The big 5 and the last blog

This is it folks….the end of the road, the final curtain…after 3 years of happily blogging about the trials and tribulations of my life in humanitarian mineclearance in Asia, Africa, Asia and back to Africa, I’m hanging up my blogging boots on the open world wide web.

Time now for Misshelen to ‘go underground’!

Just before I go…I’ve just been on holiday! Yes you did read that right, I’ve just taken a holiday – a short holiday but a holiday all the same.

I needed to escape Angola for a wee while and amazingly in all my time living in Mozambique I never made it to Kruger Park so took the opportunity to nip over for a quick break and some wild animal spotting.

An absolutely fantastic trip and highly recommended.

Want to see my holiday snaps??

Hippos are the coolest animals in the park! They submerge themselves under the water with just their searching eyes poking above the surface.

Just one of many beautiful waterholes in the park where you silently creep into a hide and watch the animals close up. In the bottom left of the picture is a ‘klipspringer’ (which means rock jumper in Afrikaans).

We watched this beautiful African antelope with its ‘salt and pepper’ coat perch on a rock watching the hippos lazing in the water.

We watched this family of elephants wade across the river with the mum giving her babies a shower as they went. You can tell the big elephant is a female as the females spent their lives in a tight knit group of mums, daughters, sisters and aunties where as the male elephants tend to live on their own. 

Thank goodness for camera zoom lenses – although mine paled in comparison to some of the super duper cameras we spotted in the park.

This is an African fish eagle flying high in the sky looking down into the vast expense of water for fish. Having spotted ‘lunch’ swimming in the water below, these eagles swoop down to catch their prey with their talons. Their distinctive cry is unmistakable and is said to be the sound of the spirit of Africa.

It’s breakfast time for this giraffe. It’s hard to get the scale of these animals from a photo but this one we spotted must have been nearly 4m tall!

These kudu antelope – with their distinctive long spiral horns and white stripes – are probably the most spectacular antelope in the park. Their horns can actually be used as musical instruments!

I do love a good tree – and Africa has them in abundance. The baobab tree is probably my favourite…well maybe the baobab and the marula!

These baobab trees are somethimes called the ‘tree of life’ or sometimes ‘the upside down tree’ because the roots of the tree are out of the ground on the branches and if you dig down into the ground under the tree you will find the leaves where the roots should be. ONLY JOKING!

Thanks world for reading my blog and for all your comments. Posts now are for family and friends.

So it’s over and out from Misshelen…

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3 peaks and more

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Running out of time to fit in my annual leave I decided to tag on a week ahead of my planned family ski holiday and pop down to South Africa. Back to Cape Town.

This time a rather generous friend had offered the loan of their rather beautiful flat, which is always nicer than being stuck in a souless hotel.

The South African’s are well known for their love of outdoor pursuits so ‘when in Rome’ as they say! There is an annual race in Cape Town called the 3 peaks…a race summitting the 3 mountains for Cape Town quel surprise…Devils Peak, Table Mountain and Lions Head.

devils-peak-table-mountain

Sadly I wasnt around for the real deal but the whole thing sounded rather fun so I decided to create my own version!

devils-peak-summit

Now, they manage to fit it all in one day which involves a sunrise start time…I’m keen but not THAT keen…but not wanting to seem too feeble I decided to split it over 2 days but add in an extra ‘peak’…the 4th (much MUCH smaller) Signal hill.

the-12-apostles-from-table-mountain

lions-head-summit

It was all good fun although full respect to the guys who do this in one day – after peak 2, Table Mountain, I was ready for a stiff drink and a good feed rather than being up for climbing peak 3!

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maclears-beacon-table-mountain-summit

All in all the whole week was utterly fantastic. South Africa really is such an utterly brilliant place. Other highlights…an open air sunset concert in the botancial gardens,

kirstenbosch-sunset-concert

pancake day in the sunshinepancake-day

a rather boozy wine tour and a day of sandboarding!

at-the-start

What a riot sandboarding is…you hike up the side of a sand dune, strap a plank to your feet and point your board down the dune….then off you go. At the bottom, unstrap your feet and start climbing again (no chair lifts here!)

on-the-way-up

 

total-wipe-out

There were plenty of spectacular wipe outs and it’s just incredible the places you find sand literally days after ‘riding the dunes’

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!

Me..? Deep end..? Never!!!

No pictures with this post – but quite a funny story!

This is going to be one heck of a rollercoaster ride of a learning curve! Yet again!

I reckon one of the best ways to learn your lessons is by your mistakes…but how I managed quite so many within the space of 2 hours of being on the African continent is still bemusing me.

I wouldn’t mind but I hadn’t even managed to leave Johannesburg airport!!

Lessons so far…number 1 – pick very carefully who to ask for help….number 2 – learn to love paperwork….number 3 – everything is going to take a long old time out here!

Arrived in departure lounge of J’burg airport, already checked in via Heathrow so look for fast (ha!) bag drop, don’t see it so think ah-ha I will ask someone….

No No No, 1st mistake!

Before you check in your bag you have to weigh it on random weighing scale miles away from check in. Bags weigh 25 kg, lots of tutting and sighing…”problem madam” they tell me, I’m only allowed 20 kg apparently, I thought 30, no apparently its 20.

So off to another desk to pay excess baggage. Lots of paper shuffling and calculator tapping later I am slightly less well off but have my required slip of paper.

Back to the weigh-in lady who has been replaced by a different lady who informs me in a bemused manner that I AM in fact allowed 30 kg. So, yes you guessed it, more paperwork as I slowly work through another paperwork exercise to organise a refund – I’ll tell you 6 weeks time when (or if!) I get my money back!

Having quickly learnt the lesson that if you just do what you think MIGHT be the right thing to do …or actually if you just attempt something confidently enough…someone will eventually stop you if you’re doing it wrong.

Thoroughly bored by bureaucracy by this point I make the ‘executive decision’ to bypass economy check in, bypass business class check in and instead approach first class! Lo and behold it works!

Sadly didn’t get a 1st class seat but did get checked in immediately, got given a brand new boarding pass even though I already had one (because apparently, in check-in man’s own words – my first one looked a little ‘tired’!) and was sent on my way.

Right now onto passport control – oh Lord help me!

Last lesson of the day – never, I repeat NEVER board an african flight last! You thought Ryanair was bad…you aint seen nothin’

I though one passenger one bag…oh how naive I am! Apparently elaborately wrapped cardboard boxes, musical instruments and chicken coops fall outwith that rule!

Lesson learnt – board last, sit with your bag on your knees for the flight!