Oh, the joys of travel: A week free of twitching and wrestling with an intransigent keyboard, a change of altitude and diet, and new faces untaxed by the stresses of life in Clarens. Miles of open highway, strangely unblemished by potholes; thousands upon thousands of Rands-worth of petrol stops; villages after towns, mostly unremarkable but some delightful and quite instructive in terms of competitive tourism.
But the greatest delight, believe it or not, is returning to this quaint settlement on the Maloti Route. Yes, it’s true. The grass is definitely greener in Cape Town, but the cars were floating in floodwater, so perhaps that’s a self-solving equation. Hermanus was gorgeous and testimony to effective Provincial administration and the value of foreign investment. Plettenburg Bay was, well, short of water, but the floods were close behind me and closing fast. Heading north, the Karoo was simply grand once Prince Alfred’s challenging Pass was conquered, as was Graaf Reinet, fourth-oldest of South Africa’s towns and looking every inch (millimetre?) the stylish centre of early exploration. A voyage of discovery, one way or another, and an expanded sense of what the country has to offer.
Which makes homecoming immensely pleasurable. To see Clarens in the context of at least parts of the Western and Eastern Cape is both edifying and stimulating: We have a particular charm that is somewhat unique and benefits from its proximity to Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and the Natal Midlands – notwithstanding the impediment of the dysfunctional Oliviershoek Pass (does anyone else remember the legal requirement for a functional alternative route to toll-roads?). We also have an awful lot to offer. A new Clarens website, now under construction, is inundated with things to do, see, eat and sleep in, to the extent that it keeps being delayed by fresh information.
So, if you are feeling stale or even faintly jaded, pack a bag, top up your petrol card and head on out (but stay on the highways). I can’t guarantee that you won’t fall in love with another little town somewhere, but the odds are that you will return home feeling very grateful for this little refuge from the twenty-first century.
Finally, turning to matters ornithological, as required by my contract with this august publication, I observed quite a few birds along the way. I have to tell you, regrettably, that the ubiquitous Indian Mynah has settled in the Western Cape and all points in between, bringing a flavour of New Delhi and the Punjab to our pristine shores. Raptors were in short supply, perhaps hiding in the low cloud base along the way, but generally speaking, I had the sense that aliens were overwhelming the indigenous birds we may remember from Roberts guide to our home-grown species. Perhaps a metaphor for our two-legged population, now around 96 million and apparently rising by half-a-million a day, judging by the shops I passed along the way. Oh, must go, there are some Canadian Snow Geese to be fed and an Ethiopian Snipe has just landed………………