To the West Coast, Cederberg, Matzikama and back
National Science Week in 2014 took place from the 02nd to the 08th of August. Before that event could take place there was a lot to do. Lots of planning and discussions, lots of paperwork to be sorted, equipment to be hired, telephone calls to be made, e-mails to be sent and frayed nerves soothed because the money from SAASTA was not forthcoming. But eventually, all the loose ends came together and we could go and get the job done.
Sunday the 03rd of August
On Sunday the 03rd of August Lynnette, Petro, Snorre and I drove to Somerset West in the hired Quantum with a large trailer. National Science Week, 2014 had kicked of for us. Petro was going to house-sit Auke’s Aunt, will the rest of us did our National Science Week thing on the West Coast. After unloading Petro and her belongings we loaded Auke and his paraphernalia, said our goodbyes, and hit the road. We did not take the N7, as we wanted to avoid the road works between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam. We could have avoided them by taking the road along the northern bank of the Olifant’s River, but that road is unsurfaced and apparently quite bad in places, so we opted for the slightly longer West Coast route. This took us past Malmesbury, Hopefield, Langebaanweg, Saldanha, Velddrif, Laaiplek, Dwarskersbos, Elandsbaai, Leipoldtville and Graafwater. We reached our destination, Clanwilliam and the Long House Guest House, our base for the next six days.
Monday the 04th of August
On Monday the 04th of August it was cloudy and rainy but luckily we could set up in the hall of the Clanwilliam Senior Secondary School, courtesy of the principal, Mr Munnik. The program for the day was very well coordinated by one of the teachers, Mrs, Cornel de Waal. We had loads of learners from the host school and from the Sederberg Primary School right next door, where Mr Barends is the principal. Mr Nel, the principal at the Augsberg Agricultural Gymnasium, also arranged to have a large number of learners from his school visit us. Several of the educators from the various schools accompanied their learners. Snorre’s contribution was to undertake several parades around the school hall and spend time on the table amongst the hand-outs, having his head scratched by all and sundry. However, for most of the day he was quite happy snoozing in his carry-cage.
After the end of the normal school day we had a steady stream of learners who lived close to the school or in the school hostel, as well as members of the public visit us. Although we were on site until well after sunset, the weather never cleared up sufficiently to justify setting up a telescope. It actually started drizzling right on cue as we started loading our stuff back in the vehicle.
The team will always have fond memories of the Clanwilliam Senior Secondary’s hospitality. The lunch and other refreshments provided were life savers for the presenters.
Tuesday the 05th of August
On Tuesday the 05th of August we had an early breakfast and then set of in the rain and predawn darkness northward on the N7 to Klawer. This section of the N7 is also under reconstruction, or as SANRAL calls it, rehabilitation. We arrived at Klawer Primary School and the principal, Mr Esterhuise, showed us to the class where we could set up for the day. It rained on and off while we were unloading making it very difficult to keep things dry and not to tread mud into the classroom. The school kept a steady stream of learners coming all day and in most cases they were accompanied by their educators too. During the afternoon and early evening we had more learners, their parents and also other members of the public visit us. Snorre again made one or two appearances as “The Cat on the Table”. He also took a walk around the school grounds on his leash with Lynnette but spent most of the day in his carry-cage, which he seems to prefer when there is a lot of activity around him.
We set up a telescope late in the afternoon, when the weather looked as if it might clear, and actually managed to project the Moon for short periods before the rain sent us scurrying indoors and convinced us we should pack up and call it a day.
Negotiating the N7, which, as already mentioned, was in rehab, in the dark was not fun but we eventually made it back to Clanwilliam and the Long House where we unhitched the trailer and then had a well-earned supper before going to bed.
Wednesday the 06th of August
Wednesday the 06th of August started with a repeat performance of the previous day, as we again headed north up the N7, but this time past Klawer and on to Vredendal and the Vredendal Primary School. The only difference was that we started out so early that we had to skip breakfast, which was a major inconvenience. At the school the principal, Mr Moon, had arranged for us to use the school hall and also had extra hands lined up to help us unload. We had a very busy day with a constant stream of learners and educators from our host school as well as leaners from Vredendal High School, courtesy of the principal Mr Swanepoel, and also from Vredendal Senior Secondary School thanks to the principal, Mrs Henderson’s efforts. We also had a visit from the SAASTA representative, Me Lithakazi Lande, who had driven up from Cape Town the previous day. Unbeknown to either party she had spent the night at the Yellow Aloe Guest House which is right next door to the Long House. A major difference was that she started later than we did so she could have breakfast before tackling the N7. She, however, also complained about having had to negotiate the road works on the N7 between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam the previous day, justifying our use of the West Coast route. Lithakazi left before lunch as she had a long drive down to Vredenburg ahead of her and I gave her a detailed description of our route so that she could avoid the dreaded N7 between Clanwilliam and Citrusdal. . Unfortunately the partially overcast weather and especially the high level cirrus clouds made the projection of the Sun impractical. Snorre only made one or two forays out of his cage to eat, drink water and use his sandbox but, other than that, seemed disinclined to spend time outside the cage. Fortunately he was not registered with SAASTA as a presenter otherwise we would have had to deduct form his pay for non-performance.
