Monthly Archives: April 2012

Durban to Jo’burg- Kwazulu-Natal and Lesotho

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Getting to see Lesotho, what a treat!

26th March: So today we went on our ‘Face to Face Zulu Village Tour’ with Tekwenie Eco Tours. The only ones to book that day, we got a personal tour which was a bonus. We headed off East away from Durban and into Zululand, stopping off at a supermarket on the way to pick up some treats for the children of the family we were visiting. Although I think the football we bought them Hedd secretly was plotting to keep, he didn’t succeed- they were gifts after all! On the way to our first stop at a view-point overlooking the Valley of 1000 Hills, I taught Alfred, our guide, a new word- Torrential- after explaining our damp time in Port St John. He like it a lot and stopped the car to write the word down and its meaning and proceeded to practice saying it, slotting it into various sentences. It was funny and certainly passed the time, seeing us getting to the Valley of 1000 Hills in no time. It was a ‘wow’ view- a green expanse of little hills (although I think 1000 is a bit of an exaggeration!) peppered with little clusters of circular buildings, home to the Zulu people, and the big Inanda Dam filling the valley like a natural lake. We then headed to Emaphephetheni village in the Nanda area of Zululand and to a cluster of houses belonging to the Ncibilika family who would be our hosts for the day. Arriving at their home, first thing we noticed was their million dollar view of the dam. When we explained this to our guide Jason, the 19-year-old son, that in the UK you would pay hundreds of thousands for a house with such a water view he very seriously exclaimed that this was too much money to be charging. Quite right Jason, we agreed! All the families circular houses were painted light blue with grey tin roofs- the colour Jason told us was picked by his Mum without input from the men of the household. They just had to do the painting! This was not a staged village, the family weren’t in traditional clothes etc; we were seeing how the Zulu people lived today and how, and what, Zulu traditions still influenced the course of life here. So first up- Zulu engagement. Jason took us down to the dam and picked us reeds to plait our own engagement bands. Around 26 years old Zulu people marry and its the girl who initiates the engagement by plaiting a reed bracelet and tying it on the boys right wrist as an indication of her intentions. The boy then presents his wrist to his parents for permission to marry and to agree the ‘terms’ of the partnership to present to the girl’s family (e.g. the requirement of 2 cows, land etc) and then the deal is done. Jason tied our bands so I guess we’re all going to marry Jason! I said neither Hedd or I owned any land or cows so I don’t think it will work out! We then walked to Jason’s grandmother- the villages natural healer. We found her in her round house with mud floor- it cannot be concreted so she can connect sufficiently with the earth- with little holes in the tin roof which projected little circles of light like a disco ball around the space. It was quite atmospheric. The natural healer is chosen from birth and knows how cure all ailments. So it was worth a shot…Hedd explained his back problem and with Jason translating, the lady suggested ‘Umuttli’- a natural remedy made of water, plants and bark- 3 teaspoons 3 times a day. It came in a Smirnoff vodka bottle, looked like mud and cost 50RAN! Armed with Hedd’s miracle solution we thanked the natural healer and went on our way through the long grass. Lunch was a novelty; spinach, butternut squash, salsa with Uphuthu- crushed corn- a little like cuscous. All very lovely but alas no provision of cutlery so we ate it Zulu style with our hands! Both me and Hedd struggled to get the food from the plate and into our mouths, but apparently food is meant to taste better using your hand. It was indeed nice food but I think I’ll stick to my metal cutlery for the future! Just enough time to join in with the younger girls dancing to music provided by the elder sister banging coca cola bottle onto a plastic barrel. Surprisingly tuneful, we kicked our legs following the moves of the little ones. On account of his back, Hedd instead jogged on the spot kind of to the music which I can’t emphasise enough how hilarious it looked! On the way back to Durban Alfred our driver took us through Inanda township where Gandhi lived for years from 1893 and the place where he first voiced his notion of non-violent resistance in response to colonial racial inequality. Gandhi! I couldn’t believe it. Inanda has remained a symbol of political activism and social justice ever since, including during Apartheid, and is where Mandela cast his vote at the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Pretty cool. In celebration of Gandhi and in recognition of our new-found awareness of Durban as the home for the largest population of Indians outside India, we went for tea at an Indian that night!

27th March and another morning on the Baz Bus, taking us to our next destination- Amphitheatre Backpackers in the Northern Drakensberg. My goodness what a lovely part of the world, mountains and meadows everywhere! Our backpackers was great apart from the massive deposit regime they ran for everything. So after leaving a hefty deposit to borrow a laminated piece of paper with a printed map on it, we set off for a beautiful walk through the acres of maize fields dotted with gorgeous pink and white cosmos flowers and along the Mpande River. It was a gorgeous walk with light beams cutting through the clouds and shining down on the Drakensberg mountains and the valley below- wonderful! This hostel was in the middle of nowhere so they laid on dinner so we tucked into that, enjoyed the sun set and headed to bed semi-early in prep for our early start to Lesotho the next morning.

The 28th March and time for us to visit our 9th country- Lesotho. We were so excited waking up; a feeling only slightly dampened by the freezing cold shower- no hot water, nightmare! Off by 7.30am in the minibus for the 2 hour drive to the border, through the Monantsapas Pass (2,800 m). We got our exit stamp from South African Immigration and I was looking forward to getting my Lesotho entry stamp but as we descended through the pass and into Lesotho our guide informed us that the caravan which housed the Lesotho board control office had broken 2 months ago and the authorities hasn’t replaced is. So there we are, no official immigration into Lesotho! But my goodness, isn’t the country beautiful. Stunning mountains everywhere, valleys of maize fields with the pink and white cosmos flowers, sporadic clusters of circular houses with thatched roofs, roaming goats and cattle and beautiful light. With over 80% of the country lying above 1,800 metres, it is the highest country in the world and understandably its quite chilly. In response the local population wrap themselves with woolen blankets, as we do with coats and scarves, as they go about their business. Originally the Lesotho people were nomads but nowadays they keep in villages and we drove as far as Mafika-Lisiu village (that is also where the road ran out!) to visit the primary school. Sitting in the classroom our guide talk us through a bit of background about Lesotho; Sesotho is their language, Lesotho people are called Basetho… We also got to see the new extension which was funded by Amphitheatre Backpackers through some of the money we pay for the tour. That made us feel good and after hanging out with the kids for a while in the grassy playground, we set off on foot to explore more of the area. We bumped into the school principal along the way and she explained that the school is the lifeblood of the village. The children who attend are given lunch so at least they are definitely getting one meal each day and more and more they are supporting children to go to secondary school and college (it isn’t free in Lesotho). Health is still an issue with the doctor only coming once a month to this area; TB, aids, HIV, diabetes and high blood pressure still claim the lives of Lesotho people more than it should. We walked up and around one of the many hills in Lesotho for 1 1/2 hours and then stopped for our packed lunch at a great viewpoint overlooking the valley of rondavel hut villages and meadows and the back of what is known as the ‘Amphitheatre’ within the Drakensberg mountains. Gorgeous! Our guide explained more about the way of life here, namely farming is the order of the day. In the summer the shepherds take all the animals (goats, sheep, cows) up onto the mountain which have flat tops like Table Mountain in Cape Town, and the meadows in the valley are planted with crops. In the winter the animals are brought down into the valley again and they use the many natural caves at the bottom of the mountains to keep them in when it snows. And we walked past many of these caves with the dry stone walls built by the farmers across the entrances to act as pens as we descended the big hill. We also got to see some Bushman paintings on one of the cave sides depicting the eland (a type of antelope) which the Bushman thought to be sacred. We then continued down into the village again to find some home-brew beer to try. The Basetho operate a flag system for the selling of food, drink and services. White flag means beer, red= meat, green= vegetables and blue= medicine. If a family has any surplus of any of these to sell they raise the appropriate flag on a tall post outside their home so people far away can see it and walk to it to buy or trade. It’s a hark back to their nomad days really but still really clever as the Basetho still live really spread out. We spotted a white flag and walked to the hut to try some local brew. The corn beer came out in a large plastic canister and looked disgusting! It didn’t taste much better either- like fermented yeasty porridge with a sour and smokey aftertaste. Needless to say, even after my tiny sip I cringed at the taste of it! Back to the minibus and a quick ride to meet the Natural Healer- 1 of 3 for the area. We all crowded into his little rondavel round house and he explained that he didn’t choose to be a natural healer, the ancestors did by giving him the gift to see and communicate with them in order to heal people. He first knew he had the gift when he was at secondary school and got really ill and foresaw the death of 2 people in his village before it happened. He then got taken out of school and sent for training as a natural healer. He wears read as that was the colour he had on when he realised he had been given the gift. I asked if he liked being a natural healer, and he said he didn’t to begin with but now it is okay. Unbelievably this man is in his 40’s- I told him he doesn’t look over 30! There was just enough time then for us to drive to another Basotho family to try a traditional meal (ate with our fingers again!) and to the little local shop to buy some bottles of Maluti beer (only produced and sold in Lesotho) as gifts, before we made a dash for the border which closed at 4pm. Our guide shouted to the 4×4 accompanying us to race ahead and tell the border staff that we were on our way and we arrived at 4pm on the dot and was through it by 4.05pm….phew that was close! As we drove home, the most fabulous day was topped off with viewing a gorgeous sun set over the Sterkfontein Dam.

