African Advice

“Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself” ~Marcus Tullius Cicero (Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist)

This is a little African Advice for those considering going, or rather things I’ve learnt along the way;
1. Definition of a hot shower changes dramatically when traveling to Africa (Day 4)
2. The need to have a shower daily increases, but is not proportionate with the ability to have a shower daily when camping in Africa (Day 9)
3. Be happy with what you have, there are so many people out there with a lot less (Day 11)
4. Living above the poverty line in Africa means earning more than $1 – $2 USD a day
5. A single pot hole does not make a bad road….bad roads have gaping holes, half speed bumps, animals constantly running over meaning swerving is required, unevenness for kilometer after kilometer (Day 17)
6. It’s not always hot in Africa (mums rain jacket / jumper which I thoughts I would only use for the gorillas trekking, was used almost every day for first two weeks of trip, and also makes a good pillow) (Day 18)
7. Any thought that I might lose weight on this trip has gone out the window…with the amazing meals and many pit stops for snacks….it’s not even an option! (Day 20)
8. I can live without three coffees a day! In fact I am currently having about 1 coffee a week (Day 25)
9. There are more speed bumps in Tanzania that I’ve ever seen (or felt for that matter) (Day 26)
10. A different currency every 4-5 days isn’t as hard as I thought…although I do really need to work on being able to do big sums in my head…when $1 starts to equal more than 5000 of some other currency the challenge does increase! (Day 30)
11. Average life expectancy here in Africa ranges, but is generally to more than 45 -55 years of age, and when you see the back-breaking manual labour most people endure in the raging heat, it’s not hard to understand why. One of the saddest instance is seeing women with babies strapped to their back while carrying out manual labour. (Day 32)
12. Speed limits only count if the are police around, except in Tanzania where even if you aren’t speeding they pull you over and say you are..basically waiting for a bribe to be paid to buy lunch (Day 35)
13. Check points don’t appear to actually check much, rather just waste time (Day 35)
14. I am a millionaire in Zambia! (Day 36)
15. African Elephants are bigger than Asian elephants! (Day 37)
16. Hippos may look cute, but are very scary when you are on the water in a hollowed out tree! (Day 41)
17. Africa has a lot of paperwork (and stamps at border crossings!) (Day 43)
18. October / November is an amazing time to visit Africa…as its baby season! Baby Baboons, Baby Antelope, Baby Hippos…the list goes on (Day 45)
19. its always a good idea to wear a bra, especially after seeing the female Himba elders (Day 47)
20. Cape Fur Seals stink ..only literally, they were very cool to watch, albeit smelly! (Day 49)
21. When someone tells you a Sand Dune is only 150m high…thats base to tip…not the actually length of the journey you take…ekk it was hard yakka! (Day 51)
22. South Africa Wine is awesome…esepcially Pinotage (A mix of Pinot Noir and Hermitage grape varietals) (Day 54)
23. Saying goodbye is hard (Day 56)

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” — Rosalia de Castro (Galician romanticist writer and poet)

20130114-221343.jpg

The End of an Era

“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something” ~ Max Lucado (Best-selling author and writer and preacher at Oak Hills Church in Texas)

The last day of my two month adventure, saw me come face-to-face with several Great White Sharks…literally! Sharks are quite possibly the world’s most feared animals. From the smallest sand shark to the enormous whale shark, they are sleek, muscled, and some are almost as agile as a dolphin. There is no doubt that they are the most evolved predators in the ocean. Row upon row of teeth and capable of sensing the blood of an injured animal from over a kilometre away, it’s not surprising that they are the most feared creature beneath the waves. And of them all, the Great White is the most awesome.

While great white sharks are commonly portrayed as invincible killing machines, the reality is quite the opposite. They are highly vulnerable masters of evolution and whilst their hunting prowess is remarkable, they are highly selective in what they attack and consume; indeed to see one hunting is a rare event. Great whites are no more abundant anywhere on earth than in South Africa, yet even here they are not common. To be able to witness these great animals flying out of the water to hunt was, until recently, thought to be the product of a rich imagination. However with tight government and environmental protection plans in place, we are now able to witness these magnificent animals from the water!

