Sunday, 31 March 2013

Odds and ends

Old habits die hard. Sometimes the same seems to hold true for old troubles. It's been another interminable wait for, wait for it, a visa! Now I might be mistaken, but this should be the last one I need to worry about getting for the immediate foreseeable future. So what happens? My paperwork goes on an unscheduled holiday to Kuala Lumpur for a few weeks...

Anyhow, looks like I'm finally headed to Norway sometime in the coming week. And by the looks of it, winter's still very much holding its own up there. Maybe I'll get that one weekend of snowboarding yet! Not that I'll mind a little drop in temperature too terribly. It's been getting pretty hot in Cal these last few weeks.

In the mean time, I've been keeping myself entertained, no, not by yelling at visa handling agents. Well, not all the time anyway. But with Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. And thus far, it has proved a fairly fulfilling read! But then again, I'm only closing in on the end of the fourth book, there's a long way to go :).

I must say, I find the relatively straightforward progression and the many characters that don't die all of a sudden but continue mostly unharmed from book to book, a huge relief. Plus, it took me a while, but finally I wizened up to the clues in the symbols at the start of each chapter :). It's quite the grand fantastic mystery. If only there weren't all of fourteen books (including the prequel, which was pretty awesome, I thought).

However, I seem to have forgotten entirely about that other awesome book I read on my way back from South Africa. Robert A. Heinlein's Have Space Suit - Will Travel! Ever since that dedication in To Say Nothing of the Dog, I'd been meaning to read it. And once I finally got to it, it was totally worth the anticipation. (Although in retrospect, I'm not entirely sure that dedication said much about this book. I suppose I just thought the name was too awesome :D.)

I loved the suddenness of it all :). The weirdest things just sort of happen as you read along, and somehow, they seem to be the most natural thing! All things considered, it came as a little bit of a surprise exactly how long ago the book had been written. Then again, I suppose some things don't really change all that much over time.

I haven't really been taking photos lately. I suppose I should get over this thing about waiting for something to happen 'worth taking photographs of'. In the mean time, a few roads from the past year...

Currently: blah
Listening to: Lifehouse - Nobody listen

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Everything that has a beginning...

aka Swansong - V

As far as spectacular cities go, Cape Town has to rank quite highly, no matter how much of the world one has seen. Of course, it helps no end that the Table Mountain towers above the city in all its magnificence :). It was approaching a smoky dusk as the flight made its approach and night had fallen by the time we made it to the Inn on the Square, our final stop.

You couldn't get much closer to the middle of town, I imagine, than staying at the Greenmarket Square. As an added bonus, it is a perfectly festive sight that greets you as soon as you leave the hotel in the day time, thanks to the colours of the flea market in the square.

We really had only two things we had to do in those last couple of days, and visiting the top of Table Mountain was one of them! We decided to be lazy and took the cable way to the top :). It was a gorgeous day, cloudless with a fresh sea breeze! We spent several hours travelling different paths till we lost one another quite thoroughly. But I, for one, found some spectacular views. Some, that I seemed to have entirely to myself :).

One of these days I'll look at the geography of those mountains closely. Somehow, I never quite got the lay of the peaks of the Western Cape :). Each different perspective seemed to yield a deceptively familiar vista, only to turn out to be something other than what I expected. It was quite entertaining, seeing how it is practically impossible to actually get lost as long as one stayed on the 'table top'.

Eventually we found each other, and our way back into town. The rest of the day, as we explored around the square, I kept stealing looks at the rocks soaring up above, wondering what force of wind and water had struck such shapes. The thoughts that crowded my mind as we drove out of the dark night into a grey misty dawn the next morning were similar. Only this time, we seemed to be treading the edge between rock and water as we headed towards Gansbaai.

Yep, the other thing on the must do list was diving with the Great Whites! That drive, though, really had something of the surreal in it. To make it in time for the dive boat, we'd had to leave the city pretty much in the dead of the night. As the first patches of light drifted through the valleys, we'd left the highways far behind and I found myself the only one awake to witness the surroundings.

A narrow road ran arrow-straight, snaking high and low along the rolling foothills, but never veering to either side. The hills ran along one side as the water made inroads along the other. Both sides covered in a mist, which in that half light, could have given wings to many a creature of fantasy. And every now and then the sun would crest the horizon just at the point where the road ran to meet it :).

But then the spell broke and we were off on another adventure, to see the sharks! I suppose on the best of days it's a matter of chance, whether the sharks show up or not. But we must have been quite lucky! More than one Great White chose our boat to sniff around, and after two stints in the cage, I was quite thoroughly satisfied. I'd managed to forget how cold the water on this side of the country was :).

Before we headed back to Cape Town again though, we decided to visit one last spot. Cape Agulhas, the southernmost part of the continent of Africa! It took us a bit to figure out the way, but we did finally make it. It's not like you can actually tell the difference, but we tried anyway, looking this way and that, to see if the Indian Ocean looked any different from the Atlantic :D.

And thus it was that our long, convoluted and frankly somewhat crazy trip of South Africa drew to a close. Through a coincidence that somewhat defies belief, around the same time it appeared that my sailing days were destined to come to a close. Nothing was decided, but somehow it seemed a fitting end. So when we toasted to the end, from the depths of some extremely comfortably worn armchairs at the Irish pub :), it wasn't just the end of the trip, but also the end of an unexpectedly entertaining, roller-coaster seven and a half years at sea.

