PORT ALFRED, SOUTH AFRICA
January 9, 2019
Jackie and I are both knackered by jet lag after a 24-hour flight to Johannesburg via Amsterdam, a hop to Port Elizabeth, and many hours driving on the wrong side of the road to the coastal town of Port Alfred. Experience tells me that we’ll need at least a week to fully recover. Until then we’ll be wide awake at 4 a.m. and down for the count by 7 at night. Right now it’s 5 a.m., the morning sun is fully up and there’s only a small breeze across the lip of the hill where we’re perched overlooking the Indian Ocean. The strong winds will come later in the afternoon and we’ll be happy to be sheltered by the tall walls surrounding the swimming pool.
We’re finishing up our first week in Port Alfred, a town at the very bottom of South Africa that’s about the size of Ashland, Oregon. Hard to know if that accurately counts the black and indigenous residents of the adjoining township, though I doubt it. Our landlords are German and Dutch emigres of more than 40 years back, a little racist by my standards and with not much to say about “the locals” except to remind us to keep the doors securely locked. We have a wing of a large house dating from the mid 1800’s, built of ballast stone that arrived in a windjammer at Port Elizabeth just down the coast. The grounds are protected by a huge, ancient German mastiff, too old to move around much but still the terror of the neighborhood. As Wolfgang (the owner) explained, any burglars would be fools to come on his property when the house next door is guarded only by a Pekinese.
So, some observations after our first week:
- Our accommodations were described on VRBO as a “pool house”. They’re actually an original 1850’s building which is now a wing of a larger, more modern house. We have a sitting room and a larger kitchen/dining room which looks out onto the pool area, with a bedroom and toilet and bathroom behind, attached to the main house by an entrance hall.
- The pool outside is surrounded by a patio, bordered by a high wall with palm, banana and jacaranda trees. The trees are filled with doves and hoopoes and some large-beaked branch of the crow family, and the golf course down the hill supports a herd of beautiful black and tan striped impala.
- With the exception of the downtown area by the river (of which more later) there is a wonderful silence and lack of the “city” noises I’m so used to hearing. Here on the hilltop there are a few birds that call throughout the day, and a few houses away from us there’s a rooster who makes a ruckus for a short time in the early morning and just at sundown. Otherwise there is only the wind and, off in the distance, the sound of waves pounding on the shoreline.
- Port Alfred has one traffic light at an intersection at the bottom of our hill, at the entrance to the business area. Our hosts tell us that the town might install another sometime in the future, but right now it’s not in the budget. So far it doesn’t seem to have made much difference to traffic flow or accident prevention since the local drivers are a courteous lot anyway
- The sign outside the only funeral home in town advertises “One-Stop Funeral Services”.
- Our place loses electricity for up to an hour several times a day, but it always comes back on and the temporary loss rarely interrupts anything of importance.
- Internet service is very spotty. I can get online for an hour in the early morning and late evening, but only after waiting for the little circular whirligig thingy on the screen to revolve madly for minutes at a time. This is a good preview of what things will be like in the states when we no longer have net neutrality.
- And speaking of Donald Trump…. The lack of US internet news is refreshing, to say the least. Headlines here are all about how everybody pitched in to clean up the beaches after the New Year’s celebrations, and how the government is encouraging students who’ve had trouble with tests to register to retake them. This is an improvement over reading that our CDC is preparing the country for nuclear war.
That’s all for now. We’re going to go down to town and find a fruit stand. Our landlady tells us that oranges sell for around $2.00 a bag and she will lend us her juicer.