Maputo

Leaving Swaziland, our next “home” has been Maputo for the past four days – and in contrast to the Swazi experience, I love it here.

We arrived Thursday evening, having hired a man with a car in Swaziland to drive us the 2-3 hour trip to Maputo. It quickly became clear he had never left the country before, and although he proudly waved around his pristine passport in the car, as we approached the border he got nervous and silently tiptoed towards the immigration desk hiding behind us.

The border guard was kind, sensing his nervousness, and we saw him look around quickly to check if his colleagues were watching, and then slide our mate’s passport back to him with a pen – he hadn’t even signed it yet.

By the time we made it through the border the man was truly elated, and it was confirmed – we were friends for life, and he chatted continuously all the way to Maputo.

To our surprise, Maputo turns out to be a huge, bustling city – with an infuriatingly complicated one-way system. It took us a good hour of driving round and round the city being thwarted by no-entry signs before we finally made it to our hotel.

Let’s be frank, our hotel is a hovel. Apart from the bed – which thankfully is clean -, the main feature of the room is a glass shower cubicle, which bizarrely also houses the toilet. Never mind, this was supposed to be a money-saving solution anyway, so we checked in, and promptly went out.

We were looking forward to catching the tapas and live music of Maputo, so we headed straight to a recommended venue – Cafe Dolce Vita. Unfortunately, it has succumbed to the cultural destruction that accompanies the wish to be “modern”, or “Western”.

While we went there for a cosy, atmospheric tapas bar with live local music, what we found was a soulless white fast-food joint, complete with neon lights, and plastic tables and chairs, with the talented local band rehashing Rihanna songs and crooning out Bob Marley. Such a shame.

The next day we set out for our first big challenge – setting ourselves up in Mozambique without speaking any Portuguese. We needed SIM cards, and adaptor plugs. No amount of gesticulation, miming, and drawing pictures could get the girl behind hotel reception to understand we were asking where to find an electronics shop, so we were sat outside our room studying a map to locate any “shopping district” (there isn’t one), when a young guy stepped out of the room next door for a cigarette.

Saying hi, it turned out he and his girlfriend  lived in Johannesburg, but he was originally Mozambican. Leaping on the information, we picked his brains on which way to set out on our errands and then we were off.

Following his instructions, before long we had found a little shop selling cables and plugs. Walking in, shouting a big “bom dia”, Tom turned to me – how on earth are we going to explain an adaptor plug?

I was one step ahead – I’d brought my charger, and whipping it out of my bag I proffered it to the sales lady. Thankfully, she was bright, and replied something which sounded much like “adaptor”, and we nodded frantically. Soon she was back with exactly the plug we needed. We managed to ask for another one, get to the bottom of the price, and thank her profusely, before exiting, one errand down, feeling very pleased with ourselves.

Out on the street, we bumped straight into our friends from the hotel. Any idea where we could find a mobile provider? No, but they were also looking for the same thing. We set off in opposite directions on the hunt for SIM cards.

We quickly found one, and walked in daunted at the prospect of buying and registering a phone line in Portuguese.

A lady gestured at us to approach her desk. The conversation went like this. “Bom dia. SIM card. Obrigado.” [SMILE HOPEFULLY]. She got it, and helpfully, asked for our documents rather than getting us to fill out the incomprehensible forms. Within minutes, we had gestured, drawn and gobbledygooked our way to two SIM cards loaded with data. Excellent.

Just then, our friends walked in grinning that we had beaten them to it. They smiled at the guy at the next counter, and – assuming we must have communicated in English – set about explaining in quick English what they wanted. “Get to the back of the queue,” the salesman snapped (there wasn’t one). Whispering at them to try in Portuguese, we left to roam the streets of Maputo, feeling altogether accomplished and organised.

We opted for an early night, as we had a full day of sightseeing planning for the next day.

In the morning, we hit the streets walking round the main sights of the town, visited the central craft market, and went along to an art gallery where they use old weapons from the civil war to create really cool sculptures.

Maputo is a funny experience. It’s a really vibrant and built-up city, and the architecture is very, very reminiscent of Europe (for obvious reasons). My initial instinct has been “It’s just like Havana”. There’s a Mediterranean lilt to the place.

