Category: Africa

Namibia 1

Standing on the Waterberg Plateau

Early in my life, I was inspired by the Adventure fiction novels of Wilbur Smith.

One of my favourites, The Burning Shore, takes place in Namibia.

Namibia is quite an expensive place, and would require 3 planes just to get to it, and 3000km driving in a truck to see it all, but I knew it would be worth it.

Above, I’m standing in front of the Waterberg Plateau in the mustard coloured Rohan jumper I’ve been wearing a lot this year.

Arriving at Namibia airport

We arrive at Hosea Kutako International Airport after travelling for nearly 30 hours.

The airport is 45km from our first stop, the capital Windhoek.

We needed to change money and buy sims for our phones. I would have preferred to do it later, but these sorts of things are best sorted out at the airport and I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism of everyone who worked there.

A taxi ride, and we arrive at the Safari Hotel, a really large hotel complex that was used as the start and end point for expeditions run by several companies like Explore (who we went with).

It was a bit out of town, so we decided to have a dip in the pool and relax at the bar for a few pints (you can guess which one of us did which).

I tried to stay awake as long as I could to combat jet lag, then off to bed around 11pm Namibia time and a deep sleep.

View from the Independence Memorial Museum, looking down on the Alte Feste (Old Fort)

We’d arrived early and our tour was due to start at 6pm that evening, so we decided to head into town and do some exploring.

The Alte Festa (or Old Fort) is the oldest surviving building in Windhoek and built by the Germans during colonial times.

Inside is a statue called The Rider. Quite controversially, it is a symbol of German victory during the Herero/Namaqua war in 1904.

Outside the Independence museum

The newer Independence museum, has a statue of Sam Nujoma, Namibia’s first president, holding a copy of the constitution.

I thought the building looked a bit like a coffee machine. It was built by North Korea and stands on Robert Mugabe avenue.

Revolutionary propaganda

Inside, lots of propaganda stuff.

Reasonably interesting, but mostly pictures of people and some shocking paintings of massacres.

Only thing was, if you didn’t actually know what event it referred to, there was no text there to tell you.

A major visual display, didn’t work and I found the section about life before colonialism, where everyone lived in peace and harmony a little bit unlikely.

But otherwise, an interesting museum which focused more on politics than facts.

Bow and arrow and other San artifacts

Far more interesting to me, was the Owela museum, which had details about different tribes and how they lived.

Of special interest was a section on the San people. Up until something like 1940, people were not only allowed, but actively encouraged to “shoot Bushmen and wild dogs on sight”.

They can live comfortably in a desert where most people would be dead in 10 hours and have lived the same way for the last 20,000 years.

A wikiup inside a museum

I find shelter building fascinating, and in the past I’ve had a go at building a Wikiup.

This one in the museum was built by 2 local woman who were featured in the exhibit.

Fallen Meteorites outside the shopping centre

We continue wandering around, and find the Gibeon meteorites.

In any other country, they would probably be in a museum. In Namibia, they’re next to a shopping mall on Post Street.

We decide to get a taxi back. Our driver (a young man) invites us back to his car. It has no seat belts, I sit in the front, Nikki sits in the back with his 2 “girlfriends”.

As the car careers off at speed there is some sort of African rap screaming out of a cd player and an open pocket knife on the dashboard (no keys are used to start the car …)

But, despite a terrifying journey, he gets us back to our hotel and says a smiling thank you as we pay him. You don’t get things like that happening when you travel with Thomas Cook.

Later, once the official tour begins, our guide points to the area where we got the tax and said “don’t go walking around there”.

An itinerary map of our Namibia trip

Our tour meeting begins at 6pm sharp and were introduced to our Explore guide. Wendy was South African, very tall and incredibly well organised.

Our driver Shepherd from Zimbabwe, was quietly spoken but having driven across deserts and mountains for 20 years new his job inside and out.

A detailed itinerary is supplied. We’ll travel over 3000km by the end of the trip.

We have dinner, get a few drinks and retire to bed.

Inside our bus with Wendy at the front

In the morning we see the bus that will take us across Namibia. The seating was raised so we could see things more easily and underneath in the hold, were tables, chairs, shovels and just about everything you’d need for an adventure.

At the front of the upstairs cabin, it even had a freezer and places to charge phones and laptops.

And with that, we load our bags, stock up on water and head for the Zebra River Lodge.

Truck stop, preparing for lunch

We travelled 284km on our first day. Driving on tarmac roads for part of it was fine, but once we got onto the open tracks, it was really hard going.

We had lunch on the trail most days.

Typically, Wendy would cook an amazing lunch, served on a big table near a tree to provide shade.

The food was excellent (vegan and lactose intolerance aren’t widely acknowledged in Africa, so she did really well to cook for everyone without incident).

It was nice to sit on a comfortable chair in the bush and have a can of lager afterwards.

Our room at the Zebra lodge

We arrived at the Zebra River Lodge around 3:30pm and are shown to our rooms.

Our accommodation on the trip notes had been described as basic, but I found them all to be the lap of luxury like the one above.

Zebra lodge weaver bird at its nest

In the afternoon, I sit on the terrace and watch this Weaver bird construct its nest. I’m not normally into Ornithology, but some of the birds I saw in Namibia really were fascinating.

I’d see something even more fascinating the following day.

Zebra Canyon at Sunset

There were a number of interesting trails and hills nearby.

We went walking for a couple of hours.

Pouring rain outside the Zebra lodge

But this is Africa after all.

Twenty minutes after we get back, the gorgeous sunny day is transformed as torrential rain and then hail batter the hotel terrace.

Nikki celebrating her birthday with the Zebra lodge staff singing

We had dinner on the terrace later that evening. Wendy had realised it was Nikki’s birthday from her passport and laid on a really nice cake. All the kitchen staff came out and sang happy birthday 🙂

Enormous birds nest

Today we’d be doing a 360km round trip to a place called Sesriem and the start of our real adventure.

We stop at the Sesriem gate and get some coffee. With time to wander around, I find this.

Believe it or not, this is also a Weaver nest.

A bit of a sort of apartment block idea, it has multiple nests inside. It’s possible for a chick to grow up, find a mate, find a chamber inside the nest and have her own chicks without ever leaving the nest.

Walking through the desert

We have to use local jeaps once we get to the main area. Not well organised at all, and we are standing in baking heat.

After much faf, and superb organisation by Wendy, were off careering through the soft desert sand.

Were going to see one of the worlds most incredible sights – The Deadvlei in the Namib desert, the oldest desert on earth.

Sossusvlei sand dunes

As we disembark, some people decide to go off climbing sand dunes. I enjoy a flat walk-in and get my camera ready.

Deadvlei salt pan

Deadvlei is a salt pan surrounded by the tallest sand dunes in the world.

Inside it’s really quiet and serene, and the dead trees growing everywhere make it quite spooky.

After 40 minutes, we head back. A pretty amazing experience.

High sand dune with an Oryx sheltering under a tree

As we drive back along the desert highway, we visit “Dune 45” although that sounds like the name of a local nightclub in Newton Heath, it actually relates to a very popular sand dune which is 45km from the Sesriem gate.

It’s very popular with Japanese tourists as its right next to the road and easy to get too.

I took this picture of the dune, with a tree at the foot and an Oryx relaxing in the shade. I think it’s probably the best photo I’ve ever taken and I’ve even had it framed and put up at home.

Inside Sesriem canyon

We wander around in the Sesriem canyon.

Sesriem means six thongs. Six thongs of rawhide rope would be tied together and a bucket fastened to the end.

It would then be lowered down into the canyon to collect water.

Our accomodation at the Zebra River Lodge

Back to the Zebra River Lodge.

It had been a really long day, so something to eat, bottle of wine and off to bed.

The open desert

Up early today and were heading for Swakopmund where we’ll be staying for 2 nights.

I just put this picture up to show you the view we saw for most of the day.

Honestly, in a whole hour you’d see nothing but desert.

The small town of Solitaire

We stop off at the famous “town” of Solitaire.

A bloke and his wife bought some land, built a cottage and then a few other things. The wife’s brother joined them, but then the wife left.

The two of them ran the “town” together. It’s on a main highway, so the bakery is very popular (I had a Viennese whirl, I really didn’t think I’d get to eat one while I was in Africa!)

They also have old farming equipment and cars (like the one above) which are painted in nice colours.

Best thing I liked about it was they actually have an air strip, and wealthy people can fly in and get cakes.

Namibia 2

Me standing next to the Tropic of Capicorn

We stop briefly at the Tropic of Capricorn.

People had put loads of stickers and rubbish on the sign, so it was a bit difficult to read.

Kuiseb Canyon, where the heroe's of sheltering desert lived for 2 and a half years

As we drove through the desert we reached this interesting area.

Many of the people on the trip had been reading The Sheltering Desert by Heno Martin.

In the book, 2 pacifist geologists refuse to fight in the 2nd world war. Faced with the option of internment, they run away and live a Robinson Crusoe existance for the next 2 and a half years.

This is where they lived.

Dolphins at Walvis Bay

We arrive at Walvis bay where Manfred De la ray and Shasa Courtney have their first fight. Neither realising the other is his brother.

Although that didn’t happen in real life, like many of the places I saw, it featured in the stories I’ve read, and they brought books read 30 years earlier to life.

Flamingo’s are fairly common in this area and as a special treat, there was a family of Dolphins as well.

