People in the times of the coronavirus crisis – Eyewitness Teresa Da Mata in South Africa

Knysna sits between George and Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route in the Western Cape Province. The town is easy to reach from Cape Town. It only takes five to six hours. A place with a backdrop as glorious as you would find it in any award-winning TV travel documentary. It has been awarded “South Africa’s Favourite Town” several times. I am not exaggerating when I call Knysna picture-perfect. “Place of Wood” in Khoisan. With its lagoon, the ocean, and the forest, it has a rich history and heritage and is one of South Africa's oldest towns. 

A lagoon with a a few white wooden houses on its shore surrounded by lush green hills with a mountain range in the far distance.

I travel to South Africa to see her wildlife. I dream of lions, rhinoceros, giraffes, zebras, and leopards. I would in most places see exotic birds. The kind of bird I forgot exists, as in flamingos, sunbirds, and penguins. I came across many places where troops of chacma baboons roam. I visited places in and near forests, where I saw vervet monkeys.

In Knysna, I once jumped on a boat to ride through the Knysna heads and further on onto the Indian Ocean. I saw Cape Fur Seals and dolphins. Can you imagine that the average pod size along the Garden Route is 120? 

People in the times of the coronavirus crisis – Eyewitness Teresa Da Mata in South Africa

For now, everyone has been told to stay home to save lives. No one can travel to or through South Africa right now. We can still do two things. One: We can always dream of South Africa. Two: We can ask the locals to tell us about their country. We can ask them to tell us about how they experience life during the coronavirus crisis and what they make of it. If we cannot visit South Africa right now, stories from South Africa needs to come to us in the form of stories. I contacted Teresa from Ocean Odyssey in Knysna. I asked her to tell me about the current coronavirus crisis. I wanted to find out how she feels. To begin with, I was interested in what is expected from locals during ‘lockdown’ in South Africa?
“South Africa implemented a 21-day lockdown on the 27th of March. Lockdown was supposed to end by the 16th of April but has been extended till the 30th of April. We are expected to stay put! We are only allowed to venture out once a week to purchase groceries or if we need urgent medical assistance or collect grants. Government has also put a halt on the sale of non-essential items such as cigarettes, alcohol, clothing and other random items.”

Update, according to the official Twitter page of The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa "South Africa will be placed on alert level 3 from 1st June 2020. Public gatherings and other high-risk activities, especially those that involve close contact between large numbers of people, remain prohibited to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. ... All borders of the republic remain closed except for the transportation of goods and repatriation of citizens"

Everyone I speak to feels as if we are in a state of emergency. I also have been wondering what Teresa helps right now. She reacts positively. “Access to the internet and being able to stay connected to family and friends. This also allows us to keep the marketing side of the business alive by keeping our Social Media pages active, answering email etc.”

Teresa Da Mata and farm dog Floss. Knysna. South Africa.

Majestic giants of the ocean

Knysna is a place that feels as if you are a million miles away from it all, like a slice of paradise. Due to the pandemic we live through right now, we cannot visit Knysna at the moment. I ask Teresa what visitors would see in nature if they were to go on a tour with Ocean Odyssey this month. She explains it vividly and in such a detailed way that it makes it especially hard not to be in Knysna right now. "South Africa is in autumn which is a lovely time of the year where it’s not too hot or too cold! The Garden Route coastline, in particular, starts changing gears from hot and long summer days to cool and short winter days. Dolphins start to become less prominent as they make way for the majestic giants of the ocean. Our migratory whales – humpback and southern right whales – slowly start hitting the liquid highway that leads them to Cape Point and veers east towards the tropical water of the Indian Ocean. Beyond the Knysna heads is an aquatic acrobatic display of our most treasured marine animals.”

