Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Flower season notes

Non-officially flower season starts about now. Clanwilliam is pretty much in the middle of the area, the southern reach of which goes right down the West Coast towards Darling and Melkbosstrand, and northwards towards Springbok in Namaqualand.

If there has been enough rain during the earlier months of the year, a warm day will see flowers come out by mid-July, as indeed they are appearing, in Namaqualand at the moment, and in small patches around Clanwilliam, too.

By now most accommodation establishments are fairly full for the flower season. Pick the one of your choice, and if they can't help you with the dates you require, phone the Tourism Office (027 4822024, in Clanwilliam) and they will tell what's available for what date. They keep a list of flower season accommodation availability that is regularly updated.

The weather is the obvious factor that will make or ruin flower-finding. If there's no sun, the flowers won't open. I once had a frantic call from prospective guests in Japan. "We come this weekend, just for flowers! Yes? You have room? We come just for weekend! You can help?"

"No!" I was aghast. "It's too far to take such a chance for one weekend! Don't come!"

Not very adventurous advice, but then, I'm never adventurous with some-one else's time and money. It doesn't have to rain to put the flowers to sleep. Cloud will do it, too.

The next thing to watch for is to make sure that the sun is behind you if you want to see the full vista of open flowers. They look at the sun. If you're looking at the sun too, your face is pointing away from, not towards open flowers.

Pace yourself according to how far you want to travel in a day. Clanwilliam is in the middle of the extended area, but you know what distance you're comfortable with. You probably won't want to go all the way to Kammieskroon, for instance. The drive, the flower-seeking and the return will probably be too much. The Biedouw Valley is close by. Various routes into the Cederberg, taken slowly, can be magnificent.

Daily communication with other flower seekers and info offices is a good idea. I hear guests swopping notes over breakfast, and being greatly helped. The Clanwilliam Tourism Office develops flower routes as the season progresses. Daily updates are available. I would advise planning flower routes on short notice rather than long forecasts. Daily news is good to go by. The cloud-map is extremely unpredictable.

Come with a relaxed attitude. If it's "I will see flowers if it kills me" you won't die if you don't see flowers, but the fun will. And if the illustrious Law of Attraction works, flowers, sun and you will surely find synch, if your soul is filled with grace of colour and contentment, as the fields of flowers are. You find what you are. Enough esoterica.

Plan your day and route in respect of your meals. If you have nibbles and drinks with you, you won't need restaurants. If that's okay, you can be more free to change routes.

In Clanwilliam, a typical day's weather pattern for good weather works like this: it's heavily misty from early till later because of the town being between the Olifants River and the Jan Dissels River. At about ten to ten thirty the mist lifts and the clear sky opens the way for sunlight. The temperature could be about 20 - 22C. If you stay in the sun, a short-sleeved top can work.

Listen to locals, even if their directions seem odd. I once heard people being directed in entirely the wrong direction, so take care, too. But so what? You're on holiday, and life is as short as a flower season, and equally unpredictable. Wear lotion. Speak slowly. And don't pick flowers. That hurts the universe.


Monday, 8 April 2013

When is a good time to visit the Cederberg?

As a preamble, South Africa is a good place to visit, notwithstanding bad press. It's unfortunate that our national image looks really silly if not downright stupid from time to time, but that can nearly always be laid at the feet of our politicians, and certainly not our geography.

South Africa has many geographic, cultural and natural faces, and from the deep silence of the Karoo to the open, roaring throat of the Augrabies to the mystery of the Cango Caves to the vista of Table Bay to the baffling question of where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans begin and end, there's more than enough for a lifetime's travelling.

As usual, preferences can be applied to the Cederberg, with its inland towns of Clanwilliam, Graafwater, Citrusdal, Wuppertal and coastal towns of Lambert's Bay and Elands Bay. Not everyone enjoys the intense heat of mid-summer, peaking in February, up to 45C, and over, yet I have seen guests relishing the challenge of logging their mountain hike on some of the hottest days.

