Alexander Bay revisited

Yesterday (15th) I drove to Alexander Bay  to buy a few things at Sentra Supermarket and decided to take photographs in the town itself to give you an idea of what is happening there.

The place is named after a prospector in the region from 1838 to 1848 named James Edward Alexander. Little did he know of the fabulous riches that he transported his goods over to be shipped from just south of the river mouth. The diamonds were only discovered in 1928 and it was proclaimed a State Alluvial Digging under the Department of mines with a work force of 45 whites under strict supervision.,

The outer perimeter of the  town was fenced off but had also been divided inside by fencing, the miners in the southern section and their families in the northern Section. The men were only allowed out every 150 days for 2 weeks. This inner fence only came down in 1974.

I  read  a little pamphlet that tells of how things were round 1980 -” Alexander Bay is a modern mining village with all necessary amenities and facilities with attractive living quarters, vegetable gardens, lucerne fields and orchards”. It certainly is not that way now.

Even today there is a distinct North /  South feel to the town – mining area South and houses, shops, schools etc. in the North and the town is still fenced off and one has to sign in to gain entrance. Of course where they do the actual mining is still a high security section today.

Welcome to Alexander Bay.
Welcome to Alexander Bay.
The boom gate where one has to sign in.
The boom gate where one has to sign in.

Once through the boom you can only turn right as left takes you to the mining area which is high security.

I think I am going to let the images do the talking and just offer a few comments. The one thing I will say is that the town has the feel of everything going downward. Most places look dirty and unkempt although you can see where special efforts have been made to spruce things up.

Old diamond safe house
Old diamond safe house

They found over 2500 carats of diamonds under that stone stuck on the wall

Old church (I think NG) now used as a creche
Old church (I think NG) built in the 1930’s is now used as a crèche
The swimming pool
The swimming pool

I believe they are going to repair the pool and use it for diver training

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The Clinic

The Pharmacy

The Pharmacy

The clinic is used for consulting and has no beds and the Pharmacy is not open at all.

Interestingly I did bump into the newly appointed doctor for the area and he is from the US. He knew my fathers name. He too was a doctor, and we had a nice long chat in English.

Old derelect shop

Old derelict shop

Derelect building

Derelict building

The 9 hole golf course.

The 9 hole golf course.

The fairways and rough are the same and the greens and T boxes are not too great.

The sports field

The sports field

Looks fine from far but on closer inspection the stands are starting to fall apart.

The shopping centre

The library and shopping centre.

Because everything has to be brought in by road the prices of all goods is pretty horrendous.

In June last year over 200 of the employees were offered and took severance packages so about 1200 people have moved from Alexander Bay. There are huge fights going on in the community as to what has happened to all the millions of rands that have been pumped into the region and they are, according to the local newspaper, “Gat vol” with everything and are demanding answers.

Wild flowers near the golf course

Wild flowers near the golf course

May the above image be a sign of better things to come for the people of Alexander Bay

I have now consolidated all the pix taken in and around Alexander Bay at this link – Alexander Bay Pix

Rain in the desert

I awoke at about 6am yesterday to the sound of rain on the caravan, not very heavy, but it continued for about 2 hours or so. Later in the morning it started again, this time quite heavy, and rained on and off for the rest of the day.

Now compared to what was going on in Cape Town it was nothing, maybe 5 -10mm (I am guessing as nobody has an accurate measurement)  compared to  C.T.’s over 100mm, but it did cause quite a bit of chaos. Remember that the area round here is classed as desert and as such has a very low average rainfall of about 25mm per year.

The road to Alexander Bay became like a mud bath and very slippery with the result that quite a few cars either got stuck or went off the road completely. Those that made it through to Brandkaros were covered in mud to half way up the windows. Some of the roads that go past here toward the Richtersveld Park became impassable and 2 guys from Springbok had to stay over here in the rondavals.

The other problem that was caused, with all the damp, was a localised power failure. They get so little rain here that there is not a lot of maintenance done on all the outside light covers or in the camp site office. I had a look and found that water was dripping down exposed wiring in the toilet. Not very safe!!. None of the electrical boxes, that the campers plug into, even have earth leakage. Anyway they managed to get hold of an electrician from Alexander Bay to sort some of it out. He had a hell of a job getting here and said he nearly went off the road a couple of times but at least I had electricity and could keep nice and warm and the fridges going.

