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KNYSNA & SURROUNDS

(Blog 3)

The Garden Route is a magnificent green stretch of coastline that runs all the way from Mossel Bay to Storms River. It's one of the main tourist attractions in Africa. Knysna and its surrounding areas is a very popular holiday destination on this scenic route.

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Knysna

(part 1)

This picturesque town next to the Knysna Lagoon is famous for its fantastic vistas, outdoor activities and Oyster Festival.

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In the first ten minutes of my first day in Knysna I walked into a PC shop to have an external malfunctioning hard drive checked out, and one of the first things the young, skinny guy with the ponytail behind the counter told me was: "Don't stay in Knysna too long, the people around here are terrible."

I assured him that I was only passing through and that I'm not that much into people, having studied this specie intimately over many years I have come to realize it's not worth wasting too much of your precious time on their iniquities, and that people tend to project their reality on others, in other words; nine times out of ten if people behave like an asshole towards you, it's usually something they are struggling with. Not my problem, bru.

I have also heard from various sources of the dark underbelly this area is purported to harbor, and I have a theory on it, and it is that places with extraordinary physical beauty often tend to attract their counterparts in human form, because so many folks believe they can escape the malicious worlds inside them by relocating to a place that blinds the image they have of themselves with material beauty. (Of course the whole Hollywood dream stereotype re-enforces this illusion.) Well, you can run, as they say; but you can't hide. Sooner or later a bad seed will sprout a bad harvest. So she goes.

And then, driving towards town from a friend's place after hitching and being picked up, the man who graciously gave me the ride said that there was no place for the middle class in Knysna, that there were only the rich and the poor, the masters and the servants.

All this made me think about the Knysna Loerie, a beautiful bird with amazing plumage, but when it opens its mouth the most horrendous sounds escapes that elegant beak. Is this outrageous bird a symbol of the place where it got its name from? This is my experience:

I did not plan to reach Knysna this early in my travels. I planned the first part of my journey as much as possible because I wanted some semblance of security until I adapted to the lifestyle, but when someone offered me a ride when I was sitting in the Bush Pub in Prince Albert, I thought it would be hypocritical not to jump in on a whim. I always brag about my new sense of freedom, of my plan to just stay in the moment and go with the flow, and so I jumped into a fast car with a quiet girl called Bernie.

I arrived in a rather demure Knysna, it being off season. I walked about 3 km to a friend's place up a hill on the edge of town. (Or could it be called a small mountain perhaps? I don't know, it seemed like a mountain at the time, with my insanely heavy backpacks and guitar hanging from my burning shoulders, me panting and sweating, feeling the power in my legs slowly draining into the earth, repeating the mantra: "It's only pain, it's nothing personal.")

As my legs were about to give out at the last and steepest part of my ascend, Henry stopped next to me in his luxurious carriage  and gave me a ride to the top. I had confused thoughts about this: on the one hand I want to see how far I can push my body, it's an important part of my walkabout; to push myself mentally and physically to the outer (other) edge. On the other hand it would have been rude not to accept the helping gesture, and as I said, my legs were about to give out from under me. (Henry is a strange man with a good heart. At this point in time I am only a strange man, which means he is one up on me.)

I had a reunion with my friend Jaco at the top on his green, green lawn just outside the little cottage him and his partner of many years were sharing. We have not seen each other for many years. Once we we're students at the same university and we stayed in the same dormitory in Stellenbosch. I remember him as the guy who walked into a room and started sharing his songs without hesitation or the fear of failing his audience, a fear I am still struggling to overcome. After that we met again at a party I was attending high on some new super drug that combined the effects MD, ketamine and acid. He was there shooting a series for national Geographic of baboons behaving badly in a human environment. (Personally I would opt to make a series on the opposite.) I spend some of time lying next to him on the floor while he was braaing, looking into an empty glass into what seemed like an infinite glass spiral, some kind of wormhole to another dimension.

After our greetings I pitched my tent in his garden and I would spent the next week there among the luscious vegetation, the three dogs and two cats and the elementals in the rain that made music on my artificial roof. Knysna must have the most schizophrenic weather in the country. All the seasons can happen in a few hours and you never know how the day will present itself. This must be any meteorologists nightmare.

