It was on May 7 last year that the combined Cape Town dams held only 20.9% of their maximum capacity. The city was restricted to a daily allowance of 55 liters per person, the supermarket shelves more often than not were devoid of drinking water, and we were only days from the mains supply being switched off and an emergency situation declared.
And emergency supplies meant 20 liters per person to be collected in your own containers from stand-pipes somewhere in the neighborhood. But nobody seemed to know where the stand-pipes would be located and how we would identify ourselves. It threatened to be chaotic. In a modern society, such as is that of much of Cape Town, can you imagine trying to cope with cooking, washing, flushing toilets etc. with so little water?
But nature relented and the rains started to fall, and month by month the dam levels rose, until they peaked on October 8, at 76.2% capacity. The immediate emergency was over, but not quite; the rainfall was most welcome, but it was still below average. Personal consumption was increased to 105 liters per person.
In our apartment building, we have recently had installed individual water meters. Once a week, first thing Saturday morning, I note our consumption, and it is constantly 110-130 liters per day, well within the guidelines. Since the emergency, we have been very conscious of not using more water than is absolutely necessary. I suspect that we will now always treat access to potable water as a valuable privilege, wherever we are.
Cape Town is very much a tourist destination and it was very much hurt by the negative international publicity regarding the drought. I find it encouraging to know that one of the local hotels, Radisson Water Front, has eliminated its dependency on local water supply, and has constructed a desalination plant to supply its own needs. Perhaps others will follow their example.
As part of the water augmentation plans, the Western Cape government has commissioned three desalination plants along the coast, but with little success. They take water directly from the ocean, but have been hit by the natural occurrence of algal bloom in False Bay and recent contractual disputes. It seems that we will continue to depend on natural rainfall.
Today is May 18 and the dam water levels stand at 45.6% of capacity. And light showers are forecast for tomorrow.
As an Irishman, I never thought that I would ever say ‘May it rain… ‘.
Our balcony in Cape Town faces due west, and in the summer months, from early to late afternoon, it is just too hot and much too bright to sit out there. But once the sun nears setting, it is almost idyllic to sit and watch the buildings, the trees and Signal Hill slowly transform from detail to silhouette. And then, one by one, the stars appear.
But last night was different. Suddenly, in late afternoon, a huge deep sea drilling rig appeared just off-shore. It was the Deepsea Stavanger, a Norwegian rig.
The Deepsea Stavanger was built in 2010. It has a tonnage of 43,708, with an area of 119 m by 97 m, and a draught of 17 m. Recently it has been drilling at a depth of more than 1400 m off Mossel Bay, about halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
In 2014 a similar drilling attempt had to be abandoned; the rig that had been contracted was not capable of withstanding the severe storms and strong currents, conditions in which the Deepsea Stravanger is built to excel.
When we looked later in the evening, a fog was rolling in and the rig was hidden from view. The fog made Capetown Stadium look as if it was on fire.
Today we walked along the seafront and the Deepsea Stavanger looked really enormous.
Then in late afternoon, the lights on the rig were switched on, and it started to slowly move westwards. And from my desk, some hours later, it is a small receding light on the north-western horizon.
Oil experts are confident that South Africa will soon be able to announce the discovery of a major new energy field.
Last year, the news that Cape Town was on the verge of running out of water was global. The tourism and the farming sectors were badly impacted. When the winter rains eventually arrived on May 5, the reservoirs were down to 20.9% of their capacity, anything under 10% being largely inaccessible. Fortunately, the winter rains were generous, particularly in the early months, and the reservoirs peaked at 76.2% of their capacity on October 8. For this year the threat of drought has receded.
But for how long has the problem gone away? Cape Town is using about 0.2% of its reservoir capacity every day or 6% every month. The reservoirs are currently at 61.7% of capacity, so without fresh rain, there is a little over eight months of available water. If there is not normal rainfall this winter, the emergency could be back on next year
From reports I have seen, the average American uses more than 300 liters of water per day. During the peak Cape Town drought last summer, we had to limit ourselves to 50 liters per day, increased to 70 liters when the winter rains arrived, and recently increased again to 105 liters.
Our small building in Cape Town has only six apartments; two on each of three floors, with a secure parking garage in the basement. Our apartment is on the top floor.
