A Travellerspoint blog

South Africa

The background

It's 07:06 on the morning of May 27th . My single biggest fear (that the ship would not actually exist) has happily proved unfounded. But all is not quite well. Though boasting a passenger capacity of almost 2,000, there is only one other party of passengers – a woman with her 3 young children – who seem in anyway interested in boarding the ship. There is also nobody seeming to work or show any interest in me, and the only official looking people I can find don't admit to speaking a single word of any language that I do. It is one of those few moments of my life when I actively wished that my knowledge of the Spanish language went slightly beyond 'Hola', 'Paella' and 'Cerveza'...

Oddly enough, it had all started out pretty well. It couldn't last. I had worked Tuesday morning, and magically managed to get everything that I needed to, done. After lots of hard work and late nights for months our bit of the project magically looked like it would just about be completed on time. Having seen the situation a few months previously and all the chaos since, that in itself was pretty much miraculous. Unusually, I wasn't strip searched at St. Pancras, also also didn't have to contend with hoardes of frustrated BA passengers or ash cloud refugees (it's actually quite amazing. Everybody looks at you strangely for 15years for not flying, then a volcano goes off 2000miles away and all of a sudden you are a frickin visionary genius) and had an uneventful trip on Eurostar (there was no snow this time – last time had not been as smooth...). On reaching Paris, I discovered that, most unusually, the French were not even on strike. With that it was a quick transfer to Austerlitz for a bite and drink with some friends before the night train to Barcelona.

A pleasant evening in company of a non-flying Irishman, an Alsatian (person from Alsace, not a dog) and two Japanese followed, though I admit fearing the worst when being given a beer with green mould growing all around the rim.... All were impressed by my upcoming voyage, and all had stories of their own to tell. Sure, we were a couple of hours late into Barcelona, but I pretty much had a free day anyway, so no trouble. Checked into the hostel without problem, and then started my only chore for the day.

I was in Barcelona for only one reason: to board a ship to Cape Town, and the World Cup. Not this time a small personal type of ship like the RMS St. Helena or a cargo ship the MV Green Cape. Instead I was going south on a ridiculously swanky Cruise Ship, the MS Noordam. This was not the original plan (which was a Polish cargo ship), but instead a late change to enable me to work an extra 3.5weeks on the project. Though it mean't I lost out on several weeks of holiday and had to change/drop a number of plans/ideas, after it was agreed that my costs would be covered, in good conscious I couldn't drop my colleagues in it after I had finally worked out how to book the Noordam. The Noordam was one of 2 cruise ships which I had long known were heading down to South Africa to be used as extra accommodation for fans during the World Cup, but as charters, had proven incredibly tricky to track down and book. Indeed, I had already booked my return on the sister ship Westerdam, but even that had taken months to find, and even they couldn't tell me anything about how to arrange the voyage down.

But, eventually, and going through any number of contacts and middle companies, I had found it, and managed to book without problem. The voyage was paid (and cheap: my return fare turned out to be 1700euros, less than one way on a cargo ship, and had I taken the lowest class of accommodation on both voyages and been travelling with a friend, I could have done the return for under 900euros. Which for 28Days accommodation, food, booze and transport is fantastic), and I had receipts, but precious little in the way of other information. The documentation I had for my voyage just told me to go to Barcelona port, the name of the ship and the time/date. However, Barcelona port is not small, and nowhere did it mention where exactly I should be. Two different documents gave 2 different times, and the charter company had stopped responding to all communications over a week previously. Worse still, their website had essentially closed down, with just a holding note saying that sadly all accommodation in South Africa had been cancelled but that the voyages down and back remained unaffected.

With no information forthcoming from the charter company or cruise line, and agent/cruise issues meaning that online check-in was not possible, I had done some research of my own. I had worked my way through the databases available on the Port of Barcelona webpage, and found a dock number (but not terminal number), with, naturally, a port time differing to the two I already had.

And so on the previous day, I had gone for a walk around the port. Barcelona port is big. Even ignoring the cargo areas, there were 5 different docks used by ferries and a further 7 for cruise ships, spread over almost 3km. Naturally, the suspected one (D) was the furthest away. The walk was not the most exciting, and not really designed for walking. A trek over a large bridge and 30degree heat did not help. At the port control, they had no idea at all. At Dock D, the only person there was a window cleaner. The only one with any activity was Dock B, where masses of screaming kids were boarding a huge Disney cruise ship. But even the staff there had no idea. I had pretty much given up when my phone rang. An excitable German lady who seemed surprised that I was not fluent in German (and who's English was lacking) from the charter company was phoning up to ensure I had a return ticket from SA. Apparently they were mean't to check that a month previously and had forgotten. I reassured her that I did, and asked where and when in Barcelona the ship was departing. She said she had no idea, put me on hold for 5minutes, then took my email address (which they had previously used to send a dozen or so emails to), and promised to email me within the hour, and hung up. Realising I could do no more, I decided to enjoy Barcelona for the afternoon, met up with a couple of friends for a bit and relaxed. Checking my emails that night, I had a one line message confirming it was from Dock D, but no boarding or departure time.

