Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sea cow?…No, it’s a hippo*

September 24th, 2008

We also signed up for a dusk hippo tour. Eyeing up the boat as it came into dock, we decided the roof was the place to be for the best view. We found some seats and readied the camera. Those who know Karel well, actually those who know Karel at all, know that he likes to take an occasional photograph. He’s now the official paparazzi photographer for hippos and the fish eagle, a bird which has now been photographed at every angle. We saw loads of hippos, large and small, yawning, sleeping and walking, but the real highlight of the tour was the quick witted guide Steve, a wiry framed man with deep wrinkles and white hair, who kept us laughing throughout. That night was we were sleeping we heard a sound. Karel asked me ‘Do you know what that was?’ ‘A hippo?’ I responded. As we pulled up the covers, we hoped that hippos don’t climb ladders.

*apologies for the Afrikaans joke but when asking Karel what hippo was in Afrikaans he asked me to guess, based on hearing that a giraffe translates as a camel horse, I guessed it was a water donkey, I was close as it’s actually sea cow.

St. Lucia…it’s a whale of a time

September 24th, 2008

Our next stop was St. Lucia, another Nature Reserve and a UNESCO world heritage site. We pulled up at dusk and pitched our tent as quickly as possible noting the ‘Danger Hippo’ signs. The next day we wandered around town and signed up for a whale watching tour. We weren’t sure what to expect but the lady at the booking office assured us it would be worth our while. Setting out, wearing our swimsuits, cameras in hand, we got onto the most ‘I’m a tourist- take my money’ wagon I’ve ever seen in my life with the rear of the wagon reading ‘a whale of a time’. Upon arriving at the beach, disembarking and climbing into the boat, we were instructed to put on some bright orange raincoats and old-school style lifejackets which tie at the waist and the neck. We were then given specific instructions as to how to cling to the boat for dear life as it made its way across the water. It sounded far worse than it was as we were easily manoeuvred across the waves.

The boat suddenly stopped and our guide Benro, a tanned and stocky man wearing crocs with socks, pointed his finger. We all got up, holding on to the rails as directed, and there they were. Absolutely amazing, two humpback whales breeching, my jaw literally dropped down in awe. For about an hour we saw the whales jumping out of the water, displaying their white bellies and then showing us their tails. After they disappeared into the water they left behind a ‘footprint’, a circle about 2m in diameter without any ripple of a wave, which lasted for several minutes. One whale even swam directly under our little boat. Belly side up you could see its perfect outline. Karel and I both agree it was one of the most beautiful things we’ve ever been privileged to see. Whales are our new favourite mammal. We’re currently considering making a sign for the back of our car reading ‘St. Lucia- it’s a whale of a time’.

We’re going to Ibiza (or we’ve got crabs)….*

September 22nd, 2008

We followed the advice of some retirees, a lovely couple, to take a walk around the Mangrove trees and wait silently for the crabs to appear. As we walked down we noticed some small crabs around the roots of the Mangroves (their roots are above ground near the water’s edge). They were quite small, about 2 cms wide, with pale bodies and one large orange claw whose job it is to clean the tree roots. Karel explains it perfectly when he says they look like something out of a sci-fi movie. They were continuous waving their large claw up and down for no apparent reason while a few black crabs moved around them. We later read that the claw wave is a way to attract females, potentially the equivant of the ‘wink and the gun’ move or perhaps the licking the fingers combing the eyebrows move. We continued our walk down to where the tree trunks are and saw the hundreds of crab holes. We tried to stay as still as possible and didn’t speak as the crabs pick up on slight vibration. Sure enough after about ten minutes several crabs peered out. They were larger about the size of a closed fist, black with some orange red markings. A few minutes later a water mongoose, which eats the crabs, ran out grabbed at something and then ran when he saw us. It was actually really amazing.

*copyright Kieran

The camping begins…oi monkey

September 21st, 2008

Pulling onto the open road from Durban possibilities were looming. We decided to move up the east coast of S.A. and take the scenic route. The road was dotted with small rural villages made up of plastered houses, two rooms at most, each with a clothes line displaying colourful items blowing slightly in the breeze. It was one of the most beautiful scenes, especially with the greenery surrounding the villages.