I had been wanting to go to Alexander Bay yesterday to get some fresh supplies of fruit, bread etc. but decided against it because of the road conditions. I was hoping that when I woke up this morning that the sun would be shinning and I would be able to go in this afternoon. Unfortunately it is still overcast and could even rain again later, so no go. Will just have to make do with what I have.

I did bump into Analine, who manages the camp site, and she had baked me an enormous loaf of brown bread. I have had a few slices and it is delicious.

Delicious home baked brown bread.

Delicious home baked brown bread.

I am sure that after all the rain it will be a bumper year for the Namaqualand Spring flowers. I hope that by the time I start my journey back to Cape Town, late August, that the flowers will have started to bloom. I remember 40 years back, when they had a bumper year of flowers, it was spectacular. Mile after mile of flowers for as far as you could see. If this is a really good year I would recommend, to all who can, to go into the Namaqualand for a week-end. It will be well worth it.

Namaqualand flowers - Photo from Google images

Namaqualand flowers - Photo from Google images

Catch up.

Right I have now spent the last 3 days and this morning (Sunday 12th) playing catch up for this blog and also sorting out the photographs I have taken so far into some kind of order.

Thursday and Friday were really hot and also quite windy. Saturday I woke up to the sound of rain falling on the caravan roof and not a breath of wind. When I stepped outside the air was clean (no dust) and everything just looked so fresh. It was truly beautiful. This morning is clear again but there is quite a nip in the air.

The camp has been empty, apart from me, for the past 3 days so it has been really peaceful and to be honest I have enjoyed the solitude as it has given me the space to do some introspective thinking about the past 12 days since I left Cape Town and also where I am going to go to from here and when. I have decided to stick around here for the next week and then go back to Port Nolloth and see what I can find there. There are still two possible story opportunities round here that I want to work on and a few more photographs I want to do in Alexander Bay.

Is it not amazing how a small group of inconsiderate and noisy people can stuff it all up. The peace and quiet I had been enjoying was shattered an hour or two ago with the arrival of a bakkie and trailer. I am still not sure how many people fell out when the doors were opened but at least 11 adults  and 3 children. The next thing fires were lit and loud music and much shouting and screaming was going on about 20 meters from where I am camped. All I can say is thank heavens they are only here to have a braai and will push off later this afternoon

Speaking of this afternoon I am going to go for a walk and also try my luck with some fishing. I have managed to get some dried mieles and am going to try them as bait. Will let you know if I had any luck in my next post.

5pm Update:

Breaking News, News Flash……..

Could not wait to tell you – There ARE fish in the Orange River.

Catch of the day

Catch of the day

Shame he wasn’t very big, about 12″ in the old measurement (not sure what that is in cm?) and no idea what kind of fish, so of course had to throw him back. Did get one very nice bite but lost it!!!! Next time hey…

By the way got the bites and caught this one on dropshot. The mieles did not even get a nibble.

Pieter the librarian et al

Tuesday 7th I spent virtually the whole day trying to get my act together so that this site could go live on Thursday. I have found it extremely difficult and frustrating to do because of the  slow internet connection I have here. Its been on a par with working, in the good old days, with a 56k modem. To be honest I am lucky to have any kind of data connection as I am 25k’s from Alex Bay and only got a GPRS signal there.

Wednesday 8th arrived and I set off early to meet up with Pieter van Wyk the librarian who was going to give me a tour round some of the interesting parts of Alex Bay. What an amazing young man – a virtual walking encyclopaedia of facts, plant names and history. A  librarian, photographer, writer, museum curator, ornithologist and conservationist and he is only 21 years old!!  He was born, schooled and raised in the area and his family have lived in the Richtersveld since the 1800’s. He has been writing a book for the last 6 years and it is due for publication in September this year.

Pieter van Wyk

Pieter van Wyk

Pieter the Librarian

His biggest passion are the Lichens of the area. There is a huge field of them, now declared a world heritage site and one of the largest collections in the world, that overlooks the town and that is where we started.

Lichen: plant organism made up of a fungus and an alga which grow together on rocks“.

If, like me, you are a total philistine who had never even heard the name before, and would like to find out more then please follow this link. Lichens.

