Monday, April 19, 2010

Zulu Land

Greetings from Jo'berg Airport. This is going to be a quick update since I am catching a flight to Windhoek, Namibia in a half hour. Sad to leave South Africa--- is a great place, that definitely gets a bad rap. The country is in full swing for the World Cup, with construction everywhere, so hope it all goes smoothly for them.

I last left you in the Wild Coast, but had since made my way in to KwaZulu Natal and the 3rd largest city of Durban. Durban has the 2nd largest Indian population outside of India (after London) and is a real mix of cultures (albeit a bit seedy in the central area). I witnessed this culture clash first hand one night clubbing with the kids--- lots of Indian kids and the most bazaar combination of music imaginable- quite an experience.
Wasn't here too long since one day of wandering Durban exhausted anything I was interested in seeing. I walked into downtown, via a route that was maybe not such a great idea, to the Victoria Street Market which confirmed that markets are pretty much the same all over the world- spices, meat, souvenirs and aggressive shopkeepers.
I also walked along their waterfront (which is under construction pre World Cup) to the Casino which is basically the same as ours, minus the fake Venetian canal or Eiffel Tower. I also caught of glimpse of their new soccer stadium which looks really cool- you can climb/ride to the top and swing from the arch over the field.
Day 2 I spent on a long drive through the Sani Pass into Lesotho
(pronounced le-soo-too, who knew!!!)- an unexpected stamp in my passport! My remembrance of Lesotho--- really having to pee the whole time we were riding along the countries rocky, unpaved roads.
Lesotho is incredibly poor with an HIV infection rate of 24% and 45% unemployment, but wow does it offer some spectacular views. My new American/Kuwaiti friend Fahad and I had a great time posing for ridiculous pictures with the indigenous people (called blanket people cause they are always wrapped in them--- it was freezing. We think they should consider a Snuggie!) and drinking a local beer at the highest pub in Africa.

I'll upload all the pictures as soon as I can.

For the next 2 weeks I will be staying at N/a'an ku se animal sanctuary with no Internet access, so expect a really great update in a few weeks about my caring for the cheetahs and bottle feeding baby baboons!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Wild Coast

Sorry, it's been almost a week since I last updated you, but I've spend the last week in what is referred to as "The Wild Coast." (As you may guess, the Wild Coast and Internet do not go hand in hand.) I can't tell you how many times in the first two weeks I said "wow, this doesn't feel like Africa!"

Well, welcome to Africa!!! The Wild Coast or Transkei, as it was known in Apartheid times, is comprised of a lot of undeveloped land, with more beautiful vistas, dotted with Xhosa settlements and an occasional town.

After a one night stopover in Port Elizabeth (where I didn't seem to miss anything), I spend a night in Cintsa, where I had a lovely beach nearly to myself and met a lot of really fun people (one of whom was trying to convince me my next career move was Safari Ranger).

Although I saw no need to leave paradise, everyone highly recommended Coffee Bay--- a part of the Wild Coast that is much LESS developed. Yes, I was thinking LESS developed than this????

They were not lying! After leaving at noon, we finally arrived around 6pm- a distance not so far, but including an occasional animal in the way and 100km of potholes to dodge (see picture) that would really have you thinking fondly of US potholes.
I arrived at Coffee Shack, something close to camp, where I stayed in a traditional round African hut (like the one in the above picture). They had a ton of organized activities including: surfing again, beach volleyball for the first time (afraid I may have let down my team, but I did dive for a few balls towards the end), a trip to a bat cave (yes, hundred of bats flying around our heads--- it was horrible and if I had known that is what was happening I never would have followed that leader!!!) and cliff jumping.

The cliff jumping was great!!! After climbing some rocks, and getting a little cut up, we leaped off 10m cliffs into both the ocean and rivers and it was a blast!

Plus, good training for the upcoming bungee jump in Victoria Falls.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Surfs Up

A few hours further up the Eastern Cape brings me to Jeffrey's Bay, home of Supertubes, one of the world's best waves and once described as 'the most perfect wave in the world'. It's a laid back beach town where surfing is everything.