When Teresa speaks about Knysna and the ocean, one can hear the love she feels for the town and her job. Her job involves dolphins, people and whales. I imagine it as particularly hard to not be around people all the time. I wonder how she feels at a time where tourists cannot visit South Africa any longer. Her response is a mixed bag of emotions. “I am constantly surrounded by people, even now. I live with my family and there are seven of us in total! However, I am missing daily interactions and dealing with tourists from all over the world. I am keen to get back to normal and constantly thinking about the things I want to do once things get back to normal.”

A farm just outside Knysna

We live in strange times. Everyone has heard of the ones saying that life drags on right now. Understandably so. It can feel as if life stands still, supported by the fact that no one knows what is going to happen next. Teresa will have none of that. She has the strength to look at her situation favourably. “I started noticing the surrounding of where I live more. I stay on a farm just outside of Knysna with forests and farm animals around me. Normally I would not have much to do with the daily runnings of the farm but now since it is just us, I have been involved in the garden and even planted my own seedlings that I take care of daily. Also got back into baking which I was quite fond of once upon a time.”

To me travel is to live, it sounds cheesy and over the top. It is how I feel about it. There is so much to see in this world. People all over the world are already waiting to travel to South Africa soon again. Many, including me, already have detailed ideas for their first travel adventure in South Africa. Everyone wonders when the situation in South Africa will normalize. Teresa cautions "I am hoping soon, however, I have a feeling that the lockdown may be extended again as the situation has shown improvement. But cases seem to be growing slowly which is a small relief. I think things will take a while to go back to “normal” and it would probably be in stages.

But I do feel that the tourism industry will be on lockdown until the entire globe gets the virus under control. I do think the responsible thing to do is not open our borders for travel until things get better everywhere else. Even though I am in the industry and this will affect our business greatly I do understand that that is where it may lead to, unfortunately.”

Pre-corona and the future

The whole situation we are in makes me think about the life I lived pre- corona, and it makes me think about the future. Even more than the usual waking up in the wee hours. "Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be, the future's not ours to see..." Right. I know. It sort of feels we are all in limbo. Teresa shares her feelings. She shares what she hopes will be once the coronavirus crisis is over and Ocean Odyssey is going to be open for business again. “Definitely hoping to be open for business. Maybe appreciate freedom and travel a bit more. Always stuck into work or at home that I do not get to explore much of my own town. So once things normalize, I do think that I will take more time to appreciate my surroundings and hopefully one day even go beyond my surroundings and travel overseas.”

Awake curiosity and joy in learning

Parents are suddenly faced with the challenge of home-schooling (together with all the other challenges parents face right now). The coronavirus crisis turned parents all over the world into teachers. Now it is their turn to awake curiosity and joy in learning. Teresa talks about her new role as a teacher when she adds “It has been a shock to the system, but an eye-opener. Those that have children, like me, have had to start home-schooling their kids which has been a massive eye-opener for me as I didn’t realise how much work my child needs in certain areas – I wouldn’t have known if this hadn’t happened.” On the other hand, she through and through embraces this newfound situation at work. “In terms of business, we have all had to adapt to doing business unusually via email, zoom, skype WhatsApp etc. But the nice thing is, this time that we all have on our hands, has allowed people to relook things and redo things. Operators are updating their records now they have time for it and reaching out to products and requesting information.

Like a wave that rolls over Knysna’s beaches

One lifelong motto is to never stop dreaming. Let us dream of a time when the coronavirus pandemic rolled over us like a wave over one of Knysna divine beaches... never to return. Teresa’s tells me what she dreams of doing. “Adventure wise – I look forward to a road trip along the coastline and exploring hidden gems and all the usual touristy spots that I have not had the opportunity to explore before.”

Before she leaves, she offers helpful and heartfelt advice. Her thoughts provide us with something to reflect on in the days and weeks ahead. “This may seem like the worst thing that has happened and for certain aspects it is, but it has also given us time to think about what we have taken for granted and what we need to appreciate more!"

Looking for more stories from South Africa? Dream now - Travel later.

From Berlin with love