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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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.

Lambert’s Bay… Crayfish Festival

The past few months have flown past, and here we are, before we even knew it, it’s time to leave our home-away-from-home, Hout Bay, and start the meander back up to Tanzania.  We have two months to get there, so this time we will be following the East Coast of Africa, from Cape Town through Mozambique and back to Dar es Salaam. Accordingly, the blog is back…

Before we could truly get started on our journey, however, there was one last thing we wanted to do. We had heard stories of Lambert’s Bay, and of the Lambert’s Bay Crayfish Festival in particular. So we decided to start our trip with a detour – in the opposite direction – up the West Cost to the fishing town of Lambert’s Bay.

Arriving at around 4pm, we immediately felt dubious about our decision to come here. A ramshackle small town on the seafront, Lambert’s Bay seemed dirty and desolate. The howling wind and rain didn’t do much to improve our first impressions. Neither did the sheer number of drunks stumbling around, being dodged by angry-looking teen gangs.

We decided to check into our hotel, everything would seem brighter knowing we had a comfy room for the night.

Only that the Lambert’s Bay Hotel, a big brick building on the waterfront, hadn’t been updated since being built sometime in the 50s, it seemed. We lugged our bags up creaking stairs and down narrow corridors to our room, so stark, and with a bathroom so utilitarian, that we promptly turned around and decided it might be best not to dwell on the room until we come back to sleep in the evening. Thank goodness we were only staying the one night.

Well, we were here for the crayfish festival, so let’s set out to find it, we thought – not to be deterred by the very British weather. We had been promised craft stalls, food and drink, live music, live crayfish diving, and all sorts of shenanigans – this could only be fun, we were sure.

Walking a few metres down the street, we found the “festival” – a large marquee with plastic chairs, and around 10 stalls clustered outside in the ever-deepening mud. The overall atmosphere was of a washed-out village fete.

We wandered around the stalls, selling the usual mix of jams and home-knitted gloves; and scoped out the food stalls – slightly more positive news there, crayfish in all forms.

With nothing else for it, we made our way to the tent, in the full knowledge we had a cold evening of standing in a leaking tent ahead of us. We acquired a beer, and perched on a bench at the back of the tent, feeling a bit miserable.

Looking around, we were surrounded by locals in their wellies and rain coats, all squeezed 5-a-side on garden benches around tables, all tucking into their steaming paper plates of food, clutching whole bottles of wine, and … appearing to be having a whale of a time. Now this, was bizarre. All these people were honestly, truly, having a brilliant evening. What were we missing?

In the meantime, the live music had started. A man who appeared to be the local vet had appeared on stage, and was belting out karaoke versions of Afrikaans hits. This was going to be a long evening.

We decided to warm up by trying a couple of snacks, so we wandered over to the food stalls selling dishes we couldn’t understand – it turns out no one in Lambert’s Bay readily speaks English. Tom pointed to a big cauldron of soup, and found out he was ordering a cup of faintly green mussel broth.  I went for a creamy looking lobster stew bubbling away in a nearby pan. Retreating to our bench with our goodies, we tucked in as the vet-singer extraordinaire was peaking, and the first sets of merry dancers began discoing between the tables and chairs.

I suppose we began to see, that for this small fishing town, village fete-esque or not, muddy, rainy and freezing or not, this really was a party. The opportunity to eat, drink and dance the night away with their friends. Regardless of how strange the whole event appeared to us as outsiders, we had to respect their tenacity, their joy, their party.

We decided to copy the crowd. We found ourselves a table and bench in the middle of the room, and Tom went off in search of these bottles of local red wine everyone was glugging. Soon he was back with a bottle, and two beautiful glasses – the stall owner had given them as gifts, so pleased was he to see outsiders at the party.

By now, the equivalent of fat aunt Ethel was up on stage clutching a stack of papers from which she was giving glass-shattering renditions of Afrikaans ballads. We still had a vague sense of the lunacy of the whole occasion, but we dutifully downed our wine and swayed along to Ethel’s “great” singing.

It was time for the next bottle of red, as a country-playing band of three old blokes in baseball caps got on stage, and began their up-beat programme of thigh-slapping line-dancing music (in Afrikaans). The crowd was going wild, dancing – the merriment was intense. By this point there was nothing to do but enjoy the spectacle, and procure some lobsters to gobble with our fingers, sucking on every last leg, just as the table next to us was doing.

It was freezing, it was wet, but we began to feel the crayfish, wine and odd country-music combo was enough to heat us up.

