The sun was out and we had a great last day in Cape Town. Leanne and I spent the afternoon with Nici visiting Muizenberg and Kalk Bay. Cape Town is set in one of the most naturally beautiful areas in the world. I’m sad to say goodbye again. In the early evening I had drinks with Ron before Leanne and I went for dinner. We had tremendous experiences during our time in Africa, and will remember them fondly.
We enjoyed our stay at a great B&B in Durban. The owners really went out of their way to help us accomplish what we wanted to do while there. We went and saw the movie District 9, which I really wanted to see before leaving South Africa as it was filmed here. It is a one of the better sci-fi movies I have seen. The following morning I took a transfer on my own to the town of Underberg to join a 4×4 tour up a steep winding pass through the Drakensburg Mountains to the Kingdom of Lesotho. Leanne stayed in Durban to relax, explore a bit and picked up some books from local stores. I travelled with a fun group of travellers on the trip to Lesotho. We visited a rural family house to learn about the culture and country and to taste their homemade bread and beer. Later we went to the highest pub in Africa for lunch and drinks before returning back to South Africa. It was a good afternoon.
The following day we flew back to Cape Town. In the evening we had dinner and drinks with the Gosneys (Ron and I know each other from work). They are also on an extended trip around the world and are having quite the adventure. http://gogogosney.blogspot.com/
Tomorrow is our last full day in Africa and then we fly off to Malaysia to start the last leg of our around the world trip. Photos from the past while can be found in the following photo albums:
This past week has been an incredible finish to our African odyssey. We swam with a whale shark, and wild dolphins off the coast of Mozambique and we came face to face with rhinos on a game walk in the Kingdom of Swaziland. We saw beautiful scenery including Blyde Canyon and all of the big five during safaris through Kruger. On the not so good list I was terrifyingly close to being bitten by a spitting cobra, our truck broke down, and I was stung by a jelly fish.
We are travelling in a small group with five others plus a guide and driver. On the drive out of Johannesburg and past Pretoria we were surprised to see road signs warning of hi-jacking hotspots. I assume they have a purpose other than to frighten tourists, probably to warn people not to stop for any reason. Little did we know that the following day we would be on the side of the road due to our truck breaking down. Fortunately it happened in a less dangerous area. We drove along the panoramic route stopping at vistas of the third largest canyon in the world. On our second night we stayed in a private concession near Kruger. It only had a few animals within its boundaries, but and at one point we had the fortune of being surrounded by giraffes. The ranger was providing interesting facts and we were impressed until he decided to shock us by putting giraffe feces in his mouth and spitting it out. We left and started to drive to Kruger, but the truck was having serious problems and we could hear the engine was only getting intermittent amounts of fuel. The tour manager was able to organize a much smaller open-top truck and we only lost an hour or two in the process. The guide took on driving duties and the driver stayed behind waiting for help to get our vehicle fixed.
Our drives through Kruger had sparse viewing. There was a heat wave and the animals were in hiding, but somehow in the few days we were there we managed to see all of the big five. Some of the sightings were brief, such as when the leopard ran down the tree and off into the bush before anyone could take a photo. On our first evening in Kruger five of us went for a bush braie (barbeque) dinner in the middle of the park. It was an impressive affair with lanterns surrounding the area and six staff that included a guard, bartender, servers and cooks to serve five people. The meal was excellent and we liked the experience although we felt a bit overwhelmed with the royal treatment.
We left Kruger and South Africa to enter the Kingdom of Swaziland. We watched a cultural performance at a local village before going to the king’s former hunting grounds. While there we went for an afternoon game walk during which I came dangerously close to being bitten by a spitting cobra. The ranger was leading us through trees and long grass and I was just behind him. He had safely passed, I did not. The venomous cobra slithered with incredible speed and poised to strike me. I must have been a little too close to its den. If I had been inches closer I would have been in trouble, but I was able to retreat out of range. The ranger seemed genuinely scared and took a very wide berth to get away from it. As we continued on we saw an enormous monitor lizard in a tree and a herd of elephants, but the ranger identified it as a breeding herd and kept us very far away. Just one week ago elephants in the same area had toppled over a game truck injuring a number of German tourists. The elephants are very protective around their young. The absolute highlight was when we came face-to-face with an eight month old white rhino and its enormous mother. We stood in awe as we watched them forage from a distance of as little as 3 meters away. We were on foot with nowhere to escape to should one decide to charge us. It was an incredible moment and a new trip highlight.
