Thursday, 20 March 2008

We came for dinner and stayed a week

Well, it was longer than a week, but I will get back to that later.

Up in Paarl we spent a few very relaxing days with Patsy in her comfortable home. It really was decidedly strange, but very welcome, to be in a home again. Although I must admit that it has taken me over a week to get used to sleeping in a bed again and initially I found myself sleeping on the floor. We also caught up with her husband Mike, who has written many articles and books for “Getaway,” a South African travel magazine, sharing stories of Africa.

During our stay at Patsy’s Gavin had another look at our leaking NEW fuel tank. Not really a minor job. It involved removing the drinking water tank, the step, the fuel tank guard, the exhaust and finally the fuel tank. This time the fault was with a dodgy NEW part attached to the fuel tank. In no time at all (many hours later) Gavin had used some magic silicone stuff and the leak was no more. We also made use of Patsy’s washing machine, for the first time since leaving the UK. I was a bit surprised to note that pretty much all of our clothes fitted into one wash.

We took the scenic route back to Cape Town via Stellenbosch and enjoyed a delicious lunch at a vineyard to celebrate my birthday and even bought a few of their wines to take home to New Zealand. I think Gavin was a little surprised at the excellent value the wines and dining in South Africa are. Also the vineyards are in such delightful locations, it really was a treat.

Having decided to have the work to our gearbox completed, we emptied out the car back at Charles and Vals and first thing Monday morning drove it round to the gearbox exchange. Gavin coped very well with the emotional wrench of being separated from the car and handing it over for someone else to work on. It was rather odd not having the car. The next day we trundled back to the workshop to find out what the problem had been and how much it was going to cost us- so I spent my birthday hanging around a workshop looking at our gearbox in pieces. The quote was very reasonable so not such a bad birthday gift. That evening the Kadalies (always keen for cake) took us for cake all the way over to Camps Bay (on the other side of Cape Town). Another lovely treat.

The next morning we were up bright and early to get a lift into Cape Town with Charles and to join him and his colleagues for breakfast. South Africa is in the midst of an energy crisis. Charles works for the Cape Town energy board which is having to load shed daily (cut off power to different areas). Charles has the unenviable role of communicating most of the changes and load shedding to the public. So Charles and his team are under a considerable amount of pressure at the moment but they never seem to let it get them down and it was certainly a fun breakfast.
We had hoped to visit Robben Island the same day but they were booked up for nearly a week, so we went to the cinema instead. “No Country for Old Men” is a very well acted film but as the first film we have been to see since “James Bond” early last year I think that maybe we could have chosen a more gentle film.

Back at the ranch we continued with our ongoing pursuit of affordable shipping and a freighter ship for us to travel on as well as other interesting admin which we can complete having electricity available to us (when they are not load shedding) to power our computer as the battery is now dead.

Another day we took a stroll up to Table Mountain. We had deferred the expedition a couple of times after looking out the kitchen window which affords a wonderful view across the city to the mountain which is often covered with cloud. We chose a steep route, but then they all are, which started in the gloriously sunny Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and proceeded up the aptly named Skeleton Gorge. Once we were on the top we could have been anywhere, the Table Cloth (cloud) had descended. There was no one else around and there was a wonderfully eerie atmosphere. But, boy was it fresh. The wind was coming straight off the Antarctic and felt as if it had icicles in it. Standing right on the edge the cloud periodically lifted affording a fleetingly tantalising glimpse of the city and Table Bay a kilometre below. We knew that the cable car was not running, due to high winds, and so made a steep descent down Platteklip gorge. Aagh, going downhill can be so much more difficult than going up hill. However, before long we were below the cloud and the views were stunning. At the bottom we refreshed ourselves with a beer. I was stiff for a couple of days afterwards; going downstairs was not the easiest task.

One evening we joined Val and Charles on their Missionary work in one of the many squatter camps in Cape Town. It is amazing how some of the people they have been working with have made such changes to their lives and have created well functioning communities, despite still living in poverty. There are many services for the residents. Most of the children go to school and receive childhood vaccinations. One lady, a resident, manages to feed most of the 350 children in the camp daily from a donated old container. I don’t think she even knows where the food comes from most of the time. On the camp perimeter the local authorities have provided facilities such as composting toilets, installed floodlights and standpipes with drinking water and collect rubbish but are powerless to provide anything more without permission from the landowner, which has been refused.