29th March and our last journey on the Baz Bus- hoorahhh! We lazed away the morning lying on the hostels large lawn in the sunshine with the hostels ancient scruffy looking dog until the Baz Bus came to pick us up at 1pm to take us to Johannesburg. It was a classic Baz Bus journey; the 3 hour journey took us 7 hours. We got into the city at 6.15pm but then had a whistle-stop tour of the cities hostels before eventually getting to the northern suburb that we were being dropped off at 8pm! Nightmare! Our first impressions of Jo’burg? A city of gates and armed response signs; this city had seen a lot of modern-day history! Our lovely hosts for our 2 nights in Jo’burg were my parents friends from Zambia- Pete and Lesie Hey, and they picked us up from outside the ‘Ritz Backpackers’ and whisked us off to their home in the northern suburb of Bryanton. The further north you go in Jo’burg the richer it gets and communities tend to be ‘boomed off’ with guards controlling who goes in and out of the estate and individual houses behind big gates. Bryanton was no different and the Hey’s house was lovely. Set in a 1 acre plot, you forgot you were in a city. Leslie had made us a traditional SA dish of Bobotie- a dish of mince, bread, egg, spices with rice; it was delicious. All washed down with a selection of SA wine from Pete’s under the stairs wine cellar called ‘The Cave’. It was fabulous! Conversation was beautifully easy as we retired to the lounge with yet more wine, before retiring to bed. We felt so lucky to be yet again looked after by such generous hosts. The next day, and Leslie very kindly had taken some time out of work to act as tour guide. So 9am we were out the door and embarking ‘Leslie’s Tours’ around Jo’burg. We were indebted to her as Jo’burg is enormous and difficult to navigate around without a car. First stop- the Apartheid Museum (R55 entry), and straight away you were given the experience of segregation; issued with a ‘white’ or ‘non white ticket’ you had to enter the museum in the appropriate door. Straight away you got the feeling of lack of choice and that somehow, on whatever side you were on, you were missing out on something. Great way to start and the museum continued in that quality of engagement, with tons of photos and videos which made the whole thing quite interactive. What I loved also was that it was Leslie’s first time visiting the museum too, so we all enjoyed browsing the exhibits together and interesting hearing Leslie’s reaction to it all as she had lived through it as a South African. It was the first time since arriving in SA that I understood the ‘why’s’ of apartheid. It roots start in the colonial years where the whole notion of ‘otherness’ and oppression of the natives within South Africa began. After the British retreated, the Afrikans took over the baton of oppression, believing ‘one race for one homeland’ and the Afrikaan leader and cabinet truly believed that the ‘one race’ for SA was white. And hence came the years of race classification and the 150 acts of Apartheid where the segregation of races was the cornerstone. The years of detention of people just because of their political beliefs, such as Mandela. The years of militant nationalism where many people were killed, battered and hung. The years of uprising from non whites, as well as whites, disgusted with Apartheid, who’s aim was to make the country unmanageable for the Apartheid government so the government would have to concede to regain order. All culminating in Mandela’s release after 27 years, peace negotiations, and the 1994 democratic elections and the appointment of Mandela as president. So there we are, a horribly simplified, but useful chronology (I think) of events. It will be heartbreaking to watch South Africa’s reaction when Mandela dies, he’s in his 90’s, and he is so entwined in all of South African’s consciousness; they will be so sad. All in all it took us 3 hours to walk around the museum. I think you could have been there longer but it was a bit overwhelming so 3 hours was about our limit! We then headed across town towards Rosebank to wander around Rosebank African Arts and Crafts market for a spot of souvenir shopping and our stop for lunch. It was then back in the car to try to get to the Cradle of Humankind in North Gauteng, 40 minutes out of the city. But alas traffic got in our way and realising we wouldn’t make it for last entry we headed back home, patting Leslie on the back for such a great day. Tonight was our last night with Pete and Leslie and they put on a traditional South African ‘Braai’ (BBQ) for us. We all sat on the ‘stoep’ (covered patio) chatting, eating and drinking Pete’s lovely wine for the whole evening. The evening was topped off with watching an electric lightning storm in the distance before we all retired to bed. A great evening!

The last day of March and also our last few hours in South Africa before flying to our last port of call for this amazing round the world trip, Zambia. All feeling slighting fragile from last nights exploits, we said goodbye and thank you to Leslie and Pete drove us heroically with a hangover to the airport. Apparently we had sunk 5 bottles last night and I’m sure I was responsible for 2 of them! Saying goodbye to Pete, we rushed around the airport exchanging money, checking in (which in itself took 45 mins) and only just made it to our gate on time. Stressful enough as it is, without having to comprehend such things with a hangover! Needless to say we were relieved to eventually be settled on the plane. And I was so excited and content to be heading off to Zambia- a country I called home for the first year of my life and a country so close to my family’s heart.

