Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kathy's 44th Birthday, Part VI: Eastern Cape & Lady Grey

Alas, that we had to leave Mbotyi...

Our first stop before we began to turn toward our home in Maseru was in Port St. John's, a small city at the end of a river valley on the Wild Coast, just south of Mbotyi.

In all honesty, I think Port St. John's looked much bigger on the map than it did in person. Nonetheless, it was a quaint little coastal town.

But we were soon on the road again...

This time, we traversed the full breadth of the Eastern Cape. It was marvelous - grand and rolling and colorful (even in winter).

We ran through more of the smoke from burning fields, which gave the expansive landscape less depth than it might otherwise have had. It was, nonetheless, spectacular.

Little villages dotted the landscape, with much of the housing similar in structure to that found in Lesotho. But in South Africa, the residents tend to paint their homes, mostly in pastels. In Lesotho, they are typically left in the natural color of the stone used for construction, with the result that they blend into their surroundings much better, thus seeming to be a part of the landscape, rather than something added to it.

I lost track of time as Kathy drove us across the province, where we never seemed far from mountains and ridges, vistas of depth and splendor, with each change in the light recharging my captivation...

Sunsets in South Africa are immense, seemingly greater than the sky in which they glow...

We eventually drove into Lady Grey for the last night of our journey in celebration of my wife's birth. We stayed at the Comfrey Cottage, a quaint and incredibly comfortable set of cottages set on the outskirts of town.

They raise alpacas on the grounds, which were worth wandering just to admire the fauna and flora.

The main building held the dining area, where one of the owners, Grant, served us the best meal we had during the entire trip. Indeed, the service we received at this family-owned enterprise was top rate and always friendly.

Besides, the alpacas were just so cute!

After we reluctantly left our cottage, we explored the town of Lady Grey a bit. This was my first full experience of how the legacy of Apartheid has played out in the places of South Africa, as only minutes from the cozy comforts of our cottage we encountered an entire section of town consisting of shacks. The contrast in standards of living was stark, to say the least.

We then drove to one of the local sights, a dam, which actually looks more impressive in these photographs than it did during our visit - mostly because the pictures do not capture how poorly maintained the site was. It could have been a nice spot for picnics and perhaps even swimming, but not so when we were there.

In leaving Lady Grey, we took one of Kathy's famous turns - when she decides to try an "alternative route". While I must confess to having been quite nervous about the quality and narrowness of the roads she found, the sites were quite gorgeous.

Though traffic was a bit of a problem:

Once we returned to the main road, we were Maseru bound. Hard to believe it was only a long weekend, with so much seen and experienced and felt. But so it often is with us and our life together. So much beauty, so much living.

Happy Birthday, Kathy! Happy Birthday, love of my life!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kathy's 44th Birthday, Part V: Mbotyi

Rising at the foot of Sani Pass, we set out for the Wild Coast - a section of South Africa's eastern coast. What at first appeared to be a misty morning...

... we soon discovered was a smokey morning. Burnt fields stretched as far as the eye could see, leaving a smoke screen lying across the horizon well into the day. I am unaware of any benefits to the soil arising from this kind of burning. I have tried to find out why, then, this is done; but as near as I can tell, it is simply an inexpensive - if dangerous- method for clearing fields for no reason other than clearing them.

It is done with some precision, though, with only certain sections burnt, and others left untouched though it seems that they should have caught fire, too. I have no idea how South African farmers manage this. But it certainly made for a visually captivating view as we drove along that day.

At times, it appeared as if the fire must have run right up to the front doors of the fire starters' homes. How they can be comfortable with that, I do not know!

After a while we left the lowlands, and the brunt fields, behind, and began to experience - and appreciate - the landscape of the Eastern Cape.

I hope we get the chance to return to that area at other times of year, to see what it looks like painted in different seasons.

We passed through a bustling Lusikisiki. I would have shot some video to better demonstrate how vibrant it was, but by this point I had used all the memory on my camera. I was clearing images and video as we drove in order to make room, and could spare none for "Lusi"...

Our final destination that day was Mbotyi, which lay on the far side of some rather charming farms.

And at the end of a long, remote road...

... that led us into the densest growth we had seen since we set out.

Where I caught my first glimpse ever of the Indian Ocean.

And where we had a room at the Mbotyi River Lodge - a room with a remarkable view.

I had never before been anywhere I could call a tropical paradise, but I think Mbotyi qualified. The beaches were pristine and unpopulated:

The lagoon appeared almost magical:

Did I mention the view from our room? The deck?

The grounds of the River Lodge compound were not without their qualities, either.

The beach was so peaceful and picturesque.

I was completely captivated by the place, the waves and their song...

So, too, (I suspect) was my wife.

And I think you can see why...

Then again, how could anyone not be taken away by a place like this?

Perfect moments do exist...

The glow of early dusk made the coast line feel even more dreamlike.

So we returned to our room, where I serenaded my wife for a while.

Then presented her with her gifts, including a traditional Basotho blanket - in which I must confess she looked quite fetching.

And what would my wife's birthday be without chocolate (other than hazardous to her husband's health)? I had baked some chocolate muffins and secreted them along...

Morning at Mbotyi was glorious and serene.

As we strolled along that morning, we found that we were not the only ones who thought the beach a good place to be.

And no wonder...

Some of the other wanderers that morning were even human.

What an incredible place just to be.

Finally, and with no little regret, we packed up and headed out. Pausing, along with some more of our four-legged friends, to admire the view from above Mbotyi.

Including this stunning valley, the depth of which does not come across adequately in these photos. At the edge, I most certainly felt a strong sense of vertigo.

So I guess you could quite literally say that my wife and I found paradise. It's on the Wild Coast.