We decided our destination would be Mtuzini, specifically a Nature Reserve called Umlalazi. This would be our first night in Africa living in our new home, the roof tent. Pouring with rain as we set up, we gave each other direction as to what the other needed to be doing. Although the honeymoon was not officially over, it had taken a slight pause. Eventually everything was where it needed to be, we were back in love and attempting to sort out our belongings and those of friends which were in very curious places (i.e. Lance your shirts were rolled tucked around our water tank, Gaye your handbag was covering our gas tank, and Raikko and Maverick your turtle and camel were safely strapped to our food boxes).

The much needed rains continued for the next day and night. Spending most of our time under our awning to keep dry, we played cards, drank tea and ate a lot of biscuits. In between the rains we did get to see some monkeys. I’m sure it’s not a novelty for everyone, but for a Canadian it’s fantastic. Luckily we had everything all packed up so we didn’t have to worry about a monkey raid. We watched with amazement as they picked up different things, brushed them off and popped them into their mouths. Also amusing was seeing two younger monkeys play fight in a tree which resulted in one free falling onto the ground.

The following day the weather improved. Making breakfast, we noticed the monkeys again. This time a monkey raid was imminent. One monkey was on the lookout, whilst another, looking at us the whole time, made a run for it. Karel tried to scare him, rather unsuccessfully, and he ran under the car making a grab for our brightly packaged laundry power. Thankfully the bag was too heavy, otherwise there would have been one very sick monkey. I tried my hand at scaring the next monkeys which approached. I moved closer to the monkey saying ‘no, monkey, no’ repeatedly while shaking my finger. On my defence the strategy usually works with dogs. As it was unsuccessful I upped the ante and shouted ‘oi, monkey, oi’ this time it worked. Karel couldn’t stop laughing and I can’t blame him. I’m not sure what inspired the ‘oi’.

Durban: the official start of our honeymoon

September 2008

Karel’s cousin Andre, kindly booked us a place to stay in Durban, called Silver Sands. We loved the 1950’s experience, with immaculate sparkling clean tile floors, neat furnishing in bright orange and blue, and wall hangings of seaside and village prints, all complete with separate twin beds. The location was perfect, minutes away from Durban’s sandy beach, the ‘golden mile’ as it is affectionately called, and uShaka, an aquarium and shopping complex.

There was an active security team at Silver Sands who wore black military style uniforms accented with a white badge displaying a red eagle, topped with perfectly shaped black berets. We quickly made friends as our polite comments were met with wide white smiles. One day after leaving the flat and discussing the security guards Karel mentioned that something was not quite South African about them, their features and their reddish skin colour didn’t quite match those of the locals. Upon inquiry we discovered that they are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. French was their language of choice, and their smiles helped to disguise their occasional lack of understanding. Once hearing they speak French, we exchanged our English niceties for French. Word spread quickly and we became very popular. Upon our leaving one of the security guards wrote us a note saying ‘I’m happy to meet you, so glad, let God bless your travel. We can see soon. Good travel. ’. We will carry these kinds words with us.

The time we spent at Durban was mostly at the beach. We soaked up the sun, going for long walks on the beach and by apprentice surfing under the direction of Sean, a former insurer but now a seasoned surfer with a deep tan, kind creased eyes, white hair and a regular Comrades runner. We learned a great appreciation for the art of surfing as our muscles ached in every area possible. ‘Get past day three and you’re fine’ Sean advised us. Whether the three day rule is physical or psychological it worked.