Although I knew Jaco for a long time, I felt like I never really got to know him well. The next week we would spend great times together, sharing meals and making good conversation. Together with Ingrid it was blissful stay and I will be forever thankful for their magnificent hospitality. I spent my time strolling to town next to the lagoon, having conversations with strangers, staring at big expanses of ocean water, going to markets, doing a whale cruise thanks to Ocean Odyssey and meeting new people. Christa and Michael were among the new friends that was introduced to me by Jaco and Ingrid, friend's of theirs who hosted Jaco's birthday party on their beautiful piece of property just outside Brenton-on-Sea where they have a guesthouse, Ocean View Lodge. I would also occupy a spare room at their place for a week or so, and where I similarly indulged in the excellent company of people who held their space with dignity and humble gratitude.

Therefore my personal impression of Knysna is a place of physical beauty and hospitable people that have become good friends, a place I can return to because I will always be welcomed and have a temporary home, a safehouse devoid of bad intentions or judgment when I needed it.

I also had the following encounter: one morning I walked to town in a somewhat brooding mood, the reason being me allowing an unwise attachment (which I since detached from again, so I suppose I'm happily drifting again). On my way back I bought some pain killers in the form of a few quarts of beer and I went to sit on some grass next to the lagoon, intent on getting ever so slightly and elegantly as possible wasted while communing with my friend the sea. There was a man walking his dog. I saw him a day or so before this doing the same thing. He seemed like an odd and interesting character. To be honest, I was not in the mood for any other company other than liquor and the efforts of unhinging towards detaching, but he came over and I could see that this man had the need for some company. He was also the type I can tolerate pretty easily, a man who clearly lives on the edge of society and who was comfortable in his own void of solitude and silence. A man who learnt not to judge by suffering the pain of others who witnessed him fall from grace and judged him for it. (He was is way ahead of them now, they still have to endure that painful lesson.) I offered him some beer and we spoke. He told me he was living on the edge of town in a house with no electricity on land owned by a company. He has been living there for three years, surviving by making pieces of art from found objects he picks up. At the time he had a piece of wood and he pointed out the face of a nature spirit in it. (Recently I went to Inge Beckmann's exhibition, Uilien on the same theme in Cape Town, amazing stuff and well worth a visit at the MUTI Gallery.)

He was a victim from a divorce and what I suspect to be a meth habit in Cape Town. He fled her in order to surround him with beauty and a modicum of solitude and tranquility, it seemed. I asked him if the police hassled him, and he replied in the negative. This made me happy. He also said that his best friend was the cleverest dog on the planet, and I don't think he was far off. I also know of other folks and communities of people that do not subscribe to the social norm as far as lifestyles go in the area, like the Rastafarian community that lives in the township just outside town

So my conclusion is that Knysna is a fantastically beautiful place with good people and allot to do balanced out nicely with folks allowed  to survive on the edge of society without unnecessary harassment.
Of course you will find your upper class snobs, racists, drug addicts and criminals, but they are pretty easy to avoid. There is enough space for the holy and unholy to discompliment each other just fine.

Besides if you are just passing through like I did and you don't get stuck in the inevitable ugly politics that arise from many people living together in a limited area, there is a bounty of beauty to experience, so go visit this place of water and vistas, you will not be disappointed.

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A Night Out With Bernie

(part 2)

Bernie is a Knysna local who gave me a lift from Prince Albert, and she took me out for a night on town.

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I've been thinking allot lately. I've been trying to establish my motivation for doing a travel blog, and I've been musing on what a travel blog is supposed to be. Is it supposed to sell places, destinations and travel related businesses while telling a story and supplying mildly interesting and entertaining touristy facts? Are there certain 'truths' best left alone and is it better to write with an impersonal, happy-faced objective professional journalist style, the one where you keep the mask on and pander to your audience, sponsors and benefactors? The one where you basically become a robot with no real opinion and feelings about life and the universe?

