Tag Archives: South Africa

Bathurst: A Dusty Treasure Trove

We sett off as the sun was peeping over the hill.

Snacks in our saddle packs, the wind at our backs,
We cycled through the winding passes,

Grass whipping past, hearts beating fast,
Whistling through the crisp morning air.

An uphill here, a downhill there,
We rolled up to a dusty intersection.

Slow breakfast,
Introspection.

And a treasure trove of someone else’s dusty memories.

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Bathurst is a small farming village in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. A concentration of creativity, it epitomizes the word quaint. My favourite spots are the Wiles Gallery, home to the work of the lovely Lucy Wiles, and her creative ancestors and offspring; The Corner Gallery, playground of the endearing Tori Stowe and her eclectic craft team; resident potter, Richard Pullen’s Open Studio; and The Workshop, a warehouse-style collective space for established and aspiring local artists. It’s also home to a few adorable antique stores, the quirky and bizarre Big Pineapple, and the famous Pig ‘n’ Whistle, South Africa’s oldest pub.

The thing I like most about Bathurst is that it reminds me that you don’t have to be an acclaimed artist selling work to top national galleries in order to make things. It challenges me to be less afraid of my own desire to create.

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Fujifilm 100, LC-A+

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South Africa, Beloved Country

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Camps Bay, Cape Town (Kodak 200, Sprocket Rocket)

Whenever I’m abroad, I am reminded of just how incredible South Africa is as a travel destination. From high end tourist types to grungy, hippy backpackers and dreamy nomads, I find myself telling all types of people that I meet on my journeys just how wonderful my home country is, and how appropriate it would be as their next travel destination.

It’s not a conscious thing, I don’t actively promote tourism in South Africa for any particular reason (although the benefits of tourism to any country are real), I simply keep finding myself in conversations with people where they’re describing what they would like from their next adventure, and feeling like Mzansi can offer them all the experiences they’re yearning for, and more. I find myself getting so excitable and passionate as I regale them with elaborate descriptions of the opportunities awaiting them in SA, and I get a real thrill when I watch their eyes sparkle as my contagious enthusiasm for my country takes hold of them.

I have flights booked back to South Africa in December, and I’m so excited to be heading back to such a vibrant and unique country for part of the summer. Visiting home aside, I feel as lucky to be returning as I would to be travelling for the first time to any exciting new country. There’s always so much exploring and discovering to do in SA, and so many old favourites to keep returning to. The more I travel in the world, the more I learn to appreciate just how fabulous South Africa is. How lucky I am to love my country so much!

I recently got a whole lot of photos back from the lab, all of them taken back home. Yes, that’s right, I’m still shooting film. Going through the pictures reinforced these feelings, and reinvigorated my passion for exploring South Africa. Over the next few posts I’ll be sharing them with you, celebrating some of the little adventures I had in South Africa in the months leading up to my departure. I’m a fervent advocate of spontaneous or planned local adventure (read more on my views on this in my piece for Urban Times), and South Africa is wonderfully rich with hidden mysteries and intriguing gems waiting to be discovered; I’m really looking forward to popping in again for a little visit. Mzansi, ndiyakuthanda*.

*Mzansi, ndiyakuthanda is isiXhosa for ‘South Africa, I love you’.

Another National Arts Festival

At last my journey has begun. A few months of reflection and planning have finally transformed into an adventure, and so far it has been wonderfully wild. While i gather my thoughts and organise my photographs from Tanzania, let me share some pictures from the few days I spent at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown before I left.

I’ve been very privileged to attend almost every NAF for the last 20 or so years, having grown up in Grahamstown. You might think this kind of ease of access would breed contempt, but I can’t think of a year when I didn’t thoroughly look forward to and enjoy the festival. This year I was only around for a few days, but I still managed to see some fantastic shows, musical performances and art. Somehow, though, the most precious experiences are the ones that aren’t planned: the little busker that can only play two notes; the local field band you stumble upon on your way to an exhibition; or the tiny dancer that doesn’t realise that anybody’s watching. You may also notice that I have developed a subtle obsession with children.

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Going Nowhere Slowly

A number of years ago, a strange coincidence saw me participating in the making of an episode of the South African travel show, Going Nowhere Slowly. I was visiting family on their farm in Maclear, and word got around that the crew was gathering up “real cowboys” for an episode of the show. Coming from a family of horse riders, my cousin and I went along for the ride. We were mounted on two crazy beasts, handed a double brandy and coke, and spent the day traversing the foothills of the Drakensberg, stopping for a braai along the way. Our ride ended at the local town hotel; we rode our horses straight through the door and into the pub. It was something to behold.

Since then, the phrase “going nowhere slowly” has really stuck with me. The theme song for the show goes, “going nowhere slowly, and that’s alright”. For the past few months, whilst organising my next moves, I’ve been doing just that; going nowhere slowly, and it’s been alright. So I thought I’d share some fragments of my recent little adventures in the beautiful province that I grew up in.

Road-tripping through the Eastern Cape

Going nowhere slowly, by These Walking Boots Going nowhere slowly, by These Walking Boots

Driving my brother’s wonderful old Hilux on rocky roads to favourite spots to write and draw.

