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 🙂

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Return to the desert

After a morning being guided round Duwisib Castle in minute detail by the very passionate-about-the-castle manager (complete with SWOT analysis presented to us about the model of running a castle in the middle of nowhere) – we were back on the road, to return to the desert.

This time we knew our destination, we had been there before – Sossusvlei in the Namib desert, famous for its red, rolling dunes.

It was my wish to spend my birthday in the dunes, so we arrived the day before – to get an early night, for a very early start.

We woke up in the dark, at 5.30am, in order to make it to the dunes on time. Picking up our special picnic hamper at reception, we drove the 60 kilometres into the desert as the sun came up on my birthday.

Arriving at the big daddy dune, we set off, climbing the dune, taking in the stunning scenery of the red desert dunes, as far as the eye can see. Far below, the petrified ancient trees of the Deadvlei. This is one of my favourite places in the world.

Once at the top, there’s only one way down – to run down the side of the dune – such an exhilarating thing to do. Racing down in leaps and bounds, sinking in the warm sand with each step, we laughed our way down into the Deadvlei … where a cursory shoe-emptying was needed.

A stroll through the Deadvlei back to the car, and we were unpacking my breakfast hamper. Every type of breakfast yoghurt, fruit, meat and cheese cut you could want, along with juices, tea, mini bottles of champagne. Life was good.

Back at our chalet, I unwrapped my presents, and spent the afternoon wallowing in the pool – a flow-rim beauty overlooking the desert and dunes.

Dinner was at a neighbouring lodge restaurant – a game-meat grill, tables set out in the bush. After an exquisite dinner, I was feel full and lazy – and it turned out it wasn’t over.

All of a sudden, the staff of the lodge were converging on me, singing a very pretty Namibian version of a happy birthday song. Within minutes I had a chocolate cake in front of me, and a veritable African choir singing and dancing surrounding me. I suspect my description can’t reproduce the moment, so special.

What can I say, I think I had the perfect day.

The next morning, we returned to the dunes bright and early for another dune climb – and the chance for me to put my awesome new camera – courtesy of mummy – to the test. I can’t wait to show off my pictures!

 

Lady of the manor… for a night

Next morning, it was time to pack up camp and move on – next stop Duwisib Castle, somewhere on the edge of Namib desert dunes.

In what we have already learned to be true Namibian style, we were given directions by the camp caretakers: drive out of the desert, turn left, drive 220 kilometres, there you’ll find a town, drive through it, then drive another 220 kilometres to the next town, turn left. Then drive 110 kilometres into the bush, then turn left at the sign to the castle.

These amusing directions scribbled on a scrap of paper, we set off.

The directions proved correct to the letter, and some 6 hours after setting off we were on the 80 kilometre mud-track towards Duwisib Castle, in a torrential storm, testing our driving once again.

The mud-track gave well to arid hills, which seemed to go on forever. Onwards and onwards into the middle of nowhere. No sign of life anywhere in sight along our journey since the last town, except the occasional warthog.

After what seemed an eternity driving in the hills, the light dimming once again, we spotted the most out-of-place looking red-brick … well, kind of castle I suppose. We had found our stop for the night.

Duwisib Castle was built in 1908, mimicking a medieval style of sorts, by a German Baron as a gift of love to his new American bride. This fact in itself deepened our curiosity – and incredulity – who would build his new bride a house in such a forsakenly remote place?

Pulling up to the castle, it was all locked up, no-one around. Standing around in the carpark, wondering what to do with ourselves in the middle of nowhere, soon a car came racing up the driveway – the caretaker had seen us coming from her cottage down the hill.

Marching straight up to the front door of the castle itself, she produced an enormous set of keys, opened up, and ushered us into the castle foyer.

There were no other guests staying, she informed us. [You don’t say!]. We had the place to ourself for the night. [You what??]

Marching off ahead, she opened up the master bedroom, complete with moquisto-net clad four-poster bed, told us to settle in, she was going to get the cook to make us dinner.

Somewhat bewildered, we settled in and went off to explore the castle.

Full of artwork, antique European furniture, the Baron’s personal armory… well, we really were in a castle.

Suddenly in bustled a lady, in her pyjamas, with a thick white face-mask smeared all over her face. “Don’t worry about my face, I was sleeping!” she announced jovially, and with a huge clattering of pots and pans, she set about making dinner.

Out in the castle courtyard, a table was set for us, and before long we had plates of steak, chicken, and salad in front of us, along with tankards of beer. Utterly bewildered, we dug into our dinners as the light gave way to total darkness.

“Right, I’m off to bed”, announced the cook.

And with that, the castle door was locked up, and we found ourselves locked into a castle in the middle of nowhere – a Namibian historical monument – entirely alone.

This was more than we could take, bewilderment gave way to peals of laughter – what a totally absurd situation to be in.

Retrieving additional beers from Beast, we sat in the pitch black courtyard, contemplating our sheer – luck? – before retiring to sleep, lord and lady of the manor. If only for the one night!

