THE HEARTBEAT OF GQEBERH
DAY 87 - 07 APRIL 2023 (SHIP'S date)
CAPETOWN, South Africa
Queen Mary 2 World Centenary Voyage
102 days, 31 ports, 18 countries.
Ellen Frazer-Jameson reporting from Queen Mary 2
GQEBERH (ex Port Elizabeth) is one of the largest cities in South Africa. The city stretches for 16km along Algoa Bay, and is one of the major seaports in South Africa. The area was the first settled by the hunting and gathering people ancestors to the San at least 100,000 years ago. A little over 2,000 years ago, agricultural populations ancestors to the Xhosa migrated into the region from the north, eventually displacing or assimilating the region’s indigenes. The first Europeans to visit the area were Portugese explorers. For centuries, the area was marked on navigation charts as “a landing place with fresh water.”
Port Elizabeth was founded as a town in 1820 to house British settlers to strengthen the border region between Cape Colony and the Xhosa. Port Elizabeth, is known by the name “friendly city” but it is also “windy city”. For this reason, across the countryside, wind farms are growing up to help alleviate the major challenges faced by residents in having a constant power supply to homes and businesses. The city is also experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history and when friends visit, the gift they thoughtfully bring is a 5-litre flagon of water.
The name of the city is in the process of being changed from the obviously British affiliation to one with a tribal connection. The British settled the whole area, two hundred years ago, and engaged in ongoing wars with the indigenous Corsa people. The great statesman, Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned on Robben Island as a terrorist in the mid years of the 20th century, was a high-status member of the Corsas.
On release from his prison sentence, Nelson Mandela became President of a new South Africa where apartheid was abolished and a government of reconciliation established. The South African population is a dynamic mix of Europeans ; British, Dutch, German, Afrikans and indigenous tribes. Economic development areas encourage town dwellers to move to the suburbs and affluent residential areas are known as millionaire’s row (South African currency). Lower and no income areas are crowded together close to city centres.
A network of taxis fill the roads as enterprising drivers deliver workers to local areas. An unofficial service of transit vans, known as squirrel, squirrel, is mostly run by women who ferry their children to and from school. The Volkswagen car plant employs thousands of workers and vehicles ready for export to Europe, line dockside car parks awaiting loading onto specially adapted ships.
There is a saying here, “an Afrikana makes a plan and the British make it happen.” In rural areas outside of the city, the contrast is astounding. Mile after mile of open countryside far as the eye can see. One hour’s driving on a highway leads to gravel roads and signposts directing visitors to safari parks and animal compounds.
Kwantu Private Reserve, a luxury holiday hunting lodge, is situated off the gravel road and another few miles driving further on an unmade road. Our 40-seat coach driven by Felix, navigates the potholes and uneven road surfaces as it skims close to the rocky edges.
The Reserve covers 6,000 hectares in land that stretches to the horizon and beyond. Brushland, trees, long grass and flowering cactus plants stretch across the miles leading to rolling hills In the far distance. Calling to mind a perfect landscape painting with varying degrees of colour, height and density.
Riding up front in a forest green four-wheel vehicle with the ranger, Abu, the scene was surreal. Peace, perfect peace in an idyllic setting, the silence is so loud that even hushed voices sound intrusive. We are on the lookout for the handful of safari star creatures, known as the Big Five. Lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, we are eager to see in the wild.
Abu, a college educated ranger is a walking encyclopeadia of the routines, locations and feeding and mating habits of the animals on the Reserve. He knows what he is expecting to see. One of the rangers has passed on the information that there has been a fresh kill on the Reserve. The lions are responsible.
He answers questions about the territory he drives every day, up hills and down dales. He drives the range rover expertly across the reserve, following hardly visible trails and making sudden turns as he steers the vehicle into copses of tree and overgrown woodland. The Range Rover banks at alarming angles and then heads out into open territory follow the movement of animals.
“Look ahead,“ he points his binoculars to the sight. Four majestic lions sitting on a mound. The lions are motionless. If they are eyeing up “people in a tin”, they do not show any sign of acknowledging our presence. Abu identifies the female of the pride, two young males and a youngster. Yards away a male lion is guarding the trophy of the day.
Directly in his line of sight, the lion protect his victim, a partially eaten zebra. It is an awesome sight to be so close to nature in the wild. It is the law of the jungle. The slowest or possibly injured creature cannot outrun his predator. Now the lions Will have food to feed, them and dozens of other creatures will take their turn to share in the carcass. When the lions have finished with it.
Our next animal encounter was less emotional. Striding across the landscape, two giraffes, gorgeous creatures with whom we are able to get up close. Stretching up to feed off the top leaves of the tree, they are totally unfazed by us.
Stretching up to feed off the top leaves of the tree, they are totally unfazed by us. Abu constantly scans the surrounding countryside with his binoculars and in the distance he spots an elephant. We follow his path and find a herd of elephants. “The elephants are female led, “ Abu explains, “ in the hierarchy, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, all outrank the males.” The family group head for the watering hole and once there start mud-wallowing, spraying themselves and each other with water. The elephants are beautiful creatures, graceful despite their huge bulk. The Reserve animals look well and healthy.
No hunting is allowed on the Reserve but sometimes the animals are attacked by poachers after their tusks. An Anti-Poaching-Unit patrols the Reserve. The Reserve operates like a perfect eco system, the animals feed and look after themselves. No food is distributed, they find their own. So far, we had seen three of the Big Five and at the watering hole where the elephants had bathed, a rhinoceros came to drink. He was not on his own, a partner was in the water. All manner of birds flew around the pool and the rhinoceros, some riding on his back. Driving though the brush we saw herds of impalas and springboks and flocks of ibis.
Abu drove us to see “The Old House” a settler’s property from 1830 in the area which was named after Sidbury, an area in Devon. The interior of the house still retains features that show the elegance of a pioneer lifestyle.
I told Abu that I had heard of visitors having the opportunity to walk with lions. Abu laughed, “I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you insist, I'll take the photograph.” My fellow Big Five adventures laughed at the idea – Walking With Lions will have to wait for a return visit to the Kwantu Reserve. The day was already perfect, I didn’t need to disturb the lions and ask them to go walking with me.
Next stop: Capetown !!!
Happy Sailing... Ellen
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Back on board our Mother ship enroute to our next port of call...Capetown !
Current position of Queen Mary 2: CAPETOWN, Capital of South Africa
Photo of the day (from the archives of JD Schwartz)
Further updates will be posted as soon as we get them from Ellen onboard Queen Mary 2.