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Getting up close and personal with RhinosGoing nowhere slowly, by These Walking Boots

And other large beasts

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And heading off into the middle of nowhere with my favourite travel companionsGoing nowhere slowly, by These Walking Boots Going nowhere slowly, by These Walking Boots Going nowhere slowly, by These Walking Boots Going nowhere slowly, by These Walking Boots Going nowhere slowly, by These Walking Boots Going nowhere slowly, by These Walking Boots Going nowhere slowly, by These Walking Boots

Exploring the Zuurberg Pass

My last two posts were about my adventure with my parents to see the Walter Battiss museum in Somerset East, and then the little deli we visited before moving on from there. After our delicious meal, we hopped back in the car and headed homeward via a very special road.

The Zuurberg mountain pass was built between 1844 and 1847 by 250 convicts as the only road to the hinterland from the Port Elizabeth coast. It formed part of the main road between Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg, and remained so for almost 100 years. The project was designed and started by Henry Fancourt White, who subsequently resigned and was replaced by Matthew Woodifield, who saw it through to completion.

Legend has it that Woodifield and his horse tumbled to their death from the road just north of Paterson in 1855. Large lettering reading ‘Woodifield’s Krantz 1855’ is inscribed into the rock-face at this point, recording the event. Mysteriously, however, Woodifields seems to have been very much alive after 1855, so it’s not clear where this legend originated. Some speculate that the inscription could simply have recorded a date 10 years too early, and that his life did indeed come to a tragic end along the road he built. Whatever was his true fate, it is said that his ghost has been sighted visiting the pub at the nearby Zuurberg Mountain Inn on cold windy nights…

Almost 170 years later, the road is still serviceable – a great testament to the engineering of yesteryear! At some points on the road, the hillside is so steep that you feel like you’re driving on the treetops, and it’s easy to imagine Woodifield plummeting to his death. In fact, driving along the road, I couldn’t help imagining all the ox wagons and horsemen that would have traversed these hills en route to the north. My mind projected them onto the road, and I travelled alongside the ghostlike images. Because the road is so remote and there are few signs of modern adaptation, it’s easy to get lost in ideas about the past.

Of course, it’s also the scenery that draws you in. The pass snakes across the tops of the hills between Somerset East and Paterson, with spectacular views over the valleys. The horizon seems to be a hundred hills away, with not a person in sight, and there’s a magnificent calmness in the air. The vastness of your solitude in these hills soothes the soul and makes you feel a sense of connectedness; a sense that everyday concerns are just a distraction from some greater, more profound privilege and purpose.

What a special road indeed, and so quietly tucked away for only the curious to discover it.

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Tea with King Ferd the Third

Walter Battiss Museum, by These Walking Boots

In Somerset East there is a museum dedicated to the work of South African artist Walter Battiss. The collection was donated by Battiss from his private collection toward the end of his career, and is housed in a beautiful building that used to be his father’s hotel. Being only a two hour drive from Grahamstown, I’ve been longing to go there for years. On Sunday, my parents and I made an adventure of it.

Walter Battiss Museum, by These Walking Boots
On arrival at the museum, we were shown a video that was shot with Battiss at the age of 76, or 106 … or 6, depending on his mood. In the end, for Battiss, it’s all the same thing, as we’re all the same age in cosmic time. I like that. Walter, with wise words and a warm disposition, invites you into his home, into his world, onto his island, Fook Island, before strolling around the museum to view the collection of his work. “Come and have a cup of tea with me,” he says, as he pours two cups of tea.

Man Painting a Rainbow That’s Disappeared – love it!

Detail, Girl Dancing in the Wind

Detail, Girl Dancing in the Wind

Despite being the largest collection of Battiss’ work in Africa, it is only a tiny portion of the prolific artist’s diverse repertoire. Nonetheless, there’s something special and homely about it. As if it’s just how Walter would have wanted it. Small and true.

Love these little ghosts

Love these little ghosts

Fook Island is a “fake” island, that Walter invented himself. Like me, he was sick of conceptual art that wasn’t anything to look at. So he created a fake island as a form of commentary and decided to make it a real thing. “It is something that does not exist. I thought that I would take an island – the island that is inside all of us. I would turn this island into a real thing … I would give it a name”.  He didn’t only give it a name, however, he gave it a currency, and postage stamps, a language with a unique alphabet, even a passport for official citizens. And Battiss himself was King Ferd the Third of Fook, his Fookian flag proudly hoisted in his garden when he, Rex Insular Fookis, was in residence.

Fookian clothing, including Rex Insular Fookis’ jersey

Fook Island, notice “a sacred heap of ancestral stones” and “dried fruit”. Perfect.

Fook Bank Notes

Fook Stamps – check out the hole in the wall 

“You will seek in vain on maps for the location of the island, for it eludes conventional cartography.  It is not a place you arrive at, you are either there or not there.”

Strangely enough, I think there’s a reason I didn’t get to see the museum sooner. I loved Walter Battiss and his kooky Fook Island philosophy when I first encountered him at school, but I’m not sure his take on life and art resonated as much with me then as it does now. As I embark on my own journey to abandon the normative constructs I have gathered through my life thus far, the simplicity and relaxation with which Walter lived his own life is an inspiration. “Better to be a great big spectacular failure than a small success.”

Man Expoding!

Man Exploding!

Magaliesburg Meander

Being an outdoors person, moving to Johannesburg was rather a daunting thing.  My hesitation was always met with the same response from the locals: “Oh, you should just take a little drive up into the Magaliesburg.”And so I did. Before we got to the part where you go walking in the mountains, however, my companion and I were distracted by some of the more entertaining oddities that the town itself had to offer.

I’ll have to go back to the Magaliesburg, and actually go hiking or cycling in the beautiful landscape the area has to offer. The Cradle of Humankind is still on my Bucket List, so watch this space.