Friday, June 30, 2006

Cameron Highlands

We got a direct bus to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands from the bus station, which handily turned out to be just round the corner from our hostel in KL. The bus station was big and bustling and chaotic and hot, but wasn't too hideous. The aircon on the bus broke down before we'd even left and necessitated us sitting there for about an hour while we waited for it to be fixed. One bloke was doing things with tools at the side of the bus while another 5 watched and stroked their chins. A British bloke also on the bus went down to ask if they would turn the aircon on. When rebuffed, he walked back up the bus exclaiming, 'Prick, I'll fuckin' punch you in a minute'. Strangely he didn't say this until he was just out of earshot of the driver and in earshot of the girl he was with.

We were on the road eventually and cruising along Malaysia's highways. Out of the city everything immediately turns very green. After the town of Tapah the road is an ever climbing, seemingly endless series of blind corners and quite scary drops at the side of the road. I had to insert the word seemingly, as it obviously wasn't endless otherwise I wouldn't be typing this now would I? This is how I'd imagined South East Asia, densely forested hills stretching as far as the eye can see, a vast rolling verdant carpet over the land. Eventually we arrived in Tanah Rata and booked into a chinese hostel thing. We ended up with a room with two double beds in it, as that seems to be what the cheaper hotels call a double -oh well, we know now. This was also our first accomodation with squat toilet and mandi, a large basin of water with plastic scoop for showering.

Tanah Rata is a lot cooler, being up in the mountains. It has a 'Ye Olde England' thing going on. Mock Tudor embellishments on 6 story apartment blocks don't really fit though. We spent a couple of days in the town, just taking it easy. The area is famous for walking trails, of which we did a couple of the smaller ones to nearby waterfalls and a treetop lookout. Unfortunately we were a little dismayed by all the rubbish spread around. Even thrown into the canopy from the lookout.

In town we kept walking past a curry house at which the waiter would say, 'Hello', to Gemma in a high squeaky voice, taking the mickey out of the first time we'd gone past him. Gemma began to find it a bit annoying by the end. We also found a nice cafe that did tea and scones and ended up in there 4 times in 2 days!

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Not all our time has been taken up with my obsession with my bites. In Singapore we did a lot of window shopping.Shopping is their favorite pass time and there are hundreds of shops and malls. The shopaholics paradise. When we first arrived in Singapore, the heat and humidity was quite overwhelming and we kept diving into malls for the air-con. I think it's the first time Tim has willingly gone into a mall. As we got used to the heat, we carried on going into the malls, as Tim wanted to look at Electronic goods. It turned out they weren't that much cheaper than he could have got on the net, but I think he liked looking anyway. I think we walked for miles whilst shopping and we found that the time just fell away. We also got to catch up with diary entries and emails etc.

From Singapore we headed to Kuala Lumpar. We treated ourselves and got an over night 1st class sleeper cabin. (not that expensive) It was great. (Sorry Roger!) We had our own little bathroom, t.v and were brought tea and breakfast.(I didnt have tea as it was all meat) We watched a film about a boy in Africa who runs away to the desert with his pet cheetah and then slept. The rocking motion of the train was quite soothing. We arrived in Kuala Lumpa too soon. I wished it could have been a longer journey!

In Kuala Lumpa we stayed at a hostel which was ok. We left the hostel to have a walk around and a man from Kuwait jumped out of his car and showed us his wallet stuffed with American $. We were quite confused by this and talking to him made us even more confused, but he seemed quite please and leapt back into his car with a cheery goodbye.

We had not been stamped into the country when we entered Malaysia, so we thought we had better be honest and go to Immigration. We thought it would be in the middle of the city, with a few bored people sitting around and we would be in and out. How wrong we were. A monorail, a train ride and a taxi later we arrived at immigration to find lots of people waiting. We got our ticket and realised we could be waiting quite a while. We didnt wait so long, but we were told to get a form to fill in and then wait. We waited for ages thinking" we only want a stamp". Eventually our number was called and we grabbed our passports and made a run for it before they changed their minds.

We wanted to go up the Twin Towers in KL. We did not manage to as everytime we went there were no tickets left for that day. Everyday we went increasingly earlier, to find that there were no tickets. (We went 3 times! The rest of the time we spent negotiating athe monorails, browsing Central Market, eating and drinking at foodstalls.

To be honest I was getting a little sick of the city. I'm just not a city girl and we had gone from Cape Town, to Singapore to Kuala Lumpar. I do like going to the cities and it's good to see them in different countries, but after a while I just get fed up with the hustle and bustle and I was a bit bored of shops and products!

We are in Cameron Highlands now and it is a welcome relief. We got the bus from KL (eventually, it had to be fixed before we left) and 4 and a half hours later were winding up a road in amongst Ferns and Palms. I felt instantly more relaxed. We checked into a hotel and it was the first one which had the local washroom which consists of a squat toilet (a toliet basin in the floor)and a seperate room to "shower" . The shower is a basin with a jug in which you do the "wash and slosh" method. Coming here, I realised I had got used to my home comforts. It never used to bother me roughing it, but I was disapointed to find that I was a bit dismayed! However, I think the biting thing has got me down a bit. Now I am feeling better about that I feel ready to deal with things more.I have got used to the squatting method though now I think, although it is a bit difficult when you are wearing trousers! I do get quite excited when I find a western toilet though (It's the small things when you are travelling)! I will also develop my leg muscles I think!

Today we had a nice walk to a waterfall and a look out point.We saw monkeys (our first SE asia wildlife) which I was really happy about and realised that I had been craving some nature!

Kuala Lumpur

When we got off the train at Kuala Lumpur and hadn't been asked for our arrivals cards and couldn't see an immigration post I got a bit of a sinking feeling in my stomach. Yup, we were in Malaysia, but with nothing in our passports to say we were allowed to be. This worried me a bit. We waited at the station until a reasonable hour to go hostel hunting, eventually finding a leaflet for and ringing The Green Hut. As hostels go it was OK, a tiny twin room, but clean enough and in a pretty good location. We did what has now become our standard new place maneuver of a shower and a nap before heading out.

Worried about the visa we found out that the immigration office is at Putrajaya, some way out of the city toward the airport. Putrajaya is like a purpose built administrative/government city, with all these huge (quite interesting looking) buildings spread out over a pretty large area. We got a taxi to the immigration office and got a ticket. It said number 3647 on it. The board said 2017. Fortunately the numbers were all query specific and called non sequentially. We still waited a pretty long time to be seen though. We had to fill in a form each and give our passports and train tickets to the immigration guy. At this point I was very happy that I'd kept the tickets. We waited again, for a long time, until finally about 5 minutes before the place was due to close the guy brought back our passports. They'd put the application through as a visa extension, so we are now allowed to stay until the end of September -kind of a shame that we'll probably have left Malaysia by next week. I suppose we could have just chanced it at the border but I'm a good boy, and I thought I'd do it properly.

Kuala Lumpur means muddy estuary in Malay, which is probably why the locals shorten it to KL, as I will henceforth be doing. Around KL you can't help be struck by the contrast by the high rise and the tumbledown sitting cheek to jowl with one another. We didn't really do as much as we could do in the city for various reasons. We were feeling a little citied out by the time we got there after being around Singapore. Gemma had a shopping agenda to fill which took up quite a bit of time and she was getting increasingly depressed by the biting insects. It got to the point that we discussed ending the South East Asian portion of our journey early and going straight to Australia. We've decided to stick it out for the moment though and spend a disproportionate amount of our funds on repellent spray, etc. It's not just that Gemma gets bitten and I don't, it's that the bites swell up massively. We asked a pharmacist for advice and came away with anti-histamines and topical antibiotics. She didn't like the look of the bites at all, to the point that she thought Gemma had chickenpox.

One of the top things on anyones list in KL is to go up to the skybridge at the Petronas Towers, which we attempted 3 times, completely unsuccessfully. They give out free tickets to go up in timed slots throughout the day. We turned up earlier each time, with the final time being at 10.00, only to see the 'no tickets left' sign. I guess you have to be through that door at 08:30 when it opens to have a chance of getting the golden ticket.