There are cafes and little restaurants littering the streets, always full to the seams with people luxuriating over long lunches, pouring out little carafes of red wine at all hours, or sipping shots of espresso.

Worn out from the morning’s walking, we took the passenger ferry across the sea inlet which divides Maputo, to the “Manhattan of Maputo”, Catembe, and went for a lunch of prawns on the beach, with an incredible view of Maputo’s skyline across the water.

An excruciatingly slow return ferry crossing later, it was time to brave our freezing showers (our hotel has no hot water), and rush off to catch the football in a pizza and sports bar, surrounded by every single expat living in Maputo, by the looks of it.

The past few days have been interesting – while we have pottered and wandered and seen the “sights”, we haven’t really “done” anything – there doesn’t seem to be anything to do, specifically, in Maputo. The museums we tried to visit were all closed, the cathedral padlocked shut, many of the guide-book recommended sights closed for renovation, or not.

Yet we both feel like we’ve had such a nice time, and we both love Maputo. There’s just something in the air.

For my part, I have observed one thing which is very different from other African countries. Black and white people live totally together, equal, and importantly, they seem to share the same culture.

Sitting in small backstreet cafes at lunch time, for example, we were surrounded by tables of mixed ethnicity looking relaxed, wearing the same clothes, sharing the same foods, sipping wine (yep, at lunch time!), chattering away in Portuguese.

This may not sound like much, but there’s an underlying contentment and equality in the air, which is very unusual in Africa.

In other African countries we often find “local” cafes/bars, and “expat” venues – the former serving completely different dishes and drinks to the latter. And in many African countries you will hear a myriad of languages, with everyone forced to speak in one “official” language (generally English) – causing so much to be lost in translation. The attitudes and behaviour of the various groups are also wildly differing, sometimes to much hilarity, sometimes to grave frustration.

Here, none of that. Everyone seems to be enjoying the same culture, the same lifestyle, the same habits. And everyone is stubbornly committed to their shared language – Portuguese. It’s no-one’s second language, so no-one is the linguistic underdog. And NO, they definitely do not speak English, not even a word, even when secretly, they do. (If you’ve ever tried to speak English in France, you’ll understand what I mean).

Now, maybe this is all because Mozambique was colonised for longer, maybe everyone has been trampled into homogeneity. I don’t know. But what I will say, is that right now, for me, Maputo has been a lovely, refreshing example of people getting along.

 

Swaziland – the verdict

You know, I’m not going to mince my words on this one.

Never, have I ever visited and left a country with a more “nothingy” view of it than Swaziland. We’ve spent 6 days here – we’ve really, really tried to find an exciting highlight, an “aha” moment of Swazi tourism, but alas… there is just nothing to recommend this place.

Leaving South Africa, we were looking forward to visiting this quirky little monarchy. We had nearly a week to poke around, see the sights, and immerse ourselves in the country’s culture. We couldn’t wait.

Day one, we headed straight to Ezulwini – the “royal valley”. Billed as a beautiful valley between the rolling mountains, favoured by the royal family, and littered with quaint craft markets and artisanal stalls.

Well, even on arrival this seemed a bit hyperbolic. We drove past the “Houses of Parliament” (a tiny white-stone building with no pomp about it at all) on the way into Ezulwini, into the “valley” (a slight dip between some pretty low-level hills). We were less than spellbound.

We had arrived quite late, so after checking in to our hotel (free upgrade!!!!), we went to do a little work in the bar before dinner. Here, a little social surprise awaited us. Among the men in suits and ladies in high-heels, mingled men in traditional local attire – red cloths tied around their bodies, loin cloths visible, and otherwise naked as they were born. Sitting at the bar, sipping their beers, chatting to “plain-clothed” people. I’m still not convinced they weren’t royals.

In the morning, we took advice on what to do at a local tourist information centre. Visit a cultural village for a show, walk to the waterfalls, visit the candle-making and glass blowing workshops, take in the culture of it all… we were told.

Feeling dubious, but nonetheless willing to try anything, we set off around the Malkerns area, to visit some of these little artistic gems. Well, in total it took about an hour.

