A Canadian girl and her incredibly charming British boyfriend, moving and shaking around the world- and arguing about who is from the True North Message
  • Day171

    Robben Island

    March 4, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ☁️ 20 °C

    After a few days spent surfing in Muizenberg, we head Robben Island for our final South African excursion. This was the notorious prison island used to hold political prisoners during the Apartheid era. We had learned about the struggle in Joburg, and it is hard to forget about the terrible past that still shapes present-day South African society.

    The tour is a little strange though. The tour guide seems more interested in describing modern day life on the island (the museum staff must live here) than the history. This isn't helped by the fact that a large French tour group opted to come on the English-speaking tour rather than fork out more for a private French-speaking one. This means that everything, no matter how boring or inane, has to be repeated in French, and it takes ages. There's a sense of growing discontent in the tour bus, which comes to a head when we head inside the prison. We meet our second guide, who was actually a prisoner here during apartheid. At the gates of the prison, the French tour leader asks if she can translate everything for her group. One of the English-speaking tourists pipes up- "If you have to translate everything, we won't have time to get around!". There's a murmur of agreement in discontent. The tour leader responds by invoking the legacy of Nelson Mandela, who wished for peace between nations. It seems a little ham-fisted to conflate Mandela's struggle with a tour leader's mission to save money on the trip, but hey-ho.

    Sure enough, though, we have to rush through the prison, and get about half as much information as we would otherwise. When we pass one prison cell, the guide points out that this was where Mandela was imprisoned. Cue a rush to the door of the cell, everyone armed with cameras. There's a big scrum, and despite being next to the door when the guide made the announcement, we find ourselves at the back of the crowd, unable to get a picture of what- to be honest- is just the same as any other cell in the prison.

    On the ferry back to Cape Town, Chris spots what he thinks is a shark, but he can't be sure. We'll count it.
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  • Day170

    Muizenberg Beach

    March 3, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Today we head towards Muizenberg Beach, a popular surfing spot near Cape Town (especially for us amateurs). We opt to splurge on a nicer b&b off the beach and are not disappointed as the the view from our room is incredible. With clouds rolling over the mountainous backdrop and the sound of the nearby river feeding into the ocean, we settle in for a nap.

    Feeling peckish we walk down the beach past Muizenberg's famous brightly painted beach huts (some b&b's photos make it seem like you are sleeping in those rather than their poorly reviewed rooms) and head towards a famous fish and chip joint run by the local fishermen's wives. Not only does it serve delicious fish and calamari, but it's also frequently visited by a family of seals who wait for the scraps from the local fishermen. It's pretty amazing being this close to them, but we leave with an uncomfortable feeling wondering if the seals natural behaviour has been changed by this daily feeding for the sake of putting a smile on the tourists faces.

    The next few days are spent in the ocean on our surfboards. We can't help but feel a sense of accomplishment each time we successfully ride a wave which is becoming much more frequently. The experience would be a whole lot more enjoyable if it weren't for all the other surfers crowding the waters and getting in our way. It's funny how we aren't the only ones who thought surfing at one of South Africa's most popular surfing spots would be fun over the course of those few sunny days with great surfing conditions.
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  • Day167

    Cape Town Table Mountain

    February 29, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Today, the clouds have parted, and Table Mountain is visible for the first time since we arrived in Cape Town. There are two ways to get to the top of Table Mountain- cable car or walking. It would be nice to walk up, but there are reports of muggings on the trail, so we play it safe and book tickets for the afternoon cable car up.

    Before we head up, we take a stroll round the downtown area of Cape Town. It's reminiscent of big American cities like New York- grand old banks and art-deco buildings laid out in grids. We make our way over to Long Street, where all the nice bars and restaurants are, and dive into a hipster-y cafe. We have some craft beers (South Africa has a good burgeoning craft-beer scene) and Bobotie- a sort of Shepherd's Pie with eggs instead of potato. It's great.

    Later, we head to the cable car. It's full of people, presumably taking the opportunity since the weather is great. It's quite strange seeing so many fellow tourists, as so far we've been a little off the beaten track, and away from the tourist trail. We're quickly reminded about how dreadful tourists can be, as people jostle for the cable car, despite there being enough room for everyone. The cable car ride is great, especially since the car revolves, presenting us with 360 degree panoramas over the city. To enable this, the floor spins whilst the walls stay in place. We're therefore instructed to let go of the handrails, lest they drag us across the room. This is lost on one woman, who insists on holding on, even when the rail has dragged her halfway across the cable car. She's fully stretched out, holding on for dear life (for no reason), pushing a lot of us off balance, and declares "isn't this great??".

    At the top, the views are predictably amazing. All of Cape Town is laid before us, sweeping out into the ocean. As the sun sets into the Atlantic, we sit on the rocks and watch as the sky turns burnt orange- perhaps the best sunset in a continent of incredible sunsets.
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  • Day165

    Cape Town

    February 27, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ 🌙 18 °C

    With a bad hangover, we wake up in Franschhoek. Today, we're heading to Cape Town, which fortunately is not so far of a drive and takes us along the amazing coast line.

