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The road less travelled: Platbos to Long Valley



scooter LML/Vespa in sunset

Probably the hardest (and best) thing about being on the road is the lack of structure.

On a scooter, it’s tough to work out how long it’s going to take you to reach the next spot, where you’ll sleep if you don’t make it, and what you’re going to eat that night, because carrying food is nearly impossible.

Melissa Andrews on LML/Vespa scooter with long shadows

This forces you to adapt, to literally go with the flow, and enjoy the freedom that comes with surrender. It also leads you to find places that you’d probably never have discovered if you’d planned your route and your timeframe to the nth degree.

The magical world of Platbos Forest

Labyrinth at Platbos Forest

One of these places was Platbos, Africa’s southernmost and lesser-known forest, which tries its very hardest to look as unobtrusive as possible by hiding between two hills. Even when pointed out to me, all I could see was a flat green belt of fynbos or alien vegetation, certainly not a magical wonderland reminiscent of the elven forest in Lord of the Rings.

Milkwood Tree, Platbos Forest

Naturally, we left our arrival to the last minute, racing against the approaching evening while admiring the sun’s last display of grandeur. Driving on wet gravel at night is no laughing matter; if we’d had the luxury of time we might have even felt scared.

Px150 lml/vespa Platbos forest nightime

Our headlamps sent forth a faint orange glow that served only to illuminate how little we could actually see. Slipping and skidding along to the campsite, Chris narrowly missing a tree, we heaved a sigh of relief when we arrived at the forest camp, enveloped by eons-old gnarled and twisted trees.

Forest camp at Platbos

Platbos forest campsite

With safari tents, a teepee and even a cabin, Platbos was such a magical retreat I had to fight the urge to selfishly keep it to myself.

 Platbos forest, outdoor kitchen

Completely off the grid, with solar panels, compost toilets and the Trees for Tomorrow reforestation programme, Platbos is eco-tourism at its best, helping people connect with nature while ensuring a minimal footprint.

Melissa Krige, Platbos Forest
We met with Melissa Krige, not just the owner of Platbos, but the forest’s custodian. It’s due to the efforts of Melissa and that of her husband, tree surgeon Francois, that a firebreak has been put up to ward of ever-encroaching alien vegetation, and that over 5000 trees have been planted in the reserve.

Platbos Forest replanting milkwood trees

Melissa is also the creator of African Tree Essences, a homeopathic healing treatment that instantly set us at ease.

A guided tour through Platbos Forest

Melissa then took us on walk through the forest, pointing out the differences between milkwood and stinkwood trees (it’s all in the bark and leaves, we learn {Milkood has rugged brown bark and dark green leaves where as Stingwood has smooth greenish bark with lighter green leaves}), while telling us what animals call the forest home.

From snakes such as boomslangs to carnivorous snails, leopards to bushbuck, the forest creates wildlife habitat, shade for trees to grow and even offers epiphyletic ferns a symbiotic relationship.

Platbos forest, old milkwood tree

I can’t recommend a visit to Platbos enough - check out our upcoming review on their eco-friendly accommodation, or find out more about this incredible forest and the products these ancient trees yield in a soon-to-be-released exclusive interview with Melissa.

 

The Southernmost tip of Africa

Christopher List and Melissa Andrews at Cape Agulhas

The southernmost point of Africa and the place where the cold Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean and the warm Agulhas current of the Indian Ocean meets, Cape Agulhas was once known as the Cape of Storms, with a legacy of over 250 shipwrecks along the coast.

px150, lml/vespa, Cape Agulhas

We stopped for a photo of its wind-torn beauty before heading to Swellendam via De Hoop Nature Reserve. Little did we know, the route we’d chosen was a long-winded one, at least 180 kilometres of which was gravel.

 

Pounding the gravel

px150, lml / vespa, scooter, travel, scooter touring on gravel roads

To sum it up, we spent the whole day driving on roads that alternated from bad to worse to horrid.

