Thursday, March 19, 2020

A bit of nostalgia

Stanley - Thursday

When I grew up - a long time ago - the infrastructure in South Africa was generally very good. However there were a few places where the powers that be probably thought it was too expensive to build something new.

A case in point was rivers. In out of the way places, you often had to cross rivers on low causeways or simply ford the river. For other rivers, such as the Umzimvubu on the country's east coast, or the Breede in the Western Cape, one crossed the river on a hand-propelled pont (pontoon).

The pont at Malgas
I can remember how excited my brothers and I became as we approached the one on the Umzimvubu near Port St. John's. When my dad drove the car on board, we'd jump out and help the men to pull the pont to the other side. They had harnesses with a chain at one end. They'd walk to the front of the pont, twirl the chain around a cable stretched across the river, and walk to the back, pulling the pont along. Of course, we didn't have harnesses, so didn't actually help. But we thought we did, and that's all that counted.

I could have been one of those boys.
Over time, all but one of the hand-pulled ponts were replaced either by motorised ones (just a few) or by bridges.

Tomorrow sees the end of the only remaining one - to be replaced by a motorised one.

The Malgas pont has been in service for over a hundred years (and looks like it). It is off the beaten track, south of the N2 not far from Swellendam. It has become a tourist attraction in its own right, and it's sad to think that many people will not take the detour anymore. After all, a chugging motorised pont doesn't have the appeal of a hand-pulled one.

One can wait a long time if there's a queue. We were lucky the pont arrived on our side as we did.
One of the two men pulling us across
The other puller

Not just for cars!

Years of tourists

Everything looked old.

And decrepit

The bilge

The bilge pump
 Mette and I took the detour last week, both to cross the Breede River in the old-fashioned way (I had done it before, but for Mette it was a first) and to visit a winery that until a few days earlier we had never heard of. What we didn't know was that the end of an era was only a week away. As of tomorrow, the old pont will be replaced by something more efficient, no doubt, but lacking much appeal. 

The new motorised pont awaiting commissioning
The motorised pont at the mouth of the Kei River
The winery we wanted to visit (by appointment only) was called Sijnn, pronounced Sane). Michael had introduced us to its wine at a dinner at a delightful French restaurant in Knysna, the town where he lives. The wine was astonishing, tasting just like a Châteauneuf du Pape. It was pricy in Rand terms but for nothing in $$s.

The winery has a beautiful view over the Breede River valley

We were so taken by the wine that we decided to visit the winery on the way back to Cape Town. And what a good decision it was - other than having to cross the Breede by pont. At first glance, it seemed impossible that such good wine could come from countryside so obviously infertile and inhospitable. The small vines protruded from rock-strewn ground, and the leaves were often brown and curled. Yet the wine is delicious.

Rocky terroir

The vines
We were treated to a tasting of six the the Sijnn wines by winemaker, Charla Haasbroek who, to a man of my age, looks too young to be allowed to drink. The whole operation is very low-key, with a manually operated press and small numbers of bottles produced. In a sense, it had the feel of the pont - nothing fancy and well worth visiting.

The winemaker

Manual press

Cows wander all over the place.

Delightfully rustic
Of course, we had to support such a fine establishment, and left carrying a box of wines that we won't lay down for long.


  1. Your pont was well taken!

    Stay safe.

  2. "...left carrying a box of wines..."
    A box? Just the one? Has panic buying not reached you yet?
    I thought the picture of the stack above was your purchase, lol...

  3. You neglected to add how long you had to lie down for after you drank the wine that didn't lie down for long...

  4. How sad that the ponts are all gone. As the wine I am sure also will be.