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Tuesday, 5 October 2010

South Africa - Part 2 - Cape Town, Shark-diving, Gansbaai, Hermanus, Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, Boulders.

(cont. From South Africa Part 1)

...we got the open-topped bus city tour...and it was excellent. We paid R200 for a hop-on/hop-off  ticket along the ‘red route’ (there was a blue one too) which meandered through the city taking in monuments like the Holocaust Museum, the Malay Quarter, the balcony at the square where Nelson Mandela made his famous speech upon release, Table Mountain, the Two Oceans Aquarium, the ‘Planetarium’, District 6, Camps Bay and everything in between. The best bit? We all had our very own (free) earphones to plug into the buses audio-guide. The audio-guide was really good but more to the point, Laraldo and I both needed new earphones for our iPods.

Laraldo, looking wind-swept on top of the bus. 'Devil's Peak" and Table Mountain in the background

View of Table Mountain from the road as we drove around in the bus.
Table Mountain was – alongside Vic Falls (which I visited 10 years ago) – one of the only two things that have ever really taken my breath away. The view from the top was well worth the R160 fare for the 5 minute cable-car journey . (Interestingly, you get a 360 degrees view of the mountain and town as the car rotates as it ascends...we didn’t know this beforehand so had our elbows ready to bump kids and oldies alike out the way so as to get a prime photo position.) I was also mildly entertained by one of the signs in the gents' loos at the cable-car station.

The cable-car station at the top of Table Mountain.

Map of the mountains at the lower cable-car station.
Photo time in the cable-car - fake smiles ready, and elbows ready to shove (to get a better view!)

Looking down over Cape Town from the cable-car

View of Camps Bay from the top of Table Mountain

It was windy when we were up there, but there were no hooters to be heard (or seen!)


Hazy view of Green Point Stadium from the top of Table Mountain

Hazy view of Robben Island (Nelson Mandela's enforced home for most of his 27 years in prison)

Lion's Head & Signal Hill

Looking out over Cape Town from Table Mountain

The girls

View from the top of Table Mountain - Lion's Head in the distance.

The bus tour then took us to the Two Oceans Aquarium the long way around – via a pass between the Table Mountain and ‘Lion’s Head’ and through Camps Bay. Camps Bay was beautiful: loads of plush houses facing the sunset and nestled in at the foot of The 12 Apostles (contrary to their name, there are apparently 17 of these promontories...or so our audio guide told us). The beaches and the promenade at Camps Bay are – I imagine – similar to those you’d see in California and Miami...but on a smaller scale.

The seafront at Camps Bay 

I'd imagine this to be what California and/or Miami are like.
Camps Bay was beautiful: loads of plush houses facing the sunset and nestled in at the foot of The 12 Apostles

Spotted this old guy as we were driving along in the open-top bus...Yep, that's a parrot on his shoulder.
A closer look at Green Point Stadium (from the top of the bus)

Two Oceans aquarium was equally cool – but then again, for me, any aquarium is cool, even Guernsey’s very own that houses (or at least used to house) conger eels as a centrepiece.  If I’m in a city with an aquarium, visiting isn’t an option, it’s a must! 

Son & I - doing our best to look cool outside the Two Oceans Aquarium

I want one of these as a pet - any of you seen Seven Pounds?

It's funny because my best friend, Lara's brother AND my cousin are all called Tristan.

I've always thought that Moray Eels look like Keith Richards.

I think this was an Anglerfish - I'm sure some of the lads at school used to refer to one of the girls as 'The Anglerfish'. Harsh!
Finding Nemo?

Not amused.

(I think this bit was meant for the kids.)
A small taster of what was to come in a couple of days...

Apparently it's The Year of The Frog so there was a special frog exhibit. From the small...

The deadly (Amazonian Tree Frog)...

To the ugly...

...And the massive (Giant Bull Frog)
This may just look like a big old mill (which it is) but for a long time it was the second tallest building in Africa (after The Pyramids)...or so the audio-guide told us.

After an hour or so in the aquarium, we grabbed a wee bite to eat and caught the bus back to Ashanti where we found out we were all invited to a proper South African braai at Homeless’ in Camps Bay (the place we’d marvelled at mere hours before). 

A quick shower later (read: spray of deodorant) and with our still valid bus tickets in hand, the three of us (Sonya, Laraldo and I) once again took the scenic route to Camps Bay and arrived at Homeless’s place to see all of the rest of the gang there. What can I say? The food laid on there and the hospitality shown to us was a class of its own...all the traditional food you’d find at a braai (ribs, chicken, sausages, fillet steaks...yes, fillet steaks) as well as Malay food and copious different bowls of various salads. What’s more, we had strawberries and cream and ‘malva’ ( a local pudding not dissimilar to sticky toffee pud) for dessert. All of this, we devoured with local beers, ciders and wines as the sun set right before our eyes over the point where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet - the cold 'Benguela' current on the West Coast and the warm 'Agulhas' current on the East Coast. (I've since read that technically, the Indian Ocean joins the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Agulhas National Park which is several hours drive east of Cape Town.)

