See Port Elizabeth through new eyes
Sometimes, who you travel with helps to shape what you see. I had an experience like this on a recent trip to Port Elizabeth with a group of bloggers. Hosted by Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, we completed a programme of activities to get to know the city better.
I also got to know Rachel Lang ( Bush-bound Girl), Theresa Lozier (Fine Places), Heather Mason (2Summers), Merushka Govender (Mzansi Girl) and Jonker Fourie (Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism and Firefly Photo Files) better. Travelling with them meant I got to experience the city through their eyes – and it was wonderful.
The Port Elizabeth I saw through Rachel’s eyes was a wild city pulsing with natural life. Her receptiveness to the beauty of the world around her is tangible and infectious. She ran for the waves on Hobie Beach as though she was part of the wind and the wildness. She listened to the musical chirping of the frogs in the waterways that run parallel to Schoenmakerskop (a small coastal community just a few kilometres from Port Elizabeth) as though they were calling her. At Samrec (Port Elizabeth's marine bird rehabilitation and education centre situated in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve), her pleasure in the penguins’ antics was mixed with studied concentration as she listened to Libby Sharwood explain the centre's work to save the African penguin.
Her eyes filled with tears at the death of a little frog she found, and lit up again at the sight of a tiny snail, which she lay down on the ground to watch. She marvelled at an endemic flightless dung beetle in Addo Elephant National Park, which crawled over her hand with its strong little legs; she sighed in communion with the gentle elephants that let us stay close to them as they ambled through the spekboom; and something in her soared with the steppe buzzard as it took flight. All around her, in the city and its outskirts, she drew our attention to little pockets of bird, plant and animal life, and made our trip to Port Elizabeth richer for it.
The Port Elizabeth I saw through Heather’s eyes was an intriguing city full of stories that captured her curious mind, and wonderful details that caught her artful eye. It was city with cultural nuance, communicated through its mix of colonial architecture, industry and interesting characters. Her skilful photography meant that each sunrise from the Garden Court Kings Beach became a study of light and shadow. Mosques, churches, abandoned warehouses and high-rise apartment blocks housed multi-cultural mysteries that she was itching to explore.
At the Hinterveld Mill Tour in Uitenhage, she became increasingly absorbed in the process and the people involved in transforming the hair from angora goats into bales of mohair ready for export, or which is spun and woven into fabrics for European labels like Chanel. She seemed equally absorbed by our experience at Cubata Portuguese Grill House in Sydenham, where we ate the most amazing ribs, prawns and peri peri chicken while its co-owner, Jose Nobrega, told us a little about his journey from Angola to Port Elizabeth.
Everywhere we went in Port Elizabeth, Heather reached out, asking questions, observing and making honest, real and interested connections to people and places. At Samrec she showed us that places can reach out to people too, and that it is beautiful when something about an experience touches you in an unexpected way.
The Port Elizabeth I saw through Merushka’s eyes was a funky, creative city full of quirky artworks and friendly people. It’s an inspiring, generous city of colour and movement, with an intriguing heritage that is being constantly negotiated through its art and cultural institutions. Having lived there for a short while as a small child, part of the city’s past is Merushka’s past too, and she jumped into it, literally and figuratively.
At the Donkin Reserve, she revelled in the artworks that make up Route 67, an urban art walk that combines, recreates and interrogates the city’s identity. She joined the Voting Line, an artwork by Anthony Harris and Conrad Geel that invites viewers to link hands with a metal cut-out of Nelson Mandela and a stream of 'voters' behind him. She immersed herself in the colourful Donkin mosaic. She noticed the fashion, the music and the slang on the streets, feeling out the markers of urban identity in Port Elizabeth in the curves and colours of seaside graffiti, in the wholesome flavours of a milkshake at Something Good (a surf-themed roadhouse), or at the Bridge Street Brewery, where brew master Lex Mitchell has turned craft beer into an art form.
She called friends to join us at the Radisson Blu for delicious and dangerously cheap cocktails, and at Chilleks Place, a shisa nyama restaurant (meat cooked over an open fire) and bar in Walmer township that recently won the Nando’s Shisa Nyama Championship. In typically generous fashion, she shared her friends and her energy with us, showing that the 'friendly' part of the friendly city is a two-way street.
The Port Elizabeth I saw through Theresa’s eyes was a connoisseur’s city brimming with beauty, where the seemingly mundane becomes striking, and the ordinary, extraordinary – if only you know how and where to look. She brought the texture of the city to life – skies filled with drama, a coastline of astonishing beauty, a bay full of marine life and places like For the Love of Wine in Richmond Hill, Masterton's Coffee Specialists and Ginger, which celebrate the finer things in life.
With her catlike ability to luxuriate in experiences, she helped us tease out the flavours and subtleties of our experiences, noting the freshness of the fish at Fushin Sushi on Stanley Street, the crispness of a well-loved Sauvignon Blanc sipped in the salty sea air, and the soft silkiness of the Hinterveld's luxurious mohair products. Her eye for landscape and atmosphere showed in her selection of images and words, with their drama, humour or charming whimsy. Meeting Theresa was enchanting and the time I spent with her left me wanting to get to know her more.
The city had the same effect on me, revealing just enough to intrigue me, and retaining just enough of a sense of mystery to convince me that I'll have to come back one day, because there is more to discover.
We were hosted by Jonker Fourie, from Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, who is himself a blogger. Born and bred in Port Elizabeth, he maintains the Port Elizabeth daily photo blog and Firefly Photo Files, making him one of the city’s biggest ambassadors in both his personal and professional capacity.
I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to explore Port Elizabeth with this awesome group of storytellers, each of whom is on their own journey to discover South Africa, which they share on their blogs. I will be writing more about some of our experiences in the weeks to come. In the meantime, you can follow our Twitter and Instagram posts under the hashtag '#PErocks'.