Currently: in limbo
Listening to: The National - ADA

Friday, 15 March 2013

Away from the world

aka Swansong - IV

The last time I'd been on safari, it had changed my entire perspective on viewing animal life. Vastly for the better, I should add. The only regret had been that we never got to spend too much time in the reserve. So the prospect of a three day trip into the wild was exciting to say the least!

We started with a visit to the erstwhile St. Lucia Wetland Park, or the iSimangaliso Wetland Park as it is called these days (apparently to avoid confusion with the island country in the Caribbean :D). It was a nice day to be out on the river. And by the looks of it, the hippos agreed! We saw no less than a dozen pods, some of them with as many as fifteen hippos of various sizes.

For our overnight stays, we'd settled on the Emdoneni Lodge, the cat rehab centre that is part of the set-up kinda sealed the choice for us :). We made multiple visits into the enclosures of the four different types of cats they have there. They even have a couple of young cheetahs that have grown up in the centre and as such were supposedly safe to approach.

I wouldn't have believed anyone would want to get that close to anything with teeth that size, but it was quite the experience. It's not exactly like the cheetahs are exactly tame, but under the watchful eye of their handler, we managed to get quite close. Close enough for one of the cheetahs to start licking my hand! I have to admit, I was more than a little worried there for a bit :). I've never had a regular cat lick my hand, so I wasn't sure of the sandpaper feel is a cheetah specialty or not.

One of the best parts of the whole experience, however, was the early morning game drive we went for in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. It was the same place I'd been to on my previous safari four years ago (what can I say, I'm a sucker for going to the same awesome places again and again :P). The pre-dawn hours made everything look very different though.

We'd barely moved off the paved roads onto the dirt tracks when a roar stopped us dead. More followed, full throated thunder, up close! In moments we saw a couple of lions emerge from the brush ahead of us. And then in a flash they were gone! We tracked the pair for some distance amidst the tall grass and the trees, but the roars continued for several minutes. Through it all, most of us had been too stunned to actually get any photos :). Any proper steady shots anyway!

It's not that we didnt't see anything else on that trip, or on the other more relaxed afternoon game drive. We saw zebras and rhinos, impala and nyala, wildebeest and baboons, giraffes and buffaloes. But nothing quite matched the experience with the lions :). We never did see any leopards. But then they are hard to spot at best of times. So I'm still one short of seeing the fabled big-five in the African wild.

The evenings were spent over some delicious fare at the lodge as our guide regaled us with stories of his years of experience as a park ranger. Surrounded by forest, it seemed like we were in a different world altogether. It was with a definite sense of loss that we headed out eventually. But before the end, there was one more treat, a quick stop-over at a crocodile farm on the way. I was more entertained by the peacocks and the gigantic Koi fish than the crocs to be entirely honest, never quite liked those...

Eventually it was back to the world of metal and concrete as we headed to Durban airport to catch our flight back to Cape Town. That's right, there's more, we hadn't even made it up to Table Mountain yet!

Currently: waiting, wishing...
Listening to: Dido - The girl who got away

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Water water everywhere

aka Swansong - III

In some ways, our extra day at Haga-Haga was my best memory of the whole trip :). Part of it might just be that we had had quite a hectic few days, not to mention the weeks on the ship before that. A day with nothing to do in just the right place can do wonders!

I for one, spent the day mostly either staring at the water or strolling aimlessly along its edge. There was even a river quite nearby, flowing to the ocean. As it hit the beach, most of the water sank below, out of sight, leaving just a trickle running into the waves. You could stand still and just feel the flow. The waves of cold ocean water drowning the river. But as the waves fell back, the warm river water rushed back to engulf your feet.

As we left the next morning, I think each of us were wishing we had more time. It was a quiet peaceful drive as we finally hit the east coast and once again the world around us changed. Fields upon fields of sugar cane. The weather was as different here from the Cape area as winter and monsoon back home. Almost :).

Our destination this time was Umkomaas, just south of Durban, and home of scuba diving at the Aliwal Shoal! Early the next morning we were back in the ocean! The weather here was as perfect as it could be, with visibility so much better, and the water temperature so much more civilized than the other side :D. We had a great time with a couple of long dives, but it was during the surface interval in between that we managed to do something really amazing, swim with a pod of dolphins!! 

Well, 'with' is a bit of an over statement. We saw them coming, throwing almost everyone in the boat in a frenzy to get their masks and fins on and jump in the water. I made it just in time to see a few of them pass fairly close by. And then all we could see were tail fins waving :). Man, those things are fast in the water. They did make a few passes, but I guess slow surface swimmers such as ourselves didn't seem very interesting.

Eventually we made it to Durban proper, and as luck would have it, we were staying quite close to the Moses Mabhida stadium. South Africa just happened to be playing one of their AFCON 2013 matches there that night :D. I was watching the match on TV, but the sound was better in the balcony, direct from the stadium! Not only did they win, it was a local lad that scored! The whole thing was quite festive, with fireworks and everything.

After spending much of the previous trip on the ship in dock in Durban, it was something of a full circle. Being back at the beach front, I almost felt at home :). But we weren't staying for long. The next day we headed for the Shakalands, a Zulu homestead providing a pretty neat experience of traditional Zulu culture and lifestyle. I guess the fact that it was literally in the middle of nowhere kinda added to the atmosphere.

Finally we headed back to Durban and after a good ten days and 2500kms, handed in our comfy, if somewhat underpowered Corolla :). The next few days were to be something of a breather for me in terms of driving. But seeing how we were headed on a three day safari, there was no let-up in the excitement!

Currently: in limbo
Listening to: Dave Matthews Band - Mercy (Live from Bristow)