Swakopmund beach with a confusing sign,

We continue on to Swakopmund (in what was German south west Africa).

We’re staying in a sort of hostel called the Dunedin Star (a ship quite famous to the area).

The beach has this interesting sign, that says “swimming at your own risk” and then 6 things you aren’t allowed to do (one of which is shooting!) but most interesting is no swimming. A contradiction?

Staying here for the next 2 nights, we have a free day the following day and there’s loads to do here.

Our guide with a map of Namibia drawn in the sand

The next day starts early with The living desert tour.

About 30 of us piled into 4 off road vehicles. There were 4 staff who rooted around in the desert to find interesting things to show us.

The basic idea is to show that although the desert looks like a dead place, it’s thriving with plant and animal life, with a wealth of interesting rocks and minerals.

A brief explanation with a sand drawing of Namibia and the places it borders.

Our guide explained that although Africa is known for the big 5, in the desert, we look for the little 5.

Originally the little 5 were Chameleon, Sidewinder snake, Lizard, Cartwheeling spider and Gecko.

The challenge was to see if we could find all 5 during our morning in the desert.

The tour was very environmentally concious and they had stopped seeking out the cartwheeling spider, as it takes 3 days for it to rebuild its home in the sand.

A Chameleon

Instead, it was substituted with a Scorpion. We got to see them all including the Chameleon above.

Railway line leading off into the distance

An absolutely brilliant experience I’d highly recommend if you’re visiting.

As we drive back, we pass this disused railway line, that seems to go on for ever.

Animals in the Swakopmund museum

Back in town, we get some lunch (one thing I love about Africa, is they are unapologetic meat eaters).

Then we look around the Swakopmund museum.

Loads of interesting things including lots of stuffed animals (not to everyone’s taste, but I found them fascinating).

They also had some old equipment that the early settlers would have used. Once again I’m reminded of the burning shore and a cart of the type Lothar De La Ray used in the desert and a Mauser carbine used in a major plot development.

Landrover from the 1950's

I read once, that 85% of all the Land Rovers ever built were still driving.

This one had been donated to the museum, originally shipped from the UK in the late 40’s.

It still works.

Model ship built by a POW

This 1:6000 model of the German cruiser “Nurnberg” was built by Konny Zander whilst imprisoned in an internment camp.

Built from jam and other food tins with melted down toothpaste tubes as solder.

It took him 7 months to make, and all the parts are moveable.

Inside the Tug restaurant

We had intended to visit the Snake museum, but after so much travelling in the truck, decided just to wander around and explore in the sunshine.

We reached the pier and walked to the end. Nikki’s birthday “event” had been fab, but we hadn’t really celebrated on our own.

One of the best restaurants in the town is called The Tug and located at the start of the pier. We decide to have dinner there.

An artistic Pate "installation"

The food and service are superb and the building itself amazing.

Above is a fish pate I had as a starter. A simple dish, turned into this visually stunning creation.

start

The Burning Shore, takes its title from when Centain (the main character) is washed ashore on the Namib Desert. When I read the book the first time, I never thought for a single moment that one day I’d stand there.

And it was amazing, a place doesn’t earn the name Skeleton Coast by accident, the normal odds of survival here with no equipment and water are practically none existent (but it would have made a pretty dull book if she’d died 🙂

Here we arrive at Henties bay, on the skeleton coast and see the Ziela, a fishing boat run aground in 2008 and left for scrap like so many other here.

Cape Cross Seal Colony

This website is named johnsunter.com, The adventures of an ordinary person.

So, I tell it like it is. I think it’s perfectly ok to tell the truth and not everything is for every traveller.

In my case, I found the Cape Cross Seal Colony rather boring. Once you’d seen the first 5 seals, the others were rather mundane and they smelled horrendous.

Walking in the Brandberg mountains

Our next destination is Damaraland where we’ll be staying at the White Lady lodge hotel.

But first, we’ll be doing a bush walk, to see the famous white lady cave painting.

A scorching hot day, but trekking through the Brandberg mountain range was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

White lady paintings. Bushmen paintings dating back at least 2000 years

There are over 1000 cave paintings in the area, but the main one to see is the White Lady (probably because its the most accessible).

Considered academic opinion is that the White Lady is actually a male shamen panted in ritual white, carrying a bow.

Opinions vary on the age of the painting, but the consensus is around 2000 years old.

Our cottage in Brandberg

Our cottage at the White Lady lodge. Typical of the kind of amazing accommodation we used on the trip.

The area was quite spread out and it was possible to rent golf carts and go exploring.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do that, so we headed for the main hotel complex to relax.

The swimming pool at our hotel

Although I shy away from “beach holidays” that doesn’t mean I don’t like to sit out in the sunshine at the end of the day.

It’s normally Nikki who goes for a swim, I usually find somewhere with lager.

Our food this evening was a barbecue that Wendy and Shepherd cooked by the pool. The steak was cooked just right and one of the nicest I’ve ever eaten.

Have a steak barbecue while watching the sun set.

As the evening progresses, we wander off in small groups to watch the sun set.

Warning about feeding animals

Once it got dark, we headed indoors. I saw this interesting sign on the bar.

Reading with Alan

We’re now moving to the safari part of our trip and the next morning drive to the Etosha Safari Lodge.

Extremely comfortable. So comfortable in fact, that instead of joining an afternoon visit to a Himba village, I decide to stay behind and relax.

I was assisted by the hotel’s cat, Alan.

I had been re-reading The Burning Shore (I’d read it 4 times previously). As I sat there, I came to the end of the book. Quite a special moment, that’s a bit difficult to describe.

Some Himba tribal ladies

As it was, I’d see some Herero ladies the next day, in their spectacular clothes.

They were selling souvenirs and crafts.

Horendous carved animal

I stupidly purchased some sort of hyena/leopard/giraffe carving of Frankenstein design.

As our truck left, they must have howled laughing at the stupid westerner who’d paid good money for this monstrous thing!.

Desert Elephant

We head out towards the Etosha national park (one of the highlights of the trip, considering the trip itself is a travel highlight in its own right).

Before we get there, we see this desert elephant at the side of the road.

Namibia 3

A pictorial book of animals in the Etosha national park

Nikki got me a book with pictures of all the animals in the Etosha national park and I had great fun ticking off all the one’s I saw.

lion

Although all African animals are special, it’s the cats you really go there to see (and that means getting up early).

The park rules around viewing the animals were very strict.

The truck was only allowed to go a certain distance from the animals and when an American group in their own vehicle got too close the park rangers intervened.

The waterhole viewing point at Etosha National Park

After the luxury of our previous accommodation, we’d now be staying for 2 nights in the state run Safari Lodge in the park.

The surroundings were superb and it was an excellent base to explore the park.

The service levels however were another matter. They didn’t cater for vegetarians for example, and simply buying tickets for a night safari was like getting tickets to the FA cup!

I visited this waterhole to view animals and didn’t see a single thing (although it was a nice place to sit).

Cape Starling, Etosha

Another lunch cooked at the camp by Wendy and while relaxing (which means while I was having a beer) I saw this colourful Starling waiting to snack on our leftover food.

In our jeep on night safari

We head out on a night Safari.

A lion at night

We saw loads of animals on the night safari, my favourite was this Leopard.

A jeep with built in accomodation

Breakfast time in the camp the following morning and I go for a walk around.

Some people were unlucky enough to have tents, but we had a chalet.

I would have traded a night in our chalet for a night in this vehicle I saw, which had a sort of roof top shelter for sleeping in.

A group of Zebra

During one of several game drives in the park, a dazzle of Zebra (yes, that really is the collective noun for Zebras).

Giraffe, Etosha

And the ubiquitous Giraffe – the lighthouse of the bush.

or

Not as exciting as the cats we saw, but the Oryx really is a beautiful animal.

After an amazing few days in Etosha, it’s time (sadly) to leave.

But we haven’t seen the end of wild animals.

Cheetah Conservation Foundation.

We visit the world respected Cheetah conservation fund, a sanctuary with literally dozens of Cheetahs.

The park is run mostly by volunteers and their main source of income is providing dogs for local vilages who bark at Cheetahs to make them leave the livestock alone.

This means the local villagers don’t need to shoot the Cheetahs and the system works for everyone.

Cheetah Sanctuary

The Cheetahs were spectacularly beautiful animals.

Cheetah Sanctuary

Unfortunately, if a cat finds its way to the centre, before its parents have taught it too hunt, the professionals there are unable to assist.

So in this case, the Cheetah will be fed raw meet which it will eat in a bowl.

Nikki standing next to a giant termite nest

We head to the final stop on our journey, the strangely named Waterberg rest camp.

Here Nikki finds the largest termite mound we’ve ever seen.

wbmap

Great thing about the park was the area was full of trails and it was nice to wander around on my own exploring.

Exploring the Waterberg Plateau 2

A sort of overgrown rain forest, with wait-a-while vines.

Dik DIk at the Waterberg Restcamp

A Dik Dik.

A fully grown antelope, that’s the size of a dog. They were wandering around the camp and weren’t frightened of me at all.

They have one central area where we all congregated for drinks and later dinner.

The climb up to the Waterberg Plateau

In the morning, were up early and heading up to the Waterberg Plateau.

It took 45 mins to an hour to get up there, but it was well worth it.

A view of the actual Waterberg Plateau

The famous waterberg Plateau.

