I Can't Keep It In
There’s no other way but to spit it out. They say “a secret’s only a secret once you’ve told someone”, so I’m going to tell you all about a big secret. It’s not your usual, let’s gossip about the neighbour secret, it’s all about a holiday destination. One everyone should explore. For now I want you to guess where it is. I will reveal all.
I must regress. We’re not mad about holidays in busy seaside towns mostly opting for the lesser traveled destinations over the Christmas and New Year holidays. The reasons are abundantly clear. Crowds for one. No parking, congested roads, crowded beaches, umpteen dinner parties and so the list goes on. Just thinking about it all makes my head spin.
It was during winter while I was cold that we decided we’d go off in our Honey Badger, taking a slow meander up the Garden Route, we’d have Christmas at a good restaurant near Plettenberg Bay as a treat and then head up to the Eastern Cape exploring the Hogsback and finally make a U-turn in the Transkei. Sounds divine. As you know things didn’t pan out as we thought and our plans had to change at the very last minute.
Like Joseph and Mary chances of getting a room at the Inn was 0%, but, I have a very determined sister-in-law who doesn’t take no for an answer, who set to work to find us a camping spot somewhere. They would join us. My receiver was hardly back in the cradle when she let me know she had secured a reservation for four nights. Best she could do.
Clues to our destination are:
1. It’s flat, not a hill in sight
2. It’s on the coast, dry, sandy and desolate. The fauna and flora is scrappy but, in the spring it’s awesome.
3. The wind blows like the clappers, the weather is extreme, unpredictable and the water is freezing.
4. Fishing is big
5. A major river flows into the sea there
6. Perfect for a canoe, sail boat or wind surfer.
7. The people are friendly, kind, hospitable and generous of spirit.
8. Unique accent, a gutteral rolling of the R's. Could be a culture shock to some. Don't mince words, spit it out.
9. Bokkoms, crayfish, oysters and fish.
10. You’ll love it. Or hate it if you’re ignorant.
That’s right! We were on our way to Veldrif and camping at Laaiplek. The campsite - Stywelyne. Butch and I were up early packed and ready to head off, this was our holiday after all. Our check-in time was only 12h00 so we did a slow drive and turned off onto Bokkomlaan (Bokkom ave). Someone with a lot of insight had come up with the idea of turning this dusty lane meandering along the Berg River’s edge into a “destination”. Small outhouses, fish curing sheds, boat sheds and long barns have been turned into quaint pubs, eateries, a gallery, trading store and coffee shop. A thick mist was coming off the water hardly camouflaging the distinctly pungent saline odour of salt cured fish drying. We had arrived. To ward off the sudden cold we needed a coffee and pancake while keeping a keen eye on the regatta, small skiffs sailing up and down the estuaries.
Bushels of Bokkoms are strung up along the way, drying before being shipped off or sold to every shop in town. The distinct acrid smell lingers, here it’s endearing and even I almost succumbed to a morsel. Bokkoms is a unique, traditional delicacy of the West Coast of South Africa. It is best enjoyed with chilled white wine, homemade whole-wheat bread, butter, apricot jam, moskonfyt (a thick fragrant must syrup) or hanepoot jam (grape jam) and black coffee, but can also be used in soups and spaghetti's, tapenades, ragout or just as a bite on its own. Bokkoms taste much like anchovies. Any fish is suitable, but, traditionally sardines, harders or Jan Bruintjie is used.
Mark, at the Pelican Trading Post, showed us how to peel and prepare the bokkom, I doubt I’ll be able to do it so painlessly.
Mark and Petra run this tiny eatery from their “shed”. Here one can savour anything from a delicious hamburger to Sushi and Tapas. They love cooking she told me and judging by the delicious hamburger and deep fried Fish roe we ordered on our Tapas crawl I must concur, they do a marvelous job considering their very elementary kitchen. Mark is an expert at outdoor cooking and I imagine much gets braaied on coals.
Let’s not mince our words here, I was speechless when I saw our tiny campsite crowded on all sides by a conglomeration of tents, caravans, gazebos, the ablution across the road and a bustling laundry 5 meters in front of me. Fortune smiled on us the parking bays were open. We could unpack with relative ease.
Children on bicycles, skateboards and foot powered scooters were running amok all around us. It was mayhem. It took a while to register the music, from all sides it came, loud Boere musiek, Golden Oldies and Pop music blared from the ghetto blasters installed in boots and doors of cars, which were flung open to let it all out!
After a moment of paralysis I put my head down and started unpacking. Sue was quick off the mark too and without a moment’s hesitation started giving us orders. Realising things needed to be taken in hand. Soon we had ourselves set up with our fences up giving us a measure of privacy. It was while Percy was trying, in vain, to knock his tent pegs into the compacted earth that our neighbour came over with a hammer suitable for this challenge. Our first taste of West Coast hospitality and camaraderie.