The evening passed quicker than we had expected in that leaky old marquee, surrounded by wined-up, lobster-gobbling, dancing Afrikaaners in welly boots and gilets.

We retreated back to our hotel – stopping to chat to the parrot flying around the reception – and fell asleep thinking, all in all, it really hadn’t been a bad party at all…

 

 

Race back to Cape Town

In all the fun, we had left ourselves only two days to get back to Cape Town, in order to arrive in time to meet Tom’s dad who was visiting on holiday.

After an early breakfast with the elephants, we hopped into the car – destination South Africa.

All was going well for about half an hour, when Tom’s infamous bad shoulder decided to call time on his driving. Arm numb and limp at his side, I took over the driving, both of us with a rising sense of dread – would I have to drive the thousands of kilometres back to Cape Town alone?

The answer for day one was yes – Tom couldn’t take back over, and I drove 12 hours straight. Through the length of Botswana, a quick border crossing, then down through northern South Africa.

South Africa’s Limpopo province, as a side-note, is like nothing else we’d seen in the country. For the first time, we felt like there was a corner of the country where it really is Africa.  Much of the country feels like a displaced Europe.

We made it as far as Pretoria, catatonically tired.

The next morning it was early to rise for another equally long day of driving. Tom decided to try driving, and we started off by pulling into a service station to have Beast filled up and checked over – oil, water and tyre pressure please.  The attendant got to work while we drank a coffee.

Back on the road, we were off down the motorway when a loud bang was followed by the car jerking madly, and bits of tyre were flying madly all around us. Tom managed to pull us over into safety, and we got out to find our front tyre had burst and blown to smithereens.

Now, Beast is no small car, and Tom wasn’t going to be able to help with the tyre. I opted to call roadside assistance. Only, it was a Sunday, and none of the eight numbers provided would answer the phone.

There was nothing else for it, I would have to change the monster truck’s tyre on my own.

I got to work, Tom casually watching and smoking from the roadside.

I had the screws off and the car jacked up when suddenly an even bigger monster truck stopped alongside. Out jumped a veritable rambo, and wandered over.

“I was driving up the other side of the road and saw you. South Africa’s dangerous. This is a dangerous spot. Do you mind if I help you?”

YES PLEEEEEEEEASE!!!!!!

Tucking his gun into his wasteband, our new friend got to work, and five minutes later our new tyre was back on; and we were waving goodbye to our gun-toting friend.

Pulling in at the next service station, it turned out the previous guy had put completely the wrong pressure in all four tyres. Thanks for that, Shell employee.

Thereafter the day of driving was uneventful, and we ploughed through hours and hours of gold and diamond mining land, followed by sparse empty bush stretching forever.

By nightfall we were pulling into Beaufort West, a small town already in the Western Cape.

We had booked a room at an 17th century inn but were arriving late, and we ran in begging the staff to take pity and let us have some dinner – any dinner.

The restaurant was closed, but the lovely people improvised – bringing a bench and table outside our room, and before long we were indulging in an al fresco meal of cold beers, a slice of home-made chicken pie (delectable!) and chips.  Happy Valentines Day!

For the morning we only had five hours of driving left. We checked into our new, very quirky and blue apartment (more on that another time), and by evening were with Tom’s dad.

And with that it was over. A month’s worth of travelling covering 10,380 kilometres. A lifetime’s worth of memories.

Elephant sands

The time had come to begin our descent back to Cape Town – but before we set off in proper, we had just one more stop to add to our trip, Elephant Sands.

We had never heard of Elephant Sands before, and hadn’t had any intention of adding an extra stop. However, Tom had befriended a fellow camper a week before, who raved of a place where hundreds of elephants roam freely among the tents. We couldn’t resist.

Arriving at Elephant Sands mid-afternoon and checking into our pre-erected tent, it wasn’t five minutes before two elephants came trundling over to the watering hole just meters from the restaurant.

We grabbed our cameras and beers, and sat literally 3-4 meters away from the giants drinking, washing, giving us the odd going over with their intelligent eyes.

It’s so fascinating to watch elephants, they have such distinct individual personalities. One of the elephants – not the biggest at all – was a total bully, and chased off anyone trying to drink from his little patch. We were entertained by the moody so-and-so trying to chase off the others, who resorted to staging distractions in order for the others to sneak behind bully’s back and get a sip or two before he noticed, and went charging after a new target.

Water is turned off after dark at Elephant Sands, because otherwise the elephants dig up and burst the water pipes, so we had to hurry back to our tent for a solar-heated shower before the sun went down.  Only, to do so involved a 5 minute jog across the elephants’ watering hole, and new arrivals were constantly pitching up to drink.

