road, in the fields. Gone was the vastness of the scenery I have been admiring everywhere in this country, gone was the emptiness. Until I left again, back into the wilderness, the views of the Drakensberg.

Transkei is much bigger, and driving through for a couple of hours, allowed me much more time to reflect on what I was seeing. How shall I put it? Where I have been saying so many times, in the last few weeks in South Africa, that I had to adjust to a much more developed image of Africa, here I was back in Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe. Back in the Africa that I had come to appreciate in the years I lived there, but also back in the poverty, back to the basics. Houses here are not decorated anymore, no nice gables, no nice gardens, no flowers. Roads are poorly maintained, full of potholes, and littered with car wrecks, often burnt out, or upside down.

the sad reality of the Homelands, degraded soil and randomly constructed accomodation

Many of the houses are rondavels, round huts, well-constructed and sturdy. Many are close to each other. Cattle and sheep are grazing along the road, and in between the houses. And there are people living here, there is a lot of activity. In one of the towns I see hundreds of people gathering, a colourful sight. The lack of white faces is conspicuous. Of course they don’t stick to the pavement; there is no pavement. It is all a bit chaotic, but it is lively. Unlike in the rest of South Africa, which, come to think of it, is quite sterile compared to this.

After a while I noticed that most of the men I saw were all quite a poor lot, they didn’t look very healthy. The women, on the contrary, looked much stronger, well fed, some quite good looking, and proud. And then I realised that all the healthy, strong men were absent, of course, working in South Africa for white South Africans, to support their families back in the Homelands. No wonder these places are not economically viable, they have never had a chance.

next: last stop is the Drakensberg

cattle being driven across the main road through Transkei

The Garden Route is broadly defined as the area between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, which is really the southernmost part of the African continent. It is not so much because there are a lot of gardens here, but because the coast is a lot greener, compared to the mountains further north – thanks to these mountains, that catch the moist air from the ocean and cause the occasional rain shower. Mediterranean, mostly. Except that I focussed mostly on the mountain landscape itself.

May 15th – Stellenbosch

The continuation of my South Africa travels, after four days of Cape Town, picked up speed only slowly. Stellenbosch is only about 50 km east, but I managed to take quite a few hours to arrive, with a stop in Gordon’s Bay along the coast, and then in a few wineries. This is wine country, with vine yards everywhere, attractively coloured by the autumn. Most grapes had already been harvested, but in places the picking was still underway – done by black people, of course, in this white bulwark of Apartheid.

vine yards in full autumn colours, outside Stellenbosch
and this is the tiny Stellenbosch museum, Cape Dutch style architecture

Getting into Stellenbosch turned out to be a bit of a challenge, but after having driven around it three times, I finally found my way in. It is really a lovely village, with lots of old houses, in Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian style. Although I initially had planned to continue, I liked the place so much, that I decided to book into the local hotel, also situated in one of the historic buildings, and settle on the terrace with a bottle of wine.

workers getting the harvest in
my hotel, if I am not mistaken
a lovely place indeed, again helped by autumn colours
a rare tree in the Seweweekspoort gorge

May 16th – Ladismith

A bit of a drive, today, from Stellenbosch through beautiful mountains and charming little villages. I had read about one of these, Matjiesfontein, being a national monument, entirely consisting of old buildings only. Which was true, except that when I got there, it turned out to have a hotel, a post office and maybe five or six houses only. Still, it was quite a remarkable experience, and having a drink at the local pub really felt like being back in London again. All so utterly British! And that in the middle of nowhere! (no pictures, I am afraid…)

Close to Ladismith I came upon the Seweweekspoort, where the road goes through a spectacular gorge. Towering walls at both sides, a geological museum exposing a range of dazzling structures in the rock layers. All manner of faults and folds, both textbook examples and sheer-impossible textbook contradictions, could be identified, in the absence of almost all vegetation. Except for the various aloes that grow here, happy with a little water only.

more of the mountain scenery around the Seweweekspoort
aloe plants survive this dry mountain climate
these, too, are doing very well here
a humble little forest of aloe plants, and one flowering

