So Port Elizabeth joins the list of places where one day is too long, along with Battambang, Vientiane and Bangkok. Our taxi driver from the airport informed us this was South Africa’s fourth largest city, second to be settled in 1820, however the only thing of note was largest displayed flag.
From our run down little hostel we walked into the town, looking for a high street. It was like a ghost town on the Saturday afternoon. Headed for the high street, the picture in our heads greatly differed from the barred shop windows of run down stores which greeted us. It felt hostile and our guard was up. There was mentioned a historic trail to follow in the footsteps of the 1820 settlers of South Africa’s second oldest town, however scared to pull our cameras from our bags we abandoned the idea of walking around and sat puzzled. We decided we needed to find somewhere decent to have a drink and approached the grand hotel despite it looking eerily empty. As we entered the reception the lady behind the counter looked at us as if we had two heads, and when I asked if there was a bar or possibility of a pot of tea she was obviously surprised but showed us through to an empty bar, turned on the lights and music for us, her only guests and brought us a pot of tea. Sitting in the sun we puzzled over how people lived here, or more importantly whether people really did live here.
We managed to drag the tea out for nearly an hour before resigning to the idea we may have to return to our not so special backpackers. At the desk the lady advised us to go to the boardwalk South of the city and arranged for a taxi to take us and then locked the door behind us.
While we were waiting we noticed some information on the first settlers of port elizabeth who arrived from London in 1820. The three ships were sold a fantasy idea of fertile farming and wealth but in actual fact were intended as a barrier to protect others from the barbaric settlers of the land. The names included Carlisle, Scott and interestingly enough, a J Bailie from London.
The taxi dropped us at a boardwalk resembling Freeport combined with Disneyland but there was indeed shops, half presentable restaurants, a casino and a sign of life. Despite feeling guilty for not exploring historic or cultural Port Elizabeth, we were relieved to shop, eat and then take up a spot at the cinema. We may not have picked the right film for our mood, opting for a thriller, before I go to sleep. Making up 2 of the 5 people in the cinema and watching a jumpy film didn’t help to relax our tensions, but it passed some time. We left the cinema later to soft live music and hung around for a while before returning for the evening.
We rose early intending to head for the spot to meet the tour at 1pm however mum was keen to visit a church twinned with her church in the Isle of Man. We got a taxi rather unsuccessfully with our huge luggage and found the service in a school hall. We received a warm welcome, a kit kat and were seated. Half way through we realised family friends, Mark and Lee Rand were seated on the other side of the church. They lived in England for 7 years and we met up regularly. Since they have been back in Port Elizabeth we have had little contact and despite trying to text we hadn’t expected to see them. At the end of the service we caught their eye and were catching up. As time ticked on we decided to go back to their home briefly to see their daughters, and then were racing to meet the waiting truck for 1pm. It was lovely to step for a moment out of life as a tourist and see port Elizabeth through their everyday lives. Pulling up we bailed out fast. Lee ran off to buy us toothbrushes and we bailed on board to our new home for the week.
Relieved to pull out of Port Elizabeth we head to Addo Elephant Park and a week exploring the garden route.