AFTER NEARLY five months I finally see my girlfriend Laura again. She flew out to see me on February 9. Partly it was a holiday for her and a chance to see each other after a long interlude, but I also suspect she was checking up on me to make sure I was behaving myself and not up to any mischief.
Although I’ve been busy whale watching and trekking through canyons and getting sick and eating rodents I’ve really missed Laura. Especially the last few weeks when the date of her arrival approached I was getting really excited, apprehensive and even nervous.
She flew into Cape Town where I had been waiting for two days to meet her, staying at the Ashanti Lodge. I had to wait another two hours for her as the flight was delayed. As it landed I excitedly scanned the disembarking passengers to see her. After waiting a while and not making a visual on her, I made a visit to the toilet and came back to find she was waiting for me. Disaster. I had failed in my boyfriend duties of officially meeting her off the plane. No chance to display my sign that read ‘LAURA BENNETT (the one from Suffolk)’. She wasn’t annoyed however, but tired, and we neded to go back to the hostel so she could have a rest.
It was dismally raining that day in Cape Town and Laura reminded me I had not delivered on my promise of sun in Africa. “But it was, like, 35 degrees yesterday,” I stammered, to no avail.
The next day we hit the Waterfront and went up Table Mountain, although it was only clear to see anything for about 5% of the time we were up there, and that’s a generous figure. Still, what are you to do?
It has been nice to share a romantic meal with someone other than a Swiss army captain. Laura and I ate a lot of prawns and drank cheap Sauvignon Blanc, which tasted really rough, but get what you pay for at three quid a bottle in a restaurant.
From CT (that’s Cape Town, an abbreviation although I realize that by explaining that has taken more time than actually writing it in full) we made the short journey into wine country, staying at the robust Stumble Inn in Stellenbosch. Nice town. Very white. Forgot we were in Africa for a while.
We hopped on a wine tour with some English girls, an Afrikaan couple and a honeymooning American couple from Atlanta, Georgia. The guy worked for CNN and talked a lot.
The tour was cool. Lot’s of wine consumed, of course. We popped up to Fairview Winery in Paarl, a producer that caused a lot of controversy by basing their wine names on French regions with the additional theme of goats (they make goats cheese) e.g. they have wines called ‘Goat Rotie’, ‘Bored Doe’ and ‘Goats Do Roam’ playing on Cote Rotie, Bordeaux and Cotes-du-Rhone. Some French wine makers tried to sue them and lost, merely confirming what many people have long believed - that the French have no sense of humour. Fairview also have a wine called 'The Goatfather’, however I don’t think Francis Ford Coppola has been in touch.
After the wine tour we went for dinner at a friend from school’s place. Nick and his charming girlfriend Kate are living in Stellenbosch at the moment, working bars and cafes, with the ultimate goal of going to Durban and catching the boat the to India. I think. Contrary to reports from some circles Nick did not perish on a refugee boat from Ghana, this time he flew to Johannesburg, saving him weeks on a boat and days in hospital. This Nick is of course the great Nick Good of Plymstock School, an old chum who was brave/crazy enough to go to Accra, Ghana from England OVERLAND. There aren’t too many tourists or backpackers in Burkina Faso, apparently. Nick got malaria on his trip, and once paid about 30 quid for a five minute phone call but what doesn't kill you... etc. I feel the experience may have been good for him.
The following morning my head felt several sizes too big, to quote Marv from Sin City. I vowed to stay off the wine for at least that morning and afternoon. We hopped onto the Baz Bus and made our way to Plettenburg Bay on the ‘garden route’. The Baz Bus is a famous backpacker minibus service that takes you door to door between hostels. Actually, that sounds kind of breezy. What actually happened is that the Baz Bus were an hour late picking us up, then we were delayed because they had overbooked the service and then we broke down and had to wait in a service station for about four hours for a replacement van from CT (which is Cape Town, remember). We should have taken a mini-bus taxi!
In Plettenburg Bay we stayed at Albergo’s which is very friendly and enthusiastically run. We were there for Valentine's Day and went to the beach, swam, larked about and ate at a lovely place called The Lookout, although we didn’t see any dolphins, which I had promised Laura. I said we’d see them in Coffee Bay later on in the trip. Then we headed to the hostel and lounged in hammocks for a while as we awaited the Baz Bus.
Heffalumps and other animals
Sadly, we hung around in ‘Plett’ for only a night, and were once again at the time-consuming mercy of the Baz Bus. Thankfully we arrived in Port Elizabeth, or PE (as it really is called here) only an hour or so late, at Jikeleza Lodge. It was a whole evening of traveling and we were pretty tired out. The guy who ran the lodge was a guy named Mike. I’m not prejudiced in this area but I’m always a bit on edge when someone says to me, “A marvelous thing happened to me in church today.” It turns out Mike is part of a happy clapping, nay, prog rocking Christian movement in PE which is divided into ‘cells’, which each have a leader. I am not making this up. But Mike was a cool guy, very friendly and helpful.