At that, I resigned myself to an early morning, and started on the sangria.

Posted by Gelli 11:34 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Rich and Fortune

It was my last night in Africa, and, to be honest, I was not necessarily looking forward to what must inevitably come next. The 3week journey was not the issue – indeed i am actively looking forward to it – rather the destination: Europe. Europe is now in winter, which means that it will be cold, wet, grey, miserable and constantly playing Slade Christmas songs. It also contains lots and lots of evil people, who unaccountably believe that if they are going to be paying me, then I should be working for the money. I mean, who on earth came up with such a deranged idea? And the fact that I am not even allowed to go home to Sweden, but instead am being forced to go to a strange country – one that I have absolutely no wish to live in – not of my choosing to work for a while hardly adds to my excitement.

With funds low and with no wish to attempt to acquire more, my final night was in a way anticlimactic: I had a takeaway dinner from, of all places, Nando's. But it was cheap and that works for me. I then retired to sit in the bar of the Long Street Backpackers, where after the masses had mostly gone out, I fell into conversation with a really cool Zimbabwean guy, called Fortune. Which seemed to cause much hilarity (and confusion) to pretty much anybody else that entered the bar.

The barman/receptionist insisted on introducing us to everybody who entered as, quite accurately, Rich and Fortune. But you could tell by the looks of some of the faces, especially non English speaking natives and new arrivals, that they really couldn't understand what was going on and assumed it was some kind of strange joke...

Somehow, It seemed a fitting end.

Posted by Gelli 14:02 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A Simon and Garfunkel song

An old traveling adage says that it is time to go home when you start to look like your passport photo. In my case, it is time to go home when everything, including yourself, is broke(n).

What will eventually be 15months away and 9months traveling around Africa, has taken it's toll. My Osprey Kestrel 32 rucksack, bought specially for the trip, did reasonably well but has been showing rapid signs of deterioration in the last month or so: Stitching around the zip on one side has been coming alarmingly away, and there is a small but growing hole in the base. With luck it will survive the journey back, but it will then be retired/donated or returned under warranty as faulty. My small canvas daysack has started to irretrievably come apart, as has a small bag/pouch used to keep assorted odds and sods together in my main bag.

All my underwear has holes in, and one pair has more holes than material remaining. Both pairs of trousers are showing signs of requiring urgent attention: One has lost the button and a zip and gained 3 holes, one in the rear end. The other has a kaputted zip, paint stains and has lost stitching from all pockets, pretty much rendering me a walking sieve. Neither will ever be the same colour they began with. My sandals and towel can both be smelled several kilometers away, and are probably classified as hazardous waste under most international treaties. The heals of my shoes are disintegrating fast.

Surprisingly, most of my tops are still reasonably OK: A few pulls in the stitching, and some obvious discoloration to be sure, but none are likely to get me arrested or thrown in a homeless shelter on sight. My sleeping bag is also fine. Even more amazingly, though one pair are now almost dead, most of my socks have survived in tact, although the white pair are very definitely no longer white.

Unsurprisingly, though, my rope is still in excellent condition

Of my more hi-tech equipment, my camera died in Namibia from a probable combination of seawater and sand, though its replacement is standing up well apart from superficial scratches and dents. Musically, my ipod had one dead pair of headphones (much better than my last trip, where i seemed to kill headphones almost weekly) and the scroll pad now has a delay of several seconds, and the buttons are increasingly struggling, in what is probably a fatal poblem. The solar power charger is now very temperamental. My EEE laptop has no working mouse buttons anymore, and also had one 48hour death when it refused to do anything at all but is otherwise fully functional, as is my external HDD, both of which have been a pleasant surprise. The external mouse died and has been replaced, and all of my USB sticks (3 at last count) have picked up PC Malaria – viruses – except for the one that I lost on St. Helena. All phones, excepting the stolen one, are still happily working.

What that basically means is that on my return to Europe – wherever I end up - I will have to undergo an extensive period of disposal, burning, repair and probably allot of shopping to fix, rebuild and replenish my kit before it is needed again for the next trip, which, is as yet undetermined but will hopefully be very soon.