We had some cool food whilst in KL, from sit down restaurants as well as street hawkers. Gemma didn't manage to get the no meat message across though at one street hawker and so had to pick loads of chicken out of her vegetable dish. I think Gemma was quite pleased when we stopped into a place that did jacket potatoes.

We managed to find a bar round the corner from us and had a few beers in there before searching for something cool to do. As in Cape Town before it, it appears everything good in KL has been cancelled in favour of screening world cup games. We ended up in Little Havana, which looked to be a bit of a British expat place. I was a little disturbed by the scene at the bar, lots of greying moustachioed older European blokes with young Oriental ladies wrapped around their necks. Especially awful was the body language from one of the ladies as one of the blokes asked for a kiss, she really recoiled from him. It was a bit seedy and horrible really.

Bites, bites and more bites.

Here we are in South East Asia. I have a new obsession. Bites. Apparently I am very tasty and Tim is not. In Singapore they had their starter course. In Kuala Lumpar they had their main. I think they may be too full for dessert at the moment. Maybe they are waiting for their main course to settle. As they do, I am getting increasingly paranoid at any small movement I see out of the corner of my eye which resembles a bug.

We had only been to Singapore and Kuala Lumpar and I suffered many many bites. I have a strong immune reaction to them too which causes them to swell up, resulting in a massive red blotch. I spent most of the time in Singapore scouring the many shops for effective insect repellent. You would think that they would have this being as we are in tropical climate, but no. All I could find was natural (containing citronella) repellant. This did not work. I also scoured the shops for a mosquito net. The rough guide said they are widely available throughout the cities in SE Asia. We spent many hours in department stores where they supposedly can be found to no avail.It was very frustrating.

In Kuala Lumpar things got worse. My bites were awful and they began to look a bit infected. I also developed a strange rash all over my arms. This did not help my head. My rash went down, so I decided it was heat, stress or the Malaria tablets. I went to a chemist who looked quite concerned and perplexed. She asked me whether I had had Chicken pox before! I stated that I had and told her that these were definitely bites. She gave me some anti biotic cream and anti histamines. Touch wood they seem to be helping. I also found some Mossie spray with deet in.That night I covered myself in spray. The places I did not put the spray I got bitten.(The soles of my feet and round my eyes). I woke up and was quite upset. Maybe I am over reacting, but it is stressful when you have giant itchy welts all over you and nothing you do seems to help.

These evil things are challenging my nature loving ways. Kill them all I say. Tim has been really good. I know I have been horrible and bites,mosquitoes and bite defeating solutions have been the main topic of conversation! I have even taken to looking at other people to see if they have bites (I havenet seen many) . See, I told you I am obsessed!

As I say though Tim has been very patient. It has got so bad we have even considered skipping the rest of SE Asia as we figured if it is going to be like that then it is not worth it. We don't want to do that though. I do not want to be defeated by insects!

However, we decided to get out of the city and see how it goes. At the moment we are in the Cameron Highlands. It is not so hot here as we are at an altitude, but it is still tropical, with jungle etc. Touch wood I have not been bitten yet. We went for a walk through a jungle area to see a waterfall and I did not get bitten. I think what was frustrating me was that I expect to get bitten in a jungle or on a beach and it would almost be worth it, but to get eaten alive in the city to me is pointless.

I think most of our budget is going to go on insect repellant items, but I am determined to conquer them! I have begun to relax now and am actually starting to think about other things and looking forward to the rest of our time in SE Asia. Hopefully it was just teething problems.

Choo Choo

We decided to take the train from Singapore into Malaysia. Due to the train company not taking Visa/Mastercard and us having dwindled our cash reserves down we ended up making two trips to the station to buy a ticket. There is no ATM at the train station. Another slight annoyance is that the ticketing system supplies the price as a single number. If you buy the ticket in Malaysia you get charged in Ringitts (RM) if you buy in Singapore you get charged in Singapore Dollars (S$). There are just over two RM to the S$, which effectively means we paid double price for the ticket which was slightly annoying. We'd decided to get the overnight sleeper, and the only ones they had left were the premium deluxe 1st class. It still cost less than two tickets to Nottingham from Lowestoft though.

At some point during our trekking back and forth to the train station, Gemma missed an obvious disabled ramp and fell and hurt her foot. This is the third time recently she has fallen on that foot. I'm afraid I wasn't too sympathetic because I was feeling grumpy already that day.

In the end we got on the train after queueing up in front of the immigration stand. The guy scanned us into the computer, gave us an arrivals card and waved us through to customs, who in turn waved us onto the train. He didn't at that point stamp our passports, but I assumed that would happen on the train or on arrival at Kuala Lumpur.

The compartment was very comfortable, with bunk beds, a telly, attached toilet/shower and a supper and breakfast included. We hopped off the train to deal with being stamped out of Singapore and off we chugged. Gemma liked the compartment so much that she remarked that she would've liked the journey to be a few hours longer! As it was we arrived into KL Sentral station at around 07:00. Although we'd slept on the train, because of the supper not arriving until quite late on and watching a film on the TV (about a boy and his pet cheetah), we only had a few hours sleep so I was feeling quite groggy.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


I have decided that I don't really like long haul flights. I keep forgetting this until I have to have another one. We have loads more to do as well. The flight from Cape Town to Singapore was annoying. It went to Jo'Burg first and sat on the tarmac for ages while they got more passengers on. We had window seats in a block of 3, which doesn't bother me so much, but does bother Gemma as she likes to get up out of her seat every 5 minutes. I think she is petrified that she will get DVT. In all the flight took 13 hours or so and I didn't sleep at all. We landed at what would have been bed time in South Africa, but was the morning in Singapore.

By the time we dragged ourselves through the airport and into town on the MRT it was about 09:00. We had a little trouble finding a place to stay that wasn't fully booked for doubles. Eventually we found the New 7th Story Hotel near Little India and booked in for four nights. Unfortunately their check in was at 14:00, so we had to leave our bags and go amuse ourselves. Ordinarily killing 4 hours in Singapore would present no problem, but we were both dead on our feet and the heat and humidity had knocked us for six. We did a few little circuits of our local streets dodging into malls to avail ourselves of the air conditioning. I'm not proud to say it but our first South East asian meal was a Burger King. When check in time came around we showered and crashed out in the room until about 18:00 when I thought we really ought to get up and eat something. I don't think Gemma was convinced by the getting up idea.

Near our hostel is Bugis Junction mall, which has a food hall within it. We walked through that in vain trying to find something that Gemma would eat. It's difficult digging out the vegetarian meals from the meat filled ones, especially when the stalls say things like 'vegetarian pork rice'. At least most of the signs have some English text on them which I'm sure is more than we'll get in other places. In the end we found a little place on the street that did veggie stuff. Gemma had the vegetarian delight, which appeared to be a plate of cold beancurd pressed into various shapes. I had a laksa -it was lovely. I think if someone had given Gemma a jacket potato at this point she would have fallen at their feet and proclaimed them as her lord. We gave up on the day at that point and went to bed.

Singapore is all about the shopping, so that is what we did when we got up the next day. We went down Orchard Street firstly. I was vaguely looking for a cheap PDA possibly, but in the end wasn't able to find anything very much cheaper than I could order on the net at home. The task is made a million times more difficult by the fact that so many shops don't display prices. I know they want you to come into the store and that prices can be fluid, but to the casual comparison shopper like me it's quite frustrating. You also get people trying to hussle you into the shops and then give you the hard sell. I like to just browse myself -I'll ask for help if I need it. We didn't buy anything at that point, but later in Chinatown we got 0.45 x wide angle and 2.0 x teleconvertor lenses for Gemma's camera. The wide angle lens also screws apart to be a macro lens. They are pretty groovy and use a little stick on magnetic ring to attach to the camera, so we can use them on both our cameras. All together they cost less than the one teleconvertor I have for my camera. I couldn't spend 4 days in Singapore and not get at least one toy.

