A Day in Port St. Johns, South Africa

Despite the background of drums, the sound of waves crashing induced a solid night’s sleep and had us waking to the sun rising over the sea. Today was intended to be a relaxing hang out day, catching up on napping, reading, and writing.  Nevertheless, our first order of business was finding a room at our next destination including deciding where that next destination was to be. It’s a romantic notion, just heading in a direction and picking places as you go, but here in South Africa, with spotty internet and phone service, it has turned out to be more of a headache than a pleasure. Michael, the host at the Lodge on the Beach, kindly offered us the use of his computer as he thought the internet cafés in town would be closed for the weekend.  Painfully slow service and a connection that was continually interrupted made internet research problematic, but we finally found a B&B in Grahamstown.


Then there was the breakfast question. Residing in a hippy enclave, we didn’t want to rush our hosts and hung out on the front terrace of the lodge watching the surf, looking over our maps and chatting with the other guests – a Polish and American couple with two small children. Somehow they were served breakfast, but we were never offered the option. We thought at first our host just wanted to serve them first as they were leaving that morning, but our turn never came. Just after 11AM we headed back to the Monster Café and had a nice breakfast albeit after a 45 minute wait with no one else in the place. Afterwards we stopped back by the lodge to say good bye to the young couple. We found them on the terrace enjoying an oyster and lobster lunch and told us we should really have the hosts get some oysters for us. I’d settle for a rusk!

Walk on the Beach

Up for a little exercise, we set out to inspect the blowhole on the other side of the hilltop just across the bay.

The night before the surf was up and from terrace of the Monster Café we had seen the eruptions spraying columns of water into the air. The hilltop also offers outstanding views of the coastline, looking very Big Sur-ish with jagged cliffs, blue water and crashing waves.

Unfortunately the wind had picked up making it hazardous to climb down the rope and up a rickety ladder along the exposed cliff face. Instead we sat on the grassy bluff watching the waves blow in the wind.

Walking back to the lodge a group of young black students ran up to us wanting to know where we were from and where we were going. They seemed eager to chat with us even though they had difficulty understanding our American accent. I asked them about their school holiday and their upcoming exams receiving a confused look in reply. At that point Don took out the camera and they cheered, grabbing on to me and posing for the camera. Click. Then they ran up to Don to inspect the results and cheered again pleased by what they saw. Attracted by the camera more kids ran up and we repeated the process. Finally, everyone satisfied, they ran off and we continued back to the lodge.

Our last chore of the day was a run to the local grocery store for supplies for our long drive the next day to Grahamstown . The streets of central Port St Johns were crowded with vendors and shoppers. Like in Flagstaff people were stocking up on big sacks of food stuffs. The grocery store just across the way was also busy but the parking attendant easily got us a space. In South Africa it is customary to tip the parking attendant to look after your car, handing him a few Rand when you return to find your car still intact.

The windy weather continued through the afternoon bringing in more clouds. A perfect excuse to enjoy the view from our room and finally get that nap in.

Dinner at Monster Café

For dinner we returned the reliable albeit slow Monster Café. This evening the ambience was much quieter without the in-house music and only one other table occupied, a mother with two older children also staying at the Lodge on the Beach. You could still feel the throbbing bass from the music at the kids’ beach party. Service was typically slow, but tolerable. A storm was brewing out to sea. We watch the lighting counting the seconds until the clap of thunder, first up to eight but soon just two.

The rain began as our food arrived and was gone by the time we finished. Don ordered the falafel sandwich and I the plain crawfish with rice. The crawfish here is a large crustacean the size of a lobster. The meat is not as sweet as most crustaceans and is really better in the combination plate with mussels. In the plain crawfish dish the meat was overcooked, dry and chewy. The accompanying sweet potato puree, creamed spinach (not too creamy) coleslaw and rice or chips (French fries) were all well prepared and satisfying.

Back at the lodge we fell asleep to the party music muffled by the surf and woke the next morning to the same with “our” dog guarding the entrance to our open terrace door.

October 1, 2011

For links to all the posts in this series see the South Africa page.