We drove for about 2 hours to get to the aptly named “Shark Alley”, near the fishing village of Gansbaai, South Africa. A short safety briefing and a quick 15 minute boat ride into the bay, we were ready! The cage is situated next to the side of the boat and once ready to take the dive, the Dive Master would assist the diver into the opening at the top of the cage. Getting into the cage with the sharks around, was a truly breath-taking experience, literally…as it was in the Atlantic Ocean which is about 10 degrees at this time of year. Due to environmental restrictions, boats are not able to feed the sharks to get them close to the boat. Rather, they use Tuna heads (with little to not flesh on them) as the bait. Once close by, the Dive Master pulls to bait away and the shark pulls up to the cage. When “feeding” actively around the boat, the sharks may occasionally brush their tail against the cage, and are very curious and often come close-up to the cage, taking a closer look at the divers.

Diving takes place on a quick and effective rotational system, with 5 to 6 divers down in the cage at one time. Once the rotation is completed it will be repeated, therefore ensuring that each diver can take as many dives as possible. Time spent in the cage depended on weather/water conditions and shark activity. I was the only one on the boat to go into the water three times…maybe it was the temperature of the water that put people off…or coming face-to-face with a Great White…who knows, but it meant more opportunity for me!!!!

When all was said and done, I had travelled to 10 countries in Africa, meet countless new friends from all over the world, seen amazing sights, photographed the Big Five, had close encounters with Lions, Elephants, Cheetahs and Sharks, and had the time of my life! Who can ask for more than that 🙂

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” ~ Susan Sontag (American writer and filmmaker, professor, literary icon, and political activist)

I think this also sums up a good travel philosophy too..

”If at some point you don’t ask yourself, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ then you’re not doing it right.” ~ Roland Gau

20130114-215838.jpg

20130114-215849.jpg

20130114-215859.jpg

20130114-215909.jpg

20130114-215919.jpg

20130114-215929.jpg

Good Hope

“This cape is the most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.” – From the journal of Sir Francis Drake, on seeing the Cape for the first time, 1580

Alicia, Tanya, Emma and I were the last four standing after the tour finished. The rest of the group had other plans, and had taken their own new path after the trip, and our guide, cook and driver were heading off to prepare for their next tour group arriving the next day. But our journey wasnt over just yet…

It was time to head down to the Cape of Good Hope on a day tour with one of the querkiest guides I’ve ever met. From the town centre, we traveled along the waterfront to the Atlantic seaboard taking in some of the magnificent cape beaches and stopping periodically for amazing photo opportunities. Having a guide who drove the whole way, meant that we could not only to take in the scenic beauty, but ask questions and be entertained by his fascinating stories and interesting facts, including the fact that he was imprisoned in the same Prison as Nelson Mandella, also as a political prisoner. The spectacular Chapman’s Peak drive which is cut into the 650m high Chapman’s Peak lead us through the Town of Noordhoek to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve at the tip of the Cape.

A botanical and scenic delight the reserve is home to several antelope species, baboons, as well as a great diversity of flowering plants and birds. A highlight was to te walk to the summit of Cape Point, where it is said, the stormy waters of the Atlantic are met by the calming influence of the Indian Ocean. It felt everything but calm to me, as the wind tore up the Cape to the pinnacle and made me feel like I was standing in a washing machine! The Cape has played such a central role in the tales and legends of this ocean was and remains an important landmark situated at the South Western point of Africa, proclaiming that this is where the two halves of the world, east and west meet. It was here that we enjoyed a beautiful lunch overlooking the calmer side of the Cape, it was really the embodiment of the saying, a Meal with a View!

We then traced the Seaboard on the way back to Cape Town and stopped in at Boulders Beach. An attractive secluded haven, which comprises a tumble of huge round rocks on a sandy shore, it is an ideal vantage point for watching the antics of a colony of mainland-based African penguins.

