Category Archives: Hungover!

Going out with a bang (pt 2)- Livingstone and Zimbabwean Vic Falls

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Victoria Falls Lunar Rainbow- one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen.

6th April: So our plan of having a lie in didn’t quite work out. Our body clocks still thought they were on safari and we both woke up at 5.30am! But ah well it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the sunshine in the morning before catching a taxi to the Zambian ‘Frontier’ so we could walk over Victoria Falls Bridge into Zimbabwe- our 12th and final country of the trip. We got our exit stamp from Zambia and then made the rather soggy walk through no mans land, over Vic Falls bridge which spans the valley carved out by the Zambezi River, and onto the Zimbabwe immigration post. It’s a good 20 minutes walk from Zambian immigration to Zimbabwean immigration and you do get wet, but it’s definitely better to walk than to get a taxi as the view from the bridge of the Falls is fantastic. This waterfall truly is massive! 1700 metre wide and from the bridge you can see it all. Top tip though- don’t wear flip-flops. The ground is wet from the spray so I was flicking mud up the back of my legs the whole way- gross! At the Zim border we got our passports stamped and paid the $55 for our visas. A bit steep but I imagine GB makes it just as expensive for Zimbabweans to travel into the UK. It was then just a quick 2 minutes walk to the Vic Falls Park entry so we could check out all the viewpoints of the falls from the Zim side. We were worried we were going to lose money as we didn’t have the exact dollars for the entry ($30 each). But we needn’t have flustered, Zimbabwe has officially abandoned their own currency and now use US dollars, ever since Mugabe devalued the Zim dollar and ruined the economy….just another achievement to add to his list then! In the park and legs washed clean of mud, we browsed all the info boards and then set off on the 3km walk around the park to all its viewpoints. There have been 8 previous sites of the waterfall created as the Zambezi river has worked itself back upstream from fault line to fault line. The next line of the fault will originate from the area around the part of the falls called the Devils Cataract but will take another 10,000 years for the collapse. At 107 metres high, 1,737 metres wide, and pouring 1,100 m3/sec, Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world. And yet again we were blown away by its magnitude and majesty as we wandered around the park, and of course getting absolutely drenched in the process! When we got to the viewpoint for Livingstone Island we were shocked at how close Zambia and Zimbabwe were at this point, plus we got a great view of the rock pool we swam in…it looked much scarier from this perspective face onto the falls; we swam so close to the edge! Absolutely saturated we came to the last viewpoint at Victoria Falls Bridge and saw many rainbows form and dissolve in the mist underneath it. Beautiful. We took the dry route back and the opportunity to dry off on our way to the park entrance. In the end I went to the bathroom and I took off my top and skirt to wring the water out before popping them back on and standing in the sun. Needed to at least look semi decent for where we were heading next, to visit the historically colonial Victoria Falls Hotel. We took a shortcut through the bush to the garden entrance of the hotel. The view from the hotel gardens is pretty impressive- the churning Zambezi cutting through the valley, the industrial elegance of the Vic Falls Bridge and the spray from the main falls continuously pushing up into the sky in the background. And then you turn around and see an equally impressive sight, which is the Vic Falls Hotel. A pillared sun terrace, white wash walls and terracotta tiles. We made our way, still slightly damp, to the Stanley Terrace and order a High Tea for Two (available each day from 3pm; $30). To share, we got a 3 tier display: 1 layer of sandwiches, 1 layer of plain and sultana scones with jam and cream, and 1 layer of dessert cakes; plus copious amounts of tea! It was delicious and we ate it all- we were stuffed! We enjoyed a delightful 2 hours eating, drinking and watching the rainbow in the mist travel from east to west under the bridge. It was a fabulous afternoon. After a mouche around the hotel we ventured into Victoria Falls Village. Not much was open on account of it being Good Friday, but we caught the end of the arts and craft market and Hedd bought the lowest and highest denomination of the obsolete Zimbabwe dollar- a $5 and a $100 trillion-dollar note! We walked back over the bridge and into Zambia again and thanked the lord for our good fortune. There was not a cloud in the sky and the Full Moon was really bright already; it was looking good for us seeing the lunar rainbow. We paid our entry into the Zambian side of Vic Falls Park and headed for the Eastern Cataract which is the best viewpoint to see the ‘Moonbow’- a rainbow produced from the light of the moon instead of the sun. We got there at 6.30pm and it wasn’t too busy but by 7pm the viewpoint was packed. We’d got a good spot and we waited for the sun to set and the light from the moon to do its magic. Suddenly we saw something try to form in the bottom left of the mist and soon a big arch of a rainbow formed. It was incredible. Sometimes the moonbow just appears grey, but the moon was drenching the mist in so much light we saw bands of red, blue and yellow. It was truly astonishing and I was so so pleased I’d been so anal about dates 1 year ago when we were planning the trip so we’d be in Livingstone for full moon. I was so so chuft to have seen it and it was a moment where I had a chance to reflect on just how lucky Hedd and I were to have been doing what we have been doing for the last 6 months. An amazing day.