At the New Years’ party Sue was addressed as the “Kamp Kommandant” (Camp Commandant) a name everyone thought hilarious. It has stuck. I say “if the shoe fits, wear it!”
There was no shortage of entertainment. The annual Miss Stywelyne beauty pageant was in full swing and we were privy to the crowning of a variety of contestants in an array of categories like Grandmother of the year, Potbelly of the year (Male), Mr. Legs, Miss Laaiplek jnr and snr, Miss Stywelyne jnr and snr. with a bevy of runners up. While doing my ablution’s before bed I had the pleasure of witnessing the excited contestants giving their crowns a good spit and polish, giggling and discussing their obvious choices!
Butch and Percy scraped together some Dutch courage and asked us to dance, a rare treat indeed. We did two slow circuits before retiring gracefully realising the consequences would be dire. We had three days to go and worrisome knees would not be tolerated.
Unfortunately the weather did not play along. Inclement weather makes one more adventurous and so it was that we went pub crawling and on another occasion did a slow Tapas crawl. Our short drive took us up the coast, we marveled at day trippers picnicking on the beach forsaking their creature comforts to brave the icy winds to catch a fish or two, braai and visit with friends and family.
By day 2 we had settled in nicely, relaxed, read, slept, walked, talked and giggled. We’d walked along the quay side admiring the festively painted fishing trawlers. We were loving it, for the very reasons we were shocked initially. We were welcomed with open arms. Invited to the Annual New Years’ evening Pizza bash, all we had to take was a chair and our beverages.
Like old friends catching up there was no need to stand on ceremony, introductions were on first name terms immediately. Regular campers were in charge of the pizza making, baking the thin based pizzas loaded with tasty flavours on open fires in a large paella pan with a stainless steel lid on top of which red-hot coals were piled. Took only 4 minutes to cook the pizzas to perfection. It had to be quick at least 70 huge pizzas had to be prepared, cooked, sliced and served to anyone willing to wait. We sauntered home when the rain came. A welcome downpour to herald in the New Year and hopefully signalling a breaking of the drought in 2018
The west coast brings out the best in everyone. Whether you’re from Steenberg, Sandton or Sannieshof the west coast knows no class, colour or creed. It is cosmopolitan and without pretense. Strangers talk to each other, laugh together, eat together and delight in sharing their talents freely. A simple luncheon can turn into a musical extravaganza and a drink in a pub a karaoke. Years slipped from our furrowed brows as we chatted and enjoyed West Coast hospitality.
In our caravan park children could be free again, without restraints they could visit wherever their feet or bikes took them. Even the little boy who dared toss a handful of gravel at a passing bakkie was chided kindly, he on the other hand, blatantly picked up another handful before his Grandmother clipped his ear while reading him the riot act. The camp manager does an amazing job which ensures that visitors are safe, abide by the rules allowing fellow campers to enjoy themselves. Security was excellent too. Stywelyne is highly recommended for a chilled holiday if you're a relaxed camper on an adventure.
I fell in love too. With a painting. A beautiful spring landscape, typical of Titties Bay, a reminder of a Hugo Naude my Granny had years ago. Sadly it was sold by the time I decided to take another look. I think my obvious disappointment allowed me to photograph the artist Marina Clunie in her studio. Who knows maybe next time something else will catch my eye. I do love her landscapes, she has a good eye for the blue skies.
English is often heard, German too. It is a holiday destination and I can see why. Here one can breathe, redefine yourself and return to ones roots without all the pretentious baggage we drag around with us, so much effort goes into keeping up with the Jones’ et al. The locals are fishermen, salt of the earth people who tell it as it is. We were offered first option on our stand for next year. The last family camped there for 24 years until a nasty divorce last year. I’m hoping we can take that road trip up the east coast in our Honey Badger, BUT if not, who knows, we might be back.
Warning: judge a book by its cover at your peril, you will be pleasantly surprised and brought down a peg or two. That weather beaten sailor might have sailed the America’s Cup for all you know, people like Bertie Reed, Bruce Dalling and Mannetjies Viljoen are his mates. If the West Coast flows in your arteries you’ll need a transfusion annually. I can see why.
Pancakes and coffee at the Nursery served as our farewell breakfast, I left with a punnet of plants, a fridge magnet and Sue’s gift to me, a revolving calendar.
Now the secret is out. Do make an effort to get to any one of the numerous quaint fishing villages along the West Coast it’s so worth it. There are art walks, food walks, culture walks afterwhich one can pub crawl.
PS we did ritz it up in Port Owen on our last night. The yachts were a-glow and I enjoyed the laughter and sing-song voices drifting over the water as people moored there were enjoying the balmy, calm evening. The staccato ping-ping (or is it cling-cling?) of taught lines on masts certainly has a magical ring (ping) as water laps against the moored catamarans when it's quiet and there's a super moon and one can sip a Pinkers!