02 April 2012

Mossel Bay - Summer Memories

Way back in 1488 Bartholomew Diaz anchored in Mossel Bay - he certainly found a great spot although one would imagine that swimming in the warm waters of this beautiful bay was not the most important item on his agenda at that time. Mossel Bay oysters or mussels perhaps plus the crystal clear spring water?
The town was aptly named Mossel Bay in 1601 after the many mussels found on the rocks.
Officially founded in 1848 Mossel Bay still has an olde world feel about it today.

Mossel Bay is not hip and flashy like so many summer resorts and out of season you will have the wide open beach practically all to yourself but the regular holiday makers will tell you that they return year after year to bask in the sunshine and enjoy the warm waters of the bay.Likened to Hawaii in weather, my childhood memories of summer holidays are so special that a trip down memory lane was taken recently to re-visit the many favourite places of my childhood.

My father loved this spot for his early morning swim. Not being a swimmer, he did a crazy "crab-like" swim and perhaps felt safe in this natural channel. I very seldom joined the family on these early (06.00 am) morning swims - even then, it was not my best time of day! And that has not changed. Being a red-head, my dad got sun-burnt sitting in the shade so he preferred this time of day when the sun was still getting up and did not burn his very fair skin.
My earliest memories of summer holidays conjure up our asbestos clad bungalow set above the beach with glorious views over the bay. The jumble of bungalows known as "The Bakke" was an absolute rabbit warren - some so close together that only us kids could squeeze between the houses. It was great for hide and seek during the twilight hours before we were hauled inside to bed. With no running water, a communal toilet set down the road, paraffin lamps and a live-in servant, this was beach luxury at its best! Until my mother decided that the walk with the torch down the road at night was not so much fun and she had somebody install a long-drop in the back yard. Luxury for mom and dad!! I was terrified of this toilet and always imagined myself falling down, never to be seen again Maybe that is why I hate aircraft toilets - they also want to suck me in and spit me out! The spiders loved this loo - it was sheltered from the wind and they had carte blanche for many months of the year.

Catching rain water in buckets to wash our hair was the greatest luxury of all during the long 6 weeks school holidays. The train line was just across the road and we loved watching the men on their trolleys checking out the railway line. They were a friendly bunch and always gave us a wave. The trains came thru regularly in those days and the sound of the whistle would disturb our slumbers for a second or two before the passing train lulled us to sleep again. My Gran was an absolute whizz at making pickled fish and she did this every December holiday. Dad would go down to the harbour to buy a cob or two, fresh off the boat then Gran and Spaas, the domestic, would slave over cleaning, filleting and cooking all this fish on a tiny primus stove. The kitchen got so hot and steamy that the rest of the family stayed well clear.The results were bottled in the tastiest curry sauce to be enjoyed for most of the following year. I have never found pickled fish anywhere to rival my Gran's! Needless to say, she was the cook of the family  as my mother hated cooking and I am, quite simply, even worse!

I loved going to town with my mother to Cuff Street where there was a general dealer who had the most fascinating "cashier" system. He placed the money in a small bowl and it went whooshing so fast above our heads on a pulley system to the lady on the other side of the shop who would put in the change and whoosh it back down again. I could stand all day and watch this going backwards and forwards - beats modern day tills any day from a child's perspective.

Today, the street is no longer exciting and has a "To Let" sign plastered all over the windows.

The arrival of the Union Castle lines every fortnight in the bay were a great thrill and my dad loved to get out his binoculars to see what he can spy on board these beautiful ships. He also loved watching the schools of porpoises swimming along and these were a regular occurrence in the bay those days. Another annual outing was the trip around Seal Island - my gran made us all take clean handkerchiefs on which she liberally poured 4711 Cologne for us to hold over our noses as we got closer to the seals. The seals certainly do pong to high heaven but I cannot bear the smell of that 4711 - luckily, my preferred perfume these days is much gentler, modern and more refined!

The bungalows stretched over a wide area and we had loads of exercise going around the village and to the beaches. There were dances at night for the teenagers but we were not allowed to go and could watch from the side-lines if one of the adults accompanied us! It's hell watching others have fun when you can't!