Durban to Jo’burg in a snapshot:

    • Weather= A baking 36 degrees in Durban, chilly in high up Lesotho, overcast in urban Job’burg
    • Food= Anything traditional- from Uphuthu (crushed corn) ate with our fingers in Zululand to a South African ‘Braai’ at the Heys
    • Drink= Hedd’s special Zulu juice (yuk!)
    • Real life moment= spending the day in Zululand with Jason and the Ncibilika family
    • Good to see before its infrastructure is improved and hefty tourism changes it= Lesotho
    • Number of embarrassing stories gleaned from Pete Hey about my Dad= None that, scarily, I didn’t already know!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

In Durban we got a taste of modern Zulu life, away from the costumes and all the fanfare that other tours offer. We saw how they lived today, we ate with them and I even purchased some traditional medicine for my back! It was horrible, looked like mud and it didn’t work. But it didn’t do me any harm, probably gave me a thorough detox!! Finally in Jo’burg we got to visit the Apartheid museum which is a must for anyone visiting South Africa. You will know from our Cape Town blog that I hated the whole Robben Island experience as it was rushed, touristy and not very informative. Visiting the Apartheid museum was the opposite, so much information, presented in so many different ways, we spend 2.5 hours walking around, but you would have needed double that time to read and watch everything. For us it was the perfect way to end our trip in South Africa as we finally got to know the whole story of apartheid, how it impacted on everyday life and how it came to an end.

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Port Elizabeth to Durban- The Eastern Cape and Transkei

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Hello rural South Africa!

21st March and the start of our 2 whole days in Port Elizabeth. We were staying in a backpackers called 99 Miles Beach Lodge who had mixed up our booking a little bit which resulted in us getting a free upgrade to a double en suite room for free- result! So our time here got off to a good start. Day 1 and we were booked onto a 1/2 day township tour called ‘The Real City Tour’ with a company called ‘Calabash Tours’. Nelson was our tour guide and had grown up, and still lived in, a township in New Brighton so he was super knowledgeable about everything, passionate but not in a cringe way. He first gave us a tour of PE CBD pointing out all the historic sites from pre-colonial, colonial and apartheid days. Whenever he mentioned Mandela, he shouted his whole title (Baba Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Nelson Mandela kaMphakanyiswa Gadla kaMadiba) and hit his fist on the ceiling of the car in celebration. He was 18 in 1994 when the first democratic election was held and he voted for Mandela. So to the townships…a corner stone of Apartheid was the segregation of people according to race, especially whites and blacks. The government uplifted Black people from the areas they had classified as white only area in Port Elizabeth and dumped them in areas outside of the CBD called townships. There families were given no compensation, only a piece of land with a brick-built outhouse toilet with a rubber bucket inside it. No drainage, no electricity and a single tap for water for a whole wave of families. With no building materials, these families built shelters out of whatever they could find, hence the metal/wood shacks that are now synonymous with our image our ‘townships’. In between the white and black areas were large bits of land which were left undeveloped- known as ‘Buffer Zones’. PE has 10 townships which are still home to 500,000 people. Apartheid policies are now abolished but choice and finance are the new barriers to integration. Black people are unlikely to afford a house in a previously white only area; and even if they did have the money many prefer living in the townships near friends and family. We visited the 7 oldest townships in PE including New Brighton, Kwazakhele and Zwide. They were all different. One which had now emerged as a middle class area where the township now looked like a UK housing estate. Some townships where the shack houses had been replaced with single storey brick buildings with drainage and electricity. But there were still plenty where families still lived in shacks without sanitation and electricity. The government have a housing programme target of replacing all the temporary shacks with brick homes by 2020. As Nelson took us to a view-point overlooking the sprawling townships, I couldn’t help feeling that achieving that target was optimistic. We drove through Embizweni Square which is an informal business hub in the township area, full of lots of little shipping containers from which locals run their business from. This was the place to come for a haircut as there were loads and loads of salons and barbers! It is here were you can also pick up a ‘smiley’- a sheeps head which the ladies on the street boil and then cut in half for their dinners to eat! The sheep once boiled looks like it is smiling at you whilst your eating it, hence the name. Needless to say it looked gross! Just off the square we stopped off at a ‘Shebeen’- what was an illegal drinking house during the Apartheid years. The Apartheid government banned black people from selling alcohol so people used to just go around to someones home and buy and drink socially there. Nelson bought us a drink at the former Shebeen, now called the Ship Inn, before we headed to our final stop at the township called Ramaphasa Village to visit a community arts and craft project. Hedd made a new friend with a little boy who lived next door who mocked him on his little arm muscles but still demanded Hedd pick him up and spin him around lots of times. It was a mix of cute and funny to watch! It was also here that I experienced first hand ‘Township Dust’. PE is so windy and the paths in the township are unsealed so as a big gust drove through the township a load of dust threw up and landed in my left eye. Man it was painful! So we ended the tour me half blind, but both agreeing it was well worth it.

After a chilled out morning on our second and final day in PE, we got picked up from our hostel for our ‘Tooth and Claw’ Game Drive at Schotia Private Reserve. It was a 40 minute journey to Schotia and my goodness what a 40 minutes. We had got picked up by the reserves owner called Peter and initiated by him we were treated to intense discussions about post apartheid South Africa and his stance against positive discrimination and then his views on how to solve Rhino poaching which involved the decriminalising ivory selling to rid the black market! I did my best to passively umm and nod and we both breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived and were able to get out of the 4×4! So Schotia Safaris- a privately owned and managed reserve, owned by the Bean family since 1833. The oldest private game viewing reserve in the Cape Province, it was also the first to have lions that can hunt for themselves. Its well stocked with over 2000 animals and over 40 species on the reserve. Our ranger was called Malcolm and as we drove off from base and through the gates of the reserve we both admitted to humming the Jurassic Park theme tune in our heads! We had 2x 2 hour game drives with a tea break in the middle and then a bush dinner afterward and we saw loads of animals. Lions, antelope, giraffe, vervet monkeys, zebra, rhino, hippo, warthog, kudu…. The park is split 1/3rd, 2/3rd’s to keep the rhino and lions separate so the lions don’t eat them and in the ‘no-lion’ part Hedd and I got to ride on the seat mounted outside of the 4×4 on the bonnet. When Malcolm first offered it to me I though he was pulling my leg but it was perfectly safe and I got to see the zebra really close up and Hedd the giraffe. It was amazing to be out of the 4×4 in the open air so close to the animals. Back in the 4×4 and I was busy ticking off all the animals we’d seen on the checklist Malcolm gave us, and having worrying exchanges with Hedd at the fact that we had eaten some of them (kudu, ostrich…)! Which was only reinforced come tea time at the open air lapa in the middle of the park, where we were served roast springbok! Ah well, we’re carnivores after all! After dinner we had another 30 minutes of night viewing to get a glimpse of nocturnal creatures. It’s also the best time to try to see a ‘kill’. Although we saw lions, they looked ready for bed rather than hunters at the ready so we settled for the sights of porcupines and hares as we drove back to the main gates. 4 1/2 hour game drive, a lovely dinner and a great guide in Malcolm; Hedd and I felt like we’d got great value for money and it definitely wet our appetite for our 4 day safari we were planning on doing in Chobe National Park, Botswana, a couple of weeks later.

