Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tracing our Roots on the Garden Route

After (reluctantly) leaving Cape Town we had the fortunate opportunity to drive up the Garden Route, a scenic and safe drive on the N2 highway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. While planning this trip I spent hours and hours researching where to stay and what to do on this side of the country. There are several darling towns along the coast and we wished we could have stopped for a night or two in each one of them. The first day we drove about 4 hours to the town of Albertinia, where I surprised my mom with an overnight stay at the Garden Route Garden Lodge. You can’t come to Africa without going on Safari and while there are larger, more famous reserves the setting of this reserve was stunning, the meals were delicious, and the accommodations were luxurious. It is an indescribable feeling to wake up and step outside your room and see rhino’s grazing in the distance or watch giraffe’s eating leaves while you eat breakfast. We went on a 3 hour game drive and were able to see the rhinos, giraffes, elephants, buffalos, lions, several types of antelopes, and wildebeests up close and personal. Our guide, Etienne, was darling and had a wealth of knowledge. We drove through the reserve in a 10 passenger open air Land Rover, with a gorgeous family from Australia, the 13 year old daughter of the property manager, and a couple who either did not speak English or who didn’t feel like making small talk. We had full intentions of getting back on the road after breakfast but just couldn’t bear to leave the majestic setting. After a late start we headed to our next destination, Knysna. When you mention this location to a South African they ooh and aw and I couldn’t wait to find out why. We stopped for a quick peek at Mossel Bay along the way, and arrived at our Hansel and Gretel type cottage just before nightfall.  The property we stayed on was called Peace of Eden and was located in a magical forest. I had read that we might actually see fairies here. Unfortunately, there were no fairy sighting but nearly as exciting were the hundreds of fireflies that surrounded us. Never in my life have I seen a real firefly! Aiden actually caught one and I am still so confused why God would create a bug whose bum can light up! In the morning a naughty little Velvet Monkey, who was desperately hoping the humans left out food, greeted us. Every time we went back in the house he would rifle through our things looking for even the smallest crumb. He grabbed a small bag of trash we had on the table and was none to be pleased with me when I got it back after he accidentally dropped it.

For breakfast we walked to the farm next door, through an orange gate and rows and rows of macadamia trees. The owners converted their large red barn into a restaurant and we ate the yummiest African breakfast (eggs, back bacon, sautéed mushrooms and grilled tomatoes) in the cutest setting ever! Our waiter was this eccentric (flamboyant might be a better word) Spanish looking man, who became my best friend by the time we left! The kids were slightly confused by his demeanor and tone, which provided a nice opportunity to talk about how different we all are! After breakfast and a walk around the Peace of Eden we headed back out again to our last and final destination Grahamstown. There were so many places we wanted to stop along the way that we didn’t arrive in Grahamstown until night time. One of our stops included a visit to Monkeyland in Plettenberg Bay, which is the first free-roaming monkey sanctuary in the world. There are over 300 monkeys and 8 different species running and swinging throughout the large park.  We were lucky enough to see some of the more rare species in the park, including a male Gibbons who is the only one of his kind there. The guide joked that he is searching for a mate and he seemed to have a thing for Anna, who has similar coloring to the monkey. He showed off a bit for her as well as followed her around, even walking under our hands. Anna thought he was going to grab her hand and start walking around with us. It was very exciting to see the different monkeys up close and personal. Aiden loved seeing King Julian, the Lemer monkey from Madagascar. We couldn’t help but sing “you’ve got to move it move it” as we watched this group of monkey’s play.

Our next stop was in Tsitsikama, which is said to be the garden of the Garden Route. This is the location of some daring adventures including the world’s highest bungy jump. Although, we had no intentions of jumping we had to stop and watch. I nearly had an anxiety attack as I witnessed the brave fools dive off the bridge and fall over 220 meters. I told my mom that I would pay for her entire trip if she jumped. She considered briefly, but declined. I think she was more afraid of throwing up then on having a heart attack. Even though we were not cool enough to bungy we still bought shirts as they were really cute, and I am hoping people will think I did it! As we left the bridge we met a cute British guy who works there. He couldn’t believe we were leaving Plett’s (as the locals call Plettenberg Bay) and heading to Grahamstown. This seemed to be the reaction of all the people we met along the way! We told them we were going there to trace our history, which appeased them, but we had the distinct impression that there wasn’t much happening in Grahamstown. One individual said, “you know it’s a college town right? There is nothing there except for bars and churches”!

