Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Away with the Fairies and other adventures....

Alison:  Drove out of the main route to stay in magical Hogsback. The town feels like Lord of the Rings or Hogsmeade in Harry Potter with more art. Lots of old trees in the area and crafty places to check out. There's an area in the woods slowly being added to where artists live and work. Sort of like a permanent Ness Creek Music Festival. We stayed at a place called Away with the Fairies that has both a very high treehouse and a bathtub on a cliff!

Sunset from the treehouse platform. The same view is seen from the tub.

Caryn, as seen from the platform.

That night we made one of Caryn's mom's meals - baked gem squash. It was really tasty!

Oh, and pasta too.

We have been really lucky with weather here in South Africa considering it is coming on to winter here and it's really far south. Up in Hogsback it was cold, almost snowed but rained instead. The damp really keeps you cold. Luckily, our hostel was awesome - there was a fireplace in the room! Very magical to fall asleep in firelight with the crackling logs. But outside our room, well, the day I found TWO LABYRINTHS (!!!!), even with all my warm clothes on, it was too cold to walk them. Here is one, as seen through its beaded entrance: 
A classical cretean style, but with some huge rocks at certain points which was very cool. 

This one is a medevil style like in Chartes, France. It was huge, in an amazing spot (at the edge of a cliff), and beautiful. I loved the wide edges with the plants. These were the nicest labyrinths I have seen.

Cool room, eh?

We left Hogsback and stayed in Grahamstown at a cold weird hostel. This is not the hostel, we went to town for a scone and internet:

 Then we made our way to Port Alfred to visit Caryn's friend Gillian. On the way there, you just can't miss...
The giant pinapple!

Note the door. There's a shop inside. Imagine spending all your days working the pinapple store in a giant windowless pinapple. It's filled with pinapple knick-knacks. Interestingly, Gillian grew up on a pinapple farm. Pinapples are way better here. I shall miss them. And the big one.

Port Alfred is situated, like many garden route towns, along a river that leads to the ocean.
Here you see the river in front, pier, ocean behind. This is the view from a restaurant that Gillian took us to. 

Here is a cactus, but not just any cactus. The orginal cactus was given to Gillian by Fred and Annette, Caryn's parents. Whenever Gillian moved, she was sure to take an arm and re-plant the cactus. So, it's been going for many many years, and has started many of her friends's cacti as well!
We had a lovely time with Gillian.We talked about New Zealand, where her grandkids are; discussed birds, her travels, family... we went for a walk around her seniors neighbourhood and she showed us off...we went our for lunch... had tea... just generally really enjoyed each other's company. She is so sweet. I'm really glad I got to meet her.

We drove on to an area called the Crags and stayed at a hostel right beside the world's highest bungy. We did not bungy, no thank you sir. 

And that's that!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pictures of little things

We visited the botanical gardens in Pietermarinzburg and even though it is winter here, i found about a million things to take pictures of.  (don't worry- i deleted some).  Here are some of them- i don't know anything about these flowers, so i don't have anything else to say about them!

Hope you enjoyed!  New post soon!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

pmb, country of Lesotho and birds

Hello again friends and persons who randomly clicked on this blog! Welcome back.

After our tour we headed to a town called Pietermartizburg. Wonderful Andre looked after us at a neat lilttle backpackers. He had a beautiful garden and a little old house. We did the pmb highlights: museum, Botanical gardens (caryn is going to post some pics of just this), mall. We chatted with Andre about how cool pmb USED to be, and vowed never to go back to the mall again! Our commitment to buying local was renewed after his passionate talk.
Picture captions by Caryn:  This was a wall of antique mirrors in the cafe of the art Gallery we went to.  tots doing this in my next place- except a smaller version of course!

The statue of Gandhi that is in PMB is a monument marking where he was thrown out of the first class train in PMB.  The full story is interesting and can be found here.

Here Alison is at the natural museum.  Being eaten by a Hippo.

Took a local minibus from pmb to Underburg. A really nice shuttle man got us up to Sani Lodge, and he refused to be paid. Sani Lodge isn't really in a town, it's sort of between town and Lesotho. Lesotho is its own country, very mountainous. We did a hiking tour that went over Sani Pass into this beautiful country. The road up Sani Pass is so insane, that 1. If you don't have a 4X4, you are stopped at the border and not allowed to enter. 2. The turns in the road are named, like rapids on a river. There's Devil's Elbow, Backwards Corner (aka Oh My God Corner on the way back down), Grey's Corner (or Grace corner), Ice Corner (YES! there was ice!), and others.
This was a picture on the wall in our room at the Sani Pass, which shows you some of the crazy turns up the mountain.  Seriously, they were this sharp.

Internet in South Africa has been a bit more scarce and a bit worse than in India we have found.  This was the internet at Sani pass- which was in this HUGE cold dark room, and the screen was pink.  

Some of the Drakensburg scenery.

It was so cold at night in Drakensburg Ali resorted to wearing her handkerchief on her nose to keep it warm.