That evening we caught the MRT up to Little India for some food. We had previously walked round early in the morning and the streets were empty. This time was different though. It seemed as if each street had about 50,000 indian men packed into it. We each got a Dosa, although Gemma didn't finish hers, complaining that it was too flavoursome. I gladly wolfed the rest of hers down.

We found Funan, the IT mall the next day, so I couldn't not have a browse around that. I came quite close to blowing a large chunk of our budget on a tiny little laptop, but in the end got my sensible head on. I sort of wish we'd come to Singapore last though, as I'd almost certainly spend whatever I had left on toys. Gemma chose to eat in the food hall, from a place where you chuck randomly shaped bits of Tofu and veg in a bowl and have it cooked. She was quite proud that she managed to use chopsticks and eat most of it without it ending up all over her. I haven't tried the Pig Organ Noodles, or the Spine Meat Soup yet.

I managed to get some photos uploading to flickr, but buggered the memory card so that my camera can't use it until it is initialised. Ooops. I panicked and thought the photos were gone forever, but thankfully I can see them via PC, so I'm trying to get them uploaded to flickr. It's quite difficult to do from Internet cafes.

We haven't really gone to any of the attractions, other than the shops, while we've been here. We very briefly stopped here on the way back from Australia in 2002 and did a river cruise and had a Singapore Sling at Raffles hotel then. We had thought about going to the rainforest or a nearby island which is kind of back in the olden days of Singapore, but haven't had a chance.

Summary of South Africa

At the end of our stay in SA Tim asked what I thought of it as a country. My reply was, "weird." Tim put it a little bit more eloquently, saying that it is a land of contrasts. I am struggling writing this as it is hard to put the feeling into words. I guess the overriding impression is of the still obvious segregation between rich and poor, which apart from a few exceptions is marked in the race divide too. Obviously this is because it is not that long ago that apartheid was in force and it will take time to change. The townships and informal settlements shocked me, I think mostly because they were such a contrast against the richness of the rest of the city. It saddened me that so many people were forced to live like this because of such blatant nazism.

You could do a township tour, apparently the only safe way to experience these communtities. However, we felt uncomfortable with the idea of that, feeling it would have been like going to look and pity the poor people.

I felt uncomfortable with the number of security warning signs up,security guards patrolling areas, the gated communties and gates across a lot of the shops which they have to buzz you in to. I'm sure if I had stayed longer I would have taken all this for granted. I know there is a lot of crime in South Africa, but all that just made me nervous. I must have contracted some of the fear though,as early on in our trip we had a walk down a path by the sea. I looked around and there was a man (he was black) following us. I instantly felt nervous and wanted to turn back. As we passed him he smiled and I noticed he was holding a walkie talkie and was wearing a security badge and coat. I was disappointed in myself. I had judged because of the fear of God put in me from other people. On the other hand I began resenting white people for this fear factor and for being part of the reason there is so much crime in the first place. At this point I realised that I was guilty of judging, generalising, and over simplifying, all things which I do not generally do or strive not to. So, I immediately checked myself whenever I felt one of those thoughts creep in. Things aren't simple over there. They are complicated and I wasn't going to understand it straight away. South African residents don't even understand. There is still alot of confusion and chips on shoulders. For instance, the lady, Belinda who we stayed with in Robertson, she asked me what I thought when I saw she was "coloured' ( the term they use over there for people of mixed race, malay desent, etc.) This took me aback, because I really didn't think anything whatsoever about that, so suggested to me that she is very self conscious of it. She also kept peppering the converation with, "I have a sense of humour because I am coloured", or "I am unique because I am coloured" etc. No you have a sense of humour because you are you and you are unique because you are you.(Well, thats what I think anyway) I'm not going to try and analyse it.

We talked to a South African white man who was about my age. He said that in terms of his future he does not feel secure in his country because it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job due to positive discrimination. Due to this most of the people his age, look to go and live overseas in Australia, U.K or Canada. I thought this was sad and again highlighted the complicated nature of the country. What are the answers? It is not easy. Hearing things like this made me appreciate the U.K more. O.K it's not perfect, but at least most people get a fair go.

Another reason I appreciate the U.K is for the National Health Service. Having trained as a nurse (and I know my friend Jo agrees) we know that the NHS is a good thing. The media slates it and highlights the negative things, but never the positive.I read an article in the SA big issue about a U.K man with a spinal injury who travelled across Africa to visit people who also have spinal injuries. He is expected to have a normal life expectancy in contrast to someone in Africa with spinal injuries who has an expectancy of 2-3 years. Why? Because complications from things such as U.T.I' s and pressure sores are picked up through regular x.rays and ultrasounds in the U.K courtesy of the NHS whether you are rich or poor. In Africa (including South Africa) the poor aren't that lucky and can't afford the treatment.

In contrast against the poverty is the richness of the scenery and wildlife. It is beautiful. We only travelled around the Western Cape (and a bit of the Eastern) but we went up Mountains (in actual fact we were a bit mountained out by the end of it!) through desert, around dramatic coastline and through Forests. The wildlife was a highlight for me (of course!) and I will never forget the feeling of being so close to wild elephants. I was chuffed with myself for driving 4000km and really enjoyed it (apart from panicking a bit (ok a lot) on a mountain pass, but I had visions of us going over the side when I couldn't get up the slope and just kept rolling back)It was great to just hop in the car and drive off with empty roads stretching ahead for miles. It was great having that sense of space. Another highlight was sitting watching the stars at Buffalo Bay by a fire on the beach. I know this is a cliche but the sky and stars seemed to go on forever, punctuated by shooting stars. Basically just being outside and going where we wanted (well sometimes, maps and lonely planets allowing!) with visits from animals does it for me everytime!

All in all a land of contrasts, but quite frankly a bit weird too!

Table Mountain and District 6 Museum

I said in the last post that we wouldn't get a chance to go up Table Mountain because of the weather. We went up anyway! The clouds weren't as thick as they has been on previous days, so we went into the city so we could keep an eye on whether the Mountain was visible. As we waited we went in to District 6 Museum. This is a very moving tribute to the residents of an area of Cape Town called District 6. District 6 was a multicultural, albeit poor area, where people lived in peace and were happy. This all ended in the late 1960's when the government declared it a 'whites only area' and residents who were not white were forced to live on the Cape Flats, on the borders of the city, in tiny accomodation, some not even being placed anywhere. The result was separated families, broken homes and broken hearts, crime and worsening poverty, which is still evident today. The museum appears to be a place where ex residents are reclaiming their past. There are hundreds of names and tributes to the community of District 6 written on massive sheets and a giant road map on the floor. This gives the feeling that they are reclaiming their community and place in it. It was moving and humbling reading and imagining what their lives must have been like and what is worse is that it isn't even that long ago.

After the museum we walked around the city and through Company gardens a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle.As we walked through the gardens we had a lovely view of Table Mountain and were pleased to see that the cloud had lifted slightly. We could see the cable cars going up so we quickly found a taxi and raced up there. As we paid for our cable car ticket, the lady said, "no view", having to say it several times as I could not understand what she was saying. When we finally realised what she said we replied, "never mind we will go anyway!" We weren't going to let a minor fact like there was no view from the top of the mountain put us off. We were there and we were going to go up that Mountain.

We boarded the cable car, joining a big tour of Japanese tourists who were pinned around the sides of the cable car, blocking most of the view. As we climbed the Mountain, I held my breath, not because of the amazement of the stunning scenery, although that was nice, but because of somebodies bad breath. I saw a window through some Japenses tourists heads and attempted to take photos through it. I gave up as everywhere I moved , a mans head followed. The view gradually disappeared and all we could see was white as we moved into the clouds. Somebody said, "Is this heaven"? I thought , "Stuck in a small space with Japanese tourists with bad breath;Heaven? Can I try Hell instead please?

As we got out of the cable car, it was like we had landed on another planet. The mist of the clouds was rolling round our feet. We walked around and realised the lady had been right. There was indeed no view. Where kilometeres of view was supposed to be was just thick white mist. It was still good though. We enjoyed it. It had an eerie feel to it.

I have to say that though to make me feel better, as when we woke up the next day, guess what. Yeah you've guessed it, not a cloud in the perfect blue sky. A perfect day for going up Table Mountain!

