A Travellerspoint blog

South Africa

Ruth, Penguins and cake so good Oprah recommends it

And so, in a moment of strange Deja-vu which I realised was from Imogen, Early one morning I picked up another hire car, this one named Ruth for reasons I never knew and would never understand anyway, filled her with the requisite 3beautiful blonde Scandinavian girls, and set off on the road again.

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Ruth. Picked up with about 180km on he clock, taken back with over 3500. She was an more than adequate companion to us for 11days, if uninspiring (especially on faster corners) and for a small lightweight 1.6, strangely underpowered

We didn't get far.

First there were cakes to be eaten, even at this hugely advanced time of 9am. A kind of friend of a friend of one of the Danish girls works in a cake shop in Cape Town. And not just any cake shop. It is reasonably unique. There are not, for example, many shops anywhere in the world which look more like they have come from a Hansel and Gretel fairytale as opposed to an architects drawing, and even fewer that are in obscure neighborhoods of homes and offices.

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This shop is so famous that Oprah is a fairly regular visitor. And whilst I can't comment on the cakes – I have no sweet tooth, so rarely eat such things – the place looked fantastic, the pies and pasties and coffee were both superb, and the cakes were amazing looking. And huge in size. Maaret and Camilla both had a brownie, and neither managed to finish them. These are serious cakes.

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The brownie that beat both the girls, and below, a small number of some of the other cakes

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And with the cakes out of the way, it was time for the day's serious business. Penguins. And not chocolate ones. Real penguins. And Africa is the obvious place for them.

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Mariners Wharf and Duiker Island, from Chapmans Peak Drive

We drove along the wonderful Chapman's Peak Drive down the West coast of the Cape Peninsula, eventually cutting inland and across to Simonstown, a major naval port with the look and feel of an old English seaside resort, before dropping down to a penguin sanctuary to view the strange sight of (small) but lovely penguins enjoying themselves on a sandy beach in scorching temperatures: It was probably the hottest day we had had in South Africa.

And damned, they are cute little things.

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From there, we took a leisurely drive around the peninsula before heading back to the city, and dropping the Danes to do their chores before their morning flight to New Zealand. For Maaret and I, we headed over to Camps Bay to find Adrian. Adrian has probably appeared briefly in these pages way back in Namibia where I first met him. He is a South African, who at that point was nearing the end of a long cycle trip which had started in Sri Lanka and taken in large chunks of Asia and Africa. Maaret (and Hanna, who was also with us at that time) had already bumped into him a couple of times in Malawi and Zambia, and stayed in touch. We had originally planned to head and stay with him in Stellenbosch, but had randomly bumped into him in Cape Town the previous day, and discovered he was now living in Cape Town. Lucky to know. So instead, we headed to his and spent a couple of extra days in Cape Town, happily catching up and doing day trips instead. He still looks like Jesus.

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Adrian out surfing in Camps Bay[/]

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[i]With the Danish girls and a rapidly recovering Fred the night before. As you might have guessed, there was a special on cocktails...

Posted by Gelli 15:20 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Cape stuff

Long Street is theถนนข้าวสาร of Africa. Alternatively, the Khao San Road is the Long Street of Asia. Take your pick. Either way, Long Street is the big hub of backpacking and backpackers of Cape Town, and it is inevitable that you will spend some time here on any trip. But unlike the Khao San Road, where finding a local or Thai person who is not there solely to try and make money from backpackers, Long Street exists as a real local entity. It is a reasonably important thoroughfare in its own right, has history and some excellent old colonial architecture (the sort which I mentally associate with New Orleans, though never having been there, I have no idea if this has a basis in reality or not) and is also a hub of clubs, bars and restaurants for many locals an students as well as solely visitors. And whilst it is true that many are visitors, expats and backpackers, on weekends large numbers of local also descend for a night out.

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I probably should talk more about this. But I won't. So there.

