Friday, May 30, 2008

The Friendly City

South Africa's Port Elizabeth (in contrast to the one in New Jersey, USA) is known by various names, e.g. a "Settler City", the "Windy City" but also as the "Friendly City" or "iBhayi"(= "the bay" by Xhosa speakers). In 1820, about 4 000 British settlers landed here in what was then known as Algoa Bay but recently was renamed Nelson Mandela Bay (or Metropole). When these settlers arrived, they were allocated farms by Sir Rufane Donkin (the acting Govenor of the Cape Colony at the time).

This photo (right) is what I think of as a Bird's eye-view of PE - as seen through the window of an aeroplane. Visible are the harbour, the Humewood and Pollock beaches, Cape Recife (extremity, left) and "around the corner" Noordhoek towards Sardinia Bay bordering the Indian Ocean. "Below us" is the Nelson Mandela Bay.

When approaching the city centre from the Humewood side, one can't miss these over a hundred-year-old and attractively restored Victorian-style buildings (photo left). The Feather Market Centre (pink building on the right) was built during the ostrich boom to host auction sales in ostrich feathers. Recently, the building was refurbished and converted into a concert hall and conference centre.

Opposite the restored Feather Market (and behind the City Hall) is to me, one of the most interesting monuments - the Prester John Memorial, dedicated to the mythical king-priest and the Portuguese explorers, who discovered South Africa. It is said to be the only monument in the world depicting Prester John.

Did you know that Prester (priest) John is believed to be a descendant of the 3 wise men (in the Bible)? It was a common belief at the time that Prester John ruled a vast and prosperous Christian kingdom - thought to be Ethiopia. The Portuguese explorers were sent by Prince Henry, the Navigator, to find the spice islands and possibly join forces with Prester John to control the spice trade from the east.

Trivia: opting for the sea-route to the east meant rounding the by then unknown southern regions of the African continent. It was an "enforced" option, because the land-route to the Far East was blocked by Turkish forces, who had invaded and then controlled Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453.

The City Hall (left), was completed in 1862, whilst the attractive clock tower was added a few years later. Today it's a national monument and a fine example of the Roman revival style in Victorian architecture. The building was restored to its original "glory" after it was badly damaged by a devastating fire in 1977.

The Main Public Library (right) was used for a while as a courthouse before the present library was officially opened in 1902. The beautiful facade was transported from England in numbered pieces and assembled in PE. The Sicilian-marble statue of Queen Victoria (in front of the building) was unveiled in 1903.

Trivia: various statues of Queen Victoria were erected during her long reign in colonial times to "adorn" public buildings in South African cities, e.g. another one in front of the parliament buildings in Cape Town.

The Edward Hotel (left) is one of PE's landmarks and part of the city's heritage. As a result of careful maintenance, the hotel retains its distinctive Edwardian style.

In front of the Edward Hotel stretches the open space of the Donkin Reserve. It was named after Sir Rufane Donkin, who had a stone pyramid erected in loving memory of his late wife, Elizabeth, who had died from fever in India, and after whom he named the city. The old 15 000 candle-power lighthouse next to the pyramid was built in 1861 and still serves as a beacon for ships entering the Nelson Mandela Bay.

The Donkin Street Houses are a fine example of Victorian architecture, which had a "face-lift" in the 1960's. The 18 terraced houses date back to the 1850's and form part of the the historical heritage of PE. Although declared national monuments, they are these days in serious need of repair - which makes me glad I took this photo (above) before they started to deteriorate. Is the PE city council listening?

I think of the Cape Recife (= "cape of the reef") Nature Reserve as one of the best water-bird watching locations in the country, never mind PE. The Reserve also offers natural dune vegetation (fynbos), rocky outcrops, magnificent sandy beaches, the remains of a World War II military observation post, a 24m high octagonal lighthouse and a beacon (the latter 2 visible on my photo during low tide).

Sunset over the Nelson Mandela Bay and King's Beach, where in 1947, the visiting King George VI, his wife, Queen Elizabeth, the 2 young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, and the rest of the royal party, swam. I haven't managed to determine so far if it was called King's Beach in honour of this occasion!?

[If you wish to obtain more information on the history of Port Elizabeth then you might want to log onto the following site:]

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

People of Heaven

The translation of "Zulu" is "heaven", and KwaZulu means "Place of Heaven" (as in our province, KwaZulu-Natal). Accordingly, the amaZulu are the "People of Heaven".