To be honest, things like money, sponsors and perks have never been great motivators in my life. That's probably why I'm still living and barely surviving the way I do. Things that motivate me are concepts like authenticity, the human psyche, the collective conscious, space/place/setting as an evolving organism , storytelling, the poetry of words, novel ideas, alternative takes and perceptions on 'reality', the cosmos and our place in it etc., etc. I basically love all the things that conventional capitalist 'wisdom' avoids like the plague. Asking questions about the condition of the human animal is one of them.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that my main motivation for this blog is first of all to be as honest with my audience as possible through portraying as authentic picture of myself and my surroundings as possible, and also to show the uncontrived reality I find on the road where ever I roam. I would like to show you the most 'real' version of events as authentically experienced with my body, mind and spirit (whatever that might be, or mean to you.)

Sure, it will be wise to leave out unnecessary topics and trivial things and sure it will contain touristy angles because it is a travel blog after all. And of course I will promote certain ventures that I deem worthy and resonate with, and of course I would love to build up a following and maybe one day get a sponsor or financial backing somehow so that I can actually make some sort of living while I do this. But at the same time I decided I will not ignore certain issues that relate to the real story in order not to 'alienate' my readership. My first priority is to give it to you straight up, as it is, right out of the horse's mouth when possible.

As far as I am concerned when we fail to be real with each other we have lost everything that is important in society and the world becomes an empty vessel with not much to offer except half truths and superficial entertainment in a fake Disneyworld landscape full of 'real deal specials' to entice the consumerist mindset. You should visit a real place with all its good and bad, not a picture in a brochure. (Some would argue that life is but a stage, and there is much truth in that.)

There is a point to this lengthy introduction. So I met Bernie and she took me out for a night on town and you probably want to know about the venues, entertainment and all the rest. Well it was basically a pub crawl through a relatively small town and yes there are many nice bars, restaurants and coffee shops  where you can go to in Knysna to eat good food and drink loads of liquor, but that's not what I want to write about at this point. (We basically only did the pub thing by the way, and it was fun and Bernie is great company.) I'm going to tell you something else and that something else is this:

Often I enjoy the company of amicable people of decent intelligence who I really like and who are open minded and liberal in all spheres, except for one: the race issue!

Don't be fooled by touristy propaganda and political spin-doctor's, in South  Africa;  there is still, albeit unofficially; a rather large separation between races and cultures. The only difference now is that people keep their mouths shut, but the reality is that mute prejudice is still prevalent. This is something that is easily noticeable all over South Africa, and much so in Knysna. For some reason I always thought of it as a liberal town, probably because of the tourist influx, festivals, artists etc., but what I found was a pretty much racially divided society on many levels. I found this in the public spaces I visited like the picnic and braai spot in the video that can basically be classified as a 'colored' area, and also in many conversations. To be fair (and politically incorrect), this is probably a natural phenomena that occurs all over the globe. Maybe it's just part of human nature after all, a deep seated instinct in the animalistic part of our conscious. This is probably the mostly unspoken reality of things as they stand in the world.

Personally I find it sad. I have no problem respecting people's right to hang out with whom they want. Go for it, it's your choice. People should be free to choose and no government law or other authority will ever change this because trying to force specific social orders from the top down will always fail. A personal change in people's minds must take place before the social fabric of our society will evolve. In the end it is an individual choice that no law, religion, liberal theoretical academic philosophy or government can make for you.

Personally I choose to hang out with everybody, life is more fun that way. More choices, more adventures, more freedom of mind and spirit, more personal growth and a deeper understanding of the social structure on this amazing planet. Why limit yourself within certain mind constructs often build on fear and misunderstanding?

I also believe that it is in everybody's power to overcome animalistic prejudice simply by the effort of their will and by employing self awareness. Yes (hu)man, you can override that irrational part of the brain that breeds prejudice with the power of your thoughts, with the awareness that makes you believe in abstract concepts like beauty, hope, harmony, music and art. Give it a whirl, old chap.

Sjoe, glad I got that out. I just have to add that this has nothing to do with Bernie. She's a great girl and we had a fun time. Thanks Bernie, let's do it again sometime.