May 17th – Oudtshoorn

It seems it doesn’t matter where you are in this country, everywhere nature is beautiful. The road to the Cango Caves, just above Oudtshoorn, is once again stunning. Part through a small river valley, part across a steep mountain pass, closed for long traffic because of the many sharp hairpins in the road. Not everything is tarmac, this was a gravel road, pretty dusty at times – especially when you turn 180o in one of those hairpins, back into your own dust.

a cabin in the woods, almost – fabulous landscape

The Cango Caves are another major tourist attraction. The first 45 minutes lead through the main caves, large hollow rooms, with an assortment of attractive rock formations, an alternation of stalactites and stalagmites. Each of the structures had been given its own name vaguely resembling its shape, like Cleopatra’s Needle, the Organ Pipes or the Ostrich Leg. There was a cross, a bible, a face, and a lot more, all being accompanied by a coloured light show and some pompous music.

The second part of the tour was more interesting, or daring, if you like. First, a tedious walk, not upright for most of the way, through the smaller and low centre part of the cave system. And then the really scary part: they had created a trail made up of the narrowest of passages through which you had to scramble up, corridors only passable on fours, crawling on your stomach, and of cracks in the rock through which you had to glide down. The narrowest passage was only 27 cms! Obviously, the Sissys turned back, the Machos went on. For inexplicable reasons, given a tendency for claustrophobia, I had sided with the Machos, and even worse, I went in first – and no way back anymore, for most of the way two people cannot pass each other. I still get the shivers when I think back. Frightening!

the ostriches, with tendency to all walk in the same direction

Oudtshoorn is the centre of ostrich farming. Really everywhere people are tending ostriches, on small holdings and on large farms, sometimes with hundreds of them. They are funny animals, moving in herds: at one moment all of them mover from left to right along the fence, and then one decides to turn, and they all turn, to run back again, for no apparent reason.

with safety in numbers, I guess
they are cute animals, aren’t they
alert at all times

In the evening I felt compelled to taste ostrich meat, I had never eaten that before. I expected something like chicken, or turkey, white meat, but what I got was more like steak, nicely cooked medium rare, and very tasty.

May 19th – Knysna

Although Knysna is a popular holiday place, it didn’t show. I walked from my hotel at one end of town to the ostrich meat restaurant at the other, and back, but the place was deserted in the evening, a Saturday night. Which suited me well.

I will have to adjust my plans, because I am progressing much slower than I had anticipated. Or maybe I just want to do too many things. I have already given up on the few days safari at the end of the trip, and I suppose that several of the rock painting sites I had intended to visit, will also have the be scrapped. But it is so beautiful here that I am not yet ready to move on.

Outside Knysna a road climbs up through the forests outside town into the Outeniqua Range, to the Prince Alfred Pass and to a place aptly called Avontuur (adventure, in English). On the way, a track leads to a viewing point near the summit of the Spitzkoppe, one of the mountains along the road. With, once again, splendid views, inland to further, and higher mountain ranges, whilst looking back you see Knysna, and the ocean beyond. The mountains here are greener, not as barren as earlier in the Karoo or the Cederberg.

mountain scenery, including geological violence in the back
some of the mountains here are a lot greener than what I saw earlier in the Karoo
the road to Avontuur
the Outeniqua Range, part of it
higher up, trees are scarce
tall trees in the Tsitsikamma forest

Beyond Avontuur I continued to the Meiringspoort, another steep gorge through the same mountains I crossed yesterday, and back across the Swartberg Pass, touted as ‘arguably the most spectacular in the country’. The road over the pass is over a hundred years old, built between 1881 and 1888, a solid piece of engineering. I won’t bore you again with how beautiful it is, here.

East of Knysna is the Tsitsikamma forest, which is a popular hiking area. When I decided to take the walk to the mouth of the Storms River, I was once again confronted with how developed everything here is. The ‘trail’ through the coastal forest has in fact been laid out with wooden planks, just in case you would get wet feet, and with wooden stairs and railings where it would get a little steep. Not the nature experience I was expecting, but then I was grateful for the real suspension bridge at the end of the trail, crossing the river.

the suspension bridge across the Storms River
quite a long way, seen from here
yet a narrow river gorge, even close to the sea

next: the Homelands

May 11th, 1991  – Cape Town

Yesterday I phoned my uncle, who lives in Cape Town. I haven’t seen him for, what?, 25 years, or so, and that was only once, at my parents’ house. The idea was to look him up, maybe have lunch, but he insisted I’d stay at his house, in Constancia, a wealthy suburb of Cape Town. Of course I agreed. Free lodging for a few days was not even the main driver. I was looking forward to meeting my cousins, too, and I needed to get some perspective from people who live in South Africa, on how they thought this country would develop beyond Apartheid, which inevitably would have to be abandoned some day soon, in the future.