Another day Gavin and I visited the City Mission’s Rehabilitation Centre and Sheltered accommodation units that Val spent so many years planning and finally oversaw the construction of. When I was last here they had not started digging the foundations yet. It really is an impressive centre providing for stroke rehabilitation and dementia respite and day care.

Finally Friday came around and we hung around most of the day waiting for the workshop to ring to tell us that the work was all done. True to form they rang in the afternoon, but were sorry to say that while they were test driving it something to do with the rear drive had broken and the rear wheels would not drive. Gavin knew that they were pretty worn out and had planned to install new ones the following day after we had the car back so we could buy the spare parts. What it really meant was that even after having loads of work done we would still not notice a difference until this new problem was sorted. We could still drive the car with the diff lock on. By the end of the following day Gavin had it all sorted and what a difference we noticed- we could actually talk to each other whilst driving along, rather than shouting.

We eventually made the trip to Robben Island on a beautifully calm day. The views from the island looking back to Cape Town were lovely and we saw a lot of wildlife including a colony of penguins. We were guided through the prison which housed political prisoners including Nelson Mandela until the 1990’s, by a former prisoner. His stories made the place come alive and the overwhelming sense of looking forward rather than harbouring resentment was inspirational.

Sadly it is time to wave goodbye to Charles’ and Val’s household. We initially came for dinner and have ended up staying for over a week. We still have some decisions about shipping and transport to make which we will deliberate over as we catch up with the Bowleys and the Rowleys.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Namaqua(land) in the Bartlett Defender Anyone?

A big sorry to Gavin and Catkin for the delay in becoming the guest blogger and adding my comments to the site. Obviously I have become as unreliable as some of those Land Rover parts you are nursing along.... But better late than never and now 11 days since my return to NZ here is my update:
I arrived in Springbok, Namaqualand on a bus that travelled through the night like a bat out of hell. It was one of the most value for money trips I have ever taken on public transport - R205 for nearly 9 hours entertainment and stops at more petrol stations and Wimpy bars than I ever new existed in South Africa. I was looking forward to the trip back to Cape Town as there was not a lot visible once the sun had set on my ride north. Gavin and Catkin kindly picked me up at my ridiculous arrival time and we stood round talking waiting for an elusive lunar eclipse until 3am. Needless to say, the eclipse did not happen and the people who camped right next to the Land Rover deserved to be kept awake for passing on duff information! It was great to see them looking so well and so tanned.

The highlight of Springbok for me was the lime milkshake at the Springbok Restaurant and a visit to the supermarket. I always love looking in supermarkets and seeing how much I am being ripped off in the UK. For me the most amazing thing was that every item purchased had a special place in the Land Rover. I have never seen a more organised set up - and I can see why after a few weeks on the road why this was so important.

Our first bush camp was on the way to Hondeklipbaai amongst the shiny quartz littering the ground. I do wonder now, after spotting all those diamond mines and dredges on the coast whether I slept on a bed of diamonds and should have picked up a few rocks just in case! I loved the misty and spooky outlook on the coast, with ships wrecked on the beaches but could not ever imagine living in such a remote place in the tiny houses that they had there.