I liked Cape Town, and it was definitely a good place to meet people and go out. However, it was also somewhere where it would be easy to spend obscene amounts of money very, very fast. And I think that despite everything, and the fact that it regularly features high in lists of the world’s most desirable cities to live in, I would only enjoy living there for so long: a few months or a year at most. I can't really explain why, it's just a feeling; a gut instinct. In a strange way it's just not, well, real

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Part of Cape Town at night, from near the base of the cable-car station

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The area around Cape Town is special for several different reasons. The Earth's Flora and Fauna is so varied around Cape Flats; so rich and distinctive and as to merit being classified as having its own ecosystem. The world is split into only 6 Floral Kingdom’s. Most are vast, covering many countries and often parts of several continents – the 6th is the Capensis, the small area around Cape Town. On Table Mountain alone, there are more varieties of plant than in the whole of Great Britain, and a large number of them are found nowhere else on Earth.

As well as it's impressive diversity of Flora and Fauna, parts of Cape Town are amongst the small elite of places in the world where you can see 2 different UNESCO World Heritage sites simultaneously: Robben Island and Table Mountain.

Which brings us to Table Mountain. Sadly, Robben Island would remain elusive to me on this trip, as would walking up Table Mountain, though in both cases they have risen to the very top of my to-do list on my next years visit. Table Mountain, I did at least manage to cheat my way up, going by cable car, and wandering around the top. Though weather can be very fickle, and thus so can visibility and thus what you get to see, it was great. Gloriously clear, hot, and stunning views from all sides. But for somebody like me who generally goes up things, it just added to the sense of frustration that I couldn't climb it. I'll have to come back, to go up.

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Going up in the cable car

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Table Mountain from the harbour area, both with and without  it's renowned 'Table Cloth' covering of cloud

I really should write more about Cape Town. More of a normal style blog, of the twists and turns,m random people we met and things that happened, but for some reason, i'm just not feeling it. So I won't.

Posted by Gelli 14:46 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A long stop in the middle of nowhere

With apologies for the continued delay. There are blogs written and ready until I get home (sorry of i've now spoiled the ending to this tale), but I have no internet to upload them. I'll get them up as and when i can, and hopefully before i go away again...

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Of all the things I had wanted to do in South Africa, taking the train between Johannesburg and Cape Town had been high on the list, though I couldn't really tell you why. It was not, after all, as though I would be using the world famous Blue Train for the journey - My bank manager amongst many others would have objected substantially to such an outlay: The cost of that journey alone is probably more than my entire transport outlay in Africa, which covers 9months travel and 5hire cars amongst much else. We actually drew up alongside the Blue Train in Kimberly, and got a few glimpses of it's obscene opulence: Wealthy Japanese dressing for dinner, which would be in a dinning area with every place set with 6different sized wine glasses, and a staff member playing the grand piano in the bar.

But to me the journey itself, as opposed to the comfort that i undertook it in, was the important thing. Slightly frustratingly, timings were not ideal and so we had made the decision to pay for a night in Johannesburg prior to our morning departure, instead of trying to fight our way through from Pretoria.

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Waiting to leave Johannesburg, and then leaving

And I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Well, apart from the 11hour delay, naturally. The Shosholoza Meyl – long distance train - journey begins with a trip through some of Johannesburg's suburbs, before passing through a fairly empty stretch until Kimberley. From there, you pass the boringest parts at night before traveling through the beautiful Karoo (astonishingly it was not raining this time) the following day and then into Cape Town. That we reached Cape Town after dark was disappointing, as it mean't we were (a) very late and (b) didn't get to see Table Mountain appear during the approaches.

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Passing Vineyards in the Karoo

As it was, it was nice to relax and watch South Africa roll by, or in the case of along section at night and also a stop at Beaufort West, not roll at all due to faults. The restaurant (though it won't win prizes for gourmet cuisine) was surprisingly reasonably priced, as were drinks from the bar, and we had a decently appointed private cabin meaning security was no problem. About the only problem was that the top bunk was high, and awkward to get on.

But in general, the scenery, especially several hours of the Karoo more than made up for it, and as a reasonably priced (420Rand, so roughly 35euro: Buses started around 350 and went to over 600) - if slightly longer journey than by road - way of traveling between the 2 cities, I can highly recommend it.

Just don't have any unchangeable plans or tight connections at the other end.