The evening was spent telling stories of the last few weeks, talking about the days events and relaxing into a little technology in the form of a movie night. It was certainly a great way to spend the last few hours together. And even with a late night, the girls were up at 5am the next day to see me off on my next and final adventure! They were all heading off to the airport later in the morning, which left me at a loose end for the day…so what did I decide to do…go Swiming with Sharks of course.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” ~ C.S. Lewis (Irish novelist, poet & academic)

20130114-215438.jpg

20130114-215451.jpg

20130114-215535.jpg

20130114-215548.jpg

20130114-215559.jpg

20130114-215611.jpg

20130114-215626.jpg

20130114-215641.jpg

Painting the (Cape) Town Red

“Perhaps it was history that ordained that it be here, at the Cape of Good Hope, that we should lay the foundation stone of our new nation. For it was here at this Cape, over three centuries ago, that there began the fateful convergence of the people’s of Africa, Europe and Asia on these shores.” – Former President Nelson Mandela, during his inauguration speech on May 9, 1994

Our final day of travel took us straight into the heart of Cape Town, set dramatically at the foot of Table Mountain. Located on the shore of Table Bay, Cape Town was originally developed by the Dutch East India Company as a victualling (supply) station for Dutch ships sailing to Eastern Africa, India, and the Far East. Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival on 6 April 1652 established the first permanent European settlement in South Africa.
Cape Town quickly outgrew its original purpose as the first European outpost at the Castle of Good Hope, becoming the economic and cultural hub of the Cape Colony.

Table Mountain, with its near vertical cliffs and flat-topped summit over 1,000 m (3,300 ft) high, and with Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head on either side, together form a dramatic mountainous backdrop enclosing the central area of Cape Town, the so-called City Bowl. A thin strip of cloud, known colloquially as the “tablecloth”, sometimes forms on top of the mountain, but was not visible the day we arrived. So, knowing that the tablesloth can prevent access to the mountain, we headed straight up! Table Mountain is a significant tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top (which we did not do), and forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. The main feature of Table Mountain is the level plateau approximately 3 kilometres from side to side, edged by impressive cliffs. The view from the top of Table Mountain is one of the most epic views in Africa!

Wandering around, admiring the views as well as local flora and fauna, i was sad to think this was the last day of the tour. And really, where had 56 days gone? But I enjoyed every minute of the trip…well maybe not the food poisoning and hospital stay, but every other minute! Life throws many different opportunities at you, but unless you grab them with both hands, sometimes they pass you by. This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

“This is a pretty and singular town; it lies at the foot of an enormous wall (the Table Mountain), which reaches into the clouds, and makes a most imposing barrier. Cape Town is a great inn, on the great highway to the east.” ~ Charles Darwin in a letter to his sister, Catherine, 1836

20130114-215026.jpg

20130114-215041.jpg

20130114-215050.jpg

20130114-215058.jpg

20130114-215110.jpg

20130114-215120.jpg

20130114-215130.jpg

20130114-215143.jpg

The Winelands

“Wine is the divine juice of September.” ~ Voltaire

The drive into the Cederberg region is one of open, arid plains dotted with strange quiver trees that the Bushman used to use to store their poison arrows in. Further south, we came across mountain ranges emerging which provide a more fertile environment for growing grapes…the aim of todays trip…the wine region. The Cederberg mountains and nature reserve are located near Clanwilliam, approximately 300 km north of Cape Town, and is one of the best wine growing regions in South Africa. Little discovered, stunningly beautiful, the Cederberg is the perfect combination. A mountain range of red sandstone ridges and pinnacles, the stark arid summits run down into a fertile landscape of Rooibus tea plantations and South Africa’s highest vineyards.

The afternoon was spent settling into our final campsite for the trip, lounging by the pool, relaxing and taste testing some of the regions produce. The evening descended into a real party, as this was going to be one of our last nights together, but also there was another overland group at the same site, that we had encountered several times over the last two weeks. The Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz around these parts are serial award-winners, the Pinotage Wine is on the up and coming list, and a seat facing the hills, glass in hand, is a great way to spend an afternoon / evening.

