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Searching for mermaids in the Karoo A trip on the mythological side of life...
CXPRESS, issue 254
Bunk and you've missed it: The picture-perfect Karoo village of Klaarstroom, just above Meiringspoort Waterfall - it's an official one-horse town with exactly that: a guest house, a shop, a petrol pump, and ONE horse! The Karoo has a treasure trove of wonderful stories, legends and hand-me-down- yarns, re-told through the ages by elderly tannies drinking their koffie on dusty front stoeps. One recurring story, is that of a mermaid seen at waterfalls and rivers all over the Karoo... Warning children not to go near deep pools in case the 'water-auntie’ drags them in, talk of the Karoo Mermaid is still very much alive today. Intrigued to find out more, filmmakers Wendy Hardie and Maya Morgan packed binocs, cameras and zoom lenses, and set off on a two-week road trip from Cape Town, along the R62 and through the Karoo - hot on the heels of the legendary Karoo Mermaid. Their travels took them from Ronnie's Sex Shop in Barrydale to Warmwaterberg Spa and Amalienstein, where they heard Hermanus Fourie's first-hand account of a Karoo Mermaid sighting in his youth. From rock art depicting fish-like creatures to a mermaid washed up on a Mossel Bay Beach, the signs and stories did not stop flowing. From this encounter, Wendy reduced a documentary that has screened on SABC 2. If you’ve missed its broadcast, the good news is that a DVD-cum-guide book and travel pack on he subject were subsequently produced. Apart from being the perfect gift for Karoo lovers and novices alike, it reminds one of the fact that there is an alternative route to the N2 high-way when traveling north-east from Cape Town. Says Wendy: "Just turn onto the R62 and follow the guide-book, and you can have a completely alternative experience en route to or from your beach holiday. The trip has a wonderful air of mystery and is intriguing and different. "Research is showing that more and more travelers seek a different experience. Tired of me BIG this and the TOP that, they prefer authentic travel where you mix with real locals and get an insiders glimpse of a place. And that's what we did: stop off in little villages and have tea with little old ladies with many stories to tell, passed on from their grandmothers." Searching for Mermaids in the Karoo - the DVD, guide-book and map - will enable you to do this fascinating road-trip, too. It is available at selected bookshops and tourism offices, or can be ordered directly by e-mailing hardie@iafrica.com, or phone 083 616 0532.
Oudtshoorn demands its mermaid
CXPRESS, issue 254
During the 1996 storms that created havoc in the Little Karoo, a rumour spread that the mermaid at Meiringspoon had been hushed out of the pool at the foot of the waterfall, carried down river, and had washed up on the beach at Mossel Bay. The story then grew - that a fisherman had found her, and taken her to the CP Nel Museum in Outdtshoorn to be preserved in a tank of spirits. There was a huge reaction to this story - people phoned the museum until the switchboard jammed. Then they started arriving in busloads, demanding to see the mermaid. When staff couldn’t show her, the visitors became angry. Eventually the museum had to be closed to keep the situation under control. Someone decided to dress up a shop mannequin to make it look like a mermaid, which they hung in the museum tower so that the crowds in the street could see her; this didn't pacify them at all. Anita Holtzhausen - who worked at the museum at the time - said she was completely overwhelmed by the strong reaction people had to the mermaid story. She immediately began researching the topic in earnest, collecting every bit of information about the ''Karoo Watermeid”, San rock art, and Mermaid beliefs in general from around the globe and throughout history. She is writing a much sought after book on the subject.
ECToday, 4-18 Sept. 08 - By Engela Neethling
Childhood memories of endless holidays on golden beaches, swims in mermaid pools and carefree days spent at seaside resorts prompted Clive Dennison to pen down his fondest times on the Wild Coast in book form. The result was A Brief History of the Wild Coast, a soft cover book with photos and anecdotes of the old Transkei, which has just been published. The book, a must read for all who have ever had the opportunity to visit or live on the Wild Coast, is sold directly by the author. Who does not remember the early years of Mngazi, Mbotyi, Mthatha Mouth, Mngazana and Mpande - sun drenched days and bon fire evenings, feasting on an abundance of fresh fish and crayfish? It's all still there, albeit with the threats of mining and development looming, and much of the coastline now protected by marine laws. Clive, a professor of biochemistry, an amateur explorer, pilot of both light and micro light aircraft and Land Rover enthusiast, basically grew up on the Wild Coast. Having been born in KwaZulu-Natal, his family used to go down to the Wild Coast for as long as he can remember. It started with his father Jack, a keen fisherman, who threw down his rod after being whacked on the head by a sinker somebody was trying to cast out. "He was caught up in a melee of fishermen near Durban all after the same school of shad. That's when he decided that we had to find somewhere less crowded," says Clive. The family headed south and discovered The Haven. "It was in 1957 and I was 12 years old. Dad considered The Haven to be paradise, so for the next ten years, that's where we spent our holidays. And it lived up to every expectation." His childhood years on the Wild Coast didn't end when he became an adult. That's when Clive really set out to find out how it all came about. "What people were involved? When did they come, who did what, how, and why? "Many people have fond memories of childhood holidays on the Wild Coast. My book, which presents some of what I have found out wandering around the coastline and interior, is for all those people," says Clive. A Brie/History of the Wild Coast starts with the arrival of the early humans and the Portuguese era. The Wild Coast is riddled with shipwrecks, the most well known probably being the Grosvenor, which sank off the deserted port Grosvenor. But there was also the Sao Joao (off Port Edward), the Nossa Senhora de Belem (off Port St Johns) and the Boa Viagem (off East London). Most of the survivors of these shipwrecks walked back to either the then Lourenco Marques or Port Elizabeth in the hope of being picked up by passing ships. Many of them died on the way. Others married into local communities, such as the Gcaleka, TJiembu, Mfengu, Bomvana and Pondo. Clive's book gives a rather good account on these early times, including the first arrival of the Dutch, French and British. "Sometimes, when researching a historical topic, I come across a snippet, which is often like a small piece of thread. Pulling on the thread I unearth more and more, which gradually builds the overall picture. "Such was the story of the wreck of the Dodington.”The survivors of this wreck were the first British people to enter the Mzimvubu River (at Port St Johns)," tells Clive. E-mail Clive at dennison2@telkomsa.net.

