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Archive for May, 2010

Bag comes home…

The bag arrived eventually. It landed in Joburg the day after we left, (handy that and no explanation given) and landed in Seychelles a week later after

my flobber feet in Praslin

we did, by which time we’d forgotten what was in it. It was a nice surprise then when we opened it and Mary Poppins like, the Calitzdorp Port, throws, candle holders and small rugs (all courtesy of sheet street) came popping out, along with the dirty pants. I amused myself for a few hours (with the new stuff not my pants) and the house is now a lot cosier though this brought its own dangers. Reclining on our new living room day bed (aka a single bed nabbed from the upstairs bedroom) I managed to smash the tea light holders that we’d had for just over 24 hours and had survived two plane flights, with my big flobber feet. Typical.

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Home to Seychelles!

Back in the Seychelles and a week of the Easter holidays left for the other one and all good intentions of exploring the island and treating ourselves to a little luxury (eating somewhere other than The Pirate Arms) didn’t happen on account of a rubbish car that got another puncture with still no clear reason why, chasing our lost bag, a grumpy other one who was finding it hard to adjust to being back and a backlog (that I’m still clearing!) of Social Seychelles, blog and hotel reviews. Life sucks.

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A holiday first – tales of the lost bag

After years spent travelling and lots of knocking of wood, finally one of our bags has gone missing. Having arrived at Joburg after a pleasant flight, we waited the carousel for our luggage, one case popped out and the other never appeared. We waited and waited and waited before speaking to the airline 1time who advised that it may come on the next flight (like why?) but never mind, let’s hope it’s on there. We waited and waited and waited, this time accompanied by very annoying, hormonally excited teen netballers who regaled us with their sporting chants, intermittently punctuated by demented squeals – I could have thumped them one. Maybe it was karma (or lack of it) to blame as the bag never arrived, so we went back to the airline, filled in forms and got a little annoyed. They promised they’d look for it but we didn’t really help ourselves either, does the bag have a label? No. What colour is it? Black. What sort of bag is it? Holdall. That narrows it down then. What’s in it? Ummm don’t know, dirty pants?

Our glum mood wasn’t helped either by the fact that no sodding place was open for food so we ended up eating a bag of crisps; it was 11pm and I hadn’t eaten since lunchtime. I was very grumpy.

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Robben Island

Mandela's cell

So it was we were back to where we started in Cape Town and the last thing we had on our list of tourist ‘must sees’; a trip to Robben Island.

We walked to the V&A waterfront to catch the ferry over to the island, joining the throngs of other tourists there. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to share what I thought would be an emotive experience of seeing where Mandela was imprisoned for so long, with hundreds of other people. The first part of our tour was aboard a coach to have a tour of the actual island. We saw where Robert Sobukwe, the leader of the Pan Africanist Congress was imprisoned in solitary confinement before continuing to the small village where the island’s residents live close to the rocky coast with stunning views of Cape Town and Table Mountain. I find Mahe a struggle sometimes but living here would be something again; you’d have to really not like people (probably an essential requirement to work at the prison during the apartheid years). I’d have preferred to walk around the island as isn’t that big, to have got more of a feel for it, like at to the lime quarry where they worked, to try and understand better what it must have been like to be imprisoned there. Sitting on a coach felt more voyeuristic and it didn’t help that Sebastian and Hetty (or whatever they were called) were playing computer games on their mobiles and ignoring their father’s pathetic pleas to stop while the guide told us about the history and horrors of apartheid. I thought it incredibly rude and wished they’d stuck to Tuscany or Cornwall for their holidays where they probably usually holiday- not that I’m being stereotypical or anything.

We had a former inmate take us around the prison but I still found it hard to fully comprehend what it must have been like to be incarcerated there. The pettiness of rules stood out as we learned that inmates were treated differently depending on whether they were coloured or black, like coloured people got more food, while censors pored over letters with presumably nothing to better to do. We never knew what the guy who took us round was meant to have done but it mattered little. He had a quiet dignity about him despite the suffering he’d endured (for example, his eyesight was badly damaged like most inmates because of the glare of the sun as they worked for hours in the quarries) and a resolve that made you empathise but certainly not pity him.

