Thursday, May 25, 2006

Wine & sunshine

This is going to be a quick one as the computer in this Internet cafe is slow and annoying.

We went up to the town of Stellenbosch. We couldn't get a room in the backpackers we wanted to stay at so they sent us down the road to an empty place. It was nice there and the woman who owns it was lovely, but I couldn't help feeling like we were intruding on their family life as they were obviously not geared up for guests, it being the off season. Stellenbosch is a nice little university town, but mainly famous for being smack bang in the middle of a wine region. I tried to get Gemma to drive me round the wineries to go on lots of tastings but she wasn't having it. We booked on a tour instead. It being the off season has a good effect of their not being many people on the tours, and the people that are on them are a bit older. The group we had were all cool and we ended up being the latest group back according to our guide. We visited wineries in Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franshoek tasting all the way. I was a little addled by the end of it. We went out with the guide and an english girl from the tour on the evening to get some food and some beers. Gemma ordered a wine in one bar and it came in a 500ml tetrapak carton!

After Stellenbosch we drove through the Overburg to Hermanus. The drive there was beatiful, a road literally hanging over the side of the mountains, with the mountain on your left hand side and the ocean crashing on the right. Again, stunning. In Hermanus we stayed in a cute little holiday apartment. It rained so we pretty much stayed in. During a break in the rain we took a clifftop path for a walk and saw more of our new favourite, the Rock Dassie. These ones were in the bin and eating cardboard boxes and stuff.

From Hermanus we went to the Garden Route Game Lodge, where we stayed for the night.They have a pretty good off season deal, so we were impressed by what we got. A nights accomodation in really quite plush rooms, an evening and morning game drive, reptile house tour, cheetah breeding centre tour and dinner and breakfast for just R660 each (12 rand to the pound at the moment).The evening game drive was cool, including temperature wise. It continued drizzling but we got to see lions, elephants, buffalo, bontebok, springbok, rhino, zebra and giraffe. Unfortunately it started getting quite dark and the animals were all a little way away so the photos don't really do it justice. Dinner was lovely -I had ostrich, which was very tasty. The morning drive was very good too, we were more prepared this time and wrapped up well. Gemma had two pairs of trousers on. Halfway through the drive the landrover slid back down the hill and off the path. The guide had to radio in to have us picked up and get a tow. I'm sure if I'd been more attentive I could have learned some Afrikaans swear words when the mechanic turned up! We stocked up on breakfast then saw lots of snakes and crocodiles in the reptile house. The game lodge has a cheetah breeding program (to have wild releases and so zoos don't have to stock from the wild). We went in an enclosure with two cheetahs. Gemma was bricking it. She was so scared she barely heard a word the guide said while we were in there. The sun got its hat on and the rain disappeared.

We drove on through Mossel Bay, which is a built up and horrible industrial town, so we breezed straight through. We ended up in Buffalo Bay, a tiny little village of holiday apartments and a backpackers on the beach. When I say on the beach, I mean built right into the dunes. New owners had just moved in and were in the process of renovating the place. It will be a lovely spot when they are finished. We drank a bottle of champagne that we bought on the wine tour on the beach as the sun went down, then sat round the fire with the owner of the backpackers -downing the rest of the wine we bought and marvelling at how many stars we could see. A stunning spot.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

In Africa

Well, we are here. Unfortunately it is their winter and it has rained quite heavily every day. On the other hand coming here in the winter has its advantages as some stuff is cheaper and places less busy.

We don't let the rain get in our way though and it doesn't detract from the fact that South Africa is a very beautiful country. We have seen some stunning views and having hired a car has made them more accessible. Table Mountain is very beautiful and we hope to go up it, weather permitting, when we return to Cape Town. We are currently on our 3 week tour of the western and Eastern Cape. I have got used to the car now. It was bit scary at first as it felt very different to George (my old car) and I barely had to touch the accelerator, where in George I had to press down hard! This had the outcome of us hopping down the road for a while! It's a lovely place to drive though, when you get used to everyone ignoring road rules! The roads aren't very busy so you can actually get places and as I have said the scenery is beautiful.