After the feast, those with room left in their stomachs were taken to the local garden bowls club (seriously!) which was actually a local hotspot and hive for the young and the beautiful. Despite us insisting on it, Matt (Kyle’s mum’s partner) barely let us buy a single drink and the consequences of the ensuing booze session can be seen below. Michelle (Kyle’s mum), Matt and Chelsea (Kyle’s sister), thank you so much for showing us true Cape Town hospitality – it’s difficult to imagine why Kyle would ever want to leave home!

We've seen this a lot in Africa: Gents' loos called 'Adam', and Ladies' called 'Eve'. Would it surprise you to know this one was full of crap?

The phantom middle finger strikes again...

Sonya, Kimbo & Laraldo (the latter didn't get the memo about this being the joke pose)

That's better!

Berbs looking mischievous & Son looking special.

Who smelt it dealt it.

A painful surprise.

I think this was the 'just tasted a hot chilli' pose.

Love this 'pleasant surprise' shot.


At this point, I can't remember what the poses just enjoy!

Givin' the 'tude.

The lows...

...and highs of Sonya Ohlen.

Normski with an unsuspecting Laraldo.

The good, the bald and the ugly...(you decide who's who)

Nursing sore heads, the next day was very much a chillout day which we used to amble on down to the waterfront and buy some much needed camping supplies (replacement roll-mats, stuff sacks etc) at the Cape Union Mart by the Victoria &Alfred wharf (a massive shopping complex). It was here that, when going to an ATM I realised I’d misplaced my primary bank card. I don’t think it was stolen, as no other cards were taken, nor was any cash (I had $800 in my wallet) and I couldn’t think when there would have been an opportunity to steal it. The best I could come up with was that I’d posted it off to the British Embassy in Pretoria with our passport applications in a mix-up at the post office.

Feeling well and truly spent (in wallet and energy) we caught a taxi back to Ashanti which dropped us off at ‘One World’ travel/tour operator at the top of Long Street so we could book our Great White Shark cage-diving. If any of you are looking at doing this, I can tell you that we looked around quite a bit and One World gave us the best price by a LONG was R1,000 – about R600 cheaper than anywhere else we’d seen. The company One World used was called Eco-Adventures and the price included the two hour transfer to and from Hermanus, breakfast, lunch, 25 min boat journey to the sharks, wetsuit and mask and snorkel hire and about 5 hours out on the water getting in and out of the cage. It was Friday 13th(!!!)and, not being superstitious, Berbs, Yoichi, Son, Lara and I went ahead and booked our shark dive for Monday 16th August...but more of this later.

For the weekend, Lara, Son and I rented a car and did a mini road-trip. On the Saturday we took in the factory outlet stores (Access Park) on the outskirts of the city; the thriving colony of 'African Penguins' at the sanctuary at ‘Boulders’ (best viewed from the purpose-built wooden walkways on Foxy Beach); and the world class views at Cape Point and The Cape of Good Hope.

Laraldo at Cape Point, with The Cape of Good Hope behind her.

Looking back into False Bay from Cape Point.

Cape of Good Hope

False Bay

A long way from home.

Saw these baboons on the roadside on the way back along Cape Peninsula.

Slangkop lighthouse, near Kommetjie (about half way down the west coast of the Cape Peninsula).

Penguins at the sanctuary in Boulders.

Synchronised pruning.

The following day (Sunday), we drove out to ‘Hermanus’ where we’d been told we could do some whale-spotting: the season was right for the whales to come right into the bay, almost within reach from the sure. Disappointingly, we never did see them up close but we did see a few tail splashes and water-spouts in the near distance. Somewhere along the way during our road trip, we stopped off at a second-hand book-store in Gordon’s Bay and offloaded about 30 of the worst books from the ‘truck library’ (i.e. leftovers from previous passengers) and did a part-exchange for about 50 new ones. So if you’re next on this truck, you’ve got me to thank for ‘Charles Bronson’s Good Prison Guide’ plus a few other gems.

We went to Hermanus for some whale watching and all we saw was this 'rock-dassie'

...and a few seagulls.
By 6am on Monday 16th August we were humming the Jaws theme to each other as we awaited our mini-bus to take us back out to the launch point in Gansbaai (near Hermanus). Two hours later, we were there signing our lives away and getting briefed in by a really cool South African guy, a proper ‘Boer’ and a good ‘oke’ as they say in those parts. (He promised me his missing finger was not a shark-related injury...but I still have doubts.)