We didn’t get flattened, and soon we were back at the restaurant, in time for a few last pictures before darkness fell.

For whatever unknown reason, the owners of Elephant Sands decided it would be unlimited free wine for everyone for the night, uh-oh. We settled in for dinner with the other 10 or so people staying, and dug into the stew and maize-meal served up.

After dinner we all sat back out in the darkness, and watched the troop of elephants who had since arrived at the watering hole, bringing their babies too. We just sat up like that under the stars, with the elephants and free wine, way too late into the night.

Getting to bed involved yet another – slightly more exciting – race across the watering hole in the pitch darkness. “Well, good luck, hope you make it!” the jolly owner and other guests giggled, as we bolted off into the dark.

Attack of the baboons

After a full day’s drive, we arrived at Chobe National Park on the border of Zambia in time for nightfall. Once again, we would be pitching a tent in the dark.

Navigating our way through the most bizarrely maze-esque campsite, we set about pitching our home for the next four nights by car-light.

It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, our hitherto-faithful tent decided to give up the ghost, tent poles snapping in half. (Sorry Stu and Danya, we’ll buy new ones). Brilliant, juuuuust brilliant. Queue half an hour of battling with broken sticks, string, tentpegs and mosquitos, to emerge with one very wonky tee-pee. It was time for a very large glass of wine at the lodge restaurant up the road.

After dinner we drove back to the jungle of a campsite, getting completely lost until eventually the camp guards came to find out what on earth we were doing driving round and round the campsite in the dark.

They showed us to our tee-pee and we bedded in for the night.

Next thing I know, I wake to a voice outside the tent: “Knock knock knock, is anyone home?” the voice asked.

6 o’clock in the morning, I stuck my head out to find out who wanted what at this time in the morning…

But he didn’t need to speak, I soon saw exactly what he wanted.

Our tee-pee was surrounded by carnage, Beast’s doors wide open – the baboons had staged an attack. Breaking into our car, the pesky gang of monkeys had distributed all of our food and a good number of our belongings around the campsite.

“Look, there’s one of them just over there,” the guard pointed. As if I was going to retrieve whatever morsel of our supplies the pest was currently stuffing his face on.

Informing Tom of the disaster, the camel’s back broke. Storming out of the tee-pee in his pants, Tom had broken at last.

“Enough’s enough. WE. ARE. NOT. CAMPING. ANY. MORE.” Tom bellowed. “Get your things we’re going to find a room!”

Encouraging him to calm down and put his clothes on before we went anywhere, I went off to find the ablution blocks for a wash. Five minutes later and feeling refreshed, I swung open the door to startle a HUGE warthog and its babies blocking the path out. I quickly retreated, and climbing up to the window, squealed at Tom to come and keep watch.

After about 15 minutes of waiting, the warthogs moved along with their grazing, and Tom shouted “Right, exit now and keep to the wall along your left. You should be fine.”

He wasn’t entirely wrong about the camping getting a bit taxing, I thought.

Nonetheless, we drove off for our first day’s game drive, and were rewarded by an incredible hippo encounter – the hippo out of the water grazing, and completely unphased by our presence. He ploughed right over to the car, gave us a good looking at, and continued with his breakfast. We held our breath, before inching off.

Tom’s anger at camping hadn’t dissipated by nightfall, so we duly moved into the cheapest room we could find – a room set right along the river. “Be careful of hippos and crocodiles, they come up here at night,” the hotel helpfully advised.

Over the next few days we didn’t meet any hippos or crocodiles, but we did have a band of warthogs and mongooses constantly at our sides. Note – baby mongooses are now officially the cutest thing to walk this earth.

The next days of gamedriving went equally well, with elephants – including a few days’ old baby -, and a pride of lions with cubs, gracing us with their presence.

All in all, Chobe truly is one of the most stunning places I’ve been, and the sheer number of animals is incredible. I can’t wait to go back one day.

And no, we never did go back to camping after that.

Wilderness camping

A small town called Maun boasts to be the gateway of the Okavango. This was our first stop in Botswana. We needed supplies, fuel, and a new tent to brave wilderness camping in the delta.

After the long drive we were early to bed, following dinner in Maun’s top restaurant: “Pizza, Pub, Coffee and Curries”.  Quite a wordy name for a restaurant, I would say, but there you go.

In the morning we were in action mode – we needed meat, snacks, water and beer for us, diesel for Beast, and a tent capable of withstanding the fabled Okavango rainy season storms.