So when in Rome... I spent the last 2 days attempting to learn how to surf in pretty big waves for a beginner--- 4-5 feet. It was quite a workout just getting out to catch the wave, only to fall down almost immediately, but Andrew at Wavecrest Surf School was great as I was his only pupil yesterday.

Day 2 fared much better as I was able to stand for a few more seconds and on a handful of occasions made it to the beach (like twice). I plan to surf a few more days up north where I won't need a wetsuit and hopefully the waves are a little more gentle (and my shoulder stops aching!).

For comparison, after trying myself, I spent some time watching the guys surf Supertubes---- pretty amazing since that wave is huge and apparently was even bigger yesterday (they were very excited). Some pretty spectacular wipeouts too, which was equally entertaining. One day maybe you'll catch me out there (okay, realistically that may require more than 1 year off to get that good).

The other nice thing about Jeffrey's Bay is the dolphins playing in the ocean while we eat breakfast on the patio--- this really doesn't suck!
One note about my fellow travelers- so far I have met lots of people, mostly from Belgium and Netherlands oddly enough. My one big observation- women travel alone much, much more than men--- guess woman are more adventurous! ;-)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

2 Days Views/2 Days Booze

After leaving Cape Town I headed up to Stellenbosch, South Africa's premiere wine country. It lived up to the hype- delicious and beautiful!

As luck would have it, I met another lovely American (with a Philly connection- go figure!) at a vineyard wine tasting who became my BFF for the next 4 days.

We hit about a dozen vineyards in the area over the next 2 days (yes, that required some early AM drinking) and had some delicious Pinotage and other varietals. You got to sample 5 wines at each vineyard for about $2- and it was a healthy pour for a taste! Typically we had the whole vineyard to ourselves with lots of special attention.

At Warwick Vineyards, I imagine assuming we were a couple, they insisted we drink out of the wedding cup--- the image on their label. The basic idea is that 2 people can drink out of the cup at the same time, which required me having my hands behind my back while the other person drank from the glass normally. Needless it say it was amusing.

Stellenbosch and Franchoek were lovely little towns where we oddly enough had great Lebanese and decent Thai food, while Zebra skins hung out in the yard to dry.
After we sobered, Wednesday was spent entirely in the car driving 12+ hours up to the Garden Route, through incredible mountain passes with a zillion hairpin turns on dirt roads and no guardrails--- was an experience and I was VERY glad not to be driving (on the wrong side of the road, no less).
In the midst of all the driving we stopped at Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world, where yes, I ate ostrich (once is enough, thank you!) Ostrich farms were everywhere, and apparently you can ride one at one of the shows, which we opted against.

At long last we hit the Garden Route and our final destination Knysna, a charming town with a lagoon and surrounded by ancient forests---- and more amazing views and nice beaches. Hello Indian Ocean, nice to meet you!
We did a little ooohhh-ing and ahhhh-ing, took a long walk on the beach (water warmer up here, but still chilly) and a hike through a very confusing Goukama nature reserve where I don't think we ever found the right path, however we did get to tug ourselves across the river in a boat tethered to the other side to reach the start, that was really the main attraction in a generally confusing venture.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Last Day in Cape Town

Sorry, I've already gotten a bit behind thanks to South Africa wine country (so cheap and yummy, hard to not get side tracked!!)

So, here is my update from Monday, my last day in Cape Town.

As you can see from the pictures, my visit to the Cape of Point, the most SW point in the Continent, was a success--- over 12,500+ km from New York.

Had a really fun time there with Lindsey and Erik, a great couple from Connecticut who I met on the trip.

We biked against some major headwinds (glad I was spinning so much), hiked along the cliffs of Cape Point and beat all the Dutch, Germans, Indians, etc. (guess all Americans are a little competitive).

I know I am repeating myself, but the scenery here is stunning (and you get to do all sorts of great, adventurous stuff that would never be allowed in the US since kinda dangerous).