Not ones to sit around, we also signed up for dive courses. I did my Open Water course and Karel did his Advanced Dive. Our first few dives took place in the uShaka aquarium’s Snorkel lagoon where we dove in clear water surrounded by Wasse, Parrot fish, Surgeon, Big eye, Squirrel and Soliders amongst others. Karel got to take photos and ID fish, whereas I got to practise taking my mask and regulator off. I then advanced to the big leagues, the sea. We went shore diving by a coral. The visibility was poor and I was terrified and felt extremely claustrophobic. My brilliant instructor, Lisa held my hand. It’s amazing how fear and age are completely unrelated. At 28, I felt small and scared and had to put my complete trust into Lisa. Karel, the seasoned diver, meanwhile was busy working on his navigation skills and using a compass. We also went out in the rubber duck, captained by Gerry for an 18m dive. The sea was rough and although queasy, Karel was the one to fed the fishes. Visibility wasn’t great but was improved. My favourite sighting was a Monitar Stringray, who was yellowish with black spots and had two bulging cartoon eyes like Coyote right before his plans to get the roadrunner backfire and he sees what lies ahead. Our last dive was at the Quarry, a well known party sight for some (a.k.a. Kirk). It’s also the training site for industrial divers who dive 100s of metres to wield underwater. It was cool to see their moon suits and their umbilical cords, the cables which transport oxygen and nitrogen and provide a means of communication to those above land.

Tracking Nessie

Our car and our dream are one in the same. In the early days of planning and thinking the ‘what ifs’ and possibilities of travelling through Africa, we thought of our car. She, yes it’s a she named Nessie after the place we first met in Iverness, Scotland, is a Land Cruiser with a shiny green coat and a soft glow in her lights. Specially chosen and then carefully modified, by Paul Marsh, at Footloose 4x4 she was designed for Africa with a roof rack, roof top tent, winch, water tank, and kitchen. Although tried throughout England, Scotland and Wales, her first test was across the Indian Ocean shipped from Felixtown, England to Durban, SA. This journey which would take 21 days going through rough waters and crashing against unforgiving waves. All without insurance.

We came in Durban, SA four days before Nessie was due to arrive, eager to meet the shipping agents with our crisp mustard yellow carnet de passage in hand to pick up our Bill of Lading necessary for customs. We parked our borrowed car across from 40 Marine Drive with all the optimism and enthusiasm of children. As we entered the brown bricked building and ascended in the elevator, Karel and I looked at each other with love, thinking it would only be a few days until we met up with Nessie. Climbing out of the elevator, past the stained corridor and plastic plant, we requested our agent by name, upon hearing he was out sick another man greeted us. Wearing bling, with heavily greased hair spiked slightly, the look of which reminded me of a typical Indian East ender, he informed us that the paperwork was misplaced and we should come back tomorrow when his colleague would be back. Slightly dampened but still optimistic we returned the next day only to find out that the misplaced document was not received, but could be for a price. There was a lot of discussion amongst the men regarding the difficulties and grievances of processing the paperwork. This was especially interesting as ten minutes previous a visit to the official customs office informed us of its straightforwardness. Mild annoyance set in.

We decided to then contact a clearing agent, Freddy. He had a voice you could trust, seemingly void of ‘wheeling and dealing’. We arranged to meet at his office. As we got out of the elevator we could hear the sound of a guitar, and as we entered the office we could see one of the receptionists playing. A good sign we thought. Discussing our vehicle, our baby, we gave Freddy our details and the details of the container ship along with the shipping agent. He asked for payment in cash, a slight concern of ours but at this stage we were no longer fazed. After making the payment we waited by the phone. Our concerns grew. Surely our Nessie wasn’t just a myth, an uncertain mystery. Karel found out information regarding the boat and its status in docking, unloading, and well anything he could. After calling Freddy to check on the boat, we were asked for an additional 3,000 Rand to cover additional costs. Karel, not one to blindly accept information, questioned the fees and where they came from. After a semi-heated conversation questioning the integrity of Freddy, Freddy withdrew his additional claims, to which Karel proclaimed him a ‘gentleman’ and a ‘man of his word’, words Freddy savoured.

Two days later we got the call. The call we were waiting for. The one which said your car is ready, it’s gone through customs and is ready to collect. All of sudden our previous annoyances vanished and our excitement grew. We ran to gather our things before being collected by one of Freddy’s men. As we approached the lot filled with containers travelling the world’s seas we saw her. She’s never looked so beautiful. Our hearts filled with joy, a pure joy, even better than Christmas or Birthday anticipation. Our Nessie was with us once more.