By Blaise Hopkinson
One of the favourite tourism attractions in Stilbaai are the eels of Palinggat Homestead, residence of the Stilbaai Tourism Bureau.
For more than 125 years these freshwater eels have been living in the spring and, for reasons known only to the Palinggat eels themselves, the mature eels depart for the ocean off Madagascar to spawn and only a handful of the offspring return while the mothers simply vanish.
Female eels lay some 10 million eggs but most of the larvae don’t survive. Those that do are washed towards the African coast by the currents and only a few hardy survivors find their way to Palinggat bringing with them the mysteries of the deep.
Biologists have no concrete proof as to why this happens, but every morning at 11 o’clock visitors are treated to a rare sighting of the elusive eels when they are fed chicken livers donated by the OK in Stilbaai.
In case you are wondering about the headline on this article, the answer goes back to the 1970s when famous British comedy group Monty Python featured a skit about an invented rude and wildly inaccurate Hungarian/English phrase book. This included a wacky scene with John Cleese as a Hungarian, trying to buy cigarettes at a tobacconist and consulting his phrase book.
“My hovercraft is full of eels,” was what he came up with.
This led Omniglot, the online encyclopaedia of writing systems and languages, to translate the phrase into dozens of languages, the first entry being Afrikaans: my skeertuig is vol palings.
While the eels of Palinggat are no laughing matter and there are apparently no hovercraft in the vicinity, a visit at feeding time is a must and costs just R12. It is difficult to see the eels at other times because they hide in the crevices under the rocks in the pond.
But when the chicken liver juices escape into the water the eels energetically appear for their special treat. Their regular diet consists of tadpoles and crabs which live in and around the Palinggat pond. Eels source their food by their acute sense of smell and also touch so at chicken liver time at Palinggat they come within touching distance of the hand that feeds.
Palinggat Homestead itself is an historical site. It was first constructed in 1809 and after a fire in 1814 rebuilt by Andries J de Jager, whose initials are above the entrance. It became home to the Stilbaai Information Centre in 1992.
And, just in case you might want to impress a visitor from Kazakhstan inexplicably visiting Stilbaai with your linguistic abilities, the translation in Kazakh is: Menïṇ äue hegïz kemecï žylanbalyķpen toltyrylḡan (according to Omniglot, not Monty Python!).