We left Swaziland and made our way to Mozambique. At the border we left the truck behind and crammed into a 4×4 to drive through deep sand to a small town on the coast where we would stay for 3 days. It was a chance to relax and have a beach break. We woke up early after the first night to take a boat out to see wild dolphins. Sightings are not guaranteed and the tour leader said previous tourists had no luck in finding them. We pushed off from the shore and made our way across the waves and within five minutes they found a whale shark. These are the largest fish in the sea and can grow as long as 21 meters, nearly 70 feet! The crew was excited and said to hop in the water quickly as it was a very rare chance to swim with one. They are gentle giants and they only eat plankton. I was off the boat before they had finished telling us to get in. I was one of the only people to get in and for a large part of the time I was swimming with it by myself. Leanne also went in but for a much briefer time. What a beautiful massive creature. It is huge, wide, and is spotted on top. I worked hard to keep pace with it and swam above it and beside it for a good twenty minutes, getting as close as a meter to it at times. It was an incredible, exhilarating lifetime experience.
After getting back into the boat I was on a high and didn’t even care if we had the chance to see dolphins. Within minutes of moving away Leanne spotted a fin in the distance. The three crew members did not believe her and Leanne was adamant that she knew what she saw. We waited a few minutes and they became visible again to everyone. The company owner, the person captaining the boat was very impressed and thankful about Leanne’s amazing spotting. It was a pod of about 35 bottle-nose dolphins. I spent a lot of the next hour in the water with them, getting out and back in only a couple times. Swimming with inquisitive and playful wild dolphins was remarkable. They look you in the eye and once you catch it they love to play a game of going in circles with you. I was swimming with two of them and one took special interest in me and came right up to me and started swimming around me. I was spinning to maintain our gaze, creating bubbles with my efforts and after a couple loops it came right against me to go through the bubbles before swimming off. I swam with about ten different dolphins and the experience completely surpassed my expectations. The only downside of the morning was getting stung on the arm by a jelly fish, but I hardly cared given the rewards of being in the water. Once I felt it I started looking around my surroundings and saw some blue bottle jellyfish around. However, since the pain wasn’t too bad I think I must have been a small typical jelly fish. Back in the boat Leanne again had an incredible spot and saw a spinner dolphin in the distance that was jumping out of the water, spinning and repeating it over again. These ones are far to fast to swim with and it is just fortunate to be able to see them. Leanne was a hero that morning and her spotting saved us a lot of searching giving us lots of time to spend in the water with the dolphins.
It was an incredible morning that I will never forget. I am still in disbelief of my encounter with the whale shark. I never ever thought I was going to have this experience off the coast of Mozambique. I feel so incredibly lucky to have had this morning.
How do you top the experience of bungee jumping 111 meters head first at Victoria Falls? You jump backwards off the highest bungee bridge in the world at a staggering 216 meters. They normally don’t let you jump backwards until you are an experienced jumper. Probably so you don’t instinctually try to grab back onto the edge. Since I had only been once before (at Vic Falls) I had to lie a little to go this way, thankfully one of the managers told me what I needed to say. I took the flying fox (zip line) over to the middle of the bridge for the big jump. As I was getting strapped up some of the experienced crew members were very excited about my backwards jump. A few of them felt it was a bigger rush and a totally different feeling than the other way. I wholeheartedly agree. I was excited and smiling big as I stood on the edge of the bridge preparing for the jump. For some reason I have always loved the sense of freefall and looked forward to it again. After I leapt off I intentionally let out a long yell of excitement, but as I turned onto my back and continued to freefall (almost 7 seconds) I had a whole new rush which I hadn’t felt before to which my fun yell unwillingly and uncharacteristically turned into an … “AHHHH SSSHHH#######TTTTTTT!” It was a new feeling and a huge adrenaline high. After the first slingshot I simply enjoyed the second drop, but it sure caught me off guard the first time. When I was done I was on a huge high and wanted to go again, but I will save it for another time. Leanne was watching me from the viewing platform with the camera out and as I stood out on the edge she found the whole thing to be shaking in her hands as her nervousness for me was getting the better of her.