Published on 22 October 2015

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Whale Watching with Ocean Odyssey

(part 3)

The South African coastline is one of the best places for whale watching in the world. At least 37 species of whales and dolphins can be observed next to a 900 km stretch of coastline that runs all the way from Doringbaai on the West Coast to Storms River Mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park.

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I know this interesting lady. She is doing her Doctorate Degree in animal communication. We had a long conversation once while driving back from Africa Burn, and I have a suspicion she might have helped me with this blog without realizing it.

Whale watching has come a long way since the days we're a few people took a dinghy out to sea and harassed these majestic creatures across the great watery expanses they call home. Ocean Odyssey provides an exceptionally well organized and professional service with well equipped boats with engines powerful enough not only to take you through the notorious Knysna Heads in safety, but also making the trip pretty damn exciting and thrilling at the same time (as you will see in the video.)  They also provide a skipper with loads of experience in handling these  mechanical creatures and ample knowledge of their environment and the things in it, like the Southern Right and Humpback whales that come close to the shores of the South African south coast between the months of June and November each year. Of course these are not the only marine animals you can expect to encounter while speeding across the water, at least 37 species of whales and dolphins can be found along the South African coast on the Whale Route that stretches from the south of Cape Town all the way to Durban (not to mention the many pelagic bird species.)

Of course no guarantees can be giving for a close encounter of the watery kind, this is the ocean and not a zoo after all, and so as we were making our way out to the open sea across the lagoon and through the heads, I was reminded of the above mentioned conversation and I thought to myself: "What the hell, give it a try, what have you got to lose?" And so I spent some time doing my best to see if I can get some message out there, trying my untrained mind tongue at whale speech, saying things like: "Ahoy beings of the ocean, I am a blogger with good intentions and it will be really great if you can give us a bit of your time, I'm making this thing that might be seen by a few folks and it's a great opportunity to spread some good vibe environmental consciousness." I don't know if this worked, there is no scientific or mathematical way to compute these things, but our skipper assured us that we had one of the best whale sightings he has come across for a long time and that we were very lucky. We spent what have been a good part of an hour or so in the presence of two whales that encircled our boat who evidently had a keen interest in the two legged creatures who came out on a noisy alien craft to come and share their presence. (We are of course, tremendously grateful that they interrupted their lovemaking for us, according to our knowledgeable skipper that was what was going down. Romance on a very large scale was indeed in the water.)

It's not really possible to describe in words what it is like to be in the presence of these giant mysterious beasts and I suspect everyone will take something different away according to their particular emotional chemistry, but for me it was a profound and humbling experience, seeing them curiously circling the boat and listening to the sound of them blowing while drifting on the immensity of the ocean definitely stirred something in my own depths and I'm sure it will do the same for all people who feel themselves connected with our world.

There is something to experience and learn here and if you ever get the chance, don't hesitate, put on that life jacket and go communicate with these amazing creatures.

Published on 24 October 2015

PHOTO GALLERY


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Brenton-on-Sea

(part 4)

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Wikipedia won't tell you much about Brenton-on-Sea except that it is a seaside resort 15 km from Knysna. It does not mention the amazing beach and it will tell you even less about Brenton, which is a different area in the same geographical location, but situated next to the Knysna Lagoon instead of the ocean, and so you have Brenton next to the lagoon on the one side of the mountain which has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it complete with wild Bushbuck and white bunnies roaming the ultra green lawns, (no, I was not tripping this time) and on the other side of the mountain you have Brenton-on-Sea which has a bit more of a holiday and touristy vibe. If you need to go into deep hiding and forget about the frantic and cruel world of commerce, competition, nagging wives, boundary testing teenagers, daylight robbers and lazy beer swilling husbands who hasn’t bought you flowers for more than a decade or so, Brenton-on-Sea and especially Brenton, is the perfect place to disappear into. Just follow the white rabbit and don't look back. When you drive down into both places the rest of the world starts to fade away rapidly and you don't have to be there long before it all becomes a blur in the past. Make sure to supply your own entertainment though. If you are into malls and dance clubs this is probably not the best hideaway for you. That being said, it's close enough to Knysna to satisfy any city slicker cravings for Christmas carols by neon light and the ominous ring of cash registers, designer coffees and a host of activities to make you feel that you are truly living the dream before you have to renegotiate your way back into after holiday reality. There is also a shiny brand new self catering accommodation complex that is rumored to have cost more millions than my imagination can cope with. Brenton Haven offers beachfront accommodation in luxury suites and 'beach homes' with all the amenities, appliances and comforts you could wish for while lounging around and enjoying what some refer to as the 'champagne air' of Brenton-on-Sea. They also boast a rather prestigious restaurant, the Butterfly Blu, 'which springs from Ibiza, Greece and an alternative South African influence.'  