The experience of last night, in the bar of the hotel, was not very uplifting. One of the local ‘whites’, a young guy, felt obliged to explain to me how we stupid Europeans, like all those stupid Americans, really didn’t understand a thing about Africa, and about South Africa. And he kept swearing at the Kaffirs – the derogative nickname for the black people in this country -, who cannot do anything right, who need to be supervised constantly, and who are, really, no good for anything. The frightening thing was that he was quite drunk, and that he probably meant every word of what he was saying. A revealing conversation. I suppose it is this type of people this country can really do without, if it ever wants to move on towards acceptance in the rest of the world.

the influence of the Dutch is still present, in Cape Town
Cape of Good Hope, at the far end of the peninsula just south of Cape Town

From Clanwilliam I drove through aptly named Citrusdal – indeed, one of the main orange growing areas, with at this time of the year trees heavy with bright fruits – and Ceres to Cape Town. More beautiful mountain scenery, once again helped by the brilliant autumn colours, and vineyards left and right. I will never forget my first reaction, upon entering Cape Town on a Saturday afternoon, a pleasant 25o C or so, car windows open, the smell of braai – the South African version of barbecue – wafting in from all sides: let’s trade in my return ticket, and stay here!

another view from Table Mountain
the mountains themselves, not everywhere equally table-like

From far away you see Table Mountain towering above the city, which has been built on its slopes. A large and spacious town, broad avenues, plentiful trees, all again in the most spectacular autumn colours, yellow, red, brown. Fabulous! The house of my uncle, which I found without much difficulty, did nothing to put my feet back to earth. He is an architect, and had designed his own house, on the lower slopes of the mountain. Four different terraces, glass walls all around, with views over Cape Town a little below. Outside shower, garden full of flowers. Idyllic is the word that comes to mind.

The next day my cousin Colin picked me up to walk up Table Mountain. This is one of the things you need to do, when in Cape Town. So we made our way to the top, that is to say, my cousin, who does this often, strolled to the top, I struggled. But the reward was waiting: magnificent views over Cape Town, really. And across the entire peninsula, in all directions.

spectacular view down onto Cape Town, from Table Mountain
once more, from Table Mountain

Downtown is equally nice. Most of the centre is low buildings, two- or three-story max., and fairly old, probably over a hundred years. Right in the middle of town is the Company Gardens, long ago started as the vegetable patch of the Dutch East Indies Company, now a botanical garden with a great collection of roses, amongst others. The waterfront, near the harbour, is full of nice seafood restaurants, in one of which I had dinner with my other cousin, Monique, and her family.

Oh, and I found out that you can also go up the Table Mountain by cable car, but never mind.

next: the Garden Route

you cannot get more South African than this
small fishing village outside Cape Town
the rose garden in the centre of Cape Town
a colony of cormorants, near Cape Point

May 10th, 1991 – Cederberg

Before my departure to Southern Africa I had written to the chief forester in the Cederberg area, in search of information about Bushmen paintings in the surroundings (remember this was long before the internet era, and long before universal email communication). He had enthusiastically replied, and told me to come and look him up once I had arrived in the area, so he could show me around. He had even included a map, with the main rock painting locations indicated.

I met him this morning, an amiable man, very knowledgeable. He apologised profusely, but unfortunately, he had to deal with a bush fire, so couldn’t accompany me to the sites. He pointed me in the right direction, though, so after an hour, or so, I took off, on my own again, armed with the map.