The view from the Waterberg Plateu

The view from the top, all the way to the Kalahari desert.

The Waterberg Plateau and German Graveyard.

In the morning, more exploring of trails around the park, then breakfast and were heading back to Windhoek.

Joe's beer house - a popular bar

Back at our hotel, we get cleaned up and head out for the groups final evening together at the famous Joe’s Beerhouse.

The beautiful government gardens

Nikki and I have an extra day booked, so the following afternoon, we have an organised tour of the town.

Above are the government gardens, with statues of various revolutionary leaders.

Corrugated steel buildings

The tour included a visit to a township.

I was surprised that most of the building were made of brick and had schools and hospitals nearby.

I realised that my idea of a township had come from a book based on townships in the 1930’s and 40’s. Our guide explained that things arent like that now and what I was talking about was more like a refugee camp.

But actually recently migrants to the area only have houses made of tin and a stand pipe for water when they first arrive.

Dinner on our last night in a place called 'NICE', Windhoek

Our final evening in Namibia and we decide on a top notch meal and wine.

A place called NICE – Namibian institute for culinary excellence, which trains young chefs

Inside, the service food and wine were superb. An evening for reflection and a lovely end to an amazing trip.

Tour advert showing Ronda bridge (which is actualy in Spain !)

But I had to end with the picture above.

As we got into a taxi to go to the airport, I saw this sign on a tour bus, offering all sorts of day trips.

I almost asked him to take us to that bridge 🙂 except I knew his couldn’t, as its in Andalusia in Spain and a bit far away from Southern Africa.

Still, top marks for marketing.

I’ve been to a lot of places, but Namibia really was amazing.

Exploring North Africa with Survival School.

arrival We finally arrive in North Africa, where the three land rovers we will used during the next 9 days await us.

Standing next to me is my mate Pat, who I had met on a previous survival school course.

I had been looking forward to visiting Morocco. I had been told that many of the people in the country, lived as people lived in the bible (which is a bit strange, since the majority of them are Muslims !).

 After a few hours travelling through Morocco, and seeing the sites and sounds of that culture, we stop for refreshments at a roadside Cafe.

Mint Tea.

The 2 main peoples of Morocco, are the Arabs, the the Berbers. The Berbers are traditional Nomadic people, and were/are considered the warrior class of that country.

Our guide and drivers were Berbers and as Muslims, joked that the mint tea, is called Berber Whisky in their culture.

burberwhis
 insidelandy A view from inside our land rover.

There were only 4 people and a driver to each Land rover, so it was a lot more comfortable than I had expected.

On the first night, we find some brush land, half a mile back from the road, and bivvi out.

Later the next day, we stop to take some pictures, while travelling over a mountain pass.

 mountainpass
 oldman We arrived in the Old town of Meski. The town was moved about 40 years before, and previously resided in an old Kasbah, which is walkable from the new town.

Meski is a real desert oasis, and our guide Mohamed, had his son Ahmed gives us a tour of the town.

Everyone in the town has some land assigned to them, and here, an old man of 70 + is working and laughing, even though its 7:30 in the evening.

In the centre of the town, was a public swimming pool, where all the people went during the evening.

There was a cafe next to it, where people were drinking, and playing pool.

Unfortunately, the light had gone, so I have had to enhance this picture, that’s why it looks so grey.

 pool
 headdress We visited a small shop, to by some souvenirs.

Most people bought a desert headdress, and wore them throughout the course.

Here, Sylvie (who was married to Mark, a London Zoo keeper, ace bushcrafter and animal expert – also on the trip.) poses with her newly bought Headdress.

I embarrassed myself at bartering by having my first offer accepted enthusiastically. When I dropped my price by 5 pounds, the seller was still delighted.

I was obviously offering way to much, but I paid what I thought it was worth and have no regrets.

Our guide Mohamed was a chef and owns a restaurant in Meski,

here he cooks a delicious meatball tagine for us at his restaurant.

 targine
 mesky1 That night, we bivvied out at the old fort, about a quarter of a mile from the new town.

In the morning, me and a few of the lads go exploring.

 The place was right out of Tomb Raider and I loved it there.  mesky2
 well Ahmed came over to give us a tour of the old city.

Here he shows us the well, which was the sole source of water for the whole town.

Being in the deserted town, was a special kind of adventure for me.

The sun shining on the town, from outside the city walls.

 mesky4
 oasis A view of the Meski oasis, from inside the deserted Meski Fort.

Several clay channels run to some of the outlying fields, so that more vegetation can be grown outside the Oasis.

As we continue our journey to the Sand Dunes, we stop by the road for refreshments.

Here I am photographed next to one of the longest roads I have ever seen.

 longroad
 dunes1 A picture of the sand dunes at Erg Chebby.

During the afternoon heat, the only place to be, was in the shade, but in the morning, wandering around the dunes gave an immense sense of calm and peace.

 A few of the team walk around the sand dunes in the early evening.

Walking along the ridges was the only practical way to cross sand dunes.

Walking up and down them, no matter what your fitness, was exhausting.

 matesdunes
 mebd Me standing in the black desert.

Only about 20% of all desert is made of sand, most of it is made of rocks like this one.

You can get an idea of the size of the desert and feeling off isolation from this picture.

Some of the interesting people I saw in Morocco.

Here a person earns a living, simply by fixing bicycles and repairing punctures.

 bikes
 football  Some children play football, barefoot, in the black desert.
Me standing at the top of the Dunes.

One of the strange things about desert, is that when you are wandering in the dunes, there is a sense of isolation, but back at camp, There was none.

There was only one tree, in our camp, and as a city dweller, it was strange to feel “on display” and have no “corner of your own” I got over it after a few days, but its one of the extra experiences you get from being in the desert.

 medunes2
 sunset  The Sky before last light.
As we were travelling out of the desert, I saw some nomadic Berbers, who live in the desert, miles from anywhere.

Having lived isolated in the Dunes for just 5 days, and seeing how hard it was, I had nothing but respect for these people.

 nomads
 mecamel On the way back, we are treated to a delicious hotel meal, and a camel ride to the high Dunes.

Here, the Berbers help Pat, mount the camel for our trek. The white camel in the picture, is the one I would ride.

Once at the top of the high dunes, we bivvied out.

In the morning, we watched the sunrise, and then travelled down to the hotel to have breakfast.

I had dried bread for breakfast each morning, and when I went to the toilet after 8 days, I thought I was going to damage myself.

 Casting shadows in the Dunes.  shadows
 dancefire  We relaxed for the last 2 days. Since our background is UK bushcraft, a forest provided the ideal place to do this, and we were able to light fires/carve spoons and just get our own space.
After 2 days of relaxing, we had a night in a hotel just near the border (the Moroccan border we crossed, was like the bar in Star Wars !) and made our way back to Gibraltar for our flight home.

We briefly stop at the side of the road for a team photograph.

Although the desert craft of the Berbers is unquestionable, there photography isn’t, and they manage to cut me out of the picture (maybe it was something I said !).

 team

Morocco 08 (2/2).

road In the morning, we assemble outside the Burber house with a sense of excitement.

We’ve seen loads of cool things up to this point, but were in the mountains now, living with mountain people (and a donkey, which we couldn’t get to stay quiet).

We set off, and on route, our guide gives a talk on village life.

We visit a mountain village. A “proper” village must have a mosque, a school and a cemetery.

All tombs in the cemetery face east.

If husband dies, the wife must go to the cemetery for 4 months. If wife dies, husband can look for a wife straight away.

It was explained, a wife is unlikely to find another husband if she is over 40.

We arrive at our destination.

Were here to explore the famous Blue Rocks.

The terrain was amazing…

rocks1
 rocks2  But I thought that painting the rocks blue was a bit absurd.
Our cooks headed out in advance of us, to lay out lunch.

They picked a superb spot, and it was all ready when we returned from our walk.

 dbbq1
 dbbq2 Freshly prepared food eaten in the desert.

It was one of the most relaxing meals I can remember.

We all wander off and explore some more.

You can see from this picture, the vastness of the landscape.

 rocks3
 bv5  We head home and spend another night in the Burber house, high in the mountains.

In the morning we congregate outside again.

The Souk or market is the main meeting place for communication etc.

Word spreads fast in these local community’s. If someone buys say a large amount of meat, there will be discussion of whether there is a wedding imminent, or a baby on the way.

If there is a wedding , mothers from both sides of the marriage knock on each door and invite friends and relatives to the wedding.

The invitation will always be before the Souk, and the wedding always after.

 tradmarket
 tradhouse1 In the afternoon, we visit an old style Burber house.

You can see from this picture, all the other houses in the area.

 The building had a hollowed out light well and contained lots of authentic pots and cooking implements.  tradhouse2
 agg1 As we continue on our journey to Essaouira we stop of at Agadir.

As I wander around, I realise is basically a holiday resort.

I was also propositioned by a prostitute.

We sit down next to the ocean in search of refreshments.

For the first time since leaving England, we actually get to drink lager by the pint.

Our final destination on the trip is Essaouira

No vehicles were allowed in this charming town.

Like normal, the AC had picked a venue off the beaten track that was a hidden gem.

 estreet2
 eport1 We have a quick wander around the harbour.

There were amazing sounds and colours (this isn’t a tourist trap, its a working fishing port).

 Apparently this fort inspired Jimmi Hendrix to write castles made of Sand (sean has pointed out, its track 1, side 2 of the album Axis: bold as love).  eport2
 eport4 Al, Tony and I continue to explore.