Across the road you will find a quaint little eatery and pub called Nautical South (often mispronounced as 'Naughtycall South by late night revelers). Here you will find decent food and excellent pizza prepared in a wood fired oven. There is a cozy bar and enough exterior space to fall around in while groping your latest holiday romance in the one hand and a cold beer in the other. It is rumored that this establishment is also host to the occasional spontaneous party where folks dance barefoot to local music and attempt bar dives onto beer bellies and bouncing breasts.

In season you can expect the local talent to perform live music on the stoep while the barman plies you with a particularly earth shattering shot of peach schnapps us Afrikaners refer to as Mampoer. (Start practicing the 'slow crawl', you might just need this form of yoga in order to get back to your hotel room after a few of those. Yikes! I can still taste it as I'm writing this.)

I went to Brenton-on-Sea after meeting Michael and Christa, the owners of Ocean View Lodge, a neat establishment with a 'beach' volleyball court, swimming pool, the all important braai facilities, well equipped kitchen, great views and Zen stylish, comfortable accommodation .The previous week I camped out in a garden of mutual friends just outside Knysna, and as much as I like the odd camping experience every now and then, it was a much appreciated relief to be able to sleep in a real bed again. Gratitude in abundance is all I can say.

If you are into nature, pretty flowers, the feel of sea sand under your feet and waves splashing over your body, you will love this area. Go take a walk in the fynbos reserve at Ocean View Lodge and explore the delicate structure of these unique plants in the most divers floral kingdom on the planet. You will walk away with a renewed wonder for this living and breathing world of ours revolving through desolate space. This truly is a gem of a rock and we are blessed to experience it. Go walk the 4.5 km stretch of broad beach to Buffalo Bay, (just check that the tide is low), an easy 2 hour stroll and feel the sea curl around your feet, breathe in the salty air and think of... well, nothing. Just behold the beauty of it all. Then go back to the urban jungle with a renewed capacity to endure its rapacious abuses until the next time that alluring white bunny beckons you to follow it down into the world of bliss and wonder.

 Published on 31 October 2015

Ocean View Lodge: Tel: 

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Market Day 

(part 5)

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Can you hear her heart beating? Don't bother to use your ears friend, use your feet, the internal atmosphere in your ribcage connected to the greater one outside by a hole through your body (it's all connected) , your palms that feel the touch of floating particles, the soles of your feet that imprints the earth with your unique step, the side of your face that feels the warmth of our star; the sun, your nose that takes in life giving air that smells like minerals, grass and flowers on a late Friday afternoon in summer. She is our communal Mother the Earth, and she lives. We live by her good graces and she exists through our perception of her. Her heart beats like a drum that uses our skin as its surface.  Can you imagine that? Sit quiet for a while, watch the grass flutter in the breeze and contemplate this.

Do you like shopping malls? I don't. I don't like the lack of sun, I don't like the air-conditioned fake air nor the unoriginality and heartlessness of branded chain stores that serve the corporate profit margin, selling mass manufactured goods through carefully planned market tactics designed and studied over many years to manipulate you into buying the brand that 'you (don't) need.' It smacks of emotional distance, dishonesty and greed. We live in a world that needs healing, and true healing comes from the heart. I would rather support a good old farmer's (or any other kind) of market any day. The type of place where a community gathers and exchanges human joy and real emotion while playing with their children, walking their dogs and getting to know the hearts of others in a festive atmosphere where homemade food and craft beers takes precedence over foreign products produced in factory lines manned by miserable enslaved people. It's more ethical, it's more authentic and if you hold the belief that everything is in fact, a living thing in different guises (like I do), you might consider rather spending your time (and money) with wholesome souls nourished with individual care and attention.

