15.03.2013 - 31.03.2013 25 °C
We made it to our hostel in Johannesburg a little disappointed – miles out of the way therefore a fortune in a taxi and no mod cons or wifi as we were expecting – nevertheless, it suited our biggest requirements – a much needed cleaning and a relaxing time doing nothing!
It soon became apparent that Jo’burg was going to be more of a challenge to explore than we had expected. You hear the horror stories about its title of ‘the world’s most dangerous city’ and the precautious measures created by locals make private chauffeuring a lucrative business. Nobody lives in downtown Jo’burg, even businesses have moved to the suburbs – Sandton being the most sought after neighbourhood. Unfortunately, this means that all hotels are in the surrounding areas (including ours), tourist attractions are spread out and public transport is not advisable. We had to pay $80 USD for a driver to escort us for an afternoon of trips – bus station to pick up tickets for the next day’s adventure with Leonie and Harriett, the Apartheid museum and then to the shopping centre near our hotel so that we could go to the cinema – a luxury that we were pretty excited for. First stop complete, we headed to the apartheid museum (possibly the ‘hardest to navigate’ museum ever) – the South African story is a troubled and sad one and some of the things we learnt in that museum have haunted us ever since. Apartheid is the segregation of races introduced by the government that escalated out of control over decades. A lot of the museum focuses on Nelson Mandela’s plight to fight Apartheid for which he spent 27 years in jail, then his successful admission to presidency in 1994 when all Apartheid laws were finally lifted. Our driver waited in the car park for us the whole time which we felt guilty for (not that guilty at $80 though). Next stop cinema and the driver decided to hold our return journey ransom for another $20 USD and at that stage there wasn’t much we could do if we wanted to ensure a safe ride back so we paid up and made arrangements for our collection. Of course when the time came, the driver was an hour late but we were just grateful to not be left stranded.
The next day was Friday and one that we had been looking forward to for a long time, we were finally meeting Leonie and Harriett – something we had all talked about since last year. But before that, time to squeeze in one more tour before departing Jo’burg. We really wanted to visit Soweto – a township created as part of the Apartheid in 1963. The Internet told us that our best option was Pieter Strydom, a local tour guide who ran daily trips into Soweto (www.bigsixtoursafaris.com). The tour was amazing and Pieter was wonderful and extremely informative, we were driven around the city taking in some local landmarks before heading into Soweto. Admittedly, we were expecting extreme poverty, maybe for the town to look a little like places we had seen in Africa but what we saw surprised us – lengths of wealthy property in and around the poorer areas, huge smiles and welcoming waves from the locals – in fact this seemed the most welcoming and safest area in jo’burg so far! After driving slowly past Nelson Mandela’s house (he was home, between his short break from hospital), we visited a museum called the Hector Pieterson Museum which told the story of the 1976 student riots and Soweto uprising against the introduction Afrikaans as a language in schools – 400 people were killed during the uprising and it was then we realised that most of the museums we had visited in the entire of Africa had told devastating and harrowing stories – some in the years since we were born and how lucky we should think ourselves. We were able to visit a school and were welcomed into local homes so we could understand how they lived. Pieter was kind enough to drop us at the main train station where we excitedly greeted Leonie and Harriett. The initial shock of Steve’s beard out of the way, we caught up over a few drinks and headed for our 14 hour sleeper train journey to Durban on the Shosholoza (www.shosholozameyl.co.za).
The train was more comfy that we had imagined although we swear that journey could have taken 5 hours and not 14 if it hadn’t stopped at so many places and for so long! For those 14 hours, we chatted, ate, drank wine and slept in our make shift bunk beds. We arrived early in Durban and next step was to rent a car – assuming it would be easy to do when we stepped outside of the train station – of course we were wrong. Leonie spotted a car showroom so we stopped in to ask them to point us in the right direction – before we knew it, they were letting us use their internet, giving us drinks and taking us around the city in their car from rental place to rental place – sometimes these unexpected acts of kindness can restore your faith in humankind! We picked up our new car – a Hyundai Elantra and decided to stay the night in Durban to get our bearings before beginning the road trip in the morning. That afternoon we walked along the beachfront and in the evening we treated ourselves to dinner at The Cargo Hold – a restaurant with a showpiece tank of sharks from the aquarium.