Underwhelmed, we headed off to visit the cultural village. We arrived at the Swazi village to much hand-shaking from the tour guides, and were promptly showed to our seats for the dance show.

In fairness, this was probably the highlight of Swaziland. We were treated to a 45 minute dance spectacle – and by the end they had managed to drag me up to “learn” Swazi dancing. (Note, it only really entailed stamping my feet a bit, and waving a horn around a bit).

Following an interesting tour of the Swazi village – a polygamous village featuring huts made of branch and grass; we set off to walk to the waterfalls nearby. It took about 5 minutes, and… was no great shakes.

Trying to remain positive, we headed back for dinner, focusing on the nice show and tour we’d had – there must be more things like this to see.

Next day we had planned to move hotel – to a cheaper option. We drove over to the backpackers we had booked, but to our dismay, found a dilapidated old house covered with dog poo courtesy of the three big dogs who attacked us every time we left our room.

We quickly escaped, and drove over to a different backpackers we had spotted on the road. Asking to see the rooms, the friendly owner – albeit slurring his words – showed us the bright and spacious room.

“The bathrooms are just over there,” he pointed to the bushes in the garden (literally), and here is the kitchen, he announced, rounding into another room. In the “kitchen” sat a group of around 10 people smoking bongs, so totally baked they could barely sit up.

“Go check out the best room of all,” he directed, pointing to the living room. We wandered in, to find a 12 foot snow white python slithering around the room freely.

“So, here are your keys,” the owner proffered. “We’ll just go and get our things first,” we replied. Running back to the car, we drove straight back to the original hotel – the extra money was worth the sanity.

On the afternoon we set out to visit the museum, and THE BIG CRAFT MARKET. So big, it was specially marked on the country’s maps. It had to be good, right, and we’d be able to buy souvenirs to take home.

The museum attendant positively leapt to attention, such was her excitement at the prospect of a visitor. There were exhibits on Swazi tradition, culture, regal and colonial history, and natural history, she announced. “It’s an interactive museum with so many features, but actually only this one screen works,” she squeaked, looking embarrassed.

We made our way through the exhibits – one whole wall of which was dedicated to the different types of cows. (Black, black with white spots, brown, brown with white spots… I’m not joking). The history room was in all honesty very good, the rest, farcical.

The big craft market, well, there were roughly 30 stalls, granted. Pushy salesmen and women jostled us into each of their stalls to show off their wares. Which were EXACTLY the same tat sold in tourist markers continent-wide, from Kenya’s Masai markets to Cape Town’s craft sheds. This was supposed to be artisan central!!! I did alight upon a small figurine, an inch-sized little elephant, that I would have liked. The salesman tried to charge me a tenner! “We can bargain,” he grinned. We left.

Oh well, we went back to our hotel, and decided we must just need to go further afield. So we set out planning a trip to the North-West of the country, to visit the world’s oldest mine, lovely walking, and a world-famous glass blowing factory.

Next day, we set out on our day trip, bickering over whether to visit the mine (Tom) or the glass factory (me) first.

We pulled up to the mine gate, to find an unmanned post, and a shabby gate hanging off its hinges. By this point, we weren’t turning back. We drove through the gate, up along the mud path, finally finding the visitor’s centre, where we were looking forward to the guided tour.

Closed, derelict, eery.

So we set off in the derelict mine to fine the so-called “Lion’s Cavern” – the oldest mine in the world, at least 43,000 years old, where the Bushmen first mined. As we walked through the vast overgrown empty mine, the backs of my hands prickled and my heart raced – the place was simply so eery, it felt almost haunted.

We climbed up to the highest point – with beautiful views – and found the cavern (a hole in the rock), before retreating back to the car and getting out of there.

Next was the glass factory, which admittedly piqued our interest. From a viewing gallery we were able to watch the factory full of men and women hand-blowing glass, and making everything from vases, to wine glasses, to intricate little figurines.

Outside, there were a cluster of little stalls, one of them a chocolate workshop, so we went in to look around, coming out with a piece of chocolate covered coconut ice, and pecan dark chocolate which we nibbled in the car on the way home, subdued.