I thought we made quite a good team, I really enjoyed their company.

The main square in Essauira

The hotel on the right of the picture has a rooftop nightclub, and it was here that we had our “leaving do” for Chris, and where various musicians attempted to romance, the lovely Segun

In the daytime, like the rest of Essauira, it really was magnificent to see, with the sunshine and the sea air.

 esquare
 essrelax Tone had had problems with antibiotics (the “problems” being that he couldn’t drink).

Luckily, towards the end of the trip, he was back on the ale and the 3 of us, along with assorted stragglers were able to embark on an evening of debauchery once again !.

During one of the evenings, I was this picture in our hotel foyer.

They had various paintings (done by local artists, they were for sale).

I took a shine to this particular one.

It was supposed to be the little girl, walking down the dark alley to follow a friendly ghost.

I interpreted it to mean that she should follow the future representation of herself, and the life she could have.

The hotel owner told us that the alley in the picture was quite near the hotel and while exploring we would almost certainly find it.

The next day, as we wandered around, we found it.

 pic1
 estreet1 We have our evening meal at a restaurant on the beach.

The following morning, after breakfast on the terrace, we walk out of the town.

Essaouira is a very special place, I know ill go back there.

 On the way back to Marrakech, we visit a workers co-operative run by widowed or divorced women.  dwomen
 hotelali Back in Marrakech, Al and I do some more exploring.

He helped me to find Hotel Ali, a legend among backpackers.

 150md for posing with snake charmers !

I’m usually happy to pay a small fee for photographs but this seemed excessive, so I took the picture secretly on principle.

 

 snake
 marpub1  Just about the only “proper” pub in the Medina.
Inside it looked and felt like the social club in Get Carter.

That said, they were very friendly and Alistair, Tony and I had some pretty cool times in there.

The Flag beer was expensive (about 2 quid for a 3rd of a pint).

 marpub2
 palace With the official part of the tour complete, I had a day to myself.

I wandered around the Royal palace.

A guard came out, told me I couldn’t take pictures and demanded to see my camera, in case I had taken any already.

Otherwise, it was a pretty quiet day.

The thing I loved about the place was its authenticity.

Ordinary people just sat down and ate their evening meal here.

 nightmarket1
 nightmarket2  

Something I’ve always wanted to do.

Have dinner overlooking the Medina.

It was very difficult to photograph, but here it is.

Morocco 08 (1/2).

 mesquare I’d visited Morocco previously, and spent some time sleeping out in the desert.

I wanted to see a bit more of the culture and people and since the adventure company were running a trip there, I thought why not.

Due to flight times, I arrived a day before everyone else, so I was able to settle in (the hotel was just across the road from the Medina).

For lunch I had a steak sandwich with chips in the hotels restaurant.

There were 2 waitresses there. One was very efficient and the other was very friendly I couldn’t decide which one I liked the most.

From my balcony, I saw this porter, having a nap in his own trolley.

truck
 walls In the afternoon I went out exploring. I decided to wander around the Medina.

I had been told to beware of people who would give directions, and then demand money as a guiding fee.

Because of this, I got lost and ended up walking around for 2 hours before I found my way out.

In the evening, I wandered around the outer wall of the Medina.

I stop along the way, to read my guidebook, and find that Bread is so valuable to the Burbers, that people say a short prayer before removing it from the road, if its been dropped.

 

I walked into the main square.

As the guidebook said, the place literally comes alive at night.

I had seen it featured on several cookery programs, it is the only market in the world listed as a world heritage site.

I had some fresh orange juice while I was there.

 square1
 sign Casablanca is the financial capital of Morocco, and unfortunately, the film Casablanca was shot completely in Hollywood.

In the morning, the tour starts promptly at 9:30, straight after breakfast.

As usual, our guide is a consummate professional and gives us a 40 minute talk about Morocco, what things to look out for, and what things to watch out for.

Apparently, one of the new defunct Italian lera coins is the same size as a quite valuable Moroccan coin.

One thing I love about the adventure company trips, are there ability to find the best local experts.

Our main guide (on the left) introduces us to the chap in the centre, who gives us an extensive tour of the Medina.

Here, we stop in a Riad. Travellers would bring there wares long distances then put camels and things in the main square before settling into accommodation around the high balcony’s above.

It was impossible to properly photograph the Riad, without using a helicopter or fireman’s ladder.

 market1
 market2 As well as a thriving tourist area, the Medina is actually a functioning market.

Most of the traders are grouped together and linked, so the slipper makers are quite near the leather sellers for example.

I’ve previously been taught how to sharpen knives, on a bushcraft course. It amazed me, to see several people who actually did this for a living.

Around the Medina are dye, felt, leather and metal workers.

In this picture, we pass the stall of the only remaining felt maker in the Medina.

We were told that most people would like to be paid, if you wanted to photograph them (seemed fair to me, as there were some fantastic photo opportunity’s).

These leather workers didn’t want any money to be photographed.

Not the best picture I’ve ever taken, but it shows some at work, watching dvd’s on a colour tv.

This is the reality I suppose. We imagine them to be poor, but they have been trading for thousands of years. Although simple people, they are probably far more enterprising than most would think.

 market3
 m2 We visit the mosque, right in the centre of the Medina.

It was a calming and relaxing place to rest, and an oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the Medina outside.

Our guide was explaining some of the principles of Islam.

All the things in the mosque are mathematical in origin, like arches and patterns.

There are no actual symbols like cows or water or anything like that.

The idea was that a person connection with God should be spiritual, and any pictures or carvings would become the focus, rather than the actual connection.

He also explained the 5 principles of Islam, and one surprise to me, was that a pilgrimage to Mecca costs around 35,000md.

The food market. This was where the locals, actually came to buy food.

We buy some things for a picnic, then hit the road.

We set off for Alt Ben Hadou, I end up sitting in the front of the bus.

At one point an “unruly” tractor nearly causes an accident, and I accidentally teach the driver some bad English words.

 market4
 ab1 We stop on the way to eat our packed lunch, than drive through the mountains for several hours.

Our guide gives us a talk on the Moroccan family law, which defines ages at which people can get married and stuff like that.

We arrived at Alt Ben Hadou in the dark, so I couldn’t see much of the place.

Interestingly, the water that supplies the hotel, comes from a sea spring. I had a shower, but as it was salt water, it was impossible to get it to lather up.

We had a delicious evening meal, washed down with a few cans of beer and a glass of wine.

It was cold at night, since the area is high up in the mountains, but I had enough blankets, so I was fine.

In the morning, we eat breakfast on the terrace, with this spectacular view of the old town.

84 family’s live outside the actual village, in the place I’m standing and only 5 live physically in the village (there are rules about only cooking on wood fires and stuff like that, for those that choose to live there).

We cross the shallow river and I see this archway.

Our guide explains that this is a fairly recent addition. Loads of films have been made here, and this Gate was constructed for Jewel of the Nile (if you haven’t seen it, its the one where they “drive” an F16 out of the fort and shoot the doors away with missiles).

 ab2
 ab3 Its fairly well know that the are was used in the film Gladiator.

Our guide holds up a picture, showing the arena that was erected just outside the Kasbah for filming.

The buildings are being constantly repaired and re-built and here you can see some clay bricks drying in the sun.

Bricks made from Clay and straw have been used since the beginning of time and are mentioned in the bible.

 bricks
 kettle Some builders working to repair the fort.

I have always believed, that people in the world, aren’t that different (for example, while in London, watching loads of people walking to work, in comparison, wandering around Marrakech first thing in the morning, the expressions on the faces of the people, didn’t look that different.

On the bottom left of this photo, you can see the kettle, builders around the world, are especially alike !.

 Inside the Kasbah, its right out of Tomb Raider.  ab4
 ab5 Tony poses overlooking the valley.

I told a few of my friends, about the trick I had learned on my travel photography course.

If you really want a picture taken right, and you want to be in it, you stand with the person you want to take the picture and guide a 3rd person to stand where your going to stand.

This results in a near perfect picture, every time.

It’s said that in Morocco, nothing happens without Tea.

We are invited for some tea, and to see how traditional carpets are made.

The carpet shop owners wife shows us how they are actually made (the weaving frame belonged to her grandmother).

Women wear tattoos to show if they are married, how many children they have etc.

 carpet1
 carpet2 Wedding rugs are unique to the Burbers and not general across Morocco.

Our guide explains, that once a marriage is arranged, the bride will start to make a rug.

Symbols on the rug, will reflect how she wishes to live (whether she wants more freedom, or more protection, how many children she would like to have etc).

Delicious chicken for lunch, and then we hit the road, once again.

The whole while I was in Morocco, it was pretty rare to find beer and when I did it was very expensive.

I saw this garage at the side of the road, advertising cold beer, and I couldn’t believe my look.

Our driver just carried on without stopping.

As I saw the building from the other side, I noticed that all the cars were of 70’s American manufacture.

Our guide explained, that it wasn’t actually a working garage, and that it had been used as a set for the film, The hills have eyes, and was never taken down.

 gashaven
 goats I had read about the famous tree climbing goats.

I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Our next stop is Tardount, sometimes called little Marrakech, as it has a wall around it.

We wander around the streets during the evening (Sagun comes back with a new handbag, which doesn’t surprise anyone).

The locals drove around on mopeds, with a gay abandon, which at times I found terrifying.