On the way to Cape Point we did a quick boat cruise to Seal Island (holy waves- was very thankful for motion sickness patch), which as the name would indicate was chock full of seals. Similarly, Boulders Beach, our next stop, was full of tiny African Penguin- a colony of 3000! They were pretty adorable.

Next post: Wine and Mountain Passes on way to Knysna

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Damn Easter Saturday

Not much accomplished today since the bulk of Cape Town seemed to be closed due to Easter Saturday (80% of the country is Christian and people have been wishing me a happy Easter since I arrived). I just walked and walked and walked some more. It was also cloudy, so was really lucky I did Table Mountain and Robben Island when it was nice.

Maybe it was a good thing everything was closed since the $2 glasses of SA red wine added up last night (drinking a $1 beer now- it's great!)? Met a nice group (1 each: American, French Canadian, Dutch and South African) that I joined for dinner last night and sampled my first Springbok, which I guess is like an antelope (not bad).

After a late start to the day, I went to the Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town's oldest building which is 344 years old, where I happened upon a tour and cannon fire at noon- how random and LOUD! (see picture). The Castle is also across the street from City Hall, the site of Nelson Mandela's first public speech after being released from prison.

After that i wandered around some more on a self-guided walking tour to various (closed) sites including the site of the former Slave Tree and Slave Lodge, a couple of churches, the Muslim quarter and the Dutch East India Company's Garden which was lovely with a rose garden that smelled incredible!

Now that I have walked a good chunk of the city, it really reminds me a lot of San Fran- fog (which they call the "tablecloth"), hills and all.

Tomorrow I am headed to hike and bike along the Cape of Good Hope, so expect a lot of pics of penguins, seals, etc.!

Also, in case you didn't notice, on the right hand side of the blog there is a Flickr link- I've posted 30+ pictures already if you want to see more.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Patience really is a virtue

It's so nice to have a ton of time, that way when everything doesn't go according to plan it doesn't really matter. (See, I am more laid back already!)

I was trying not to over plan the trip so didn't notice the recommendation to book tickets to Robben's Island in advance since they sell out- OOPS! Sold out for the NEXT 5 DAYS!!! :-(

Since I had time and wasn't going to leave defeated and disappointed, I figured it couldn't hurt to ask if there were any last minute cancellations. A hour wait later, 3 marathons missed the ferry while stuck in traffic scouting the route--- their loss, my gain!

So in addition to taking a tour of Cape Town and seeing all the idyllic beaches, I also saw Nelson Mandela's teeny tiny cell. Our tour guide was a former political prisoner who had spent 7 years in the prison as a cook for the 800 inmates. I'll give it to the South Africans, they certainly don't sugar coat Apartheid (but I guess that would be tough one!)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Summer, at last!

After 24 hours door-to-door (thank you Ambien), I have safely arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, at last!

It is stunningly beautiful here and so deliciously warm--- sunny and in 70's I guess (but felt warmer).

Perhaps I have been in NYC too long, but the people here are super friendly. I spent the afternoon atop Table Mountain and when I asked a local to take a picture (see right), I was soon invited to tea at their house. Then I spent a nice long wait to get to the bottom with a charming British couple (I had bought a one-way ticket, but it quickly became clear that I was NOT trekking down an almost vertical descent in sport sandals and and a skirt). The South Africans also seem to have a really charming sense of humor based on the flight attendants and cable car operator.

Although Table Mountain is often closed due to cloud cover or high winds, I totally lucked out with a completely cloudless day- with 360 degree views that went on forever. Pretty, pretty and more pretty!

I then took a shared taxi all over the city and ended up at the V&A Waterfront, which is pretty touristy, but still not bad to look at. Sure, it came with your standard street performers, but the limbo-ing fire a foot off the ground was still pretty impressive!!!
Now I am back at the Backpacker & Africa Travel Center, which is actually kinda nice, enjoying a glass of Pinotage and writing you all! Wish you were here with me!