6.30am pick up by the Baz Bus for our 7 hour journey to Port St Johns on South Africa’s wild coast. As we travelled further East we began to see a dramatic change in the landscape and feel of South Africa. Whereas the Garden Route was pretty westernised, the Eastern Cape was far from it and from Port Albert we were travelling the Transkei. 1.5-2.5 thousand meters above seas level, stray animals wandering the road and town after town where we saw no white faces apart from those travelling in the bus. This was one of the most scenic parts of South Africa but also the poorest. The Transkei was an independent country before 1994. Known as one of the ‘Homelands’, the Apartheid Government gave the corrupt government of these tribe based countries too little money to run the area. That plus their rurality resulted in the Homelands such as Transkei falling behind other parts of SA economically, leaving them the poorest part of SA after 1994 when Mandela abolished the homelands creating 1 nation 1 president. Mandela was born and brought up in Transkei and we drove past the villages where he was born and brought up. By the side of the road there is also the big house that the ANC gave Mandela at his retirement from government. It is within the grounds of this house that Mandela requested a replica to be built of the prison cottage Mandela was held in under house arrest after he was moved from Robben Island, and you can see it from the road. Mandela still to this day says that this cottage is the best house he has ever lived in! As we completed our drive through this rustic outcrop of SA with its sparse villages of thatch roofed huts, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we reflected how unlikely yet magical it was that this area grew such a powerful leader as Nelson Mandela. We got dropped off at a random Shell garage in a place called Mthatha by the Baz Bus and then picked up by our shuttle to take us to Port St John on the coast. We soon realised however that this shuttle bus was not exclusive, and it took us 2 hours to make the journey to the coast as we picked up and dropped off lots of different people along the way! We stayed at Amampondo Backpackers on Second Beach at Port St John and it was much more rustic accommodation than we were used to in SA- mud floors and walkways, bamboo outdoor bathrooms…rough and ready but after a little getting used to, we were game! 24th March and we woke up to torrential rain. Our plan to go for a hike and then to the beach were de-funked so we had a lie in, a bamboo shower and lazed the day away at the covered (fortunately!) bar. We soon got invited to join in a board game called 30 Seconds- a South African version of Trival Pursuit vs Articulate. Needless to say Hedd and I struggled, on average only knowing what 3 out of the 5 things on the card were that we had to then try to describe to our team. Who knew there were so many different South African cricket/rugby captains! Our last morning in Port St John and hoorah no rain! We ventured down the muddy path to Second Beach and it definitely lived up to its name- ‘wild’. Rocky cliffs, noisy waves breaking and 2 massive cows with horns just sitting on the beach minding their own business. After mooching about on the beach and having beans on toast for brunch it was time to leave on our crazy shuttle bus back to Mthatha. It again took us 2 hours, picking and dropping off people seemingly from and to the middle of nowhere along the way! But we got to the Shell Garage pick up safe and sound and in good time to catch our Baz Bus connection to Durban. I had good intentions of catching up on my diary writing but I abandoned that and just watch the amazing landscape through the frame of my window. Transkei is truly beautiful; valleys and mountains like grass topped versions of Table Mountain everywhere plus the best pink and orange sunsets. We even got to a see a Transkei special of a horse all saddled up galloping down the middle of the road, parting the traffic like an emergency vehicle as it went. Goodness knows where its rider was! 7 hours later, leaving Transkei and entering Kwazulu-Natal province, we eventually arrived in Durban at 10.30pm. Good to no-one at 10.30pm, we crashed into bed at our hostel Hippo Hide looking forward to our tour into Zululand the next day.

Port Elizabeth to Durban in a snapshot:

    • Weather= Wet and windy, with a sunny day in PE
    • Food= A student diet of beans and tomato pasta!
    • Drink= Squash
    • Favourite animal of all time= The Giraffe
    • Not a place to come in the rain= The Wild Coast
    • But don’t miss it= for its amazing modern history

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

I really enjoyed this section of our trip. We’d had fun in Cape Town and fun along the Garden Route, but this part of the trip while also fun was more culturally rewarding. We learnt so much more about the real South Africa today. We saw how some white South African’s (namely the owner of the Game Reserve) were unhappy with the Black Economic Empowerment programme designed to increase the upward mobility of black South Africans in the country. The owner of the Game Reserve was adamant that it was impossible to say that everybody in South Africa is equal while this policy was in place. Personally, given the history of the country and the fact that segregation still exists in the form of economic segregation (the majority of white South Africans are wealthy and the majority of black South African’s are still poor) then the policy has merit. We got a glimpse of the real difference in Port Elizabeth as we left the predominantly middle class area where our hostel was built and went to visit some townships and informal settlements. The difference was staggering. Our guide was fantastic and gave us a real insight into these communities, he would almost explode with joy when shouting out Nelson Mandela’s name and praised the government for their programme of upgrading the townships. The task is massive, and will never be complete by the government’s deadline of 2020, but progress is being made and that is positive.

The Garden Route- Mossel Bay to Storms River

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“On the road again”, but this time with the Baz Bus…

12.03.12, and we woke up with the strange realisation that 1 month today we fly home. But today was also the start of our hop on hop off tour of South Africa’s coast line using the Baz Bas as the mode of transport. So there is just one backpacker bus in SA and its called the Baz Bus. As we were to discover it is an incredibly cheap way to travel (our 21 day ticket cost £164 and would take us 2,300 kms) and convenient and safe taking you door to door from/to your hostel. However it isn’t the quickest or most efficient (picking up and dropping off from multiple hostels in each town passed) and it isn’t the most comfortable either! But hey we were game and we got picked up at 8.45am from our Cape Town hostel and our first destination was Mossel Bay- the start of The Garden Route. The Garden Route stretches from Mossel Bay to the Tsitsikamma River Mouth is like a “necklace of bays, beaches, cliffs and rocky capes strung together along a line of pounding white surf”…well that’s what the free Coast to Coast backpacker guide said about it! We were just looking forward to having some beach time!

We were meant to arrive in Mossel Bay at 2pm but after 2 sets of roadworks which saw people get out of their cars for a stretch and a walk as we were waiting so long, we arrived after 3pm. Now Mossel Bay is not the prettiest town to say the least and our hostel (Mossel Bay Backpackers) left a lot to be desired. But this was the best place to come to for Shark Cage Diving which Hedd really wanted to do so here we were. As we wandered into the town centre to explore our feelings of disappointed about our first stop weren’t alleviated and to top it all we went to talk to the Shark Africa Diving Company and they said they hadn’t seen sharks all week as they are migrating around some island some where! The activity cost 1,300RAN and they told us if Hedd didn’t see sharks he could get a gift voucher which he could use anytime in the next year! Umm, thanks but no thanks! Hedd was really disappointed and our spirits took another knock as we got back to the hostel and got online. Zambezi Airways who we were flying with from Lusaka to Livingstone had gone bust meaning we had to buy new flights! Could this day get any worse! It was a laugh or cry moment and we shakily laughed it off, reflecting that so far we’d been pretty lucky with all our other flights and buses etc, something was bound to happen before the end of our trip. Now that Hedd wasn’t doing his shark cage dive, the next day we headed for Santos beach- said to be one of the best swimming beaches along the Garden Route. The sun was up, the beach was clean and sandy and the water inviting. Our spirits perked up. We sunbathed and swam and generally had a chilled out day. We had some food at the Santos Express Cafe which was an old train carriage by the beach which was fun and only decided to head back to the hostel at 5pm when the sun started to hide behind the clouds. Lovely day. Due to the Baz Bus route schedule we had to spend 3 nights in total at Mossel Bay which was far too long to lavish on such a place, but we were determined to make the most of it. So today we decided to hike part of the St Blaize Trail which starts at Mossel Bay and ends at Dana Bay. The whole thing is 13.5km long but we were only planning to do 4 km of it. So we made our way to the start point at Cape St Blaize Cave in the crazy heat and was already a sweaty mess before we even made it to the coastal path! But the trail was pretty cool. The coastline was rugged with jaggedy rocks protruding into the sea with great blue lagoons in between. The trail wasn’t too strenuous gently undulating up and down, but the heat made it more of an effort. Plus there was a load of these crazy little creatures all the way along the trail which looked a cross between a ferret and a guinea pig with big teeth which properly freaked me out. But we survived, if a little dehydrated!

