Rumor has it that on being shipwrecked, Portuguese sailors attempting to navigate the Southern-most tip of Africa would in desperation cry out a Latin “Our Father”, a chilling plea that has given its name to the picturesque fishing village of Paternoster. It is more likely however, that the village is named after Paternoster Row, the London street destroyed by bombing in the Blitz.
Slightly less than two hours outside of Cape Town, on a strip of fishing villages on the sunny West Coast, the whitewashed settlement of Paternoster curves around a small crescent of pale sand.
Although having become popular as a weekend retreat, building regulations have ensured that the aesthetics of the original village remain, albeit more glamorously than in years gone by. Cottages are uniform in their white paint and blue shutters and fishermen and townspeople live in brightly lit houses meandering between weekend homes. This saves the town from the challenge faced by other, less premium popular holiday-home villages of the region – the absolute mishmash of architectural styles and colors, as faux Tuscan villa sits cheek by jowl with mock Tudor mansion.
Being less precipitous than rainy Cape Town in winter, the West Coast is a welcome haven for those seeking to escape the howling North Wester and persistent drizzle, and while it can get cold, the region is drier than in the city. In the summer however, the South Easter delivering good weather to the Cape blows relentlessly, buffering beachgoers and boats and sweeping sand into every available crevice.
While walking through the roads of Paternoster one is likely to be amicably accosted by brightly dressed youths shouting “kreef” from gap-toothed mouths and waving lobster for your attention, tangerine limbs grasping vaguely for aid. This trade is illegal (although in some demand) and cars are often checked on the way out of town by fishery officers.
Crime in Paternoster is low, and usually limited to opportunistic break-ins of insufficiently protected holiday homes. Unlike most South African towns where lower-income housing is separated from upmarket holiday houses Paternoster is unique in that the town is fully integrated – original fishing cottages are dotted in between boutique bed and breakfasts and next to the Paternoster Hotel.
The light in Paternoster is bright, and full of varying shades of yellow as the sun moves about through the sky. The sea, bright blue and pond-still in the early mornings, takes on a ruffled, green hue as the breeze comes up and the day lengthens. Dog-walkers, children building elaborate canals in the sand and grownups flying kites with rolled up hems appear on the beach and then ebb away with the waning tide.
In the late afternoon the color of sea and sky deepens, and the odd polo-shirted tourist with a camera lens as long as his arm, and wife in designer chinos, can be seen making his way along the beach to an early dinner. The retired fishing boats outside the red-roofed restaurant, Voorstrand, make colorful jungle gyms; occupying small and energetic beasts while adults look on, clutching glasses of wine. As the sea grows blacker and the horizon turns a winter orange, only the brave still sit at outside tables, perhaps warmed by sufficient local wine and cheesy pizza, while everyone else retreats indoors and in true South African tradition, builds up the fire and pours another glass of wine, remarking with yawns as they turn in, how sleepy the sun and salty air invariably makes one.