Monday, June 19, 2006

South Africa Summary

There is a book for sale in a lot of the tourist shops called South Africa: Land of Contrasts, I think that title is quite correct. Contrasts are everywhere, not least the divide between the countries rich and poor. Alongside the wealthy suburbs and gated communities of the cities stand the townships and informal settlements. In the one you have big houses, in the other sometimes little more than shacks that most people wouldn't have as a shed in their garden in the UK.

As a country the new South Africa is quite young, but it faces some significant challenges. The country has a growing economy, but the growth is erratic and involves a large trade deficit. There are positive discrimination laws in the form of the BEE (Black Economic Empowerment (I think)) scheme to increase black ownership of businesses. It is unclear whether the poor majority are benefiting from this scheme however, as it seems to be mainly benefiting a few individuals (known as the BEElionares). The ANC seems to be having problems converting from the role of freedom fighters to the role of effective government and has been plagued with allegations of corruption and cronyism. The government of the country has been hurt by allegations of improper practices in tendering processes for government projects and has even been accused by members of its own coalition of pushing the country towards a dictatorship. Watchers of the politics in the country are worried by this because of the state of affairs in neighbouring Zimbabwe and the fact that some are pushing for similar land reforms in South Africa.

The situation is quite difficult, obviously a quite a number of the countries problems are the legacy of apartheid. This is not the whole story however. Although the black majority have won the vote and the constitutional right to equality, the vast majority have not had any improvement in the areas of housing and employment. I think a lot of the people thought that the improvements would come overnight, but this has obviously not been the case and it is now making people very angry. The ANC led government is now complaining about people striking, exactly the tactics it used itself to bring about change.

The day we left the country was Youth Day, which is a day commemorating the protests against the use of Afrikaans to teach in schools. During these protests 30 years ago, police opened fire on students killing several and provoking riots across the country. This all led to the boycotting of the education system by a whole generation of the black populace, something which is having severe repercussions today.

Despite a world trend toward a decrease in the rate of HIV/AIDS infections, Southern Africa, including South Africa has an increasing rate. This is one of it's major problems. The president Thabo Mbeki for a long time refused to admit that HIV caused AIDS, and untold damage was done to AIDS education efforts by former deputy, Jacob Zuma. On trial for rape he told a court that he had known the woman was HIV positive but minimised his chance of infection by having a shower after intercourse. In addition to this the South African health minister is adamant that treatment via herbal remedies is as effective as anti retroviral drugs. All in all a confusing situation for the African people, especially women, who have the highest infection rate. This is because of the fact that the virus passes more easily to women, but also because of the shockingly high incidence of rape in the country. Zuma got off with the charge of rape after his followers did a character assassination on the accuser and he claimed that in his culture the fact that she wore a short skirt and sat with legs uncrossed signaled her willingness to have sex.

I had been hoping to write here that the stories of crime in South Africa are overblown, however being a victim of a car break in has scuppered that aim somewhat. I know the crime statistics are very high in South Africa and it is a problem, however as a tourist, if you are sensible about where and when you go places then you should be OK. Local advice from the hotels and hostels is the best thing. There are places you shouldn't walk at night and places you shouldn't go to at all, unless on an organised tour.

The infrastructure in South Africa is generally quite good. Most of the roads are sealed and generally in OK condition. Driving is a strange affair. A lot of South Africans drink and drive and not many are prosecuted for it. In fact the legal alcohol limit is something like eight times that of the UK. Gemma's pet hate in regard to driving is people right on your back bumper, but that is pretty much the way they drive over here. A car that wants to go faster will try to bully you to pull over onto the shoulder so they can pass. They do this even if they can clearly see there is a blockage in front of you. Gemma found it a little stressful at times. Mercifully, outside of the city there is precious little traffic. Combined with the reasonable roads this means you can cover a fair amount of distance quite quickly when you want to, which is useful because the place is so large.

South Africa is a beautiful country with quite markedly different terrain and vegetation in different areas. Each has it's own specific charm. You can see why the early Boer settlers thought that it was God's own country. Mind you they also thought that they had a God given mandate to rule over non-whites, so who knows what they were thinking. The wildlife that we've seen, whether monkeys on the road our elephants in a national park have been an absolute highlight of our time in South Africa.

We only touched on a small corner of the country, the Western Cape and a small part of the Eastern Cape. There is a lot more of South Africa, and you could spend a long time here. Travelling here is quite easy, as most people speak English, albeit as a third language sometimes. Costs are slightly lower than the UK, and the weakness of the Rand against the pound helps the money go quite far. I'd definitely visit again, possibly as a jumping off point for other countries on the continent.

Back to Cape Town

The guy from Europcar drove us down to Green Point and we checked into a cool hostel with really nice double rooms (The House On The Hill). Gemma was happy as the guy who runs it had a daft big alsation, which for some reason wanted to eat my shoes a lot. Everytime I walked past him he jumped on me. The Green Point area is quite cool, with some cool cafes and bars, plus it is not far from the Victoria & Albert Waterfront.

The V&A Waterfront is a quite touristy place, but nice with it, a bit similar to Darling Harbour in Sydney. We spent a bit of time down there. After the car break in we felt like we just wanted to be somewhere safe and touristy for a while. We managed to see a cool band, The Rudimentals, playing in a CD shop there. The Waterfront also has a group of seals that have made their homes on the jetties and man made structures of the harbour. Both me and Gemma love seals, so we spent a fair bit of time just watching them play in the harbour.

In all we spent another 6 nights in Cape Town. Acting like the complete tourists, we managed to get in some more activities. A trip to Robben Island is kind of a must whilst in Cape Town. It's the prison island on which Mandella spent 18 years of his imprisonment. The trip round it is very interesting and informative and you get shown round the actual cells by a former prisoner. Our guide had been in Umkhonte We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the ANC and had been imprisoned for blowing up an intelligence station. It was quite moving to hear his story, although slightly marred (once again) by the annoying self importance of a bunch of American tourists. I'm sure not all American tourists are like this, but I would like to say:-the world does not belong to you, everyone else has an equal right to look at things and listen to the guide, and nobody cares about your loudly shouted opinions.

We also went to the aquarium. Not the best one I have been to, but reasonably interesting. Seeing the cloud lift slightly, but not completely over Table Mountain we decided to chance it and go up in the cable car. The view on the way up (and down) was brilliant, but the top was still just shrouded in cloud. I quite liked it anyway, as it gave the mountain a very otherworldly feel to it. I could have imagined myself on a Star Trek set. The next day of course there wasn't a cloud in the sky, which I guess proves that sods law applies.

Muizenberg misery

In the morning we drove down the main road into Citrusdal. And then drove round and round it looking for a cafe. We found one in the end and had the worlds largest omelette for breakfast. It kept us full up until the evening. The morning was spent on a reasonably long drive down to Muizenberg near Cape Town. The drive was a slightly annoying one because of the increasing traffic on the roads and the general nuttiness of the South African driver. It's like they can't stand to see a driver behind them or in front of them as they are always either pulling into the emergency lane or forcing you to do the same so they can pass, regardless of speed. Gemma was getting annoyed with it so was glad when we found Muizenberg. We booked into a hostel on Surfers Corner, which surprisingly enough is where the surfers go. The waves didn't seem to big, but that wasn't deterring anyone as there were tons of people in the water.

The hostel was right next to the light rail station, and it appears that Capetonians like their graf, which kept me amused for a while. Lots of full cars came past, although I didn't get my act together enough to wait on the platform with my camera. Gemma got to ring her Mum for the first time in ages, so she was happy. We found a very nice cafe attached to an olive factory & shop.

The next morning we drove out to Rondevlei nature reserve, and found it without too much hassle, despite not having a detailed enough map. This is a wetlands reserve and home to lots of birds as well as a reintroduced hippo population. We didn't see any hippos but we did see lots of birds. It's nice to have a reserve like this in the middle of Cape Town. We spent the afternoon in the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, on the slopes on the other side of Table Mountain. This is probably one of the best botanic gardens that I've ever been to. Lots of lovely Fynbos, Protea and Erica areas as well as useful plant displays, etc. All very lovely and interesting and an excellent place to while away an afternoon.

