Saturday, August 28, 2010

Coffee Bay the closest I got to paradise yet!

On arriving at the Wild Coast it was immediately apparent that this was different to all the places I had been so far. The main road passing through this region is inland and it was in this area that a young Nelson Mandela was born and spent his childhood. The land was dry as we drove through (most of the rain comes in summer here) and most of the buildings were now round thatched huts made with clay bricks. The bus dropped us off at Mthatha where we got the shuttle bus down to Coffee Bay. It was about another two hours before we got to the coast and were dropped off near the backpackers.

There are two hostels on either side of the track down to the river and this was where I met the most people. Bomvu (where I stayed) was a nice quiet place so I got to know all the people working there during my stay as well as a few regulars who were around. The Coffee Shack was more the party place it seemed with a fair few young backpackers there and a couple of the local tour guides who kept the party going. The pool table there was free and a fair few evenings were spent trying to empty their well stocked beer supply!

The next morning I found the local shop and got my onion, tomatoes and a kilo of rice. There didnt seem to be much else of interest so happy with my harvest I went off to explore my surroundings. On the way down to the river I spotted Amber - one of the Bomvu dogs - she wouldnt come back but kept looking at me and then towards the rocky beach. I followed her past it, down a path and then over a small hill to see the proper bay, a deserted sandy beach protected on each side by outcrops of black rock. . Good dog!

Over the next few days I met quite a few locals who spoke very good English. Sipo was a 19 year old lad who guided me around some of the local area (I cant really call it a village as there are round houses every hundred metres or so for as far as the eye can see) and took me down to some sacred rock pools hidden away in a small forested area between two hills. Apparently the Sangoma (witch doctor/shaman) do their rituals there sometimes and you could imagine it easily with the utter silence there only broken by the odd bird.

Another guy I met explained a lot about how life worked for people there was Tokosa, a night watchman for Bomvu who had previously been a tour guide hiking up and down the coast to Port St Johns. He was from Mpande which is just up the coast. On the third day there I went with him to the Shebeen where locals get their booze. I tried some Ijuba, fermented god knows what, that they get in what looks like a milk carton. Not to my taste but I would say it is probably about as strong as wine.

That day I also had one of my high points when I stumbled across a small shop which had a freezer and in it. . .some mincemeat! No idea what animal it was and I guess I didnt care - It was time to put the curry powder to good use! That night we ate well and I got to know some of the guys staying there a little better. John had been a lawyer who jacked it in 14 years ago to travel Africa and never stopped. Amanda was an ex horse showjumper with some vet experience, who cycled the length and breadth of South Africa and did odd jobs for the animals of people she met around. Anneka had been at Bomvu a few weeks and was helping paint some parts that were being renovated.
There were two guys working the bar and doing surf lessons locally, slightly mad Afrikaaners enjoying life to the full while they could!

That evening it poured with rain which was good of course as it replenished the water storage of each house but the power in the bar kept shorting out so we closed up early and I popped over to Coffee Shack for a few games with my now regular pool partner John, one of the local guys who had formed a decent team with me. The table was old and the pool cues a mess which led to some very funny games. Easy straight shots would go horribly wrong yet bouncing a ball off two cushions seemed to work fine remarkably often! Strange moment of the night went to the two guys from Capetown who came in with some very nice pool cues and challenged a couple of the local guys to a game. They seemed to take it way more seriously than was necessary and promptly lost after some seriously bad play. They then packed away the nice cues and left without having a drink leaving a few of us scratching our heads.

Eventually I did get itchy feet as I wanted to get used to the local transport more before hitting Zimbabwe after having the luxury of the bazbus. I got a local minivan taxi to Mthatha Shell Ultra City (its just a petrol station, awww. . ) and that was awesome fun. What side of the road did he drive on? The one with less holes of course! As he drove past buildings the drive would whistle and honk stopping every now and then to drop people off or pick up some more and at one point it felt like we were racing another Minivan! This trip was faster than the incoming one and soon I was at the Shell waiting for my bus to Durban (120 Rand by the way - that's about eleven Pounds). On to the cities - bleeurgh ;P

Friday, August 20, 2010

Knysna and Jeffreys bay

It took most of a day to get to Knysna and on the way the rain came in. By the time we arrived it was pouring down and cold with it. We jumped off at a hostel called 'Island Vibe' where I had the dumb idea of washing some clothes and then realised drying them was not likely to be easy. The night was a washout so I pretty much gave up after a quick beer at the bar and went to bed.

The next morning defied all predictions and was actually sunny giving me a chance to hang out some stuff and after letting it dry a bit I headed into town. I had missed part of the day so I did the lazy thing and simply went to the waterfront to look around at the shops and get some supplies. Knysna is pretty cool, a town on the edge of a lagoon so people can enjoy the water without the battering of the waves from the sea. While there I met a Korean girl named Young who had been on the Bazbus the previous day and she wanted to try some of the oysters which Knysna is famous for. We sat at one of the many restaurants there and I had one of my favourites - Mussels in garlic sauce (nomnomnom). Once we were stuffed on this luxurious meal we walked it off and headed back for the bus pickup. . next stop for me - Jeffrey's Bay.