After a delicious evening meal of Beef Kofti, a few of us chat, and the remainder play cards, especially purchased for the occasion.

I was chatting to Don and he bet me his wife Sue would almost certainly win.

She was Australian, and had grown up in a place called Calagory, where they didn’t have tv, until the 80’s.In the morning we sit together in the hotel for breakfast, drink coffee and eat french bread with butter (the French really don’t know how lucky they are to eat like that every day).

 cards
 skins After the best nights sleep of the trip, we pop down for breakfast and enjoy coffee, with french bread and real butter (the French just don’t realise how lucky they are).

We then head of to a tannery, where we see how animal skins are prepared.

I had done this sort of thing on Bushcraft courses before, and found the factory atmosphere, a bit un-inspiring.

Many of the other people were practically sick.

In Taradount’s history, there was a rebellion, during which, the Berbers backed the wrong side.

As a result they were completely wiped out.

Today they have returned, and usually wear blue. Our guide was also wearing blue that day, but said it was of no significance, he just liked those clothes.

He explained how men would bring food with them to work and then “hire” a tajine to cook it from.

At lunchtime they would come back, the food would be cooked, and they would tuck in.

To avoid confusion, people put tomatoes, forks etc on top of their Tajine, to mark it.

 tagine
 spicemarket As we continued our tour of the market, we purchased some food for a packed lunch (we would be eating in the mountains for lunch again.

I grabbed some flat bread for emergency’s (I always had some in my day sack, in case I got hungry) and then found some “proper” French bread and cheese. Delicious.

This is one of my favourite photographs on all of my trips. The colours in the spice souk were amazing.

We split into 2 groups, and while exploring with Alistair, a guy said our friends had gone to the oil house.

They said that to everyone, the oil house seemed to be a very lucrative “attraction”.

That evening, we would be starting out 2 night stay in the Burber house. We set out for buy some wine for the evening.

We found a bar and had a can of flag (the local brew) while we were waiting.

The inside of the bar would have made an adequate lavatory back in the UK.

 gpub
 lionrock At this point we are met by our 3 land rovers, and head for our next destination along mountain roads.

At one point we stop and get a chance to walk along the pass.

This a picture of some of the cliffs that flanked each side of the road.

We stop for refreshments before heading to the Burber house we will share for the next 2 days.

In the background is the famous Tete Du Lion, or the lion faced mountain.

Back in the Landrover, feels like adventure again.

Took turns on seats in the land rover. There was plenty of room, and considering how much time we spent on the road, this was appreciated by everyone.

The track up to the Burber house was very uneven, so we had to get out of the land rovers.

It gave an opportunity to take this pretty smart picture.

 bv4
 bv1 Initial confusion in the Burber house, as there are 3 rooms, and people are moving back and forward with bags like on a school trip.

I debate sleeping on the roof, but decide to stay indoors (in the end, I am in the minority).

In the evening, I give a brief (for me !) talk on travel equipment, which seems well received.

Our drivers, cooks and porters, all worked to different schedules.

As we sat down to eat our evening meal, we could hear singing comming from the kitchen.

Two of our crew were good friends who hadn’t met up in a while. One produced a violin, and the other a water container as an improvised drum.

It really was a lesson for me, to see these simple people with nothing, improvising entertainment and having a whale of a time.

Back home in my country, many youngsters without a playstation consider themselves poverty stricken, and they could learn a lesson from these 2.

 bv2

Capetown and the Garden Route. Finale of the Bluelist (3/3).

 bridge Up early, we drive to Blukrans bridge (a spectacular feat of engineering)Its the largest single span arch bridge in the world.People were saying at the time, it was the highest bungee jump in the world. Its actually the 3rd, the Macau Tower is the highest at 233m (but only 16m higher).

I watch some lunatics jump of the bridge and it turns my stomach.

I decide to do the 2nd of the “must do’s” for the Garden Route and try some Mitchell’s beer.I wander over to the Cliffhanger pub and order a pint.The barman is the most miserable barkeep I have ever met. I pay him 200 rand (you would think he was paying me, from the look on his face) and take my beer outside for this photo.

Turns out to be cask ale, which I don’t like. I swig half a pint, then give it back.

Thoroughly disappointed, I head over to some stalls nearby to look at carved animals and cheer myself up.

I buy a carved giraffe from some Zimbabwe traders, for 120 rand.

Our guide explains that unemployment in neighbouring Zimbabwe has led its people to leave their homeland in search of work. This has affected employment ins South Africa significantly.

mitchells
 sriver 90 minutes later, and were at Storms river.We all set off to do the coastal walk. We cross a bolder field, and the ground is (obviously) quite uneven.A few people decide to not to continue, and for no particular reason, I decide to go with them.

We find a nice cafe, and I have the fish cakes I have been wanting to eat all week, along with 2 really nice cups of coffee (it was one of those sort of non adventure days, when I just felt like relaxing).

I pop into the shop and buy a small carved black lion (my collection of hand carved African animals is growing).

There were some really nice chalets here, which some other Garden Route travellers were staying in. I wished we’d done the same.We headed out to visit the suspension bridge.The path through the Tsitsikamma National Park, was really relaxing and although steep in parts, was very even under-foot.  wire1
 wire2 Turned out that there were several suspension bridges interconnected together.When I had crossed suspension bridges in Borneo, we were told to only cross, 1 person at a time. The sign next to these said no more than 25 people at a time !
Next we travel to Cape Agulhas.This monument, marks the cape, the most southern point in Africa.My guidebook, said if you go swimming, swim on the left, as the Indian Ocean is warmer. In reality, it makes no difference.

I’ve said before, that SA people, are fairy straight up and no nonsense. Its here where the common phrase “you cant swim to 2 oceans” takes its name.

It means simply, don’t sit on the fence.

 ca1
 ca2 I was surprised how quiet it was. No souvenir shops, hotels, ice cream vendors etc.Its also one of a few places on earth, that has zero declination (if you know about navigation, that will mean something to you, if not read this).
Cape Agulhas, means literally Cape of Needles in Portuguese, as its filled with tiny coral shards. These have sunk around 250 vessels in the last 200 years.This lighthouse isn’t an old relic designed to look quaint, its actually fully functioning.It is reckoned to save thousands of lives every year as ships navigate the clipper route.  ca3
 wood We continue driving to Hermanus and stop off for something to eat at a service station.You don’t see firewood, in many service stations in the UK.While here, I decided to buy a copy of FHM to read on the journey (I was a regular reader for 6 years, but went of it a bit. Since then its expanded, and there’s actually one written just for South Africa).

They haven’t lost their way, and the magazine was full of “take the piss” articles. It kept mentioning Oke’s. I Didn’t know what that meant, but Charl explained it was South African slang for mates.

We arrive at Hermanus, the number one location in the world, for watching Whales from land.I was delighted to find that we are staying at a hotel right on the waterfront, near Walker Bay.I put my rucksack into my room, and head out exploring.

There is a whale in the harbour. To me, it could be an old Tyre at that distance, but the locals recognise it by name.

I sit looking out to sea, drinking a glass of lager, entertained by a xylophone player.

 coast
 crier I see the famous Whale crier (a job unique in all the world, he blows his vuvusela when I whale is sighted (their common now, since the world cup, but it was the first time id seen (or heard one)).I try to photograph him, but some young South Africans with water pistols are causing him some discomfort and he beats a hasty retreat.He returns later, and I’m able to get this photo.

As much as traveling, is about trekking in Borneo and meeting tribesmen, its also about experiencing modern culture, which years from now may be discussed with significance.

South Africa are due to play Rugby that afternoon. I find a bar to watch the game.

Inside, there are several specific groups speaking privately. Xosa, Zulu, dozens of others I don’t know (there are 11 national language in SA) along with the 2 white tribes, British and Afrikaner.

Then the match starts, and the pub just sort of merges into one unit (I’m not saying this out of romanticism, I saw it with my own eyes).

Months after returning home, I would watch the film Invictus, which explained everything. Only sport can unify people in this way, after 400 years of separation and segregation.

Its dark outside so I head back to the hotel. Hot chocolate and I watch Stargate Universe on my laptop.

I find annoyingly, that one of the episodes has no sound. I watch it anyway and try to work out the plot from the pictures.

Next morning I’m up early for breakfast. They have everything you could want, but no crusty buttered bread !.A group walk is scheduled for the morning, and optional whale watching boat trip in the afternoon. I decide to opt out of both, and have the day to myself.I find a coastal path along the harbour. The Fernkloof nature reserve, cliff path, which I follow for several miles. Every now and then I venture off the path and explore the coastal rocks and vegetation.

Having set of early, I get back at 10:45. An organized tour of the town is scheduled for 11am, but only runs with a minimum of 2 people.

With nobody else there, the very decent chap, refuses my offer of paying for 2, and recommends some key sites, and highlights of the towns 3 museums for nothing.

 cliffwalk
 shark I visit the photographic museum first. There are loads of interesting pictures, but best of all, is a sharks mouth, from the record breaking lb2000 caught in the harbour by rod (not the name of the person who caught it !).In my teenage years, I had a job on the markets and carried 50lb bags of potatoes. When I think of how heavy that was, I wonder how the catch was even possible.Earlier that morning, I’ve seen some sea kayaks and go down to the shore to investigate. R300 for 2hrs.

