Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Literary/Artistic Pilgrimage

What a strange thing to be on my last two days in Grahamstown. A month flies by fast. As always happens, I find myself trying to fit in last minute things that “I meant to do” earlier in the trip.

For example, this morning I went and bonded with my thesis. I went to the library, plucked it off the shelf, and read through bits of it. I didn’t feel horrified like I thought I would. I actually felt quite proud. Isn't it pretty...

This weekend I took an artistic pilgrimage to Nieu Bethesda. I drove up with Billy de Klerk, a Grahamstown Rotarian and Paleontologist (I hope this is correct!). He gave me a fascinating seminar on the geology and history of the Easter Cape, dating back 300 million years ago. What a fantastic three-hour drive. If you watch the Discovery Channel, it’s quite possible that you’ve seen Billy. He’s quite a fossil finder! Way back in the UIUC days when I was filling my General Education credits, Geology was my favorite…

I was making this trek to Nieu Bethesda to visit The Owl House and write ( Nieu Bethesda is a tiny little dorp (village) of 90 people in the main part and 800 in the township. It’s quiet, safe, and beautiful. I first visited eight years ago with my Honours class at Rhodes, and since then, I have struggled to write a poem about my love of this place. I’ve workshopped it again and again, in many different forms—all with the same conclusion: it needs more work.

I found myself last Thursday under a clear blue sky and a crisp wind sitting in The Owl House garden. I must have looked “creative” because a few people stopped by to ask me what I was doing, why I was here, etc. One woman, an artist in PE, even gave me her email and said I must come and see them. It’s a quirky place where quirky things happen!

On Thursday night there were only three other people at the Backpackers, two German women and one of their daughters, a cute little eight year old. We ended up having quite a few chats, and I’ll probably see them in Cape Town next week. It’s so fun meeting people, and I’m getting used to this traveling alone gig!

On Friday, I took a fossil tour in the riverbed, the new venture of Billy de Klerk and some of his fellow scientists. I never would have noticed most of these fossils on my own. This area of South Africa, the Karoo, is a rich area for fossils and ecological history. The final proof that the continents of Africa and Antarctica were once joined came from the correlations of fossils in the Karoo and Antartica.

I then went back to The Owl House for more writing. I meandered the garden again and again, writing and rewriting, observing and listening. The weather was turning cold, so I didn’t last too long. I enjoyed a few fun conversations with café and restaurant owners as I enjoyed my last day in Nieu Bethesda. That night when I went outside, the Karoo sky gave me what I was looking for—thousands of glorious stars. Beautiful. The Southern Cross in all its glory.

On Saturday morning I woke up to rain and chill, a perfect day to leave town. I went to Graaff-Reinet, where I would meet Cathy and Brian Hopkins, a couple I met on a Rotary talk-tour in 1998. I think all of Nieu Bethesda knew I needed a ride to Graaff-Reinet, and when one ride fell through, the other person was still going. I rode in the back of a pick-up (a covered one of course) with a traveling preacher going to a funeral. As we traveled on the dirt road, we rose in elevation slightly—just enough for the ground and the cows to be covered with a heavy frost. The preacher said a prayer for a safe journey, and he prayed that this young woman (me) would be kept from the devil. The journey went well, but the devil…well, you can be the judge of that J.

I enjoyed a fabulous Saturday with Cathy and Brian, and it made me wish all my visits could last indefinitely. I haven’t seen them for eight years, but we laughed and carried on as if I just saw them last week. Alas, my ride to Grahamstown (another ride found through the grape vine), left Sunday at 9am. I enjoyed the ride back with Clive and the three guys being brought back to Rhodes. I saw some wildlife along the road (monkeys, springbox, wildebeast) and felt a bit melancholy that my time in the Eastern Cape of South Africa is almost over.

Now, I am off to have my last of two dinners in Grahamstown. Travel is wonderful, but it always comes to an end too soon. Pictures coming soon. I ran out of time at the internet café J.



Aka Moe

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