Friday, 2 December 2011

... and hello again

My South African adventure was exactly that. I'll try to make it as short as I can, but it's difficult to put into words what an amazing time I had and all thanks to Tracy Mc.

Day 1: After almost 24 hours of travel I finally arrived in Port Elizabeth having already made friends on board my flight from Jo'burg to PE. Dallas and John, a rather wonderful couple in their 70's, who I sat next to, invited me for tea and I got chatted up by a rather 'interesting' guy with a pony tail who's chat up line was, 'love your hair'... mmm... well it didn't do much for me either!

Tracy met me at the airport and whisked me off to look at the ocean and take in the sights. People surfing, sea the colour of greeny blue glass and palm trees. Then back to Tracy's place. She lives in a lovely little granny 'flat' in the garden of one of South Africa's rather famous ceramicists, Lynnley Watson, who was an absolute delight. A garden with jacaranda tree, pool and frogs and lizards to make it feel like I had arrived.

The back garden at Tracy's house

Day 2: On my journey over I had started reading Damon Galgut's  A Strange Room, and I was rather taken with the following quote: 'There is a moment when any real journey begins. Sometimes it happens as you leave your house, sometimes it's a long way from home.' I felt my journey began on Day 2. Port Elizabeth was fascinating for me. Tracy took me out to The Red Location Museum, which was housed in an award winning building placed right in the middle of a township. It tells the story of the struggle with apartheid by the use of memory rooms amongst others things.

Red Location Museum entrance statement

Driving through the township compared to driving through the residential part of PE brought home just how there is still a lot of inequality in SA. Vendors at traffic lights all trying to sell their wares - anything from sunglasses to memory sticks, from plastic bin liners to passport wallets. The residential part of PE was a wake up call for me. Everyone lives behind bars and locks. Come to think of it, it's the same in the township only they live in shacks whereas the residential areas have smart houses with swimming pools.

The rest of the day was taken up with a bit of shopping, as I realised I'd left my swimsuit at home, and then the theatre in the evening. We went to a fab musical production of 'Fiela's Child', which justified the great write-ups it had.

Day 3: The road trip began. We headed off down the Garden Route to Tsitsikamma Falls, where we went zip wiring. Incredible. I loved it!
Tracy and me getting ready for zip wiring

Me zip wiring across the valley

A quick stop off at Big Tree in Tsitsikamma National Park.

Tracy at the base of Big Tree

Then off to Storms River Mouth where we saw baboons and rock dassies, with a lovely walk to get to the suspension bridge that crosses at the mouth separating the river from the Indian Ocean.

To the left of the bridge is Storms River and to the right is the Indian Ocean

We ended up at Wild Spirit Backpackers, a highly recommended place to stay, up in Nature's Valley. Tracy had an 'amusing' conversation with a young Dutch guy all about psychology... I think she put him off for life!

Day 4: To the lagoon in Nature's Valley where I managed to burn my back sitting on the beach in the wind, sand and sun (in that order). We decided not to swim in the Ocean as there were loads of jelly fish. Tracy swam in the lagoon, but I wasn't warm enough so chickened out, and from there to a luxury hotel in Knysna, which Tracy's friend had set up for us. Sunny and warm, eating out on the sea front... oh yes!

Night sky in Knysna Bay

Day 5: Walking with Thandi the elephant at the Elephant Sanctuary, the tip of her warm trunk gently curled around my fingers. Gorgeous.

Me and Thandi at the Elephant Sanctuary near Knysna
Monkey World - monkeys and lemurs, Birds of Eden - where I had to take out my earrings because the resident cockatoo loves shiny things - just as well as it landed on my cap where it picked out one of the eyelets!

and then to Tenikwa to be with leopard, cheetah, caracal and cervil.

Me with young cheetah
The resident leopard at Tenikwa
We ended our memorable day in Plettenberg Bay. It had rained from afternoon onwards, but it didn't manage to spoil anything for us.

Day 6: Drive to Oudtshoorn, ostrich capital of South Africa. We didn't get to the Backpackers until after 4, by which time all the local attractions were closed, so we went out for something to eat and spent the night chatting about our childhoods.

Day 7: Another day in Oudtshoorn. Cango Caves. An unbelievable morning spent underground, followed by a trip to Karusa Vineyard for lunch.