Money has gone really well on the trip, but from experience, the day before going home, is the time when most people let their guard down and overspend (and sometimes end up sat in an airport with no money to buy coffee !).

I continue exploring around the town and decide to get my hair cut. They seem quite surprised, but do a cracking job for R80, which I round up to R100.

I pop to the cash point to reload and mentally calculating the exchange rate, I withdraw my cash.

I realise that in my head, the decimal point was in the wrong place. Instead of £40, I have withdrawn £4, and paid £2.50 for the privilege !.

I go back and get the correct amount before making my way to the whale museum.Staff there are really laid back (receptionist is playing cards, on windows 95).The manager explains “Things are pretty formal in the week, but at weekends we don’t give a toss”. I’m growing to love the mannerisms of the Afrikaners.

There is a large whale skeleton, but its plastic. Some of the interesting exhibits make up for it.

I debate buying a whale poster. The danger is always buying with the feel good factor, and then getting home and realising that you wasted time and money buying tat.

When I buy something, its either put on display in my living room, or stored in a special box for memories, which I open each year on my Birthday and New Years day.

I apply this to every souvenir, and if it wont fit into either of these 2 categories, then I simply don’t buy it.

 hmus
 ozmonds I continue exploring and find a boutique shopping mall (while looking for a life is good T-shirt, I don’t already have).I bump into the Ozmonds (the pet name I have found for a charming Australian couple in our group). They have both had their haircut as well !.I just cant find a carved black hippo that I really want to add to my collection of miniature animals. After much searching I find an enamel Zebra.
I go back to the hotel and get cleaned up, then head to the Fisherman’s Rest, where we are all meeting for our final evening out.The restaurant has a bar, I grab a bottle of beer and sit quietly in the corner.I think about the book that inspired this trip. The Courtney family, live at a place called Weltevreden (which I have mispronounced for 20 years). It means simply – well satisfied. I decide that’s how I’m feeling.

One thing about me, is that when I’m completely relaxed, I sort of shut down, and people who don’t know me, think I’m miserable, when the total opposite is true.

The owners jokingly bullied me into having a 2nd photo taken (which you can see by moving over this one) with me smiling.

The staff are friendly and good humoured, with an astute knowledge of foul language. I order Steak medallions, the meal is quite delicious.

Afterwards we go to a bar called the Zebra crossing. Our waiter joins us and insists on buying everyone a drink !.

 mefc2
 vaclock The next day we drive back to Capetown to the V&A docks, with the intention of visiting Robben Island.As we wander around, I recognise the famous red clock. What isn’t widely known, is that it incorporates a quirky mechanism to measure tidal levels.Its a beautiful day, and a leg of the round-the-world yacht race is being run from here.
I continue wandering (the boat doesn’t leave for 45 minutes).Away from the bustle of shoppers, amongst a crop of Carob trees, is Nobel Square with Table mountain behind it.It features statues of South Africa’s 4 Nobel Peace Prize Winners.

Most people can name the obvious 3. Nelson Mandela and F W De clerk won it jointly, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The 4th, is Albert Luthuli a former leader of the ANC.

 vastatue
 ritm We board the Catamaran for Roben Island. It takes about 40 minutes and I find myself talking to a couple about Hitler.As we travel over, Table mountain is behind us. Its only 8 days since I climbed it, but it feels so long ago now.
As we disembark, there was a plaque:While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument to our hardship and suffering. We would want Robben Island to be a monument … reflecting the triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil. A triumph of non-racialism over bigotry and intolerance. A triumph of a new South Africa over the old.We are shown to 3 buses and given a tour of the island.  riwalk
 ribus1 Our guide is charming and well informed. He explains that the Island was originally a leper colony.He comments that calling lepers, lepers, is wrong, as it brands them as though they asked for the disease.He shows us the house of Robert Sobukwe the leader of the Pan Africanist Congress. He explained that Sobukwe had been detained without charge for 6 years after his sentence ended.

He gave an explanation of the group areas act and how the “dompass” permit system was used to control non-whites during apartheid.

 The prison complex looked a lot more civilised than I had expected, but it was explained that everything changed after 1977 when photo’s of the conditions were smuggled out by the Red Cross.  ricomp
 ribus2 The Lime quarry where inmates were made to mine (it had a serious effect on their health.On the top left of the picture, is the Lime cave. It was used as a lecture theatre to share information about the armed struggle.The prison guards never bothered to check what went on inside, they presumed the the inmates used it as a toilet.
We are introduced to a different guide, who explained what daily life was like, food exercise etc.He explained that ordinary criminals had tv and then said simply “our” news was recorded from the radio, so it could be censored.It was obvious that he had been an inmate here as a teenager.  ridorm
 ricell Nelson Mandela’s cell, with the stool he made himself. Its about 4 foot by 8.I started thinking of Mandela’s favorite poem Invictus, that would inspire a film, some months later.Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

Nelson Mandela’s Garden, where his book The Long Walk to Freedom was written.We walk back to the Jetty. I feel a bit down again. My flight home is in a few hours and I don’t know what’s waiting for me when I get back.Will I find another job in time or will I lose my home ?. Will I have to give up working in IT and leave the vocation I love ?.

Its then that it occurs to me. Nelson Mandela lived here for 19 years. He must have looked across the water to the mainland and dreamed every day of simply going home.

I decide to stop being selfish. Inspired by my surroundings I reach inside myself and find my determination.

I climb onto the deck of the Catamaran, taking the first steps home. Everything is going to be okay.

 rigarden

Capetown and the Garden Route. Finale of the Bluelist (2/3).

 stadium The world cup was still several months away, and the stadium at Green Point in Capetown was under construction (the previous stadium had been demolished in 2007).

I really wanted South Africa to win, in the same way that they did in the Rugby world cup, 15 years earlier (the events are shown in the film Invictus).

Sadly that didn’t happen, but loads of people had a good time visiting the country and Vuvuzela has become a household word !.

On our way to the Stellenbosch wine lands, we stop of at the Kirstenbosch. Although his main home is in London, Wilbur Smith owns a house here.

On the eastern slopes of table mountain, it covers over 36 Hectares and is one of the most spectacular gardens of its kind, in the world.

Kirstenbosch, the most beautiful garden in Africa.

kbent
 kbstage It isn’t just for frumpy botanists and gardening types. Just like the botanical gardens in Sydney its designed to reach out to everyone.

As I set off walking around, I saw this stage being erected for a music festival.

I headed up hill, along Rhodes drive, to get a better view of the whole park.

There were many specialised sections like medicinal plants, mountain flowers and stuff like that.

There was a mixture of open spaces and more secluded paths like this one. I only had 3 hours to see it all, and I didn’t want waste a minute.

 kbwalk
 skelg I walked along a section of the Skeleton Gorge path.

Jan Smuts walked this rout most days, well into his 70’s and I was proud to have walked in his footsteps.

Henry Pearson, the designer of the gardens is buried here.

On his grave it says simply “If you took the time to find this grave. Look around.”

We left the gardens and headed for Stellenbosch. We spent the night in an Afrikaner home.

There was a large organ in the living room, and black and white photo’s of the owners ancestors, going back to the first Dutch settlers.

These were the people that Smith wrote about in all his books and I feel like I’ve come home (even though I’m on the other side of the world).

There was a bible next to every bed in the house, and for the first time in some years, I found myself reading it before drifting off to sleep.

 kbgrave
 bk1 Stellenbosch is known internationally for its wine and we had a full morning planned experiencing it.

Our first stop, was the Bergkelder. Here, they don’t grow grapes but buy them. They are made into wine and stored inside a hollowed out mountain.

Our guide Lientjie was really helpful and friendly.

She was obviously from Afrikaner stock. Power of the Sword (the Wilbur Smith novel that had inspired my trip) was set around the 40’s and 50’s and mentioned that it was very rare for British and Afrikaners to inter marry.

I asked our guide Charl if this was still the case. He said that doesn’t really happen any more, South Africa is a truly multicultural country, not just in law, but in attitude.

We went into the mountain and saw some of its famous carved barrels from 1969.

We tried 5 different wines. We had eaten a small breakfast and no lunch, so the cold dark corridor, came alive with giddy laughter.

I’m quite new to wine tasting. Each time Lientjie would discuss the smell and taste of the wine.

This was quite strange as it always seemed familiar, but I couldn’t think of what.

Then she would say common associations are dark chocolate, ripe banana or cigar box and I would instantly connect.

 bkelder3
 bkelder4 Wealthy people, can actually store their own wine here.

Here, Mark Shuttleworth, the first African in space, has some cases in storage.

Standing next to the tour bus, with my authentic bottle of Stellenbosch wine.

It cost less than a fiver, and drunk later that evening. They have a web site, and when finances pick up, I’m going to order another and have it flown over !.

 sbwine
 wtasting Our next stop is a vineyard called Knorhoek.

Outdoors this time, it had an open air party feel.

£1.50 for 5 wines. Our guide this time, asked if she could give us a 6th for free.

As we leave Stellenbosch, I realise that I haven’t seen the university or any of Cape Dutch architecture.

Our guide Charl points out this hills. When the Afrikaners left to set up the orange free state, they actually had to dig out these roads and paths, to get over the mountains.

We stop at a shopping centre to get some lunch. A security guard with an automatic pistol and AK47 is standing in the foyer. Strange, as everyone around looked happy and comfortable (perhaps that’s why 🙂

I read in my guidebook that there is a famous zoo nearby and I ask to visit it. The Adventure Company stipulate ethical travel, so its off the agenda.

