Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Waves and Sharks in Buffalo Bay

The next couple of days I spend relaxing in Buffalo Bay. It’s the right place for this. One evening I chat with Johan, the owner, about sharks in the area. He’s been thinking of taking up surfing, but there have been two shark attacks around the coast in the past week – near Cape Town a 14 year old boy had one foot bitten off, then the shark came back and took a chunk of his surf board. The other was near East London when a 37 year old received an enormous gash down his thigh. Nasty stuff, although they both lived to tell the tale. Matthews saw a large shark jumping out of the water just off the rocks in front of here last week. Gulp.

The bay from above

Furthermore, there have been attacks on both sides of this very hostel! A swimmer was attacked in the main bay in 1999, in quite shallow water! Another time, a swimmer was attempting to swim from Buffalo Bay to the village on the other side. He was being watched by a supportive crowd, until, in front of all, he was attacked by two sharks and eaten! A surfer has also been eaten on the other side of the hostel. Nice! In the newspaper here today, which I’ve proudly being showing to everyone, it says the east coast of England is being hit by 6 metre waves! With no sharks! Sounds like England is the place to be..

Who would guess this is near Great Yarmouth!

What lies beneath?

How to Ride an Ostrich
One of the evenings is spent in the company of a Belgian and Dutch couple and Matthews, in the spacious lounge.

The lounge

The Belgians describe their ostrich ride experience in Oudtshoorn, the world capital of Ostriches! This is a place I missed out on, but it sounds like a riot. Apparently what they do is cover the eyes of the ostrich with a blindfold, at which point the ostrich just stands still, as if put into standby mode. You mount it, they take off the blindfold, yell into the poor creature’s ear, and it charges off in a panic. How do you steer? Apparently their long neck, which you’re holding on to, acts as a joystick! Pull to the left, and the ostrich runs to the left! And breaking? Pull back!! Wonderful!!! Picture the scene, with the ostrich charging along, and suddenly its small brain thinks “I’m not sure why, but I’m going to run to the left. Oh no, I’ve changed my mind, I’ll go right”! I’m actually chuckling writing this blog thinking about it 

Interesting factoid: ostriches have almost no skull protecting their brain on top, so if you’ve got one out of control, you just slap it on the top of its head and it drops dead. Just like that. Of course, we speculate as to whether this would work on a Great White Shark.

Buffalo Bay also gets the most wonderful sunsets, which I enjoy every evening. It’s like Whitstable but with a decent swell in the sea adding to the effect!

Another sunset

The LP review for this hostel says it’s possibly the best in the country, and is known for wild parties. It’s relaxed now, and has changed ownership. The current owner, Johan, his wife and young child Joshua have made lots of improvements, but also introduced a slightly calmer vibe, which suits me fine. They’re currently making a pizza oven braai area outside, which is exactly what is required.

The guy running the place in Johan’s absence is Matthews, a friendly guy from Malawi. Over the few days I’m there I get to know him quite well. He has a four year old girl in Malawi, but came here to work. He says the people in Malawi are much more laid back and friendly than South Africa, and seems to feel the segregation acutely here. That said, he likes this coastal area, and hopes to save up enough money to bring his wife and child down here, as the opportunities are greater than in the slow economy of Malawi.

Ever smiling

The kid is cute too – I notice that his parents just speak Afrikaans to him. He likes to help, so whatever other people are doing – cleaning, construction, he has to join in. When Matthews replaces the log supply for the evening fire, he’s straight there moving logs!

I am helpful toooo

My last day, I’ve given up trying to collect my email as young Tracy has destroyed my inbox by sending me multiple large photos of food and things, so instead Matthews and I go for a wander around the bay, past the shop selling Magnum ice-creams, including the “Death by Chocolate” variety (just an observation, cough!) and on to the main beach.

Matthews and the main bay

Johan takes me into town in his battered Merc, where I use a dodgy ATM in a petrol station, which spits out the money after a long pause, note by note. Finally I can pay the bill after several days with absolutely no cash! I leave my backpack at Island Vibe Hostel, then wander into the town. It doesn’t come across well, just malls and run-down shops. At the bottom there is a waterfront area next to the train station (which is not currently in use). This opens on to a lagoon area. The waterfront has various touristy shops and restaurants. There’s a brewery the other side of town, Mitchells, but it’s Sunday so closed. Bad planning. I’ve got until late tonight for my bus back to Cape Town.

I wander across to an island, Thesen, which is supposed to have an Oyster restaurant and tavern, but it’s closed for a private function. It’s all fairly characterless and quiet, but I have to say if I lived here I’d be worried about how the lagoon will change over time – presumably some bits will silt up etc. Otherwise, very nice.

Boats out in the lagoon

I head back to Olde’s, Johan’s recommendation for a pub. Disappointingly they only have Forresters, not my favourite Bosun’s Bitter. I order their Ostrich meat balls, but they come burnt. All fairly umimpressive.