But this is South Africa, remember? After an hour’s drive, through some spectacular scenery, enlivened by autumn colours and vineyards, I reached the Matjies River site (nowadays also known as the Stadsaal Rocks), clearly sign posted to a small office, where the entrance fee was collected. The nearby paintings were a slightly disappointing: not many, and monochromatic only. And that in the company of another group of tourists, South Africans who, however, were enthusiastic rock art fanatics. Altogether nice enough, and no real effort.

the Cederberg mountains
full of autumn colours
and equally colourful vineyards
the main rock paintings panel at Matjieskloof (now called Stadsaal Rocks)
close-up of the Matjieskloof panel
and another close-up

According to the chief forester there were more paintings at a farm called Boontjieskloof, a private property where I arrived in the early afternoon. Having once more negotiated a series of gates, I encountered the new owners of the farm, who proudly told me that there were over 40 rock painting sites on their land. And they happily directed me to the two most famous ones, according to them.

some of the caves and overhangs at Boontjieskloof
hand print, another form of Bushmen rock art, also along the path
female dancers, om a panel along the path towards one of the main caves

I spent well almost two hours, moving from one cave to another overhang, crawling through bushes and scrambling over boulders, once again with that adventurous feeling I had on earlier rock painting discoveries. And, yes, the paintings here were more varied than the ones at Matjies River, more delicate, too. There was even a gallery with miniatures, pictures painted with incredible detail on a few square centimetres. Once again, the artistic capabilities of the Bushmen, more properly known as the San people, proved impressive.

central part of the cave, note the animals in red, but also in white
the first panel at Boontjieskloof (approx. 1.25 m wide)
detail of the centre part of the panel, note the slim bent-over figure – contrasting with the well-proportioned larger ones of the panel
another detail, small-scale playful antelopes
and another detail, all the way to the right-bottom side, more delicately painted antelopes
Boontjieskloof, what I called panel 2 & 3 at the time
a detail of the busy panel of dancers (from the overview): different colour dancers superimposed on each other (approx. 70 cm wide)
a detail of the left panel in the overview (approx. 80 cm top-to-bottom)
dancing women (approx. 60 cm wide)
another panel, different style, with more stylized animals and hunters (approx 2.5 m wide)
some of the miniature paintings

My pictures are from a few sites only, but there is much more, including the link between the engravings further north and the paintings here, in this article.

Next: Capetown

May 6th, 1991 – Upington

I entered South Africa in the middle of the night. The luxury touring I boarded in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, came with “refreshments, hot and cold meals and videos”, which meant two small cartons of apple juice, a meal you had to order yourself in a grubby restaurant halfway, during a 45 minute stop in Keetmanshoop, and a free viewing of The Sound of Music. As I sat next to a white Namibian lady who only spoke German, whilst the hostesses on the bus – the ones who distributed the apple juice – only spoke English or Afrikaans, I spent a significant part of the 11 hour journey translating the most trivial questions in English, and the increasingly irritated answers back into German.

one of the many Aloe species, endemic to South Africa

I got off in Upington, the first town inside South Africa at two in the morning  – I was the only one to get off, the rest of the passengers continued to Johannesburg. Based on earlier experience I feared not being able to get into the hotel so late at night, but I didn’t have to worry. This is South Africa, a notch, or a few notches, up from Zimbabwe and Namibia: the hotel was open, the receptionist was awake, and I got my room in no time.

The next morning I called the car rental company, who dropped the car at the hotel 15 minutes later, completed all the paper work in another 5  minutes, and I was ready to go. Again, quite a difference from my earlier renting cars, this trip, which often took hours to arrange.

May 7th – Brandvlei

From Upington I drove west, along the Orange River. Nice to see water again, and a green valley, trees, reeds, and agriculture, after the weeks of dry landscape and desert in Namibia. And immediately, with water and cultivation, come the people, the houses, and possibly more cars in a morning than I had seen on my entire Namibia trip.

