The Very South of South Africa

Last year, I spent four months house-sitting in Jordan for Victoria, a friend of my daughter, Sarah. Victoria works for the U.N., and was being sent on a mission, which is why she needed someone to watch her house and her cat, Fatoush. One of her co-workers was being visited by her mother, and the co-worker was lamenting that she would not have much time to go places with her mother. So they decided that it would be a good idea to put the house-sitter and the mother together and maybe they would enjoy going places together.

So it was that I met Christiana. And we did travel together – we went to the Petra ruins and then we had an adventure on our way to Wadi Rum that involved a Bedouin camp and changing cars in the dark of night…it’s a whole story by itself.

But Christiana and I became friends, and so when I came to South Africa, of course I had to call her. And she asked me to join her and her brother to the very south of Africa, where I could explore while she and her brother attended a family funeral.

So she and Alfred came to Green Point where I was staying and off we went, they dressed for the funeral, and I in my jeans and beach shoes to explore.

The landscape changed along the way from Cape Town on the water to the mountains that we crossed, to the farmland on the other side. We passed flocks of sheep and fields of wheat. There is a lot of agriculture in rural South Africa.

After a couple of hours, we reached Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of South Africa. The name refers to the fact that the compass needle always pointed north from here, without variation, or so says the museum in the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse Museum. Cabo de Aguilhas, the “Cape of Needles,” as it was named by a Portuguese mapmaker. Possibly, it also refers to the “needle-like formation of the rocks along the coast.” It used to point to true north, but now it is 24 degrees to the west of true north. There was no explanation of why.

The beacon was built in 1986 by Bertie Swart, who copied the design from a postcard he bought in 1961 in Kruger National Park. I climbed to the tippy-top to inspect it….

The view was lovely:

The lighthouse at Cape Agulhas was designed by Lt. Col. Charles Michell, Civil Engineer to the Cape Colony, “in the Egyptian Revival style,” styled after the Pharos in Alexandria, Egypt, and built by Mr. William Martin in 1848. Specifically, the design elements are the tall central tower with a broad base and two shorter towers, one on either side of the base. There is also a “winged sun-disc” over the doorway, an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection.

And today, it looks like this:

According to the Museum, Cape Agulhas is recognized by the International Hydro-graphic Organization as the geographic dividing line between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, following the meridian of 20 degrees east. The Agulhas and Benguela currents mingle here with the West Wind Drift.

The Agulhas current is “hot,” coming from north to south along the east coast of Africa. The cold and weaker Benguela current runs from west to east and then north up the west coast of Africa. To the south of Africa runs the east-west cold Antarctic Circumpolar current, sometimes called the West Wind Drift. Satellite images show that these currents mingle, creating a swirling pattern covering hundreds of miles at times.

There are two monuments to the meeting of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The older one is a brass plaque by the shore, attesting to the geographic significance.

The second monument is a beautiful stone image of the entire continent of Africa, complete with dimensional representations of some of the better known icons – Mt. Kilimanjaro, Victoria Falls, the Sahara, etc. It was completed and dedicated in 2017.

I stopped to have some coffee while I waited for Christiana and Alfred to message me, which was not very long.

We spent some time visiting with her family in L’Agulhas (the village), who were all wonderful people. I didn’t realize that Christiana and Alfred had spent some of their childhood here – what a great place to grow up, although I imagine they weren’t so sure of that in the moment, since it is a tiny place and kids always want busier places.

I met two of her cousins. Christiana took this photo – I didn’t want to spend my first meeting with them by pointing a camera at everyone, but I am glad to have this one. Both of them had charming houses – one on the beach, another further up the hill with a spectacular view.

We spent the night at the house on the hill, Christal and Mossie’s, and had a lovely evening. I almost ended up going to Angola with them on a tour, but as events unfolded, I didn’t have the proper visa nor all of the required equipment and wasn’t sure it could be worked out on short notice, so I had to pass this time.

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