My own favourite seasons are spring and autumn, when the weather is warm, mild, with an edge of cold in the mornings and evenings. It's not always about the season, though. For me, travelling is about mood. Like a face, place has a sense of being singular and having many moods. When you feel a place's mood, it's like getting to know a person. I remember standing still one day in the middle of Southern Namibia, knowing how solitary I was in all those square miles empty of another human, yet not feeling lost or desolate. I remember waking up in the samll hours somewhere in the Karoo, and going outside to sense the surrounding air, hearing infinitesimal subtle noises that made the vast backdrop of darkness and silence even more tangible.

The Cederberg has its own many moods and if anyone were to ask me when to visit, my answer would be "Now". The appeal of the place has to experienced. I doubt if it can be explained. The mountain range is not cosy, the weather can be intimidating. The extraordinary beauty of the sping-flowers is transitory. Yet in every mood there's an ancient face to be glimpsed, and many stories to be found.

If visitors are looking for bright lights and glamour, they will look in vain for these in the Cederberg. The spirit of the place speaks more clearly from depth to depth. I have seen visitors coming back from a day's excursion, having been touched in wordless ways by what has been experienced.

"Did you have a good day?" is our usual question.

They will put down the small bag, or bottle of water. Their hands will go up in appeal for words. "Wonderful!" is often the first one. And then the search for the explanation of what is wonderful.

Which time of year does this happen? All times. Which season? All of them. What disappoints guests? To be truthful, I can think of a handful who decided that the weather was against them, either because of rain or heat, I think also of a couple who were expecting a casino.

The spring flowers are always a major attraction, yet this is only one face of the area. The other many moods are always there, to whisper, command and captivate the appreciative attention.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Hot season

Now that we're into March, we can start looking forward to some cooling down. Summer heat is intense in Clanwilliam, with maximum temperatures going over 40C in the shade, and into the 50C range in the sun. I heard someone mention something about 60C the other day, but I preferred not to listen.

It's actually not so bad. With aircon, cold drinks, and cool interiors, and of course the big tree protecting Saint du Barrys with its immense shade, summer goes by with plenty of guests enjoying the change from minus degreees of severe cold in Europe during these months. In particualr, those who suffer from arthritis and other movement-restrictive conditions may find relief offered by the heat.

The Cederberg mountain range was on fire in large spread out areas for weeks. The fire was started by lightning, and wind caused it to jump and spread. Many hectares were burnt and the threat to farmlands and farmsteads was high, yet the firefighters were dedicated and skilled, and protected farms successfully. A well-loved local man died while involved in fire-fighting, and the sadness of this will be felt for a long time. Bushmanskloof went on high alert when the fire starting moving towards the resort, but was not damaged although guests were evacuated for safety's sake.

The socio-political season was hot, too, with striking farm-workers threatening violent action, and damaging farms in the Western Cape. Clanwilliam was fortunate to have minimal disruption. A crowd gathered at a a couple of different corners for two days, but was swiftly dispersed by police when protesting became rowdy. No damage was done.

With regard to fashion, nothing happened in Clanwilliam. In these summer months, light clothing and something on your head is the order of the day.

During March temperature levels can still be high, but local folk know that the end is in sight. Soon enough, cold air with curve in from the Atlantic, bringing seasonal change. Autumn and spring months bring almost perfect weather, neither too hot nor too cold. The evenings beg for braais. I have a new system for getting a fire ready quite quickly, although most of the point of having a braai is sitting or standing around the fire having chats and drinks. It takes twenty to twenty-five minutes to have coals on one side and flames on the other; on goes the steak or the chops, and ten to fifteen minutes later you have the perfect steak or the perfect chop. Forget about wine at sophisticated temperature. I don't like putting ice in expensive wine, so I go for quaffing sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc or blanc de noir, with enough ice to keep it cold. Winter will be long enough for the reds.