Elephants to the rescue!
The Addo Elephant National Park outside Port Elizabeth, South Africa, always has a surprise for the visitor and this day was no exception. On the contrary, it was the most amazing sight I have ever seen in all my years of watching wildlife.
It was late afternoon, as the bush takes on the amber hue of the coming sunset, when we came upon the small water hole. We decided to stop and wait, as a small herd of elephant was headed in our direction. As they came ambling along we saw a small baby amongst them. It couldn't have been much older than three months, as it was still unsure on it's legs and was covered with furry growth. Upon reaching the water there was much ado and as we watched the little one, some of us had the thought, "wouldn't it be funny if it fell into the water"
These thoughts had hardly been thought when the baby hurtled down the incline, trying to make a sharp turn to get to mother. In its exuberant rush it did not see the small inlet. The next minute saw the little one disappear from sight, down the edge of the water hole and with a splash land in the muddy water. Oh No! came the exclamations from the humans in the bus and, so it seemed, from the attendant elephants as well.
"What to do, what to do", seemed to be passing from elephant to elephant as this one pulled and that one pushed. To make matters worse a bull elephant, who had been walking with the herd, also wanted to have a hand, I mean a trunk, in the rescue operation. The mother was frantic, as the little one struggled in the water. She climbed into the water herself and tried to push her baby out, the others pulling and tugging. It seemed, though, that the more they tried the more they were getting in each other's way and there was no hope for the baby.
While all this was going on one miss busy body was running to and fro as if to say, "Oh dear, oh dear, what can be done, what can be done". The most amazing thing about all this was that there was no trumpeting, no loud shouts and no earth shattering roars. Most of the proceedings were done in near silence, or so we thought. Even the trundling miss busy body made really no sound as she "thundered" around creating large puffs of amber dust clouds which hung in the air.
Eventually the elephants delegated the mother to do the job. The rest seemingly went about there own ways as if satisfied that everything had been done that could have been done. The only exception was miss busy body who just could not stop her panicked vigil on the sidelines. The mother, a lot calmer now, pushed and prodded, slowly encouraging the little one to face in the direction of the shallower water. She eased it along, until with a hip and a hop it staggered onto the first bit of solid ground and stumbled along until it got to dry land. An audible sigh went through the bus. The looks of fear and anguish on all the faces, both men and woman alike, were replaced with satisfied relief. Gawking mouths closed and remorse was the order of the day, for having thought such a thought. As if the thought gave rise to the accident.
Just when we thought we had seen everything, from out of the bush there came a whole herd of elephants at a speedy run, as if summoned by miss busy body. Maybe they were. They rallied around the mother and calf as if to see if everything was okay. Then more came charging through the bush from the other direction and even another herd from over the hill. All congregating around. A great Indaba was taking place and yet we could not hear what was the order of the day, although we guessed it. We sat watching the whole drama, only hearing the odd rumble, stunned. These magnificent creatures had been and were talking to each other in a frequency we were unable to hear or understand.
Once all was settled and everyone was satisfied that no harm had come to the mother or child, the herds started dispersing in their various directions. We sat dumbfounded at the sight we had witnessed. Definitely, not an everyday occurrence for us city folk. Even the seasoned tour operators were shaking their heads exclaiming how privileged we had been. We realised that no matter what we did for the rest of the day, we would not be able to top this experience. We started to leave the elephants as they were wandering off disappearing as ghosts into the bush. We rode off into the flame red African sunset, to discuss and re-discuss the happening of the day.
Robert Lourens


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