I took again advantage of the unusual fantastic weather to hang out and take a few pictures from Capetown. I have been to the Greenmarket square which is an open air market where you can buy african crafts at relatively decent prices unlike the thousand of luxury shops in town selling the same items for 10 times the price (and of course bargaining is de rigueur at the open market), to the Waterfront, the aquarium (R50), and the Gold Of Africa museum (R20).
After trying to reach Cathay Pacific for 3 days using every possible phone number, the travel agent managed to have someone this morning and confirm the booking. I shall be in Hong-Kong by july 18 and will try to stay at the YMCA until saturday.
I managed to do a pretty decent pictures update for july, I hope you will enjoy them. They might be the first landscape pictures from south africa I took On the airline side, this is still a total mess thanks to Cathay Pacific. I called all possible numbers on South Africa to have no one answering. I came back to the travel agent I saw saturday and same results, she managed to be in the queue line but could not got past it one hour later. I sent a complain to Cathay Pacific to tell them how I like the way I need to confirm flights with them in SA.
I have a hard time booking flights to and from Hong Kong as they are all fully booked in M class. I had one available on monday but the Capetown-Johannesburg flight was fully booked. I'm due to leave on thursday but have to wait until saturday to get my connection to Cebu, Philippines. I will have to reconfirm this on monday with Cathay Pacific as they were not open on saturday and the BA agents were the most clueless people on Earth. Stay tuned for more news. I will probably use these 2 nights in Hong Kong to sort out if this is a right time to flight to Philippines and Thailand or if I should start with Indonesia. I have met several people here that were in Thailand during July and August and this seems quite good on the east coast.
I managed to be at the Capetown stadium for the rugby match between South Africa (Springbok) and Australia (Wallabies). It was the opening match of the Tri-Nations championship (South Africa - Australia - New Zealand) and there was a fantastic atmosphere. It is hard to say whether the stadium was full of South Africans but it looks like nearly all tourist backpackers in town were there because of the good deals we had on tickets (R80, standing seats). The locals and the press were kind of pessimistic about the results, but the Springboks managed beating Australia 26-22 with what is said to be the best try in the Springbok history.
I went today to Stellenbosch and Franschoek. Basically this is THE place for wines and champagne in South Africa. Stellenbosch was the first locality in the country to wake up to the marketing potential of a wine route back in 1971 and it has been hugely successful. It is extremely easy to travel as there are wine-route signposts along the main road and obviously wineries know how to accommodate visitors. Franschoek (French's Corner) itself while hosting some wineries has emerged as the culinary capital of the Western Cape with restaurants such as Le Ballon Rouge.
I had again a rough night yesterday as we celebrated Nick's birthday in Capetown. Nick is a former colleague of Celine and they met strangely in Ashanti Lodge in Capetown. Before that it happened that he was staying in Hermanus during the time I was there and went shark diving the day before. This is a small world.
I have been to Robben Island today. Robben Island was the center of detention of political troublemakers during apartheid time Nelson Mandela was detained there for 18 years. I was extremely disappointed by the content of the tour, not to say the conditions, especially considering the high price (R150, we could not make it for the special promotion of R60).
I went today to Cape Point (ie, Cape of Good Hope) taking advantage of the beautiful weather. While returning to Capetown I stopped in Simonstown to visit the colony of jackass pinguins living on the beach. Pretty cute animals and smaller than I was expecting.
I'm undecided about the next trips to Asia. I was supposed to go to the Philippines and Thailand next, but the weather forecast looks like a succession of thunderstorms for days and days which is absolutely not unusual for the june-october period...
After recovering from the night I went to Table Mountain and did some hike on top even though I felt powerless. It was already the middle of the afternoon when I went up so it did not take that long to end up in Camps Bay to have a drink at 5PM as we all scheduldd. Capetown is simply amazing, this is winter and the conditions are great to hang out in a bar facing the beach and looking at the sunset in the middle of the ocean.
