Friday, 1 March 2013

Day 150- St. Albans 2/3/13

Well, title must mean that I am home. Cannot say that I enjoyed the overnight flight to Doha, but I caught up on a couple of films and having wangled a seat by the exit meant I could stretch my legs out properly. (Anything like using BA or whatever was a non-starter as they were all fully booked, so I took the opportunity to save some money and add another country, Qatar, to the list).

Arrived in Doha at 07.00 and tried to get some sleep at my hotel, but not much more than an hour. Went out to "see the sights" but, as it was the sabbath, everything - apart from the mosques - was closed. Eventually found a sort of Indian restaurant that was open for lunch and had a great chicken and ginger, with delicately thin chapatis. (Probably a good idea that I did not choose curry with rice as you ate this true Indian style, with your fingers, but second helpings were freely offered).

As it was getting progressively hotter (goodness knows how the players will cope during the FIFA World Cup in 2022, but apparently Qatar will be using "cooling technology"), I retreated to my air conditioned suite. Not admittedly as stylish as the one Rose and Ian had for their last night in CT, but pretty good all the same - massive double bed, selection of sofas in the sitting room, well stocked kitchen etc. Quite a change from tents and hostels!

The tv had literally hundreds of channels but I could find only two English language ones, one being BBC World, but I got fed up of hearing about the effect of US budget cuts on Norfolk, Virginia, and endless weather forecasts for parts of the world in which I had no interest. The English language news from Kuwait was interesting - woman newsreader (no hijab), and obviously a decidedly middle eastern flavour to the news stories, most of which would never make it into our news in Europe. Then, at 19.00, subtitles informing everyone that it was now time for evening prayers - my local muezzin burst into life at almost that second. I soon crashed out, right through to when he decided to call us all to dawn prayers - thank you very much.

Anyway, that is about it. Back home this evening, somewhat later than expected, and no doubt the real world will start to click into life some time after I surface. Not sure I am entirely looking forward to it!

Anyway, I think that makes it the end of blog. Hope some of it has been mildly interesting, at least on occasions - bye!

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Day 147- CT 27/2/13

The final full day in SA, and although the summit of Table Mountain was beautifully clear, down here in CT it was a different story. Decidedly cool, with a mist so thick that you could not see the tops of many of the buildings.

Still, no point in worrying about that as this was the day to visit the Cape of Good Hope. (To my shame, I have not been able to work out if "Cape of Good Hope" and "Cape Point" are the same thing or, if different, what the difference actually is - no doubt any readers of this blog will know, and complain of my ignorance). Anyway, my bus came and collected me and off we went, southwards to the rather attractive Hout Bay, and then along the drive along Chapman's Peak (Brian and Tetra please note). Apparently this road has 122 bends and looked to be very scenic if the clouds had lifted.

Then across to the other side of the peninsula for another visit to the penguins of Boulders Bay - this time we could see eggs being watched over and some already hatched, with (large) babies in their initial coat of down. Continuing on along the peninsular, there was a small pod of dolphins close to shore.

After lunch, I got the answer to my question - the CofGH is the most south western point if Africa but, only about a kilometre to the east is Cape Point, much higher and sticking out almost the same distance into the Atlantic. Having climbed to the top of CofGH to take a picture, mini disaster struck - message on my camera said "no battery power remains". What timing! So, no shots of either cape to end the journey but if that is the worst that has happened on this trip, then not so bad. I climbed to the top of both capes (not particularly hard but very very windy), but most of the other eleven on the bus (all in their twenties?) did not attempt it. Could not understand it - 40 mile trip at a cost of ZAR500 and then just standing at the bottom. The younger generation!

Back in Cape Town, the weather had reversed. City was bathed in warm sunshine, but the cloud had descended almost to the very bottom of the mountain.