The lovely day was spoiled a bit by what happened over night. Our car was broken into and a bag of leaflets (stuff we had been saving as souveniers -of no worth to anyone) and Gemma's jacket got nicked. We got the hostel to call the police, but I realised we could be waiting ages so I walked up to the station and reported it there. I didn't want them to investigate so I just had them file it as malicious damage for insurance purposes only. This pretty much spoiled our day a little bit, as we had planned to drive to the Table Mountain cableway and then find a hostel. As it was we drove to Cape Town and gave the car back.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Oranges and Lemons

We stopped only briefly in Elands Bay and Lamberts Bay, as both are quite small places. A woman approached us looking for work so we let her wash the car. It was good to get rid of some of the crushed locust goo that was spread over the bonnet. I'd already poked the locust bodies out of the radiator.

We hooked inland to Clanwilliam, where we had lunch. Clanwilliam is a small and generally uninspiring town that is used as the gateway to the Cedeberg wilderness area. We carried on down the road toward Citrusdal and pulled in about 20km before it to the Gekko backpackers. This is another cool backpackers in the middle of nowhere, in the grounds of a citrus farm. As we were running a little bit ahead of schedule and so we didn't have to do more accomodation searching we booked in for a couple of nights. Other than the couple that run the place we were the only ones there again, although apparently they are normally quite busy with the overlanding trucks that go up to Namibia. We took a walk around the grounds through the rows of orange trees an up the hill. You get a good view of the surrounding mountains from there.

The next day we went back on ourselves to Clanwilliam and from their over the Pakhuis Pass. This was a mostly unsealed road so Gemma was quite cautious, it was nowhere near as bad as the Swartberg Pass at Prince Albert though. We were headed for the Sevilla rock art trail. This is a walk through some lovely bushland and weathered rocks (Dassies again!) to see rock art of the San people. No-one is sure exactly how old this lot is, but other places are between 25,000 and 40,000 years old. Despite the unsealed road this is one of the more accessible places to see good examples of the paintings. Some are quite weathered away, but there are very well preserved examples along the trail. Figures of men hunting, women dancing or carrying baskets, elephants, zebra and other animals including some quite devilish/monstrous looking things.


We drove only a short way up the coast to Langebaan, a holiday town, a little bit bigger and more built up. We had a coffee and tried to decide on accomodation, the ever present hassle when you are traveling like we were. The local caravan parks did not have chalets and although there were plenty of chalet options in town they were looking like they might be outside of our price range. The tourist info pointed us to Wildstone backpackers, someway outside of town, kind of in the middle of nowhere. It was a nice place, part of a horse riding centre and kennels. Once again we were the only people there. The owners have lots of dogs running round, as well as peacocks and the very noisy native birds. A very nice and relaxing place.

We had an afternoon excursion back to the coast and the small village of Paternoster. This is a small fishing village with little white fishermans cottages. It's obviously on the up and up as a holiday/weekend destination judging from the amount of for sale/sold and B&B signs. We had fish and chips by the beach.

In the evening we just relaxed back at the hostel. We bought a basket of wood from the owners and had a roaring fire, with the whole hostel building to ourselves.

Wicky wah wah wah

After going into hysterics in the small town of Montagu for some reason we again hit the road. We went up another scenic drive, Mitchell's Pass, towards the town of Ceres. It was Sunday and mostly everything was deserted except for some shady looking blokes who detatched themselves from their group and came hustling toward the car as we were parking it. My spidersense began tingling quite badly so I got Gemma to stick the car back in gear and head back off down the road. Their are several lookout points on the pass, which would be lovely but for all the litter strewn around.

In the town of Darling the woman at the tourist info was unable to find us any reasonably priced accomodation so she suggested continuing on to the coast and the town of Yzerfontein. We followed her suggestion. At the caravan park the bloke was very rude and made it seem like he didn't want us there so we drove through the town until we found a little self catering place that the info woman had mentioned. Luckily the woman was there showing the previous nights guests out. It was over our budget at R400 a night, but we were knackered so we booked in anyway. We were glad we did. The place was very nice, all massive windows and balconies overlooking the bay. Because we were on the west coast we were able to watch the sun go down from the balcony, drinking a bottle of wine. A nice relaxing end to a busy day.

The next morning we had an early walk out along the clifftop watching for whales, but didn't see any.

Civilisation? Maybe not.

I wrote a post called back to civilisation. Ha! The day after I wrote that our car got broken into. You can keep civilisation! We were in a seaside suburb of Cape Town called Muizenberg. We decided to use it as a base to explore the surrounds of Cape Town before taking the car back.We went to Rondevlei a nature reserve, and Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens on the 1st day. It was a lovely day. Rondevlei is a lovely reserve right near the city. It is a wetlands and has 100's of species of birds and even hippos which were reintroduced in the 1980's after becoming extinct to the region in the 1800's (as is often the case. Man has a lot to answer to) Unfortunately,we didnt see the hippos as they are very elusive, but just knowing that they are there was enough for me. Hippos are responsible for more deaths a year than any other animal in Africa, so maybe it was a good thing we didn't see them!

In the visitors centre part they had reptiles and display boards.After egging on a chameleon to eat a locust which was passing him ( Maybe thats my carnivore instincts coming out) we headed off to find the botanical gardens. It took a while as we didn't have a very good map. Tim got annoyed agin and said we should give up. I have learned on this trip that Tim does not like having insufficient maps (refer to Tim's post of Lonely planet misdirections)and being unable to comprehend where we are. I reckon we could just ask, but no, we can't do that.( Anyway, we eventually found it and I am glad we persevered as it was beautiful. Set on the slopes of the east side of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch botanical gardens are probably the most beautiful botanical gardens I have been to. The mountain stunning as a backdrop. We walked round for a few hours taking photos and enjoying the sun. From one part there was a view of the cape flats area, which is where lots of townships are (settlements for black and coloured people displaced during the apartheid era.) It was a clear sunny day, but over the townships was a thick smog.

We headed back to Muizenberg. We had wanted to use the internet but there was a power cut (these happen often as the western cape region doesn't have the generating capacity). We sat and watched the surfers for a while and then went to a bar and ate tapaz. After this we went on the internet, and this set the tone for the rest of the evening; negative.

We went on for an hour and the man charged us for being on 2 seconds over . Only another rand but it was the principle. We felt him to be very unfriendly and we went away in bad moods to our hostel. Throughout the night I felt very edgy and whenever I heard anybody I flew to the window to check my car. I was unable to sleep and finally when I did my car alarm went off. We looked out and couldn't see anything suspicios so thought that either the wind caught it or someone tried the handles and disappeared. In the morning we got up really early in order to go up Table Mountain as that is the best time to go. We went out to the car and my heart sank as I realised the back passenger window had been smashed. I felt angry and violated. My waterproof coat was missing (they left Tim's!) a bag of leaflets had gone and the car ashtray! We went back into the hostel and the receptionist phoned the police. He said we should not have left anything what so ever in there. We knwe this, but think had got complacent. Plus we didnt think the car would get broken into for an old coat. Another man we spoke to said that it would! I just can't belive they left Tims. Obviously his was the wrong size or something!

Tim decided to go to the police station rather than wait forever for them to turn up. We only wanted a crime number for the hire car place. Eventually he came back and we drove to the cityto return the car. I drove into the forecourt, nearly scraping the car on the entrance and forlornly explained what had happened. They were fine about it. Apparently it happens alot! I think the man felt sorry for us though as he drove us to our hostel (which he didnt have to). We arrived at a nice hostel in Greepoint near the Waterfront of Cape Town. I instantly felt more positive as it was a love;ly place and it seemed friendly and relaxed .

I am still annoyed about it now though. Not because of anything which has been stolen etc, but because they spoiled our plans of going up Table Mountain. It was a perfect day to do it and now the weather has turned and the mountain is covered in the "tablecloth" (the term they use for the cloud that descends over it) so it looks like were not going to get to go up. Oh well. It could have been worse. At least we are ok. Oh yeah, and at least someone is warmer now. (On the way back from the police station Tim saw a woman wearing my jacket. She was in a park and he said she looked homeless). I couldn't stay too angry for long.