“People spend too much time tasting wine; not enough time drinking it” ~ Andre Tchelistcheff (America’s most influential post-Prohibition winemaker)

20130114-214738.jpg

20130114-214749.jpg

20130114-214757.jpg

20130114-214806.jpg

20130114-214815.jpg

Fishy Business

“Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.” ~ Don Marquis (American humorist, journalist, and author)

An enormous ravine of some 160km in length, and at times nearly 30km wide, Fish River Canyon is Africa’s largest canyon (and the worlds second largest behind the Grand Canyon) is unlike anything else on the continent. The seasonal Fish River has spent a busy few hundred million years carving a meandering route through the stony and plateau of southern Namibia. The result is simply breathtaking, and is rivalling Namibia’s spectacular dunes as the country’s premier natural miracle. If you choose to trek Fish River Canyon it takes at least 5 days, you must go with a guided group as many travellers have gotten lost never to return in the Canyon. The immense scale and rugged terrain has drawn many visitors from all over the world to experience what hiking or trail running the canyon can offer. Certificate of fitness, completed by a medical doctor must be presented in order to receive a permit to trek the canyon, which considering the decent we passed , I’m not surprised.

Emma, Charlie and I spent the last hour in the dying light of the day wandering along the rim of the canyon towards one of the main viewpoints. There we met the rest of the group and watched the canyon walls change colour as they tinged with golden rays from the setting sun. Our guide Manda has also done this many times before, especially with Aussies. So he reminded us on the way to all place a cold beverage or two into our onboard esky (or chilly-bin for you kiwis), to enjoy the sunset with. Absolutely stunning!

Leaving Namibia the next day, we cross over the Orange River into South Africa. After being warned that this could be the longest waits / harshest checks of baggage at any crossing point on the African continent we were all a little concerned. However these fears thankfully proved to be unfounded, and we crossed with ease. The Orange River is the longest river in South Africa. It rises in the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho, flowing westwards through South Africa to the Atlantic Ocean, and forms part of the international borders between South Africa and Namibia. So we set up camp on the South African side of the river for a chill out afternoon admiring the harsh and arid surroundings.

“In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

20130114-214500.jpg

20130114-214515.jpg

20130114-214528.jpg

20130114-214539.jpg

20130114-214553.jpg

Sun, Sand and Sweat

“Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns it calls me on and on across the universe.” ~ John Lennon

Sossusvlei is in the heart of the Namib Desert, and is generally believed to be the oldest desert on the planet! The scenery in this harsh and primeval area is spectacular to the extreme. The dunes in the desert rise to unbelievable heights, some are over 300m above the surroundings terrain. The effects of the sunlight and the atmosphere combine to create a myriad of shades and hues on the sand dunes, so the entire area seems to change complexion throughout the course of the day. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Namibia in a guide-book, the it’s from this area, it is simply quintessentially Namibian.

The afternoon was spent exploring the Sesriem canyon, that has been carved out from the old river that used to run all the way down to the dunes and out to the sea. You could easily miss it as the gap that open into the canyon is barely visible from the road, and only 1km is still accessible. The next morning, we head for the Namib-Naukluft Desert before sunrise. Upon arrival at Dune 45, named for being the 45th dune from Sossusvlei and also coincidently 45km from Sossusvlei as well. The dune is ‘only’ 150m high, but is a lot harder than you might think to climb.. Thanks to the softness of the sand. Our plan was mildly affect by the weather, as when we arrived a thick fog had set in…it created quiet an eerie feeling, and something quiet unique. But we all made it all the way to the peak in the end, even under fog it was something to behold!! A cooked breakfast was waiting us after we descended off the dune. The fog started to dissipate as we made our way to the next iconic view of the Namib desert….that of Deadvlei. Deadvlei consists of a clay base of an old river bed, containing skeleton trees that have been dead for over 800year, and completely surrounded by dunes. It’s just one of those places that needs to be experienced, as photos really dont do it justice!!!

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

20130114-214117.jpg

20130114-214136.jpg

20130114-214155.jpg

20130114-214219.jpg

20130114-214227.jpg

20130114-214242.jpg

20130114-214251.jpg

20130114-214304.jpg

20130114-214313.jpg

20130114-214326.jpg