Day 3 – Bokkom, birding & boomslangs
written by Roan Mackintosh, pictures edited by Rory Alexander
The start of Day 3 brought with it 2 fantastic new things that had been missing on the trip so far. Firstly – clear, sunny, blue skies. And secondly, the one & only Siv Ngesi, our fourth musketeer – both very welcome additions to the West Coast scoot festivities. Having never met Siv before I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the guy but with a broad, genuine smile, sharp wit & devil-may-care attitude I could see pretty early on that he was going to fit right in.
Shelly Point Hotel know how to put on a proper breakfast spread, let me tell you! With a buffet choice of everything from croissants to bacon, omelets, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, poached eggs, mince on toast, fried tomatoes, cereals & muesli, yoghurt, fruits, baked beans, sausage, fried potatoes etc. I couldn’t help but notice Guy struggling to get his bike jacket zipped up a little later as we prepared to head out onto the road once again.
One great thing about being on a scooter is the fantastic additional sensory inputs. The feeling of the cool air rushing past. The warmth of the sun when you arrive at a stop street or traffic light. The smell and even taste of the slightly tangy sea air. It really lets you experience the trip in a whole different way from driving in an air-conditioned car. The down side to being on a scooter…? Heading out of St Helena bay while being downwind of a fish factory. Wow! That’s one special & quite unique odour!!
Not far down the road, we arrived at Port Owen in Velddrif where we met our captain for the morning on Tollie’s River & Boat Cruises, none other than Oom Tollie himself. A true salt of the sea man, he runs the cruises side-by-side with his wife (who is also a qualified skipper on the boat) and while she skillfully guides the boat and serves hot coffee and rusks, Tollie freely imparts his years of local knowledge to all who will listen. I knew I was going to thoroughly enjoy the ride up the Berg River when during his safety briefing, our fine captain described things as such – “This boat is like Brandy… it has no brakes!” Not only full of humourous one-liners such as this, he also knew the names of all the river birds in both English and Afrikaans and gave interesting tidbits about the Flamingos, Cormorants, Kingfishers, Sacred Ibis, Ducks & the quintessential Berg river Pelicans after which the very boat we were on was named. We learnt about one of Velddrif’s larger exports in the form of simple table salt. With the sea water pushing up the Berg river for as far as 20kms inland, the banks of the river are a perfect spot for salt pans that extract the salt from the river. Traveler’s tip: Take a beanie and warm jacket as the wind off the water can be quite brisk, although Tollie also offered blankets for those in need of an extra layer.
From the river itself to the masters of the river – the fishermen! Bokkom Laan is situated on the banks of the river and is famous for their Bokkom which is a salted fish, kind of like a fish biltong, that is produced more here than anywhere else in the world. What better place to try this delicacy than at Die Vishuis Restaurant with the owner Herman who spoke us through the history of the practice of curing the fish (mostly Mullet but more specifically the Harder Mullet) in a salt-based coating over 4 days. He also joined us for lunch & if there is one thing I can say about the West Coast portions it’s this – they are more than somewhat akin to those of American restaurants… Moerse BIG! We had 2 cooked full Harder to start (eaten with the hands and a chilli dipping sauce with fresh bread of course), 2 fresh battered Hake fillets, a portion of Calamari & chips for our mains and followed by a homemade Malva pudding and cream. (good thing there was mountain biking in the afternoon to burn some of this off!)
Not being a massive seafood fan myself, I was personally quite nervous to try Bokkom, but what’s this whole adventure about if not to discover new things, right? I wish I could say that I loved it and that it was just out of this world & that I can recommend it to anyone. But the truth is that I didn’t enjoy it at all. With a rather staunch flavor of the sea this local cuisine just isn’t for my palate. With thousands who love it & a thriving distribution of the product, who am I to judge and perhaps you should get down there and try it for yourself.
From the town of Velddrif it was on to Rocherpan where we were met by Adrian, the lodge manager at this Cape Nature Reserve who couldn’t wait to get us onto the mountain bikes, out to the bird hides and on to the lookout picnic site. He was however kind enough to let us unload our luggage into the eco-cabins first that are themselves a site worth seeing. With composting toilets (very different to a long drop) solar panels & functional furnishings, one gets the feeling of living in the bush as part of the environment, without the discomfort of camping.
And we were clearly not the only ones who enjoy the accommodations of the camp as Adrian pointed out 2 of the resident Boomslangs that live in the trees around the camp. Highly venomous yet quite docile, he assured us that these magnificent creatures wouldn’t bother us, so long as we didn’t bother them and that they prefer the abandoned weaver nests in the trees to our cabins (let’s hope he’s right!)
Rocherpan itself is a pan that is wet for 9 months of the year and the remaining 3 months it dries out completely (as it was for us today) so there weren’t that many birds to spot from the newly constructed hides, but with 238 bird species resident in the area, it is literally teaming with bird life in the wet months and Adrian told us the recent story of a rare sighting of a Red-footed Booby that attracted birders from as far as Johannesburg who even delayed their trip to Mozambique to come and catch a glimpse of this “lifer”. I know Guy is also very interested in birds, and particularly ‘Boobys’, and tries to catch a glimpse of them as often as he can…
The trip to Draaihoek gave us our first night scoot opportunity & although the road is a little worn and potholed from the trucks that traverse it daily, the moonlit ride with a clear, star-filled sky kinda helped you forgive all that. Not knowing how we were possibly going to eat again after our hearty lunch, we found ourselves on the frontline of a gorgeous 3-course seafood extravaganza & after the first few bites the sensational flavours somehow allowed our bellies to expand just that little bit more as we gladly tucked in. I can highly recommend the cheese cake!
As we waddled back out to our Scooters to head back to Rocherpan for the night, only the brisk night air could stave off the serious case of “maggies vol, oogies toe” that I was feeling and as such I am going to be signing off from this day’s update now to get some well-earned rest and ensure I am ready to tackle tomorrow’s adventures. Follow the shenanigans on Twitter #scootwestcoast