Sunday, 9 March 2008

South Africa, Week 2

[Note: pictures couldn't upload to the page at the moment...the site failed. I may try again in a few days.]

Another week has passed, and this one finds me sitting in a four-star hotel in Jo'burg, which I got for cheap through Expedia. Just one night, though, and then it's back to hostels.

Anyway, I believe I left off last weekend, so let me pick it back up from there.

Officially labelled "Logistics day" by the group - we all sorted out some of our details for the next stages of our lives. Tickets, and so on. This involved the renting of a car for four of us, to travel the Garden route, and the booking of hostels through to the next weekend.

In the afternoon, we were meant to go visit some of the Stellenbosch wineries; but when the time came, we found that none of us could be bothered. I'd already been there, and some of the others were planning to go later; so the plan just fizzled out. So we just stuck to our usual Cape Town haunts, and did a bit of shopping.

Road Trip! The four of us core travellers - me, Jim the chippy, Ant the chef, and Dave the meteorologist, got our car and headed off east. It was a little bit disconcerting at the start - none of the other three had driven in 18 months, and I still haven't ever driven on the left side of the road (despite four years in England). Dave started off, and did well to get us out of the heart of Cape Town.

Our destination was Plettenberg Bay, a nice little town on the south coast about 500 km from Cape Town. The road was relatively good, and we made it there by early evening. The hostel came well-recommended - it was basically someone's house, where they stuck a bar and dormitory on the back. Plett Bay itself had a large number of restaurants and bars and so on, all within walking distance. So we congratulated ourselves on our choice.

A day of looking at local wildlife reserves. First one, elephants:

Always nice to see elephants up close. These ones were young ones rescued from a cull at the Kruger; they would be re-released into the wild in a few years, probably in Botswana. Up close with an elephant, you always wonder what it's thinking. Wouldn't want to play one at poker.

Next to the elephant sanctuary, there was a bird sanctuary. Took loads of shots of birds; not many of them turned out. Here's a few.

It was Africa's biggest aviary, and it was massive. We toured it for about an hour, and then got back to the hostel for a traditional African meal, a type of stew whose name eludes me at the moment.

A day of infamy for me. We decided to do a horseback tour of a game reserve. Now, I've always had a problem with heat - this day was a particularly hot sunny day, and I never really noticed how I've subconciously sought out shade and cool whenever I could, in similar circumstances.

No such luck on the back of a horse, proceeding at a walking pace through a field. I got a bit dizzy and nauseous - drank through my water quickly, and completely ignored our guide's descriptions of the animals nearby. I do remember being close to a giraffe at one point. That's about it.

Ah, but afterwards! We got down to the beach in Plett bay, where the waves were huge. We frolicked a bit in the water, and finished off with cocktails on the terrace of a large immaculate hotel with a well-executed sixties decor. A great way to make me forget my three hours of African centurion patrol duty.

And then there were three. We parted way with Dave at this point - he was progressing further east along the Garden Route, while the rest of us returned to Cape Town. I should say at this point - the Garden Route is a strip along the south coast of South Africa that is very well developed as a holiday area. There is still poverty around the corner, and township communities of ramshackle buildings, but there are also posh beachfronts and restaurant strips. In this sense, it's not the "real" Africa. But appropriate for a holiday.

Anyway, Ant, Jim, and I retraced our steps back to Cape Town with minimal fanfare. When we got back, our favourite hostel was booked up, so we grabbed the one next door. This one ("Zebra Crossing") was a bit more cramped, and had less security, but was still more than fine. We made one last visit to the Waterfront and our favourite pizza place ("Clay Oven" on Long Street). And then off to bed.

And then there was one. I finally left Ant and Jim early morning Saturday - Ant was beginning his holiday with his girlfriend, and Jim was beginning an overland tour through Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. So, I was on my own for the first time since early October. Time for a train trip!

The Premiere Shosholoza train left Cape Town on Monday morning. This train had 20 cars on it. And, so far as I could tell, it had about 20 people on it. We literally could of had a car for each of us! But we didn't, of course. We had a room for each of us - a small room, but enough to sleep in comfortably, and sit and watch South Africa go by:

Meals were very good, service was good. The night passed uneventfully. I didn't get to know any of my fellow passengers - mostly elderly couples or families. Besides, I had a stack of fiction to get through, and I was happy.

We arrived into Johannesburg around noon. Jo'burg is quite a different story than Cape Town - much bigger, all-business, and has some rough sections that you can wander into. In the absence of a Blumenthal guide, I took no chances and went straight to my hotel, which I picked from Expedia without any location strategy.

A bit more confident when I got there, as the area was nice, I decided to take a walk in a random direction. A half hour later, I ended up at a shopping centre. After wandering around for a bit, I saw a bowling alley/arcade that triggered a memory flashback. I'd been here before!

I love that feeling of sudden re-orientation; you're lost, or in unfamiliar territory, and suddenly you are able to fit what you're seeing with the internal map inside your head. The last time I was in Jo'burg, we came to this suburban shopping centre, by some freak coincidence, to do some last minute shopping. I went looking for a certain bar, where I had a strong memory of Glen consuming a cocktail where waiters kept pouring more liquid into your glass while you drinking it. After finding it easily, I thought about having a cocktail in his honour; however, I was now travelling on my own, and it was lunchtime. Drinking alone at lunch crosses a certain line.

So I returned to my hotel. I phoned my parents, which was nice - only phone call with them since October, except for one brief call from the Shackleton at Christmas. Then, an early night.

And now it's early Monday morning. I must give up my hotel to return to hostel life for two more days, before getting onto a flight back to the UK. This hostel is well-recommended, though, and sounds pretty relaxing. But first, some admin - I have 10 minutes of Internet access left, which must be used to book flights and arrange accommodations. Ah, the life of a transient...

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