    On the way, we stop into a brewery, and stock up on some tasty beers to balance out the wine.

    In Cape Town, we stay with our friend Marion, who very kindly offered to put us up. It's amazing to stay at an actual house rather than a hostel or in a tent, especially with as generous a host. We're met with the offer of beer, and sit around chatting and catching up.

    The next day, we head down to the Cape of Good Hope. We drive over Chapman's Peak, admiring the jaw-dropping views of the Atlantic ocean, and the vast round bays that make up the Cape.

    Entrance to the Cape of Good Hope is eye-wateringly expensive for what is just a bit of cliff that we've attached a cultural significance to, but we cough up. As much as anything, making it to the Cape will feel like a milestone- Nairobi to the Cape (mostly) overland.

    This used to be called the Cape of Storms, before the name was changed in a shrewd PR move to the Cape of Good Hope by the then King of Portugal. It marks the point where ships start to round the continent. It's quite obvious where the original name comes from- the winds here are violently fierce. People are actually falling over due to the force of the gales. As we queue to get a picture of the sign, a German boy is swept off his feet directly onto Chris, who just about manages to keep his balance.

    A bit further along, a woman is bowled over, but keeps a tight grip on her phone, and starts scrolling as if she hadn't just been blown onto the ground. It's a bizarre vignette that you could say attests to society's addiction to our telephones, but I won't say it.
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  • Day164

    Franschhoek Wine Tram

    February 26, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    The Western Cape of South Africa- the area around Cape Town- is famous for its wines. In the early 1700s, French Hugenots fled here, escaping persecution. They brought with them their knowledge of wine-making, and started vineyards in the region.

    Franschhoek is one of the most well-known of these, and is full to the brim with large- and small-scale wineries. Vineyards stretch through the valley as far as the eye can see, watched over by grand old manor houses.

    Today, we're exploring these via a Wine Tram (which includes busses), taking us round a number of wineries to sample their best wines. It's basically a posh pub-crawl, and we're absolutely buzzing.

    We start fairly early in the morning at Babylonstoren. The wine is fantastic, and we have a wine that we've never tried before- a Voignier. Now, we don't pretend to have anywhere near a good knowledge of wine. Chris knows that he likes Merlots, and KT despises Chardonnays. But being on a Wine Tour in the heart of South African wine region really makes us feel like sommeliers. The staff at the vineyards present each wine with a description of the grape, time of harvest, and other technical information which is lost on us, but allows us to make the appropriate noises to make us sound knowledgeable. "Hmm, nice, yes, ooh brilliant".

    By the end of the tour, we've sampled a good number of wines, and are really enjoying ourselves. The scenery is unbelievable. Mountains dominate the horizon in every direction, the long lines of grapes marching down the valley sides in perfect rows. It's an ideal place to get drunk.
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  • Day163

    Franschhoek via Betty’s Bay

    February 25, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ 🌙 18 °C

    Today we're heading to Franschhoek, one of the famous South African wine valleys. We take the scenic route, around the eastern side of False Bay, and we do not regret it.

    First stop is Betty's Bay, where African Penguins congregate. There are hundreds of penguins all around the shore. Small walkways take you above the penguins, and it's adorable watching the little birds waddling around under us.

    We then drive around the bay, heading north on the R44. The road is like something out of a car advert- a grand, sweeping drive, hugging the mountains on one side, and dropping off into the ocean on the other. We can't resist stopping and taking pictures on almost every lay-by, and we both agree that it's perhaps the most scenic drive we've done. It's one of those moments that fills your heart with joy and provide the true rewards of adventure.

    Arriving into Franschhoek early afternoon, we check into our pleasant little guesthouse, which is complete with a rusting double-decker bus plonked in the garden. We head into town, passing famous vineyards which produce some of South Africa's best wines. Instead of wine, though, we head to a craft beer bar, figuring that we'll be drinking enough wine on our vineyard tour the next day.

    We get an early night, preparing for a heavy day tomorrow
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  • Day162

    Hermanus

    February 24, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    After Mossel Bay, we head closer to the Cape, stopping off at Hermanus, on the advice of our friend Marion.

    Hermanus is a nice place. It's quite fancy which comes as a bit of a culture shock after backpacking for months. We stay at a Backpackers place which, whilst not the most comfortable, is by far the cheapest place around here.

    In the evening, we head to a well-known wine bar for a tasting menu. We sample lots of wines from the region, a sneak preview of what we will be drinking when we head to the wine regions after Hermanus. After trying many wines, we head out into town, trying to find another bar, but everything is a little too fancy for our budget. Instead, we head back to the hostel and have a glass of our own wine.

    The next morning, we had planned to head to Franschhoek, famous for its wines. We were about to set off when one of the hostel staff told us that the kayaking company had spotted whales, and asked if we wanted to head out. We jump at the opportunity, and quickly head over.

    In our kayaks, we head out into the freezing-cold Atlantic ocean, and are led around, trying to spot whales and dolphins. We come across a group of male seals, who swim around us, curiously bobbing their heads up and approaching our kayaks for a closer look. We paddle around the coastline, avoiding the currents that crash onto the jagged rocks, whilst trying to get as close as possible to the seals on the cliffs. We take some of the seaweed that floats to the surface here and eat the little "olives" that grow on it. It is, as you would expect, pretty salty, but not at all bad.

