Keep it rolling, Port Alfred

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SUN, SURF AND SAND: Chilling on the beach near Mpekweni Picture: SARAH-CLAIRE PICTON

Visitor to the Sunshine Coast, Sarah-Claire Picton wrote about her experiences of Ndlambe and surrounds, giving a fresh perspective to what locals may take for granted.

PORT Alfred, resonating in the heart of Mzansi’s Sunshine Coast, is, to me, nuanced with memories.

Based about 30km outside this laid-back harbour town, my three week holiday has turned into a journey of gratitude and surprise.

I absorbed the rich heritage – in the people and the pastel-toned architecture on historical Wharf Street. The streets and buildings, like the land, are layered in tradition.

The community presence is almost palpable. I walk the narrow roads and witness sanctuary – it feels that this is a place of stories and storytellers. And thus, I shall try offer a story to keep or take home. I realise that, here, tales are yet to be told; and perhaps there are others waiting for that “perfect moment” or a brazen raconteur. Someone to create a novel blueprint.

Port Alfred has provided me with the fuel to keep on rolling. As my bro says, “You gotta go through the tough times to appreciate the good ones.” Well, adios 2016 and thank you Port Alfred for serving me a multi-textured venture that is only just beginning.

At the mouth of the Kowie River, on Route 72 between Port Elizabeth and East London, in this rugged coastal fishing village, a personal journey of discovery has occurred.  I learned to take time out – to say “hello” to passers-by, always keep learning, and to remember to say “thank you”. Time is precious, a priceless commodity, yet often comes at a cost much higher than crude oil or coffee.

Talking about timely matters, much of my first two weeks were spent traversing Fish River Sun and the sardine-packed streets in the CBD. Chilling outside Fish River’s terrace, under the shade of a larger-than-life Fikus Burkei (wild fig tree), with left-behind Flying Fish bottles catching mid-morning rays on an adjacent table brought upon a silent chortle. But I quickly realised my turquoise blue nail polish formed an idyllic distraction and vibrant tribute to the similar-toned ocean vista, squeezed between the high-rising sub-tropical dunes.

WATCH OUT, SPIDERS: Armed with a web-clearing kierie, the writer, Sarah-Claire Picton, and her boyfriend, head off for some bundu-bashing to reach the beach Picture: ROBYN MCMILLAN

A day visitor, soon feeling at home, my overnight stay and sundry day visits to Fish River quickly left me with a feeling of familiarity. This echoed my stay here: A retreat into summertime splendour and an opportunity to embrace the locals – to learn about tradition and share stories in a tone of mutual harmony.

Two simple highlights, early in, were cruising, road trip-style, with my family and my boyfriend, windows rolled down, Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing on max volume, and no backseat banter; and trekking through the thick bush, ducking and diving from the webs of crab spiders – harmless yet piercingly bizarre in their alienesque aesthetic – to reach a secluded shoreline, and sprinting to make the first salty splash.

The coastal paradise transcends a holiday rendezvous; it offers a catalyst to form a fresh framework for kick-starting 2017. Well, only a few days in, but Port Alfred retains a sense of raw empowerment. And for a KwaZulu-Natal girl – Durban-raised, Cape Town-based – here is where the true “good times” gather. It is up to you to keep them rolling. Feeling at home, I can finally say: “Molweni, Port Alfred.” And, yes, it is, indeed, a town with a heart of sunshine. “Liyashisa kakhulu!”

The ubiquitous message turns out to be one many of us grew up with: “home is where the heart is”. To put my own spin on an old adage, home, and the heart, is essentially about the company. So it’s about others’ hearts, and giving from the heart. This trip is about taking pleasure in the in-between moments: noticing kind eyes, sparking conversation with another stranger, aka “tourist”, sharing words and a view overlooking Kelly’s Beach (one of the Blue Flag status beaches to check out). Currently, it is the season of coastal rush-hour and my seaside itinerary takes shape from an ocean-wanderlust.

Leaning to the left of me is a wood plaque. It lists “Beach Rules” – three of which I will repeat in the hope that they encourage simple, yet significant, life reminders: “Wake up Smiling”, “Relax and Unwind”, and “Be Grateful for this Day”. But not only do I wake up smiling, Port Alfred – a spectrum of wonder – sends me to bed grinning gratefully.
Now, with a long-overdue slip-slop tan, I conclude with a lyric from Jane’s Addiction’s Summertime Rolls – “It brought peace to my mind… In the summertime… And it rolled.”

Next week Sarah-Claire Picton will share experiences of her river activities, night time excursions, a backpack stay-over, an epic walking trail, culinary “bests”, and one or two surprises.

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