A Travellerspoint blog

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)

An apology...

... for those of you - if any exist - who happen to be awaiting the next installment(s) of this travelling tale.

Without spoiling the ending, I have been back in Europe for a couple of months now, and am much closer to my next trip than this one. The rest of the blog has long been written and ready to upload. But time and internet access have been against me. However, I hope to get the mass of remaining entries uploaded for your 'enjoyment' in the very near future.

Sorry for the delay :(

Rich
Sitting Down, England-ish, March 20 2010

Posted by Gelli 10:40 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)

Swaziland

It was with our now customary impeccable timing that we arrived in Swaziland. It soon got very grey and absolutely chucked it down, and that was very much the story throughout our few days there. Swaziland is a small, beautiful mountainous Kingdom, but with heavy rain, thunder and low clouds, much of it remained sadly out of sight to us. There was enough to get some glimpses of how nice is could be, and how much possibility the country had. It is also renowned as being the cheapest place (though I would say that currently Zimbabwe is cheaper) to buy crafts and stuff in Southern Africa, and we certainly managed to get some things.

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If i'm going to camouflage myself as a wooden mask, I probably need to work on the beard...

But really, we saw very little of the small country and experienced even less. A mix up on arrival in Manzini delayed us a bit, though Swaziland Backpackers, out of town past Matsapha, was one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed at. The following day we went back to Manzini (a kind of small semi European, semi South African town of no interest to non locals except as a transit point) to eventually discover the market we were looking for was shut as it was Sunday. For reasons that are now lost in the midsts of time I ended up walking about 9km home alone in a huge thunder storm, arriving back utterly drenched: My shoes and some of my clothes were still soaking wet a week later, and some things that I had had on my person – a notebook, a watch etc – were totally destroyed.

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We returned for craft shopping the following day, before moving up the Ezulwini Valley: An area which would doubtless be nicer if the clouds weren't there, and we either time or a vehicle to enable us to get off the main track. And so after a few hours diversion spent in the capital, Mbabane, a small little city which oddly instantly appealed to me for no obvious reason, we then returned along the valley to a long roadside craft market where more money was spent. With time rapidly running out, the following morning we left for Pretoria, and a painfully squashed minibus ride – oddly, from Manzini, and not Matsapha which is larger, the capital, and which we had to drive past anyway, but had no minibuses – during which i lost feeling in my right arm and hand entirely (it took a day before i had full feeling back), and suffered horrible pain in my knees, back and shoulders. My knackered old body can't cope with much more of this, although Swaziland gets added to an increasing list of African places that I need to return to and spend more time in.

But I am rapidly starting to dream of travel in Europe again, where though you may have to stand, you will at least always have headroom and you never have to fit more than the officially designated number of people into the seats (insert wistful look into distance here).

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This notice was in the second hostel we stayed in. I know that all backpackers like Free stuff, but I have to wonder just how many took them up on this treat...?

Posted by Gelli 15:00 Archived in Swaziland Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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