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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Precious Paternoster

A visit to the West Coast is a bit like a treasure hunt from one's childhood. Like Easter eggs hidden at the bottom of the garden, this part of the world is dotted with little destinations that have remained largely undiscovered. Situated 150 km from Cape Town city centre, about an hour and 45 min drive, is one such gem, the scenic fishing village of Paternoster.

Characterized by whitewashed cottages that dot the shoreline, Paternoster is, above all, a Mecca for great seafood, in particular the West Coast rock lobster. Driving in and out of town, one meets hawkers selling the day's catch along the side of the road with cries of "Marrag Mêrrim, wat van ‘n lekke krief… twennie five rênd ene?’’ Loosely translated, this pitch reads "Afternoon Madam, how about a delicious crayfish… Only 25 rand each?" Of course, this is a predominantly Afrikaans speaking community, and the local dialect adds a certain charm to that which makes this part of the world so unique. Sadly, however, much of the fare on offer has been poached illegally. Poverty, as well as severe restrictions placed on local subsistence fishermen, forces many to run the gauntlet of selling their wares in this way to provide for their families.

In town, it is a different story. Paternoster has a thriving, vibrant fishmarket where one is greeted by eager fishmongers showcasing their wares. ‘’Môre my Lanie… spoil ie Mêrrim vanaand met ‘n lekke seafood dish… My Lanie sallie spyt  issie….’’ (Good morning, sir. Treat your wife to a delicious seafood dish tonight. You won’t regret it.) The people of this community are nothing, if not industrious. Even the local youngsters get in on the act, selling their shell necklaces, while posing with excited tourists for a small fee. The informal market in Paternoster is a thriving source of income for many, in what is otherwise a holiday town.

Paternoster may be one of the oldest villages on the West Coast, but this is not to say that it is run down by any means. A pristine beach, and a myriad of galleries and curio stores cater more than adequately to the annual influx of tourists to the village, offering hours of browsing pleasure, and the opportunity to pick up a souvenir or two. Luxurious accommodation like Klein Paternoster is on hand to provide any visitor with a West Coast home away from home, one's stay underlined by the hospitality of one's host, Pikkie Daniel, as well as her mouthwatering West Coast cuisine.

A visit to the Cape Columbine Lighthouse offers one the chance to see a bit of the natural heritage of the area, as well as the breathtaking sunsets for which the spot is well-known. Spring on the West Coast is world-renowned for its annual explosion of wildflowers, bringing a splash of colour to the area that seems like something from a dream. Paternoster is certainly not spared its share of this spectacle, and between the months of August to September it is definitely a destination to diarize.

As with many other towns in the Cape West Biosphere, the people are an integral part of the experience for the would-be visitor. It’s a big part of the reason why we include these communities as part of our Trails products. Whether it’s Natalie van den Heever, owner of On the Rocks takeaways, regaling you with lovely stories from the little fishing village while you’re served your lunch, or Andre Kleynhans, a long-time local, entertaining you with a recounting of a tale of the area while you sip wine alongside a sizzling fish braai, once you leave this little village you have had a feeling of belonging imparted that will keep you coming back.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Magical Slackpacking

When you close your eyes and think of a trail, what do you see? You might picture unwashed, malnourished thrill seekers shuffling down a mountain side, or making their way through some river gorge that would fill the most ardent adventurer with trepidation. It's all about lugging a ton of pots and pans, dried food and tins of bully beef, right? And who can forget about the prospect of finding some sort of creepy crawly inside one's sleeping bag, having to shake it out before bedtime. There are some that can't get enough of this… but chances are, you're not one of them.

It may well be that you do, in fact, enjoy a day out in the wilderness, soaking up all that’s best about the great outdoors. Whether it’s on foot, on a mountain bike, or in a kayak, you may be one of those folk who can appreciate nature as being one of the best things in life, but would really prefer to finish the day with a great steak and a beer, or two, before heading off to a comfortable bed in a luxurious room. Why can't a trail be a relaxing weekend getaway, instead of a six-day grind? After all, you work hard enough as it is. While a resort just hasn't got the excitement, it would be nice to get four star pampering as well as an adventure that only mother nature can provide. Welcome to the world of slackpacking!

Here on the West Coast, on the southern tip of Africa, we have an area that is rich in biodiversity and culture. In fact, it's unique enough to be recognised by the United Nations. Carrying only a day pack containing a water bottle, a raincoat, and a snack, a slackpacker quickly discovers that the trails of the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve aptly showcase this region and everything that is best about it. Employing the slackpacking model, a visitor can expect an experience that has its foundation in the ethos of UNESCO's "Man and the Biosphere" program. Without taking away any of the spoil and exclusivity that is so special about these products, one leaves knowing that one has made a contribution to something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. The unspoiled natural beauty is breathtaking, the cuisine is mouthwatering, and everyone you meet is welcoming to a fault. You've had the time of your life but, unknowingly perhaps, you’ve made an impression that it is far more lasting than your footprints. It feels good to know that what was a holiday to one was also an exercise in poverty alleviation, social upliftment, and the promotion of sustainable tourism. One person can indeed change the world, one trail at a time!