Thursday, October 19, 2017

Storm's River - place of waves

After seven long hours on the road from Cape Town to Storm's River, it was a relief to reach our roomy wooden chalet perched at the highest spot above the crashing waves of the spectacular Tsitsikamma National Park. We had been checked into the park by a very efficient and friendly SAN Parks staff employee, who dealt with a long line of tired and impatient Dutch and German guests (we were the only South Africans at that time) as we all poured in from various corners of South Africa, stiff from driving, hungry for showers, clean beds and the views we knew were around the corner.

Below the chalets were the campers and their tents, right on the shoreline (where we had stayed, before), with a very high tide sending waves roaring over the rocks. In the blue valleys between the waves we spotted pods of dolphins, who stayed and played in the huge breakers for hours, with more elusive whales blowing in the background.

The Frenchman was in heaven. Seeing him unfettered and trigger happy made me smile.

All around the campsite fires were lit, with embers sparking as people began their supper preparations. We lit our braai on the incongruous set up - an iron grid and ash box attached directly to the wooden railing of our high wooden balcony, and rather wobbly. It would take only one very heavy person to lean against it and go whoops right over the side - I cannot imagine this in America, but in South Africa perhaps the need to braai wins. It is like an inalienable right. (There was a second braai on the private patio below, reached by steps.) What did we cook? Chops, I recall, and boerewors, with a salad of cucumber and tomatoes. Red wine. Basic, happy food.

It was cold, and we sat outside well wrapped, later sliding between crisp white sheets beneath layers of comforters and blankets, falling into a sound sleep to the boom of the surf.

Early the next morning our blue view brought a lump to my throat. I know these creamy seas. I swam in this water and these waves every childhood summer until I was an elderly teenager. Not right here, but a few dozen miles further west, at Plettenberg Bay. A strong swimmer, I lived in this sea. Hearing and smelling and seeing the powerful surf - quite different from Cape Town's colder water - brought back physical memories and longings I can barely articulate.

In the morning on a short walk (we had to check out by 10am and drive on to Addo) I spotted pokeweed, a species I had never seen. My friend Don offers Phytolacca octandra for identification. Even though it was still spring, and the night had been very cold, the plant was at the maturity stage I would expect in late summer, Stateside (from Phytolacca americana). I'd love to see its earliest shoots and test how succulent (or not) they might be.

We had time for a walk across the little beach and onto a long and sinuous boardwalk that snaked towards the river mouth in the forest before heading back to pack the car again.

But Storm's River has been discovered and can be a busy spot - very beautiful, but now too trafficked for my taste. I noticed with some amusement (because I loathe racism), a rising xenophobia and antagonism in myself as European and Asian visitors brushed past us without greeting, talking loudly, behaving like tourists anywhere, oblivious of the birds in the canopy, the possible Cape clawless otters on the rocks below.  Most South Africans will look you in the eye and greet you, just a smile or a nod, or an actual hello - I find it charming, and I felt cross and resentful that Foreigners had not adopted this etiquette.

I needed to get further away from people.

Fortunately, we were headed in the right direction.


  1. Well, this traveller is also resentful of the "herding" tourists.I like the less-frequented places, even more so when locals are accepting of me.
    Thank you for taking me en pillion.

    1. V and I are aware that we are also tourists, but coming from New York where the herd mentality is especially strong in places like the Brooklyn Bridge, or the average Manhattan sidewalk, the nature of what being a tourist means is an interesting philosophical question to us. It seems to imply a turning off a type of a certain self awareness, maybe because of being overwhelmed by the new?

    2. I could go on, at length, but the blog comments is not the right place!
      But the worst kind of tourist is not one who turns off self-awareness! The one who is unaware of difference (apart from having to SHOUT TO MAKE THEM UNDERSTAND) is the bane of international travel! Insert smiley face and let me catch the next train..

  2. I am honored to be considered a South African for the purpose of this post. My heart certainly is there. :)

    1. Anyone who can say, Nou praat jy, is South African.

  3. Glorious photographs, Marie (and the Frenchman)...the scene in the last one is particularly enticing. Where do you swim when you are in New York (city or state), Marie? I am always looking for open water in which to swim. Like South Africans, I am inclined in public to look people in the eye and greet them with a nod, smile and/or a voiced hello. The response is invariably positive (despite popular wisdom to the contrary regarding New Yorkers). Best wishes on the rest of your time in your South African home, Leslie


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