Next day we set out on another adventure – to the Hlane Royal National Park, on the far east of the country, and reputed to be brilliant for game-viewing. We had booked a forest chalet, and stocked up on food supplies for 24 hours in the bush.

On arrival, we were informed tourists were only allowed in certain areas of the park. The lion, rhino, and elephant enclosures were charged at a much higher additional fee. Feeling glum, we proceeded to our chalet, spotting the odd lone deer or kudu.

At the chalet, big signs informed us to beware of the snakes, and gave us the number to call in “snake emergencies”. There was no phone signal. And so we spent the early evening sat outside in the dusk, sipping our warm beer and listening for hissing.

By 7pm the darkness – surrounded by invisible snakes – was so suffocating that we retreated indoors to play cards, and cook up our “rustic” spaghetti, tuna and tomato sauce dinner.

We spent the next morning at our chalet, drinking cups of tea outside, by this point actively looking for snakes. Having spent the whole night quaking, we at least wanted one photo!! But we were evaded, and we started our drive back to our next destination with only one elephant viewing to cheer us up.

Today was a sad day, as we had to give back our dutiful little car – a nippy little Hyundai, which has served us so well since leaving Cape Town.

We’re now on our own, onwards to Mozambique. So I’m spending tonight writing this post, looking back over our week in Swaziland before our departure tomorrow. And I’m genuinely astounded, and feel a little guilty. You see, we spent the whole week here trying really hard to find something local, something special. And it just wasn’t here. I didn’t even know places like this exist – a whole country of small towns with nothing to report. It really makes you think.

See you later Swaziland, ahem… I probably won’t be back.

The beautiful Drakensbergs

From Coffee Bay we arrived at our hostel in the Drakensberg mountains in the evening. We’ve wanted to visit the Drakensbergs – on the border of Lesotho – for years, so we were happy to arrive, and needed an early start the next morning to make the most of the day.

We went to bed early, setting our alarms for 7am – we were off hiking.

Next morning, we awoke at 9.45 – both of our phones had run out of battery over night. Frustrated, we gobbled some breakfast and set off for the Royal Natal park, to fit in as much hiking as the late-starting day, and my bruised throbbing leg, would allow.

At the gate we received a map, we located a route, and off we set, up into the mountains.

There are simply no words for how beautiful the Drakensbergs are.

Our route started through grasslands of head-height thick grass, and we came across lots of local ladies either cutting the grass, or carrying bundles of it on their heads back to the village.

After the bright grasslands, we were into deep forest, with waterfalls and rockpools hiding round every corner.

Following a steep scramble over rocks, we came to “the Crack”, a big crack in the cliffs with water tumbling over the cliffs like a natural shower.

On the way back we detoured to take in extra waterfalls, a  cascading river, and finished strolling through more fields of grass, with splendid views over the valley.

By the end, we had covered over 13kms, we were exhausted, and my long-suffering leg was calling it quits.

Back at the hostel over dinner, there was only one thing to talk about – planning how soon we can get back to the Drakensbergs for a longer trip. We’re hooked.

When I fell into the sea at 2am

After the Plettenberg Bay hiking debacle, we moved on to Addo Elephant Park – the second largest national park in South Africa, and as the name suggests, home to hundreds of elephants.

We spent a night and a day game driving, and were treated to two male bulls fighting, and a heard of 15 elephants visiting a watering hole to drink and play.

Onwards from Addo, our next (slightly foolish) destination was a small seaside town – Coffee Bay. We had read rave reviews of this otherwise non-destination on the internet, so we thought it would be as good as any a place for a one night stop-over.

However, it took a lot longer to drive from Addo to Coffee Bay than we anticipated. The drive through the Eastern Cape was beautiful though, and so interesting. Unlike any other area of South Africa – the green rolling hills, littered with small settlements, mostly made of thatched grass in a traditional African round-house style. We even passed through Qunu, the village Nelson Mandela is from, and drove past his house. Incredible to think such a great man hailed from such rural beginnings.

Following a hair-raising drive in the dark along a potholed mountain road, we eventually arrived in Coffee Bay at around 7.