Early morning, we headed to the stadium which was one of the host venues during the 2010 World Cup. We then rode a cable car to the top for beautiful views across the city. Harriett was first up to drive and off we went, destination Coffee Bay! We thought that this was a journey that would take us 4, maybe 5 hours so you can imagine how surprised we were to still be driving at 8pm! We soon learnt that the colour difference between roads on the map was there for a reason and we needed to stick to the blue ones. Unfortunately for the last 80km we didn’t have a choice, it was a red road all the way – Harriett did an awesome job of getting us there in one piece, despite the hazards on the roads – potholes, animals, people – by the time it was dark, each of us had our own duties to help spot oncoming hazards and it turned into a pretty funny game. Funny until a van came racing up behind our car, swerving us into a pothole and blowing the front tire. All of a sudden its 8pm, pitch black and Steve and Harriett are changing the tire (Leonie and I were needed to hold the light, oh and scare away the rabid looking dog), there are intimidating and unhelpful locals wandering around us and we only had 4km to go. We arrived at the hostel around 9pm following our unexpectedly eventful day and went for food and a couple drinks, then rested up for whatever adventures the next day would bring us. When we woke, we took a few hours to swim in the sea and take in the beautiful scenery of this small little bay named after an apparent ship wreck who lost its cargo of coffee beans, before heading on our way. It was only when driving the route in daylight we realised that ‘tire-gate’ had actually happened right outside a prison and near a cliff edge – some things are better unknown. Avis had told us that they couldn’t do a straight swap of tires, we had to pick up a completely different car so that determined our next stop – East London airport where our replacement Elantra was waiting for us. But of course it wasn’t, they didn’t know anything about the conversation we had had with them earlier that day and asked us to wait whilst they tried to find a solution. We patiently waited, hoping that this wasn’t going to turn into a nightmare when the sales assistant called us over “sorry about the mix up, they are just driving your Mercedes around” – we were ecstatic, a Mercedes? All desperately nominating ourselves as driver, we drove away from the airport to find our hostel in our brand new Merc. I won’t be ungrateful and talk about how it was actually smaller than the Elantra and harder to fit all our bags in... One thing was for sure, we looked like the most pretentious backpacker’s that ever travelled, “we’ll have your cheapest dorm room please, oh and do you have a parking space for our Merc?”
The next day was a big day; we had a lot of miles to cover and a very important challenge for Harriett and Steve to conquest on the way – The Bloukrans Bungee! On the road at 6am, making good time we decided to stop off when we saw some beautiful sand dunes in the distance – turns out it was EC Woody Park a part of the Addo National Park and totally worth the short detour.
We made it to the bungee site, Harriett seeming a bit more composed than Steve at this stage – as soon as we got there, the two of them were raced to get ready and start the daunting 10 minute bridge climb to the jumping platform. Leonie and I were obviously very disappointed that we couldn’t jump but we were taking one for the team and looking after the bags. The Bloukrans Bridge is the highest bridge bungee in the world at 211m – 718ft and the guys smashed it! Calming the adrenaline with a beer after the jump, we were surprised to see Harriett’s parents turn up – not that strange as they were in SA for their son’s wedding, same reason Harriett and Leonie were there – but strange because they had no idea that we would be there or that their daughter was throwing herself off the bridge they were driving over. After some catching up, we headed to Plettenburg Bay where we were staying with Rob, the father of the aforementioned bride. Rob was so welcoming and really made us feel at home, we felt relaxed for the whole evening and were treated to some real home comforts, including a stunning sundowner at the Viewpoint Restaurant across Plett Bay. The next day we went to the beach for some relaxing time in the morning and Leonie and Harriett headed to the local National Park for some safari action in the afternoon. We bid a fond and thankful farewell to Rob and headed to the next base stop along the Garden Route – Knysna. We had decided that we needed a night out and what better way to get a bit tipsy than a game of Kings / Ring of Fire – within a few hours we were all very drunkenly tucked up in bed, unfortunately the game took all of half hour to affect us...some more than others.
Hangovers intact, our next stop was Mossel Bay for some beach and seafood action before the long drive to Cape Aguilhas, the most southern point of Africa – we made it just in time for sunset so took some time to enjoy our surroundings before getting back on the road to drive to Hermanus ready for our shark adventure the next day.