 

Dar es Salaam – Cape Town… the start!

As of exactly today, I have one month to get to Cape Town…overland.

I arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital, at 3am this morning.

The plan is, to visit Zanzibar by boat this weekend, spend another week in Tanzania, then take the infamous Tazara train to Zambia… then we’ll see…

For this reason I’m reviving my blog, as I hope some of you will enjoy taking this trip with me.

Ever since I “met” Africa 4 years ago, I’ve loved travelling overland, getting to meet the people, the places, the cultures … the things we miss when we fly over them.

I’ve spent the majority of my time in Kenya and South Africa, and to connect the two through an overland exodus has been my dream for so long. I hope you’ll join me 🙂

As a PS, I’ve committed to improving my Kiswahili knowledge, seeing as Tanzanians speak the most “pure” Swahili. So please, all of you hold me to my promise! Tafadhali!

Arriving at Dar es Salaam at 3am this morning, the visa officer excitedly engaged with our rudimental knowledge of Kiswahili, our driver whipped my bag out of my hand to carry it himself.  Telling him we have spent time in Kenya, I asked him: “What’s the difference between Kenya and Tanzania?” His answer: “We Tanzanians, we’re more friendly.”

And I have to concede, everyone we have come across so far, has been friendly, generous, and kind.

I’m excited to visit Tanzania, I’m excited for the next month.

Our first day in Lebanon

At 4.45am, January 1st, 2015, Tom and I set off bleary eyed and still possibly a bit drunk, to Beirut, Lebanon, on one of our signature wacky trips.  This time, the trip is provoked by the wedding of one of my oldest and best friends, Lidija.  I can’t wait.

After a quick flight, we disembarked in Rome, Italy, for a 6 hour layover, prompting a bewildering rush to the centre of beautiful Rome.  My first time in the city, it is dazzling and confusing in its endless grandeur and pomp.  I didn’t know cities exist in the world which heave with such spectacular architecture everywhere you look.  Where to even point the camera? After a quick walk around the streets surrounding the forum and the Colosseum, it was back to the airport to get on our connecting flight to Beirut.

Following a flight during which we categorically awarded Alitalia the “rudest staff in the air” prize, we landed in Beirut.  A very merry man was waiting to wring our hands, welcome us, and march off to the car (which we eventually found in the carpark, through a team effort of “spot the flashing car lights”!).

Arriving in the Hamra district of Beirut, my heart sunk as, from the car window, I spotted our hotel, over the piles of rubble, down a dauntingly dark alleyway.  Oh-oh.

Nonetheless, a very friendly man ushered us inside to the hostel, which seems to be the only building in the street to survive intact and lived-in.  Squeezed into the lift on the way up to our room, our friend, explained to us that we’re very welcome in his Syrian hostel, which is usually for local Syrians, the owner being Syrian.  I’ve never been more terrified.

Our room was a throw-back to backpackers Kenya, with a 1 metre squared balcony allowing us to take in the view… of, well, rubble.

We quickly decided to venture out for dinner, so queue the first Beirut lesson: when crossing a road, just close your eyes and run.  Crossing a road in Beirut, is easily one of the most death-defying stunts I have ever performed.

We found a lovely little local cafe in a side street, where we plonked ourselves down and realised we don’t understand anything on the menu.  We ordered two local beers, and pointed at two pieces of “mezze” to take.  “That’s not a meal”, our waiter told us, in rusty English.  So we pointed at something else, “No”, he said.

“We don’t understand the menu,” I told him. “Can you help?”

“Take everything,” he said…

Finally, we arrived at a selection of foods (not everything), and enjoyed a very tasty Lebanese meal, before bravely venturing back to our hotel for a well-earned sleep.

In the morning, we spent over an hour wandering the streets for breakfast, being told that breakfast is only served from 11am onwards.  Maybe a lesson that breakfast isn’t eaten over here? (We’re still not sure).  We packed up, and jumped in a taxi to a new hotel (we had high hopes).

10 minutes into the drive, the taxi driver thrust a mobile at Tom, saying “my boss”… to which Tom was explained we must get out of the car and walk the rest of the way, as the streets are closed on Fridays.  Bewildered, we got out, and took out my free map of Beirut.

After 30 mins or so of wandering hopelessly around the streets of Hamra with our suitcases, a girl walked up to us: “Can I help you?” We went on to try and figure out where we needed to go, before another 2 young men walked over: “Do you need more help?” In the end, our 3 new friends helped us off in the right direction.  Apparently Lebanese students are unbelievably friendly!

Another few blocks down the road (and a bit lost again), a young couple stopped us: “What are you looking for, can we help?” (Again!!!) This time they were able to give us directions which got us straight to our new hotel, which MUCH to our relief is lovely!

We spent the afternoon wandering the streets of Hamra, trying to take it all in.

Now to get ready for the wedding of the year… 🙂