The small non-descript settlement only had mud roads, and we couldn’t find the hostel we had booked to stay at – until a friendly young guy shouted the directions to us. I proceeded in the direction he indicated, prompting him, and all the other people in the vicinity to jump after me shouting. Slamming on my brakes, he ran up and explained I was about to drive off a crack in the ground, into a six foot deep ditch. Thanking him, we made our way around the ditch safely, but were met with an almighty crash. In the commotion, the car behind me hadn’t been noticed, and had driven straight off the edge into the ditch – a scary sight… only made amusing by the fact that the car was branded to the department of roads.

We checked into our hostel, and were told the security guard would take us to our room.  However, the security guard objected – “the river has flooded, we can’t get to the room”.

Right, we were puzzled, how then would we get to our room? We’d have to drive there, he explained.  Not asking further questions, we set off following the guard’s car, taking a long route around the village to a bridge, and working our way back to our room on the other side of the river.

In the dark we could make out the room was approximately 100m from the reception and restaurant – across the river.

“If you don’t mind, you can turn up your trousers and take off your shoes, then you can walk across the river for your dinner,” the guard explained.

This sounded ridiculous, but what else was there to do? We set off to wade across the river.

In the dark this was a little difficult, and we wobbled around shin-deep in water, edging slowly across the river; until a local guy ran over to us pointing out some “stepping stones” a little further up the river. It was slightly easier like this, if slippery.

We made it across the restaurant area, and tucked into our plates of dinner feeling silly for having worried about the little matter of the river between us and our room.

Things spiralled. After dinner (and washing up our own plates – it was a community hostel!), we sat with a beer in the courtyard. Some guys approached, and asked if they could sit at our table. Sure, why not.

Before long, we were on our third beers with them – one turning out to be a semi-professional competition winning deep-sea tuna fisherman; the other a engineer; and the third an armed security professional.

We chatted and laughed late into the night, but at 2am we needed to call it a day, and we realised we’d be wading back across the river. This time we were less daunted – we knew where the stepping stones were this time.

Off we set, but halfway across the river, disaster struck – I slipped on the wet stones, and took a dramatic fall into the river, really smacking my leg on the rocks on the way down.

The security guard was running, Tom was trying to fish me out of the water – I was neck-deep in the freezing cold water, and my leg was throbbing. Managing to crawl up onto the rocks, I checked my leg fearing the worst. But I was lucky, apart from a couple of nasty scrapes, it seemed intact.

We made it back to the room and I wrapped into the blankets trying to warm up.

In the morning, my black and blue leg was in even more pain, as I emerged from our room into the morning light.

Getting my first view of the river in the light, I caught my breath. It wasn’t a river at all. It was the opening of an estuary into the open sea – a few feet further out, and I would have been in the – reasonably deep – waves. I called Tom, and his mouth dropped open too. I had been even luckier than I thought.

It was time to get out of Coffee Bay, this strange little place was eery, and we had no idea where it had got its rave reviews from. In any case, we were out of there, onwards to the Drakensbergs.

The near death experience

Having moved to Plettenberg Bay, we had decided to spend one of our two days doing a full day hike at the Robberg Nature Reserve.

Weather wasn’t on our side. It was raining, gale force winds, we weren’t hopeful. But by midday the rain has stopped, and the sun was really making an effort, so we decided to brave the wind and head out for our hike – at the worst we’d cut it short.

We arrived at the nature reserve, signed in, and parked our car. Stepping out of the car, we were buffeted by the crisp wind – we’d have to really wrap up for this, so we donned our hoodies, coats, gloves, and set off on the trail.

We took heed of the big sign at the trail start, telling us under no circumstances to attempt to walk to the Point if we were setting off after 2pm. It was 2, so we noted our walk would be cut short – we didn’t want to tempt fate toying with this gale.

So we set off to walk the short 6km circuit, following the trail cut into the red rock of the cliffside, high above the sea where the waves were crashing into the shore.

The trail followed a winding path round the cliff, through tunnels carved in the rock, and before long, brought us out on a narrow little rock pass over the water, the rising tide lapping unnervingly close to the path. “Beware freak waves”, a sign warned.