Wacky Wine Weekend part 2

My rage subsided somewhat as we continued to sample the wines at the wineries in the town of Robertson. At some point a woman nudged Gemma said something in Afrikaans and then howled with laughter. After Gemma got her to repeat it in English it turns out she was laughing at the sign saying, "Do not drink and drive", finding the concept incredulous. I guess that explains the horrific number of road deaths that they have over here. That and the insane driving of non-drunk motorists. The good thing about the tasting glass you got with your entry fee was that it was double the size of a normal tasting glass, and the wineries weren't shy at pouring either.

At one winery they were doing tastings of olive oils, vinegars and chutneys. It was at this point that I realised I hadn't eaten all day, so I sampled everything, several times. The next place had olives, so I dived into those too. The guy behind the counter, Tommy, was a right character, so we stayed in there for quite a while. In total I bought 3 bottles of wine and a bottle of sweet chilli sauce, each of which came out to about 1.70 sterling. Cool.

By this point I was starving. The nearest restaurant was full until much later on, so we walked back to the house we were staying at to ask for a recomendation of where to eat. After making some phone calls the lady we staying with got us in with them at the restaurant we had just been to. It was a very interesting talk we had over dinner, about South Africa and the continuing problems with race and poverty (Our hosts were a mixed race couple). The country certainly has a long way to go yet.

The other people who were supposed to be staying hadn't turned up so we swapped from the daughters to the guest room, which I felt a little better about. In the morning we had a breakfast put on for us, including salad for Gemma. I really don't think the average South African understands vegetarianism at all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Wacky Wine Weekend

In Oudtshoorn we found a leaflet advertising the Robertson Wacky Wine Weekend. We decided to skip quickly through the other towns along the way and see if what it was all about. It was about wine funnily enough. The whole day was a little bit wierd. The backpackers was full and after making a couple of calls the information office managed to place us with a family round the corner who were helping out by letting out rooms. Their guest room had already been booked so we were allocated their 16 year old daughters room. I must add at this point that the daughter was staying at a friends. We chucked our stuff in the room and went back down to the info place to buy our passport and tasting glass. Gemma didn't much fancy driving me around while I tasted the wine, which I think is awfully selfish of her.

We noticed a sign for a shuttle bus in the first winery we tried and so tried unsuccessfully to find out about it. On leaving that winery we were next to the shuttle stop when an open topped bus stopped, so we leapt aboard and paid our R100 fare. Little did we know at that point that it wasn't the shuttle bus we had boarded, but the 100% non-stop afrikaans party bus. I'm sure that the CD they were playing went by that name too. It appears that the Afrikaaner people have studied eurodisco music very, very hard, isolated the good bits and with a smirk, tossed them away. The volume seemed to increase in inverse proportion to the listenability of the song, which meant it was deafeningly loud for pretty much the whole time we were on the bus. Along with us there were about 8 or 9 of the Afrikaaner party massive on the open deck. They were boogying away and laughin gleefully when the guy in charge handed out paper streamers. They know how to party in rural South Africa. A baby was on board with us and was quite cute, somewhat of a surprise looking at the parents. The mother, who kept feeding him wine, was possibly the ugliest woman I've ever seen, and the father was a demonstration of what the Afrikaaner diet of purely grilled meat can do to you.

At the first winery we had a short 10 minute stop. "Not very long", I thought, "but we'll pack them in at this rate". How wrong I was. We stopped for about 30 minutes at another place while someone found a corkscrew but weren't able to get off the bus as it wasn't a participating place. The next winery was packed and we had about 20 minutes of tasting. Back on the bus we headed back towards town, sailing past wineries. I had a horrible sinking feeling that we would only be getting that. The dancing buffoons continued oblivious. I got off the bus fuming and headed straight for another winery, just wanting to get away from such bad music. I've only been to 1 young farmers do, but it was about 100x cooler than this bus.

Prince Albert

Breakfast was included in the price of our cottage at Karoo National Park, after which we walked round their fossil trail. The region is renowned for the amount of interesting fossils that erosion keeps turning up. Including a lizard like mammal ancestor.

We continued driving through the empty Karoo until suddenly the Swartberg mountains appeared on the horizon, looking like they had been painted on to a screen a-la Road Runner. We stopped at the town of Prince Albert, obviously because of the name. The town is quite pretty and is apparently the city dwellers ideal of a life in the Karoo. We decided to drive over the Swartberg pass to Oudtshoorn. The pass was breathtaking on the way up from Prince Albert, so view-wise I am very glad we did it. For other reasons it may not have been such a good idea. The road is unsealed all the way over the pass and is actually undergoing reconstruction in places at the moment. We had to be careful on the way up. Unfortunately at one point there was a bit of a steep ramp in the already steep road and Gemma had the car in the wrong gear as she was watching the scenery. There was no way we were going to make it over the bump. At that point Gemma tried to get the car started an up the hill again, but kept rolling it backwards down the windy mountain path. She started to panic a bit. We were heading toward a ditch on the mountain side of the road, so I tried to calmly talk her through steering away from that in reverse. She was able to get the car going after that and up the hill. The whole thing wasn't helped by the fact that we had a car waiting to come down past us and a construction vehicle coming up behind us. Gemma was quite shaken by the whole thing and pretty much rushed the rest of the pass. The Oudtshoorn side looks over an agricultural valley, so wasn't quite as nice a view anyway. The contrast between the Karoo on the Prince Albert side and the Klein Karoo on the Oudtshoorn side is quite marked.

Gemma didn't want to drive after that so we booked into a 'chalet' in a caravan park in Oudtshoorn for 2 nights. I thought the whole place looked a bit like a barracks or something, very utilitarian buildings. It was about an hour later that I realised the South African Infantry training place was right over the road. That explained all the people walking about in fatigues and berets. Oudsthoorn as a tourist place is famous for it's Ostrich farms, but when you have seen so many in the wild, the idea of paying to go look at a farm of them doesn't really appeal. Oudsthoorn is a reasonably large town and also reasonably dull. On the second day of our stay we worked out that we may have been better off only staying the one night. It rained too.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Lonely Planet misinformation

Driving further into the empty plain of the Karoo I can probably count on one hand the amount of people we saw before we arrived in Beaufort West. We ate a brunch and then set off North toward the Karoo National Park, as directed by the Lonely Planet. Some time later I worked out that it couldn't possibly be that way. For some reason the LP had printed the exact opposite direction to the parks entrance. For some reason this annoyed me rather more than it should have and I got very grumpy and a bit short with Gemma. I stayed a bit like that after we actually got there too (Sorry Gem).

In the park, booked into a cottage for the night then drove to a mountain pass lookout. They certainly do their mountains in South Africa. The interpretive centre was quite interesting, telling about the human, biological and geological history of the area. We spent the last couple of hours of the evening doing a game drive. We are getting good at this. The park has Rhino, which again eluded us, lots of Antelope and mountain and plains Zebra. They are trying to rebreed the quagga, an extinct subspecies of zebra that once roamed this area.

Animal encounters

So, Cheetahs aside, we have had some brilliant animal encounters. We went to a game lodge on the Garden route. They had a deal on where you got a nights accomodation, 2 game drives, breakfast and dinner and a visit to the reptile centre and the cheetah breeding centre. The place was beautiful. The accomodation lovely, overlooking the game area. In the evening we went for our first gamedrive. In most of Africa, particularly south, wildlife is conserved by being kept on reserves within a fenced area. There are a lot of private game reserves as well as the bigger famous ones such as Kruger. Garden route game lodge was a private reserves.The animals still live wild though. As we entered the gate of the reserve, an American who was sharing our jeep said to his family, "Hey, this is just like Jurassic park... but without the dinosaurs!" Hmmm. I just don't know what to say to that one!

