Wednesday, May 25 , 2016, 10:54 am | Overcast 63º

Anabel Ford: Discovering a Touch of Santa Barbara in South Africa

By Anabel Ford Ph.D. |

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With a planned lineup of meetings, lectures and safaris, a small delegation of anthropologists from Santa Barbara took off for Cape Town, South Africa, to meet up with retired UC Santa Barbara anthropology professor David Brokensha. For us, so far from home, he was a bit of Santa Barbara in South Africa.

As we began to explore this amazing place, I found more that reminded me of Santa Barbara. Surfing is very popular, especially in False Bay, as is paragliding from the looming signal hill behind Sea Point. The native plants, the sandy beaches and the wine country all harken back to our home.

A visit to the magnificent Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, a must for any visitor to Cape Town, reveals that most ornamentals we use in Santa Barbara are from South Africa’s Cape Floristic Kingdom. Aloes, succulents, proteas, ericas, agapanthus, geraniums, lilies and irises all began their colorful lives as part of the fynbos of the southern tip of Africa.

As I am fascinated with the origins and uses of plants, this novel perspective of our familiar Santa Barbara landscape made me want to know more!

The wine lands of Stellenbosch and Franschoek, just inland from Cape Town, provide another point of similarity. Focused in an old delta of the Eerste River, the vines quilt the low valley and wind up the sides of the astonishing, uplifted sandstone bedded mountains that loom over the flats around Cape Town.

Why even the archaeology shares commonalities! Traveling north along the sandy coastline, University of Cape Town archaeologist John Parkington took us to shell middens with loads of mussel, like those of Santa Cruz Island. The only difference is that these dated to more than 70,000 years ago!

While walking on the coast of Fish Hoek, I saw the blooming yucca, another familiar sight in Santa Barbara. These blossoms, called Isote in the Maya world, are edible and delicious fresh in a salad or cooked in a quiche. Inspired, I collected the blossoms and shared them with Brokensha for a novel scrambled egg breakfast. Everyone enjoyed it.

There the similarities with Santa Barbara seem to stop. Cape Town is a bustling and sprawling city, with more than 6 million people in the greater metropolitan area. The chaotic traffic maneuvers around Table Mountain, which offers incomparable views of the city more than 3,280 feet below.

And, of course, there are the penguins! They are living on the boulders near the Cape of Good Hope. We certainly do not have those in Santa Barbara.

Anabel Ford Ph.D. is the director of UC Santa Barbara’s MesoAmerican Research Center and president of Exploring Solutions Past. Ford, UCSB’s resident expert on Maya archaeology, discovered the ancient Maya city-center El Pilar, which bridges Belize and Guatemala. By decoding the ancient landscape around El Pilar, she is creating a sustainable model in conservation and agriculture that can regenerate the threatened Maya forest. With investment and support, her model can assist environmental efforts worldwide. Click here for more information on El Pilar. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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