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Tuesday, July 12, 2011


(Green Park Lodge in Mthatha)

National Arts Festival, Grahamstown: Saturday, July 9, 2011

Time to head out of Grahamstown and back to Durban with plenty of time to reflect during the long drive.

Looking back over the past 25 years at Festival, I think the biggest change has been in the availability of a wide range of foods and eating places. In my early days, there was only one eating place with outlets like KFC, Spur and Steers to follow. Over the last couple of years, a number of small café/coffee houses offer that welcome time-out to sit on a real chair after days of stadium seating.

Vegetarians are much better off now. Way back when, all we had as takeaways were boerewors rolls. In fact, I can’t walk past the caravan stall outside Makro in Springfield Park without the smell catapulting me back to Grahamstown.

This year, the Hoppers operated far more efficiently, with Day Hoppers running from 09h00 to 22h00 and Night Hoppers from 22h00 to 01h00. It cost R5 regardless of where you were going. Special Hopper benches were created for passengers with a contact number to check how far away the next Hopper was. You could also call a cab – for only R30, you and two friends could get from anywhere in Grahamstown to anywhere else in Grahamstown.

Added to the sadness of the deaths of dancer Eric Shabalala and cameraman Peter Jacobi, came news that actress Vera Clare had died in Hospice after a series of strokes which eventually put her in a coma. While all her friends and colleagues know she would not have wished to linger with a diminished quality of life, her going still leaves a big gap in Durban’s performing arts industry.

As I was travelling home on my own, I decided to break the journey halfway at Mthatha having heard good reports about Green Park Lodge. I can highly recommend it. The room was spacious and warm. I had a bath (pure luxury after a week of showers) and a table under a good light to work on my computer. The lodge is securely fenced with off-the-road parking. (Visit

However, it needs to be remembered that travelling through the Transkei is not for the faint-hearted. Sure, the animals are better controlled now with rangers in evidence but they still cause a problem when they choose to cross the road whenever they feel like it.

The biggest concern, though, is the appalling driving. The EC registration on a number-plate seems to give the driver carte blanche to ignore every unbroken white line, let alone a double white line, pass on blind rises and overtake in the face of oncoming speeding traffic. As for speed limit signs, they’re just a metal disc on a pole!

There is an alternate route which I will probably take next year through Kokstad and on to Matatielle, Maclear, Ugie, Lady Frere - coming out at Queenstown and staying at Hogsback en route. The road is apparently a lot safer and doesn’t carry as much traffic.

If you are from KZN and interested in becoming a Festival Wire and passing on information as it comes through during the year, let me know. Roll on National Arts Festival 2012! – Caroline Smart