This photo features traditional Zulu "beehive" huts, customarily built to encircle the central cattle kraal. Cattle have always represented wealth to the Zulu (and other ethnic groups), so these prized animals feature centre-stage. Customarily, acacia-thorn-tree branches are used to construct palisades, which encompass the circle of huts as well as the inner cattle kraal.

A chief in full regalia (right) - in this case, chief Thomas Fakude (from KwaBekhitunga/Stewart's Farm). Zulu men, in general, wear front and rear aprons made from calf skin, sometimes also featuring strips of wild animal hides, proudly displaying which animals they have hunted. The knobkierie (= 'knob"-stick) is a traditional weapon whilst a shield, made from an untanned cattle hide, is considered an essential item. The wearing of a leopard skin (e.g. across the shoulders) is usually reserved for chiefs or men of high rank, whilst all married men wear headbands.

Instead of the traditional grain pit, a small storage hut on poles also serves to e.g. stow maize cobs and pumpkins.

Did you know that originally, grain pits were dug into the ground of a Zulu cattle kraal? Sometimes, these were also used as burial pits for chiefs, e.g. the great king Shaka's corpse was wrapped in an ox-hide and then interred in the grain pit of the royal cattle kraal at kwaBulawayo (= "the place of the persecuted man").

The two Zulu women (right) are busy crushing maize-pips in the traditional way. Married Zulu women cover most of their bodies by wearing cloak-like covers over a thick skirt made from sewn-together strips of cow or goat hide. In the past, the traditional headdresses married Zulu women wear were fashioned from woven grass and (permanently) plaited into a ring of hair around the skull. These days, most traditional hats are removable. Colourful bead-work adorns most pieces of clothing.

This Zulu lady (left) demonstrates the traditional and age-old practice of using grinding stones. She grinds the crushed maize-pips to flour. The flour, mixed with water and boiled, becomes maize porridge - still the staple food in most parts of the African continent south of the Sahara desert.

Trivia: once freely available, maize replaced sorghum - used to make porridge or brew traditional beer.

Zulu implements
- in a woven basket (right) are 2 calabash, used as drinking vessels or to scoop traditionally brewed beer from the magnificently crafted and "twice-fired" black clay pot - featuring prominently on the photo.

In front of an assortment of containers made from grass, reed, ilala-palm leaves, bark and calabash, traditional weapons are on display (left) - other than a knobkierie, two spears feature in this photo: one spear is used for throwing (= isiPhapha) and the other is a stabbing spear (= iXhwa = assegaai = invented by king Shaka).

Traditionally, Zulu maidens only wear tiny skirts made from grass or soft hide sometimes adorned with beads. The colourful array of beaded skirts and necklaces (right) is worn to aesthetically please foreign visitors to a traditional village.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Esteemed Ancestry

At the confluence of the Shashi and Limpopo rivers, where the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet, a civilisation once existed that centred on and around Mapungubwe Hill, thriving as a sophisticated trading centre about 1100 AD. Today we know that the inhabitants traded gold and ivory with Egypt, Persia, India and China, and also mined iron ore, copper and tin. When Mapungubwe was excavated, intricate jewelery and ornaments, as well as pottery remnants were discovered, apart from numerous grave-sites. In 2003, Mapungubwe was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The hill (left) is called "Little" Mapungubwe and is situated near the 300m long and about 30m high "hill of the jackal" (=Mapungubwe), also known as the "place of the wisdom-stone" (below).

Did you know that the most spectacular of the gold discoveries at Mapungubwe is a little gold rhino? It consists of gold foil tacked with minute pins around a wooden core.

This is a photo (left) on top of Mapungubwe hill, with the remains of a water-well visible in the front. The king (or chief?) living in relative seclusion on this hill (whilst his subjects inhabited the surrounding valley) must have spent some time playing
morabaraba - a game still
popular today in many parts of Africa - the holes depicting this are still visible today on a flat rock (right).

The Cradle of Humankind at Sterkfontein (west of Johannesburg) is the world's richest hominid site. The complex, of great palaeo-anthropological value, is also one of South Africa's UNESCO Heritage Sites, which yielded valuable evidence of the origins of modern humans. The fossilised remains of hominids are found here embedded in numerous dolomitic caves.