I went today to Gansbaai and do Great White Shark diving. The water was a chilly 12C and visibility was poor, a brave 3m at most. All this in a rough sea. That said, we managed to see about 6 or 7 Great White sharks ranging from 4.5m to 1.5m for a small baby. I did not manage to take good pictures on the surface of the shark because it was really fast action and the swell did not make things easy.
It happened that the shark diving I wanted to do in Mossel Bay was somewhat canceled due to extremely poor visibility (about 1 meter, meaning you will probably see the shark at the last second and get frightened for life
). So I moved to Hermanus which is well known to be the best land based whale watching spot.
This is just a quick note to say that Maher (remember, I met in in Dahab, he was just finishing his RTW when I was starting mine) is now officially a resident of Dubai due to work constraints. On a side note, many thanks to him for the looong email he wrote me today about the do/don't in Thailand and Indonesia. And congratulations for the (expected ) job (private joke)
I arrived in Mossel Bay in the afternoon after driving along the Garden Route from Plettenberg Bay and through Knysna and the landscape was fabulous. I stopped on the way in the Goudveld forest near Knysna and did the Woodcutter trail. This is a 9km walk in the forest starting and ending at the Krisjan-se-nek picnic site which is a grassy site situated alongside a spectacular 880 year-old Outeniqua yellowood (don't hold your breath, I did not know the name of this big tree before reading the sign).
As I have been driving quite a lot these last 2 days I decided to relax and go hiking a few kilometers to enjoy the nature around here. In the morning I did the 'Robberg'. Robberg is a peninsula a few kilometers from Plettenberg Bay and is a marine reserve. There is a well known scenic hike (9.2km) that do the tour of the peninsula.
I left Cintsa in the early morning again by 6:45AM just during sunrise. I have been driving all the way through East London and Port Elizabeth to end at Plettenberg Bay and I'm staying at Albergo For Backpackers which seems pretty cool. Plettenberg Bay is a lovely upmarket little town where wealthy people from JNB usually end up during summer. The ocean view is simply stunning and you even have whales watching spot down there as they usually come close to shore. Plettenberg Bay is known as "the jewel of the Garden Route."
I just received a friendly message from Tim Robbins from Nairobi Backpackers, he has been telling me that due to the latest problems in Kenya he had a shortage of customers and about 70% of people stoppping to his place were directly or indirectly linked to me.
I left early this morning from Margate and took the N2 from Port Shepstone. 530 kilometers laters, after driving on a shit road for about 7 hours I'm in Cintsa, staying at Buccanner's Backpackers in a lovely little place. I say shit road because despite being the main national road, the state is similar to the one in Kenya fron Nairobi to Mombasa. Potholes all the way. The major difference is that there is signs 'potholes for 20km' every 21km When there are not you find work along the road (are they actually fixing the road ??? that would be so nice !) and you have to stop for 10, 20, or 30 minutes... etc..
I'm in Margate right now. I'm staying at Margate Backpackers for R65. Not crowded as usual. I was diving Protea Banks this morning with African Dive Adventures. Protea Banks is supposed to be an advanced dive as you are diving in the blue, go down to 40m and you have a strong current. This is supposed to be THE place to see all kinds of shark. Unfortunately and as it is right now, no sharks but we went through a group of dolphins and we could hear the sounds of dolphins and humpack whales all the way.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to the fucking idiot that managed to create the virus that succeeded in spamming my Apache mail account with hundred of useless mails 'coming' from all the developper world. This is especially appreciated in South Africa where it cost R30/hour for a slow shared ISDN connection. I did not even finished picking them all after one hour.
I think I have finished with my dives here. I did Cathedral this morning and ended up seeing a ragged tooth shark but could not manage to take a good picture of it. Visibility was average, a bare 8m. I think I will move by tomorrow toward Margate.
I spent a few hours in the afternoon at Crocworld. This is basically some sorts of aquariums for crocodiles, you also find there some nice birds and vervet monkeys hanging around and stealing the duck food
At least ! The water was cleared up by some small rains yesterday night and the rough sea probably helped as well. Visibility was back to something decent, over 20m. We were dropped next to a manta ray and ended up into a group of them a few minutes later. Idem for the second dive after surfacing I was in the middle of the group of the mantas, they were feeding at the surface and I managed to take a few other pictures.