And both my bank manager and boss are starting to make increasingly unsubtle and suggestive comments that perhaps i should return and become an unproductive member of the working drones again.

Yes. Sadly. It's time to go home.

This picture doesn't have anything to do with the entry, I just happen to like it!

Posted by Gelli 14:01 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Part 2-ish

I'm not sure exactly why, but this, my second time in Cape Town was nowhere near as much fun as the first. Partly it was the company I now kept, or lack of it. Maaret had obviously been with me last time but was now in Pretoria about to fly back to Europe. Adrian was also away, and whilst last time there had been a good group of people in the hostel to hang out with, on my return it just wasn't working for me. Then there was the fact that the novelty and initial 'wow' factor of Cape Town had obviously worn off. Plus, I had many chores to do in only a couple of days and the undeniable realisation that it was pretty much all over: In 2 or 3 days I would be leaving Cape Town on the beginning of the end of my trip.

With all that in mind, perhaps it is more surprising i did not spend the whole time crying or committing suicide than anything else.

But Cape Town itself seemed to have changed allot as well, even though it was barely 2weeks ago that I had been here. A shipment must have come in (or I looked really bad), as I was suddenly being offered drugs every 50metres or so on Long Street and even elsewhere. And the number of beggars had also sharply risen – i was even accosted by somebody from California (or perhaps with a California accent) who looked dodgy as hell and gave me a long sob story about attacks in a minibus (which do happen) and kids going hungry as passports had been stolen, and how I as a foreigner was the closest the had to a friend at that moment.

The one tourist thing I had left to do – Visit Robben Island – had to be dropped due to a lack of tickets, although I did somehow successfully get all my chores done to my own surprise (Yay, Hospital, Yay. And Yay, spending lots of money, Even Yay-er), as well as enjoy a couple of last good game dinners (Mmmm. Springbok steak and warthog ribs).

The little things that I had sort of brushed off about South Africa, the car guards everywhere out to conn to you, the fact that you have to pay for absolutely everything: Entrance to nothing is free, plus the beggars, touts, and the financial system as already mentioned all started to get on my nerves a little, and I started wishing it would all end.

I am still not entirely sure if i like South Africa (as a whole) or not.

Posted by Gelli 22:57 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Bloem Bloem Bloem Boem Bloem

(pronounced, in this case 'Blum, blum, blum, blum blum'. Quickly and in descending tones)

Even that very morning, hostel staff were trying to dissuade us. 'Why are you going there?!', they cried. They even offered to phone our car rental agency and arrange for us to drop Ruth somewhere else, such as Johannesburg, and we had to physically leave to prevent it. The object of their scorn? Bloemfontein.

When the disparate states were being moulded into the country of South Africa back in 1910, as a way of keeping the states a bit happier and not concentrating power in one place, they decided upon a 3capital system. Thus, even though it is not necessarily logical, and is expensive in terms of people moving around and requiring accommodation in several places, even today South Africa has 3 capitals: Pretoria is the official capital, and home to most of the diplomats and embassies, etc; Cape Town is the legislative capital, where the government meets, and Bloemfontein is the judicial capital, where the laws are made and courts sit.

There is, pretty much everybody agrees, not much to see or do there and no real reason to visit as a tourist: hence the comments from the hostel staff that morning. In our case, it was simply somewhere reasonably easy to get to after the wedding, between Pretoria/Jo'burg (where Maaret had to go) and Cape Town, where I was going. It basically out of fairness to prevent one us having a long/expensive journey/drive alone, whilst the other person had little or no trip. And for all its lack of pretty much anything, Bloemfontein is a city large enough to have a useful car rental office for us to leave Ruth, and central to South Africa's road network meaning lots of bus connections.

In the end we didn't see much of Bloemfontein at all, and nothing that we did see was really exciting. We took a back route there, pretty much following the Lesothan border through the countryside, and arrived just in time to leave the car before the office shut. Thus having dropped Ruth, we sorted our bus tickets, left our bags at their office and then went to a shopping centre to wander a bit and then eat. Exciting, huh?

With that it was back to wait for our buses – both due after 11pm, and both over an hour late. Bloemfontein's central location mean buses from most of the South coast cities, plus and Cape Town all pass through enroute to/from Gauteng, and many do it late at night. It is one of the few bus stations I have been where the busiest time is 22-4am. Eventually, of course, both buses appeared and that was that.

Thus, for the second time this year, Maaret disappeared to catch a plane back to Europe whilst abandoning me to the care of an African hospital. I really should see a trend by now.

An irrelevant picture to this entry, chucked in for no obvious reason

Posted by Gelli 13:55 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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