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Flying South

From Mosselbaai to Swellendam

SOUTH AFRICA | Wednesday, 22 January 2014 | Views [312]

Having touched lucky and found accommodation for last night with 3 bedrooms available we had quite a late start this morning. I guess not having to listen to me snoring allowed Travis to actually sleep for once!

Our first port of call was back into town to go and see something called the Post Office Tree. To explain what this is I need to give you a little of the history of Mossel Bay itself. (I’ll be honest, I’ve ripped this next bit straight from Wikipedia but it will give you what you need to know.)

Best known as the place at which the first Europeans landed on South African soil (Bartolomeu Dias and his crew arrived on 3 February 1488), the modern history of Mossel Bay began on 3 February 1488, when the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias landed with his men at a point close to the site of the modern-day Dias Museum Complex.[2] Here they found a spring from which to replenish their water supplies. Dias had been appointed to search for a trading route to India by King John II of Portugal, and, without realising it, actually rounded the Cape of Good Hope before landing at Mossel Bay - which he named Angra dos Vaqueiros (The Bay of Cowherds). Dias is also credited with having given the Cape the name Cabo das Tormentas (the ‘Cape of Storms’), although King John II later changed this to Cabo da Boa Esperança (the Cape of Good Hope).

Dias’ excursion ashore ended hastily when the local people chased him off in a hail of stones.

By the time the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama reached the area in 1497, the Bay had been marked on the maps as Aguada de São Brás, (the Watering Place of St Blaize - whose feast is celebrated on 3 February).

Da Gama bartered successfully for cattle with the local Khoe people in what is generally regarded as the first commercial transaction between Europeans and the indigenous people of South Africa.

In 1501, another Portuguese navigator, Pedro d'Ataide, sought shelter in Mossel Bay after losing much of his fleet in a storm. He left an account of the disaster hidden in an old shoe which he suspended from a milkwood tree (Sideroxylon inerme) near the spring from which Dias had drawn his water. The report was found by the explorer to whom it was addressed - and the tree served as a kind post office for decades thereafter. (More recently, a boot-shaped post box has been erected under the now famous Post Office Tree, and letters posted there are franked with a commemorative stamp. This has ensured that the tree has remained one of the town’s biggest tourist attractions.)

The Post Office Tree can still be found in the grounds of a museum in the centre of town. The museum also has a replica of the Caravel that Dias sailed in. The replica was made for an anniversary and was siled from Portugal to South Africa. Purchase of the correct admission ticket allows you access to this ship and I have to say it is a great experience to step aboard, land-locked though it may now be.   

There is also a shell and fish museum in the complex, the highlight of which was watching one of the staff entertain an octopus in one of the tanks. Our visit to the museum complex took longer than we had anticipated because it was much more than we expected and had loads more to do. Once we left we hit the road and headed west playing catch-up with our schedule.

We had a brief stop in Stillbaai to take a look at the beach, which is fabulous, let the ladies visit a factory outlet and to stock up on provisions for supper. After that we headed on towards Swellendam via what here count as dirt roads but in the UK would be dirt track. The scenery was amazing and the amount of wildlife we saw en-route was excellent. We seemed to be in blue crane country (the South African national bird) for most of the day and also saw a mongoose, African Sacred Ibis, various boks and birds of prey and more ostrich than you could shake a stick at!

We finished the day in Swellendam and managed to book a self-catering cottage at the Impangele Guest House (www.impangele.net). The place is run by David and Amanda Shackley. David tells us he’s been in SouthAfrica 8 years next week and, having just been granted permanent resident status is about to apply for citizenship. I can’t speak for the main guest house but the cottage we were in had everything we needed for a night stay and we spent a very pleasant evening over a long supper in the garden, where I am now sat finishing this entry. So take note, if you’re ever in the area of Swellendam and need somewhere to stay, Impangele Guest House is well worth a call..

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