By the way, avoid diving with the Whaler these days if you don't want to get angry at such unprofessional people. Wait until there is some change.
After a dive in the morning where visibility was typically toilet-like, I went to the Natal Shark Board in the early afternoon. The NSB is recognised internationally as an expert on shark attack prevention and their crews face rough and often treacherous seas every morning just after sunrise to check the shark nets for entangled marine life. All sharks found alive in the nets are tagged and released.
I just received email confirming me that the west coast of Thailand is absolute crap at this period of the year and that nearly all operators are closed from May to the end of October because of the mosoon. I will have to grab more information. Koh Tao and co. are the better solution at this time of year but I have been told as well that this is quite average.
Meanwhile I have been diving in toilet-like visibility today which means a green/yellow soup with a bare 5m visibility (assuming you have light). I managed to see a blackcheek moray however.
I have had f* dives today. We basically missed the targeted dive sites 2 times and ended up swimming more than 45 minutes over an empty algae plate... First dive at 7AM was surprising..basically I thought for a moment we had 200m under us because it was pitch black..no the visibility was horizontally less than 10m and basically we could not see the bottom before being 5m from it. We were supposed to dive Cathedral (30m+) and we missed it, I wanted to find again this nice pink paperfish/leaffish and a small juvenile boxfish.
First dives in Aliwal Shoal after a long time. We were diving Cathedral and were able to see a ragged tooth shark, however visibility was extremely bad and the camera gets confused in such low light conditions making focus difficult. We however saw a magnificent pink paperfish.
I left Sodwana and Coral Divers around 13:30 and managed to find my way to Salt Rocks, 50km north to Durban. I'm kindly being hosted by Pam & Fred (see previous entries, Fred is the creator of the excellent Scuba Sodwana CDROMs that all divers interested about marine life in South Africa should get).
After a week in Paris where among other things I enjoyed public transport strikes, eating and drinking out with friends, I'm back to Sodwana. I left Paris at 23:25 yesterday and arrived in Johannesburg around 9:50 this morning, I then rented the same car as last time (VW Chico) at AVIS - A brand new car with 480km only ! - . I tried first Budget but they did not have any car available for this category...and they did not bother replying my email from 2 days ago as well. They probably do too much business... . I just wanted to check Budget prices as their drop off price is R150 instead of R250, but no chance this time.
Last dive today as I'm driving back to Johannesburg tomorrow morning. I have been doing my first dive today in 7-miles with a very cool and friendly group from Durban and did the second one with Fred from Rover Productions creator of Scuba Sodwana. The weather was absolutely terrible (raining again) but sea was considerably better than yesterday (and visibility aas well).
I'm diving Sodwana Bay since today and this place is amazing. It is a macro paradise and there are good opportunities to see sharks and dolphins as well. I took some rather good shots of a group of dolphins we were diving with as well as a nice grey reef shark. On the weather side, it has been raining cats and dogs since yesterday, frustrating.
Due to some reasons, I have to go back to France for a couple of days. I will arrive on Sunday 8 and leave back to South Africa on Saturday 14.
I'm moving tomorrow morning to Sodwana Bay, a well known diving spot up north of South Africa. I will be there until Friday for reasons explained later. These last days I did quite some excellents dives in Aliwal Shoal where I was able to see manta rays, eagle rays, potato bass, turtles, etc... I'm quite unlucky with sharks right now as I only saw one in my first dive last week.
I have been diving the Produce and Nebo wrecks today. As for my first dive in the Produce we were lucky to spot Manta rays just in the mid section. I have been able to swim close to them and take a good number of pictures most of them being unfortunately very bad as visibility was not what it was days ago (roughly 15m+ with particles). If you don't know what to offer me as a present, think about an external strobe like the Ikelite DS125 or Sea & Sea YSDX90.