The Drakensburg Mountains are stunning. The hike was a highlight for me for our whole trip. With our guide, we hiked up one of the Hodgon's Peaks. On this little jutting-up peak, you had a 360 degree view. Down into the valleys below, across into Lesotho to see more mountains covered in snow, ever direction you looked was magnificent. There were so few buildings, hardly any trees even - so great mountains for a prairie lover! The Drakensburg range is unique - it's plate rose all together, didn't slide or shift (we're talking geologically) so anyway it makes for something I'd never seen before. I loved the place.

Some of the landscape before we got up into the mountain-y bit.

Drakensburg mountains.

View from the top of the peak.

This is a landscape picture that shows the mountain that we climbed!  It is the little boxy one on the far most left.   The box part is the peak that we climbed.

We ate lunch up on the peak, half of us in Lesotho and half in South Africa. Our tour ended with a drink at the highest pub in Africa and we braved the Sani Pass back to the lodge.

From there we hitched a ride with our new German friends to Port St. John's. We didn't really like this town. But, we had a cool experience: our hostel took a group of us up to "the old airstrip," to watch the sunset. The view was of endless mountains and the river meeting the surf, but what I loved were the birds. Hundred(s) of ravens were playing in the drafts created by the cliffs we were on. The could catch drafts and glide UP without flapping. Sometimes they'd fold their wings and drop or flip, looking like dragons. I was in awe.
The view from where we watched the sun set.

 Love you all and miss you more!!!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

St Lucia, Durban

Caryn: After leaving Mozambique we drove to the small town of St Lucia, which was lovely. In St Lucia we went for a afternoon cruize on the river to see hippos and crocodiles.

Alison happy to be on the river.

Ali and I with Lindsay and Deson on the boat. They were the other 2 Canadians on our trip.

HIPPOS! After taking about 50 pictures of hipos, we deleted a bunch. They were very cute- in the water that is. Hipos are actually very dangerous and will charge you. Our tour guide said that they run around 45 km/hr, which is a problem if you are a human as the fastest human runs 36 km/hr. So he instructed us that if we see a hippo walking through town (not uncommon according to locals) we were to a) climb a tree or b) hide behind a wall. I wasn't exactly sure how he expected us to climb a tree however as NONE of the trees had any low branches. Luckily we did not encounter a hippo on the street. And i will not be asking for one this Christmas.

After our river cruise, we went back to our backpackers to watch Zulu dancing. It was so neat to watch. It seemed similar to Swaziland dancing in some ways but instead of dancing as a group it was more individual if that makes sense. Once again we had a chance to join in at the end and Alison was great! You'll have to ask her to demo her Zulu dancing next time you go out with her. ;)

The next day we drove about 4 hours to Thousand Hills (a Zulu suburb 40 mins from Durban) for a day tour and homestay. The tour company we were with for the day, Vuk Africa, directs all its proceeds to Light Providers. This is a non-profit organization that works within the Thousand Hills community to empower young people through offering recreational activities, life skills programs, and skill development programs.

After a brief history of their organization we were off! Our first stop was a local butcher shop, where we bought a bunch of meat for another braii, which the butcher's little brother bbq'd up for us in front of the shop. It was really good, and we had fun interacting with the locals. Then we went to a "go-go's" house (go-go is Zulu for Grandma) to get a chicken for dinner. A live chicken. So for the rest of the day we had to carry around this Chicken, which was going to be our dinner. That one of us would have to kill. Have i mentioned that i haven't eaten meat since?

After that we visited a home where women were selling traditional Zulu bead jewlery. Then it was off to the Sangoma's Hut. A Sangoma is a traditional Zulu practicioner of herbal medicine, fortune telling and counseling. She told us a bit about when she was called by her ansestors to become a Sangoma. Then she read her bones (these were bones and shells that she skattered from a horn of a cow) for our fortune as a group, then danced for us. It was really neat.

After the Sangoma, we returned to the Light Providers center, where a choir sang for us. They were so good. So so good! If we ever have internet that will let us, we can post a short video clip of this.

Our group was then divided into 2 smaller groups, and we were off for our family homestay. Ali and i went to this one that had 16 children, 6 who were 5 and 6 (they were foster children as they were orphans), and the rest ranged from about 8-18. The kids were adorable, and when we got there they greeted our group with some songs and some more Zulu dancing. Our group decided to do an impromtu performance for them, and we sang songs ranging from the chicken dance, cucaborro, and the great big moose who drank juice (Ali's specialty).

Alison talking now: That night we watched the chicken being killed, Caryn prompty stopped eating meat and we played with the kids. The kid that latched onto me did lots of laughing, Caryn's friend would chat away to her ernestly in Zulu. It was really hard to leave the kids in the morning, the homestay had been such a highlight.

Next day we went to Durban for a finale braii at Darren's parent's house. And that was it! Our wonderful tour had ended. We ate out with those that hadn't left right away. The restaurant had a huge tank in it with sharks! Slowly, over the next day, our group got smaller and smaller.

Until, it was back down to two.

(Pictures of Homestay and Shark restaurant when we can get them up!)

Miss you!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Swaziland and Mozam

First off: Here are a couple of pictures from Kruger that we forgot to put in our last post!

