A glimpse of Grahamstown

There’s always a magic about seeing a city from the skies above. At that distance, the intricacies of a multitude of lives weave together into a single tapestry and tell a single story.

The first time I arrived in Port Elizabeth in February 1998 – a first year university student – I felt an immediate sense of affinity with the coastal city because the Indian Ocean that lapped the skirts of the Eastern Cape metropolis was the same body of water that I could see from the window of my childhood bedroom in Mombasa.

Upon touch down, and starkly different from the airport experience of Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth was all breezes – it is known as the Windy City. We walked on the runway from the airplane to the airport building in the open air; gathered around the lounge to collect our luggage; and peered through the glass doors to see whether a loved one was waiting outside.

A short city drive later, we were past the nose wrinkling smell of industry and on the two hour, open road drive to Grahamstown.

While the protea is the national flower of South Africa, the aloe represents the Eastern Cape province. Depending on the season, the fields are filled with aloe plants in various stages of maturity.

And because proximity prompts synchronised cycles, entire fields reach maturity at the same time creating patches of bright orange in the green and grey cloak that covers the fields.

In every journey, there are indications that a destination is close. Signposts that encourage the traveller not to give up hope.

On the road to Grahamstown from Port Elizabeth, there is a black corner – a bend in the road which swerves to the left; and then a bed and breakfast on the right; and just before a branch breaks off the highway towards the university city, there is the 1820s Settlers Monument.

Regardless of the historical significance of this building to the region, to the Rhodent the monument represents graduation ceremonies and the grad ball.

But if any building is to symbolise life at Rhodes, it is the clock tower at the main administration block, just a short walk from Drostdy Arch which marks the division of the town from the  campus.

Other buildings at Rhodes also have iconic value such as the Great Hall next to the Kaif, the recently refurbished and expanded Main Library and the Journalism and Media Studies department.

Just outside Grahamstown is a fresh water spring.

The access point to the spring is on the edge of a main road and looks over an open field. The breeze is crisp and the water is cold.

The spring water – available free of charge – offers an alternative to the brackish water in the taps and a pocket friendly one to bottled water.

During the evenings and on the weekends, Grahamstown residents carry their opaque 5 litre plastic bottles to the spring, cluster around the grey plastic pipe through which the water gushes, chanelling the ice cold liquid into their bottles with the sawn off head of another bottle, and then lug them back to their cars, stepping on gravel and large cement foot prints in turn.

The Makana botanical garden in Grahamstown was established in 1853 and is home to a myriad of plant and bird species. As an undergrad student, I didn’t visited the gardens often except to eat at The Monkey Puzzle – a restaurant inside the protected area.

A small coffee shop on the edges of the gardens offers the perfect latte before or after your idyllic meander through the botanical gardens. And it is a favourite spot over the weekends for families and nature lovers.

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