In the afternoon we spent some time up close with saved elephants at a nearby sanctuary. It was a bit of a show though and we didn’t appreciate how structured it was. Unlike the sanctuaries we visited the day before here the animals were put to work for the tourists rather than roaming free and only approaching people if they wanted to.
Tomorrow we are off on a small group tour heading on our last safari this trip in Kruger. Photos from our last few days are added to the South Africa album. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=104519&id=673382190&l=368cc01ac5
We have just had one of those perfect days that included the surreal experience of making cheetahs purr with affection while petting them, wandering through a forest with lemurs, apes and other monkeys, and sharing a lunch with beautiful and overly friendly birds. To top it off we checked into a stunning secluded treetop lodge with beautiful views of the wilderness, our own private pool, and a wood burning fireplace Leanne roasted marshmallows on.
We left Cape Town for the long drive up the Garden Route, stopping in Mossel Bay to watch the surfers while having seafood for lunch. We spent the night at a contemporary masterpiece of a boutique hotel. It was created by one of South Africa’s most famous interior designers. We were the only guests, probably because the pricing on the Internet was eight times (a currency conversion issue) what it was supposed to be. I contacted the hotel directly because I didn’t believe it and was rewarded for doing so. For dinner that evening we walked a mere 200 meters to a neighbouring restaurant but we were drenched along the way. A light rain turned to a torrential flooding downpour halfway through our walk. We were wet and cold when we ate and happy to return to the hotel to enjoy the tub in our room.
The following morning the sun was out and the sky was blue. We had a wonderful breakfast set out just for us and ate outside while enjoying the weather. We left to visit a monkey reserve. It is a massive forested area where monkeys and apes that have been recovered from all over the world roam free. They are beautiful and entertaining creatures. It was my chance to see Lemurs up close since I missed going to Madagascar on this trip. We agreed that we would heed Canada’s travel warnings and avoid any country deemed too dangerous to visit, and Madagascar was still on that list due to a coup of the government this year and the resulting political turmoil and lawlessness that followed.
After spending time with the monkeys we visited the world’s largest free-flight aviary. It is a massive and attractive park filled with all kinds of brightly coloured birds. We loved our walk through here and stopped midway at a little restaurant for lunch. Despite having an abundance of food to eat elsewhere many of the birds seem to delight in the human attention. If you let them they will land on you and try to share your food, even pecking it from your mouth. While we didn’t let them stay on us, others did and one fellow behind us had a bird on his head and a couple on his shoulders and was feeding them from his mouth. The lunch was highly entertaining, and a bit gross.
In the afternoon we went to a rehabilitation centre for wild cats. Most animals need a fear of humans to survive so you don’t spend time with those that can recover, but you get to visit those that had been bred in captivity and rescued from zoos. These cats are remarkably happy. We watched a leopard on a cat post interacting with one of the staff, and visited large wild cats that look just like domestic ones on steroids. The incredible highlight though was getting to interact with them. To have a full grown cheetah come to you to be pet is something special. We spent a lot of time interacting with two adults and separately with two cubs. To hear and feel a cheetah purr so loudly under your own touch is really amazing. It was a special afternoon for us and something we will always remember.