Easter Saturday and another jammed packed day of activities. First up an Elephant backed safari! A rep from Zambezi Elephant Trails pick us up from the hotel at drove us 10 clicks out-of-town along the Botswana road to Thorntree Lodge within the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park. On arrival the Head guide explained the background to the Elephant trails. The 6 adult elephants were all rescue elephants from the 1960’s-80’s when there was a massive culling exercise in the Zambezi Valley and a drought in the Gonarezha National Park. There are 3 little ones too- One, the daughter of the matriarchal female who went ‘bush’ and came back pregnant 10 months later; one the daughter of Liwa who after seeing Mashumbi getting pregnant, wanted one for herself so went off with the older male called Bop! And then little Sekuti who got brought home by the herd after they went grazing on a nearby island; no wild herds had been in the area for months so it seemed the little 6 month old had been on her own for some time. So all in all this herd’s history sounded like something off EastEnders! The guide also explained how they trained the elephants using positive reinforcement (i.e. treats and rewards) as opposed to the controversial ‘discipline and submission’ technique commonly associated with Asian Elephants. After all that (oh and signing our life away on an indemnity form no. 250!) we got introduced to the elephants. They are MASSIVE! And we couldn’t quite believe we were about to ride one. We mounted the elephant using a raised platform and we were on Mashumbi, the Matriarch and leader of the pack so we were out in front. All the elephants had someone on them apart from Sekuti who just came along for the ride, frolicking around the herd. We looked like a proper cool elephant family! The 1 hour trail led us through riverine bush and along the banks of the Zambezi. It wasn’t so much of a safari but we did see Impala. It was such a great experience being so close to an elephant. They are a lot hairier than I thought and the very tips of their ears are truly paper-thin, soft and smooth with lots of veins running through; much like a back of a leaf looks. Back at base it was time to feed Mashumbi her treats. You had to drop them in her trunk or throw them in her mouth, but I was completely rubbish at it. The trunk just freaked me out! It is such a funny yet incredibly alien thing with 2 massive nostrils! Anyway the whole 2 hours was really fun and elephants are lovely creatures. Back at the hostel and a budget beans on toast lunch, before getting picked up at 4pm for our booze cruise. We got picked up in a massive open air safari jeep which got stuffed with backpackers as they crawled around every hostel in town picking people up. It was so noisy and perhaps a flavour of what was to come! We got on our boat called Mukumbi from the stage outside The Waterfront Hotel and positioned ourselves by the bar (obviously!). $55 dollars, all you can drink with snacks and a hot buffet thrown in. Can’t complain about that! We soon got in the swing of things, with the bar man refilling our drinks without us even noticing at times! We were so engrossed in our various conversations with people that we almost missed sunset! But we caught it just in time, plus saw some game (elephants and hippo’s) too. It was really good fun and we continued the drinking back at the hostel with a load of trainee medics from America we’d met. My goodness can they drink!

8th April: another classic morning after the night before! Unsurprisingly we had a lazy morning, but were up and about by lunchtime to get ready to visit Lubasi Home Trust, the local home for parent-less and homeless children. It was set up by a guy from Sri Lanka who owned a few businesses in Livingstone and was shocked at how many children there were living rough on the street, either escaping from violent homes (due to the challenge of living in extreme poverty) or being orphaned (due to parents dying from HIV/AIDS). The area didn’t have any facilities to help these children so he stumped up the cash, bought the land and buildings at Lubasi from the government and set up a charitable trust to care for them. That was in 2001 and they have been going ever since, heavily reliant on the volunteer ‘mums’ who work there. Hedd and I were there to donate some of our clothes and shoes and just hang out with the kids for the afternoon. Hedd played football and I read to the girls. Each of the children were so different. The home is only meant to have kids aged 5-10 but there were children up to 18 there. And some were so quiet and withdrawn with others outlandish. The chap opposite in the pic was one of the outlandish ones who wore my sunglasses the whole time and enjoyed playing (almost breaking!) my camera. But he was happy so that was the main thing. I also had a stash of hair bands which I gave out to the girls. Whether they used them for the right purpose or as catapults I do not know! We stayed there for a good 2-3 hours then walked the 30 minutes back to town, having a strange interaction with a local who laughed and said “Before looking up I knew you (hedd) were a man and you (helen) were a woman, because you (man points to hedd) have so much hair on your legs….so much hair!” Hehe, very true random local man, very true!

9th April, and our last full day in Livingstone. Up and out early doors to catch one of the first flights of the day up in a microlight for a aerial view of the falls. I was so excited about this, which only grew as we waited our turn watching others take off and land. We were flying with Batoka Sky from their base at Maramba Aerodome just outside Livingstone town. Our 15 minute flight would take us along the Zambezi, figure of eight over the top of the falls and then back over the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, and I couldn’t wait! Hedd was up first and I close behind in another microlight. My pilot was called Keith, he was from Scotland and had been here a month and it was great because it felt like he was as excited as I was to go up and have a glide around. I had a helmet on with ear phones so I could hear what Keith was saying. Although I struggled, goodness knows how non-english speaking people fare, he was Scottish after all! The falls from above are amazing, breathtaking and we got a great view of the Batoka gorge too. Keith pointed out various fancy hotels, and I could tell him “I’ve been there, I’ve done that”. Hedd’s pilot went low over the falls edge and he got wet from the mist. My guy went low over the national park and I got to see an elephant. It was a really great way to round the whole Victoria Falls/Livingstone experience off; I really recommend it! That evening to mark our last night in Livingstone we went for sundowner drinks at the Royal Livingstone Hotel. We got there about 6.30pm and it was pretty busy but we managed to get a table right by the water on the sundeck. The sun dips directly in front of you and to your left is the drop of the falls. Hedd went up to order our cocktails and was told to sit down (all waiter service here!), which was lovely but it did mean we waited super long for our drinks. We did manage to get them just in time for sunset though which is the main thing. Although I kind of wished the sun would move about 100 meters left so you would see it dip behind the falls, the African sunset was still tremendously beautiful and a great way to end our Victoria Falls adventure.

10th April and time to say goodbye to Livingstone which had been our home for 10 days and we had grown to love it. An hour flight to Lusaka in an even smaller plane (2 seats wide and an aisle) and a taxi ride to our hostel in Fairview, and we’d arrived at our last accommodation of the trip- Kalulu Backpackers. Not the nicest of hostels and the bathrooms were a 3 minute walk outside in the garden which was a bit odd, but the staff were friendly and they had 2 cute bunny rabbits and a crazy dog to keep us amused! Our last day of the trip we spent do a slight exploration of Lusaka. It’s not the nicest city in the world but we did make it to Kabwata Cultural Village in the South East of the city to do last-minute present buying for our families. Hedd has 3 sisters and 1 brother so plenty of people to souvenir shop for! Our last supper was at Mahak Indian Restaurant on Great East Road which was lovely. It wasn’t too far from the hostel so we walked to it. Although walking back in the dark I was convinced someone would jump out from the drainage ditches which run alongside most of the roads and made Hedd walk in the middle of the street with me just in case! Completely unfounded fear but we had been so lucky throughout the whole trip with regards to safety and crime, I just didn’t want anything to happen on our last night! Needless to say we arrived back to the hostel safe and sound! Just time for one last African cider (Hunters Gold) at the hostel bar, before packing and hitting the hay.

