Beach, Township, Primates And Birds Blog

2nd July 2010

I did a short morning run down to Keurboums Beach after learning of a nearby trail that led there.  When I reached the beach I was overwhelmed by the beautiful emptiness and brilliant morning sunshine, and I soon returned to the hotel to share my discovery with the rest of the group.  I felt a sort of evangelistic urge to spread the word that a fantastic beach laid just beyond the nearby dunes, and I got Jeff, Emi, Nancy, Dorcas, Sim, and Sophia to return with me.
I carried Sophia in my arms on the 10-minute walk to get to the beach, and she loved it once we got there. She ran wild on the hard-packed sand and screamed in delight (after asking me if it was ok to scream; she was very happy when I said “yes!”).  There were beached jellyfish 18 inches in diameter, revealed by the low tide and looking like shiny rocks half-submerged in the sand.  Dorcas identified them as poisonous ones, using her knowledge from volunteering at Cabrillo Aquarium in San Pedro.
Seeing that beach was a bonus for the day, as was the sunshine which was rather unexpected considering the bad weather forecast.  I was appreciative for every hour of sunshine we could get along the Garden Route, as the year-round rain there meant we were never guaranteed good weather.
I didn’t have time for breakfast so we hustled onto the bus at 9:30 to do a township tour.  The drive back into town was much more striking in the sunshine than the night before when we drove that stretch in the dark, passing lagoons and upscale developments.  We went to Ocean Safari, next to Plett’s one high-rise hotel, to pay our R150 () for the township tour (all the money going to the township).  There were a few humpback whales just offshore, but we declined the offer to go out a boat to see them.  The township tour would be a good cultural experience, a balance to a mostly nature and White South Africa-oriented tour so far.


 couple of local Xhosa guides from the township hopped on the bus and we drove there, just over the national highway.  What a HUGE contrast to the resort setting of Plettenberg Bay!  It was really amazing to see the equivalent of Santa Barbara or Monterey right next to the equivalent of Tijuana or some other 3rd World shantytown.  The roads in the township were unpaved, the homes built with scraps of wood, and abandoned cars and trash littered the community.  Stray dogs abounded and hand-written signs advertised phone call centres or single cigarettes for sale.  We stopped at a shabeen (bar) where the pool table barely fit the tiny shack and a hand-written sign on a make-shift juke box read that it cost R1 (12c) to play a song request.  Laundry hung outside on clothes lines, and everyone seemed to get around on foot.  Unemployment was high so many men loitered around the highway turnoff looking for day labor.  Being with the guides meant we were granted access and acceptance that would have been impossible otherwise, and nobody denied our photos.  I did feel like we were like voyeurs in a human zoo the way several of us would take photos simultaneously of a woman hanging her laundry, or of a runny-nose 2-year old in the doorway of a shack.
One of the highlights of the tour was a visit to a pre-school, the only school in the township, where the kids sang to us as the rain pelted down on the tin roof overhead.  They fittingly sang, “Walking in the Rain”, something we had just done as the weather had really turned bad.  We also sang some songs for the kids, like “Wheels on the Bus”, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, “Days of the Week”, and “ABCD…”  Sophia wasn’t feeling too sociable, unfortunately, and didn’t really want to interact with the other kids.

The kids and teachers themselves seemed lacking in passion, like they were performing out of obligation and not very excited about it.  Still, it was a nice low-key experience, just as Rough Guide had described.
We got back on the bus after spending 75 minutes at the township, joining up with the 10 people in the group that had gone to Tenikwa to walk with the cheetahs and interact with the other wild cats.  They raved about the experience and the photo opportunities (Bill said it was the best activity of the trip thus far), and Mark was especially happy to have squeezed into the group (he wasn’t among the 10 randomly chosen the day before when 17 of us said we wanted to go; they only had spots for 10).  I hoped I would be able to see the cheetahs the next day.
At 1:30 we boarded the bus to go to Monkeyland, a primate sanctuary which was very good.  We had fine photo opportunities and the chance to see 8 different primates:  squirrel monkey, capuchin monkey, ring-tailed lemur, black lemur, black-ruffed lemur, vervet monkey (the only one at Monkeyland which was native to South Africa), spectacled langur (from Southeast Asia), and white gibbon (also SE Asia).  There was a fun suspension bridge to cross, at 128 meters the longest in the Southern Hemisphere.

The sky was totally overcast but in the forest it hardly mattered.  I cranked up the ISO to 1600 and used the flash a lot, and enjoyed reviewing the photos at the hotel later. 

We went to Birds of Eden next door as the sky got darker, and took the self-guided walk on the 1200-meter long wooden walkway.   When I entered a lorikeet was already sitting on Richard’s shoulders, preferring men and never landing on a woman.  A cockatiel was soon on Mark’s shoulder, and we saw plenty of colorful birds.  The R15 () booklet helped identify the various species we saw, with the parrots, turacos, golden pheasants, and scarlet ibises especially beautiful.  Before we finished the rain started pelting down, and I felt stupid to have left the umbrella on the bus.  We were all pretty wet by the time we got to the bus.
We went into Plett again to visit the supermarket and got back to the hotel by 545 pm.  It was nice to have some time in our spacious suite, and I enjoyed viewing and editing the 260 photos I had shot this day.  I had some fine ones of Sophia on the beach, people in the township, primates at Monkeyland, and birds at Birds of Eden.  It had been another fine day even though the weather didn’t cooperate.