Me in Cango Caves
The afternoon was spent courtesy of Cango Ostrich Farm, which was fab for probably all the wrong reasons, and Tracy braved riding an ostrich which was very brave indeed, and we ended our afternoon at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge to spot carp and turtle swimming under the wooden terrace and hippo in the distance down at the water edge, then out to dinner in Oudtshoorn and back to Backpackers for bed.

Tracy riding an ostrich

Me having a 'neck massage' from a group of ostriches
Day 8: Our 3rd day in Oudtshoorn. Cango Wildlife Ranch. A whole 6 hours. Lions, tigers, leopards, pygmy hippos and cage diving with crocs... nuff said!

Cage diving with crocodile - Cango Wildlife Park
Day 9: On a cloudy, rainy day we set off on the long way to Graaff-Reinet and from there to Nieu Bethesda, an amazing place in the Karoo. It was like stepping back in time. No bars for people to live behind here and walking down the street we were told was 'perfectly safe, even at night'.

Main street Nieu Bethesda
We stayed at the Owl House Backpackers in our own little outhouse, which was lovely. However, it was absolutely freezing as the temperature in the mountains drops considerably at night and so we spent our evening wrapped up in bed, reading our books, and me with a glass or two of wine.

A cold night in Nieu Bethesda

Day 10: From the cold, damp, cloud of Day 9 we awoke to the brightest, sunniest, bluest skies. We went fossil hunting in the river bed

Me fossil hunting

and then took a wander around the Owl House Museum, the home of Helen Martins, one of SA's more eccentric artists. Walking around the garden with the almost life-sized concrete and glass sculptures that take up almost every available space

Garden at Owl House Museum

and the house with it's garish coloured glass windows that stream light in to make each room stand out on it's own was fascinating.

The 'red' room in Helen Martins' house

The 'green' room in Helen Martins' house

 From Nieu Bethesda we headed to Camdeboo National Park where we took in the delights of fab scenery, especially The Valley of Desolation.

The Valley of Desolation
The wildlife kept itself to itself, but we did spot a couple of kudu, a few lizards, a herd of zebra and a lone tortoise wandering up the road.

Tortoise wandering up the road in Camdeboo National Park
And then it was back on the road to Port Elizabeth and settling ourselves back into Tracy's home. She has an inaugural event for her charity, Isithatha Trust, on Sunday and needed to get organised. Posters and flyers needed collecting but we were back too late for that.

Day 11: After Tracy had done her bit for Isithatha we headed off to Addo Elephant National Park, which is about an hour from Port Elizabeth. Once we'd organised our accommodation we arrived at Addo to be greeted by the sight of a couple of herds of elephants down at the waterhole.

Elephants at waterhole in Addo
It was just wonderful to see all the eles playing in the water. A couple of the youngsters couldn't get out and had to be helped by friends and adults. This was such a treat as we'd been told by many how they'd seen only very few elephants in a whole day at Addo and there we were in our first few minutes seeing herds!

The park itself is huge. We drove around for 5 hours spotting all sorts. Kudu, gemsbok, warthog, dung beetles, birds of varying sorts, and elephants by what seemed the hundred, but no lions sadly.

We decided on doing a night game drive and at 7p.m. we found ourselves in an overland vehicle along with a load of other tourists and a very knowledgeable guide.

Getting ready for the night game drive
We were privileged to see a herd of elephants chase off a group of spotted hyenas who got a bit too close to them when they were drinking at the water hole. Kudu, black backed jackal, zebra, scrub hare, spring hare, spotted thick-knee and Cape buffalo were among the other delights of the night drive.

Spotted jackal
Day 12: We spent the night just outside Addo, and then went back there on Day 12. The weather was overcast and showery and it was completely different to the day before. However, we did see elephants extremely close up, as well as Cape Buffalo, meerkat, red hartebeest and yellow mongoose, but still not a lion in sight.

Showing just how close up we got and how big the elephants were at Addo
In the afternoon we drove back to PE.

Day 13: To Kragga Kamma Wildlife Park. Rhino, springbok, waterbuck, nyala, bontebok, warthog, ostrich, cheetah and a special treat of being up close to a family of giraffe.

Giraffe and zebra at Kragga Kamma Wildlife Park
The afternoon was taken up doing touristy things in PE. The beach front, the lighthouse (where there was a really moving sculpture with Nelson Mandela at its head), and pier.