We travelled along and we saw springbok,buffolow, wildebeast, zebras, Giraffes and 2 elephants. We got to where the lions are and disappointingly they were behind a fence. They don't actually live wild there. They were rescued by the park from a reserve where they were being used for hunting safaris, so have never lived wild. Learning this I was glad they were here and not still at that park.

As we travelled around, I couldn't help but notice the fence and a couple of fields along were some cows from a farm. Call me ungrateful, but for me it detracted from the experience. I tried to ignore the fence, but couldn't help feel I was in a very upmarket safari park. However, saying that, it was still a brilliant experience and the animals (apart from the lions) are living wild. It's just that they don't have such a big terrain as at bigger reserves.

We came back to the lodge and had our african bbq style dinner. (very nice). then retired to our lovely room.At 7am we met our group at the jeep and set off on our morning game drive. This time there were no comments about Jurassic park, but as we drove around we had a bit of an adventure, as our guide tried to drive up a hill, but failed;the wheels kept getting stuck in the mud and we kept rolling back. gradually getting further over to the edge 'til eventuallt the wheels had gone over. We had to all get out fo the vehicle so she could try and get uop the hill without the weight. This did not work and at one point I thought the landrover was going to go over. As she radioed for help she said we were lucky as the rhinos are usuallly hanging around where we were! Help arrived in the form of a very angry man who swore quite alot in Afrikaans at our guide. Eventually another landrover came and we continued with our gane viewing arriving back in time for breakfast, the visit to the reptile centre and cheetah breeding part.

Our next animal encounter was even more special for me. We went to Addo elephant national park. As the name suggests there are elephants there, but they also have the big 5. Here you are allowed to drive round in your own vehicle. We stayed for 2 nights; again lovely accomodation; our own cottage overlooking the reserve. We spent a good day anad a half driving round looking for wildlife. We saw warthogs (I fell in love with these; they are so cute!) zebras, lots of antelope species, ostriches, monkeys and elephants. We had driven round for quite a while before we saw the elephants. I was bginning to think we wouldn't, when I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a massive grey shape looming closer. A bull elephant. We stopped the car and watchd in awe as he approached our car. It was quite a moment as he came closer and closer. I have always known that elephants are big, but when you are in their territory, they suddenly seem much bigger. He walked right by our car. Every fold and line of the skin was so clear.

As we drove off I felt so happy. I thought that nothing we could see that day could match that. I was wrong. Later in the after noon we were coming to the end of our wildlife hunting, deciding that we should head back before our eyes dropped out. We were in what seemed quite a wild bit, and as we rounded the corner we saw 2 elephants feeding from a tree. They were really close and we stopped the car to watch them. We could hear crashing and branches dropping and as we watched more and more elephants emerged, until eventually we were practically surrounded by 12 of them. It was amazing.They were a family females and baby elephants. Knowing that matriarchs of elephant families can get protective, we were very cautious about any movements etc. You don't want to mess with these! It was such a humbling moment. They were in control. We were invaders of sorts and there wasn't much between us and them. Our car was tiny in comparison. They gradually walked off and we looked at each othe in awe. We started the car up to move off again and as we did 2 more elephants came towards us; another female. It seemed like she was letting us know who was boss as she walked confidently straight towards us. It seemed like she wasn't going to stop, but at the last moment she moved off to the side. It was such a fantastic experience.

We also saw a dead elephant that day. We stumbled across what seemed like an elephant graveyard; a couple of skulls were by a watering hole and the other side we saw the remains of an elephant. We went back later to see if we could see any scavengers (I really wanted to see a hyena) but there was not any, although a bit more of the elephant was missing!

Although we didn't see a hyena we saw a relative, called an arrdwolf. That was pretty cool as we didnt know what it was and then later we found out that these are nocturnal so we were lucky to see them.

Another highlight of the animal encounters was seeing meercats. We were not expecting it at all. We were driving through the Karoo ( Desert) and suddenly saw these little faces looking inquisitively at us, standing on their hindlegs before they dived for the safety of their burrows.

So, all the wildlife encounters have been a highlight for me. I never get bored of seeing it and feel priviledged that I have.


The drive from Addo was very interesting. The terrain is sub-tropical thicket (low but dense bush) until you go over the Olifantskop pass, another road hacked into the mountains and giving a wonderful view across the valley. On the other side of the pass the vegetation changes to short yellowed grass, sparse shrubs and whole fields of cacti (huge). This is not quite called the Karoo yet, but might as well be (Karoo meaning 'Dry Place'). After a rest stop in Somerset East we motored on along the empty road to Graaf-Reinet. I like zooming along the road in endless nothingness, and I know that Gemma does too. Along this road we began to see Meerkat as well as the baboons an monkeys we had been seeing previously. We also saw a mongoose or two. Gemma gets very excited by all of this squeaking, "Monkeys, Monkeys, Monkeys on the road!" and getting higher with each word.

Graaf-Reinet has to be the South African, if not the world, capital of twee. They make a big deal of the old houses and the church (which is nice) but also seem to insist that all furnishing and decoration in the town be from Victorian times. I'm certain that walking down the road I got the vague whiff of mothballs everywhere. We stayed at Le Jardin backpackers, which is like no hostel I've ever stayed at. There were copies of South African County Life by the bed and doilies everywhere. The lady who runs it is very nice but it all felt like visiting a great aunt that you see once a decade. When we left the next day Gemma even gave her a hug and kiss.

Graaf-Reinet is home to the Karoo Nature Reserve. This has a small game viewing area which we drove around -seeing mainly antelope and monkeys. We carried on to another part of the reserve, The Valley of Desolation, which is honestly a lot nicer than it sounds. A road winds steeply up the mountain to a set of lookouts. These give an amazing view across a flat valley bordered completely by mountains. The sunset there was lovely.

Having seen lots of Springbok over the last few days, I took the opportunity to eat some that evening. Very tasty it was too.

A wimp?

I have to reply to one of Tim's posts maybe two, that refer to me as unadventourous and suggests that I am a wimp!For those who know me, maybe the latter is true, but in this case I have to say that we would not have been able to have walked that particular path without the aid of a a machete, which due to just takiing carry on luggage I was unable to fit in my bag. In the case of the Cheetah incident; Whilst on a game drive the night before, our guide informed us that if we were attacked by a cheetah, we wouldnt know about it, as they are very stealthy, aiming straight for the kidneys. With this in mind I bravely entered the Cheetahs den as everyone else did (ok maybe not bravely. Maybe it was more a case of that i didn't want to look like a scaredy cat!) So as we all edged into the pen, after being warned not to turn our backs or make any sudden movements, I remembered our guide from the night befores cheery information. Convinced the cats were feigning boredom and the one in the corner was going to pounce straight for my kidneys at any minute, I pretended to listen to our guide. Finally he finished his talk and we edged out. I made it safely to behind the fence. Tim asked me why I was so scared. I reminded him of the guides information about the capabilities of these "harmless" kitties and asked him how he and the rest of the group, aware of this knowledge, could be so calm.

"She was talking about leopards Gem".


In the morning after the vomiting I felt empty but mostly OK. We decided not to stay in Port Elizabeth, the capital of the Eastern Cape. We had originally planned a night there, but decided just to motor on toward Add0 Elephant Park. We were glad we did driving through the town, as it looks like a bit of an industrial, built up place. When we got there, the cheaper accomodation was all gone so we had to book into a cottage for a couple of nights. Lovely accomodation, and all in, including park fees was R1400 so not too bad. We had lunch in the restaurant, which was a little disturbing, given that we were sat directly under a giant elephant head. Had our first drive in the game area that afternoon. Took 2 hours to do a couple of circular routes. We didn't see any of the Big 5, but we did see many antelopes of various types (Springbok, Red Hartebeest), Ostriches, loads of birds, Monkeys and Warthogs. The view from the veranda of our cottage that evening across the veld as the sun went down was lovely.