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The light at the end of the tunnel, very slowly, got brighter

Posted by Gelli 08:33 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Bumpity Bump

In Mthata the major town of the area, a woman drove into the back of us at traffic lights, and bumped us a metre down the road. She then drove off without saying anything (I got her registration number at least), but luckily Lydia didn't seem to have any obvious damage.

From Mthata to Kokstad was one of the most uncomfortable drives I have made in some time. We were on the N2, the main road along the South Coast-ish, and one of a generally pretty reasonable standard. It twistily wound around constant mountains and over hills with traffic moving at high speed, until coming to occasional small towns which suddenly degenerated into narrow roads full of parked cars, minibuses pulling out willy-nilly and pedestrians and animals wandering all over the damned place in extremely dangerous ways.

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Passing through Mount Frere on the main road of Southern South Africa. Call me fussy, but to me when a road goes from 4lanes and a 120 limit to this (and then much worse) in the space of 50m, it is just really bad planning

It was also still miserable weather wise, grey and raining, and on a couple of the higher mountain passes, we drove through extremely thick fog. I don't mind driving in snow or rain, and actively prefer driving in the dark, but fog I hate. And South African drivers are pretty much all fecking stupid &/or mad. In places visibility was down to a few metres at best, and we were crawling along at 50 or 60 with full lights and hazard lights, half in the hard-shoulder lane, whilst the majority of the locals shot past at at least double the speed, often with no lights at all. How there were no accidents, I don't know, but it was one of those moments where you almost thought it was safer to driver faster even though you couldn't see the road ahead, rather than slow and safe but with the extremely real risk of some local muppet driving into the back of you at high speed. To say I was happy when we descended to lower altitudes and clearer skies would be an understatement.

Back in the Drakensberg, we spent a day slowly heading North along winding gravel roads. But our luck had not changed, and despite hearing that previous days had been wonderful and clear, the weather was not ideal, and it was frustrating to know that so much beautiful scenery and possibility was being missed on account of clouds and drizzle. By then, poor Lydia had started leaking large quantities of something watery from the engine, and thus needed to be nursed along carefully, whilst we were also due back in Pretoria to return Lydia and meet some people. So, with wishes of more time and better weather, we drove back to Gauteng, inevitably spending most of the journey in the middle of ferocious rain and huge lightening strikes.

Yay.

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Sign in Mthata, the kind that every Welsh (or Kiwi) person loves to see. 30seconds later, the stupid woman crashed into us

Posted by Gelli 04:24 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Of Time and Money, though Space can wait

Time is a sadly precious commodity. A friend of Maaret's has a theory that when you travel, time and money total 100, a constant number that can never be exceeded. Within that total, time and money are flexible: You can have a 50-50 split; You can have lots of money but little time; Or little money but lots of time. It's not a bad theory, although in our case it was more a case of having little money or time, and the remainder of the the 100 being debts and bosses insisting that you should have been back in the office 9months ago. OK, I admit, I might be a little late returning to work. But so what....?

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Just what you expect to see on the top of a hill in a remote part of South Africa: An old passenger jet and 4 ex-London double decker buses

But limited time and money mean't that we had to pass through the Wild Coast in a couple of days, instead of being able to spend a week or two savouring it. Rugged coastal scenery, interspersed with occasional empty golden bays and beaches. Inland, more mountainous landscapes prevail, with twisting often tortuous roads, but – weather allowing, even though it rarely did for us – often wonderful vista's opening out in front of you. It is somewhere i would love to cycle or hike through for 2 or 3 weeks, although that is rapidly becoming a constant wish on this trip, and in South Africa. Even though I have only seen a smidgen of the country, I know I could spend a few weeks around the Wild Coast, a few in the Karoo and a few in the Drakensberg. And with large swathes of the country still to go, that probably means I'm going to need at least 6months, a car and a bicycle for my next visit here.

Traveling is frustrating sometimes: The more you see and the more places you visit, the more you realise what is out there and the more places you need to return to, spend more time in, or discover to add to your list.

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Images from the Wild Coast

Posted by Gelli 04:22 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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