We arrived at our final accommodation, Wolfe Farm, where I had reserved a house on a working farm. There are a few other bed and breakfasts in the area, but since we had the kids I figured it would be better to have our own space as well as a fun opportunity to experience farm life. When we first walked in to our house I was a bit nervous, not only because it was old and did not have quite the décor of our Cape Town cottage, but also because as my mom said, it was possible that some of the previous residence of long ago may still be residing here. However, I was completely relieved when I climbed into the most comfortable bed I have ever slept it! We had one of the best nights sleep on the trip to date and if there were ghosts they were polite enough to keep quiet.

Our family has done an incredible job of recording their history. We had enough detailed information about the Prince family’s settlements in South Africa, that we were able to locate the general areas in which they resided. According to the records my great-great grandpa William “Billy” Price was born in Oliphant Hoek, where the Great Fish and Kat River meet, some 20km from Grahamstown. While that seems like it would be easy enough to find, I have spent several hours trying to determine this location. There is an Oliphant Hoek in the Northern Cape near the Orange River but it is hundred’s of kilometer’s from Grahamstown and can’t possibly be the place they are referring to. We had planned to visit the genealogy museum in Grahamstown to see if we could possibly find more information but of course it was closed on a Saturday. During a chat with the owner of a darling store in town, we mentioned the area we were looking for. She called her dad, who asked a friend and they helped us to get a better idea of where this might be! They too only had a rough idea of the location as Oliphant Hoek was either a nickname for the area or was renamed and is unfamiliar to most people we have spoken with. I was curious as to what we would find when the shop owner said “there is nothing much there but if you are looking for your history it may be a worthwhile trip”! From what we have read it appears the Prince Family arrived in South Africa at the only port in Port Elizabeth in 1841. They traveled by wagon from Port Elizabeth and settled in the area of Grahamstown for 3-4 years. This is a tiny but quaint town. There are some lovely old buildings and churches but overall there is not much to do there. The college campus’s are gorgeous and it would be a fun place to study. Without an address we have no idea where in Grahamstown our family lived and what is was like in those days but after seeing where they moved to next I’m not sure why they left!

With a better idea of where they settled next, we took off on a 70km drive to find the elusive Oliphant Hoek. We passed over the Great Fish River and the Kat River in the direction of Fort Beaufort, which is where we were told we might find the convergence of these rivers. We could have easily been driving along any highway in Arizona as the terrain was nearly identical. At times I almost forgot we were in South Africa, and then I would see a woman with a baby tied to her back or another balancing a basket on her head, or baboons on the side of the road (one of them drinking out of a Red Bull can someone must have thrown out of the window) and I would think Toto, I’ve a feeling we aren’t in Kansas anymore. Since there were no big flashing signs pointing us to Oliphant Hoek along the way, we decided we would stop in Fort Beaufort to either find a map or a person with more information. Immediately upon entering the area of Fort Beaufort we realized there might not be a lot of safe places to stop. Since we needed to fill up anyway we stopped at a gas station. It was clear from the looks we received, white people are a rare sighting in this neck of the woods! Our attendant didn’t understand us very well, so he asked another attendant to come over to see if she could help us. There was no map to buy and the museum in town was closed. She had never heard of Oliphant Hoek and wasn’t sure where the two rivers met. My mom asked if there was a park nearby where we could eat our lunch and Claudia, our attendant, gave us the impression that there weren’t any parks we should be stopping at!  Feeling a little out of our comfort zone we decided that we better head back to more familiar territory. Although, we were disappointed to not find the exact spot of Grandpa Billy’s birth, we were content with being in the vicinity and headed for home! On the way back I had two thoughts, one, of all the places I have seen why would our ancestors end up here (if only they had turned left at Port Elizabeth instead of right, they may have settled in Plett’s instead) and two, I am so grateful for paved roads, automobiles and planes! It is quite unfathomable to move as frequently as our ancestors did by way of slow and difficult methods. I was violently sea sick after being on the Atlantic for just 4 hours, so I now have an even greater respect for these individuals that traveled by boat for hundreds of miles, and on foot or wagon across rough, mountainous terrain. Then to think that after all that, they would pack it all up and travel overseas again to the unknown America’s.  I am so grateful to have this opportunity to not only trace our ancestors’ roots but to learn so much about them. I read the incredible history that has been recorded about their life here and I have a better idea of the land they are referring to. It must have been very difficult to leave this beautiful and fruitful country with only the strength of their faith. I have thought it odd that I have felt at home so quickly in this foreign place.  I have read somewhere that this is the “Mother Country” as all roots trace back to this part of the world. I have definitely felt a connection to this place that has grown stronger through this genealogical journey.

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