Friday, February 23, 2007

Coast to Coast

I travel round the coast of South Africa reunited with and rejuvenated by my girlfriend Laura. Join us on a journey through time and space as we explore the vineyards of Stellenbosch, stumble across a huge herd of elephants at Addo National Park and get woken up by monkeys in Zululand…

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.

Mr. Good

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.

One of the guides said it was ‘as good as Addo gets’, which I can believe. Laura was very excited as she loves ‘heffalumps’ and has quite a few cuddly furry ones at home. I have promised to get her a baby elephant for her birthday. On the way out an elephant ran across the path of the car. Awesome.

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!

We saw beautiful kudu, impala and nyala (types of antelope), warthog, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, buffalo and rhino. After some light refreshments we headed into the lion enclosure to see if we could spot the five cats they have there. We saw the new lioness and the three sub-adults but not the big daddy lion. He was hiding somewhere. Still, it’s exciting to be a car and not now what you’ll see or where you’ll see it.

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.

We made traveller small talk so much it hurt my head. The where have you been how long are you travelling where do you go next questions annoy me greatly. Boring, boring, boring! If you're sitting with someone it's polite to chat to them but if you are only going share someone's life for fifteen minutes why not at least make it interesting? Ask them about the death penalty, gay marriage, peadophiles. Something interesting. I'm guilty of this superficial chatting as well, but try to do it as little as possible in any situation in life.

We were at Bomvu for a couple of nights (it could easily have been a week) and bought some of their clothes. On our second and last night we met a guy called Eric who was very drunk and had some kind of shawl over his shoulder. Officially he made drums at the hostel but he told us he was a fortune teller. It is unclear whether he was able to foretell his own unfortunate dismissal the following day for anti-social behaviour. We left Coffee Bay having seen no dolphins, but I promised Laura we would see them at Umzumbe, our next stop.


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.

One night myself, Laura and a couple, Dean and Jo, played some Texas Hold ‘em. At home I played almost everyday on t'internet, but out here I've only played a few times, once using tree leaves as poker chips. I was relishing the chance to get back amongst the cards. Well, after three hands Laura and Jo were both out and Dean and I played heads-up for the next hour. I thought I had him with a full house, tens and eights, but when we flipped over our cards Dean had exactly the same hand, forcing a split pot! I ended up short stacked and went all-in pre-flop with 7-4 of spades and wasn't surprised to lose to a pair of sixes. That lousy Dean! Afterwards Laura and I played. I won of course, but she has developed a skill at deception that I must remember to be wary of in future.

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.

We were in town for only one night but the temperature had moved up to nearly 40 degrees and Laura wasn’t coping well with the heat. After a spectacular meal at the Ocean Basket earlier in the evening she was sick. A lot. I was briefly panicked thinking it was the seafood, but it turned out it was just the heat and the prawns were as good as they tasted. It was a pity Laura only rented her food. The Sauvignon Blanc was still rough but again, for three quid... etc.

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.

Wow, where did that rambling come from? Ok, I'm off my soapbox now. Asia is undoubtedly beautiful. Go there!

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!


SouthAfrica said...

I enjoyed your blog again - very descriptive and mostly great clickies. Where as that photo of you in the sea taken? I've had exactly the same experience - went to the loo whilst waiting for somebody to arrive on a flight to Cape Town, and that was exactly when she arrived - Murphy's law.

Kate said...

hey andy...loving your blog! I can't wait to finish working in Stellenbosch now so Nick and I can follow in your footsteps - see all the animals and stay in a tree house!!

Kate said...

hey andy...loving your blog! I can't wait to finish working in Stellenbosch now so Nick and I can follow in your footsteps - see all the animals and stay in a tree house!!

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