The University of the Witwatersrand "owns" the caves and for more than 60 years already, excavates them, but still, new "secrets" are uncovered. Amongst a wealth of finds, Sterkfontein has produced fossil deposits dating back to nearly 4 million years, which provide intimate information about different hominid species that once existed.

A few years ago, an almost complete Australopithecus africanus skeleton was discovered and called "Little Foot" - after Prof Ron Clarke recognised bones in a box he believed belonged to homonid feet. He instructed his 2 assistants, Nkwane Molefe and Steven Motsumi, to look in the Silberberg Grotto for the rest of the skeleton - which amazingly, they found encased in breccia after searching for ONLY 2 days! My photo (above) depicts a cast/copy of Little Foot, which was temporarily displayed last year at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria.

Also at the Transvaal Museum, "hidden" in a vault, is the most complete skull ever found of an adult Australopithecus africanus, known as Mrs Ples (right). New evidence suggest that it wasn't a female, but instead is the skull of a young adult male. Together with groups of tourists, I regularly have the pleasure of viewing this skull at close range (by special appointment).

Apart from that I'm proud to say - I live very close to the Cradle from where humankind appears to have evolved!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Restricted Antelopes

Amongst South Africa's magnificent "selection" of antelopes, some are confined to a specific habitat.

The largest of the African antelopes, the eland, is restricted to it's preferred habitat varying from semi-desert regions to light woodland. The eland is a protected species in the Drakensberg region and numerous nature reserves in the country. They are browsers (> grazers) and therefore feed on leaves, fruit, roots and bulbs. However heavy and humped its appearance, an eland is surprisingly agile - it can jump a 2m high fence!

Did you know that the San believed that the eland was filled with spiritual power? By painting eland on rocks (after human figures the most commonly painted object) the San artists believed that they "harnessed" that power.

The second largest antelope in South Africa is the roan. Mpumalanga represents the only region where roan antelopes are found in their natural state. Since roan are so rare, many private game reserves stock them as special attractions.

Trivia: "roan" describes the body colouring - brownish grey tinged with red. The roan is thought to have horse-like features (= Pferde Antelope in German). When attacked by a predator, the roan lashes out with its hooves and heavily ridged horns whilst baring its teeth in a horse-like manner.

Slightly smaller than its close relative (the roan), the sable antelope carries a larger pair of horns, which are also heavily ridged, sweeping back in an even curve - this antelope's often deadly "weapon". The sable antelope is only naturally found in the northern and eastern parts of our country.

The gemsbok (or Oryx gazelle), with its high, "V-for-victory" horns, is restricted in South Africa to the dry northern Cape, where they are mainly found in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (versus being fairly common in Namibia). Gemsbok are able to survive in high-temperature areas without a regular supply of drinking water, because an intricate assortment of body mechanisms e.g. cools down their blood.

Generally, the red hartebeest also inhabits the drier territories of the northern parts of our country, although I snapped these (right) in the Addo Elephant Park (Eastern Cape). Hartebeest have goat-like eyes, set in an elongated face, and they also have heavily ridged horns, which at the tips, curve sharply backwards. Although not ranked amongst the most attractive antelopes, the hartebeest is impressive when in motion - it can reach a speed of 55km whilst galloping in a zigzagging fashion. [Its close relative, the tsessebe, is known as the fastest of all antelope].

Not so long ago, bontebok were in danger of extinction. Now they are off the danger list (thanks to an enterprising conservation program), but still they are only (naturally) found in a restricted area of the south-western Cape, which includes the Bontebok National Park (near Swellendam). [Bontebok are closely related to the more commonly found blesbok].

Although the small and handsome steenbok is South Africa's most widely distributed antelope, it's the "target" of more numerous predators than e.g. the larger antelopes. To add to the "pressure", steenbok are usually found singly (versus finding relative safety in numbers/a herd).

Trivia: The Dutch/Afrikaans word "steenbok" (= mountain goat) is a misnomer, because this antelope prefers grassland (= shuns rocky, mountainous areas).

The grysbok is an exclusively South African species. Although its name indicates that this antelope is supposed to be grey, the grysbok is actually reddish brown but - the coat is covered with fine white hair that give it a greyish tinge (as is clearly visible in my photo). This little antelope is restricted to a habitat of thick fynbos (Cape Flora) and scrub, found only along the coastal regions of the southern Cape.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Small Creatures

Today I want to present a few photos of smaller creatures often overlooked - yet they are so interesting and often colourful.