I feel like we are getting into the swing of things now. Our last night at the hostel was cool. We joined in on a drumming lesson and Eddy the tutor had us banging our djembes for 2 and a half hours until he thought we were no longer beginners!

We have seen our first African wildlife which I felt intensely excited about! We have seen Baboons, Ostriches, Rock dassies (which look like big guinea pigs, but are actually related to elephants!) and penguins. I'm looking forward to seeing more.

I'm really happy to be here! (even if it is raining!)

Rain, rain, go away

The journey down to Cape Town was reasonably uneventful, but tiring all the same. Virgin Atlantic is quite cool -this was the first time I've flown with them. When making announcements the captain used the Thunderbirds music -what a wag! The entertainment system broke at first though and he had to reboot the whole thing. Interestingly (for me, because I'm a nerd) the system runs Linux of some flavour.

The cliches about Cape Town being beautiful are all well deserved. The backdrop of table mountain is stunning, and I was suitably stunned on the drive in from the airport. Unfortunately that was the last we saw of it for a couple of days as the cloud descended over it and the rain started. The hostel (The Backpack) we stayed in was quite a posh one as these things go. We were quite tired when we arrived and someone told us that there were riots in town so we decided to have a nap instead of going out. We later found out that it was striking security guards that rioted, which is a little worrying. The hostel has a Braii (barbeque) on Tuesday nights, so we availed ourselves of that, very nice. Beers are R10 (about a pound) a bottle, so we tested them out. Unfortunately it seems like Amstel and Carling Black Label are the nicest beers on offer.

Wednesday we wandered around the city centre to get a bearings. We found a cool cafe on Long Street, the main backpacker/cool cafe strip in the city bowl, called Mr. Pickwicks. Their tea and breakfast was very nice and served to the sounds of dub reggae. It started raining more heavily again so we hid in the hostel before having a super nice meal at Madame Zingarras round the corner. I think it came to R350 including a bottle of wine, 2 mains, 2 desserts and a tip. The Rand has fallen against the pound recently so thats less than 35quid and it was super nice.

Thursday was playing hunt the best car deal. In the end we booked through the hostel as it had a pretty good rate. After seeing some beetles coughing their way round the city I was a little concerned about using a beetle hire company. It probably would have been a little bit cheaper, but we decided a more modern car would be a bit better probably.

On Thursday evening at The Backpack, they have a drum tuition thing. We were a little concerned as the time for it approached because it looked like we were the only ones doing it. I think Gemma managed to convince some Canadians at the bar, and then a few more people signed up. It was really good, our tutor, Master Eddy from the Congo was excellent. It took a little while but he had us all banging out rhythms on the Djembe. We were mostly in time. A couple of other workers at the hostel joined in and he had them singing while we drummed which was pretty cool. As the stuff got more complex we all started getting more tired though and messing up a lot more. It was a lot of fun but very tiring.

The hire car turned up on Friday morning and we jerkily pulled off down the road. Gemma was a little bit stressed getting used to the car (and kept saying, "I want george" (that's her old car)). The difference between driving a tractor and a modern car was obviously quite marked as at first she had trouble with just slightly touching the pedal causing it to rev massively. By the time we reached the Chapmans Peak scenic drive she had it down though. The drive around the mountain was absolutely gorgeous and we stopped a lot to take in the view.

We motored on down to the Cape Point national reserve stopping first at Cape Point and then at the Cape of Good Hope. We avoided doing the cheesey standing behind the sign photos. The area there is beautiful, rugged coastline and miles of Fynbos vegetation. Cape Point was quite busy with tour buses, so we walked to the old lighthouse then drove to the Cape of Good Hope, which was much less busy. All along the way we saw baboons and ostriches and at CoGH we saw rock dassies. I saw one poo.