We hurried on, thankful to successfully balance our way along the ridge above the water, and quickly making it to a big white sandy beach – sand flying in the wind, painfully whipping our faces.

This was where we needed to turn back on ourselves, finding the return path to the carpark. Following the map, we crossed the beach and identified a path snaking off to the other side of the mountain.

Off we set, scrambling over boulders, climbing higher onto the cliff, marvelling at the sea view below us and the beach view behind us.

Before long, the going was getting much tougher. Rope emerged on the cliffside, with which we were supposed to haul ourselves up sheer rock faces. Rock faces scaled, it was a steep path down to sea level – we nervously approached, the waves crashing much too close for comfort.

We double checked the map – we had been going for 5kms now, but there was no sign of the carpark, in fact, we were hundreds of metres below the cliff top where we started, scrabbling over rocks quickly being flooded by the rising tide.

But there were sign posts, clearly numbered. According to the numbers on the posts, and the numbers on the map, we were in the right place. We just needed to keep walking ahead, less than a km to go.

So, we ventured on, nervously walking along the wet rocks, the tide visibly rising. The waves angered by the galing winds, rising high and crashing frighteningly over the rocks only metres away from us.

Enough was enough, we took in the view ahead. There was clearly no path upwards, we were walking along the bottom of the cliff, and the tide was almost upon us. The 10 foot waves were crashing only metres away. But the map and markers said we were in the right place.

We took out our phones, waving them in the air, desperately trying to get a signal. Tom’s phone obliged, and showed us our GPS location.

We were at the Point. The very Point we had been warned to absolutely not attempt this late in the afternoon.  Sheer terror, as we realised the extent our precarious situation – we were on the rocks at the bottom of a cliff jutting 10kms out to see, in a gale, with the tide rising almost upon us.

With renewed strength we retraced our footsteps at an incredible pace, stumbling and falling, desperate to get to higher ground before the water caught us.

Having clambered up somewhat, we stopped next to a marker post and checked again – against the map, and with the GPS in front of us, the markers were simply wrong. We had been led in completely the wrong direction.

I felt helpless, as I considered our position. We were stuck out on the Point, the tide might already have separated us from the main land. Were we going to end up being those idiots, having to be emergency air rescued?

We had to get back, and we essentially fell-ran back to the point where we had turned off the beach, onto the wrong path.  Would the beach still be traversable? Could we get back to the main trail?

Luckily, yes. Running through the waves beginning to lap the beach – we had made it back in the nick of time. We ran back across the beach to the point where we had left the main track, and quickly set off on the route we had came.

Feeling a little better, we strode around a corner, and I bumped into Tom’s back as he stopped suddenly, with a shout. “What is it?” I panicked.  And there, running into the distance was a lynx.

Edging closer to where it had been stood, we found the cat footprints leading off into the bushes on the mountainside.

Slightly nervous at the big cat nearby, we rushed onwards – at least we hadn’t had to confront it. We were too exhausted to even consider what we would have done had it stood its ground.

Edging along the water-lapped ridge on the cliff again, and back up the trail, before long we were at the carpark again. I have never been so pleased to get in a car, and drive off to a hot bath.

 

 

Oysters and hiking in Knysna

Knysna is a beautiful little town set on a wonderfully scenic lagoon surrounded by forested mountains, and is known as the home of oysters.

Having moved into our room in town, we spent our first afternoon walking around the town, taking in the sights and sounds, and winding up with a glass of sparkly watching sunset over the lagoon. For the first time ever, my FitBit informed me I’d walked more than 20,000 steps that day [achievement!].

Our real plans were for the next day – we had looked up a hike in a nearby nature reserve, so we woke early, worked until early afternoon, then set off to the Goukamma Nature Reserve.

Strolling from the car park to the start of the trail, we were met with an obstacle – the estuary mouth. How were we supposed to cross it? we asked a nearby attendant. “Use the boat”, he said, pointing to a small rowing boat. Inching closer, we realised it was attached to a rope, which was attached to a pole on the far side of the +/- 40 metre river. We had to pull ourselves – and the boat – to the other side.

Falling onto dry land on the other side, we were out of breath without even having started the hike. Nevertheless, we set off up the steep sandy steps to the top of the hill.