I've seen this kind of grasshopper (right) all over South Africa, but had to wait patiently for it to "spread its wings".

This is what I call a flying ant (a termite?). It landed on my bed and whilst snapping away, I observed what I thought of as a "dance of death", because at the end of its fluttering display, all its wings fell off.

I find the intricate delicateness of the wings of this dragonfly (right) truly amazing; also that it's actually visible on a photo!

Another kind of dragonfly (left) I love to encounter - but so far, only in Mpumalanga.

One more photo of a dragonfly (right), which reminds me of a helicopter about to "zoom off". I detected it on a cable outside our back-door in Joburg.

Amongst the tourists I guide through southern Africa, some are happy when they see a butterfly and then remark that butterflies are rather scarce in South Africa!?

After a female dung beetle lays her eggs in fresh dung, its rolled into a ball with its hind legs towards a "nest" in a burrow. Once the eggs hatch the youngsters immediately have food (dung) available. [Our son-in-law, Quinton, took this photo in Addo, so I guess it's a flightless dung beetle - amongst the largest beetles globally, perceived to be endangered and by now restricted to the eastern and southern Cape.]

Trivia: Africa is host to about 2 000 dung beetle species, of which 780 species are found in South Africa.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Klein" Karoo

Along South Africa's Garden Route, the Outeniqua Mountains separate the fertile coastal belt from the semi-arid region of the Klein ("Small") Karoo. Only a few passes could be constructed to traverse the almost impenetrable barrier, which the mountain range represents. The most superior route to the interior is via the Outeniqua Pass (from George in the Western Cape), with ideally located parking spots along the way to admire the magnificent views.

The forever "coiling" Swartberg Pass (left) in the Klein Karoo is an engineering marvel. Although it's a gravel (> tar) road, it's renowned as one of the most spectacular mountain passes in the world - a route the discerning traveler shouldn't miss.

In between the mountains - fertile valleys. This (right) is one of many magnificent views along the Swartberg Pass.

A "mood photo (left) - clouds rolling in over the coastal mountains.

More than 500 species of the genus Aloe are known. Of these, about 125 are found in South Africa. Aloes are indigenous to the African continent and closely adjacent geographical regions. Aloes grow in a vast range of environments and are succulent plants - not to be confused with cacti (Cactus family), which are indigenous to the Americas!

Trivia: Although all cacti are succulents, they are just one of many different groups of succulent plants. Therefore all cacti growing in South Africa (bar one indigenous species!) are originally from Central America.

I took this photo (left) along the R62 - an alternative route to the N2 (between Port Elizabeth and Cape town). It's being marketed as the world's longest Wine Route and runs between the mountain ranges parallel to the southern coast. Tranquility is "the name of the game" when traveling along this road, which encompasses many rural scenes.

Since we are in the Klein Karoo - I present what this region is famous for = ostriches. Other than being the largest living bird on earth, the ostrich has become an "industry". For many years, ostrich feathers were considered a fashion necessity by ladies all over the world. Nowadays, fashion items from ostrich leather are the vogue, and there's a global demand for ostrich meat.

Trivia: Although an ostrich is a bird, its meat is classified as red meat - yet it's virtually fat free, low in calories and cholesterol, whilst rich in protein.

To end todays "session" - another mood-photo of a typical Klein-Karoo-farm scene.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Back from Touring

Now that I'm back home, I'd like to share some of what I experienced during the past 3 weeks. Since our country is presently in "the throws of autumn", I'd like to present some scenery-photos of what autumn looks like in the Drakensberg region.

We stayed for 2 nights in the Drakensburg Sun Hotel and went hiking to see some San paintings - I took these photos along the way.

Reflected in the water (right) is Cathkin Peak with Champagne Castle "hiding" behind it.

And then - drama!!

Everybody who knows me is aware of how scared I am of heights. Well, my worst nightmare became reality when on 13 May, I was amongst tourists, who got stuck in a Table Mountain cable-car (Cape Town) on its way down. The incidence was widely reported by the press and my last photo is how the SON described it. I have an issue, though, with the last sentence: the cable-way wasn't in full working order again. First of all, the cable-cars were manually "manipulated" so that the 35 minutes turned to almost an hour before we stood on terra firma again. I also heard that afterwards, there were more problems, right into late that night!?