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Published: February 8th 2016
Woke at six before arrival into Johannesburg airport, and ate a hearty airline breakfast of omelette, cream cheese and salmon and my own rice cakes plus a couple of cups of coffee.
We disembarked and, like many others, didn't follow instructions and didn't wait for the group leader. We went ahead to passport control by which time the others had joined us. We all stood in a line for two hours before we finally went through to collect our bags. We were greeted by a sign-holder who took us to the meeting point where we met the rest of our group who had come to South Africa the previous week. We also met our guide Amos, an Israeli who has spent the past 35 years in South Africa. He took us back into the domestic hall to catch our connecting flight to Port Elizabeth. One of my cousins had suggested that we may be young for an AACI trip. But the age group is very mixed from young oldies like us to older oldies. There was also one young lad who by the end of the trip had acquired many sabas and savtas.
We were amazed at how much
baggage some of our fellow travellers had. We asked ourselves why they had packed day clothes, evening clothes and by the size of some of the cases maybe even a ball gown or tuxedo? Don and I have never travelled so lightly. Our checked baggage was one medium sized case and one carry-on sized case. And for on-board just two back packs for everyday travelling.
We arrived in Port Elizabeth on an uneventful flight (that's the best kind) to collect our bags and head for the coach. We boarded the coach and drove west towards Knysna. It was rainy and overcast. We started learning about the history of the area. Port Elizabeth is known as a windy, friendly city on the Eastern Cape. The city was named after Elizabeth Duncan the wife of Robert Duncan, the British area administrator. The bay has been renamed Nelson Mandela Bay. The city has a population of about 2 million spread out over a wide area.
The first Europeans to discover the area were Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco de Gama. Dias was unable to reach shore due to storms, and de Gama got the honours as he not only paused
ashore for supplies but subsequently became the first to navigate all the way to India.
The founders of the city were The Dutch East India Company which landed the first European settlers in 1652. They spoke their own dialect called Afrikaans. The settlers were called Boers which means farmers. The British took permanent possession in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic wars.
There followed the discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold and minerals. As a result of the discovery of diamonds at the Kimberley Mines the largest diamond company was formed. We heard a lot about two prime ministers in particular, John Cecil Rhodes and Jan Christiaan Smuts. The former wanted to expand the British empire from Cairo to the Cape and the latter was an instigator of apartheid. Of course the third very important name in the fray was Nelson Mandela.
In 1936 the first car industry in South Africa was established in Port Elizabeth. This was a branch of General Motors. After World War II Japanese cars were produced and now, as well as foreign cars South Africa produces its own cars.
After the end of apartheid the most important event in
South Africa occurred in 2010 and that was the World Cup. In the stadium built in Port Elizabeth 8 of the games were played. The World Cup was a great success even though, according to Amos, the football wasn't so hot.
Driving along the south coastal area known as The Garden Route we were bombarded with the most amazing natural beauty of miles and miles of greenery with the mountains in the background. We crossed over the Van Stadens Bridge, the first of many on our drive which span massive gorges. The bridge had the nickname “Suicide Bridge” and 88 people committed suicide until a barrier was erected to prevent people from walking onto the bridge and jumping off.
We drove along with the Tsitsikamma Mountain range on one side of the road and the coast line of the Indian Ocean on the other side of the road. Tsitsikamma is a Khoisin word meaning “place of clear water.” We had our first 'pit stop' at Humandorp. And then back on the coach for a stop at the Storms River Bridge in (yes) Stormsriver, officially the entrance to the Garden Route. By this time my cold was playing up, I was tired and it was drizzling. So I stayed on the coach whilst Don got off and had a look. We made one further break stop near Plettenberg Bay, where we both stayed on the bus as it was actually raining quite hard. Then on to the Knysna Premier Hotel.
The Premier Hotel is a suites hotel. It was very nice with a living room, kitchenette and a large bedroom. What a shame it was for one night only. Our mashgiach Jeff supervised the kitchen staff and we had a kosher meal of soup, fish and salad and potatoes followed by a fruit salad. Dinnertime was our first good chance to meet our fellow travellers, as it was more social than the coach ride and certainly more conducive than all the airport transfers.
Dinner over it was time for bed. We were getting up at 6.30 am tomorrow for an early start!
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