Now we know how much water we were consuming as a building, but we had no idea if our individual apartment conservation efforts were adequate. So the building committee decided to install individual water meters in each apartment, and a plumbing company was contracted to carry out the work.
And on a beautiful Cape Town morning on 15 January at 09:00, a plumber and his mate started work. Shortly after, they found that they did not have the right meters, and off they went to plumbing suppliers to source the correct ones.
When they returned, they started work on the first apartment, only to find that the pipe inserts that they had were not the right size. So back to the suppliers they went once more, but this time with no luck. They could not find the required size.
So rather than abandon the task for the day, they decided to at least install the meters, and come back another day, when they had located the correct inserts. At 13:00, they arrived in our apartment, the second of the six apartments to be converted.
By 13:40, the initial work was completed, and I offered to knock on our neighbour’s door, the next on the plumber’s list. When she opened her door, there was a tremendous whoosh of air and a resounding bang, as our door slammed shut behind us, trapping in a horizontal position, an apron, that had been hanging on the wall beside the door.
And nothing we did would open the door. Nothing would move it, not even Tony’s shoulder charge. As unlikely as it appeared, it looked as if the force of the slamming had caused the door to lock, and my keys were inside the apartment.
So, for a while we considered climbing up from the apartment below, but we did not have a suitable ladder. In the end, our neighbour contacted Lotta at her office in the city, and drove off to get her keys.
In the meantime, Tony offered me a glass of delicious white wine in his apartment, while we waited.
But when the keys arrived, it was soon obvious that the door was not locked, just jammed, due to the apron. So everyone had a go at pulling it out, and after several attempts, the plumber succeeded in wrenching it free.
And the door sweetly opened, with no effort.
Finding myself being locked out of our apartment in Cape Town, reminded me of an incident that occurred to me, many years ago in the early 1990s, when I used to spend a lot of time in Brussels on business. I had a contract at attractive rates with the Hotel Euroflat on Boulevard Charlemagne, and on the very rare occasion when they were fully booked, they used to find me a room at an up-market hotel across the street. It was on such an occasion that I am recalling.
I had just got back to my room from training in the Parc du Cinquantaire – I was still a keen runner in those days, and I was rather late for a dinner appointment. I stripped off my running gear and went straight to the bathroom to shower. I threw open what I thought was the bathroom door, only to find myself standing naked in the hotel corridor. Now hotel entrance doors tend to have a strong spring to avoid them being left open, and it was something of a miracle that I managed to realize my predicament, and grab the door behind me, before it slammed shut. I was microseconds from having to descend in the elevator, stride naked across to reception and request another room key.
But how could I have made such a mistake?
For this particular room, the layout was different to a standard hotel room. If one stands with back to the window, normally the bathroom is next to the bed and at the end of a short corridor there is the entrance door. But in this case, the entrance door was next to the bed and the bathroom was at the end of the corridor, where the entrance door would normally be. An easy mistake to make; a possibly embarrassing outcome.
I wonder how many others have got caught like me?
But the curtain had not yet come down on the ‘water meter’ drama. Late afternoon yesterday, there was a message on our Whatsapp group to say that the recently installed piping in the apartment next door had come loose, and the geyser had ejected 400 liters of water. It was all hands to the pump.
Luckily there were several of us in the building at the time and we collectively sourced buckets, towels, mops, sponges etc. and within the hour, all was almost spick-and-span once more.
And while we waited for the plumber and his mate to return to re-do his handiwork, Tony produced two more cold bottles of the same delicious white wine, that had so successfully consoled me a few days previously.
I would never consider myself as an expert on wine, despite my life-long exposure to grape juice. I have never quite felt comfortable when I have been requested to approve a wine by a usually supercilious waiter, and I will never forget the day when I tasted and ‘approved’ a wine at a lunch in Paris, only to have my colleagues spit it out, declaring it to be ‘corked’. It had tasted fine to me. I hope that Liliana Frigerio cannot recall that occasion!
When my sons arrived here in Cape Town last November, one of our suggestions of ‘Things to do in Cape Town‘ was a visit to the oldest wine farm in South Africa, followed by lunch. So one day we set off in two ‘Ubers‘ for the 30-minute drive to Groot Constancia.