Someone in the van explains that anyway, a Wolf and an Aardvark could never mate anyway.

We arrive at Oudtshoorn Ostrich farm.

 route
 ofarm I hadn’t expected much from this part of the trip, but ended up fascinated by the whole thing.

Our highly enthusiastic guide, showed us a DVD of how Ostriches are farmed. It basically involves removing eggs (the Ostrich doesn’t mind, as long as their are a few left) and taking them to an incubator.

Amazingly, the Ostrich will actually compensate, by having more eggs. This artificial increase, is the key to the process.

Its an amazing way to farm meat, in a warm arid environment.

A few of the interesting things I found out:

An Ostrich can move its throat to the side or back of its neck to protect its windpipe.

The Ostriches have tags to stop in-breeding.

One Ostrich egg is enough for 15 people.

12% of ostriches are infertile.

Farmed this way, an Ostrich egg is “good for meat” in 14 months.

Eggs are very strong, but this is mainly down to the fluid inside and the sand normally found at its base.

 ohood
 orace The excellent presentation, finished with a rather silly “donkey derby” type race with Ostriches.

We leave the Ostriches and head back to the van. Its spontaneously decided that we should visit the Cango caves.

We are introduced to our guide Ilse. She shows us around the 1st chamber, which is easily the biggest open area, I have ever seen underground.

The lights are dimmed, to simulate what it would be like, lit with only 1 candle, to view it as its first discoverers had.

The 2nd chamber was smaller, but well worth the visit, and the 3rd, had not had its floor levelled, so we could see what it would have been like to “walk” around the others before they were finished.

 cavern5
 cavern4 Some years earlier, the caves had been used for a rock concert. It was pointed out, that this would never be repeated as several priceless pieces of rock had been vandalized by thieves.

It wouldn’t have mattered if their consciences had made them return them as they could never be re-connected to the original stone.

The Stalactites like this one, had been both Carbon and Uranium dated.

I know some people get claustrophobic, but I absolutely love being underground in places like this.

In the evening we go to back to our chalets, and have an indoor bbq, cooked by Charl.

The food is delicious, and after some thought, I decide not to risk my wine on the plane, and share it with everyone.

In the morning, I avoid the communal breakfast, and instead make some hot chocolate, and sit quietly on the grass.

As we load up the van, everyone compliments me on how lightly I pack. I explain that I wear Rohan clothing.

 van2
 wilderness1 We stop at a beach called heaven. Charl explains that its famous for some reason and where it gets its name. Lost in the moment, so didn’t remember any of it (sorry).

We have 2 hours to relax on the beach. A few people go for a swim. Others kick a football around. I walk along the beach with Simon and Gill.

It stretches out for miles. The ocean, the sky and the sand under my bare feet made for a remarkable experience.

We arrive at Knysna (pronounced nysna). Driving around the lagoon we get the first glimpse of our accommodation.

I always wanted to stay in a log cabin. I sort of thought I would be in Norway or Sweden, not South Africa, when it finally happened !.

Quite small but had a chacuzzi, and a balcony (which I later decide to sleep on).

 lc
 kh1 We walk to the famous Knysna heads.

The lake in Knysna was the inspiration for the lagoon sea battle at the end of Wilbur Smiths Blue horizon.

I find a small cafe next to the water and have a coffee, enjoying this amazing view. I still couldn’t get over how inexpensive everything was.

An amazing site and probably the worlds most dangerous port due to tides (the saltwater ocean meets the freshwater feed, right in the middle of the lake).

On the other side of the heads is a nature reserve called Featherbed. There was a debate about whether we should visit it. At £26 I thought it was too expensive.

 kh3
 pub There’s a nice pub near our cabin so I stop by for a pint (its around 5pm and the pub is filling with after work drinkers)

The sight of people smoking really surprised me (the smoking ban in the UK has been in force for several years).

I’m joined by our guide Charl, who I’ve mentioned a few times before. A really cracking bloke, I learned loads of useful and interesting things from him (and he looked like Rob from Woodsmoke).

He was also a keen Wilbur Smith fan, and we frequently discussed which was his best work. One thing we did agree on, was his most recent book Assagi was awful, and reads like a Mills & Boon 🙁

There used to be a song in a tedious TV program in the UK, called Spitting Image. The song said something about, I’ve never met a nice South African.

Well, that just wasn’t my experience at all. The people I met were all friendly and personable.

The thing I did notice, was they were practical, plain speaking and would stand for no nonsense. I think that may be where the cultural misunderstanding comes from.

I wander into town to buy some souvenirs. I stop at a cyber cafe, grab a bottle of beer and catch up on my e-mail. Henrik, Nadiah and my brother David have all e-mailed me with congratulations about completing the bluelist.

I arrive early for dinner at the fisherman’s rest. A charming waitress called Melinda shows me to my table, as the other members of my group arrive.

In the guidebook, its says 2 things you must try on the Garden Route are eating freshly caught fish, and drinking Mitchell’s bear.

I decide its time for the first one. Back home, its normally cod or haddock, but here its hake and served in a skillet, its delicious.

 dinner2
 township We never get to visit a traditional township.

The closest I got, was when we drove passed one, and I quickly took this photo.

Capetown and the Garden Route. Finale of the Bluelist (1/3).

metm 2002 was a very difficult time in my life. I had lost everything and was forced to sleep on the floor while I saved up to buy a bed.

The advantage to this, was I had plenty of free time, which I used to plan my goals once life improved.

Significant in this, was a bluelist. Taken from the Lonely Planet book of the same name. It means roughly a list of things to do and see before you die.

In 2009 with only one significant goal left out of nearly 3000. To stand on Table mountain. Having already visited 56 countries, I pick up my rucksack and head for Capetown.

I arrive at midnight, after flying with the excellent KLM.

Going through customs, I have a funny thought. Next time I have a passport photo taken, I will take it at 4am in the morning, so my picture reflects how I actually look when I get of a long haul flight.

Its an organised tour, so I’m picked up and arrive at the Sweet Orange guesthouse 40 minutes later.

I’m shown to my beautiful room, which will be my home for the next 3 nights.

Wasn’t sure whether to lock my widows, so discussed security with the owner. Its very safe here he replies.

Pressed further on the matter he replies. I was mugged once and I saw 2 vicious pub brawls.

Oh, he interposes sarcastically, that was when I was at the Leeds University in your country !.

A quick shower, a bottle of beer from the honesty box, I update my diary and then drift off to sleep.

poolroom
 tmcc The trip formally started at 2pm, so I used the free time to read, update some things on my Acer netbook, check my gear etc.

The usual meet up. The group and leader arrive (a big bear of a man). The usual meet up. Hand over insurance documents, nok details and in country payment.

We are all introduced to each other. Ten minutes to get ready, and were off to Table mountain.

I learn that the mountain is closed frequently due to weather.

It was decided we would get the cable car up, and walk down (if your at the bottom and they close it, you cant go up, but if your already on the top, they can’t stop you walking down).

The cable car (sponsored rather ostentatiously by Barclaycard) normally rotates to give 360% views of the mountain. When the driver pulled the lever, nothing happened.

After a few minutes, he said simply its not working today.

And there I was, standing on the top of Table Mountain, the culmination of 6 years pursuit of adventure.

Following an uncompromising life of adventure, has its costs, but at that moment, I felt that they had all been worth it.

I looked around the souvenir shop, but just couldn’t find anything to really capture the moment.

I text Amelia, Danny and Brenda with this photo.

What can I say. I didn’t really feel euphoric, I just felt a sort of relief and subdued satisfaction.

 tmtop2
 lr In a reflective mood, I wandered around the mountain top.

Here you can see the famous Lions head and Lions rump. Many Capetonians walk up the Lions head, each morning before work.

I found somewhere quiet, sat quietly and read excerpts from Power of the Sword, the Wilbur Smith novel that takes place on Table mountain and had inspired this visit, 20 years previously.

Since the bluelist was now technically complete, I could get on with enjoying my holiday.

I got to know some of my fellow travelers, as we walked back down the platteklip gorge.

Our guide Charl taught me some Afrikaans, with emphasis on pronunciation. Windhoek for example is pronounced Vindhook.

I had read that crime was common while on the mountain. Another example of the paranoia myth attached to Capetown (the only people we met on the path were other walkers, and some local actors dressed as tribesmen !).

Standard precautions re theft and personal safety, were all that were needed throughout the trip.

Signs everywhere, say that you shouldn’t pick flowers (there are more species of plant and flower on Table Mountain than there are in the whole of the UK).

A particular type of the Blue Dasai, grows only on table mountain. I took one, and have it sealed in a key ring at home. Symbolic of completing the bluelist, its priceless to me.

 kgorge2
 vawaterfront In a reflective mood, we walk back to the hotel and get cleaned up.

In the evening, we head out to the VA waterfront with its vibrant atmosphere and friendly bars.

I’m delighted when the group choose to visit a steak house (strangely named Red Cod). I have to be careful with my budget, but decide that after the events of the day, a meal fit for a king, is appropriate.

Mushroom soup to start, an enormous steak for main, a bottle of South African Red and coffee for after’s (I don’t usually eat cake).

Including a tip and some money for the opera singers who serenaded us during our meal, there was change from £20.

A long but massively rewarding day over, I head back to the hotel. Just before bed, I update my blog with news of the days achievement.

