Monday, December 30, 2013

Touring/Wineries

Like the good tourists we are, we decided to do a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city this weekend. On Saturday we boarded at the waterfront and made the short trip to down town and Greenmarket square. Historically this was a vegetable market but today is crammed with hundreds of stalls selling trinkets, beaded items, drums, carvings, artwork. It’s a lively, energetic place and while we sat and ate lunch several musical/dance groups entertained us.  There’s a LOT of street music in Cape Town - some very young children dancing while their mother (?) drummed and sang, a troupe of older boys dancing rather suggestively, an older gentleman with a Louis Armstrong voice duetting with a guitarist performing songs from the 60s.

The rest of the trip took us up to the Table Mountain cable car (we didn’t go to the top this time) and then out around Camp’s Bay which is a very popular beach area. Although surprisingly not many people were swimming because the Atlantic ocean is just too cold here. Apparently it’s colder in the summer than the winter due to winds and currents.

We hadn’t realized it but we found out that there’s a second tour that goes to 3 wineries so we extended our bus pass to another day. We planned to get off at the last winery and make our way back to the other two. The first part of that plan worked fine, but by the time we’d had lunch (with wine of course) and done the wine tasting (5 generous portions) at Groot Constantia, the oldest winery in the area dating from 1685, we were ‘wined out’ and decided it would be wise to skip the other 2 wineries.

This picture is the consequence of getting a random stranger to take your picture. Perhaps there’s something special about that window that I wasn’t aware of.

We hopped-on the bus and this time the bus meandered all the way down to Hout Bay and then back through Camp’s Bay. The coastline is really picturesque especially from the top deck of the bus.

As it was a beautiful, sunny day during the Christmas holidays, the beaches and roads were jam packed and it took us several hours to wind our way through the narrow roads and traffic. This is one of several beaches along the way. If you click on it to enlarge you'll see lots of sunbathers but very few swimmers!
Today (Monday) Scott and his friend Phillipe joined us for a golf game at the Metropolitan Club right in the middle of Green Point in the shadow of the stadium.  It’s a beautiful setting and you can also see Table Mountain in the background in this picture. It’s a 9 hole course with 18 different tee boxes and 14 different greens, so it makes for an interesting course. (Fortunately Phillipe has actually used a camera before.)

So far no plans for New Year's Eve but, as always, if I'm lucky I'll make it to midnight!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve in Namibia

Back when we were booking our trip to SA/Namibia I didn't think it would make much difference where we were at Christmas - after all it's just another day and you make it what you want. Now that it's upon us, and we're here far away from snow, gaily decorated trees and most of our family, something doesn't feel quite right. Christmas in Namibia is not a particularly spectacular event, like it is in Canada.  It's a holiday and it will be celebrated but much like any other holiday would be.  I think the thing I really miss it that all-encompassing joy that everyone feels at home, whether shopping, cooking large dinners or just chilling out, there's a certain feeling that's missing.

We left Etosha Park today and unfortunately our high expectations of large cats and elephants was not met.  We did see PLENTY of wildlife however and although we didn't realize it, it's the rainy season.  The animals have no need to come to the waterholes at this time of year.

The first night our chalet was right by the water hole and this beautiful black-faced impala wandered by for a drink.  Later on, after dark, 2 black rhinos came in. Fortunately the waterholes are flood-lit.


On our first day we saw our only lions - 2 young males leisurely sprawled beneath a tree.  They had been there for a few days, digesting their latest meal.


At one point we saw hundreds of zebras gathered together.  This one was a bit frisky, I'd say (although it was short-lived in case you were wondering!)


Giraffes were plentiful in the park.  I hadn't realized that they'd have to do the splits to get a drink of water though.

It wasn't unusual to see hundreds of springbok in a field at one time.


We also saw oryx, red hearebeast, steenbok, one very angry and close elephant that just about upended the car in front of us, and many many more animals. Too many photos! The accommodations in the park were first-rate and thanks to Sammy for looking after all the bookings!

