Sunday, September 14, 2014

14 September 2014

Snow in South Africa ?


The weather was warm and sunny Saturday August 29, 2014 when we left Port Elizabeth, South Africa to go to Queenstown which is located about 350 kilometers (3 ½ to 4 hour drive) northeast of Port Elizabeth. The route to get to Queenstown is dominantly through moderately hilly country which rises from sea level at Port Elizabeth to about 1,081 meters (3,243’) at Queenstown.
The travel was rather blah - boring as we had made the trip several times and so the scenery was rather familiar and there was nothing to really catcht your attention. The countryside is dominantly utilized for cattle grazing with orange orchards scattered in the valleys. At this particular time of the year when the season is transitioning between winter and spring, the grass is still blond and the orchards are just beginning to show a few brave shoots of growth. Thus, with the whine of our Nissan motor and nothing to alert the mind scenery- wise, it was somewhat of a chore just keeping the eye lids open. Angie was of little help in helping me stay awake except her occasional snore did break the monotony and add some humor.
The regular ascending and descending as the road snaked around the hills hid the fact that the overall elevation was gradually rising.
The weather had gradually shifted from the sunshine we enjoyed at Port Elizabeth to being overcast with intermittent mist and showers as we drove towards our destination. In some places, fog cloaked the hilltops obscuring their view and draped into the lower elevations. There was no noticeable change in the temperature. However,  that was obviously deceiving for as I rounded a corner and a bowel in the hillside came into view, I had to look and blink several times to make sure what I saw was real. Even when I thought I recognized what I saw, I could not make my mind admit it – was it real or was it just a mist of fog that I saw? As I tried to sort it out in my mind, I reached over and poked Angie; look at that hillside, I said, it looks like snow. Still my mind was telling me I was loco, there is no snow in South Africa. She said, yea, it does look like snow!

It was not long until we started to see snow along the highway and then I noticed small, poorly shape mounds at the edge of the road. Again my mind was having an argument with itself. Could those mounds have really been form by a snowplow? No, there is not enough snow for that. But again I was proven wrong as it was not long when distinct rows of snow were present along both sides of the road. There was no doubt about it, the roads had been plowed.
As we continued, there was noticeable increase in elevation and a corresponding increase in the amount of snow that blanketed the countryside. Frequently we observed other travelers that were also intrigued by the snow parked along the road taking pictures of this wintery beauty. Shortly, the road crested and we began our descent from 
 what we later learned was Ecca Pass.

When we got to Queenstown, I told one of the natives what we had observed and asked if it was common for them to get snow. Yes, he said, in 2007 we got over 11” right down here on the valley floor.
Curiosity then got the best of me and I got on the internet and found these headlines concerning the period of time surrounding our travel, “Heavy snow covers vast swathes of the Eastern Cape. Early Friday most mountain passes were closed and a wide network of roads affected. Passenger vehicles were stuck for more than 12 hours.” Hence, a day earlier and what we saw as a wintery landscaped display in the Spring time may have been not so pleasant an experience.

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