Things have to be made and sold (or so we are led to believe), it creates an economy which employs people and allow them to live. Markets give us space to do this, separate from the corporate economy which is dominated by big business.

Luckily Knysna and its surrounding areas are host to a number of great open air markets, each with a unique atmosphere with an endless variety of produce to cater for all tastes. It seems that the communities in these parts are saturated with artisans and small producers who deliver products of high and diverse quality.

I visited three of them and had a great time in doing so. When last could you actually have a conversation with the manufacturer of the beer you drink next to the braai? There is a completely different connection to your environment when this is part of the consuming experience.

My favorite was the Friday Market at the Montessori school on the edges of Knysna proper. It had an exceptionally vibey and festive atmosphere with a bounty of good food and beverages to amp you up for any Friday night adventure. I had one of the best curries ever prepared by a family that probably carried over the subtle secrets of Indian spicing through generations. (It was great to see the kids helping out.) Afterwards I had ice cream made by the real folks of Monkey's Raindance with real ingredients, and it was good. (I'm not that much into sweet things but I would happily eat that tasty stuff after each meal for the rest of my natural life.)

What can be better than heaving a meal prepared with genuine care and attention with friends over a glass of wine in a joyous atmosphere next to a blazing bonfire? Not much beats that in life as far as worthwhile experiences go. You simply can't compare that to sitting in a fast-food chain under glaring neon lights where the decor and food is about as original and inventive as a the shape of a toilet roll. The top it all, I found the market to be inexpensive and great value for money. (This was ever so welcome and refreshing after being used to the rip-off markets in Cape Town filled with daylight robbers which are basically shopping malls in disguise. Those hipsters need to pay for those designer beard clipping kits, yo!)

The next day I visited a location just outside Sedgefield. This is a huge area where you can find two markets within close proximity of one another. (Somebody said there are actually three, but I only experienced two.)

At the Scarab Village Market the focus is mainly on art and craft. As I walked in a sketch artist offered to do my portrait for free. For free? Wow! To the consumerist orientated mind of the modern earthling this is quite a shock, I fear some folks residing in certain areas surrounded by big city commerce might actually get a heart attack if this experience would cross their paths. Christine Andrews told me she regularly does this to initiate her day and it was an extraordinary pleasant start to my market day.

I have to admit that I did not resonate that much with this market. But then again, I'm all about the drinks, food and good times and not having a permanent home I can't relate to a host of objects to fill spaces with, but if you are into local art and craft, this is the place for you. There is a wide variety of pretty things ranging from traditional African merchandise you can purchase on every corner these days (the heart of Africa has obviously outgrown its dark and mysterious times), to more unique and individually crafted things in all kinds of shapes and forms like clothing and accessories, home ware, woodwork, leather products and many other things. When you get tired you can also pop in at The Sedgefield Craft Brewery and take the edges off with an excellent craft beer created by brew master Tony Hunter.

Within short walking distance from this market (on the same grounds in fact), there is another market called Wild Oats Farmers Market. As its name suggest this market is more geared towards fresh produce and food, but there are also many well organized stalls that sell a variety of things ranging from craft, art, books, plants, jewelry and clothing. I found this market to be a pleasant synthesis of both previously mentioned spaces with a relaxing blend of music, beverages, good fair and merchandise. If you are feeling flush you can even purchase a 'Lazer Replica Signature' instrument of your favorite famous band or muso like Jimmy Hendrix or The Eagles.

My market experience was 'priceless' and I would suggest that when you find yourself in this part of the Garden Route you take some time to go and visit the many outdoor markets instead of wasting your precious holiday time sitting around in overpriced coffee shops and restaurants in malls glittering with pretense and the lack of real human culture.  Published on 31 October 2015