A night in Cape Town jail

Cape Town rocks!

What an awesome place Cape Town is.

Having never explored further than the departure lounge at Johannesburg airport, I was truly excited about my holiday in South Africa. Luckily for me my travel buddy, Enzo, lived in Cape Town for a year studying for his MBA so I even had my own ‘local guide’ to show me all the best hangouts!

We had planned a hiking trip then a few days recuperation back in town.

Peculiarly there is no direct flight between Maputo and Cape Town so after a rather roundabout journey via Johannesburg (I’m getting far too acquainted with that departure lounge!) we arrived in Cape Town late.

Enzo had booked us rooms at the hostel next to his old University – a converted jail no less! So I spent my first night in Cape Town in a cell! Probably ever so slightly more comfortable than in its old days as a prison though!

Early the next morning after a bit of ‘admin’…shopping, picking up the hire car and a quick pit stop at the supermarket to stock up on noodles, soup and porridge oats, we were on our way.

The roadtrip from Cape Town to Groot Winterhoek was pretty spectacular. Once we were off the main highway and into the national park, the scenery was awesome.

The area is classed as ‘wilderness’ which basically means it’s protected against any kind of human intervention other than the absolute basics of marking trails to walk on. Even the trails are marked with cairns (little piles of stones) rather than man-made signs.

Parts of the landscape are covered in huge great boulders which seem to miraculously balance on top of one another! 

We parked up and signed in so the rangers knew were here. What a delight to see there was not a single name down as already being in the area…and apparently no one had registered to come for the rest of the week. So we would basically have kilometres and kilometres of wilderness utterly to ourselves!!   

4 days later we emerged raggy, stinking, soaked to the skin and absolutely shattered…but as anyone who knows me can guess…with a huge smile on my face!  

So much for living under the red hot African sun! We are just emerging from winter over here and it would appear we picked the 4 wettest, chilliest days of the month!

We had been told ‘some of the rivers are difficult to cross in winter’…HA! what an understatement…from the first day we set off we were in our ankles crossing rivers, then up to our knees, thighs and by the end of it we might as well have been swimming across! 

Needless to say with the freezing cold rivers being our only vaguely suitable bathtub option….not much washing was done!

 

We had some great lunchtime picnic spots to choose from though – and not a soul to be seen for miles around!

and on the first few evenings the night skies were just awesome, if not a wee bit chilly (hence the fetching turban headwear!)

 

 

But day 3 was soggy and on morning 4 we crawled out of our tent into a torrential downpour. We had 2 choices…either stick to the plan, have a normal days walking and spend one last night camping…

alternatively…knowing we were just about within reach of the car, we could totally beast it and make it back before dark!

 

 

We discussed over coffee and porridge in the shelter of an abandoned building we had stumbled across. The decision was quickly made…we were both up for the challenge!

We hurriedly packed our bags and in the first break in rain torrent (we were rather optimistically thinking a downpour rather than torrential downpour would make us less wet!) we set the pace…ie FAST! Heading into the wilderness with one focus…the car (and clean dry clothes!).

Needless to say within 2 minutes flat we were soaked through and within 5 mins dexterity in my fingers and toes was a long lost memory!

We tried to be sensible to start with, stripping off as best we could without catching pneumonia! And crossing with our rucksacks on our heads in an attempt to keep our kit dry. By river crossing 4 my feet were squelching in my boots and taking them off seemed rather fruitless!

And then we spotted it – the car…in the distance admittedly but spotted all the same! We picked up the pace and excitedly started discussing how best to ‘admin’ ourselves on arrival – who was responsible for getting the hot water on to boil, who would be ‘dry kit’ administrator, where our warmest socks were etc etc.

Just one more hill and we would be on the home straight! Up the hill, along the ridge and down the other side… I was behind Enzo, my head down against the driving rain and all I hear is “oh YES!”…albeit in a very sarcastic tone! We were heading straight into the path of an unbelievably swollen river!

By this point we didn’t even bother to recce up and down the bank to find the shallowest point. In we waded, deeper, deeper, deeper, just as the freezing water reached the point you never want freezing water to reach (!!) we started out the other side.

Blue fingers and toes didn’t make for easy coffee making and trying to do up buttons! But within 20 mins of reaching nirvana (ie the car – how sad is that!) we were dry, warm(-er), drinking coffee and bantering about our last few days of adventure!

Sod’s law dictated the second we left our wilderness, the sun came out. Luckily it decided to stick around for the weekend!

We felt we now truly deserved a few days of luxuriating in the splendour of Cape Town’s finest eating and drinking establishments …and luxuriate we did!

We wandered round the city, lounged about in the beautiful Kirstenbosch botanical gardens (getting up close and personal with the wildlife!)

ate delicious sushi and drove the coast road to see the penguin colony…having a wee paddle in the sea with them!

 

The icing on the cake was driving back along the coast from the penguins, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a couple of fins poking out of the water.

Screeching on the brakes we hopped out of the car to spot a family of whales swimming just off the coast! How awesome!  They were literally 30 metres from shore!

On our last morning, we climbed up the Lions Head peak for one last spectacular view across the bay.

I have to say – if you’ve ever thought about taking a holiday out in these parts, Cape Town comes highly recommended. I don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface (never mind not yet having climbed Table Mountain) so I will be going back there for sure!

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Long time no spea….blog!!

Hmm – sorry about that! Or maybe you have been breathing a sigh of relief! Never fear though my trusty blog-readers, I am back with a vengeance.

First…the most wonderful moment in work since I arrived…

For the past few weeks I have running a training programme in the use of strimmers to clear vegetation in the mine fields.

It probably sounds a wee bit ‘gung-ho’ to stick a strimmer in the middle of a field known to have landmines in it but rest assured this is no normal strimming!

When I first arrived in Mozambique I was told the plan was to start using strimmers here – it was new and there was some (totally understandable) wariness but having worked with strimmers (and used them myself!) in Cambodia, I was confident proof would be in the pudding, as the saying goes.

So I plucked a few of our best and brightest deminers out of their minefields and brought them into HQ for some serious pre-deployment training and practice.

In usual style, we have perfected the process of using a strimmer to clear vegetation and bush ahead of the deminers over a very long time!

This has involved testing methods, trialling different machines, making sure our safety procedures are rigorously implemented and followed to the letter.

 

The guys worked hard to pick up the techniques as well as how to look after their new ‘toys’!

We kit our boys out in protective equipment and they even got a newly designed uniform!

    

After plenty of ‘dummy minefield’ practice our first ‘operador de strimmer’ (there is no word for strimmer in Portuguese apparently!) was good to go.

So day 1…how would it go I wondered? Would he remember everything? Would he be nervous knowing he was being watched by the various senior staff keen to see this new technique in practice?

But it worked! It really worked! He remembered everything he had been taught and was brilliant!

It felt pretty great actually, seeing him slowly but surely clearing the path for a deminer to go and do his stuff.

Especially when I asked the Supervisor what he thought about the whole thing. You sometimes get the feeling they find it a bit bemusing – these strange expatriates arriving on the scene and pronouncing what seems like yet another madcap scheme.

But he smiled and said he was very happy to have the strimmer because it meant he could clear the area quicker now and make the village safe for the locals.

Very happy! Now we just need money to buy more strimmers, train more operators and roll out strimming across the whole programme! Happy days!