From the top we were treated to gorgeous views of the estuary, the surrounding mountains, and the sea on the other side. We walked on, and the trail took us through fynbos covered hills, and through dense forests, before we emerged into the light high above the coast.  The view was so stunning all we could do was sit down and watch the blue waves lapping the beach down below.

Time was getting on, so we needed to keep going. The route took us back into the forest, then we found ourselves climbing higher and higher to the peak of the trail – we felt on top of the world, spying the tiny boat we had to reach to get back, far far below.

The rest of the 8kms flew by, and before long we were hauling ourselves back over the river on the small boat – barely making it to the other side, it was such hard work.

The day had run away with us, and it was already darkening. So we rushed back to our room to shower – VERY necessary -, and dashed out for dinner. We had spied a little fish restaurant on a backstreet when passing, which, despite being mid-week, was completely packed-out with locals. We knew this was the place for dinner.

We weren’t mistaken. That night we feasted on oysters, prawns, calamari and sole, and the whole banquet came in cheap as chips. The staff were brilliantly friendly and down to earth (which is lucky, seeing as we turned up in jeans and trainers), and stayed finishing our wine till we were one of the last three tables. The restaurant, it goes to add, was once again packed out. If you ask me nicely when you’re next in Knysna, I might even tell you which restaurant it is 🙂

The Garden Route begins

After our Lambert’s Bay shenanigans, we took a brief stop-off to drink some wine in Franschhoek, and then we were on our way along the scenic Garden Route.

First stop, Wilderness – home to a sweeping white sand beach, and set against a forested mountain range.

We checked into a small guest house with sea views, and due to the blistering cold, stayed there working for much of our first day; venturing out only for a beach walk, and an evening meal, before retreating back to the heating.

Day two, we decided to brave the cold, and set off for an afternoon hike in the Wilderness National Park.  We had selected a 7km trail through a forested valley, up to a waterfall. The walk through the trees was lovely, although it did involve a river crossing on a raft which required us to haul ourselves across the water with a rope pulley.

The weather respected our tenacity, and warmed up nicely. The sun was fully out by the time we reached the waterfall, and we ended up trudging the last 3kms with coats, jumpers and scarves in our bags.

Following another beach walk and a quick paddle, which revealed much warmer waters than in Cape Town, it was time to rush off to find a pub willing to switch on the big Burnley match. Burnley reigning victorious, a quick bit of seafood tapas and a glass of wine later, the excitement and exhaustion was all too much, and it was time to make the short dash back to the guest house.

The next morning, we had to up sticks and move along the coast to our next stop – a guest farm on the outskirts of Knysna.

Here, part of the stay involved a canoeing session and a round of golf, so after rushing a few hours of work in our room, late afternoon we decided to try our skills at canoeing.

We set off up river, and all seemed to be going well (after I had taught Tom how to use the paddle!) However, before long we encountered a set of small rapids flowing against us. Very well, we thought we would give it a go.

Unfortunately, the rapids were too strong, and following a couple of near capsizes, lots of splashing, hanging onto tree branches, and general panic, we allowed ourselves to be propelled backwards, back down the river.

Never mind, we thought, we’d set off in the other direction. Here we managed a longer stretch and had already set our ambitions on qualifying for the Olympics, before we were faced with a descending set of rapids.

Floating closer, we realised while we may get down the rushing water, we would have no chance of getting back up. Queue another session of manic manouvering, to avoid at all costs being caught in the current and whisked into the rushing water.

Turning back on ourselves, we paddled back up river, and were gliding magnificently through the water when we realised we had taken a wrong turn, and were ploughing along a dead-end, directly into thick reeds and bushes.

Yet another eventful – and wet – episode later, we were back on the river, pulling leaves out of our hair, and with much hilarity we paddled back into the farm grounds… and squelched back to our room.

To my joy, electric blankets were provided, which I was only forced to vacate for a quick plate of dinner served up in the farm’s log cabin restaurant.

The next morning we made the most of our round of golf, with the sun returning to its full glory and beating down on us as we made an absolute hash of our round. Balls all lost, as well as our sporting dignity, it was back into the car, to move along to our next destination – Knysna.

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