During the afternoon we had a few visitors but we also had to share the hall with a dance group practicing their moves – very loudly!
That evening we had a good attendance of parents and other members of the public and we were also able to project the Moon as well as show a variety of other objects through the second telescope. After closing up we again had to run the gauntlet of the N7, its rehabilitation, the darkness and the seemingly never ending stream of heavy vehicles, before we could get to Clanwilliam, supper, a cold beer and a welcoming bed.
Thursday the 07th of August
Thursday the 07th of August was a much easier and shorter drive after breakfast to Graafwater, where we were to set up at Graafwater Primary School. Mr Pieters, the principal, was on hand to welcome us and organize the willing hands that helped us unload. That morning we saw many learners and educators from the host school as well as learners and educators from Graafwater High School, organized my Mr Koertse, the principal there. During the afternoon we were visited by numerous children from the nearby residential areas. Late in the afternoon we unfortunately had to call in the help of the principal as the children became difficult to control. There was an altercation involving sticks, stones, lots of shouting, climbing on the roof, running around and at least one knife. The problem was caused by two groups of older youths that arrived at the school and appeared to be competing for control of the younger children. Snorre seemed more amenable to sitting on the table in Graafwater, but quickly took refuge in his cage when the attention becomes too demanding.
Later in the afternoon Mr Pieters brought along his telescope, which was malfunctioning, and, much to his delight, we quickly set that right for him. It was more an operator malfunction than a telescope malfunction as he was using a 4mm eyepiece with a 3xBarlow and was totally mystified by the fact that he could not get anything into focus. After the telescope “repairs” we got busy with the evening’s proceedings. We projected the moon and could show a variety of other objects to a large group of people through the second telescope while Auke took people on visual expeditions through the night sky. After packing up, it was an easy drive back to Clanwilliam for all the usual rewards after a rather stressful day.
Friday the 08th August
Friday the 08th August saw us setting up on the premises of the Sandveld Winkel in Leipoldtville, courtesy of Mr Dirk Eygelaar and Mrs Marie Eygelaar. The site was a stone’s throw away from the Leipoldtville Primary School and the principal, Ms Hammers, had everything organized so that the educators could bring the learners to us in groups during the course of the day. We broke for a light lunch with the Eygelaars and during the afternoon many children from the nearby residential areas visited us. During the evening we had a good attendance by members of the public, who came to look at our moon projection and view other objects through the other telescope while Auke did his thing with the sky tours. Snorre had the day off, because he was able to spend the entire day stretched out on an easy chair in the Eygelaar’s home, far away from the attention of those eager little hands.
Unfortunately the clouds moved in early and put an end to our show. After supper with Mr and Mrs Eygelaar we set of to Clanwilliam and a very welcome night’s rest.
Saturday the 09th of August
On Saturday the 09th of August we set up in front of the Clanwilliam Tourism Office. This was going to be a long day of real sidewalk astronomy with lots of feet passing from the residential areas to the town’s shopping area and back again. Unfortunately a technical hitch prevented us from projecting the Sun but we were able to project the Moon, from shortly after moonrise in the late afternoon. A great deal of interest was shown in actually viewing the objects through the other telescope.
Sometimes things happen during outreach events that make one wonder about people’s motivations and the following is one such incident. One lady left in a huff after spending quite some time in the queue waiting for her turn to look through the telescope. When she got to the telescope, and before looking through the eyepiece, she asked where the food was. On being informed there was no food, she turned on her heel and marched off, announcing that if there was no food she also did not want to look through the telescope. Apparently some people do not see well on an empty stomach, so next year we will have to budget for soup and sandwiches – SAASTA please take note. Snorre again spent the whole day with us, but in a non-participative capacity snoozing in his cage under the table most of the time. He asked to be let out on one or two occasions for food water and also to use his sandbox, but showed no interest whatsoever in sitting on the table. I think the noise from the passing traffic was not to his liking.
A special word of thanks goes to Esther Steens and her staff at the Tourism Office. They stayed on several hours beyond their normal closing time, so that we could have electricity for the projection and to make their toilet facilities available.
Sunday the 10th August
On Sunday the 10th August we had a leisurely breakfast, said goodbye to René and her staff in the kitchen at the Long House, who had so willingly supplied the early eggs and bacon and especially the coffee every morning. After breakfast we packed up and headed down the West Coast back to Cape Town. Unfortunately the crayfish for lunch did not materialize but maybe next year we can fit that in. After exchanging Auke for Petro in Somerset West we drove back to Brackenfell, where Lynnette and I set about the onerous task of unpacking, putting everything away and returning the Quantum and trailer to the hiring company. Snorre was very glad to be back home and free of his leash and harness.
On Monday the 11th of August we started the huge administrative task of preparing the final report and the financial report. One of the difficult and often delicate tasks is to get the schools to complete and send us the final documentation required by SAASTA. Some just don’t send, others send but don’t complete, while others supply information that does not match what we already have about the visit and poor Lynnette has volunteered for the task of sorting all this out.
Will we do it again next year? Maybe but only time will tell.