The deeper I delve into this new world of wander I encounter once unknown concepts: the Flaneur being one of them.
Imagine setting out on a cobbled path you find quirky, unaware of where it leads; letting a Pied Piper spell whisk you towards the source of a melody; or seeking shelter from the rain in what turns out to be an old-fashioned pub with a craft brewery next door.
Originally a literary character created by French poet Charles Baudelaire, a flaneur is a person of leisure keen on exploring the hidden crevices of a city. Most times a flaneur was depicted as an intellectual seeking to understand the rich diversity of the city. Attentive to the sights and sounds, yet getting lost in the history, heart and soul of said city. In simple terms a flaneur is one who walks for walking sake and soaks in their surroundings.
On returning to a cold winter's day in the dainty little town of Port Alfred after perusing the book - The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris, I am inspired to get out and be a flaneur.
Port Alfred is hidden away in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It is home to spectacular coastlines, stretch of sandy beaches and rocky coves so secluded you'd think you dreamt them into existence. Bearing no resemblance to the South Africa in the news that's unsafe for women, Port Alfred is perfect for long peaceful strolls.
As I meander down Mainstreet towards the Kowie River, I seem like a snail in a world of rabbits. Black South Africans zap past me leaving only a trail. During the dehumanizing era of apartheid they were subjected to arduous treks that took them from the impoverished townships to plusher suburbs daily for work. And eventually they made the long walk to freedom. I allow the thoughts of those gloomy days whisk me away from reality, completely preoccupied by one simple question: How did they survive such oppression?
The brightness of the sun reflecting off the roof of a yellow decrepit building jolts me back from my pensiveness. In the distance, nestled at the foot of some hills sits an abandoned railway. I walk in the opposite direction, away from what appears to be relics of the apartheid era. The river ahead beckons, promising tranquility.
On the jetty I watch the sun dip seated next to my new fisher-chic friend, Roschel. I listen to her fantasize about a time she would afford to go overseas, or own a boat so she can anchor it in the middle of the river and fall asleep watching the stars. I leave her with an assurance that dreams come true if we remain anchored to the glory of our imaginations; she just met a living proof.
The skies open up to let the rain pour. It starts off as a drizzle but slowly snowballs into a torrent. By now my stomach is rumbling but with the pouring rain I won’t make it back to my hotel in time for dinner.
I run into a stone building on bank of the Kowie river which turns out to be a craft beer brewery and gastropub. I can hear my tummy jubilate wildly. The waiter, a student from Zimbabwe, takes my order while we swap stories from our home countries. I order bread baked with Kowie Gold Pilsner beer and mussels steamed in Cider.
He recommends the Dressier for dessert. It is a moist chocolate cake made with craft beer and topped with an Amarula cream frosting. I’ve died and gone to food heaven.
You know what is particularly amazing about this day? I’ve visited this town several times but didn’t notice any of these places. Sometimes you’ve just got to abandon the guided tours, tourist watering holes and roam on your own. Be a flaneur, you never know what treasures you might discover.
Words by Susan Ekpoh
Susan is an explorer, life lover and pilot. She writes about her travels and adventures on her website, Waka-Waka Chronicles