Me and Nelson Mandela at the PE lighthouse
This was followed by a trip to the theatre to watch Tracy's friend's rehearsal production of Jack in the Beanstalk, which had some hysterical moments, the most memorable of which was a black guy in the back end of a cow costume dancing around with his udder doing all kinds of strange moves on its own.

Day 14: The last full day, and 'full' it certainly was. A two hour horseback ride with the highlight of a canter along Sardinia Bay in glorious sunshine took up our morning.

Riding along Sardinia Bay (me in turquoise top)
To Schoenmakerskop to lie on the rocks and catch some rays, swim in the Indian Ocean (it was freezing!) in the afternoon. Then out to dinner in the evening.

Day 15: Tracy took me to the Association of Creative Thought Centre to meet her lovely friend Helen, and then back to Tracy's for a private view of Lynnley Watson's work which was brilliant, followed by an hour's sit in the sun in the back garden before finally packing my shorts in my suitcase and heading off to the airport for the 24 hour journey home.

Lynnley Watson, Honey and Tracy outside Tracy's home
Tracy very kindly gave me an ostrich egg to take back too, but because I couldn't fit it in, she also gave me a lovely orange Merrill bag to put it, and my onboard travel stuff in. And I'm pleased to report that both I and the ostrich egg arrived on time on UK soil all in one piece, which is more than can be said for my suitcase.

Suitcase saga: My suitcase decided to have an extra holiday and stayed in Charles De Gaulle airport, along with the other passengers cases that were on the Jo'burg to Paris to Edinburgh flight. It finally arrived at home 32 hours later with the number lock on the handle changed.... mmmm something was amiss that's for sure, but I was thankful for a case with double locks. However, trying to get into it without breaking the lock took a while. Thank goodness for the internet, where it described how to find numbers on a combination lock on a suitcase. Mountain Man managed to get it open unscathed and therefore he got his present from SA, which was buried among what seemed like a mountain of clothes, none of which had been worn. Yes... I took far too many clothes, which is unusual for me as I'm a light packer. I ended up wearing shorts, jeans, slightly smarter trousers, 3 tops, swimsuit, crocs, walking boots and my Converse boots and that was pretty much it. I had taken enough to change my T-shirt at least once a day, a couple of extra tops, another pair of trousers and some sandals but they were all absolutely unnecessary. Lesson learned if I am ever lucky enough to get back to South Africa.

Final thoughts: What a wonderful holiday! I had already made a decision before I left that I wasn't going to get caught up with anything that remotely smacked of work. I only emailed and Skyped MM and apart from that didn't bother with internet. No TV, no radio, no distractions from relaxation and great company. It made me rethink what I'm doing, and all I can say is that I want more holidays! And so folks I've decided that 2012 is going to be time to change. With a month to go until the turn of the year I've already set things in motion. My first was to cancel my membership of the British Psychological Society and Division of Clinical Psychology. We'll have to see what's next, but the first step sure felt good.

Oh yes... and going horse riding on the last day of a holiday if you haven't ridden for a while is not a great idea, unless you want to walk through the airport like John Wayne!

And that, as they say, is that.

p.s. The photos are some of mine and some of Tracy's. I hope they've given a flavour of what the holiday was like, but if anyone is brave enough and wants to see I can forward the rest of the 424 pics I took and the 2153 of Tracy's. Yes that's right, I said 2153!


  1. What a fabulous experience.

  2. Your adventure looks & sounds absolutely amazing! Look forward to hearing where the momentum of travelling takes you next. xx

  3. Fantastic! Looks like a wonderful trip and some fab photos! Where's the next one to? xxx

  4. I want to GOooooo!
    Where to start?! Cape town, whale watching?
    I especially want to go to the Cradle of humankind - sterkfontein and maropeng in particular - which is quite a distance from where you were.

    Lovely pics - so jealous

  5. Hi Vee
    Looks fabulous, some great photos.
    Your writing is great, it comes over very chatty and informal.
    I want to go to SA...

  6. Amazing. Great write-up, loved the photos, especially the Valley of Desolation and the tortoise, I won't list them all. But -cage diving with crocodiles??? You're a braver woman than me!

  7. Thanks one and all. It was absolutely brilliant - especially the croc diving tho it really was very scary!

    South Africa is such a big country, I can't wait to go back and experience some of the rest.

  8. You saw Warthog...insanely jealous.:)
    Enjoy your trip Vee - you look like you are having a wonderful time.