The town we're in tonight is called Otjiwarongo, which according to Wikipedia means place where fat cattle graze. We have a dinner booking at a restaurant called C'est si Bon and we're staying at a very nice guest house called Bush Pillow.  Tomorrow it's off to the capital of Windhoek and we'll fly back to Cape Town on the 26th.  A memorable Christmas to say the least and we're very fortunate to be able to share the time with Scott and Sam.

I hope your holiday is just as memorable and Merry Christmas to all of you!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sossusvlei

Daisy is a tame springbok that roams around the grounds of the lodge we're staying at in Namibia.  She has a tendency to head butt visitors so her horns have been clipped.
This brave ostrich tried to outrun our car. It may have been possible on these rough roads and 200 km from nowhere we eventually had in a flat tire that Ross and Scott bravely changed.  It's always handy to have a man about when encountering a flat or a big spider!
 The lodge also has rescued some big cats that were in danger of being shot by the local farmers.  The female cheetah was quite tame although I was a bit shyer than Ross at approaching it. We also went in the cage with the caracals (African lynx) but didn't get close to them, and observed the leopard in its cage.
Sossusvlei is an area of Namibia that has the highest sand dunes in the world - the largest over 300 meters high.  We could drive all the way except the last 5 km where we had to hire a 4x4. On the way in we had to stop for a vehicle that had become stuck so our driver helped them out of the rut they had dug themselves in.  The sand on the dunes was quite hot by the time we arrived although we saw a few hardy folk that had climbed right to the top.  We declined that experience.
The vlei, or clay pan, is a old marsh area that has dried up - without any water the acacia trees didn't just die and rot but petrified which makes them look quite eerie. The contrast between the orange dunes, the black trees, white salt pan and the blue sky was quite striking.
Again, we saw quite a few animals including our first zebra.  It may appear that it is chasing this oryx but Scott thinks they were perhaps just running from a common predator. 

First Day in Namibia

[Note- we've now been in Namibia for a few days but due to being isolated I was unable to post this]
If it’s not called the “Land of Emptiness” it really should be.  We travelled yesterday for 6 hours through mostly dry, scrubland on our way from the capital city of Windhoek to our lodge near Sossuvlei.  It was gravel/dirt road and to say there wasn’t much scenery to look at is an understatement. 
These buck must manage to find enough to eat to survive but it never looked all that appealing!

There was one town in 300+ km, aptly named Solitaire, with a garage and a rest lodge.  Things appear to be overrun up by the sand and desert here.


Even though we’re not technically on safari we did see the following animals all along the way today: warthogs, oryx, goats, baboons, springbok and an african cat (maybe it was a caracal) which made it worthwhile. The oryx have beautiful markings and didn't show any notice of us.


Tomorrow we head to the world's largest sand dunes at Sossusvlei.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Remembering Mandela


It has the air of festivity that a soccer (football) match might have - people carrying flags, dressed in shirts blazoned with the same name, lots of groups singing as they walk along - and it is a celebration, a very special memorial for Mandela, taking place in the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town today.  Our apartment balcony faces across the street to the stadium and early this afternoon they started blocking off the roads in front and the crowds started streaming in.

The view from our balcony as the setting sun reflected off the stadium:

The stadium, built specifically for the 2010 World Cup, holds about 64,000 and all tickets were given away free.  It was hard to find out exactly what the program for the day was but it goes from 4:00 - 11:00 with performers such as Johnny Clegg and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. We can hear bits of sound wafting over the noise of the taxis and vehicles right in front.

They even have their own mounted police.
It's hard to imagine that the world will ever see someone of Mandela's stature and influence again. Apparently over 100 heads of state attended yesterday in Johannesburg. As we listen to the sounds of *Ladysmith Black Mambazo singing "Homeless", it's certain that he will not soon be forgotten in a world where 15 minutes of fame (or less!) is becoming the norm.

*Ladysmith Black Mambazo was the group that sang with Paul Simon on one of my favourite albums of all time, Graceland.

Exploring Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) proved to be quite a contrast to my recent trip to Croatia. The number of touris...