Now why they are called ‘wine farms‘ and not ‘vineyards‘ I am yet to understand. I assume that something got lost in the translation to English from Afrikaans or Xhosa.
It was Simon van der Stel, then Governor of the Cape, that established Constancia in 1685, believing it to be best suitable for vineyards. And it was Hendrick Cloete who bought land in Constancia in 1778 and planted thousands of vines. In time, according to the local marketing material, the resulting wine of Groot Constancia became a favourite drink of many European kings and emperors, including Frederick the Great of Prussia, King Louis Philippe of France and Napoleon Bonaparte.
And how did it come about that Napoleon was able to drink wine made at Groot Constancia, while exiled on the island of Saint Helena in the Southern Atlantic, from 1815 to his death in 1821?
It so happens that the English East India Company, based in Cape Town at the time, was commissioned by the British authorities to provision the garrison and the regiments stationed on the island, as well as the ships of the Royal Navy patrolling the waters around Saint Helena.
While the rest of our party went on a tour of the facility and a presentation on the wine-making process, I wandered around the well-preserved buildings and the vineyards. It was so tranquil and I found it difficult to believe that I was in Africa. It felt more like Spain.
When we convened, after a delicious lunch in the restaurant, we had the opportunity to sample some of the local wines. They proved to be delicious, and I couldn’t resist buying a case of their white.
And two other examples of the local wine that we purchased…
For more information on the interesting history of Groot Constancia, click here
If you walk along Beach Road in Sea Point, the ocean-side suburb adjacent to Green Point, you might notice a row of six posts alongside the promenade. If you are curious, you might cross the drought-stricken park to have a closer look.
And from closer, they appear to be strange ironwork sculptures.
But there is nothing to indicate their purpose.
And then you might notice, a little further away, a small platform with dates and numbers.
And from the platform, all is revealed: seen from the right observation point, the various metal sculptures merge to form a huge rhino.
And what do the numbers leading up to the observation platform represent?
They reflect the number of rhinos slaughtered each year by poachers to obtain their horns.
And why their horns?
Because there is a demand from south-east Asia for a powdered form of the horn, in the naive belief that it will cure cancer, improve their sexual performance, or a host of other dubious claims, despite scientific evidence that there are no such benefits.
How stupid can people be?
The sculpture at Sea Point was created by André Carl Van de Merle, sponsored by the City of Cape Town, Art54 and Woolworths.
And for what it is worth, I can say, without any reservation, that Woolworths is the best little supermarket that I have ever come across, anywhere in the world.
So if Woolworths is involved in exposing rhino poaching, there is hope…
The Aguila Private Game Reserve lies some 200 km and a little over two hours drive to the north-west of Cape Town. It is a 10,000 hectare reserve near the town of Touws River, and originally held various antelope species. In 1999, it was purchased by Searl Derman, with his goal of re-introducing ‘Big Five’ animals to the Western Cape and allowing them to roam freely.
The term ‘Big Five’ originates with big game hunters and referred to the five most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt: elephants, lions, buffalo, rhinos and leopards. At Aguila there is no hunting, and the term ‘Big Five’ is solely used in marketing materials.
The reserve was named after the Black Eagle (Aguila), an endangered species, that is often spotted by game wardens and occasionally by a guest. They have occasionally been photographed feasting on the remains of a leopard kill.
So it was that we set out early on a Sunday morning, once again in Faried Fakier’s minibus (see Randy’s Tours), to drive to Aguila. The scenic route from Cape Town passes through the wine lands of Paarl and the rugged mountains of Hawequas and Matroosberg. Once past the wine farms, the land was parched and obviously greatly suffering from the four-year drought. Once checked into our rooms for the night, and replete with lunch, we set off on a very bumpy tour of the reserve, with a knowledgeable guide, searching for animal sightings.
The photos that follow were taken by one of our group, except where noted.
In 2011 some poachers invaded the reserve, killed two rhinos and injured a third, before escaping with the horns. Since then security on the reserve has been escalated. Rhinos are particularly vulnerable to poachers, as the habits of rhinos are predictable: they defecate at the same place most days. Unfortunately, rich and privileged (idiot) Asians continue to believe that rhino horn powder acts as a powerful aphrodisiac, despite it having been proven to be totally useless. What sad bastards they must be.