12th April 2012 and time to fly back to Britain. To London Heathrow to be precise, and terminal 5 from where we had left 23 weeks before. I was ready to come home I think, and in reality we had to- funds had dried up! There will be time to reflect on best bits, low points and greatest moments in another post perhaps. But for now I thank you for reading this travelogue. The last 6 months have been incredible, and it has been a great pleasure to share the experience with you through this series of chronological posts which I suspect I will treasure forever.

Livingstone and Zimbabwean Vic Falls in a snapshot:

    • Weather= Hot, but a little chilly in the Vic Falls spray!
    • Food= Baked beans on toast, cereal and UHT milk (budget running very low!)
    • Drink= Just too much box wine!
    • A must see in your lifetime= A lunar rainbow, a ‘moonbow’ (you can catch one at Full Moon at Vic Falls or at Waimea in Hawaii)
    • One of the funnest thing to watch= the trunk of an elephant- literally has a mind of its own!
    • A kindred spirit= “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy”- Ernest Hemingway
Hedd’s words of wisdom:

What a place to end our trip. Victoria Falls is amazing, it is massive. The biggest waterfall in the world and we are seeing it in high water. Well of course you can’t see all of it in high water because of the spray, but what you can do is feel the full force of it. We saw the falls from the Zambia side and the Zimbabwe side and we got absolutely drenched. It was like walking through a monsoon in parts, so much water, so much mist, it was exhilarating. We couldn’t see the full falls, at each viewpoint we could only see a small section, but each section was so impressive and there were so many sections. We saw rainbows everywhere in the day and of course we had the privilege of seeing a lunar rainbow at night, quite a sight!! The falls is also where we did the craziest thing we’ve ever done, which says a lot given Helen did the highest bungy in NZ and I jumped out of a plane at 15,000ft. We swam at the top of Victoria Falls. Insane – Yes. Amazing – Yes! There were no safety harnesses here, just our local guide who would act as some sort of goalkeeper should you go too close to the edge! If you ever get the chance to do this, do it! You won’t regret it – unless you’re the unlucky one that goes over the edge!!

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.

Sydney- The Wedding and Other Adventures

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Always love a good wedding! 

Our first afternoon in Sydney started in the pub around the corner from Lucy’s flat in the area of Balmain (North West of the Harbour Bridge). Lucy is a Royals girl and has been living and working over in Sydney for 2 years and kindly was putting us up for 2 nights, so we were in the pub waiting for her to get back from work. 2 glasses of wine later and she was home and after a merry catch up over another couple of bottles of wine we all stumbled into our respective beds wondering where the evening had gone!

Oh my goodness did we feel delicate the next morning. I saw Lucy off at 7am as she had a rowing race to get to (needless to say she wasn’t feeling quite up for it!) and I eventually managed to coax Hedd out of bed to start getting ready for Ian and Teresa’s Wedding. Ian and Teresa are Royal Chester Rowing friends again. Ian was the Boat Club Captain when I first joined RCRC and Teresa his long-term Aussie partner. They both did the Caledonian Crossing Challenge last year, which saw us all row across Scotland through the canals and lochs, and thats where they met Hedd and we discovered that perhaps our paths could cross in Sydney over their special day. And so it came about- an invite to a wedding in Sydney for 2 backpackers! At 10am we began our mission to Narrabean (North of Sydney, up the coast) which saw us catch a bus to Circular Quay, then a ferry across to Manley and then another bus to Rowland Reserve, Narrabean. In all it took us 3 hours! We were one of the first to the large catamaran where the floating ceremony was to take place and, as it began to shower, was ushered onto the boat by the celebrant called Mary to get out of the rain. At 13.30 the coach with the guests staying in Narrabean arrived along with the Grooms Party. So a bit about the Grooms Party outfits- they were in beige deck shoes, blue Chino’s, beige/off white linen shirts and then a beige and thin blue stripped linen blazer. Very nice and wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in the Stewards enclosure at Henley Regatta! I soon spotted Laura, Andy and Steve- the other RCRC guests and rushed out to greet them. It was so lovely but equally so bizarre to see them , at a wedding, on the other side of the world, after 5 months of not seeing them every week! We managed to catch up on news before heading onto the boat for the arrival of the bridal party. The bridal party arrived in a blue and cream stretched VW camper van. Oh my goodness it was too cool for school! And Teresa looked absolutely stunning in an off white satin halterneck dress with fitted body and full chiffon skirt, with a delicate lace bolero. Her hair was big and pinned back with dramatic eye makeup and daring red lipstick. The flowers were devine- pastel blue pansies and cream roses. I would say the theme was 1950’s chic vintage drama, and the whole thing was gorgeous! With everyone on board we set sail to a pretty cove to moor up and start the wedding ceremony. There was a string quartet and they played as Teresa and her 2 grown up daughters, the bridesmaids, walked down the aisle. They both looked so happy and in love. They said beautiful vows- not the traditional religious one. There was a line about “my arms being your home”  and such like- lovely! Then Emma, Ian’s daughter, read a poem and then Ian read a tear jerking reading about Teresa being the best of him. Then it was the giving of rings, the kiss and the couple signed the register to the band playing ‘All you Need is Love’. All in all a great, down to earth, personal ceremony. There were nibbles and drinks at the free bar as the photographer organised us all into the various groups for the photos. We braved the top deck for those as the showers had died down. And then we set sail for the marina and during the journey we had the speeches- Erin, chief bridesmaid and Teresa’s oldest daughter; Steve, best man and my ‘Chester Dad’ from RCRC; and Ian, groom saying his thanks. We got back to the marina around 4pm and all had a group shot outside the boat before the whole wedding party got whisked off in the stretched VW camper for more official photos. All us guests got back on the bus and got dropped off at the bar just down the road from the evening reception which was to start at 6pm. After being so careful with my dress the whole day, the destruction of the dress began as the velcro from my rain jacket pulled and puckered the chiffon over-layer of my skirt on the bus- oh dear, at least it survived the ceremony! At 6pm we managed to blag ourselves a ride in the VW camper limo to the evening reception as it had started to pour down with rain. Plus it was too good an opportunity to miss- very very cool wedding transportation! Then we were at Narrabean Surf Club enjoying yet another free bar! Steve, bless him, had brought the Royals flag with him from Chester and had put it up in the venue, so when Lucy had arrived all us Royals had a picture underneath it with the bride and groom. And the night continued with many more glasses of champagne, more yummy finger food and dancing to the live band. Hedd made the mistake of switching to the red wine and soon got the nickname ‘Disaster Boy’ as he fell asleep in a chair as the night came to an end! Lucy very kindly saw that we all arrived back to her flat safe and sound at the end of a great day.