Tomorrow starts the journey home - methinks life is about to start to change rather drastically.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Day 146- CT 26/2/13

Having heard so much about the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (yet another World Heritage Site), I had to go before leaving SA. As I am sure Irene knows, the best time to visit is in August/Sept/October when we were told that the gardens are a blaze of colour but even today they were most impressive, even if the dominant colour was definitely green! With the sole mention of some ancient oaks and one cedar, all the trees and plants are indigenous to Its own country - the only major garden in the world that can make such a claim.

Fortunately, I was able to wangle a place on a two hour guided tour which was, of course, largely aimed at people like Irene who know all about plants - unlike yours truly - but still well worth listening to. One thing that was obvious was the total absence of litter. There are no waste bins at all - the policy is quite simply that you leave with everything that you bring in. They have frequent concerts in the gardens and we were told that, even after these, there is no litter - lesson for us maybe?

Then it was a visit to the Mount Nelson Hotel for a special treat: afternoon tea - apparently recorded by the Sunday Times as the best afternoon tea in the world, and I can well understand why. Five of us had afternoon tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel and thought it was really good, but it is not a patch on the Mount Nelson. There is a large table laden (should I say groaning?) with a whole variety of goodies, and you just keep on going back for as much as you want, as often as you want. I regret to say that I ignored the sandwiches etc and concentrated on the cakes of all different types - my cholesterol level must have gone up by leaps and bounds.

And then of course there is the actual tea itself. There are 25 different types on offer, and that's excluding herbal and fruit "infusions". I started with wild rooibos, and then followed up with their own blend of six different teas from Africa and Asia, to which they add "the buds and petals of our traditional pink roses". The water comes in a glass teapot, to which you insert the tea infuser (?), and you have your own egg timer so that you can decide for how long you would like the tea to brew. Something tells me that life at 24MHW will just not be the same.

I was so full after all these goodies that I did not need an evening meal, so followed Ian's suggestion (instruction?) to see the film "Argo" about the Tehran hostage crisis, which has just won the Oscar for best film. I have to say it was good, and kept the tension until the end even though you knew the outcome but I suspect that, although it was based on a true story, certain aspects were, shall I say, modified for dramatic effect?

And so to bed - final full day tomorrow.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Day 145- Cape Town 25/2/13

So, back in CT again, after two days on the bus. Passed by the sign for St Albans - near Blue Horizon Bay. Sounds better than near Watford! Interestingly, as we passed Nelson Mandela's house again, two Afrikaans ladies (in their 60-70s so presumably from the apartheid era) said what a great man he was. Alongside the N2 road just outside CT there is a huge township which, in the gathering gloom, looked to be everything that such townships are reported to be. Think bad, and then think worse.

Thought today that I would climb the Lion's Head (next to Table Mountain) but it was so hot that I had used over half of my 1.5 litres of water before I was even half way to the top, so decided to retreat! Instead, made a long detour to the foot of the cable car where I had the most delicious butterscotch ice cream on my last visit, and so had another one today, followed by a second just to revive me. No one else seems to sell these, although the "soft twirl" from KFC is an acceptable substitute.

Back in town, visited the Gold Museum - best part was the film illustrating part of the history of gold. I knew of course that the Boer War was caused by the discovery of gold in SA, but did not know that Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn was caused by the discovery of major gold deposits in the Black Hills of Dakota. These were sacred to the indians (sorry, native Americans) but of course that did not stop the "whites"/ US government from getting at the riches underneath them. Guess who was moved on? The US government has offered to pay for the land but has always been refused as no price could pay for the loss of their ancestral sacred lands.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Day 142- Drak 22/2/13

This was meant to be another day of hiking but today we awoke to thick cloud right down to our level - not a mountain to be seen anywhere at all. However, by the time I had finished yet another excellent breakfast, the clouds had miraculously disappeared completely and until late afternoon there was not a single one to be seen anywhere in the sky.

The objective today (apart of course from viewing the glorious scenery) was three lots of rock paintings by the San people (bushmen) from xxxx years ago. (Same but different to those we saw in the Matapos national park in Zimbabwe). No one seems to know how old they are here - anything from hundreds to thousands of years.