The bus dropped me off at 8pm so it was dark when I got into the hostel. Jeffrey's Bay is a surfer haven so only two other girls there were just backpacking. There was a lot of surf talk going on and by midnight I was one of three people left as most people were getting up at 5am to catch the good waves. I had no such intentions and knocked off a little later for some downtime. My wake up call was at about 10am when the Qatar lady called and told me I wouldnt have to fill out any forms and my refund should be complete in about three weeks. Hurrah, I love her!

Spent a few days walking up and down the beach and discussing surfing with the guys in the hostel. All good fun and I may even try my hand at it - but it will need to be a little warmer first! Next stop will be Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast. This is where I will start to get to grips with the real Africa as so far most places have been very nice and catering for Western taste. . From here on in it may be a bit tougher but I suspect a hell of a lot more fun!

Will add photos later as this is being done over a 3G network. Very slow and way too expensive :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Leaving Capetown :_(

I have only spent 5 days here but by the end of it Capetown became home if only briefly. I have to admit the first evening was slightly intimidating as I moved in on a Saturday night when it was already dark and all the street people were out and about. After getting accosted for money six times in as many minutes I took refuge in the hostel, however after discussing with a few people it became very simple to deal with this.

My general rule is never give out money for two reasons. First it encourages such behaviour as a way to get cash, and secondly it does nothing to help the overall situation of the poverty these people are in. There was a very nice solution in that if I am asked for money I will first explain that I do not give out money under any circumstance but if I have an apple or bottle of juice that is always offered and in every single case has been accepted with incredible gratitude. Thanks Karina for that wee tip!

On my last night in Capetown, two friends Pedro and Claude were about to go home so I finally went out for the huge piss up I had been avoiding thus far! They were laughing as we went down the street because every few metres another guy would greet me by name in the exuberant way that they do here. Those who dont know my name generally refer to me as 'Liverpool' (surprise surprise) and I have to say the street guys that loiter near the backpacker hostel will be missed as much as many others I have met.

On another note I decided to walk up Table Mountain with JB. We took a taxi to the cable car station and started the two and a half hour walk up. The beginning was hard work as we were in the sun and it must have been about 1pm. After a while we hit the shade of the Plattekloof gorge cliffs and eventually made it to the top. I went a bit photo crazy with the cool lizards and the view was impressive to say the least.

One unexpected highlight was spotting Dassies lounging on the rocks at the top. The first one I saw appeared dead until I eventually saw his nose twitch. There were some very cool birds but I was too slow to get them with the camera. We then wussed out and took the cable car down to head straight to the shop to get supplies for the big cook up we needed!

Love Capetown and wish I could stay longer but every day brings more suggestions of where to go. Off to Knysna next using the Bazbus as it takes people directly to the hostels they choose. This mode of transport should get me to Port Elizabeth at least before I move on to another method of getting around.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Long St - Capetown

Woke up bright and breezy in Simonstown and figured it was time to move in to Capetown proper to sample life here before it is time to move on. Karina was off work and wanted to show me a few of the sites so off we went. The landscapes are of course incredible, the peaks are imposing while the countryside all seems very lush at the moment. The sea gives a sense of having incredibly powerful currents as you can see it swirling around boulders on the coastline.

We drove to Spier just outside Capetown, nominally a wine estate but they do some conservation work there hosting outreach programs for birds of prey and cheetahs. The birds are normally rescued injured birds of prey. The cheetah program aims to educate farmers and help them find ways to be safe without impacting the cheetah population. They also breed Anatolian Shepherd dogs to guard livestock on South African farms and reduce conflict between farmers and cheetahs.

I was able to go in with the sleepiest cheetah around, a huge male known as Enigma. He just lay there doing his cat thing while I fussed over him and chatted with the keeper. The rest of the site was pretty awesome too with a restaurant where people could eat out in the open, under a massive tent or even raised up on some platforms dotted around the area. A stunning location and well worth a visit if in the area.

Next stop was central Capetown and being Saturday most of the backpackers were full with quite a few South Africans around to enjoy the night life. I found a place at Blue Mountain backpackers - a very relaxed place with a large balcony with sofas overlooking Long St. Here it was time to settle down, clean up and watch the crazy night life go on. I had a beer or two on the balcony while a couple of Party Buses went by (these appear to be buses that you hire out with a few people and then get taken around Capetown area for the piss-up of a lifetime!)