04.03.12 will only be known to us, Hedd especially, as the day after the night before! I joined Lucy on the sofa with copious cups of tea and movies from 10am. Hedd didn’t rise from the horizontal position until 3pm! We said our goodbyes to Lucy and ventured out once more to navigate ourselves to Narrabean where we were staying with the rest of the royals gang for the rest of our time in Australia. This time though we didn’t bother with the ferry and just 2 uncomfortable bus journeys later (in our hung over state) we arrived at Ian and Teresa’s apartment right on Narrabean Beach. It was an absolutely stunning spot and we couldn’t quite believe our luck as we dumped our rucksacks in our room stepping out on our personal balcony overlooking the ocean! BBQ for dinner and plenty of reminiscing over the events of yesterday and Royals banter about Hedd and his antics with the red wine! Being apart of the Royals extended family for nearly 2 years, he was used to such ribbing! We slumped into bed at 11.30pm still feeling delicate but looking forward to our day of sailing the next morning.

We woke up to the sound of the ocean, a mere 50 meters from us. Such a gorgeous way to wake up. After showering, breakfast and putting our sea legs on, we all drove to Church Point Marina for our day of sailing on Ian and Teresa’s yacht. Debbie- another Royals lady had just flown into Sydney that morning and met us straight from the airport at the marina too for the day sailing! Very impressive stamina! So our boat was called Wind Maiden- 40 ft, 3 cabin boat, worth $225,000, and Ian and Teresa were trusting us lot to sail it! We got loaded up with drinks, food and bodies and then pushed off from the marina. My first job was to collect in the buoys and then I was on the head sail port side windlass with Debbie, pulling in or letting out as we tacked and jibed our way out and around the estuary. The weather was stunning; clear blue skies, warm and sunny. Almost a shame that the weather didn’t come a day earlier for Ian and Teresa’s wedding but Teresa didn’t mind as she said she would have been too hot in her dress else. Where we were sailing was also beautiful- pretty little bays, high top hills and we even passed the beach and little town that is used to film Home & Away! Hedd got a go at steering and, after almost tipping us all in by over-steering on the jibs, got the hand of it and quite fancied himself as a skipper! By the time we had reached Refuge Bay- our lunch stop- my arms felt like they had had a good workout. We enjoyed a lovely meat and salad lunch, washed down of course with a beer. After a while relaxing on the boat we all got our swimmers on, jumped off the boat and swam to the beach at Refuge Bay. There was a waterfall at the beach and we all enjoyed a neck and back massage as the water thundered on top of us as we stood underneath it. It was then time to swim back to the boat and set sail back towards the marina. None of us had any concept of time and we were surprised that it was as late as 4.30pm when we got back to Church Point. We dropped Hedd and Debbie off at this point as Hedd’s back was feeling tender and Debbie was just exhausted from her flight, and took on board 3 other crew members who actually knew how to sail. Which was a really good thing as now we were going to take part in a race, Ian as skipper and Andy, Teresa and I crewing along with the 3 experts. I was on the port side head sail windlass again with Andy this time and Teresa was on the main sail. It was a handicapped race with different categories going off at different times with the intention that we would all finish together (mayhem!). There were 25 boats in our category but over 100 boats in total taking part, which made for a fab sight as we all set sail with the sun slowly setting. Our race began at 5.30pm and Ian did really well steering us into good wind giving us an ace start. At the start and around the 2 markers we had to go around were the most exciting parts as all the boats bunch together and jostle for the best position. It was funny how some sections of the race could be slow-paced and calm as the wind drops and then the very next minute be so rapid and frantic as we get a gust and try to go the most with it. Very exciting and definitely wet my appetite for getting into sailing much more when I get home. The whole event lasted about 2 hours which went by in a blink of an eye, and we got back to the flat after stowing the boat after 8pm. BBQ again for dinner and we all headed to bed happily tired after a full and jammed packed day of sailing.

