I almost spent two weeks already at Homtini, where each day brings its lot of simple and revitalizing pleasures. We have also enjoyed last weekend with Solène to visit Knysna, the farm’s closest city.
Keep calm and relax
As long as the owners, Jeremy and Margreta, were not there (they live half in England, half in South Africa), we kept ourselves busy with Solène clearing the trails in the forest and weeding the domain. I also discovered how delightful it is to go running in the forest: steep slopes that go up and down, sinuous paths, a magic golden light, no one but Teddy (running much faster than me), such ideal conditions!
On Friday evening, we have met our first big spider. Solène was petrified so I sacrificed myself to take a picture of it and try to kill it with one shoe, but I missed it and it went to hide under the fridge! Since then, Margreta told us that it was actually a poisonous spider, which could have been dangerous… nice!
Getaway in Knysna
We have left to Knysna on Saturday morning. We wanted to take the public transport (minibuses that come at variable times, a very blurry and imprecise means of transport!) but Andy, who works at the farm, could finally drop us off. After leaving our bags at the hostel, we have started straight away to visit the city centre. We had planned to rent bikes but as the distances are not that big, we have finally made everything on foot.
Knysna is a relatively small city – a little bit more than 50 000 inhabitants – established on an estuary fed by the Knysna River, and whose mouth opens on the Indian Ocean, between two high cliffs, known as The Heads. The city centre is particularly small and the houses rather luxurious, even though the richest are on the two islands, Thesen Island and Leisure Island. The Waterfront is the most touristic area, with its marina, its clothes and souvenir shops as well as its numerous restaurants.
It is there that we had our lunch (thanks the Routard for the recommendations), on the terrace of a huge restaurant / delicatessen / take away with an industrial decoration. It is specialized on fish and especially Knysna oysters (but it still has a very rich and varied menu). I had read that the glasses of wine were often very generous in South Africa and I was not disappointed. I had a glass of Pinot Gris that couldn’t be fuller for less than 2€!
In the afternoon, we walked up to The Heads, which open on the Indian Ocean. It is about 7 km away from the centre, which majority is unfortunately not arranged for pedestrians: we had to walk along the main road, which could have be more pleasant! But the view from the top of the cliffs is worth it: the power of the Ocean and its waves diving into the lagoon is impressive. We can only imagine how it is when there is a storm…
As we walked back to the centre, we had to acknowledge that it is better to take a taxi otherwise we would have finished at nightfall, at own risks. I still have troubles to get used to this omnipresent feeling of insecurity and this dependence to the transports (even if it was much worse in Johannesburg as it was every time and not only in the evening). We have talked a lot about it with Solène who is used to this feeling after her six-month trip in South America. But rather than complaining about it, it is better to realize how lucky we are in Europe, where we are able to get out anytime we want without risking our lives. In Jo’burg and in Brazil the cars don’t even stop at the lights at night, so to avoid aggressions!
After a local beer and some vegetables chips (without salt and really delicious) as an aperitif at the hostel, we went to Turbine Tapas Bar, another highly recommended by the Routard. We validate this restaurant, be it for its friendly atmosphere, for the meals’ quality-price ratio, or for the nice selection of local beers and wines!
Fancy some Marijuana?
On the following morning we continued our stroll in Knysna, but we had really seen most of it and the city is particularly dead on Sunday. We had a tour of the Rastafari township planed at noon with “Brother Zebulon” (also called “Zeb”), a very special guide whose dreadlocks reach the bottom of his knees. He is less than 40 years old but looks like he is more than 60, the marijuana doesn’t have as much benefits as he claims! (Indeed he explained us that they follow a very strict diet without fish, meat, milk, eggs, only fruits, vegetables and marijuana.)
The rasta district is very small (111 inhabitants of which 45 children) but the tour is still interesting. First it gave us the occasion to see Knysna’s upper part, which poverty contrasts with the waterfront’s huge villas.
Brother Zeb explained us the frescoes that decorate their district and their meaning and showed us their school, the place of worship where they go everyday as well as their “little” plantations. We could even have bought him some, only R100 (6€) for a high quality bag. Too bad for him, we were not really here for that!
Back to Knysna, we wanted to take the public transport to go back to the farm but it is not running on Sunday afternoon! Jeremy will finally came to take us at the end of the afternoon, which was our first occasion to get to know each other.
Back to Homtini
We spent a very nice evening with Jeremy and Margreta. This very interesting couple (he is British, she is Dutch) has lived in Uganda, Mauritius, Belgium and South Africa, just to mention a few. They have known war, malaria, their kids almost had rabies… they told us a lot of enthralling anecdotes! We have also a lot to learn from them about nature, fauna and flora, the work at the farm, the daily life in South Africa (society, culture, food, waste and water management…)
We also spoke about the organisation to come of the work at the farm. It is the first time they receive volunteers and they really want to develop their projects to support the local community (accompany the young girls regarding contraception, periods, alcoholism during pregnancy…), parallel to the help we can bring them on the farm’s daily life. I will also see how I can work on the farm’s promotion in France (especially by translating their website). All these projects will be more precise in the days to come but we are excited and very happy at the prospect of such interesting missions.
Since their arrival, we share delicious vegetarians meals and learn a lot from them everyday. I even had the occasion to cook beetroots and quinoa in a solar oven I did not even know that it exists! We are touched to be welcome like this, as if we were part of the family. Our missions are also more varied, between the works in the fields, the preparation of a huge fire to burn all the dead woods, pictures that I had to take of the cattle (and a calf was born yesterday, we saw it 30 minutes after its birth!)… and we still hope we will have a chance to harvest the blueberries before leaving (they are very late due to the severe drought there was last winter in the region).
One week in South Africa already enabled me to discover and learn a lot about cultural facts (especially on the place of “colored people” in the society compared to the one of the whites), to learn a lot about the farm’s functioning and the immersion is just starting. The next weeks to come will be full of discoveries!
Tips & practical infos
Island Vibe Knysna: central hostel with a very friendly staff and a pleasant terrace. Dorm and bathroom quite old but ok for one night. R 150 – 10€ for one night in a 10-bed dorm.
Food & beverage
34 South: Restaurant / delicatessen / Take away located on the waterfront with a very nice industrial decoration. Specialized on Knysna oysters and fish but it has numerous other meals on the menu. Around 10€ for a meal and a (very generous!) glass of wine or a local beer.
Turpine Tapas Bar: Bar / restaurant located on Thesen Island. Large selection of tapas, with a very good quality-price ratio. Around 10€ for several tapas to share with a glass of wine or a local beer.
Olde’s Pub and Grill Restaurant: Pub / restaurant specialized in meat, but still with a few vegetarians meals. Stunning decoration from the ceiling to the walls (vinyles, CDs and business cards everywhere). Prices are ridiculous, around 5€ for the meals.
A little bit of culture:
Tour of the rastafari township with Brother Zeb: R120 (7,40€) for about 1h of visit. He comes directly to take you in the city centre. Contact him directly on the phone: +27 766 491 034