I met JB, a very relaxed French guy who had been checking out SA for a month and was convincing me to jack in most of my plans and check out the desert in Namibia. As he said, he was there 3 days ago and it was 'calling him back' :D

Much to ponder but back to priorities! Liverpool play Arsenal in a couple of hours so I am off to find a seat with a view of the match. I will end with a gorgeous bike I saw yesterday (By the way - this is an incredible place for a motorcycle trip. . . maybe another time!)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Capetown - Day 1

My first day in South Africa and I am simply overcome with how awesome everything seems. It could be the gorgeous weather, the view as we flew in or simply the slowly dawning realisation that I am free to do anything I want until next summer! As the plane landed (Boeing 777 - touch screens at every seat - loadsa space, lovely!) the sight of massive peaks leading down to empty white sandy beaches was truly inspiring.

My first stop was a backpacker's hostel in Simonstown quite close to Capetown. It was dark and pretty cold just after landing so I got to my bed and fell asleep within minutes.
On waking up it was time for some very slow exploring of this chilled out town. On finding a way down to the beach I could faintly hear the sound of African singing. There was a small choir giving it their all so I had no choice but to sit on some rocks at the shore to relax and take it all in. I was puzzled by a periodic cracking sound and it took me a while to realise it was the gulls collecting shellfish and dropping them on the rocks around me to crack them open!

A little further down the road there was a nesting area for African penguins so I must have spent an hour in the area snapping away with the camera. As I wandered back I ran into Gareth, a friend of Karina's who has a coffee shop. He invited me in to sit in the sun with a glass of wine and chat for a while. I could never say no to that so a lovely walk was capped off perfectly. The tranquil feeling I have here is just incredible and although I am still getting used to it, there is plenty of time to daydream about adventures yet to come.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Your reporter in the Middle East

The learning experience has begun! It would appear that Qatar Air refuse to fly you to Capetown unless you have evidence of an onward flight within the visa period. Obviously this would be a problem for anyone travelling overland but it seems that is just the way it is. I was aware of a similar situation for Thailand but I really wish it had been mentioned on the website. A quick run to the Qatar offices netted me a ticket back to Doha next week. I should be able to get an 80% refund so I guess it could have been worse.

Got off the plane at Qatar in the dark and was welcomed by what felt like a hairdryer on max power to the face. Currently it is 34 degrees - at midnight - and I think it was closer to 40 degrees when I stepped off the plane (apparently it was 45 at midday). After feeling that I have now downgraded Gibraltar to 'slightly warm'. The air conditioning here is incredibly good but I really have to imagine what a struggle life must have been here before the petrodollars came in. Now I am counting the hours until my flight at 0710 in the morning.

Internet is free within the airport but I imagine they must have hundreds of connections judging by the number of laptops and trendy phones I see being carried around. It kicks you off the network every 5 minutes or so but that's fine by me. It just means that writing this will take a bit longer and time is one commodity I can spare plenty of.

Food here is the usual airport fast food. The prices are decent though but I am trying to use up my last euros. I think I finally realised that every gram of weight I can shave off that backpack is going to count. Then again, what can I dump? It wont be the laptop thats for sure and if I get rid of any more clothes I may get arrested. I bow to those backpackers that run around the world with all their possessions in a tiny bag!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Madrid starbucks and free Wifi

Madrid is very pleasant at the moment. Very warm but also cloudy with a brisk breeze keeping temperatures at a very tolerable level. I wandered around for a while looking for internet and was eventually saved by finding a Starbucks with 45 minutes of connectivity per coffee.
I am now slipping into a very relaxed mode it seems. Got nothing to do. . . good stuff! I will probably just walk around for a few hours and then retire for an early night. The flight to Doha is at 11:15 tomorrow so I have decided to head over there at 7am just in case of any confusion.
Right - Coffee is over, time to walk around and be a tourist!

Edited for Joe!
Well DUDES (^^) it has been a lovely day of mooching. Laying on the grass and playing with the camera is definitely a day well spent. Seems like most of the population walking around consists of Peruvians, Americans and the odd English person. Maybe the Spaniards are all hiding from the sun like sensible people.

So! Tomorrow I get to see Qatar airport followed by Capetown the day after. I cant help thinking that my spending is too high at the moment. Being stuck in Qatar wont help there but I will give myself until leaving Capetown to lower my cash outflow as I sense a little partying in my immediate future. Signing out now - time to charge stuff up before an early night. This dude needs sleep!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sitting in the doldrums

Love this picture - so close yet so far away. This is that phase when everything is ready and I am just sitting and waiting. It is pretty damn hot in Gibraltar at the moment and I am still getting my head round the idea that it will be a heck of a lot cooler in South Africa. Time to break out the woolly jumpers!

Tuesday is leaving day and I will catch a train at 8am from Algeciras to Madrid, find myself a nice cheap place to sleep and try to mentally prepare for a 30 hour trip of which 20 or so hours are in an aluminium tube - yay! I have a full series of Chuck that needs watching I guess and maybe Lord of the Rings is stashed somewhere. . .

The plan is to stay in Capetown about 4-5 days before I head on east. There will be a few days of getting my bearings and some cash. Before I leave I will of course have to watch the Liverpool vs Arsenal game on the 15th after which it will probably be time to head off up the coast.