Category Archives: Travel

Africa Part 1: The Beach

So it turns out that travel agencies are actually really good marketers. When I heard we had an opportunity to go to Zanzibar, I was like, “Score! Tropical island beach holiday, get in my face!” The posters make it look like Phi Phi island in Thailand, or Boracay in the Philippines. Maybe I didn’t go at a very good time of year, but it was fairly dull and muggy.

It's amazing what a few effects can do to a place - so maybe I'm not that great at editing photos, but it still looks like a pretty idyllic place to visit

It’s amazing what a few effects can do to a place – so maybe I’m not that great at editing photos, but it still looks like a pretty idyllic place to visit

Actually, I know I didn’t go at the right time of year – we were literally the only foreigners in the little village of Jambiani. It was a quaint little village, where you can really get in touch with the culture there, especially if you go when it’s only local cultures around.

When I told my English Grandmother that I was going to Zanzibar, she warned me of all the dangers that have been broadcast on British television; I was warned to cover up (which I completely respect: it is a Muslim island after all), and that I should be prepared for violence towards foreign women. It was quite dramatic. The truth is, when you go to a foreign country, it is more than polite to respect their culture and traditions, so I’m glad I at least found out what they were, and packed a pair of longer trousers for the Zanzibar leg.

It is most definitely one of those lands of bicycles - the likes of China

It is most definitely one of those lands of bicycles – the likes of China

We may have gone at the wrong time of year, but at least wearing trousers in that weather was still somewhat bearable (any hotter would have been unpleasant). It was incredibly muggy, just heat and humidity clinging onto your skin, and it had the vegetation to go with it. There was lush green jungle pretty much everywhere. We went on a “village tour” which included the guide showing us his veggie patch in the jungle behind the village, and we were taught all the medical properties of plants we will never see again. I didn’t learn about any history of the village or anything else you may expect from a guided village tour. But hey, that’s an experience in itself, I guess.

You know when your "village tour" happens alongside the main road next to some veggie patches that your preconceptions are not going to be met

You know when your “village tour” happens alongside the main road next to some veggie patches that your preconceptions are not going to be met

On our last day, before we took our overnight ferry back to Dar Es Salaam, we took ourselves on our own little walking tour of Stone Town, the other side of the island. There was life there, so much life bustling through the truly cultured little spice town. There were children boys playing in the ocean and in the parks, workers milling around, shop owners offering “good price” on an endless amount of boho/gypsy/comfy pants in every pattern imaginable. And, of course, the African artwork that you will never see the end of if you go anywhere tourists may be passing through anywhere in Africa.

As is custom, there weren't girls running around in their swimming costumes, but the boys were having a blast doing backflips and somersaults into the (shallow) sea

As is custom, there weren’t girls running around in their swimming costumes, but the boys were having a blast doing backflips and somersaults into the (shallow) sea

The remains of the old Mosques and ancient architecture from Zanzibar’s ‘Spice Island’ days were stunning – it is definitely worth seeing if that’s what you’re into. Beach holiday – not so much, building appreciation – gorgeous!

We got caught in an unexpected cloudburst, and this was the result once the rain had cleared

We got caught in an unexpected cloudburst, and this was the result once the rain had cleared

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Hidden South African Gems – Port Alfred

I officially graduated from Rhodes University. I am no longer a Rhodent, I now part of the upper echelon of Old Rhodians. Supposedly. But #Rhodent4Life!

My gran was supposed to come down to South Africa from the UK to celebrate my grad, but her goat attacked her. How’s that for an excuse? It was a pretty bad injury, and I’m glad she stayed home and rested and recovered, though it did make some of our “grad-weekend” plans seem a bit dull…

Port Alfred

We figured we could make a beach weekend out of a weekend in Grahamstown, so we booked in a B&B in Port Alfred that was absolutely stunning, right on the beach front. PA is only 40 minutes away (30 if you’re one of the students I tutored last year who did the trip daily), so it seemed convenient at the time. It wasn’t really, because we spent most of our time in GHT, so it was a little bit wasted. But gorgeous nonetheless.

I know my mom will probably hate me for putting this up, but she is beautiful and it's her birthday on Saturday, so all my love to her, lying on some super comfy bed in a really neatly and perfectly finished B&B bedroom

I know my mom will probably hate me for putting this up, but she is beautiful and it’s her birthday on Saturday, so all my love to her, lying on some super comfy bed in a really neatly and perfectly finished B&B bedroom

I was glad to have the opportunity to visit PA again, as beach trips were seriously under-utilized in my time at Rhodes. It made for a great day trip, though one that was difficult to over do, because it was just that little bit too far away. I do regret not spending more time checking out Bathurst as well, which is a quaint little place.

Taught mom how to take a selfie. Not sure if it was a mistake to have done that or not...?

Taught mom how to take a selfie. Not sure if it was a mistake to have done that or not…?

Port Alfred is basically just another one of those gorgeous small towns along the South African coast. It is especially beautiful because it is situated in the Eastern Cape, and somehow most places there are beautiful. It’s a stunning coastal visit that still holds it’s small-town simplicity.