Next day, up early, for a breakfast.

Served on one big table in the middle of the room. I try Yoghurt pancakes and my usual travel staple of buttered crusty bread and coffee.

Today we are driving around False bay and our first stop is Seal Island.

A different boat sets off every half hour. Bellow decks, they have a glass bottom, to watch the fish.

Although mostly financed by tourism, its still a working fishing port, and there were stalls around selling all kinds of exotic fish (which were obviously dead).

 sboat
 hump Although I succumb to sea sickness, there really is no pleasure like sitting on a boat being rocked by the ocean.

We sail around this hill, called the Sentinel (a prominent site from Chapman’s peak drive).

As we round the bend, we get our first glimpse of Seal Island.

Not so much an Island as a rock, it was packed to the rafters with seals.

I expected some of them to swim over for food thrown from the boat, but they barely looked up.

 sisland
 light We tell it how it really is here at johnsunter.com

The startled girl in the picture, has reason for concern.

The street lamp behind, had just been knocked over by her husband/boyfriend, who was screaming and shouting (obviously blaming her, for not spotting it first).

She seemed to find it hilarious and as I walked past, and it was all I could do not to start laughing.

We continue along Chapman’s peak drive and see some of the spectacular views around false bay.

You can see why the Garden Route, is so popular as a fly/drive destination.

 cpeakrd2
 stown2 We visit Simons Town, which takes its name from Simon Van der Stel, the Dutch Governor of the Cape colony from 1677 to 1699.

My first sights are the famous mile of Victorian houses, including this excellent backpacker hostel.

Despite its heritage, the area has a very modern port.

Everyone else goes for lunch. Realising I have an hour free, I head of in search of adventure.

In Jubilee square, is the statue of one of the towns most famous residents. Just Nuisance, was the only dog to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy.

Beloved by his fellow sailors, he frequently traveled into Capetown on the train, to go drinking with his shipmates. In 1944, at the end of his life, he was buried with full military honours.

My first stop is the Simon’s Town museum. Run by volunteers, they even had the original collar belonging to, just nuisance.

In one room, a reconstruction of the Africa Station club.

A very popular Pub with Naval staff, it sadly closed down, but has been completely re-created (except that they don’t have a license, and you couldn’t actually get a drink here 🙂

 bar
 navmus1 My next stop, is the South African Naval Museum.

They had all the stuff you’d expect in here, like uniforms and old photographs.

They also had full size helicopters and a life size ships bridge.

South African divers are some of the best in the world, and there were lots of diving exhibits.

After an informative, whistle stop tour of both museums, I grab some fish and chips (freshly caught that morning, you don’t get that in Manchester :).

Just a few minutes around the corner is Boulders Beach, home to a colony of African penguins.

One of the must-see sights of the Garden Route, the surreal experience, is penguins (which you normally associate with Arctic weather conditions) on a baking hot beach.

The other interesting thing is there is no record of penguins living here before 1985, and nobody seems to know why they settled here.

 p3
 bwalk  There are 2 boarded walks, that lead along through the trees to the viewing point (in times gone by, you could walk around on the beach with the penguins, but hundreds of thousands of people come to see them each year so its no longer practical).
The Penguins sometimes rest in the shade, and for the winter months have these simple shelters made of half a plastic bottle.

While walking around, I popped in the tourist shops, and bought a souvenir key ring (I remember reading a quote by the head of tourism, while in Nepal. “don’t donate money to charities, just come here, go out to eat, drink and buy souvenirs”.)

 p2
 p1 This photo shows one of the viewing platforms, taken from the other. You can see just how popular it is.

I really enjoyed being here, but after about 40 minutes, I had seen all the penguins, I ever wanted to.

Next stop, Cape Point, on the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.

After table mountain, it was the place I really wanted to see.

Many people mistakenly think that this is the most Southerly point in Africa. It isn’t, that’s Cape Agulhas, about 90 miles away.

 mecp
 cpview A common phrase used to encourage plane speaking in SA, is “you can’t swim the 2 oceans”. This comes from the meeting of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, which happens around this area.

There is no specific place where this happens, it varies between Cape point and Cape Agulhas.

This causes unpredictable tides and currents, which is why Thousands of ships have sunk around this area in the last 100 years.

It was a beautiful day and the views across the beaches were fantastic.

I headed straight up the hill, to the old lighthouse.

Its no longer used, and as you can see from this picture, has a “Blackpool tower” feel to it.

 lh1
 coghtrail We take the cliff route to the actual Cape of Good Hope.

I caught up with some of the girls in the group, and off we went. The walk was boarded, so secure under foot, but howling coastal winds blew up sand, and I had to protect my eyes.

I stopped at one point to enjoy the view. The cliffs I was standing on, were 800 feet above the ocean, it really was breathtaking.

As I looked down onto the bays, I saw a group playing cricket.

At the end of the cliffs, the path drops down.

The area is known for its Fynbos vegetation, and there were loads of harmless, friendly animals, running around.

 coghpath
 cogh At the bottom and I get to stand at the Cape of Good Hope.

It had special significance for me. I remember being 13 and a PE teacher, was teaching us geography in a most uninspiring way.

Typically, he used me to make an example, made me stand up and shouted at me in front of the whole class. I remember the humiliation when he told me I was scruffy and I would never “go anywhere”.

The lesson was about famous Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama setting up a spice trading route around the Cape of Good hope in 1497.

If by any coincidence, your reading this Mr Blease, formerly of Moston Brook High School, I’ve actually been there. Have you ?

My first trip to Africa – Kenya.

waterhole My auntie goes into a bookshop in Manchester and asks what book they recomend for a lad about to turn 21.They recomend Wilbur Smith. I really wanted a book about Bruce Lee, or something like that, but I read it anyway and really enjoyed it.Over the months and years that followed I had all 20 + books by Wilbur on the shelf in my bedroom and I was hooked.

I especialy liked the parts about Africa and seeing real Elephants and Lions.

When I got a chance to go to Kenya and see the real thing, there was no question what I’d do…

The first 5 days we were on Safari.We stayed in superb quality hotels in the East and West Savo hills, and the Treetops resort.Each day we went out on Safari, at around 7am in the Morning around 6pm in the evening.

In the morning, it was colder than I expected.

 road
 ele1 Our first sighting of the day.A Bull Elephant next to a watering hole.
 Living near Chester, and I can see elephants any time I please, its just that they are in a Zoo, and these fine animals were in their natural environment.  ele3
 meroof  The vehicle we travelled in, had a retractable roof, so we could pop our heads out of the top, to get a better view of the animals (and still stay safe.)
There were other vehicles around.Our guide was quite good, and once a few other vehicles arrived, he would move us on, to avoid spoiling the experience.  ele4
 sitting  We stayed in the treetops hotel on our first night.Me standing on the Hotel Balcony during daylight.
The bar overlooked a water hole, where Elephants would congregate beneath us.  ttops
 lion A superb picture of a Lion crossing the road, just in front of us.I was using an AFP camera at the time, had used all the film, and it was auto rewinding just at that moment.I just managed to get some more film in it, and take this shot, before it passed out of sight.
 A Giraffe, was impossible to photograph close up from the van, so I had to take this picture from a distance.  gir
 zebra  Some Zebra congregating at the side of the road.
A fairly rare picture of an Ostrich in its natural environment.  ost
 pool In the West Savo hills, Sitting by the pool, with a bottle of beer.
But this isn’t any normal poolside, it has this view of the valley bellow.Hundreds of wild animals bellow congregating for water.  waterhole3
 bab After a while, some Baboons came along.I thought they were basically harmless, but somebody asked the wait to remove them.I couldn’t believe it, when he hit one of the Baboons hard with a steel drink tray.
 On the other side of the hotel, were some steps down the inside of the hill, leading to a hide where elephants could be view taking water, at last light.  waterhole2
 lagoon2 During one of our Safari’s we visit underwater hide where you could see Alligators and Hippo’s.Unfortunately, there weren’t any around.
The only silly part of the trip was this tree, located about 30 meters from the bar.Each night a dead chicken was hung from the Tree, and we were promised a chance to see Leopard.One silly sod, actually sat up all night, hoping to see one.

In the morning, our guide explained that that close to loud drunk people, it would be more likely to encounter aliens than a Leopard.

 tree1
 masai Our guide took us to visit a maasai village where the warriors wore traditional dress.Maasai warriors are surprising, as they are quit lanky and thin.This is made up for by their courage. To become a man at 14 a maasai warrior must stand the charge of a Lion without showing fear.
 The outside of a maasai hut, made of sticks.  shelter1
 shelter2 The sticks are then covered in mud, which dry’s in the afternoon heat.I cooking fire is placed near the door, the smoke keeps insects away.
 Our Maasai guides make fire from friction.  masaifire
 tbay At the end of our 5 day Safari, we spend 10 days in the Turtle bay beach resort.It is rated as one of the best 10 beaches in the world.
 The lads at the bar, became firm friends (especially after they carried me to bed following a daft evening of Vodka and Sprite).  bar1
 tree2 A morning excursion, took us to a nearby village ruin.These types of trees were used in olden times to make masts for ships.
The village ruin.The guide spent 2 hours showing us around it, and all the rooms and vaults.The original inhabitants of the village were killed and the village left deserted.

I’ve ended the section with this picture. Although I’ve visited lots of others, this marks the first time I’d visited an ancient city in person.

 ruin1