When the wind blows

When life deals you lemons, the saying goes, make lemonade. In the Eastern Cape, we have our own version: when it’s windy, fly a kite. And watch the march of the sand dunes. As for the lemons … well, eat them.

V and I head for a weekend break with friends at Mtati, about an hour’s drive from East London. It’s just over the Mgwalana River on the road to Port Elizabeth. We’re looking forward to spending time with dear friends, and even though we live at the sea, I’m keen to explore a part of the coast that I don’t know.

C makes the most of the wind with his stunt kite

Mtati is a gated settlement, where about a dozen houses nestle in the coastal forest. All are built of similar basic materials (face brick and wood). With care and low-pitched roofs, none jar on the laid-back feel of the area or intrude on each other. It’s a pleasant change from the sadly common practice of monstrous “homes” being put up without consideration for aesthetics or regulations, let alone neighbours.

So you can have money and taste. And all is well and good.

Howling south-westerly

But the south-westerly howls, sometimes up to 50km/hour, the entire weekend, and the temperature doesn’t edge above 18C. No problem. M and C haul out their stunt kites and we walk through the milkwoods to the wide sandy beach, typical for this part of the coast. The kites pull and stretch every part of our bodies. Eventually, the fun ends when M’s kite smashes into the sand with enough force to shatter a graphite rod.

I resolve to scratch our kites out of the garage when I get home. We have two, one called a Skydancer (it sounds like a big mosquito) and another called a Phantom (it’s silent). We bought them when we lived in Durban, but put them away in Gauteng, where there was never enough wind to fly them. We’ve forgotten them in our decade back at the coast.

Shifting sands

We retreat to the house we’ve rented, and M and I suddenly notice something very strange indeed: the beach has shifted. Really. The sand dunes are bigger, and they have marched towards us. We can see the sand washing over the crests of the dunes and we swear that we can see them moving, like waves. In fact, sand dunes do move, and it’s windy enough here for us to actually see them doing so.

Sand dunes on the march

Clearly, I am an eastern Eastern Cape creature because I have never witnessed this. On the beaches of the Transkei, my childhood home, the sand dunes were excellent “ski slopes”: we’d scream down them on bits of cardboard. But we could never see the dunes moving. And the sand there is much coarser, as it is on the beaches around my village.

Feast, feast and more feast

The chill factor escalates in the relentless wind. But our friends make it warm inside. So does the food. We punctuate non-stop conversations with feast after feast fit for royalty.

V poaches free-range eggs in a spicy tomato gravy for breakfast (I am the assistant). C and M serve up the kind of lunch I like the most: a smorgasbord of things like cheeses, stuffed jalapenos, marinated artichokes, olives and crusty bread rolls.

My favourite kind of lunch

And while A braais (barbeques meat, which South Africans do come rain or wind) for supper, L cooks beetroot in berry juice, and then blends it with pecan nuts that she has boiled, lightly sugared and fried to recrisp. It’s a taste sensation (doesn’t turn my plate red, either). L, incidentally, eats sliced lemons with salt, just like that.

On Sunday, we lunch at the nearby Mpekweni Beach Resort. It’s pretty here behind big windows that look onto the sea. But it’s not a sensible place for vegetarians: like most of these kinds of establishments, there are countless magnificent meat dishes and even the salads are stuffed with flesh.

If a vegetarian wanted a “normal” meal, well, you’d be stuck with overcooked pasta in a white sauce. I give it a miss. Instead, I quaff two glasses of wine, descend on the cheeses and have several helpings of (magnificent) desserts. It’s a fine enough Sunday lunch. And I remind myself: I’m not here for the food; I’m here for the company.

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