This looks nice but I am FREEZING COLD. I got in because I was ROASTING HOT.
Such is life, no? We are lucky to have such problems.

Our overland vehicle for a night safari.

Kruger in the evening. Once it was dark we used spotlights to find the animals by seeing their gleeming eyes. You don't even want to see those pictures. The elephant looks like a blog of grey in a blob of light in darkness.

Ok, now that you are all warmed up and reminded, let's get back on tour! From Kruger Nat. Park, we head to the little country of Swaziland. Our first stop was for lunch and at a glass factory. They pay locals to bring them old bottles, etc, so everything is recycled. Locals are also the artists who are blowing the glass and making the art. It really is a fantastic organization.

Glass guys

Once to our campsite, we went on an Ex-"Walk with the Rhinos" walk. Since there weren't any rhinos, that makes it... just a walk. BUT, as you know, plants are right up my ally ali, so I had a wonderful time learning learning.
Trying to get the classic African-sunset-with-that-African-looking-tree-siloetted picture.
I swear, there are classic African photo ops everywhere you turn.
No rhinos in this photo.

That night in Swaziland, we were treated to traditional Swazi dancing by the staff. Dress in full traditional gear, we enjoyed the high kicks, drumming and fantastic singing by the fire.
The next morning, we probably got up early as usual and headed off. A typical day for us on tour was: wake up to Darren tapping on our tent. Shower, or not. Eat cold breakfast, take down tents, pack personal gear, pack food, chairs, table (etc- other group gear), leave. Potentially push the truck to start it. Do a touristy thing or two on the way to destination. Arrive. Unpack and set up tents, group gear, etc (as above). Help to cook (or not, or perhaps it's your turn for dishes!). Eat a FAB meal made by Darren and whomever helped.

As well as tourism, there was also a lot of visiting that happened with our new friends. I learned all about Tamil people in Singapore, for example. And about what it's like to be a tour guide, or how the electrian smashed his hand. The story about that-other-trip-they-went-on; how the pets are coping at home. Listened to the OT's swap stories. Heard about all the previous Africa adventures one group had just come from. Another cool thing about this was that we were traveling with Aussys, Kiwis, and people that had JUST been to India. So we could talk about specific places, and tell stories, and rave about their hometowns.
So, packed up, and BACK to S.A (passport stamp!) then OUT of SA (stamp!) then IN to Monzambique (stamp!!!). On the way to mozam:

Caryn's new house!!

Group photo minus guide and driver. Don't we look dashing! This is in front of a big dam.
Here we are at the border going into Mozam. Going from South Africa into Mozambique was unreal. The roads stop at the border. Our truck couldn't handle it so we had to "pack down" and move with less gear into 4X4 trucks.Here we are in the back of a half-ton, sitting on all our bedroll mattresses. You cross the border and the infrustruture stops as well. All the roads were sand! There are a couple larger cities, but we heard they are quite run-down. Mozam is recovering from a recent civil war and many people had come to live in the slums of Joburg and other parts of SA to find some work under the table. They can be ripped off and paid very poorly because they are unable to go to the police. Many of the poor in SA are from Mozam, Zim and elsewhere.

Mozambique is BEAUTIFUL! Happily we stayed for a couple nights. There was a stunning beach just beyond the trees by our campsite, you could hear the waves crashing. Without highrises, or traffic noises, the scene was paradise. We relaxed, enjoyed the classic drink R&R (rum and raspberry), and just generally hung out.
Ah yes, we did do one activity - a dolphin swim! We didn't get to actually swim with the dolphins, which was good and bad. Too bad, because it would have been magical. But good, because that really showed us that these guys were truly dolphin-friendly. They have strict guidelines about whether to swim that day or not... and clearly follow them. The dolphins must approach the boat, not the other way around. Many days, they do, they are curious. But in this case, they were more interested in each other. What happened was this - one main pod happened to join with another main pod. Our dolphin woman was beside herself with excitment! "Oh what a blessed sighting this is!" "Oh wow, I haven't seen this happen in a long long time!" So, we were truly lucky to watch these groups catch up with old friends. We watch these some 40-50 dolphins play in the surf. We saw some fantastic jumps! Some came quite close to the boat (but at that time we were in front of the wave break - another rule about safety - so no swimming). Lovely trip all in all. Sorry no pics - it was a small spashly pontoon type vessel.
This is how our guide Darren lounged in and out of Mozam on the gear trailor.

the beach
a rocky area of the beach we explored around sunset

Caryn loved the crabs, here's a little hole that they dive into, kicking back sand.

Remember jungle book at the very end where it's so disappointing because he leaves his jungle friends and follows that girl to her village? Yeah. I was singing, "IIIIIIIIII must go and fetch the waaaaaaaater..."
Note the barefeet. Mozam was all sand, as far as we saw. Roads, dunes, beaches...

Quiz: Mozambique is one of only four Portugese speaking countries. What are the other three? First to comment correctly I'll make an R&R for when we get home!
The wildly anticipated Part 3 will be coming soon!
Love you.