Sunday 2 August 2009

Last bits in Africa – Cape Town, Garden Route, Eastern Cape, Jo'burg

The 5 days in Cape Town had been superb, from our visits to the Aquarium (sharks!) and Cape Peninsular (penguins!) to my solo, techno-fuelled walks in and around Long Street, City Bowl, Gardens, Lion’s Head, Signal Hill, Bo-Kaap, Green Point, Sea Point and Waterfront (made while Tania went through millions of pictures back in the room). Super-friendly customer service, terrific bars, food and sights, but we were slightly concerned that we were spending so much money compared to what we had been doing in Africa “proper”. Oh well, not long to go before cheapy cheap Asia, we thought...

From Cape Town we got a train to somewhat moneyed Stellenbosch for some wine, cheese and very pleasant views on one of the cheap day tours. (This would have been Mon 29 June.) From there we decided to hire a car and see how far we could get along the coastal Garden Route and into the Eastern Cape. After shopping around quite a bit (it would have been easier in Cape Town, doh) we found a steal - 800 Rand for a whole week! The car wasn't exactly new, in fact it was a 1990 Opal Rekord - one of those many vehicles I had never even known existed - but it worked and for 60 quid we thought we would give it a go. We only had 5 days before we had to be back in Cape Town for Trevor Jackson DJ-ing at The Assembly, the reason we had pushed our flight out of Africa back for the third time. We had originally planned to be out at the end of April, but ... things happened, you know? Beaches and sun happened, and Likoma Island and diving happened and well, we had overshot our original estimate by a whole two and a half months.

We stopped in Swellendam for a night, did a 3.5 hr hike the next morning in some lovely sunshine, then drove on to Mossel Bay where we stayed in the Santos Express converted train on the beach. The next day we made it to Tsitsikamma in the Eastern Cape, where they do “zip-line” canopy tours and happen to have the highest bungy in the world. The canopy tour was good fun, and more than a little scary. I had been all gung ho for it beforehand and Tania had been very sceptical (thinking it was part of my ongoing scheme to do away with her, making it look like an accident) but in the actual event I got increasingly petrified, whilst Tania was a beaming Lara Croft and had no problem at all with being suspended at 30m. Little trooper that she is...

At this juncture (best to say that in a female American voice, as if you were the voice of an advanced space computer), I should mention one of the most evil barmen I have ever come across. At Tsitsikamma Backpackers an insane fellow called Ray did things to his customers that were at best ill-advised, at worst illegal. He produced cocktails such as the "Kudu", named after a large antelope and spoken about in tones of solemn, mysterious awe. It tasted much like an alcoholic After Eight mint and there was an awful lot of it. There was also "Hiroshima", which involves four distinct containers and must be consumed in a very specific order. And that chilli-spiced local moonshine I was given as punishment, when I voiced my opinions on the evil genius’ work - not fair! Lovely bloke, though. Ray and Cindy - Tania and I wish you the very best in your new life together and thanks for taking such good care of us over two days.

We went from being 100% committed to doing the monster bungy at 10pm - having watched the day’s heroes’ videos, heard how you can’t even see the bottom of the gorge (some 220m below) and discussed the merits of going backwards - to feeling decidedly queasy in the morning and deciding on a nice cooked breakfast before we did anything. It was real windy that day too, so we … we totally pussied out and went to the nice safe National Park instead. Tsitsikamma is a great place to visit. The little town’s people are very friendly, the countryside wild and there are some cool things to do. Also the owner of the canopy tour company and the backpackers seems to be really actually committed to helping the local black community develop skills and improve its situation; as well as fight ever-present problems such as HIV.

So after spending a day longer than we planned in Tsitsikamma, due to Ray’s concoctions, we had to get back to Cape Town in one day. We took Route 62 on the way back, which is inland from the coastal N2 and less travelled, but beautiful with the hill’s covered in fynbos. Driving in SA is pretty special btw - you have never seen and felt such SPACE as this. We got back about 7pm and totally found our way to our chosen backpackers, thanks to the natural navigational aids that Cape Town so kindly provides. I felt unjustifiably proud of having driven in South Africa, as is my wont, and we delivered the vehicle back safely. Then we were ready to hit the club.

Good old Trev didn’t fail to deliver. After an admittedly shaky first mix, he aggressively dropped a million retro house and minimal afro-tinged bombs. It were right nice and kept us going till 3 in the morning which was very much a record in Africa where 8 o’clock bed had not been unusual and 1am had been the absolute limit. It’s the heat, you see. In the club we were amazed to bump into a couple of young professional Capetonians, Mike and Candice, that we had met in Tofo, Mozambique. Having swapped numbers, we hooked up in the afternoon of the next day and they very kindly put us up for a couple of nights. They live in a really cool flat in Vredehoek, which they rent extremely reasonably, and the experience taught us a bit about the level of quality of life thing over there, which is pretty desirable. It was a lovely finish to Cape Town and we got to see some places we might otherwise have missed, like little coastal town Fish Hoek (for Sunday lunch), near Muizenberg where Mike had done some surfing just before. The Cape Town area has a lot of really pretty out-of-the-way spots (in fact it doesn’t feel at all like a big city most of the time) and some very nice, open-minded people. And we had a perfect day to go up Table Mountain on the cable car, really clear and absolutely stunning – damn, we wished we had done the 3 day hike from Cape Point to there. Then an old friend of Tania’s from Fuji noticed a post on Facebook that led her to see the Cape Town photos on the blog and come back with a quick “Dude – are you in Cape Town? I live in Cape Town!!!”. This led to a lovely final evening with yet another Candice and her fella Matt, some great food and wine at another ridiculously good value property near Fish Hoek.

Finally it was time to organise the flight back to Jo’burg (£60 – internal flights are pretty cheap in SA, due to the relatively recent emergence of budget airlines there), stay a night in Soweto township (we drank in a shebeen and met some very friendly people), see the Apartheid Museum (a LOT of very interesting and thought-provoking information and more than once tear-jerking for both of us) and have a final dinner in Melville before getting on a luxurious plane to Bangkok, via Singapore. We’d been through some lifestyle changes in 5 and a half months in Africa, having gotten kinda basic in the middle and being brought back to European values somewhat by Southern Mozambique and SA. How different was this next phase going to be???

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