Vespa/LML is full of mud

En-route, Chris nearly fell over after sliding out on a series of wet potholes, and my bike suddenly, and obstinately refused to start any more, until we changed its spark plug.

changing spark plug on a LML/Vespa Px 150

Finally arriving at what is rightly known as the jewel of the Overberg, we had a quick picnic at De Hoop, the foremost whale-watching spot in the Western Cape. Unrivalled for rare and endangered flora and fauna, De Hoop left us wanting more, and we vowed to soon return to this incredible spot.

Melissa Andrews, px150, lml, vespa, De Hoop National Park

Gravel and more gravel, a rather surprising amount of ostrich farms and of course the endless farmlands, characterised by herds of luckless cows and degraded agricultural land, testament to man’s failing war against nature.

px150 touring, Farmlands, lonley gravel roads.

Still, there is something so special about riding on a gravel road with only wind-noise for company and the wide-eyed gawking of livestock. My reverie was rudely interrupted by a cloud of buzzing blackness and the thud, thud, thud of tiny winged insects as they hit my visor, windscreen and jacket.

I ducked as low as I could go and started braking, coming to a very rapid stop. It was only then that I saw that we’d hit a swarm of bees, and their tiny, stunned little bodies were still clinging to me. Chris and I quickly brushed them off each other and took off, hoping we hadn’t caused too much damage to this increasingly endangered, yet essential creature.

Christopher List screaming on a Px150 LML, vespa, with wide angle

Driving on, we encountered a flock of sheepishly shorn sheep, looking naked and rather embarrassed. One got such a fright as we drove past that it bolted into the road, running alongside us instead of away from us, so great was its agitation.

 

Crossing the Breede River

South Africa, Brede river, Malagas ferry, lml, vespa, px150e

A short ferry ride across the Breede river on the hand-drawn Malagas ferry, and another seemingly endless gravel road, driving faster and faster as we raced to beat the setting sun. And then we were in Swellendam, back on smooth as silk tarred roads just 13 kilometres from our destination - the Xhabbo Eco-village project at Jakkalskloof Permaculture Farm.

 

Jakkalskloof Permaculture Farm

px150, px150e, LML, Vespa, scooter, Jakkalskloof.

Completely self-sustainable, at 160 hectares Jakkalskoof was an example of large-scale permaculture in action. However, with the project’s future uncertain, our timing couldn’t have been worse.

Andrew McClachlan, Xhabbo Eco-village project at Jakkalskloof Permaculture Farm

Luckily, farm manager and permaculture fundi, Andrew McClachlan was there to show us around, sharing some of the lessons learnt in his three years on the farm.

Future site of the Xhabbo Eco-village project on Jakkalskloof Permaculture Farm

After seeing some of the amazing work done so far to rehabilitate the land, and hoping against hope that the project would continue, we hiked to the far end of the property, relaxing under the shade of a stunning indigenous forest at the foot of the mountains.

Xhabbo Eco-village project at Jakkalskloof Permaculture Farm, forest, natural flora

 

 

MacGregor Alternative Technology Centre

Last but not least, our next stop was MacGregor, where we met natural building expert Jill Hogan at the MacGregor Alternative Technology Centre.

MacGregor Alternative Technology Centre, mat.co.za, cob house

We stayed with Jill in Cobbits Cottage, a beautiful, high-ceilinged cob house that is completely off the grid, powered by the sun and wind. It also has compost toilets and captures water from the roof with rainwater tanks.

Mcgregor alternative technology center, mat.co.za, cob house doorMcgregor alternative technology center, mat.co.za, cobbits cottage, cob house

Jill runs an eco-friendly guest cottage (built out of cob, naturally) which she uses to introduce guests to alternative energy, natural building techniques and permaculture methods (she mostly grows her own food).

Mcgregor alternative technology center, mat.co.za, solar pannels, cob house

As if that’s not enough, she also runs natural building workshops, is currently writing a book, and spends a large part of her time doing historical restorations (most of the world’s old houses are built from cob).