The 15th marked our last day in Mossel Bay (hooray!) and we were due to be picked up by the Baz Bus at 2pm so we just chilled at the hostel for the morning and sorted out flights out for Zambia, booking with Proflight Zambia and costing £275 each- ouch! Our destination today was just a short way up the coast and inland to a place called Oudtshoorn. We got dropped off at George by the Baz bus, then Gavin picked us up in the hostel van to take us to Oudtshoorn and our hostel Paradise Backpackers. I really liked Gavin; an old black man with silver hair who bopped away to the tunes on the radio when he didn’t think we were looking! Cool guy! The drive from the coast to Oudtshoorn was stunning. We drove the Outenuqua Pass; mountains all around, beautiful clouds in the sky with sun beams cracking through, hop farms growing the fruit for the local brew. Yes, this was more our kind of place! The hostel was great too and they were so helpful with organising activities for us. We were sad to only be staying for 1 night. We went for tea at the restaurant across the road called Bella Cibo which Gavin recommended. We shared a Game Plate and got to taste Ostrich, Springbok, Kudu and Crocodile steaks. It was really fun and we both agreed Ostrich was our favourite- very lean and tender meat which melted in our mouths. Crocodile, however, was not very nice- a fattier version of pork/chicken! The next day we had a jam packed morning of activities. Starting at 8am our first stop was to Cango Caves- Africa’s largest show caves. We opted for the Adventure Tour (80 RAN) of the caves which would see us venture into the deepest sections of the Cango One route, through passages and narrow chimneys. Our guide was a local girl who was really comical and called us by our home countries. So for the duration of the tour I was Miss England and Hedd, Mr Wales! So a bit about the caves…their caverns began to form 20 million years ago when acidic ground water chemically eroded the 100 million year old limestone rock; although today’s dramatic stalactites and stalagmites only began growing 3 million years ago when water which once filled the caves drained away. Although SA’s earliest people found shelter here thousands of years ago, the caves were only ‘discovered’ in 1780 by Dutch colonialists. So there were 15 people in our group and as we descended the stairs from the caves entrance to the first cavern both Hedd and I were super excited. The first cavern was called Van Zyl’s Hall, named after the Dutch guy who discovered it, and had loads of stalagmites and stalactites in it which were called the Organ Pipes as that was what they looked like. Next up was Botha’s Hall where we saw a complete column, where a stalagmite and stalactite had joined together. This formation was called the Leaning Tower of Pieza! After the 2 chambers it was time for the adventurous stuff. After ducking and diving our way through ‘The Avenue’ and the ‘Lumbago Walk’, we got to ‘King Solomon’s Mine’. We climbed a metal ladder and squeezed our way through ‘The Tunnel of Love’ and crawl into the ‘Devils Workshop’. Next was our most challenging part- clambering up the ‘Devils Chimney’ and then cheetah crawling along a very low passage and then delivering ourselves through ‘The Letter Box’ head first! Incredible fun and such good value at 80 RAN. Oh if you were wondering how they found this route through the caves- it was discovered by a 6 year old boy for lived at the farm next door! Not great parenting their, but he did find an amazing route around the caves! Next up we were whisked to Cango Ostrich Farm by Gavin in the van, getting there at 11.45 in time for our tour. Our guide first took us through the history of Ostrich Farming- firstly for their feathers in the 1800’s and early 1900’s and then for their meat, as feather fell out of fashion. Their skins are also now used for shoes, handbags etc. Their leather is the second toughest in the world after the Kangaroo- we’ve ate that animal as a steak too! He then took us through to the incubator room and told us about their development. And then it was to the main event- meeting the Ostrich’s. They are truly funny looking creatures. The smallest head but with the biggest eyes. Their brain apparently can fit on a teaspoon and their eyes are heavier than their brains…not the cleverest animals then! We then got the opportunity to ride the Ostrich’s. 2 farm workers held the Ostrich, who had their behinds covered with fabric, and they helped you on to it. We were told to sit right forward, hold onto its wings and then lean right back. The farm workers then let go and the bird ran hell for leather around the large pen and I just hung on for dear life! I fell off into the arms of the farm workers after 10 seconds but Hedd lasted a bit longer (but not by much!). We were then ‘treated’ to an ostrich neck massage, where 6 Ostrich’s fight to get to the bucket of feed that you are holding to your chest. It was a little scary and gross with Ostrich slobber thrown in for good measure! We arrived back to the hostel after our morning of activity at 12.55pm, just in time to pick up our shuttle back to George at 1pm. 1 hr 15 mins later we were back in George and awaiting the Baz Bus to take us to our next destination along the Garden Route- Plettenberg Bay.

