Water as the real treasure on the south Cape coast of Africa...and the planet

Hey there UCommunity, as we continue the travel log of Captain Julescape and the good ship Blockchain, we explore the Western Cape’s most valued region, the gem on the crown of the south coast of Africa, known as the Garden Route, and we discover some more hidden treasures on offer here.

It’s summer now in the south, just a few weeks into the new year and the heat is conspicuous by its presence. Nevertheless, the sea is truly refreshing here, and not nearly as cold as the Atlantic Ocean just a few hundred kilometers to the west, around the Cape of Good Hope. The Indian Ocean here is much milder and pleasantly refreshing to cool us down today.

Today’s hike is a further attempt to locate some of the fabled caves dotted along the shoreline in this Garden Route region. Besides the exquisite beaches, much of the shoreline is made up of stark, high rocky cliffs that force us to find our own path down to the sea and waves below. Local fishermen know of some paths of course, and spend much of their time catching their food from the ocean. And so one can find the odd path here or there, but in my current area, I don’t see any paths down to the shore a few hundred meters below, so I am “bundu bashing” or path finding, more like path carving. The local vegetation was devastated by a fire two years ago and all the tall trees, which were alien, are gone. The local indigenous bush has regrown though yet remains low, so it’s more easy than ever to simply walk in a direct line across the scrub to the cliff and down the slopes.


Today I found a ravine in between the hill slopes and decided to access it. To my amazement there is a little stream still flowing in the river’s carved bed. You can see it in the video clip. In my eagerness to find the hidden pirate treasure rumored to be still buried in one of the shoreline caves somewhere nearby, I have realized that the real treasure today is in fact water. Fresh water is the rare commodity here along the south Cape coast of Africa, particularly as the climate has shifted over recent years.

The region is known as the Garden Route because it was the home to the vast swathes of Knysna Forest for centuries but with development most of the forest has been removed to house a growing population or, rather tragically, to plant pine plantations as a mono-crop owned by foreign nations for commercial use. The indigenous forest here now only comprises of about 3% of what it used to be. And it’s the indigenous forest that used to act as an attractor of rain. The forest was integral in the ecosystem in creating a wetter climate and now that most of it is gone, the rains have also dried up.

So treasures change over time. What was once prolific in the form of rainfall, is now a rare scarcity and the new treasure. And this is evident in numerous places on the planet today. So you can imagine my amazement when I stumbled across this little river still flowing even now in the height of summer in early January. The fresh, clear and golden-looking river flows gently on its way to the sea far below, and this is due to the fact that this season has been wetter than usual, for a change. The region shifts between wet and dry cycles, I presume like and El Nino or La Nina in South America. These are something like seven year cycles, of more wet and less wet times. We have just entered a more wet phase so the summers are a bit rainier, though it is very localized as just ten or twenty kilometers away it is still a dangerously water-stressed region. But somehow the forest here attracts a bit more rain than the rest of the area.

So as I search for Captain Kidd’s hidden treasure from the late seventeenth century, I find out that it is worth less than this most basic commodity, namely clean drinking water. You can survive if you have this flowing stream that I have just discovered, but even if I find the biggest treasure horde of the century, it’s useless in and of itself, to keep me alive if I have no water. Land and water are enough to support life here on this slim little slither of Garden Route on the coastline. Just a few kilometers inland and we have the harsh Karoo desert. And with climate change this thin strip of lush vegetation and healthy rain is becoming slimmer by the year, as desertification creeps ever closer.

All sailors of the previous centuries would have docked wherever they could find a fresh source of water while rounding the Cape, at the southern coast of Africa, on their way to the East for exotic treasures, including spices. Even salt and pepper were valuable, salt as a survival foodstuff and also a currency. How times change from one century to the next. Now in the 21st century it’s a totally different kettle of tea. We take our water so much for granted all over the world, but here in Africa, as in other places, we learn fast that water is the most valuable treasure of all.

So while searching for hidden pirate treasure from over 300 years ago, I have today found the modern equivalent in this flowing stream in mid summer. It feels like some consolation so far on the treasure quest. Priorities shift with time, but beyond time is the timeless treasure of life, supported by fresh water. Well, here it is. I have it and I feel enlivened. So onward and refreshed to search for Captain Kidd’s treasure trove of silver and gold coin, me hearties. Stay in touch and I will bring you further details regarding my treasure hunt along the south Cape coast of Africa in the coming episodes.