After our high from being with the cheetahs we drove to a tree-top lodge where we are spending a couple nights. This place is absolutely incredible. Each guest stays in a secluded villa reached by platforms through the tree canopies and perched high up in the forest on stilts. We have two patios, a living area with a wood burning fireplace, a large bedroom with gorgeous views of untouched wilderness, a reading room, and massive bathroom and even a private infinity pool suspended high in the air. Incredible! Dinner was equally impressive and amongst my courses I had the best lamb tajine I’ve ever tasted. After dessert we returned to the room to find the fire going, hot chocolate waiting for us and marshmallows on a stick. Leanne roasted marshmallows and then we put on our robes and laid in the chaise lounge in front of the fire. The whole day combined was absolutely brilliant
More photos will be posted to the South Africa album when we get a decent Internet connection.
I have just returned from cage diving with the Great White Sharks in Gansbaai. It is considered to be the Great White Shark capital of the world and draws National Geographic Society film crews and researchers from around the globe to study the wildlife. I had a phenomenal day of viewing the sharks. They arrived beside the boat within minutes of anchoring. In total there were seven different Great Whites and we saw all of them many, many times. We even witnessed a few surface breaches with the shark coming out of the water. Underwater in the cage I could see into their mouths with just the small bars separating me from them. I was very comfortable in the water watching them and put full trust in the cage to protect me. Many of the other people would panic from excitement when the sharks approached and some were jittery from the adrenaline rush of being so close to these massive creatures.
On the weekend we were treated to amazing hospitality. On Friday Nici and Andrew had us over for dinner at their home. And on Saturday we all stayed with Nici’s relatives in a large dream house across from the beach in the sleepy town of Kommetjie. On arrival we saw an incredible sunset. We had excellent company, amazing home cooked meals including salmon, salads, and roast chicken. We are very happy and thankful for the hospitality and enjoyed our time there. Before arriving I had tracked down the only place in Cape Town that has a license to import Belgian beers and I brought them along. This made me popular with Nigel (he owns the house). He loves Belgian beer and still has the beer glasses from when he lived in Europe. By luck, the glasses were for the same beer I brought. He shared his favourite wine with me and we drank rather excessively on Saturday. On Sunday we went for walks on the beach and when we left in the late afternoon we drove around the cape. We could see whales from the road and had another visit with the penguins. We enjoyed our weekend immensely.
Photos have been added to our South Africa album. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=104519&id=673382190&l=368cc01ac5
We are on a bit of a trip hiatus at the moment. I haven’t taken my camera out in almost a week. We are staying in a very comfortable fully furnished rental apartment across the road from the beach at Camps Bay in Cape Town, South Africa. After over three months of non-stop adventure this has been our chance to catch our breath. Cape Town was an ideal choice with all the comforts of home. We can drink the tap water (yay), do our own laundry, and everyone speaks English. They have great grocery stores (home cooked meals!!) and restaurants and things are relatively inexpensive for us. For example: buying a bottle of good South African wine costs less than $5 CAD a bottle although connoisseurs can pay up to $20 for the best of the best. We have been to the theatre for a couple of movies and it only costs $2 on cheap night and $4.50 all other times. You also get to pick your seat when you buy the ticket so you only need to arrive as the show is starting. We also used our time here to deal with future trip requirements including getting our travel visas for China. When I last wrote Leanne wasn’t feeling well. I am happy to say she is getting back to normal, but she did have a visit with a local doctor and was prescribed some medicine to help kill the bacteria she picked up. We are going over to friends for dinner tonight and all is well.
I have wanted to see Dead Vlei in the Namibian desert since the first time I saw photos of it. I am really happy to have made it here and the scenery we saw was exquisite during early morning and early evening. I have heard a few people say Namibia is their favourite country. It is certainly a place to get away from it all. I did enjoy it but the best description I have read of it is actually from the travel company that helped book our desert accommodation.
“Namibia really is a conundrum. On the one hand it is a land of incredible desert wilderness.. remote, soul-awakening places, visually stunning, barely populated and little visited. Whilst on the other hand many of the best known sites vary from slightly to extremely disappointing for a range of different reasons.”
We had a great flight on Namibian air to reach the country although we had a surprise when the cover for the emergency exit door popped off beside us mid flight. The driving wasn’t bad either with the exception of having a huge rock fly up from an oncoming vehicle that put an enormous chip in the rental car windshield.