I couldn’t quite believe it when my alarm went off at 5.15am the next day. But it was indeed time for me to get up and get ready for my early morning outing with Mosman Rowing Club. All rowing occurs super early in Sydney as that is when the weather is coolest and also so people can row before work. So that’s where I found myself, in a car with Ian, Debbie and Andy at 5.30am off to Spit Point for an outing on the flooded river bed there. We decided to go out in a quad and Ian put me at stroke with the responsibility of setting the rhythm and steering! Needless to say I had a furrowed brow come the end after all the concentration. We were on the water by 6.15am with lights on our boat to guide the way as it was still dark. We sculled to Sugarloaf Bay on the still lake like water watching the sun come up as we rowed, enjoyed the views of the limestone rock sides and mangrove forests, and then rowed back to the club. We were all finished, boated packed away and ready for a cuppa at the cafe across the road by 7.45am! By the time we were back at the flat at 8.15am, it felt like I’d already been up and active for half a day…a very efficient workout and a super experience! After a bit of Africa travel planning, Hedd and I ventured out into Sydney city on the bus to do some sightseeing. We wandered down to Circular Quay and along to the area called The Rocks where we were afforded with a great view of both the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. We sat on a bench admiring the view as we ate our homemade sandwiches. There was an absolutely ginormous cruise ship too in the harbour and we both reflected how terrifying it must have been on that Italian cruise liner that sunk last month. After lunch we strolled back around the harbour to the Opera House and booked ourselves onto the 1pm $35 Sydney Opera House Tour which was a 90 minute tour inside the building and around the theatres. Our guide was really knowledgable, explaining the architecture of the building and all about the acoustics. We saw inside the 2 drama theatres and also 1 of the 2 big Halls. Not the Opera Hall though, the Concert Hall; I think we would have had to have been on the $100 tour to see inside the Opera Theatre! As we were in the Concert Hall, Sydney Symphony Orchestra were rehearsing so we got to stand and listen to them which was a big bonus. They sounded wonderful. We also got to go out onto one of the Opera House’s Balconies which had a stunning view of the Harbour Bridge. The tour ended with a film all about the Opera House’s history and construction which was super interesting…. The Opera House design was selected in a global competition. Many of the designs were boring boxes but this one guy- Jørn Utzon- from Denmark submitted an extremely rough pencil stretch of a building of waves. His design was dismissed originally. But one member of the judging panel was late in arriving and insisted on reviewing all the previously dismissed designs. On seeing Utzon’s sketch he proclaimed him the winner. However that original build time of 3 years and 9 million budget was a complete under-estimate and many more years and millions later and a change of Australian government resulted in Utzon being squeezed out of the project before its completion. Utzon never actually visited the Opera House, his life’s work and crowing accomplishment, after it was finished. Very sad story. The Sydney Opera House is the 2nd most globally recognised image after the MacDonald’s Golden Arches, so Utzon achieved his original design brief of creating an iconic building for Australia. After the tour we grabbed a cold drink and sat on the Opera House promenade enjoying the sunshine and the view. We met up with Lucy and Steve late afternoon to have a goodbye drink and thank Lucy again for putting us up, and then Steve, Hedd and I took the 50 minute bus back to Narrabean together. We got back at 7pm just in time to freshen up and go for a ‘last supper’ as a gang of royals before we all flew off to our various different locations the next day. We were sharing an airport taxi with Laura and Sophie, who were going off to NZ, early the next morning so we said goodbye and a massive thank you to Ian and Teresa that evening. By the time we had packed and tidied up it was midnight and we crashed into bed trying not to think about the fact that we had to be up just 5 hours later!

6am pick up, 1 1/2 hour journey and $74 dollars lighter we all arrived at Sydney airport international departures. We said our goodbyes to Laura and Sophie and gave them some last-minute tips on NZ, before checking in for our flight to Cape Town and the start of our final leg of the trip. I couldn’t believe we were at our last continent already but any sadness was soon replaced by excitement at the prospect of visiting my favourite place, Africa, once again.

 Sydney in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Rain on the big day, but sunshine on the whole
  • Food= Yummy food in miniature at the wedding and a lot of BBQs!
  • Drink= Champagne Bellini’s and too much red wine for Hedd!
  • Damage caused by the Royals reunion= Surprisingly none
  • Favourite Day= Hard to pick, the wedding and the day of sailing were equally superb

Hedd’s (not so wise) words of wisdom!:

At every wedding there has to be someone who get’s a bit over excited, drinks too much and makes a bit of a fool of themselves. It’s almost a certainty. Unfortunately, at Ian and Theresa’s wedding that was me. A combination of drinking all day, a free bar (having been on such a strict budget for over 4 months) and some not so wise words when referring to the Shiraz provided at the free bar. I shall certainly never profess that I can “drink this stuff all night” ever again. That being said, before I got too drunk and fell asleep I had a wonderful time at what was the most laid back and fun wedding I have ever attended. The ceremony, on a boat was a first for me and was such a beautiful setting and very fitting for the happy couple. I want to say congratulations to Ian and Theresa, to wish them all the best for the future, to thank them for their hospitality and to promise that next time we meet, I shall stay away from the red wine!!

New Zealand North Island Road Trip- The Forgotten World Highway and Wellington

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“The journey is the destination”

So after 1hr 1/2 or so we arrived in Taumarunui and turned left off Route 4 onto Route 43- NZ’s 155km Forgotten World Highway. Its NZ’s oldest touring route joining Taumarunui with Stratford. 12 km of it is still unsealed roads and there no petrol stations or food shops along the way. So we filled up the tank and ventured West hoping for the best! The road was slow, very slim and windy. We were heading into proper NZ backcountry and man did we feel it! We were travelling through some stunning scenery though, and stopped off at Nevins Lookout which gave us panoramic views of the Central North Island. Bizarre landscape looking like a green grass Pavlova top- lots and lots of little green peaks! Next up was Tangarakau Gorge. The road was unsealed and we felt sorry for our little car crunching through the gravel. The scenery was something out of Jurassic Park. The road was wrapped with steep sides covered in thick foliage and the road was so thin, we were pleased we didn’t pass too many people on our way! We then went through a really cool tunnel on Moki Road called ‘Hobbits Hole’. It’s just 4.5m tall, single lane and 180m long with mud walls and timber ceiling. A proper little tunnel for Hobbit sized cars! It was built in 1936 and lowered in 1989 to allow access for trucks, but it is still super tiny. And then it was onto the village of Whangamomona through more windy, thin roads. As we arrived in the tiny village we both said in unison “where the hell are we!” Whangamomona village was first established in 1895 and was once a bustling frontier town with 300 residents and providing a lots of key services for the hardy farmers trying to wrestle a living from the bush surrounding it. The population has now since declined to 30 residents with all the shops closed except for the iconic Whangamomona Hotel/Pub. The welcome sign actually says “Welcome, please stay and add to our population”! So we entered the pub in the middle of nowhere, realising our phones had no reception, and asked at the bar if we could use their phone. My accent and non-farming attire soon unmasked me as an ‘outsider’ and she enquired further who I wanted to call, where I was staying etc. With Hedd in the toilet (who had all this info) I had to say, like a plonker, that I didn’t know their names, just the wife’s brother who was called Gwyn and no I didn’t know his surname. She knew instantly who I was staying with (the Hutchinson’s) and consulted her A4 list of all the families in the area with their phone numbers and dialed Gwyn saying to come pick us up! Now that what I call a community hub pub! Gwyn arrived 20 mins later (my goodness where were we staying!) and we catched up over a couple of ciders. No worry about drink and driving here…the nearest police were in Stratford 1hr 1/2 away and their visits to the area was twice a year at most! We then made our way to Gwyn’s sisters farm 10 mins along route 43 and then left off the road onto an unsealed road for 20 mins. So just to the left in the middle of nowhere, from the middle of nowhere! So a bit of context maybe required. Gwyn and Hedd are friends from Secondary School. Ceri is Gwyn’s sister and married to Kiwi called Daniel but everyone calls him ‘Pork’. They met in Ruthin whilst Pork was over doing a Shearing Season in Wales. They fell in love (awww) and then she moved over to NZ, to Whangamomona where Pork’s farm was, and has been here ever since (10 years). Gwyn’s been travelling around Oz/NZ and was helping out at the farm and invited us to stay so here we were! So the farm was in a lovely spot and Ceri greeted us with a big home cooked meal of roast chicken, mass and peas- yum after weeks of soup and beans on toast! Oh about the food. As I said there are no shops on the Forgotten World Highway. So all food comes from the Farm or the big food shop Ceri does once a month in Stratford. They have a big freezer for all the milk and bread etc! For fuel, they have their own fuel tank which gets filled up periodically by a big tank! Fair play, sounds tough but Ceri loves it and her 3 boys, Jed (10), Max (7) and Gus (1 1/2) are constantly outside being how boys should be. Great!