It was just a 1 1/2 hour drive to Plett’, stopping off at Wilderness, Sedgefield and Knysna on the way. We were staying at Northando Backpackers in Plett’- a 5 star hostel- as a treat for Hedd’s birthday on the 17th, and indeed our room was lovely. We had a little planning session on what activities Hedd wanted to do for his birthday the next day but we didn’t have a car which was turning out to be a big issue with all the things he wanted to do being out of town! Not a good start but we kept up beat and grabbed a pizza for tea. Next morning, the 17th, and Happy Birthday Hedd! I made him breakfast in bed which consisted of a coffee and a big chocolate birthday cake complete with 6 ‘none blow out’ candles. I sang him Happy Birthday in my best Welsh and English as Hedd attempted to not catch fire from the novelty candles which were now acting like sparklers! They did burn out in the end but we did have visions of starting his birthday with a call to the fire brigade! He opened his card and pressie and was upbeat until he looked outside and saw it was tipping it down with rain…oh dear. I was remaining as positive as I could for the both of us and we walked into town in the rain to organise some calls/skypes from home to wish him happy birthday. He felt a lot happier after speaking to his mum on the phone and having the traditional Burkhalter out of tune Happy Birthday song shouted/sang at him through skype’s videophone! It was the first time I’d seen/spoken to my brother, Marc, and sister in law, Sarah, since I’d come travelling and it was really lovely to see and hear them. Deciding it wasn’t worth forking out on activities in this rain, we went for brunch at a local cafe and as the rain started to ease, had a wander around the shops and then down to the beach for a drink at the Lookout Deck Restaurant. Hedd had his favourite cocktail- a Mojito! We walked a little up the coastal path and then as the sky threatened to rain again, made a quick dash back up to the hostel. The hostel had a resident masseuse so Hedd got a 40 minute neck and back massage complete with a Happy Birthday sang to him in her native language- Xhosa. She was urging me to join in with her but I had no idea what I was doing with all the clicks that they use in the language and ended up huming along! But that was pretty cool for his birthday. It was Wales v France in the Rugby 6 Nations and we had found a bar that was playing it so it was a quick change and fast walk to catch the start. As we settled down with drink at Flashpackers Sports Bar we soon got chatting to the only other Welsh supporters there- a man called David and his South African friend called Lorna. David was from Denbigh- a town under 10 miles away from Gellifor where Hedd grew up! Another crazy small world moment for the trip, and soon us 2 couple were joking around like old friends. It was a good game, and I enjoyed supporting Wales especially as they won 16-9 and therefore won the entire 6 Nations competition! Always back the winners! We had a lovely meal at a restaurant close by called Nguni’s and Hedd got to try another bit of game- a big Springbok steak. And then it was back to Flashpackers in time to see the second half of the England v Ireland game and yet more drinks! It was St Paddy’s Day and a group of FNB Bank workers were on a team bonding fancy dress night out and had various challenges to complete. This involved Lorna getting her face licked and Hedd putting on one of the girls dress! Very funny. I managed to get a stumbling Hedd back to the hostel. He had a really good Birthday night out and that’s all that mattered. So the next day and another ‘morning after the night before’ for Hedd! He didn’t move from the room all day apart from when I made him a bacon butty and only allowed him to have it if he ate it with me at the table outside! Good night then! As Hedd spent the day recovering, I headed for the beach as it was now sunny (hoorah!) and there bumped into Lorna and David again from last night. She was just at the beach picking up her 2 girls from Lifesaving and Surf School which most of the towns kids go to on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It made me think that Plett’ must be a great place for children to grow up in, being in the sea every weekend. After getting my fill of vitamin D I headed back to the hostel after buying hangover food for Hedd and there we stayed, watching Spider Man 3 on the telly in the evening. The 19th and our last day in Plett’, and guess what Hedd’s back in the land of the living! It was sunny still and Hedd decided he wanted to see the beach I’d been to the day before so off we went. As we walked through town we past an all black protest against a local MP and his policies. It was the nicest sounding protest I’d ever seen- whistles and shouting still but also the unique, rhythmic and soul touching sound of African ladies singing. It was fantastic, and we watched the protest (at a safe distance mind!) before continuing down to the beach. We walked up and down both Central Beach and Robberg Beach, with the massive Beacon Island Hotel separating the 2. Robberg Beach was pretty much deserted and we messed around playing our own version of French Bowles using our flip flops and a water bottle as the marker. The lifeguard down the beach must have thought we were mad! Grabbing a cold drink at a bar on Central beach we bumped into Lorna and David again and Hedd got the necessary ribbing on getting so tipsy on his birthday…all good fun! Making our way back to the hostel we chilled we cups of tea and waited for our Baz Bus pick up at 6pm. Next stop…Storms River.

So it was only an hour ride to Storms River Village and our hostel, Tsitsikamma Backpackers. It was super dark by the time we got there though and the village had no street lamps. Proper rural! The hostels receptionist, Mitchel, was super welcoming and we had our Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour booked for the next morning before we knew it. We went for dinner with a guy called Christophe- a Belguim guy travelling on his own who we met on the Baz Bus. As we ventured out to find the village main street in the pitch dark we began to regret not remembering our head torches! But we found the street okay without any trips or falls and decided that this place was more of a Hamlet not a Village! We had dinner at Tsitsikamma Village Inn- a lovely pub type restaurant where the food and service was great, before strolling back to our hostel. We met an English couple in the kitchen who were from Wiltshire called Mary and Andy, and I made us all a cuppa as we chatted before heading to bed. We were all doing the Canopy Tour the next morning together and arranged to meet the next morning to walk down together. And that’s what we did at 9am the next day, meeting Stein our other friend from the Baz Bus at the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour Office. We got a better view of actually where we were on the way to now it was light; surrounded by the Tsitsikamma Forest and Mountains. It was gorgeous and so green. We could see why the locals called it the garden of the Garden Route. After a quick safety briefing and the usual signing of the indemnity form, we all got harnessed up and furnished with gloves, helmet and our individual pulleys. Then it was all aboard a big 4×4 truck and we bumped our way to the start of the canopy tour 10 mins away. The tour involved a course of 10 ziplines and 1 rope bridge, which we were to go along, 30 meters above the Tsitsikamma Forest. The platforms in the sky were built around the giant yellow wood trees that made up the forest and the longest zipline was 91 meters long. Hedd and I were both game and threw ourselves into it after the lady guide showed us the technique; your strong hand behind acting as a brake, the other holding onto the ropes, legs up on landing. Pretty easy and a lot of fun, especially being amongst the friends we’d made the day previously! After 2 1/2 hours we had completed the course and we all got given lunch of ham and cheese toasties back at the office. We discovered that the canopy tour company was a part of a wider company called Storms River Adventures who run all sorts of sub companies and social projects, including the restaurant we were eating in and our backpackers. Their goal- Community Upliftment, with the profits of each venture going into social responsibility projects, school feeding projects, HIV/Aids awareness and environmental conservation. Really worthwhile and I was pleased our money was going into such a cause. That evening we were being picked up by the Baz Bus again to take us on our next leg, but we used the afternoon the best we could heading off on ‘The Big Tree’ walk in the Garden Route National Park. So this tree is a Yellow wood, 1000 years old, 36.6 meters tall and 8.5 meters wide and was raved about in the village. So we went and saw it, paying 10RAN for the privilege. And indeed it was big, towering over the other trees in the canopy. We walked the Ratel Trail around the forest which was nice enough, but forest walks aren’t Hedd and I’s favourite. But Hedd was constantly on the look out for snakes and bugs which apparently covered the whole of Africa in his mind, which I found highly amusing! We made it back to the hostel at 5pm and after freshening up went and found Stein, our Dutch friend, sitting at Marilyn’s Diner where we all had dinner together. He was catching the Baz Bus that evening too. Now Marilyn’s Diner was a bright and boisterous Elvis themed diner and inside had 3 really old but beautifully restored Chevrolet’s and was covered with Elvis pictures. Now this would have been perfectly normal in a town in America maybe, but we were in a tiny hamlet in South Africa within a National Park! It all felt very random! But there you go, always expect the unexpected. We all enjoyed American style burgers and caught the Baz Bus together at 7pm. Goodbye Garden Route, hello Port Elizabeth…

The Garden Route in a snapshot:

  • Weather= A mix of warm sun and showers
  • Food=Game, Ostrich and Springbok our particular favourites!
  • Drink= Hedd doesn’t want to see Savannah Dry for a while, lets put it that way!
  • Don’t bother with= Mossel Bay
  • Instead go to= Sedgefield (looked beautiful)
  • A term I want to introduce to the UK= ‘Community Upliftment’

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

There comes a time in every traveler’s journey when you realise you don’t have enough money to finish the trip and you’ve already used up the “backup” credit card on activities you didn’t know about, but didn’t want to miss out on. For us, this realisation dawned on us in Mossel Bay, at the same time that we found out that Zambezi Airlines who we were flying with in Zambia had gone bust months ago, but hadn’t told us! An absolute nightmare, it was looking like we might have to cut our trip short!! However, we were saved by the generosity of our parents who agreed to bail us out and would do so again in Port Elizabeth when we realised we had gotten our sums wrong! So a massive thank you to Paul & Diane and to my mum and dad, Ian & Bethan, for loaning us the money we needed. And as Helen keeps telling the whole world about my hangover days, I will point out that I’ve only had 3 (1 in Peru, 1 in Australia and 1 in South Africa) during the whole duration of this trip and in my mind that’s pretty good going and a whole lot better than if I’d been at home for the same time period!