Lichen field

Lichen field

The Lichen field overlooking Alexander Bay in the background

Pieter van Wyk

Pieter van Wyk

Pieter, in the Lichen field, doing what he loves most.

Pieters passion for what he is doing, research, conservation etc is so strong that it becomes infectious. The field is surrounded by a fence but the lock on the gate has been broken and all and sundry have unsupervised access to the plants which then get walked on, driven over or stolen. They can’t survive dust and while we were there about 6 police cars roared through the field, on the way to a shooting range. Even I was upset by that.

Lichen flower

Lichen flower

If I remember correctly this is known as “window of the world”

After spending some time in the field it was off to the Museum which is situated in the security area of the mine and I had to be signed in and a security card issued.

Pieters knowledge of the history of Alexander Bay and surrounds is quite staggering and we spent a good few hours going from section to section of artefacts on display, some of which he had put together himself. He has been appointed by the mine management to look after the museum and do tours but finds it very difficult to do justice to the work as he is employed full time at the Library. This was the 1st time he had been in the museum for 2 months and there was dust everywhere. I felt very privileged to be given the tour all on my own.

Museum display

Museum display

Time was running short as Pieter had to be back at the library by 1pm so we took a quick drive to the restricted boarder crossing into Namibia to get a photo of the longest bridge in South Africa.

Bridge spanning  the Orange River

Bridge spanning the Orange River

Difficult shot to get but also illustrates what the soil and vegetation is like.

On our way back to town we came across some more flamingos and I learnt that the area is also a Ramsar site.

Famingos

Flamingos

My time was up and we said our goodbyes.  I went to the restaurant to have a bite to eat and ponder on all I had heard and seen from this very knowledgeable young man and work out how I was going to try and capture the essence of it all on this blog. I have tried my best.

For more photographs of the day go to pix

If you wished to learn more about what has happened, and is still going on, in the lands claim scenario please go to Link

Visit to Alexander Bay.

Monday (6th) was pretty chilly and misty in the morning. I woke up fairly late and by the time I got out the caravan Koos and Lieta were all packed, hitched up ready to leave. I was quite sad watching them go as they had been great company for the past 2 days. They were planning to travel through the Richtersveld and then into Namibia to go and visit many friends at various locations.

Koos and Lieta

Koos and Lieta

Koos and Lieta Prince all hitched up and ready to continue their journey.

About an hour after they had left the monkeys were back with vengeance. It was not pleasant as I was now the only one there and they went mad around and on my caravan. There must have been at least 20 of them from little babies to pretty big adults. There was nothing I could do as I watched them use the rally tent in front of  the caravan as a trampoline. I was, after about an hour of this, getting really angry and frustrated and decided enough of this I have to leave. I even started packing up some of my things when suddenly they were gone and peace returned.

I boiled the kettle, made some rooibos tea and sat down to think it through. I really did not want to leave yet as I still had to explore Alexander Bay and the only place I could move to was Port Nolloth 80k’s away and very expensive until after the school holidays. I decided the best thing to do was to go into Alex Bay so I could get away from Brandkaros for a while and calm down.

Driving on my favourite dirt road to Alex Bay, to be honest without the caravan behind the road was not too bad, I wondered how I was going to get information on where to go and what to see. I had been to Alex Bay 40 years previously and  remembered very little of what it looked like but knew it had changed a lot.

After signing in, to get into the town, I managed to find a Sentra  shop, buy a few things and decided to have a cup of tea at the only restaurant in town. On chatting to the lady serving me I found out that the only person to talk to was a guy called Pieter van Wyk and he was the librarian. Found the library and walked in to find Pieter. What a shock!! I had somehow conjured up the image of an elderly man, as he new all the ins and outs of the town, and there was this young man of 21 standing in front of me. What a nice guy. (More about him later) We made an appointment to meet on Wednesday morning, as he only starts at 1pm on Wednesday, and he would show me round.

It was still quite early so I decided to take a drive down to the beach and take a few photographs.

Alexander Bay beach

Alexander Bay beach

The old watch tower

The old watch tower

The guards old watch tower on the beach. This used to be a restricted area.

If you would like to see more pix taken at the beach please click on this link:  Alex Beach