Next morning we had a lie in, enjoying sleeping in a proper bed for the first time since Auckland. With a duvet yey! We headed out late morning, meeting Ceri on the way. All communication is word of mouth or on the landline phone so we told her where we were going and when we were due back so she would know when to be in. Felt like the early 1990’s, arranging to meet up with friends ‘by Disney store’ in Plymouth city centre! So we were heading to Mt Damper Falls and we would be due back at noon! So after a 40 min drive along windy, unsealed roads we arrived at Mt Damper Falls car park and then walked the 20 mins to the falls. At 85m it is NZ North Island’s second highest waterfall and it had rained over night so their plenty of water crashing down into the pool. The water would eventually find itself to the Tasmin Sea. It was a really lovely waterfall in a very secluded point. We then headed back to the farm for lunch (cheese toasties-yum!) and then Ceri got the call that “the hay was ON”! , as they say “make hay while the sun shines” so there was no procrastinating, we all jumped in the car and made our way down to the field. So why were we ‘making hay’. Well the farmers in the area normally have to hire labour to load and transport hay from their fields to their storage barns each year. But instead in Whangamomona, the parents and children of the school do this instead and the farmer then pays 60 cents per bail to the school. This then funds school trips and educational resources. Really great initiative. So the farmer was half way through the field making all the bundles in his tractor and then all us lot rolled the bails into piles for the 4×4 trailer trucks to come around and load them and take them to the barn. It was hard going but great to be involved and that field gave about 400 bails so $240 for the school- not bad at all, and they still had plenty more farmers field to do so a nice little earner for the school each year! Afterwards the governors of the local primary school put on a BBQ for all the volunteers in the field, plus free beer! So we all sat around eating, drinking and chatting. Real community spirit in action. We then all headed back to Ceri’s farm to get ready for the ‘big friday night out’ at the local pub in Whangamomona (20 mins drive away!) The whole family came, including little Gus, and we played pool and chatted about all different things, but it soon got back to the subject of farming!

Next lunchtime after some more cheese toasties, we went on our way, saying a fond farewell to Ceri, Gwyn and the family farm. We got our passports stamped at the Pub on the way out and then made our way to Stratford. Ooh a bit of explanation Whangamomona declared itself a republic in 1989 after community outrage at local government boundary reshuffle. They have their own presidential elections each year but from what I can gather these presidents tend to be goats or dogs! As we left the village the sign said “You are now leaving Whangamomona, welcome back to NZ!” So the rest of the forgotten highway was just as windy and thin as the last bit and we arrived in Wanganui late afternoon on the West coast. We stayed at a Top 10 Holiday Park in a dorm overlooking Wanganui river and just chilled at the campsite. It was a bank holiday weekend in NZ so there was a local festival going on so we shared our campsite with a lot of beautifully restored vintage cars. The next day (22nd) Hedd got up at 6am to watch the Liverpool game and I sat by the river with a cuppa and watched the rowers on the river. Sculling seems a lot bigger here than sweep. But I did see a women’s 8 row past with their coach in the launch. Reminded me of my Sunday mornings back in Chester. But of course we were loads better than this crew [; ) ] Due to Liverpool losing 3-1 to Bolton, the final drive to Wellington, NZ Capital, was a sullen one! But we arrived safe and sound around lunchtime after putting the car through the car wash to hide the fact that we had obviously been on a lot of unsealed roads (not allowed in our rental apparently-oops!) Dumping our stuff at Downtown Backpackers by the Waterfront in Wellington, we dropped the car at Apex and made the walk back in the rain to the Hostel. Boo- bad weather again. The hostel was huge- 6 floors of accommodation and communal areas. It was a bit too big and anonymous for me. That evening we ventured out in the rain again to grab some tea and find the ‘Welsh Dragon Bar’- the only Welsh pub in the Southern hemisphere. We found it neatly tucked into the middle of the road on Cambridge Terrace. It used to be old public toilets so had lovely tiled walls and a domed ceiling….don’t make toilets like that nowadays! As soon as we entered it from the rain it felt like home. The guy behind the bar was from Pontypool and clearly has a South Wales accent. The place was covered in Welsh flags with the various Welsh visitors names and messages on them. We tried to find Emyr and Ger’s (Hedd’s school friends) names on them who had been here 2 years ago but failed. However there were plenty of people from Ruthin and surrounds who had been here, and Hedd recognised a few names. They only played music by Welsh artists (obviously) so plenty of Stereophonic but just before we left they even played a weird dance version of ‘Da Ni Yma o Hyd’ (‘we’re still here’) which Hedd loved! Hedd signed his name on a Welsh flag and then we headed home through the rain to our hostel.