Cape Town- South Africa’s Mother City

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My favourite city in the world!

So after almost 24 hours on the go we touched down in Cape Town, got a Backpacker Airport Shuttle to our hostel (RAN 270), Amber Tree Lodge in The Gardens area, showered and crashed into bed. I half expected to not awake until the afternoon the next day but no, up at 9.30am on the 8th March hungry! And so pleased we did as the weather was stunning, Table Mountain was clear and adhering to my Mum’s advice, “if the mountain is clear, you go up it…now!” We hopped on the Cape Town City Sightseeing Hop on/Hop Off bus at stop 7 just by our hostel, buying the Red Route Ticket for R140, which promised to take us around the city, up to the cable car station and around to Camps Bay and Clifton area. We drove through District Six, past the Castle of Good Hope and then up Table Mountain Road to the Cable Car Lower Station, admiring the view of the equally tall hill next door to Table Mountain called Lions Head. Blessed with no que, we bought our return ticket (R195) and boarded the cable car jostling with the other tourists to get the best spot at the glass-less front. However, all this panic was in vain as the floor actually rotates as you go up so everyone gets a go with the glass-less front and a chance to see all the different views! Very clever! The cable car ride was surprisingly quick and we were up at the top in no time. The view of the city, what South African’s call the Mother City, from the top were truly an amazing sight. Spanning from left to right, you got the aerial view of Lions Head, Robben’s Island, the UFO like 2010 Fifa World Cup Stadium, the City and the V&A Waterfront and in the distance the bays and mountains which stretch out from Cape Town masked slightly from the heat haze. So a bit about Table Mountain- it is 6 times older than the Himalayas and is famous for its flat-topped profile. It also made the new 7 Wonders of the World list. As we walked anti clockwise around the top on the Dassie Track, Agama Track and the Klipspringer Track to Maclears Beacon I got increasingly stressed about finding ‘the rock’ which my parents got a picture on when they lived in Zambia in the 1980’s and my grandparents too when they visited the city when they were younger. In the end, to cover all bases, I got photo’s of me on many rocks that looked vaguely familiar from those photos! Surely one of them will be the right one! At Maclears Beacon we reached Table Mountains highest point at 1,085 meters. Walking to the Beacon we got fab views of Camps Bay and the Cape Peninsular.  Walking to the Upper Cable Station along the Escapement edge we were afforded amazing views over the city and Bloubergstrand. It was hot work and after 2 hours of walking we got a refreshing drink and snack from the terrace cafe overlooking Camps Bay. We made our way down from the mountain at around 3pm and hopped onto the City Sightseeing Bus again which took us to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, passing by Camps Bay (the place to be and be seen), Clifton (the most expensive area in Cape Town), Bantry Bay, Sea Point, 3 Anchors Bay and Mouille Point Lighthouse. We hopped off at the Aquarium at the Waterfront to have a mooch about and buy our Robben Island tickets from the Nelson Mandela Gateway by the Clock Tower. They sell up pretty quick but we got 2 places on the 11am tour 2 days later. We got the second to last bus at 17.00 from the Clock Tower back to stop 7 and had a quick freshen up before heading out for dinner at a local Italian. We were both knackered from jet lag and our exploits that day, we almost fell asleep in our food! After a Skype date with Mum and Dad at a local internet cafe, I monumentally crashed into bed exhausted but content that we had made the most of our first day in the Mother City and we had been up Table Mountain in the crystal clear stunning weather.

9th March and time for our day trip to the Cape Peninsula. We got picked up at 8am and after touring the cities hostels picking up people we got on our way along the coastal road towards Cape Point. Our first stop was at Hout Bay Harbour where we spent 40 minutes wandering the wharf and its markets whilst some of the group went on a boat trip to see the seals. We had seen plenty already on our travels and decided to save the pennies instead. Everyone back together again we continued our way South, passing South Africa’s smallest pub called ‘The Workshop’ which holds just 20 people at once. And then we were on Chapman’s Peak Drive- a very picturesque  coastal drive with fantastic views back to Houts Bay. Simon’s Town was next, an important Naval Town in the past and also where Napoleon died a captive. Apparently he was fond of the local South African wine and was buried with a bottle in his coffin! We were here to see the African Penguins at a place called the Boulders- a natural  reserve for the little creatures. We got right up closer to around 100 penguins all clustered or scampering about on Foxy Beach. There were babies there too, still grey and fluffy. We witness an assassination attempt at an egg as a seagull tried his luck swooping down to grab an egg but the penguins saw him off. It was then onto Cape Point driving along the coast of False Bay. On the way we came across a troop of baboons and closed our windows really quickly as apparently on the smell of food they get über aggressive and try to get into the vehicles. Luckily we were okay and we soon found ourselves entering the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. We stopped 5.5km away from the visitors centre and got the bikes out from the trailer to ride the last stretch of road to see the reserve close up and work up an appetite for lunch. Hedd decided to sit this one out on account of his back playing up again and instead was chief photographer from the minibus. I was on a pretty dodgy bike which creaked terribly at every pedal, but I made it to the visitors centre in one piece really enjoying the ride. I found Hedd helping Grant, our guide, with lunch. Ham and cheese rolls with feta salad- yum! After lunch we made it to Africa’s most Southern West point- Cape Point. We parked up at the base of Cape Point Lighthouse and took the funicular up to the top. The lighthouse is a bit decrepid now but we still got a fantastic view of False Bay to our right and the Cape of Good Hope to our left. Rejoining the bus we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope, eventually getting a pic of us by the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ sign after battling our way through a conveyor belt of Chinese tourists taking picture after picture! After paddling our feet in the sea it was back on the bus for the1 1/2 hour express haul back to Cape Town. I slept the whole way still not being able to shake the jet lag! Fish n chips for tea (taste of home!) and a yet another early night to try to become jet lag free.