All our supplies on board, we set off to Moremi Game Reserve, where we would be camping at a demarcated camp in the wild for 2 nights.  By camp, I mean the bush was cleared, there is a toilet and wash facility, and braai/bbq pits. No electricity, no shops, no drinking water, no fences. The most daring of our camping undertakings yet.

Having pitched our very complicated rented tent, Tom was approached by the only other campers there – two middle-aged German men, touring southern Africa in a deluxe camper van.

They were off on a boat trip in the delta. Could we come too? We asked. Brilliant, they said, very brilliant. So off set the oddest group of friends – me, Tom, greying pot-bellied utterly friendly Hubert, and beige-clad lion hunter apparel wearing silent Peter – to meet Luke, our boatman for the afternoon.

The Okavango delta is simply stunning, and no words could possibly suffice. Water channels and reeds as far as the eye can see. Water so clear and still the sky is reflected perfectly, dizzyingly.

We were all silent, taken aback by the sheer beauty of the place, snapping pictures in every direction. And of each other. Hubert was making a small video.

Soon we approached a group of hippos. Looking mischievous, Luke announced: “Get your cameras ready”. Speeding up, he tore around in circles around the hippos, giggling at his joke.

The hippos didn’t get it, and got mad instead. The big male decided enough was enough, and launched himself after our boat. Strangely, there’s nothing else I could describe the scene as, than a hippo swimming the butterfly stroke. Launching in and out of the water the angry hippo chased after us bearing his fangs in threat, but our motorboat was just too fast, he couldn’t quite catch us. “Photo photo photo photo” Luke screeched throughout, then dissolved into laughter.

Albeit amused, I think we all breathed a sigh of relief to be out of range of the hippo.

Sun set over the delta, and our boat trip was over. Thanking Luke, we disembarked, and our German friends insisted on paying for the majority of the trip: “We’re older anyway!” Hubert joked.

We never did trade contact details. Funny to think of these sudden friends for an afternoon, who paid for the most phenomenal boat trip, in whose home-video we star.

Back at the campsite, I hastily gathered firewood and set a campfire, and Tom started digging our food out for our braai.

But then tragedy struck!!

In the depths of the Okavango delta Beast’s fridge had given up service. ALL of our supplies had gone off in the 35C heat in the car. In our putrefied-smelling car, all we had left was 6 bread cobs, 4 corn cobs, some mushrooms, and 3 packs of crisps.

I baked our corn in the fire, and suddenly remembered a tin of sardines we had left over in Cape Town, which I had stowed in the car. And so our first wilderness dinner was fire-toasted cobs and sardines, fire-roasted corn, and hot beer.

We withdrew to our tent, ready for an early morning game drive. Opening the darkening flaps so we slept only under a mosquito net, I lay watching the stars, listening to the animals busy in the pitch black around us.

In the morning we set out at 6am in track of animals. We were rewarded with every variation of deer, warthogs, giraffes, zebras, and elephants – all with their babies.

We then decided on a mukoro trip – a locally used dugout canoe, propelled by pole. We spent a lovely hour on the water, our guide working our way through the maze of water channels among the reeds and waterlilies.

Afternoon was spent game-driving, during which we startled a mother-elephant and baby standing in the road. Slamming on the brakes, we sat in silence, watching. Suddenly, mummy had had enough, trumpeting loudly, flapping her ears, she was coming for us.

Engine back on, elephant tearing towards us, we sped away, leaving mummy and baby safely in the rearview mirrors.

We made our way back to camp, ready to light the campfire of the century, and boil some pasta we found in our Cape Town leftovers to go with our corn.

But the closer to camp we got, the darker it seemed, the more threatening the clouds looked, and the windier it got. By the time we reached our tent a storm was afoot – gale winds, lightening, and thunder.

What initially seemed to be one storm, turned out to be four surround-storms, we were completely surrounded by immense lightening on all sides.

Not wanting to sit under the trees in such a storm, we retreated to the only covered area there was – the ladies toilets. With a thatched roof sticking out about a metre beyond the actual building, we set up our camp chairs outside, under the protruding thatch, and watched the storm.

It was quite the experience, to be sat in what seemed to be a relatively calm middle point, the sky flashing and thundering on all sides around us.

Our campfire of the century plans well and truly thwarted, we drank our stash of red wine and ate our remaining crisps, huddling from the storm.

By 11pm it had subsided enough that we braved it back to our tent, and slept for the night, before upping camp and gamedriving the day back to Maun. We had survived phase one of the wilderness.

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