The next day was one of the highlights of my whole trip. If you’re in Africa you really need to see some wildlife. So we went on a trip to Addo National Park which houses up to 450 elephants. It was very exciting. At first we struggled to see any, but then our guide Peter got a tip-off and we turned around and headed for one of the park’s viewing points. We went through some wire door type thing where we were warned of the possible presence of lions, then walked for a few minutes up to a wooden fence. Upon looking out through the fence we could see an amazing and awesome sight. A massive herd of elephants, maybe more than a hundred, at one of the park’s watering holes. These are wild elephants, they are monitored by the park but not interfered with. It was a great sight to see.
In the afternoon we went to Scotchia Private Reserve game park. It was very, very cool. Sitting in one of those open top land rovers we went through the big gates of the Reserve and into another world. Jurassic Park!
So in one day we saw four of The Big Five (rhino, elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard). Not a bad day. On the way back to PE our guide Peter pointed out drug dealers and hiding behind lamp posts we saw prostitutes, Peter describing them as ‘walking AIDS’. It was like we were on safari, albeit a strange city night safari. We gave him a good tip.
After PE and the elephants and Mike’s ‘rocking for God’ organised cells we headed up to Coffee Bay, staying at Bomvu Paradise, a very relaxed place where there is tribal drumming every other night. It was a good experience, although we were molested by strong wind and sand on the beach.
Umzumbe is on the KwaZulu-Natal coastline and is a lesser known hangout. We stopped for two nights at the Mantis and Moon which is my favourite hostel I’ve ever stayed in. As well as the usual things you hope for such being clean, safe, comfortable, friendly helpful staff, pool table – this place had it all. We slept in a treehouse where in the mornings monkeys would come and eat right outside the door, there was a rock pool, a Jacuzzi and a cool bar with poker playing facilities! Add to that it was all set amongst tropical type plants and the (empty-ish) beach was only a few minutes walk away. It was an awesome time. It doesn’t get much better than sipping beers in a Jacuzzi in Africa on a Monday afternoon in February.
The only downpoint to the Matis and Moon, apart from leaving, was that I got savagely sunburnt. I creamed up, but must have missed a few spots. The sun here in summer is like when Schwarzenegger was up against the alien in Predator and has to cover his body with mud so the creature can’t see him. If some of it comes off, he’s dead. So I have random burns all over. Nasty. Laura didn’t fare well with the mozzies here either. She got some bad bites and they bruised and blistered and got all swollen up. It looked awesome but she wouldn’t let me take a picture.
The heat is on
From Umzumbe we moved onto Durban where I assured Laura we would finally see some dolphins.
And so before we knew it the time to leave was upon us. We caught the SA Roadlink bus up to Jo’burg. Having seen no dolphins in Durban even I was skeptical of seeing any in Johannesburg.
Over here buses and plane flights between cities are incredibly cheap but taxis are ridiculously expensive. It cost us 100 Rand each (about seven quid) to bus from Durban to Jo’burg, a journey of seven hours, yet here in Jo’burg a ten minute shuttle to the mall costs the same amount. Madness. It’s because the different bus and domestic plane companies are in competition with each other, driving down prices. I said it cost R100 to bus from Durban to Jo’burg, well it only costs R219 to fly with Mango airways. Incredible.
So Laura flew home yesterday and suddenly I am very alone. After spending so much time with someone and then having them leave is a big shock. The leg of the journey with Laura is over. Was a bit quick, but that’s all the time we had. Another two weeks would have been perfect. Still, really enjoyed it.
On our trip we met some people who were travelling on round-the-world type tickets like myself, but were doing the whole south-east Asia thing, then Australia, New Zealand, LA and home. Again, for me this route is a little boring. Wouldn't you like to go somewhere where you tell people where you're going and they raise their eyebrows and look at you like you're a bit strange and ask 'isn't it dangerous?' The further out of the way you get (I'm thinking cramped bus rides in Lesotho and Bolivia here) the more interesting travellers you meet, I think. You don't have to go overland through Burkina Faso, but somewhere a bit more intersting than New Zealand. It's just like the Lake District in Cumbria, you know. And it's got some bad places. Mordor is pretty rough. The coast of South Africa is lovely but very safe, especially if you are travelling on the Baz Bus, I think that's why you get more girls than guys travelling that area.
I am staying at the Purple Palms lodge in Jo’burg, just hanging out, plotting my next move. I have no money left really so I need to maybe bring my flight forward a little. It’s scheduled for March 14 but that is about three weeks away. Don’t know if I need to be out that much longer. Not sad about that, I‘ve lived the life and now after almost six months I feel too tired out of doing ‘excursions and actities’ but just hanging out makes me feel like I’m drifting, not doing anything constructive. Also it’s quite tiring this traveling lark, I need a holiday. How do people do this for a year or longer? I don’t know. However, I’ve learnt in this game you never know what’s around the corner. So the trip might have a little more steam left in it.
Like Sly Stallone said to me, (well he didn’t say it to me as such, it was in Rocky 6) - “it ain’t over till it’s over!