The lions are ‘rescued lions’ from a ‘lion farm’. They had been reared in cages of ten meters square, fed on a diet of steroids to give them bulk, and would have been eventually shot by ‘brave’ rich tourists. No doubt photos and taxidermy would be included in the package. For more information, the Spanish ex-King could help, although it was an elephant and not a lion that he shot (see Spanish kill).
But these were lucky lions – two male and five female. They have a separate reserve, with their own mountain and valley to wander over, and fed once a week. They could not be released into the wild, as they would not be able to support themselves. Once they were doomed, but now they can live out their natural lives.
A Southern Giraffe, smaller than its northern cousins
An Eland antelope
Gnu, also known as a blue wildebeest
We did not have any sightings of the hippos, apart from their noses and some snorting of water. Apparently they spend about sixteen hours a day under the water and the young can feed from their mother without surfacing.
There are four mountain leopards in the park, but they are nocturnal and rarely seen. Only the evidence of their kill and their footprints reveal their presence.
As an integral part of its mission, Aguila has an Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. This is a sanctuary for animals that can never be released into the wild again. It is also a temporary home for animals who need treatment and then released back into the wild. This area is out-of-bounds for visitors. Any contact with these animals is kept to the absolute minimum.
Aguila has had some success with this initiative, having released back into the wild three mountain leopards, numerous lynx, porcupines, owls and other species.
Much of the unique information about Aguila, I have noted from our guide or extracted from the Aguila web site. For more detail, see Aguila.
We stayed on the reserve overnight, in very comfortable accommodation. After dinner, we found that a bonfire had been lit, and a knowledgeable local guy gave a fascinating lecture on the night sky, using a laser pointer and a astronomical telescope.
And just before we left the reserve we had the good fortune to come across a rare sighting of a Freckled Blackwood, complete with offspring.
Witnessing wild life can often be a matter of luck… 🙂
For the first time in several years, I managed to organize a two-week reunion, here in Cape Town, with my four sons and one of their girlfriends. They coordinated their flights from Frankfurt and Barcelona so that they all travelled out on the same flight from London. John and Hazel stayed with us in our apartment and Andrew, Bob and Philip stayed in a nearby hostel (see http://www.bigbackpackers.com).
Before they arrived, I sent them my own idea of a list of ‘Things you could do if you only have two weeks in Cape Town‘. They managed to do just about everything, except ‘ Shark Cage Diving‘, and visiting Robben Island, the notorious prison where Nelson Mandela was held for so many years. They booked tickets for the island, but unfortunately, when they turned up at the dock, the tickets were reserved for the preceding day. Whoops!
Travelling around the Cape of Good Hope was a unanimous choice. When I heard that we were considering renting a minibus, I was not in favour, and instead I insisted that we contract Faried Fakier to show us around the peninsula. Apart from regularly transporting us and our friends to and from the airport, Faried is a qualified tour guide. He and his wife, Rosina, have their own company, Randy’s Tours. I would have no hesitation in recommending them to anyone visiting Cape Town and surroundings.
So at 09:00 sharp, we set off from our Green Point apartment, heading east around Signal Hill and Table Mountain, then south through Constancia to Muizenberg.
From Muizenberg we followed the False Bay coast, passing the colorful bathing huts of Saint James Beach.
We continued through the trendy fishing villages of Kalk Bay and Fish Hoek and stopped after Simon’s Town, at Boulders Beach. It is here that one can view the evidence of the positive conservation efforts of recent years. African Penguins can only be found in South Africa and Namibia and have been considered as a species on the verge of extinction. In 1982, two breeding pairs settled on Boulders Beach, and today there are in excess of 3000 birds on the beach.
From Boulders Beach we drove to the Cape National Park. It was there that we came across a troop of baboons. This guy was the obvious leader. He just sat with a stick up his bum, ignoring us.
The actual Cape of Good Hope is the sort of place I would normally never go near. Too many tourists and few, if any, locals. But at least I can say I have done it… 🙂
On the way out of the park, we came across this flock of wild ostriches.
And on the way back to Cape Town, we stopped at Chapman’s Peak with this fabulous view.