We saw Mandela’s cell but as there were about 40 of us in a narrow corridor, there wasn’t time to hang around; it was literally a quick glance and a photo but still, over 20 years spent in that jail and to come out the other end free of bitterness, unbelievable. Though, the experience wasn’t as dramatic as I thought , I was relieved as it’s not somethingthat I’d have felt comfortable sharing that with so many other people. It was one to reflect upon but definitely an important part of history that if in Cape Town, no-one should miss.

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You’re among friends now

I finished it all...

Showered and ready for the evening, we enjoyed a glass of wine with our hosts David and Amanda before dining at a restaurant they recommended that sounded like a great locals place. Run by friends of theirs, there was no formal menu, we just turned up and were served starter, main and dessert with the main comprising a number of dishes. They did a special vegetarian version for me that char grilled vegetables and salad (asparagus too!) that was lovely. Again, the hosts were convivial and the ambience laid back, another Swellendam surprise. Despite expectations to the contrary, Swellendam was a lovely stopover and it’d be easy to spend a couple of days and have time to take in the museum too!

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A couple of swells in Swellendam

this just down the road like an afterthought!

Back on the road and we were off to Swellendam, described as having one of the best country museums in South Africa so I wasn’t expecting much, but then we found Sheet Street. You can’t imagine my excitement, a shop not only filled with towels and sheets and curtains and soft furnishings (that were tasteful!) but arranged in a proper shop with proper shop fittings, displays and light. Browsing was fun and the prices were reasonable (it’s not at all chi chi), I loved Swellendam already! The other eventually dragged me out; it’s amazing how nine months on a small island can make even the most mundane of shops, an experience. I might need to be sedated before I ever walk down Oxford Street again.

Next, was the biggest supermarket we’d been in yet, with a bakery and deli woo hoo, so we bought a proper picnic (gone were the cheese and crisp butties, in was a foccacia and brie and a small bottle of vino) and we tore ourselves away as we had some exploring to be done…

Close to our lovely guesthouse and recommended by our very friendly and hospitable hosts, were some stunning nature trails. A five minute drive away and we were at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains (I think) and it seemed we had the place to ourselves and it was beautiful. Forests sprung around us as we drove to the start of a trail that led to a waterfall and we clambered up its shady path for about 45 minutes, following the water’s path. Coming across the waterfall, it was a small but fell prettily into a series of smaller pools and having worked up a sweat, its inky waters looked inviting. I decided that I’d get in the pool even if it killed me

Esther was doing her underwater scene here

(it was very cold) as a challenge to my increasingly cowardly self. Like the pool at Stellenbosch, there were a few aborted attempts and expletives before I managed full submersion but I did it and paddled about gamely, enough time to capture it on camera and make like Esther Williams, before getting out of there as fast as I could. The other one managed only a big toe, the big girl’s blouse.

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Back nearly the way we came

the best bit -actually it does look quite nice...

It was time for us to start going west again towards Cape Town, taking the N1 all the way, so next stop was Mossel Bay.

This was definitely a workaday town, albeit with another a lovely ocean location, lighthouse and bluffs and steep roads! Like the Garden Route equivalent of Southport (not so tacky as Blackpool) or Cleethorpes, it was pleasant but no great shakes. Our accommodation was backpacker cheap and cheerful, we enjoyed a good value lunch of fish and chips at the Point, the small strip developed by the lighthouse and coast, and returned later that evening for pizza. The day ended in a pub where for one of the few times in my life I was overseas watching a Manchester United football match where the majority of fans WEREN’T Man U fans; Bayern Munich what can I say?

We kept a studied silence while it seemed Man U were leading and if it was possible, sunk even more into silence as they got knocked out. I tried to sympathise with the other one but really it went against the fibre of that tiny part of me that purports to be a Liverpool fan. Besides, I couldn’t talk, my team don’t seem to know where Europe is anymore.

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Pleasure…

Fed up with touristy fish option and Indian rubbishness, we ventured into a restaurant that caught our eye the first day in Knysna but had waited for a moment to splurge, after all that’s why credit cards exist. A bit like Victoria 1906, except they seemed to want customers, we went in. Diners were thin on the ground but we felt we should support their efforts to raise the dining bar of the local restaurant scene. It was an evening when eating out is a proper occasion, an experience, rather than merely functional, though I think they may have overdone it a bit.