From the Cape we went up to Simonstown, which has penguins on the beach. Simonstown Backpackers is a bit shabbier than the hostel in Cape Town, with a very relaxed proprieter. When we asked about the fact we were parked where we shouldn't be he said, "hey, no worries, it's OK, relax". I think it was his Dutch roots showing through. We saw the penguins. They smell of rancid fish.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


I thought that the two weeks between leaving work and our flight to South Africa would be a nice and relaxing time. Utter twaddle. It's only really today that I've felt like I'm on holiday. We've been pretty busy since leaving work.

  • Moving out. We got the majority of our stuff boxed up and Roger drove it in a van to Big Yellow at Norwich. It's amazing what you can fit in a 3 foot by 5 foot room. The whole thing was like an ultra complicated 3D jigsaw, and was very satisfying once packed up. We actually drove some more stuff over there on the Monday. We didn't do any moving out related things on the Saturday as Gemma managed to injure her foot and I went to Nicola & Karl's (see below). Sunday we cleaned the flat with the excellent assistance of Gemma's mum.
  • Shed destruction. I spent the Saturday after leaving work at Nicola and Karl's house demolishing two of their sheds. That took up most of the day and left my already aching limbs in a much more aching state. Knocking down sheds is real manly work, and something I have discovered I have a natural talent for. I sense a career change in the offing.
  • Tidying up the mess at Gemma's mums. This actually took a couple of days to do, because the stuff that wasn't in storage ended up being littered around the house. It is mostly done now, with the exception of our room.
  • Getting jabs/medication. We had our last set of super expensive jabs, so we are fully prepared for all illnesses now. We also picked up our antimalarials (Doxycycline) too.
  • Going out for Gemma's mums birthday.We had a very nice day out in Wroxham for Gemma's mum's birthday. Gemma's sister and nephew came too.
  • Visiting Nottingham. Gemma hadn't previously driven a long way, or on the motorway and decided she might like to get a little experience before she goes to foreign countries and does it. Her Mum and Dad were up for the trip and so we packed her little car up and set off for Nottingham. Gemma drove to Nottingham, only swapping at West Bridgford so that Roger could deal with the more tricky city centre part. After checking in to the Travel Lodge in the city we spent the afternoon by the canal. In the evening we met our friends to say goodbye. Neil got me the Caravan Gallery book as a going away present. It's ace. We spent the best part of the next day shopping for rucksacks and other essentials. I'm afraid that we are going to look a bit sad on our travels as we both have the same rucksacks and waterproof jackets. Daniel Dustbin was in town to sign up to be a smoking beagle or something, so we met him for a pint by the canal.
  • Visiting Wakefield. Gemma has relatives in Wakefield so we carried on up there from Nottingham. We went to a first birthday party on the Saturday. It was nice to see some of Gemma's family that I've never met before, but also a little strange. I kept having to do double takes at her cousin who looks a lot like Gemma's sister. We also managed a walk round Wakefield town and a very nice park.
  • Visting Great Lumley. We left Gemma's parents in Wakefield and bravely set off on our own towards the North East. Gemma's first experience of motorway driving was a solo one and she acquited herself admirably. We stayed at Mam's house and had a very nice meal with the whole family all together, which is something which hasn't happened in decades I would think. I got to see my neices and nephews which was very cool. I also managed a visit to see my friend Lisa, who I haven't seen for years. I was glad to catch up with her and see that she has become the very model of domesticity. The next day we drove back to Wakefield and picked up Gemma's parents before heading back to Lowestoft.
  • More Shopping. We spent a last day shopping and picking stuff up, as well as meeting Scott for lunch.
  • A pub meal. We got together with some of Gemma's mates for a goodbye pub meal. It turned into a bit of a Broadside fest for me.
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Gemma's birthday gift to her Mum was tickets to go see Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Cambridge. They've gone and done that today.

I'm sure I've left some stuff off the list. I spent today sorting out a few address changes and cancellations and things as well as copying our important documents (passports, tickets, etc). I also spent a good proportion of the day uploading some of my backlog of photos to Flickr.