Except that the green valley is limited to the river banks, outside the Augrabies Falls National Park, which was the target for the afternoon. Inside the park, bare rocks again. The main attraction of the park is the Augrabies Waterfall, where the Orange River drops some 56 meters down. True to form – this is South Africa – there is a restaurant, a tourist office and a souvenir shop near the falls, and to reach the falls there is a path over the boulders, complete with stairs constructed where it gets a little steeper, and easy steps made of rocks perfectly cemented together.

a young springbok, curious about other road users
the Orange River in the Augrabies National Park
the Augrabies Falls
wildlife in the park
the landscape, much of it bare rock

South of the park I drive through a landscape of rolling hills and yellowish, hard grass – probably not very tasty, because I didn’t see many animals – to Kenhardt. Just outside town is another Quiver Tree Forest, similar to what I had seen in Keetmanshoop in Namibia, but then ten times bigger. These are magnificent trees, and quite a few were blooming, with big, yellow flowers. Beautiful! But what is different here, is that I only saw mature trees, unlike earlier in Keetmanshoop, where small, younger trees were also numerous. I suppose this has something to do with the sign “quiver trees for sale”, complete with telephone number, which I saw just outside the forest area.

the Quiver Tree Forest at Kenhardt
the individual trees need their space
yellow flowers give the quiver tree a whole different appearance
they are beautiful, these quiver trees
one of the numerous salt pans in the Brandvlei area

May 8th – rock engravings and corbelled houses

Bushmen rock engravings
and more, more recent, engravings, of eland
graffiti, probably from Boer soldiers who were stationed at the hill site where the engravings occur

Leaving the farms with engravings behind, I drove to a place called Stuurmansfontein. I had once seen a photograph of the so-called corbelled houses that occur here, igloo-like or beehive-like structures built by the early settlers of the Karoo. It took me a while, after much searching and asking around – these things are somehow not signposted – but at the end of the day I did find a couple of them, built of rows of stone, in ever smaller circles, until a single stone can close the hut at the top. Quite an ingenious construction.

In the hotel in Brandvlei I got to talk to somebody who claimed that nearby, at several of the farms, there were lots of rock paintings. I hadn’t heard of those before, so I decided to go and explore those in more detail. I managed to find the first farm, or at least a miniature name plate along the road, and a dirt track inside. With a gate. So I got out of my car, opened the gate, drove through, got out again to close the gate, and continued. After another few hundred meters, next gate. And third. Until I finally reached the farm house, where  a young woman who only spoke Afrikaans explained to me where to go to see the paintings. Right! For a Dutchman Afrikaans is intelligible, rooted as it is in the Dutch language of 400 years ago, but she spoke it much too fast. Repeating the question didn’t help, as she would only speak louder, and even faster. So off I went, in the direction I though was the right one, only to get back to the farm in despair half an hour later. Where the woman pointed at a little hill, five minutes’ walk away. In the opposite direction of where I had gone.

But where I had expected a series of delicate Bushman paintings on the rock faces, similar to the ones I had seen in Zimbabwe and Namibia, I only encountered some rough engravings, of little artistic value, and on top of that, heavily vandalised by people who had put their names on the rocks, or their initials, some dates, and other useless scratches. I got to talk to another farmer, at another farm, who claimed that these engravings were not from Bushmen, but from Boer soldiers who fought the British in one of the many wars that had played out here in the previous century, and who were stationed on the hill. Yet, I believe the animal engravings are most likely done by Bushmen, similar to the ones I found in Namibia; the graffiti may well be from the Boer soldiers, remnants of Boer boredom some 100 years ago. Sadly, although they may not have been as skilful as the Bushmen in their artistic expressions, they were a lot more skilful at exterminating them, the original inhabitants of this part of Africa, of whom very few remain.

typical corbelled house, circular with reducing radius towrads the top, creating a stone roof
a construction similar to the corbelled houses, but perhaps newer, given its initially vertical walls
one of the windows

May 9th – Clanwilliam

Change of scenery: from the dry plains of the Karoo, around Brandvlei, I drove into the mountains, across two passes, and down to Clanwilliam, where life is a lot greener again. This is tea-growing country, one of the loveliest colours of green I know.

the dry plains of the Karoo, with their flat-topped mountains
greener landsacpe towrads Clanwilliam

Not having seen the sea for a while, I decided to get to coast first, a short drive from town. Lambert’s Bay is a small, unassuming fishing village. Strikingly, however, here again rules the fog, resulting from the cold water Benguela stream running along the coast, whilst a few hundred meters land inward there is bright sunshine.

fishing sloops stacked on the beach of Lambert’s Bay
and the larger-sacle fishing fleet, once again in the mist

next: to the rock paintings of the Cederberg