The next morning, Harriett, Steve and I were out of the door at 6am for our shark cage diving adventure whilst Leonie chilled by the pool. The location was Gansbaai and following a short brief we were off on the boat to look for some Great White Sharks. One thing they forgot to mention was an incident from the day before, in fact we didn’t know about this until we had returned from the water – probably for the best (news article: http://tinyurl.com/bmyja5r http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGsdIrlrSi8). Shark-attacking-cage incident aside, we were pretty excited when we caught sight of our first great white, the companies use chum as bait to lure the sharks in – a method very frowned upon around the world because it allows the sharks to associate humans with food and many people say that shark attacks have increased since these diving tours started. Nevertheless, after our moment of guilt passed we were doing it. Wetsuits on, we lowered ourselves into the cage, the guides would shout ‘down’ when you needed to hold your breath and duck to catch a glimpse of these enormous creatures. The second time the three of us were in the water, the guides started talking about how they hadn’t seen this particular shark before which was a little unnerving, especially when it started circling the cage and completely ignoring the bate – the guides were asking us what we were doing to interest the shark so much, we were pretty happy to get back on the boat that time.
Shark excitement over, Cape Town was calling to be our home for the next week – the longest we had stayed in one place for almost 3 months. We returned the car and checked into our hostel to get ready for our night out in De Waterkant where we were meeting Leonie’s beautiful friends (not before we finished off 1kg prawns each!).
Unfortunately, Harriett was leaving us the next day to go back to London so we waved her off and continued our lazy hangover day by doing nothing, now a threesome for the next week. We made it out on the hop on, hop off sightseeing bus and played good tourists, visiting the waterfront and food markets – Cape Town is really stunning! We were lucky enough to know some locals from our Africa Tour, Jono and Lara, who were kind enough to take us and our other ATC friend Immy to Stellenbosch, the famous wine region of Cape Town – we spent the day visiting different wineries, tasting beautiful wines in the sunshine and catching up on our amazing trip together before stopping off in a quaint little town, Franschoek to see off the evening with a shot of melted chocolate.
Tuesday morning, Steve and I took a tour to Robben Island, the famous prison island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 year sentence. We were thrilled to be guided around the prison by an actual ex-prisoner, sentenced similarly for his opposition to Apartheid. We met with Leonie and headed to the beach – another reason why Cape Town is so amazing! Our friend from Friday night Wendy came to join us on the beach and was the perfect city hostess, taking us to the best lunch spot and then onto a striking lookout point at Chapmans Peak before heading to Twelve Apostles Hotel to watch the most golden sunset of all time over a glass of wine – thank you Wendy for such a wonderful day!
As Leonie had previously stayed with Dee (mother of the bride) and Errol for the wedding, they had been kind enough to offer their home to us for a couple of nights, just outside of Cape Town in Plumstead. As soon as we arrived we were made to feel at home, Errol fed us with his amazing homemade biltong (dried beef – a common South Africa snack) and we were treated to a home cooked meal with the family that evening – again, so wonderful to meet such kind and hospitable people when you are travelling to make you feel like you are at home for a couple days. As we were south of Cape Town, it made it easy for us to take the train to Boulders Beach – famous for its natural penguin colony and it didn’t disappoint – hundreds of penguins along the waterfront was such an amazing sight! After a few travel delays, we met Dee and Errol in a bar for a sun-downer before we were treated to their local ‘fish and chips’ at a restaurant along the waterfront – it was like being back on the UK coast! And the final icing on the cake was a pure chocolate and vodka martini – possibly the best thing you have ever tasted – and now we have the recipe, thank you Dee and Errol!!
Our final full day in South Africa, we were kindly invited to an Easter Braai with Jono and Lara’s families – again being spoilt by new friends. Fantastic food, great company and a surprise Easter egg hunt to top it off. It was a perfect afternoon before we see them next time in London where they are planning to live for a couple years.
With one more night together, the three of us returned to our hostel in Cape Town and got ready for the night ahead – before long, we’d picked up some other backpackers and headed to a bar on the famous Long Street. With the promise of Drum and Bass, we followed our new friend Emmanuel to another bar to meet his friends – whiskey, vodka and dancing but unfortunately no drum and bass!
After the best couple weeks in SA (even without seeing or experiencing what Table Top mountain had to offer...thanks weather) we were so sad to leave Leonie and a little nervous to head to South America after just getting used to Africa and its little quirks! But we had a 30 hour flight to contend with first...