Crew Blog | Derek Ferrar: Welcome to the Land Voyage
With all the challenges and risk of guiding Hōkūle‘a safely down the dangerous east coast of South Africa to Cape Town – the notorious ‘graveyard of ships’ that in some reports has seen more than 3,000 shipwrecks – Nainoa has wanted to keep Hōkūleʻa as light as possible for manueverability and safety. In part, he is accomplishing this by reducing the number of crew and amount of excess gear on board. As a result, Hōkūleʻa’s progress down the coast has been paralleled by a “land voyage” crossing hundreds of miles of the South African landscape – I’ve been fortunate enough to be along for the ride.
The first leg down from Richards Bay to Durban, crew members Kaimana Barcarse, Daniel Lin and myself were squeezed into a single-cab pickup truck (or “bakkie,” as they’re called here), reminiscent of a bygone Hawai‘i, with mile after mile of sugarcane fields. As with Hawai‘i, contemporary South African – and especially Durban – society is heavily influenced by the descendents of field hands from abroad who came to work the cane; in this case, Indians who were brought over starting in the 1860s as indentured workers. Today, more than a million South Africans are of Indian descent, and the majority live in Durban, which has often been called the “largest Indian city outside of India.”
From Durban to Port Elizabeth, we switched to a roomier passenger van and were joined by crew doctor Carolyn Annerud. We turned inland to the most dramatic portion of the land voyage up to that point, climbing about a mile high into the ancient, arid mountains of the region formerly known as the Transkei, a nominally independent homeland for the Xhosa people under apartheid. Here, sweeping brown vistas offered hardly a tree for what seemed like hundreds of miles, and rounded peaks loomed over villages of small, square homes. Goats, cows and sheep grazed by the road – and apparently often stray into it, creating a living obstacle course that prompted Grant, the harbor pilot who helped guide Hōkūleʻa through this treacherous leg, to comment that “the drive is more dangerous than the sail,” especially at night. Fortunately, we stuck to the daylight hours, and the animals stuck to the dry grassy margins.
We received a cultural education of sorts when we stopped for lunch in the small waypoint town of Harding, where streets are lined with an amazing variety of shops housed in shipping containers, from hair salons and sundry stores to a cell phone shop and even a doctor’s office. At a recently opened strip mall, a long line of citizens queued up to get into the new Shop Rite grocery store, and the fast-food joints all offered a “Hawaiian” version of their burgers, pizza, chicken or fish ‘n’ chips – although no one we spoke to seemed to know where or what Hawai‘i is. We did, however, make new friends through the local practice of sitting in any available seat whether you know the people at the table or not. My favorite was one tutu lady in a brightly printed dress and head wrap, who creaked herself into the chair next to me with a loud series of grunts and groans, then plopped down the final inch with a satisfied “aaah!” As we shared a chuckle, she clicked her tongue and said, “Old age … chee!”
We then turned back to the coast and overnighted in the commercial port town of New London, where the landscape changed dramatically to green, rolling pastures and well-fed cattle herds that Kaimana said reminded him of voyages to Aotearoa. And we knew we were back in familiar territory as we neared the beach holiday city of Port Elizabeth, passing through the small town complete with Quicksilver and Billabong shops, and bakkies driving by with surfboards stacked on top, just like home.
To date, the most spectacular leg of this land voyage so far has been the famous “Garden Route” between Port Elizabeth and Mossel Bay, which winds between rocky mountain peaks and the sea. A few extra-scenic detours along the way revealed deep river gorges, stunning cliff coastlines and the occasional troupe of baboons along the roadside.
From the land crew of this most amazing and scenic land voyage — aloha and stay tuned for more!