In fact, one half of the world's population, approximately 3 billion people on six continents, live or work in buildings constructed of earth, mostly without even knowing it!

Miniature cob building workshop

a workshop with local kids from the township, cob house

We attended a workshop with local kids from the township, who were making a miniature cob house of their own under Jill’s close supervision. I imagined squatter camps being transformed into beautiful cob villages, using compost toilers, solar power and wind turbines to generate electricity and harvesting rainwater, growing their own food and more.

South Africa, living the dream,px150, lml, scooter, travel, scooter touring, adventure, eco-friendly-africa-travel.com, eco friendly africa travel, enviroment,green in africa,carbon neutral, mcgregor alternative technology center, mat.co.za

Of course, it’s never that simple. Jill tells me that even though her workers have the skills to build their own cob house instead of living in a tin shanty, they won’t, because they’re scared that the municipality will kick them off the low-cost housing list.

Long-lasting, well-designed and sustainable developments are nothing but a pipe dream, while laws prevent the erection of ‘permanent housing’ on municipal land, even though the mass exodus of people to townships are a reality, as real as the politicians fattening their pockets.

Food aid, government aid, the culture of entitlement, all these and other issues we discussed long into the night.

px150, lml, Vespa, scooter touring adventure

 

The long and windy roads to Robertson

The next day we set off on what was probably our most challenging drive to date - the roads up to Long Valley Permaculture Farm, near Robertson.

Unforgivably steep hills slick with recent rains, littered with potholes and vast floodwater diversions like massive natural speedbumps tested our suspension to the max, more of an obstacle course than an actual road.

I nursed a newfound respect for rally drivers as I cautiously proceeded, legs at the ready to balance any slide-outs.

Long Valley Permaculture Farm, bridge crossing, px150, LML, Vespa

 

Long Valley Permaculture Farm

Arriving on an adrenaline-high, we met the enigmatic Paul Barker, long-time permaculture practitioner and farm manager, who showed us around the farm. The site of a future eco-village, Long Valley is set amidst rolling hills as far as the eye can see, with wispy clouds reaching out to touch their peaks, a vision right out of a fantasy novel.

Long Valley Permaculture Farm, ruin, lord of the rings

We set up our tent in the lounge, and shared a hearty vegan meal with the house residents. Though the farm’s owners were on a retreat, we coerced the enigmatic Paul Barker into an interview about his experiences as a farmer, and thoughts on eco-villages and community living (coming soon). Needless to say, it made for interesting discourse.

Paul Barker, Long Valley Permaculture Farm, lovingly looking as his cows

The drive out of Long Valley was perhaps more heart-in-throat than the drive in. It had been raining since we’d got there, and the roads were a mud-bath. It was also getting late, and we were rushing to make it to our planned stop at Warmwaterberg.

In first gear, slow and steady, sliding around as if on ice, we slowly made our way across. It shouldn’t come as any surprise (with my history) that I cut out on a hill, started sliding out and fell over. Perhaps this should become my trademark move. Dusting off the mud and muck, Chris helped me pick the bike up and we set off.

px150, LML, Vespa off roading, scooter touring adventure,

It’s heartening to know that I wasn’t the only one - Chris was sliding around so much that he changed his back tyre, only to realize afterwards that it wasn’t even flat! By the time we arrived in Roberson, only 20 sodden kilometers away, it was dark, so we were forced to stop over for the night (and missed our stay in Warmwaterberg).

px150, LML, Vespa, scooter touring adventure,

Read our next blog post NOW: Zigzagging from the R62 to Nature's Valley - on the road again.

Return from Platbos to Long Valley to Our trip

Return from Platbos to Long Valley to Eco-friendly Africa Travel

 

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Hi, my name is Melissa and I created this site together with photographer Christopher List to help spread awareness about green lifestyles and travel, so everyone can learn how easy it is to live in a sustainable way. Enjoy!

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