After this, we all strolled down to the port where we were at first told that the boat we were supposed to use was broken...(!)...not to worry though, they had a back-up. About ten minutes later we were bombing along  on the boat, us five Af Trails passengers plus a few other tourists from around the world. Within several minutes, Yoichi was looking green from the (relatively calm) journey. Despite me asking him the night before that if he gets seasick he should take something for it, I was told “ don’t mind. It is challenge.” Sure enough, it was a challenge for him on the boat, and one I don’t think he was comfortable with.

"We're gonna need a bigger boat!"
Berbs - chilling by one of the cages, safe on dry land.

Berbs & Yoichi (minutes before hitting the water where Yoichi soon turned green).

After 25 mins we were at the spot were our cage was buoyed up and being briefed on what to do and what not to do inside the cage. There was room for 5 people in the cage which meant that all of us Af Trails guys could get in at the same time. Whilst we were being briefed, there was a guy at the back of the boat throwing slurry or ‘chum’ into the water by the bucket-load and another casting and reeling in a rotten fish head (respectively, these were scent and visual references for the sharks). Within minutes we had our first visitor and it blew our minds...then we find out that the behemoth in front of us was just an adolescent.

Jonathon Livingstone Cape Town Seagull & friends

The cage of doom - floating ominously on its own.

Cage attached firmly to the side of the boat.

Once in the cage, more sharks kept turning up, coming from all angles: left, right, directly in front, behind and even below...a couple even ended up breaching with their snouts coming back down on the top corner of the cage on the side Sonya was on (the same side they were reeling the fish head back in from!). Every time a shark came, the guys on board would yell ‘DOWN!” at which point we’d all duck our heads under and gaze in awe at these apex predators through our snorkelling masks.

Missed the breach by a split-second.

Right up against the cage!

Two of them: adult and adolescent.

 Too soon our 20 minutes in the cage was over...but not before Yoichi – who was to my left – informed us “me, I need puking!” (a phrase we’d made familiar to him after a heavy piss-up back in Morocco). Poor old Yoich, was still feeling green and, only inside the cage (which had a lid on to save sharks breaching and falling in on top of us) did he decide that the contents of his stomach had to come up. So whilst I was taking in the awesome sight (the sharks, not the puking) Yoich was dry-urging to my left...the bonus was Berber Dave on my right admitting the water around him a little bit warmer. Aces.

Loved it.

Check out the size compared to the cage (the cage is 5 or 6 people wide).

Laraldo in a cage...appropriate some would think.

Although we only got 20mins in to start, the guide made sure we all got loads of time in the cage by working on a one-in/one-out system. The water was pretty cold by African standards, but fortunately, Lara and I are used to Belvoir Beach (Herm) and some of the beaches back home in Guerntown, Tennessee (Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK). I went in three times so had about an hour in with them in total...Like a lot of people, this was something I’d wanted to do all of my life...needless to say, watching ‘Jaws’ as a kid prompted this fascination. 

I think I speak for all of us in saying that it truly was an amazing experience: we were told that at one point we had nine Great Whites circling us, the largest being just shy of 4metres (still pretty small apparently) with a few adolescents at about 2.5metres or so. I’d recommend the experience and indeed the company we used to anybody coming down this way. I know it sounds pretty scary, but it really wasn’t that bad...we were too occupied by the spectacle in front of us to be concerned that the bars on the cage were wide enough for an appendage to slip through and tangle tantalisingly in front of the sharks (!). Honestly though, highly recommended. 

Back on dry land, we watched the DVD of the day, had a late lunch then got our transfer back to Ashanti (via a police stop and slap on the wrist as our driver's papers weren't up to scratch) where we kept our eye out for some of the new passengers who were joining us for the Cape Town to Cairo part of the tour. We sat at the bar and heard a few people talking about vaccinations and ‘a five month trip’ so figured we’d approach and ask. BINGO! We’d stumbled upon Pat (Sydney, Aus), Ish (Sydney, Aus) and Gab (Rome, Italy). As we had a few beers, we had a laugh going through tales of the west coast and talking about what we were looking forward to on the east. The night went on and we stumbled down the road to a lively bar (‘Kennedy’s’ bar no less!) and then to the pool hall for some games of ‘Killer’ and yet more drinks.

1 comment:

  1. Loved the photos, especially the no squatting on the urinal, clickie. I run South Africa Travel Online. Hope you don't mind, we've linked to the blog from our weekly newsletter.