Down at the waterfront I have a nice cappuccino at Marios, it spills over with froth, without me even asking. Marvellous! And the place has a nice atmosphere. Suddenly, dark clouds come in. I decide to head back and grab my backpack to bring it down here, as the bus leaves nearby. As I walk back, it starts raining. I realise someone is behind me and turn, someone is jogging along just behind me and yells “Run man, run! Here comes the rain!”. I don’t run, but do need to shelter for a few of the nastier showers.

Back at Marios, I decide to sit outside, but it gets progressively windier and wet. I was most displeased when a lady closes her umbrella sending a shower over my HW Tilman volume. Have some respect for one of our greatest and certainly funniest explorers!

After some pasta and a glass of wine, I can take it no longer, so move inside, where I discover they have Bosun's Bitter! Finally, a pint in the brewery home town!

You’re supposed to be at the bus stop thirty minutes before the appointed time, which for me is 22:50pm. Without anything else to do, I’m round there at about ten past. I chat with Edward, a Nigerian who is studying cooking in Cape Town, whilst his daughter and wife stay here in Knysna. He has some interesting plans for the future, including moving to Canada, and shipping a girlfriend down from Nigeria! No, I didn’t get to the bottom of how that would work!

A minute before the bus is due, I’m quite excited. Edward is not, his bus is a couple of hours late. Little do I know I’ll suffer the same. Every time a bus comes round the corner, the four in the car parked in front of me jump out, only to sigh and get back in. Very amusing. Eventually I get fed up and call Intercape, who surprisingly do know what is going on – the bus was broken at the starting location, hence set off two and a half hours late. It should be with us in thirty minutes. I tell the people all waiting, and one woman starts ranting. Don’t shoot the messenger!

Shadows in the wet

The bus turns up well over two hours late. I’m sent upstairs, where there are only two seats free. The one I find has a chap sprawled across it. I budge him up and try to get some sleep. It’s not a good night!

The Lion’s Head and Signal Hill, Cape Town
Once we’d negotiated the traffic jams all the way into town, I’m out and walk my usual walk from the station to Carnival Court, my usual haunt. The room’s not ready, so I pop out for brunch and to buy a theatre ticket – I’ve been invited to Rent – The Musical, tomorrow. Depasco does the honours with their breakfast wrap and a cappuccino. This all done, I can get on with the real work, the Lion’s Head!

There’s the destination

This is a hill across a ridge from Table Mountain. I didn’t climb it last time, but the Swedes did yesterday, so it has to be done. On the way I pass the exquisite little chocolate shop, Torino. I don’t remember Turin being famous for chocolates, but I’m willing to be persuaded!

The Torino Chocolate Shop tempts me every time

Up here the air is clear, there’s a pleasant breeze, and the sun is shining. I’m glad I put some sun cream on.

The Table

The path is well-trodden leading up to the Lion’s Head, and is lined with pretty flowers and other interesting plants.

From higher up, one can see round the coast, past the Twelve Apostles and down to Camps Bay and other nice areas.

Up above, paragliders circle around. I pass their launch point, bringing back memories of my glide in Nepal. “Remember to not stop running as you run off this cliff”.

The trail circles round the head a couple of times, giving one a good all round view.

I’m especially interested in a whale which is splashing about just off the coast, and almost point it out to some people I pass. Except after some time I note it’s still splashing about in exactly the same time. And after some more time. When it dawns on me that it’s just a rock. Doh! Well, given how little most of the whales do in Hermanus, and that whales are common around here, I think it was a forgivable mistake!

Wait for the tail

The final climb gets a little steep and involves chains and ladders, but is not difficult. I chat to an older English couple who are on the way down. They gave me some perspective from far off – I thought I had about another 15 metres to go up, then I saw their small heads poking up near the peak, and realised I’d judged the scale rather incorrectly.

Before reaching the summit!

The afro negates the need for suncream!

Of course there’s a marvellous view from up there, so I sit for a while, chomping on some biltong whilst a beetle tries to chomp my hand.


Cape Town and Table Mountain

It’s so wonderful to have these hills so centrally located next to a city. Parliament Hill in London is nice, but it doesn’t really get one away from it all. Perhaps we should build them up a bit higher?

Signal Hill
Heading down, I divert off the main train and walk along to Signal Hill. I’ve got the mp3 player on, and having finished Craft Beer Radio, it’s moved on to a hardcore In Our Time on an Islamic philosopher 1,000 years ago and the implications of his work. Concentrate!


The rules


This is the hill which hosts the Noon Day Gun, which is still fired every day despite not being required to set watches etc any more.

Signal’s squat hill

Looking back at the Lion’s Head

From Signal one can see some of the World Cup work going on:

Football stadium under construction

Bo Kaap
And from here it’s an easy stroll down into the Bo-kaap Cape Malay Muslim area.


Bo-kaap is known for beautiful bright pastel coloured houses. I think it’s moved upmarket lots since the early days – it’s supposed to be a little dangerous but given the nice cars lining the streets, I’d say this is outdated information.

Down to Bo-kaap

Of course, pastel colours and a low sun creates all sorts of nice photographic possibilities, despite the strange looks one receives from locals!

Colourful shadows



The Bo-kaap

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