During the night we were amazed by the different animal noises that we could here coming from all directions. We were up and in the game area by 7am sharp the next day. We saw more Antelope and Zebra straight away and felt very lucky when an Elephant we had seen at a distance appeared in the rear view mirror and then slowly walked past the car. We stayed driving round the game area for 4 hours, by which point I was getting quite tired and having trouble focusing on watching for animals. After lunch we piled straight back into the game area feeling refreshed again. We were congratulating ourselves at our close encounter watching distant elephants from a lookout. A short while later we drove straight into the midst of a family group of 12 elephants of various ages and genders. Again, the whole family walked right around the car, at one point I'm sure I caught the eye of the matriarch of the group. The babies were very cute, but we were very aware of their mothers so sat still in the car until the group had past. After 3.5 hours I felt like my eyes might bleed, so we left for the day.

The whole experience at Addo was brilliant, the highlight being the elephants. We also saw some Aardwolf and lots of antelope species. We came across a dead elephant by one of the waterholes with a big chunk missing from it's side too. All very very good. We didn't see any of the top predators, which was a shame, and missed the Rhino completely, but that couldn't spoil it at all. I'm glad we came at this time of year, as I imagine during the summer it would be bumper to bumper in the game area and there would be no chance of getting accomodation.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Along the road from Storms River Mouth we saw a sign for the Big Tree so we pulled in. It's a big tree, so they weren't lying. 800 years old or something equally as mad. We missed the turning for Cape St. Francis and had to go out of our way to get there. We'd seen the name Seal Point in the Lonely Planet and thought we'd go check the seals out. There weren't any seals, I guess they got exterminated a long time ago. All that was there was a lighthouse, a surf break and attendant surfers and a lot of wind. We carried on. We missed another turning on the way back to the road and ended up driving through a township attached to the town of Humansdorp. These were at least brick built buildings, not the corrugated iron shacks that we'd seen elsewhere. Eventually we found our way onto the correct road and got ourselves to Jeffreys Bay (J-Bay to the locals). Ended up in a flatlet in a backpackers right on a internationally renowned surf break (Supertubes). It was very entertaining sitting on the beach watching the surfers.

That night I developed a bad case of sickness and diarrhoea -which was quite horrible. In retrospect perhaps it was a bad idea to have a service station meat pie for breakfast. I must remember that in the future.

Back to civilisation

We are back in civilisation so I can update you now on the last 3 weeks or so. I can't believe we have been here almost 4 weeks. It seems so much longer that I left my family on the train station at Lowestoft (I did not enjoy that part!)

As you know we hired a car. I have got quite attached to him. (Sad I know!) He has put up with a lot from me, crunching the gears, climbing up scary mountain passes in the wrong gear, shouting as people persist to drive right up my bum! The latter is my pet driving hate and I have come to a country where it appears to be the norm. Drivers over here seem to have a panic attack if there is anyone visible ahead or behind and they immediately move to the emergency lane to allow you to pass, even if you are a good distance away. If they wish to pass they drive practically bumper to bumper until you move over. That said, I have enjoyed driving over here. Mostly the roads are clear and the scenery is beautiful. We have to give him back on Sunday. We are back in he Cape Town area having spent the last 3 weeks driving round the western cape and a bit of the Eastern Cape. Total, about 4000km.

I am not going to write a sequential log of events so bear with me as I hop about.The last time I wrote, we were in Stellenbosch and were going on a Wine tour the following day. That was a great day and we met some great people, carrying it on and going for a meal that night. It was a bit different to the Wine tour on which we found ourselves at last Saturday. We had heard there was an event happening in Robertson which we were near, called Wacky Wine Weekend, which we thought sounded like fun. I don't think fun was the appropriate word. Maybe words like weird and bewildering are...but we found ourselves being put up at a house, which turned out the owner of had been persuaded to by the information centres lady. We were put up in a 16 year old girls room and assured that she wasn't home that night. Unsure, but grateful, we traipsed out to find wine. We looked for the shuttle bus which we were told would take us to the wineries in the region, but could only find a paper sign with shuttle bus written on it . After a bit, a double decker bus pulled up with "fun" people telling us to get on. We hopped on thinking it was the shuttle bus, but gradually we realised that this could not be the shuttle bus for several reasons. 1) It did not shuttle us about; we drove very slowly to 2 wineries, which we spent a total of 1/2 hour at. 2)Itsailed past all but 2 wineries 3) The bus was playing very very very loud Afrikaans party music which if anyone ever offers to play you, you must run away very very fast. I cannot explain the pain! 4) It was full of grinning Afrikaans people (descendents of boers) ALL dancing like that uncle you get at every wedding who can't dance. We arrived back where we started, the smiling Afrikaans people obviously very satisfied with the past 3 hours. I looked at Tim as we walked down the road to safety. He was not satisfied.

That night we ended up going out for food with our hosts. It was a really nice evening. Belinda talked of being colored in South Africa. (This is a politically correct term over here. There are whites, blacks and coloured. Coloured being anyone else! (Apartheid had some completely arbitrary measures of such things). It seemed to me that it is very complicated and emotional and I dont have the time to go into it here. Luckily we did not have to sleep in her 16 year olds room as some people who were due to stay as well did not arrive so we had the guest room. In the morning, we awoke to breakfast being made for us. Being vegetarian is seen as a bit weird in South Africa. There diet consists of meat meat and more meat. Therefore for my breakfast, I had muesli, toast and...salad! Don't get me wrong I love salad, like any good vegetarian should, but for breakfast? Just because I am veggie does not mean I have to have it for every meal! I sound ungrateful. It was lovely and they were lovely and it was great to stay with them!

National Parks rule

After leaving Buffalo Bay Backpackers (044 383 06098) we went into Knysna for breakfast. The sun was still out and we thought Knysna looked like a nice little town, being on a lagoon and having a nice laid back cafe culture. We ummed and ahhed about whether to stay in town for a few days, especially as it was the Pink Loerie gay festival over the weekend, but in the end decided to carry on down the coast toward the Tsitsikamma national park. The drive down there was lovely, although the native bushland became replaced by pine plantations for quite a way.

We stopped at Nature's Valley rest camp and booked into a forest hut. This was lovely, hidden away in the forest right by the riverbank. You couldn't even see the next hut along from us. We sat on the veranda for quite a while just watching the birds on the river. A Kingfisher was dipping in and out of the water on the opposite bank, egyptian geese were honking and an eagle was circling the forest overhead. Very idyllic. We decided to walk to the river mouth and attempted to follow the walking trail. It was waterlogged for quite a large section, so we couldn't follow the path. I figured that as long as we followed the river bank we couldn't go wrong and tried to find another route. Gemma got scared and chickened out -no sense of adventure, so we walked back down the road and into Nature's Valley town for supplies only to work out that the shop was a further 2km away. When we got there we had fish & chips and a beer, bought some snacks and walked back.

As ever we were up early and on the road again. This time was just a short drive to the next rest camp in Tsitsikamma national park, Storms River Mouth. Again we booked into a forest hut, a similar sort of setup only the rest camp was a lot bigger with some bigger more stylish accomodation and it was right on the sea front. We went to the info/cafe and had a meal and got our bearings. When we got back to the hut we were delighted to see a family of 3 vervet monkeys on our hut and raiding our bin. After taking some photos and having a sort of stand off, where they seemed to be checking us out as much as we were them, they had enough and buggered off back into the forest. I picked up the scattered food wrappers and replaced the lid on the bin.

We walked a small trail into the river mouth and over a suspension bridge affording a nice view up the gorge. We carried on up the hill on the other side to a lookout point. Although our general level of fitness is much better than the last time we had a year off the walk up had us knackered by the time we got to the top. We needed a bit of a sit down. Thankfully coming back down wasn't so hard. We took a boat trip up the gorge accompanied by what I can only assume was a party of scicilian mafia bosses on holiday. Their guide continously translated their questions to the boat guy and was on a mobile to a restaurant demanding special treatment for his special VIP guests. After the trip we motored off, but the caught us up at the toilets -one of them must have been busting as he exclaimed, "Mama Mia!", when he got in there.

I came to the conclusion that Rock Dassies are the least endangered of South Africa's animal life. They were all over the place and utterly cute. They look like little grumpy old men. When we got back to the hut the bin lid was knocked off and the wrappers all over the place again. Naughty Monkeys!