I have been diving the Produce wreck this morning and after 2 very bad days where sea was rough and weather cloudy, the water has been obviouslly cleaned up. Visibility was amazing and probably over 50m. Over 6 manta rays were flying over the wreck and we spotted of the resident potato bass.
A small note for those willing to invest. Real estate in SA is amazingly cheap. You can get a nice house with 3 or 4 bedrooms, pool, garage, vast garden for about 300000R ($37500) anywhere in the country. From what I read real estate is poised for doubling in price in the next couple of years. A lot of foreigners already bought nice houses here.
No I did not decided to write a report to be published in the Financial Times, but this is just to say that it looks like travelling right now is quite interesting for european due to a strong euro. Yesterday it broke a new record over 1.19$.
I'm still in Umkomaas and did not manage to dive these last 2 days. The weather is beautiful but a depression off the coast is sending huge waves and doing a surf launch with boats even so possible due to the talented skippers over there will not give you anything. Diving on the reef might be similar to what you feel trapped inside a washing machine. This is the same situation from Sodwana Bay till Capetown. Wait and see.
A little note on food in East/South Africa... Thanks to the British, there is obviously a strong influence of british cooking (hem...) when you eat in East and South Africa. In 99.9% of the places, the traditionnal food will likely be chicken and chips or fish and chips... great food thus. There is of course no lack of vegetables or fruit of any sort but finding something else than chicken/chips is quite unlikely at a reasonable price. And of course, the more oil, the better as everything is fried (and more than often, chips are not crispy anyway). That is to say that in about 2 months I ate more chicken and more chips that I probably did in the last 10 years. I'm sick of it.
Just after posting the last entry I called Umkomaas Lodge to enquire about diving. Unkomaas is just about 40km from Durban and is well known for being a launching point to Aliwal Shoal, one of the top diving sites in the world well known for its dense population of ragged tooth sharks.
I managed to find a good internet cafe that would allow me to plug my computer and has a fast connection as well, it is called The Zone and situated at the Greenwood Village shopping centre. I managed to upload all pictures despite all kids jumping and screaming around as this is also a game center. So pictures from Zambia and Zimbabwe are now online, I hope you will enjoy it. Scroll back to May 09.
I have mixed feelings about this country right now, or at least the traveller/hostels around. I have been talking this morning with Rose and Ann, 2 american sisters that tell me the same. It is extremely difficult to obtain real information of what to do around and the way to do it.
I'm now in Durban situated in the Kwazulu Natal. I took a Greyhound bus (R150) this morning from Johannesburg and after a couple of hours driving in a splendid landscape...here am I. A lot of backpackers hotel are full here and I am staying right now at Traveler's International Lodge (R75).
I stopped at the Eastgate Shopping Centre to take the opportunity to watch Matrix Reloaded. Nothing special about it I would say it's a piece of crap, endless fights, inexistant scenario...the only good thing is probably the special effects (and even part of it is miserable, they obviously wanted to do too much). The scene with Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) cursing in French -- "It's like wiping your ass with silk" he says, should be interesting to French people (you'd better watch the movie in English for full effect, I can't think of how the dubbed version will be). I would be surprised that it does not get a bit famous as it is probably the best one-liner of the movie, though I'm probably sure that I was the only one understanding it in the theater here.
Looks like I moved from Kenya just in time since British Airways suspended its flights since May 15. Going from Kenya or Tanzania to Zambia is a breeze though, just more train/bus trips. Would have been way longer than flying of course.
After spending some more time in Fourways Mall where I went to watch a movie and bought a couple of books, I left Rockey's and their unhelpful staff to the airport around 15:30, I stayed a couple of hours at the airport waiting for my cousin Stephanie to show up around 18:00. We only saw each other for about 2 minutes since she had to hurry.
I'm in Johannesburg right now, staying at Rockey's of Fourways. It was recommended to me in Vic Falls. It was a mistake. The place is very nice but the staff makes my stay miserable. Asking any information and have them move their butts from the sofa from watching TV makes you feel like you are asking them too much. This is maybe why there are less than 5 people there. Dunno if there is a relation.