Fossils, Friends and Fine Wine - Day 383
Today was all about Fossils, Friends and Fine Wine, what a fascinating day.
Imagine being an excavation operator working for a fertiliser company that mined for phosphate. It is 1976, you are up early and get to work. While excavating, you notice that you’ve uncovered bones, not a few bones but many. What on earth have you discovered here? It turns out that underneath this sandy loam is over one million bones of around 250 animal species. It is the richest and diverse accumulation of animal fossil bones probably in the world, and these date back to five million years old! This is where we visited in the morning, West Coast Fossil Park. Our host Janet recommended it, and I am so glad she did. It was fascinating. We arrived ½ hour before our tour and sat chatting to 4 elderly people who had all been at school together, then met our guide Yaseen. We left the brand new building which was officially opened just a couple of months ago and stood outside, looking at the remnants of the mine and landscape. Yaseen described the scenery 5 million years ago; a lush sub-tropical forest with palm trees growing on the banks of the ancient Berg River. Where we were standing, we would have been 30m under water. The area was rich in animals, including African bears, which, it is believed, travelled from euro-asia and was a much larger ancestor of the Panda. Also Sabre-tooth cats (no, they weren’t tigers) and stocky short-necked Giraffes. All three of these animals are now extinct. Our guide explained that there was a massive flood and many animals got caught in the torrent river. Their bodies were swept down, getting trapped in the estuary. This is what caused the vast collection of bones in the Pliocene period. Over the next 5,000 years the sea level rose, flooding the valley and gradually the bones were covered under phosphate-rich sand. At the same time, water percolated into the bones, causing silica mineralisation. The water receded with these fossils now laying 20m under the ground for the next 4.5m years or so. Yaseen took us into the Dig site. Oh wow! It was covered by a large dome tent with scaffolding walkways and square grids made of string over the silt where we could clearly see hundreds of bones. It really was astonishing to see so many fossilised bones before us. They had been sprayed with clear glue to protect them from the elements and for visitors to be able to see them clearly. Yaseen pointed out two jaws of short-necked giraffes and asked us which was the youngest. We picked the wrong one. The younger had longer teeth, showing that it was under 4 years old when it died, whereas the other’s teeth had been worn down, so much older. Oh dear, schoolboy error. There was a round bone sitting on top of a mound of hard sand, and we were asked where in the body this would be found. Again, we couldn’t think. It was a kneecap. Of course! Easy when you know the answer. In another area, a whole fossilised skeleton of an African bear was discovered, the only one found in Africa, but this has been taken to a Museum in Cape Town, so perhaps we can visit it in a week or so. Outside the tent were large trays which, from our first impression, looked like gravel. They were fragments of more fossil bones, and Yaseen showed us tiny complete bone structures, including a frog’s leg. How on earth do they know that this minute sliver is a 5m-year-old frog leg is beyond me! He then took us to the newly built lottery-funded Exhibition Hall, not entirely complete yet, but what we saw was excellent. Three beautiful life-size representations of the short-necked Giraffes made from driftwood took centre stage (Think War Horse), sculpted by Egon Tania. We highly recommend a visit. We’d arranged to meet Lisa and Andre at nearby Langebaan. Tim organises our #GrownUpTravellers Instagram page, and they contacted us through here, as travelling is their passion. We recognised them immediately as they walked into Pearly’s restaurant, situated right on the beach overlooking the white sand and people preparing to kitesurf. Hugs all round we sat, chatting over our meal, chatting and chatting…for 3.5 hours! What a wonderful couple. I think perhaps they wanted to learn from our travel experience as they have sold their home and will be selling the rest of their possessions to go travelling fulltime like us next year. In fact, I think we learnt more from them! They are much more active than us, or should I say me. Into watersports and will push their comfort zone. I just don’t like doing physically demanding stuff though – eh, we are all different. Andre had created a great online programme which shows the temperature and rainfall of various locations around the world for each month. We are thinking of going to SE Asia next September (our loose plan), so he popped in “September”, and this showed us that Indonesia is the best place for that month as well as the middle of Vietnam. It was so easy to chat with both Lisa and Andre. We discussed some political, racial and criminal issues. I think reading Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime” and talking with Lisa has given me a much richer understanding of the situation, which I am grateful for. I do hope we meet this lovely couple again. Perhaps in Indonesia in September 2019? Who knows?
Back to our Airbnb, Janet and Charles had invited us to dinner. We really do pick the best places to stay with wonderful hosts. What a lovely evening to end our time in Darling. Charles gave us some of his delicious Gin that he makes, with a cherry, blueberries and a slice of cucumber – perfect. With Janet’s homely and scrumptious bean and butternut stew, we drank some fine wine from his collection. What a treat. They were so curious about our travels and wanted to know all the places we had been too. It was lovely to reminisce and share some funny and wonderful moments, like Jacob taking us out for the day in Hong Kong and Robin taking us under a mountain through the waist-high stream for 600m. Janet shared that she really admired us for what we are doing. It’s funny, we don’t think of us as being anything special. We are just ordinary people having extraordinary experiences, meeting wonderful people around the world and hope that we somehow inspire others to think “If the Reeds can do it, then so can we”.