Round trips: Travelling the Cape West Coast - Land ‘Without Fat’
Paternoster, a picturesque fishing town well worth the additional 15km there and back from Vredenburg, is probably one of the oldest West Coast towns. It’s famous for its crayfish. Here countless white-washed fishermen's cottages are sprinkled along the wide-curved bay – it’s the last white-sand bite out of the coast before Stompneus Bay.
Paternoster, incidentally, was the setting for the internationally acclaimed film Forgiveness, which was shot on location both in Paternoster and Cape Town. It starred South African actor Arnold Vosloo in the lead role of Tertius Coetzee, a former apartheid cop whose journey into Paternoster is the catalyst for a harrowing series of events.
Wonderfully quaint, some of the atmosphere of a fishing community of a bygone era is still preserved despite the ‘for sale’ and ‘B&B’ signs that litter the town.
But not all is necessarily as it appears to the fleeting explorer here on a first visit, and one whose attention is entranced by the rugged beauty.
Helen Moffett, in her Lovely Beyond Any Singing - Landscapes in South African Writing, says that although this region has its own sparse beauty, “sadly, much of its once pristine coastline has been gobbled up by developers, and turned into a chain of gated communities and water-grabbing golf estates”.
Karena du Plessis says it would be naive to imagine that the West Coast is devoid of troubles. She writes that, on the other hand, unemployment, poverty and alcohol abuse are enormous problems up the coast. They’re not isolated to these areas, but at times communities seemed quite ravaged.
“Perhaps it’s the raw sun, wind and rain that made them appear that much more vulnerable,” she writes.
There is also a huge disparity between the old folks and the younger generation.
“The elderly people were amazing – hard working, God-fearing and independent. But there were so many households headed up by women in their 60s and 70s who were tasked with raising a squad of grandchildren. Many of their own children had died – of HIV/AIDS-related illnesses or violence – while others had just fallen through the cracks and were drinking themselves to death.”
However everything, even the bleakness, is transformed by the spring.
“But together with Namaqualand towards the northern interior, this bleak territory comes into its own every spring, summoning brilliant floral colour from the dry blanched earth,” Moffett writes.