Journey to South Africa – Day 9, November 21 – Plettenberg Bay

The next morning, I’m up early – again – with the sun.  The rain has stopped so I go for a walk by myself on the beach.  I stand for quite a while on the last section of the stairs leading to the sand, scanning back and forth across the stretches of the ocean.  The sky and water is every shade of blue and grey one can imagine.  It looks like a painting, and I just want to take it all in.

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I finally take my shoes off and step into the cool, damp sand.  As I walk along the edges of the water, I’m aware there’s not a thought in my mind, other than my thoughts about this place, right here and now.  On any given day my mind is typically bombarded with ideas and worries, hopes and fears, and sometimes just random shit that’s quite frankly a useless waste of my time.   I seem to analyze everything to death, which on one hand is useful for the research and writing I do, but on the other, when it’s not useful, it’s not only distracting, I find it increasingly detrimental.  But not today.  I’m not sure how I’ve achieved this moment but I wish I could bottle it because I want more of them.  It’s something I plan to consciously work on in the year ahead.  Being outside in nature more frequently will no doubt help me get to that space.

Back to the now.  Nick has finally woken up so I ask the maid to make us some coffee.

One thing I’ve really grown to appreciate in the short time I’ve been here is that everybody has a maid to help them tend to their homes.  It’s not a luxury, it’s a staple, even for those families with small incomes.  The maids don’t make much in salary, but they do benefit from stable employment as well as a roof over their heads.  Some maids, if fortunate enough, are given their own homes.

Sea Breeze has been in business for about 8 years.  Prior to expanding and becoming a B&B, it was Erika’s private family home and this same maid has been with them since their kids were little babies – almost 15 years.  It’s touching to see the maid with Erika’s teenage son.  He laughs and jokes with her and tells me she’s like a second mom.  I can tell by the way she looks at him that she cares for this family deeply.

After Nick takes some photographs of the property we go down to the beach.  I’m more than happy to go for my second time that day.  Which, speaking of pictures, I have to mention – the photos I’m using in these blogs about South Africa are a mix of my amateur photos along with Nick’s stunning professional photography.  He’s got plenty more you can enjoy on both of his blogs – www.nickvanderleek.com and vdleek.blogspot.com

The clouds have dissipated and the sun’s peeking out.  We walk for a little bit then find a spot to just lay in the sand.  About a half hour later, the skies suddenly open up.  The initial sprinkling soon turns to sheets of rain.  By the time we make it back to the B&B just under ten minutes later, we’re completely drenched from head to toe.  But I could care less, it’s been years since I’ve walked in the pouring rain.  Note to self:  do it more often.

After a change into dry clothes it’s time to check out of Sea Breeze.  Our next stop is our last stop in Plett – the Plett River Lodge.   It’s another short drive up the Garden Route to the edge of the Bitou River.

We have a small cottage right on the water.  The first thing I notice as we pull up is an intricately carved wooden door surrounded by vibrant hot pink flowers.  Through the door on the right is a large patch of lavender.

The property is a perfect blend of rustic, yet landscaped, and the interiors, although not extravagant, are pleasantly elegant.  A short view in the distance from our cottage are old polo fields which have recently been converted into a winery.

Later that night, we have dinner at a popular, but very hard to find, Italian restaurant named Enrico.  It’s right on the beach, and a spectacular stretch of beach at that, but to get there you have to navigate through multiple residential neighborhoods.  After driving back and forth a few times, and cursing at the lack of signs, we finally find it.

For most of the week we’ve been pretty good about eating healthy, but tonight, we decide to let loose a little.  Along with beer and wine, we have calamari, oysters, a whole pizza and large plate of pasta.  Everything was delicious.  The owner, Patty, grew up in Italy and learned to cook there, but relocated to South Africa several years ago and seems thoroughly happy in her surroundings.  I can understand why.

Journey to South Africa – Day 8, November 20 – Plettenberg Bay

Our last morning at Fynbos is too overcast for coffee on the patio.  Instead, I spend the morning packing and we say goodbye to Liz and the pigs.  Our next stop is also in Plett at another B&B called Sea Breeze, owned by Erika and her husband, which is only about 15 minutes away.

Just across the street from their property is a path that leads down to the beach.  It’s a series of wooden walkways that slice through the tall bushes and trees.  When you emerge at the end, there’s a spectacular view of Robberg in the distance.

We only visit the beach briefly that night because the clouds are fairly ominous.  We head out to a local restaurant called Off the Hook.  It’s a perfect night for creamy mussel soup and coffee.

When we leave the restaurant, it’s dark out but still light enough to see around us thanks to the lights from the surrounding businesses.   As we walk, I can see a shadow off to my left.  I’m aware there’s a person walking not far behind us but just assume it’s another patron heading to their car.  Soon after, I realize it’s not, it’s someone following us.  Nick seems calm but me, not so much.  I ask him to hurry up and open the door, but the man has already arrived at our car.  Without saying a word, Nick reaches into his pocket and gives him some money.  The man takes it and walks away.  It’s a pretty tense moment for me, but one that Nick’s gotten used to over the years.

He tells me it’s very common for people to expect “tips” even if they’re doing nothing to earn them.  One place you’ll always see these beggars (for lack of a better word) are parking lots.   Some wear special vests to make themselves stand out, while others wear street clothes, and they’ll help direct you to your spot.  It seems pretty silly because in most lots you don’t need any help parking, but here it’s common knowledge that the guy who helps you park will also keep an eye on your car.  The tip you give him/her is a thank you in return for being your security guard while you’re off doing whatever you came to do.

I’m not sure it’s common knowledge, at least not in America, that the unemployment rate in South Africa is reported as 25%.  In actuality, according to most locals, it’s higher than that.  So one can certainly understand and be somewhat sympathetic to people asking for hand-outs.  The fact that some are at least trying to do some type of work in return is respectable.  The problem is [and this is not unique to South Africa], you don’t know what you’re gonna get when a stranger approaches you.  Will they simply take a hand-out or will they take all of your money, your car, or worse, maybe even take you, or kill you?  Nick tells me that sadly it’s not unusual for any combination of those things to happen here.  It’s a scary reality which reinforces the need to not be walking around too often in the open, especially not at night.  For the most part, I feel somewhat safe here.  I’m not in a panic every moment of the day.  But I am extra careful and extra aware that every house is surrounded by razor wire and has panic buttons for a reason.  It’s South African way of life now and in that respect, it’s very different than the States.

When we get back to Sea Breeze we spend some time out on the covered patio.  Even though the weather is miserable the lounge area is toasty from the fire.  Meanwhile, the rain comes down in buckets.