Up early in prep for our next full day of activities. Today was our day touring the Stellenbosch wine region with a company called African Stories. Our guide called Bruce picked us up at 8.30am and after some more picks up we were on our way North out of the city. The mountain had its table-cloth on this morning- a meteorological phenomenon that causes the cloud to tumble-down the mountain slope like billowing fabric. Very cool and I just loved how everyday Table mountain looked different. We also passed an overpass which suddenly stopped in mid-air. I asked Bruce about it and he brushed it off saying “ya, the government ran out of money and abandoned it”. Its been used in a lot of films too apparently driving cars off the end of it! The first winery we visited was called Villiera and Bruce took us on a cellar tour explaining the wine making process. The weather was fantastic and we took the tastings out in the wineries gardens. Bruce very impressively ‘Sabraged’ a Brut Champagne to kick things off. Basically he took a cold bottle of bubbly, took the wrappers off the neck, found the seam of the bottle where it meets the lip of the neck, then striked the bottle at that point upwards with a sword, and the cork still encased in its glass wrapping comes clean off the bottle. The pressure in the bottle from the fizz means no glass gets into the wine. It was fantastic! So after that display we tried 2 different types of champers, 3 whites, 2 reds and a dessert wine. A lot of wine and we were still on the first of 4 winieries- oh dear! Next up was a place called Fairview. The winery is famous for its goats cheese and its ‘Goats do Roam’ wine- their (piss)take on the French’s Cotes Du Rhone wine. There was a big food and wine festival on so the place was heaving, but we found a free tasting table and helped ourselves to 6 tastings, sipping the wine whilst trying different types of cheeses. My favourite wine was a Viognier dessert wine I tried. Next up was Solms Delta winery and the place where we were having lunch, thank goodness!  Now Solms Delta is in a stunning spot- a sunny walled lawn with vines in the fields and soft weeping willow trees blowing in the breeze. Under one such tree we were led by Leon, our customer liaison officer, in the tasting of 6 wines. He explained the history of the place which was really interesting. It was founded by Mark Solms, a world-renowned neuroscientist and the guy who located the part of the brain that makes us dream. He saw the social and economic problems being faced in SA and he decided to make wine and set up a trust that benefits the estates historically disadvantaged residents and employees. Over 50% of the profits from the wine goes into the trust so Solms must at best just break even on his investment. My favourite by far of the 6 wines was a Bubbly Cape Jazz Shiraz- a sparkling red wine! It was super yum and was the wine I chose to have a glass of whilst I tucked into my lunch of steak with blue cheese sauce, roasties and salad. Just what I needed after 3 wine tastings! And then it was time for our final winery, Zorgvliet, which was in an equally beautiful spot. We had our tastings in a grand room within a grand colonial building, overlooking majestic mountains. I think we tried 5 wines but by this point our palate was shot, so I just enjoyed wandering the beautiful gardens and soaking up the great view of the surrounding mountains. Driving back to Cape Town we drove through Stellenbosch town, the 2nd older town after Cape Town and now a well-known university town where women out number men by 7 to 1! Anyone needing to find a wife, this is the place to come! We arrived back at 5.30pm; too stuffed from lunch to contemplate dinner, we nursed our heads and whiled away the evening planning our Baz Bus road trip across SA.

The 11th March and our last day in Cape Town. We had breakfast on the balcony looking up at a crystal clear table mountain but as we chatted to the hostel owners they informed us the cable car had broken down so nobody could enjoy the clear views. We both reflected just how lucky we were on that first day to have gone up  and seen it clear as we took the 30 minute stroll down to the V&A Waterfront where we were due to get the ferry across to Robben Island for our tour at 11am. On our way we walked through The Company Gardens which had a gorgeous tree-lined walk way with lots of statues and flowers and plenty of inquisitive squirrels. Then through St Georges Market Square which was already bustling with stall vendors selling souvenirs and curios. Then all the way down Long Street to the waterfront. It was hot work, 32 degrees today and not a cloud in the sky, but at least we were going down hill! We were already seeing some of the 42,000 cyclist who had taken part in the 109km Cape Argus International Bike Race along the coast road that started that morning. It must have been tough in this heat but apparently a local had won the race so everyone was celebrating. We arrived in good time for our 10.30am boarding time but there was still a big que at the Mandela Gateway building to get onto our ferry. Needless to say we didn’t manage to get a spot on top deck for the 30 minute sail over to the island which was a shame. But we did manage to see a pod of about 20 dolphins swimming the waves off the boat which was super exciting.  As we got off the ferry we were herded into buses which would take us around the island. I think both of us though it’d be a walking tour so were feeling pretty uncomfortable as we squished ourselves down into the slimmest seats in a crammed bus. We looked at each other with worried expressions…this was not our type of tour. As we set off around the Island our tour guide introduced himself- a German who was studying African Political History at Cape Town Uni- and fair play he knew his stuff. I was relieved, we was telling us the history of the place with such passion, I almost forgave the fact that he wouldn’t let us off the bus to look at some of the sites close up! We first travelled to the prison-house where Robert Sobukwe, leader of the Pan-African Congress, was held in isolation purely for his political beliefs. The Apartheid Government thought him so dangerous to their goal for one race (white), one nation-hood for SA that he was never actually free (being put on house arrest after Robben Island prison was abandoned) before he died of cancer. Pretty sad. Next up we passed the Leper cemetery and the male leper church (The Church of the Good Shepherd)- I hadn’t realised that the island had once been a leper colony before the cure was found. We then stopped and was let out of the bus near the 19th century lighthouse with a great view back to Cape Town. The view was truly amazing but it was not what Hedd and I had come to the island to see and we felt we would have preferred to stop at more of the sites to do with when the island was used to house political prisoners such as Mandela. Then it was back on the bus and passing yet more interesting things we weren’t allowed out to see. Including the Lime Quarry where Mandela along with the many other political prisoners carried out their life sentence of hard labour. Dressed in just shorts and shirt they had no protection from the freezing cold in winter or the blistering heat in summer. Without sun glasses the reflection from the white limestone day after day was blinding. Nelson Mandela today is unable to shed tears due to the damage caused to his eyes from working at the Lime Quarry. The cave at the quarry was the prisoners only shade and was the place they urinated, ate and held political discussions as to the future of a free and democratic SA. The guards never ventured in there on account of the smell! It was also the place where Mandela and the other university educated political leaders taught others about economics, philosophy and politics in general so that they all could be prepared for a free SA. They never gave up hope even though most of them were serving life sentences. Our last stop (and we got off the bus- hoorah!) was at the high security prison where the political prisoners were held. Here we got a tour around the prison by an ex political prisoner which included a visit to B Section which held many of the leaders from the various ‘banned’ political organisations. This included Mandela who spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration on Robben Island. Now this part of the tour should have been a massive highlight but our group was too big and the guide too inaudible. We didn’t think we got the authentic story the Robben Island Tourist Board had intended for us to have by having an ex-prisoner tell the history. We got back on the ferry (had to sit downstairs again) feeling a bit disappointed by the Robben Island Tour. We felt it was important that we had gone but that it wasn’t worth the 220 RAN we’d paid. We got back to the V&A Waterfront at 2.30pm and were ready for lunch. However the place was packed with cyclist and their families celebrating which created a great atmosphere but meant we didn’t manage to eat until an hour later, and even then it was a MacDonald’s! We still got a great view of the mariner from our Maccy D stools though! We then made the walk back to our hostel which took us a whole heap longer than this morning as we were walking up hill and it was just as hot. We collapsed into the hostel’s comfy sofas with an ice cold drink and chilled for the rest of the evening. Having eating so late in the day and on account of the heat, neither of us fancied dinner so we just packed all our things ready for our road trip with the Baz Bus starting the next day and had drinks on the balcony watching the sun dip behind Table Mountain one last time.

Capetown in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot hot hot, 30 degrees plus
  • Food= Big lunches, no dinners (I know naughty)
  • Drink=Plenty of wine!
  • Do before anything in Cape Town= Table Mountain
  • If you have time= Walk up Lion’s Head for sunset
  • Maybe miss and go to Camps Bay instead= Robben Island Tour

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

The first thing you notice about Cape Town is the mountain. It’s impossible not to, it’s everywhere. I’m not the biggest fan of big cities, too many people rushing around, too many tall buildings etc, so as far as big cities go Cape Town was a breath of fresh air. It has to be the best setting for a city, surrounding the impressive Table Mountain. We were lucky that we had an amazing view of the mountain from the balcony at the hostel each morning, but almost everywhere in the city you could look up and see the mountain  – wonderful!! We were very fortunate to get up on top of the mountain on our first day there, it was clear and the views were amazing. The next two days the mountain was covered by clouds and the day after the cable car was broken. So if you’re ever in Cape Town, do as the locals say  “mountain first, then everything else”.