We are now settled in Cape Town in an apartment we have rented for a while to have a rest from being on the road for so long. It is so nice to be able to make home cooked meals, do our own laundry and to fully unpack.
We picked up our rental car at the airport when we arrived in Windhoek. We had a long drive ahead of us to make it out to where we were staying in the Namib Desert. It was over 400km to our destination with most of the journey on gravel roads. Sections of the drive were fortunately very scenic. We arrived just before sunset and had some drinks and settled in. The place we stayed at is far into a private reserve and there is only nature in sight when looking in all directions from the camp lodges. It is a beautiful spot and dinner was good and well presented.
Leanne was not feeling very well when we first arrived. The following morning we did a half day open jeep drive through the dunes and desert. Leanne became feverish shortly after the drive started and by the time we returned she was in absolute agony. Our room has stunning unobstructed views and we stayed in our private camp for the remainder of the day with the staff bringing us both lunch and dinner.
We went to the largest dunes in the world at Sossusvlei in the morning. I hiked in to see the striking barren trees growing out of the white ground behind the red dunes at Dead Vlei before we made the long drive back to Windhoek. Losing a day in the desert was disappointing but with Leanne not feeling well we are glad to be back in civilization. The closest doctor was over 300km away. There was no radio or mobile phone reception in the desert, but surprisingly I was somehow able to get on the Internet briefly at a farmhouse for a quick check.
Photos are posted here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=115353&id=673382190&l=54f2becb30
Our flight out of the Seychelles was about four hours late. We had a connecting flight in Mauritius back to Johannesburg in South Africa and we were told it would be touch and go to make it. The only direct flight from Seychelles to Johannesburg was not for another 5 days. They gave us seats near the exit and priority tagged our bags all the way through. When boarding the seat numbers on the plane differed from those on the boarding passes. For example we were ticketed for row 11, which didn’t exist so we were put in row 15. This caused chaos and further delayed them from getting off the ground. When we landed in Mauritius, while we were taxiing to the gate we saw our SAA flight pull up on the runway and fly off. What frustration. We had been told before boarding that we would be met when we landed, we were not. We had a very frustrating night of having no assistance and then a huge mix of jerks and nice people assisting us. The first person we met would not compensate us for having to stay the night. We had to organize and pay for a last minute hotel ourselves. Another was refusing to help look into alternate tickets because it was 5:40PM and he was shutting down to go home (they are supposed to be open until 6PM). He was a real jerk telling me things I found out the next day were not true, such as there would be no space on flights for days and that I would have to pay $1000 for our replacement flight. Finally someone came and rescued me from him and said they had us booked on a flight the following morning and that we wouldn’t have to pay. We spent a night in a nearby dive of a hotel. All rooms were smoking and the washroom reeked of cabbage. We arrived early at the airport the next day. When we went to check-in they did not have a record of us for the 9AM flight. The only office that could help us was supposed to open at 7AM. It wasn’t until 7:45 that the person at the office arrived to help us out. We were actually on our way to go buy our own ticket to make the flight when we met him. It took 15 minutes to sort out the tickets. Again we had helpful people and jerks. The manager at Air Mauritius check-in was being difficult and almost made it so we couldn’t get on. Fortunately we were able to board just in time and made it to Johannesburg and we were not charged for the flight.
We were supposed to meet Ron Gosney and his family (also on sabbatical from my work) in Johannesburg the night we were stuck in Mauritius. We were both booked into the same hotel. He had a flight the following morning and I missed him and his family by hours when I finally arrived the next day. We also had a flight we were supposed to be on that morning to take us to Namibia. Fortunately we were able to get it changed to the following day for a small change fee. Many, many thanks to my dad who spent over an hour helping sort out the flight change for us from Canada and saving us a fortune in international calls. We missed meeting Ron, and couldn’t get a refund on one of our nights in Namibia (our cheapest one there fortunately), but all in all we are very happy to be back only set back by a day and it didn’t cost us as much as it could have. We were also glad to hear that Moe made it safely to France and that her flight out of the Seychelles was on time.
Here is hoping things go well in Namibia.