Next morning the weather had improved and, after speaking to Mum and Dad for the first time in ages (so good to speak to them), we headed out to explore Wellington in a better light! We walked along the waterfront to the National Museum called Te Papa. It was the Monday of the bank holiday so there was a big concert in the little amphitheatre there plus a weird Bird Man competition where locals dressed up as birds jumped off a plank into the quay! After watching that for a while (the water looked terribly cold!) we visited the museum for free- yey! It was actually really good, interactive and the top floor had a roof terrace with a great view over the city. They even had a earthquake experience ride where you go into a little house and it rocks just like an earthquake back in the late 1990’s. Apparently the real thing was 50 times stronger than what you were experiencing- fingers crossed we won’t experience one for real when we’re in Christchurch! After lunch we found Cable Car Lane and took the car ride ($3.50) up to Kelburn lookout for a stunning view over the city and the harbour of Tara. The Botanic Gardens entrance is just behind  the lookout and we took the Downhill Path to the City route through the gardens following the pink flowers painted on the ground. The Gardens are 25 hectares of unique landscape, protected native forest, conifers, specialised plant collections and colourful floral displays. Plus it was FREE, yey! The sun was shining and it was a lovely place to wonder through. You quite forgot you were in a capital city. My favourite bit was the Vireya Rhododendrons section- a whole mini valley of different coloured Rhododendrons; very beautiful. We popped out of the Gardens just by the Parliament building- an ugly round 1970’s construction if you ask me! After an afternoon of internet cafe-ing and blogging we were ready for dinner and cider before packing up our bags for the next mornings ferry across to Picton (24th) to start our South Island adventures.

When taking a NZ road trip don’t leave without:

  1. A NZ touring map- as many different ones you can get for free. Each map shows different towns on it, plus definitely try to get one which shows where the i-sites are located.
  2. A Holiday Park of NZ directory and map booklet- where to stay and at what price
  3. Any variety of Pascalls sweets- our personal favourite: the pineapple lump!
  4. NZ Frenzy- An Adventurers Guide to NZ Wild Places by Scott Cook- a much better guide than lonely planet showing you lots of ‘off the beaten track’ places for you to visit along the way of your journey

 The Forgotten World Highway and Wellington in a snapshot:

  • Weather=A real mixed bag of brilliant sunshine and heavy showers grey days- are we in NZ or UK?!
  • Food= Home cooked grub and toasties (thanks Ceri!)
  • Drink=Monteaths Apple Cider
  • Community Spirit Moment= Making Hay in Whangamomona
  • Total kilometers travelled Auckland to Wellington= 3021.5
  • “Oh my goodness” revelation moment= We’re already half way through our travels!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

It’s always good to catch up with old friends. The fact that we had to drive to the middle of nowhere to find Gwyn was just a bonus. We had a great couple of days in Whangamomona with Gwyn, his sister Ceri and her family. They welcomed us into their home and gave us a taste of rural life in New Zealand. The night out at the local pub (20mins drive away) was a particular highlight, as was baby Guss (so long as he had a clean nappy on!!). So thanks to Gwyn, Ceri, Pork and their kids for giving us a proper NZ experience in a place that I’m certain 95% of travellers to this country won’t visit.

Lake Titicaca- Uros, Amantani and Taquile Islands

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A home stay with a Peruvian family…a great thing to experience, if a bit daunting!

So to get from Cusco to Puno we took a tourist bus, called the Inka Express, which made 4 stops along the way at tourist hot spots and included lunch. It took 3 hours longer than going direct but if you’ve got time to spare, the stops do break the journey up nicely. So first stop was in Andahuaylillas to visit the colonial church called San Pedro. It didn’t look much from the outside but inside all the ceilings and walls were painted in motifs and a lot of gold leaf over the wall behind the altar. It was being restored at the time so it was quite fascinating watching the restorers do their work on the mouldings and paintings. Then it was back on the bus to the next stop- and old Inca settlement called Raqchi, which means Ceramic in English. It was actually a really impressive set of ruins especially the principle temple (see pic), which was 3 stories high, with foundations in stone and then the 2 stories above built with clay and Andean grass. All of it original apart from the ceramic roof tiles they put on top. It was a shock to Inca buildings/walls so tall, but it made walking around the ruins like navigating a maze which was quite fun! After lunch the next stop was at the highest point between Cusco and Puno at 4338 meters high which is known as the line separating Cusco province and Puno province and called ‘Abra la Raya’. The last stop was at a town called Pukaro named after the pre-inka indians who lived there, 400 years before christ. They were famous for ceramics and worshiped not just the condor, puma and snake like the inca’s, but also water creatures such as the frog as they also recognised the importance of water to life. They also believed in human sacrifice and built pyramids to practice it which we also saw the ruins of along our journey.

Puno is not the prettiest city to look at. A lot of the houses remain unfinished with steel cabling poking up from the flat concrete roofs. Apparently this is intentional as it means the inhabitants and the house builders avoid paying tax on the property as technically the building is incomplete. Quite a saving I imagine but does make the area look a bit shabby! Adrian and Sarah from our Inca Trek group were on the same tour as us around Lake Titicaca so we got the same taxi, stayed at the same hotel and had a fun meal out that night at a place called Positive Rock and Reggae Bar…those 2 genres of music go surprisingly well together! The next day we got picked up and taken to Puno’s port. We picked up some wine on the way along with some fruit as a gift to our host families for that night in Amantani. On the island they find it really hard to grow fruit and the parents prefer it better than sweets for the children, so we got them some oranges and apples. Our guide for the 2 days was called ‘Bruno from Puno’ (a nick name he gave himself!) and was a little bit crazy, but it made for a lively trip. So a bit about Lake Titicaca…it is the largest, highest, navigable lake in the world and spans across Peru (60%) and Bolivia (40%). It is purely fed from the snow melt from the Andes and rain, and feds into one other lake over in Bolivia. So a pretty self-contained ecosystem. So back to the tour…the boat was small and went quite slowly, but after 25 minutes we got to our first Island community, the Uros Islands. The Uros Islands are floating islands made of reeds, each small island is home to one family (grand parents, sisters, brothers, children). The ones we visited were purely set up for tourists, out of choice the families set up home in this part of Uros to make their living. The tourist area of Uros is split up into North and South areas, and the tourist boats visit each area alternate days. The Uros island community as a whole get the money from the tour boats of which some is held centrally as a contingency fund in case of a disaster and the rest split equally amongst the families. The reed island we visited was called Santa Maria and as our boat pulled into the island all the ladies came running to the side singing to welcome us. The women all has their hair in two plaits with massive colourful woolen ball ball’s weaved into the ends of the plaits. It looked fun but quite heavy! We sat around a reed bench and the men of the island explained how the floating reed island’s of Uros are built (see pic above) . So the water around Uros is 11 meters deep and 5 meters down floats the mud and roots of the reed beds. The families harvest these in small cubes and then tie them all together to make a larger floating platform. Fresh reeds are then layered on top of the buoyant mud and root platform to make the island that we were then standing on. They then build their houses on top of this platform out of reeds and anchor the island down with ropes attached to rocks/stakes. It was really quite fascinating. And all the families were so happy, it rubbed off on you. The families also eat the reeds. We got to try some too. You take off the top, peel the outer layers and then bite a bit off. It tasted like cucumber! A couple from the island then took us into their reed home and put traditional clothes on us, and showed us all the crafts they made. We felt really pressured to buy something, but not in an aggressive way. Either way we bought a few things from them, knowing that at least that money will go straight to that couple and child and not via the Uros community leaders! We then got to ride on a big boat made of reeds to the next island Tupirmarka (see pic above). I’m first to admit that the Uros islands are completely touristy but they are really enjoyable to visit and the families who live on them are incredibly lovely and welcoming. I would definitely recommend a visit to them.