I’m not sure what divides very polite service from becoming overly attentive service but here it was a hairbreadth. I also have a compulsion to say thank you after anything is done for me, which meant I was saying it a lot (for the unfolding of napkins, serving of bread, refilling of water, refilling of wine, clearing the course etc etc). Each time I said it, our waiter felt similarly compelled to say ‘pleasure’ and so we were caught in some kind of vortex of manners. It was slowly driving me mad, teetering on a Basil Fawlty style crack up. I’m being waited on so I mean it when I say thanks but please don’t pretend its a pleasure when it isn’t (picking up the bits when I’ve been attempting to eat with chopsticks? I don’t think so!). I’d rather have grumpy than ingratiating and disingenuous. I stuffed my gob full of food to smother any further thankfulness and hoped the waiter wouldn’t mind having his pleasure denied.Perhaps he was just glad that I’d stopped with the thank yous.

The chef on the other hand seemed very genuine, at least that’s the impression I got when he came and served us our bread (he must have been very bored in the kitchen). He looked a little confused when through an another unknown compulsion, on learning he was the chef, I felt it necessary to mime, badly. I think I meant to pretend I was frying food instead it seemed I was having spasm. He didn’t come back out again.

The other one didn’t bat an eyelid and this I think could be a problem. He’s so used to me that I think I’m normal. Sometimes, it crosses my mind that maybe I’m not. Spending half a day walking like a penguin after visiting Boulder’s Beach, is ok isn’t it?

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fab fab fab

A good lesson in guidebooks not always being right – you see I thought that Plettenberg Bay was a horrible touristy beachside town and so opted for a three night stay in Knysna instead. Getting out the car for a little exploration, Plettenberg immediately stuck me as bright and shiny- if the towns were buildings, Knysna was would have been the Victorian terrace and Plettenberg, the Art Deco detached. Money I’m sure has something to do with it and there were a lot more bijou shops and trendy restaurants, which to our Seychelles sensibilities was a definite plus. The guidebook was spot on about recommending the ‘Lookout’ though, a large cliff top pub overlooking the beach. The guy serving us went to school where we lived in England proving that clichés often exist for a reason. We supped beer from the local brewery and for the sad reason that it shares it name with mine, I got lots of cheesy shots of me holding a pint and smiling inanely.

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Tsitsikamma day trip

We were hoping for a good one after the previous day’s mixed bag and were off to Tsitsikamma National Park.

Can you see it?!

The drive itself was pretty stunning with dramatic hill ranges to our left and the surging waters on our right, though know that some of the drive is a toll road so you pay for the privilege. We entered the park at Storms Rivers Mouth and drove for another 4km before we hit the coastline – that’s some lucky people who got to camp or stay in some of the most awesomely situated cottages I’ve ever seen. Metres from the sea, which crashed against the shore, buttressed by sky high mountains, you felt dwarfed by nature, made all the more atmospheric with the gusty wind blowing. I put on my layer, a sorry looking long sleeved top, and followed the other one for the 1km walk to past a small sandy cove to the newly renovated rope bridges that hung spritely from the darkly forested cliff sides. Gingerly, I stepped on the longest bridge, and shuffled along like Herman Munster hoping the wonderful views distracted other tourists from my clumsy progress. Thankfully, there were no pesky kids to start jumping up and down in the middle to unbalance my yin and yang and I made it across – eventually. The other one might even have beaten me.

Heady from our success (really extreme sports people we’re not) we ventured in the direction of the sign that indicated there was a lookout point. Up, up and up we went and then we went up some more again. My thighs were starting to take against me so when we came across a bench precariously near the mountain’s edge with a view to the horizon that you could never tire of; clear skies, cliffs and rolling surf, I felt that my work was complete. But no, the path continued, which meant we had to too ( I always have to see what may be round the corner).

It was another half hour before we reached the top and had our reward of standing on a rusting iron platform stuck to the side of the cliff, hanging on for dear life in the wind, trying not to die in the name of getting a really good photo.We drunk in the views until I could stand it no more and had to go pee.

it was sooooooo worth it

By the time we descended again, it was way past lunchtime and way past time to do the 3km walk to the waterfall (what a shame). We said goodbye to Tsitsikamma and headed back for Knysna.

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