We camped in a beach reserve one night before heading to Cedarberg. It was a lovely wide beach but the wind was a bit cool and I was not really tempted into the sea. All the signs said that off road driving on the beaches and nearby land is prohibited to save the fauna and flora. We stopped and camped before the signs so we were not technically doing anything naughty but I did spend all night waking to the smallest sound thinking we were going to be kicked off the beach. We were buzzed by a very low flying microlite the next morning but I don't think that was the beach police!
On our way to Clanwilliam we walked up to visit some caves used for shelter by the Voortrekers in the 1800's which were interesting. Some of the names carved into the walls were on letter boxes in the surrounding districts. My favouite lunch spot was on the way to Clanwilliam as well when we put the awning up over some contrete table and chairs in a layby above a dam/lake and hid from the midday heat.
Catkin had a great cask of Namaqua red wine that improved with drinking and the cooler it was. It was so lovely to end the day sitting on the chairs looking at the view with a glass of red wine in hand. These guys even had wine glasses so it was very civilised. Unfortunately after a long sojourn at Cedarberg we had finished the wine (much to Gavins disgust) so when we departed for directions south we had to stop at a supermarket to get a new 5 litre replacement (which I am sure is well gone now as well). Amazing cooking skills shown in Cedarburg where we stocked up on wood from the eucalyptus trees and some kindly family left a bag of wood behind which I quickly snaffled for the fire that Catkin cooked us fresh bread on. Awesome. I am well impressed with the great meals I was served up. My contribution was to the dishes rather than the cooking as Catkin had it all sorted and on the plates in a flash.
We spent an interesting evening in a camp ground in Citrusdal (citrus not quite in season) where we met some bikers who were on their way north to Luderitz on the Namibian coast. They amazed me with the amount of luxury goods they carried including the massive blow up matresses and automatic pumps for them. I think they amazed Gavin with their homemade luggage carriers. Considering they were going to be on some rough roads we were not sure if they would make it intact. Anyway, they were lovely people and on the first day of a 2-3 weeks motorcycle jaunt and kindly gave us their left over beers the next day. Great thing the Land Rover has a luxury fridge! We had great BBQ'd corn and an awesome pumpkin and smoked chicken pasta (it took a while but it did happen) and plenty of that red wine.

Gavin and Catkin introduced me to the BBC World Service. It is a bit dodgy and they have some very strange programmes on it. The music theme tune to one programme in particular is the most memorable for me as well as the phone in show they have where Africans call in and have their say on whatever the topic of the day is. Apparently George W Bush is doing everything he is doing out of the goodness of his heart. What can you say. Interesting views.
Cape Columbine was a lovely place to visit and stay awhile. The sea was so blue and the beaches where they managed to have them amongst the rocks were so white. Water not warm and only Catkin braved it. I preferred to stay out of it in case I was eaten by a whale - however we passed through during the only two months of the year the whales are not there. Typical luck!
Once we had tickets for the rugby from Vredenburg we were heading south to make sure we did not miss it and stopped in Langebaan for a final night before hitting Cape Town. We played frisbee on the beach in the wind where it was great to stretch our legs and I think Catkin did a few laps of the beach the next morning for some exercise.
It was great to be back in sight of Table Mountain eventually and I really enjoyed eating my fish and chips across the bay from the city. It was quite funny when we were waiting for our fish and chips that a South African guy came up and told me he was from Paternoster near Cape Columbine and had seen my vehicle there a couple of days previous. I didn't try to explain that it was not my Land Rover, just accepted that it was my vehicle and waved as we drove off. Not many people really listened when I tried to explain that Gavin and Catkin had driven from London over the previous 8 odd months. I think they thought I was saying they had come from East London, RSA so were not all that impressed!

The hospitality of the South Africans at the rugby was amazing - not sure I would give up my beer and chops to random strangers who were camping on a school ground. We had a lovely time at the rugby and it was neat to say that we went to a Super 14 game - it will be a long time before I get to another one. I slept in the back of the Land Rover and covered myself up with the sleeping bag completely so that no one would see me in there and knock on the window. However it was pretty hot and I soon had to give up on that and ditch the sleeping bag and luckily no one was really interested in waking us up!
It was a trauma getting a picture free of the busloads of tourists at Cape of Good Hope as already mentioned by Gavin but very entertaining all the same. It is such a beautiful place and the views are stunning. It was quite an exciting time to be with Gavin and Catkin as they made it to the western most point in South Africa. We stayed at Sweet Water camp site which was full of Capetonians partying up over night. It was amazing to be camping near the massive Snakes Head Lighthouse and take a walk up the 145 steps the next day.
The drive along Chapmans Peak Road to the city was beautiful and I wished I could win the lottery and get a place there for a while and look out at the sea. Lucky for me Gavin and Catkin were willing to take me into the Waterfront area the day before I headed out to NZ so I could get a present for the brother and his to-be wife Rachel before leaving Cape Town. Stupidly I wanted to get some ceramics but they made it all the way to NZ unscathed so I am pretty happy!
Gavin and Catkin have had one amazing adventure and I was lucky to share in it for a few weeks. I think I invited myself along really so they were very kind to let me stay so long with them. I was pretty rubbish at the dishes but learned to put the tent up and down pretty well by the end! I was just getting the hang of putting everything in the right place and then I had to head off.
I am sure they will be having more adventures in Australia soon!!