The days seemed to stretch on forever, swimming, playing, eating, taking long walks, collecting shells and corks washed up onshore - it was a children's paradise. Bungalow owners came from all over South Africa, many were farmers who came with truck loads of meat for their braai's! Paraffin fridges kept the essentials cool, doors were left wide open to allow the cool sea-breezes of the evening to gently blow through the house. With no ceilings it could get pretty hot so the breezes were always welcome. We used to walk this walk (see pic above) from the bungalow to the next beach where the main swimming was just around the corner.
The highlight of our week was always the arrival of the donkey carts who parked across the railway line on a grassy knoll to sell their fresh fruit and vegetables. The braying of the donkeys was so much part of the holiday as were the washerwomen who bashed and trashed the clothes on rocks in the same area. No mod cons just plain elbow grease!! We gingerly crossed the railway line and road to get to the donkey carts so that gran or dad could choose the best produce to get us thru the next week,
 My gran, who died at 91 years of age, was a great walker and she used to insist that I accompany her on her many walks as far as the old whaling station, which was close to Diaz Beach (as it is called today) Up to 30 whales were processed annually, however, the station apparently closed down in 1913.
The death knell came when the Mossel Bay Council decided that the bungalows at The Bakke all had to be demolished (the land was leased from Council) Those at the Point were allowed to remain and I still wonder to this day who bribed who? The Point bungalows have all been sold and renovated and now fetch millions. NOT FAIR!!! The Mossel Bay Council eventually put up chalets on the ground at the Bakke - soulless things with no character whatsoever. Our bungalow looked onto the beach below - we could literally fall out of bed, roll down the slope and be on the beach!

My mom bought a house when the bungalow was demolished(depression - it had electricity and a flush toilet!!!) up on the hill and this mildly dilapidated semi is still in the family today as a holiday house. With stunning views over the main bay it is also well-loved and hopefully the next generation will also get to love the beach holidays.

At year end, Mossel Bay is a hive of activity with thousands of holiday makers who give the town a festive air. The beach at Santos with it's wonderful old Pavilion enjoys Blue Flag status currently and the smaller beach, called Munro Bay is calm and peaceful looking over the Yacht Club. The noise of the jet ski's during Peak Season can become very annoying but I suppose everybody has their own brand of fun!

Stone buildings still remain in Mossel Bay and the Main Street has some gems. As with all progress, the death of Main Streets is caused by the huge shopping malls and here Mossel Bay is no exception. It is unfortunate as the Main Street is such a part of Mossel Bay and needs to be preserved. Some of the old favourites are still hanging on but there are many "To Let" signs and our favourite restaurant, Jazzbury's" has gone. This restaurant, in a lovely old stone house, was our favourite for many, many years and we were unable to find out why it closed down in 2011. The food was always wonderful and the ambiance was just right. The house is currently standing empty (2012) and we hope it will be preserved.

Surfers congregate at the Point where there is always a great vibe with restaurants, those beautiful clapboard houses (yes, we are jealous as ours was not allowed to remain at The Bakke!)

Swimming and diving are enjoyed at the Poort which is a natural pool surrounded by rocks and pounded by heavy seas at high tide. St Blaize Lighthouse stands guard hi8gh above on the cliffs. Built in 1864 it is now fully automated but still manned with a staff complement who ensure ships safety around this coast. Cape St. Blaize is so-named because Bartholomew Dias and his crew first landed in Mossel Bay on St. Blaize’s Day (3 February) in 1488.

Another childhood favourite was the Harry Giddy Park in Marsh Street. It always looked huge to me as a child and the slide was ENORMOUS! It scary me to death and I don't think I plucked up courage to go down it on too many occasions. Today the park has a small plastic slide - no longer the stuff of nightmares. There were a number of families in the park when we visited so it's great to see that the tradition has survived. First laid out in 1887 it was re-vamped in 1940 by Harry Giddy and is so mane to this day.

Tortoises, geese and ducks, birds, goats etc will all amuse the kids and they can let off steam in safe surroundings - even if the slide is a fraction of the size of the monster of my dreams! My memories of the park remain as a beautiful oasis - it is maybe not so well-kept now but still a good place for kids.

A number of the "old" retailers have survived but one has to wonder for how much longer they can withstand the onslought of the malls where families now shop in the hundreds.

Mossel Bay remains a town with charm - sometimes it is not immediately apparent but stay awhile and you will feel you are slowly winding down to the relaxed pace of this much loved seaside village!

© Judelle Drake

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