Travis Smith: my resume, bio and photos back to the main blog page

Knysna is a tourist town on a lagoon with a great waterfront shopping area.  We spent two days here, at the comfort of the St. James, a fabulous hotel where we were one of, if not the only, guests. They brought us room service to our suite, a delicious meal of fish and lamb.  They had CNN (Storms River hadn’t even had a phone), and we caught up on the news of New York and D.C.

The grounds of the hotel were beautiful. It was on the waterfront and had the most interesting flowers and two huge cranes—one a crown crane, one a gray crane—that were almost tame and let me take photographs from only feet away.  We met the owners of the hotel, a retired couple who furnished the lobby and bar with antiques from their travels.  We could have spent the rest of our vacation in hotel, but pressed on after filling half a suitcase with gifts and knickknacks.

Oh, before we leave Knysna, I’ll point out three other things it has going for it:

  • a wonderful Internet café that gave us free access in exchange for a few tips on how to be listed better in search engine

  • a microbrewery with some of the nicest beer I’ve had in a while

  • a port with a fabulous dual hulled sail boat that just cried out to be taken across the Atlantic to Rio or through the India ocean to the Maldives.  It was a sensational, sensational craft, and I’m not one who cares too much for ships.

    We did some back tracking from Knysna to visit the Big Tree, a landmark we’d missed the previous day. (There are some advantages to being lazy slowpokes, namely, that if you miss something, you can just head back and visit it the next day. J) The Big Tree was just that, a huge yellowwood about 600 years old, 36 meters high, 35 meters across the crown and able to make about a million saw horses, but they’d decided to leave it up in the national park.  I should note that this was a very disturbing national park with signs like: Do Not Feed the Baboons, They May Harm You  and Warning: Wild Elephants

    I personally think Warning: Elephants is quite good enough, but for those who need to be told explicitly, the adjective “Wild” made sure you knew why exactly these elephants were worthy of a warning.

    Janine had recommended we look at the big tree, and it was a pretty huge hunk of organic material, but after the redwoods, it was a bit of a disappointment.  We took some pictures, and then headed back out of the park where the tree was.

    On the way out, we had to pass through, for a second time, the township outside Knysna.  These places are horrible, unfathomable expanses of humans living in conditions of extreme poverty. It looked to me as though many of the houses had no electricity; many had gaps in between loose boards for walls and tarps covering their roofs. There was garbage in the form of paper, rusted metal and piles of plastic wrappers forming drifts of trash in the streets.

    One person we met at the conference said that the blacks (for it is black who live in the townships) believed that it was better to throw trash upon the ground because that would create another job for someone to come around and clean it all up—the flaw in the logic being that the government can’t afford to hire more people to clean it up so the trash is stupefying.

    The townships are supposedly dangerous; we never approached one to find out, though we did notice that no one at all drives after dark, whether in the city or on the country roads.  Partially I think it’s because there are so few streetlights in general and street signage often doesn’t give much warning of turns and such; part is a slower pace of life and a propensity for commerce to shut down by 6 p.m.  But I suppose that South Africans probably are right when they say their country is dangerous after dark, and not the least from natural predators.

    Another person we met at the conference is from Argentina.  Her parents came over to visit and she took them to her home in Pretoria, a lush suburb north of Johannesburg.  She goes through three locked gates before she gets to her locked front door.  Her parents were shocked at this, but even more surprised when they noticed her place was surrounded by an electric fence. 

    “Is it on?” they asked.

    “It doesn’t do any good if it isn’t,” she answered them.

    Anyway, the townships are an ever-present reminder to the traveler that the troubles of South Africa and the racial divide that was created are hardly a thing of the past—discrimination may be outlawed, but it is still, and obviously, in some of the people we met.  And they economic inequality that was fostered remains to this day.  I will say that of all the fellow hotel visitors, tour takers and tourist shoppers we saw, perhaps 1 out of 40 was black, and that would be a generous estimate.

    But all this went by quite quickly; we didn’t take a tour of the township, we drove through on the main road, dodging scraggly cows and kids rolling tires for fun down the side of the asphalt.  We turned right and headed inland to Oudtshoorn, once and still the ostrich capital of the world.

  • Overheard

    “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

    ...who said it?

    “Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

    ...who said it?

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

    ...who said it?

    “I play with variables constantly.”

    ...who said it?

    “Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

    ...who said it?

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