Tuesday, 7 December 2010

After almost five weeks it finally happened. I took myself off for a walk along Hopewell’s perimeter fence in order to get close to the cheetah that has made one particular area its home. It wasn’t much of a movement but the instant I was aware of it I froze. There must be a very deep-seated primeval trigger that makes humans react as I did, with a mixture of fear and loathing. There, two feet away on the side of the track was a snake, slithering silently into the long grass. It was fat, grey with yellow bands and not at all concerned with me, which was just as well as it was identified later by Francois as a puff adder. A bite from one of these is potentially fatal, although to receive one usually means that the snake has been stepped on as it is not aggressive and has an extremely slow strike. So I am told, because I did not hang around to find out. Luckily I was wearing brown shorts.
It was a bonus to spend a bit more time with Bruce Little and his family over the weekend. Bruce has a small share in Hopewell and is employed as the on site manager and resident wildlife fundi. When there are guests ( which has not been very often in 2010 ), he is at their disposal for the time they are on the reserve. He is another of the tall, good-looking, charming, personable and immensely self-sufficient types I have met so often over the past month. The sort that makes me feel instantly like a beta-male and precipitates, on my part, over ambition to demonstrate my intellectual credentials, in the absence of anything else which can compete. Cate, his wife, and the three children entertained me very well on Sunday and Monday evenings. This was no mean feat considering they were in the process of moving all their clobber from the house I have stayed in to another, a few hundred metres away, and still only 80% finished, over the weekend. They live in Grahamstown during the week and spend weekends and holidays at Hopewell. Bruce has recently taken a cut in salary of 50% and now works 12 days a month at Hopewell. His other source of income is the creation of bronze sculptures of African animals. He has something of an international reputation for this and is coming to London to show his work at the Cork St Gallery in May. Inevitably the whole family were hospitality personified and seemed genuinely keen for me to spend time with them, whatever the hidden reality may have been.
The Eastern Cape is an alluring place. The countryside and the community are the twin attractions, there being space to live, people with whom to enjoy it and always at a beguilingly languid pace. I got the impression that once you are ‘in’ you are well in and part of a highly supportive and cohesive group.
What a contrast is the centre of Port Elizabeth, where I spent 45 minutes while Francois did a couple of things before he dropped me at the airport. It is grimy, full of people, 99% of whom are black and, I felt, not especially welcoming. I am sure it was not intentional but there were not many smiles in my direction, which is in total contrast to my experiences in similar situations in Kenya.
I am looking forward to Cape Town. Everyone says it is a brilliant place. John has put a car at my disposal and I will be able to case the joint before the family arrive next week. It is very much R and R for the next few days before the grand tour kicks off in a fortnight

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