    After a while of paddling around, our guide gets a call on the radio to say that a humpback whale has been spotted back near shore. We kayak over as fast as we can, but we're too late. A little disappointed, we head back and finish our kayak tour. But, as luck would have it, the whale comes back, and we're able to see it breach, it's distinctive tail crashing against the water. It's a breathtaking sight, and we leave Hermanus happy.
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  • Day157

    Jeffrey's Bay to Mossel Bay

    February 19, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    We spend the next few days heading down the coast towards the Cape. Our first stop along the way is Jeffrey's Bay, where our friends are also staying. We spend a couple of days surfing and drinking craft beer. JBay, as is it called around here, is known as one of the greatest surf spots in the world, and has a famous competition in the winter months, where the tubes draw the most elite surfers from across the globe.

    We're nowhere near good enough to surf conditions like that, but luckily the conditions in Summer are a more gentle- perfect for beginners like us.

    After JBay, we head down to Plettenberg Bay. The owner of our guesthouse is a little strange, and gives us terrible recommendations for places to eat. The first- a beachfront cafe- serves very average toasties and shakes, but has great views across the bay. We're lucky enough to see dolphins, which up to this point we had dismissed as a myth, having not seen them anywhere along the African coast.

    Further down the Garden Route we take a few pit stops to have a swim in a small, very frigid bay and view the 'Map of Africa' - a strange bend in the river that when viewed at a certain angle appears to take the shape of the African continent. We finally reach Mossel Bay, a strange place where we end up camping in a campsite full of pensioners. They have huge mansion-like tents, with multiple wings and conservatories. Some even have even brought along their satellite dishes, and we can hear them watching the cricket inside their canvas castles.
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  • Day156

    Surfin Coffee Bay

    February 18, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ 🌧 22 °C

    A damp start to the day, as our tent has completely filled with rainwater. There's a swamp in and around our tent. No time to dry out everything though, as we've signed up for surfing lessons. They are advertised as the cheapest surfing lessons in South Africa, and at 70 Rand (3 quid), it's probably the truth.

    We hit the beach with our group, and the conditions for learning look fantastic. Lots of small waves, consistently breaking across the length of the beach. We have the entire place to ourselves, perhaps helped by the fact that the storm is still raging, and we're surfing in a downpour.

    That's not the only difference from our Tofo surfing lesson. This time, our instructor teaches a completely new, easier method of surfing, and we pick it up a lot easier. We still don't pick it up immediately- getting stuck in a deeper section of the tide doesn't help. The rain storm, and the rugged coastline, with huge cliffs looming over us, makes us feel like we are surfing the apocalypse. After a couple of hours catching waves, we head back to the hostel. Only problem is that the rain has caused the river separating the beach from the road to burst its banks. What was a small stream a few hours prior is now a raging torrent. It gets worse and worse, so we make the decision to cross before it engulfs the beach. In order to cross, we take it in turns to take a surfboard and cross in pairs, using the board to push against the current. We all make it safely across, with a few nervous stumbles.

    After changing out of our wetsuits, we make the decision to take down the tent and move into a room, as the storm is only getting worse. It's a relief, and we're finally able to get dry.

    We spend the evening drinking beers with an English couple- Luke and Tay- who are travelling the world. South Africa is their first stop and they're heading to Sri Lanka next. It's strange how it's possible to get travel envy even though we've crossed most of Africa.
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  • Day155

    Down the Sani Pass to Coffee Bay

    February 17, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Leaving Lesotho today after our brief stay. We wake up early enough to watch the sunrise and consider heading further into the country, but the roads are all rough mountain passes, and although that sounds incredibly fun, we've got a schedule to keep. So, we're heading down to the coast, to Coffee Bay, a popular surf spot.

    The drive down the pass is challenging but fun in our little Jimny. Spare a thought, though, for the passengers of a little minibus who departed just in front of us. With minimal clearance, normal road tyres, and probable lack of 4x4, the vertiginous drops might seem just a little more scary. The conductor of the bus has to walk in front in order to move the bigger rocks out of the road to allow the vehicle to make a safe descent.

    On route to Coffee Bay the GPS takes us completely the wrong way, and unfortunately we only see the hostel's recommendation to "turn off your GPS and follow our directions" after we get lost (and almost get involved in a two-car crash). On the road to Coffee Bay, we see a tragic number of dead dogs on the road, which, combined with the darkening of the skies, makes for a pretty grim drive for the coast.

    We arrive just before dark though, and set up our tent. We grab a drink in the bar- I opt for a Durban Poison- named after a famous weed strain in the eponymous city. It is brewed with cannabis (which is newly legal in South Africa), and tastes faintly of sweet sweet Mary Jane. Doesn't get you high though.

    Unfortunately, a gigantic rain storm that night shows us that the tent is totally not waterproof, and we end up getting soaked during the night. The rain wouldn't stop for another two days.
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