In the morning we saw again the herd of eland that we had seen yesterday, and then another five trotted by just in front of us. Coming back down in the late afternoon, we found that the herd would be almost across our path, but the breeze was blowing from us to them, so they would surely scent us and move on. We came down as quietly as we possibly could (not easy on a slippy stone path) without breathing a word and, although they kept looking at us, they stayed where they were until we were less than 100yds away - great to be so close to a herd of 50+. Even then they just slowly moved out of our way, no charging off into the distance.

Thought I would end my final walk here by showering in the outside shower again, looking at the view!

Just at dinner time, a new couple arrived - Graham and Margaret from West Derby, Liverpool, my home for my first eighteen years. Aged 78 and 76 respectively, they have just finished an eleven day camping trip in Botswana and are now touring SA using "my" backpackers bus. And I thought I was doing well at my age! (There are also about twenty youngsters doing their Duke of Edinburgh award and, of course, yet more Germans - they really do seem to be in SA in large numbers).

Tomorrow I start the long journey back to Cape Town so no more wifi until Monday at the earliest.

Day 141- Drak 21/2/13

Great - woke up to true mountain weather, i.e. total cloud cover and decidedly cool, but at least no rain so seven of us decided to continue with our proposed hike up on the top of the pass. This of course meant another 4x4 journey back up the "road" and my second visit in two days to Lesotho (nicely filling up my passport with a total of eight stamps for just these two trips).

In spite of the weather, we saw more wildlife than on our previous way up, including a herd of eland (did we see them in East Africa? Can't remember) plus a long crested eagle calmly sitting on a telephone pole at the side of the road, gurney's sugarbird and a malachite sunbird - quite a stunningly beautiful green.

By the time we had passed way above the tree line and up to the border, we had our reward - not a single cloud in the sky. We had a great hike over the fields with grazing merino sheep and angora goats, as three rhebok ran by (my last "new animal seen on this trip"?) to the Maluti mountains (which sit on top of the Drakensberg) until we were at something over 10,000ft. Was it altitude sickness, lack of oxygen at this height or simply my old age as I tried hard to keep up with (of course) the younger generation?

The weather was just glorious and the scenery magnificent as we had our lunch watching the fluffy white clouds blocking out the world down below in South Africa, as if we were looking out of an aircraft from 35000ft. On the other side, we looked down onto the green valleys of Lesotho - almost like the Alps with the sound of cow bells rising up to us.

It was difficult to imagine anything more "magical" but of course those clouds slowly rolled up the cliffs towards us and the cows disappeared so that the bells seemed to come out of the clouds. It was time to start making our way back, and thank goodness for our guide who unerringly brought us through the mist to "civilisation" - i.e. the four large water tanks that supply the pub. Never have water tanks been so gratefully seen! This of course meant another visit to the highest pub in Africa and more gluhwein. Very appropriate, as the scene seemed even more alpine as we were now completely enveloped in thick cloud. The pub has lots of graffiti on its walls added by customers, so we added our own so as not be left out.

Just another absolutely fantastic day.

Day 140- Drak 20/2/13

A day rather unlike any other, with a variety of problems to sort out:

Computer dismally fails to do anything at all, not a single button having any effect whatsoever. Six people who have iPads tried and failed to get any result and trying to find a solution by using the Internet from someone else's machine also failed. Eventually Nellie from Holland solved the problem - as usual, easy when you know.

Then I had to book my return trip to Cape Town, only to find that my phone will not work here (in spite of all the assurances back home) and the phone line from here was out of order. Eventually sorted, with a two day journey over the weekend.

Then I realised that Sani Lodge insist on cash and no credit / debit cards accepted, so had to get myself to the nearest town to find an ATM (in fact two as I needed to draw out the maximum from each machine).

Then the weather turned rather wet so I decided to sit here and try and catch upon blog and emails. Different sort of day to what I have become accustomed, but everything now sorted. Early start tomorrow, hoping for better weather, but still raining and temperature dropping. Time for the three blankets plus duvet, if not the hot water bottle.