Striking camp at Mountain Zebra Park took just over an hour. This was because the cold and copious condensation on the tent and grass making packing a slippery challenge. Waving goodbye to the flora and fauna – and earning a few funny looks from nearby humans in the process, we departed from the Park, taking the Cradock-Cookhouse-Patterson road – a distance of approximately 175kms.
After visiting the Wimpy in Cradock for a take-away grease-and-coffee, we made our way southwards towards our next destination, the Addo Elephant Park.
Why is it, that photographs in restaurants and other food outlets depict their bacon with that hearty, ruddy complexion and a tan crispiness in the fat that make you eagerly anticipate that first crunchy burst of smoky flavour? Yet when you get it on your plate, it has that unsettling paleness that makes you hope the morgue is not too close, and an equally frightening elasticity when you attempt to pull it out of the sandwich. The white translucence of the barely heated fat screams ‘coronary’ as it dangles from your fingertips like a recalcitrant rubber band. Eggs too, either have the texture of gnawing on a school eraser, or bearing a nauseating resemblance to catarrhal expulsion. Owners of these eating establishments ought to be tested regularly by incognito officials and defaulters taken outside and shot as a lesson to others.
It was with that questionable repast occupying our digestive juices, we journeyed on. Of interest to the observant traveller is the change in vegetation between Cradock and Addo. Most notable are the different species of thorn tree, the proliferation of Spekboom and the absolute profusion of different Aloe species. Near Cookhouse, there were veritable forests of Aloes of the tall stemmed variety covering hillsides as far as the eye could see. Although only one or two late (or early) bloomers were visible, the sight of millions of flaming red Aloe blooms across the plains must be utterly spectacular to behold.
Because the Little Karoo is described as semi-desert, there is not much in the way of grass, or other plants, with the exception of small succulents and other hardy life forms able to withstand the hellish heat, bitter cold, incessant wind and lack of rain. As a result, Aloes and thorn trees appear to be the most successful survivors. And if Karoo farmers can develop a market for small to medium sized stones – they’ll be richer than that American nuisance with his software.
One of the main agricultural activities here is the farming of Angora goats, famous for their mohair, from which we get socks, jerseys, blankets and hay fever. A little known fact about Angora goats is their remarkable eyesight; some say it’s better than the Hubble telescope. Locals say it has to be good to spot the odd, rare blade of grass cowering beneath the stones. The opposite is true of Karoo farmers, most of whom die of eye strain, as a result of their ceaseless and rewardless search for rain bearing clouds.
Addo Elephant Park is well signposted from both Cradock and Port Elizabeth directions and we found our way to the main gate without incident. When I was here last (in the late 1960’s) it was a relatively small establishment with only a few head of Elephant and other animals. Today it is the third largest National Park in South Africa, boasting 170 000 hectares of game bearing land and a stretch of Indian Ocean which, presumably, bears more sea life than wild game.
Wow fact:Addo incorporates the largest coastal dune field in the southern hemisphere
In the opinion of your humble writer, Addo is the ideal destination if you’re a tourist who has a day or two to see as many animals as possible while sporting the latest ‘safari gear’, buys loads of tat at the curio shop then goes home to show his friends the distant, unrecognisable specks of game in his photographs from Africa.
Arriving at the reception and dodging several game viewing trucks driving past bearing pink tourists, we checked in and were directed to our tent site. This turned out to be a small rectangle bounded by a ‘Spekboom’ hedge. Within arm’s reach on either side were our neighbours. ‘Oh good,’ I thought. ‘Every little sound we make, domestic, gastric or otherwise, will be heard, commented on or even perhaps responded to, in much the similar manner of the territorial bark of a baboon. Better not have the curry tonight.’
As we needed to do a mountain of laundry and buy provisions that weren’t available at Addo, we decided to take the rest of the day off and go into Port Elizabeth. We thought we’d go on the scenic route. This route, as we learned, took us through one of the outlying townships of Motherwell. Dear Reader, if you learn nothing from my writing except this one fact. Don’t use this route. If the tarred surface was a book, it would be filed next to the Greek Tragedies in the library. To add to the depressing nature of the journey, Motherwell is a community half-concealed by their litter. Every fence, tree or pole is festooned with fluttering plastic and the once green land is hidden under pollution, like a dirty layer of New York snow. Walls and other surfaces bear spray-painted evidence of the semi literate, drug addled barbarians living within. It was a relief to enter the familiar suburbs of Port Elizabeth. A few hours later, loaded with the necessary provisions and a neatly folded pile of freshly laundered, nice-to-be-near clothes, we headed back to Addo – on the good old, plain old N2.