Standing with the sea lapping at my toes on a jagged rock in Cape Agulhas, it is difficult to differentiate between the view here and something from a Hollywood movie set. The boulders are treacherous, murderous weapons sticking their heads above the water in defiance of the mighty ocean. In a fight between a boat and these rocks, you can kiss your vessel goodbye. These are treacherous shores. Just to add extra weight to my evaluation of the coastline, the rusting wreck of the Meisho Maro stares back at me. A shipwreck which has been a visible casualty since it crashed to its fate in 1982 stands only metres away from the shore. It seems the red and white lighthouse, the second oldest in South Africa, has fallen short of its duties.
I take the dusty road back through the nature reserve, pulling in at a sign pointing to the most southern tip on the African continent. One would expect a coffee shop, kitsch souvenirs next to a postcard display rack, street hawkers flogging their wood carvings to unsuspecting tourists. Instead, I spot a seagull sitting atop a forlorn monument which notifies me I am now standing at the point where the Indian Ocean meets with the Atlantic. I feel like Christopher Columbus and cannot resist adding a stone to the heap that has been formed by excited travelers wanting to benefit from a good luck charm. A couple of workmen are the only other sign of human life and they inform me they are building a small wooden boardwalk to bridge the distance from the sandy car park to this epic landmark. Asking how long it will take them, I’m subjected to a shrug.
‘It’s gonna take a long time,’ one of the natives replies. I leave it at that, reminding myself that I’m on African time now.
With only two days to spend in this small fishing town in the Overburg, I’m determined to fit in as much as possible and that includes a trip to Strusbaai harbour. Crystal clear turquoise water twinkles at me as I park in front of Pelican’s Café, a place serving up calamari and chips as a side order to the Castle lagers. I’ve gone from suicidal swells to fourteen kilometers of pristine white sand in a matter of minutes and I take off my shoes and socks to go for what I deem to be a mandatory paddle. Convincing myself that the sharks will not wander into my knee-deep territory, I wade out, only to spot two massive stingrays spanning a meter plus in length. Turning around again, I make headway to dry land faster than a cheetah on steroids. I decide a beer in the café is a safer option and decide to wile away an hour watching the colourful fishing boats bring in the catch of the day. Three hours later, I’ve still not managed to haul my backside up from the chair. This is one of the last traditional fishing harbours in South Africa still in use and it is a privilege to watch an ancient trade at work. The array of fresh fish brought from in on the trawlers is a delight to see. Enormous Yellowtail, Kabeljou, and Geelbek are thrown into crates by wizened faces who have spent a lifetime casting nets. Their load is then carried into the tiny fish factory next door where it is immediately weighed and packed in crushed ice. Snapping a few photographs, I ask my waitress for a menu. Tomorrow is another day, and I can’t wait for sunrise.
Much of my trip to South Africa has been marred by the poverty enveloping millions. The fear of crime curtails the free spirit in me that can only be fed by traveling and experiencing other cultures. This is a country entrenched with violence and political oppression. It has a government in denial of the appalling AIDS pandemic and the world’s highest number of rapes amongst women. The unemployment rate is almost thirty percent and the townships are spreading like another virus as the immigration of refugees from bordering lands spirals out of control. Yet amidst all of the negativity that takes up print space in our newspapers, there are silent gems like Cape Agulhas to be found. Places where your spirits can soar with the sheer beauty of what nature has to offer. I ask myself if commercialization will eventually catch up with this thoroughbred destination and drag it into the abyss of a troubled country. The words of the boardwalk builder come back to me and I pray they are filled with the truth.
‘It’s gonna take a long time.’