It was then back on our tour boat for a 3 hour sailing to our second island called Amantani. That was a long 3 hours! But again when we came into port ladies from the island were there in their traditional outfits to great us. We then got paired with our host families by the leader of the community. Sarah, Adrian, Hedd and I all stayed with the same family, headed up by mum, Rebecca, with 2 children called Loope (7) and Diago (15). It felt really awkward to begin with and we all didn’t speak Spanish so it was hard to communicate. But over lunch we got the jist of what Rebecca was telling us. The island doesn’t have electricity and the community are self-sufficient vegetarians. They keep sheep for wool and chickens for eggs and grow all their vegetables in a little plot outside their home. The toilet was an outside toilet, which we had to flush with a bucket of water each time so no proper drainage either. Rebecca had some lighting in her home from solar panels on the roof, and although had a gas canister, cooked most of her food on a wood fueled stove. We soon found that playing ball games with the two children didn’t require much language skills and proceeded to play volleyball and hand ball all afternoon with Loope and Diago, after helping Rebecca wash up of course! Early evening Loope led us up to the main square to meet up with the others to walk up to the Temple of Pachamama on the hill above the town (4150 meters above sea level), to watch sun set. It wasn’t the greatest as it was cloudy, but we watched all the same and then headed back down to catch the last half of a local 5 aside game, much to Hedd and Adrian’s delight! Then it was back with Loope to the house for dinner. We cracked open the wine and after glass 2 Rebecca, our host ‘mum’, was hiccupping around the kitchen! I think we got our host mum drunk! Very funny. She then dressed us up in traditional Amantani dress (see pic above) and then led us to the local ‘disco-tech’ (aka the school hall) for an evening of peruvian dancing and live band. Loope was allowed to come too and she was so excited! She had Sarah and I up and dancing every song. The pic opposite was pretty much us dancing on our own to the band. But Loope loved it so Sarah and I had to oblige. We left pretty early at 9.30pm, picking up the dad of our host family on the way. He was very intoxicated and proceeded to introduce his family to us 3 times on the walk home. Come the fourth time, he got a stern telling off by Rebecca! We can’t be sure exactly what she said but i imagine it went along the lines “shut up you silly man, they already know our names!” We got into bed just in time as then the island had a massive storm which sounded so loud on the tin roof above us.

The next morning, Rebecca made us pancakes for breakfast and then led us back to the port to our boat. After a quick cheerio and thank you’s we were on our way again on the tour boat to the adjacent island called Taquile. It didn’t look far away but still took us 1 1/2 hours to get across to the island. From the port we walked across the island for an hour to get to the main square. The islanders are infamous for their knitting skills. Both men and women knit and then they sell their products in a cooperative at a fixed price and then the profits are divided up amongst the contributing families. The men also all wear hats which mean different things. If they have a black bowler type hat on, then they work for the municiple government. If they wear a stripey beanie, with ears and a pom pom, then they are married. The same hat but white, then the man is single. So its like Taquile equilvalent of the wedding band! After lunch of steamed trout (very nice!), we were back on the boat for the 3 hour journey back to Puno. Sarah, Adrian, Hedd and I sat on the roof the whole way home which was a nicer way to travel than sitting inside, although we did catch the sun quite a bit-oops! After a shower and chill, we had a last evening out with Adrian and Sarah in Puno, before they went onto Cocacambana, and us to Ariquipa the next day. As it turned out, this ended up as a rather late one which involved a lot of 2 for 16 sole cocktails at the local club/bar! It was a great night, but the next morning our bodies did not thank us for it! Sarah and Adrian had to get a 7am bus the next morning. I have no idea how they did that….Hedd and I were still struggling with our bus journey at 3pm in the afternoon! We both felt pretty awful on the 7 hour journey. However I was soon distracted by an hour of snow on the highlands between Puno and Ariquipa, at which point Hedd gave me my first Christmas build up surprise of ‘Now that’s what I call Christmas’ compilation album on his iPod! It was such a surreal experience listening to my Christmas song favourites, in South America, with snow falling outside! But I absolutely loved it! 13 days to go….

Lake Titicaca in a snapshot:

    • Weather= Warm during the day but stormy in the evenings and at night
    • Food= Vegetarian!- rice, mixed vegetables, vegetable soup etc…
    • Drink= Cocktails, lots of cocktails (bleurgh!)
    • The cutest child we’ve come across so far= Loope from the host family
    • Lesson Learnt= No alcohol the night before a bus journey!

Hedd´s Words of Wisdom:

No words of wisdom today, only a few key lessons learnt from our time by the lake:

  • Drinking at altitude is dangerous;
  • Two cocktails for 14 soles may sounds like a good idea, but  at 3800m its a recipe for disaster;
  • Hangovers on peruvian buses are not pleasant;

 I should have probably known that already…