Rock pools

The kind of place that makes you want to attempt to capture each crashing wave and the incredible rows of shells, and the crystal clarity of the water, but its just too beautiful to ever adequately do it justice

We got a local’s recommendation to check out the Three Sisters rock formation just up the coast from Port Alfred, about a 15 minute drive. We were about 45 minutes too late, but if you ever get the chance, make sure to go just before and for the duration of low tide. It truly is a wonder to behold.

This seemed like a good idea in the time before I did it. Then I realised that I am pathetic and spider webs can be icky but it was too late to turn back...

This seemed like a good idea in the time before I did it. Then I realised that I am pathetic and spider webs can be icky but it was too late to turn back… I promise I didn’t Photoshop that sky either.

Port Alfred is just another one of those places that reminds you just how beautiful South Africa is, and how lucky we are to have such simple yet breathtaking places right on our doorstep, and a reminder to take advantage of it before we as humans do the inevitable.

How I ended up in Africa

Spike Reid. Adventurer. Writer. Explorer. Photographer. Gentleman. Motivator. Friend. Opportunist. British. He’s a climber, a sailor, a mountaineer, an expedition leader. He was even mine once.

Spike

Spike discovered an opportunity to deliver a rare Land Rover Defender 100 from Cape Town to Nairobi for an Englishman who is now working up in Kenya. Spike needed a co-driver, and I had decided that this was going to be my year of adventure, so I said “Yes”. And what an adventure it was!

Spike would laugh at me beforehand when I expressed my reservations about going to ‘Africa’. “But you live in Africa!” he would say. I think I can now conclusively state that I do not, in fact live in Africa. South Africa in particular is very different from the likes of Stone Town and Moshi.

Stone Town

Google also didn’t help. This was my first holiday “on my own” and I had little experience in planning this kind of trip. Google told me: “BEWARE!” Beware of the water, beware of the fruit, the vegetables, the disease and, of course, the malaria. So I got my prophylactics, purchased some go-to snacks (3kg of them to be precise), and made sure I had a well-stocked first aid medications kit. I was glad to have the snacks (particularly the nuts and fizzers), and with the amount of mozzie bites I got, I happily endured the trippy dreams in prevention of the malaria.

***

So it turns out that Africa is very African. I expected a few ‘big towns’, and Arusha and Nairobi did meet (and somewhat exceeded) these expectations, but I didn’t expect just how rural many of the “towns” were. The corruption in the police also took me by surprise. Yes, we got stopped by every group of traffic cops we passed by (ons blanke), but by the end of the trip, not one monetary bribe was paid.

Just your casual African petrol station not too far out of Arusha

Just your casual African petrol station not too far out of Arusha

I was lucky to have had the opportunity to go on this trip. It was different, it was educational, and it took me right out of my comfort zone, which was ‘fun’ for me, but which Spike probably didn’t enjoy so much – if you ask any of my family, you would learn that I am not the easiest of campers, though I generally happily take on the challenge.

***

Here are my tips and warnings for planning a (camping) trip to Africa:

1. Use local currency – US Dollars are not as widely accepted in the more rural areas as Google claims. It also works out substantially cheaper.

2. Take antimalarials. Get your yellow fever and tetanus jabs up to date.

3. Don’t take too much food, but easy and healthy snacks are nice to have with you because ‘healthy’ options are rather limited.

4. Check when the rainy season is. We weren’t affected by it (somehow – we were there in the rainy season, but all the ravines were dry as anything – it still made for some awesome 4×4-ing).

5. Water. We bought water. It was pretty reasonable, and out of sealed bottles you know you can trust it. Obviously this is for drinking, and if you’re as fussy as me, you can cook your pasta in it too. Don’t forget you also use water for brushing your teeth.

6. Make sure your guidebooks are up-to-date. Ours wasn’t even that old, but the recommended campsite no longer offered camping. Also related to campsites: don’t purchase drinks from the bars – they are so overpriced! Grab your G+T’s from local spazza shops in the towns.

Coffee London – broadening horizons

In my effort to learn more about coffee, I took advantage of my time in London to try out as many of their different coffee options as possible. On a student/intern budget, this was difficult. But who needs real food anyway?

I had this coffee to give commercial brands their due. BUT: down with the corporation! Just kidding. Although their coffee is consistent, it's nothing special. Their food and browies and mini loaves are pretty good too, but not something you can justify too regularly at those prices (well, for a student anyway)

I had this coffee to give commercial brands their due. BUT: down with the corporation! Just kidding. Although their coffee is consistent, it’s nothing special. Their food and browies and mini loaves are pretty good too, but not something you can justify too regularly at those prices (well, for a student anyway)

Coffee selfies are so cliché right?  Viola's was right by my house, and their cinnamon rolls were inspirational!  Route was ambitiously situated right next door to Starbucks, but their coffee was not really the greatest...  Leif was in Leamington Spa, but it was a great caffeine fix, though not a very refined brew. The golden coffee was a caramel hazelnut latte of deliciousness with fudge chunks on the whipped cream. It was, obviously, out of this world.

Coffee ‘selfies’ are so cliché right?
Viola’s was right by my house, and their cinnamon rolls were inspirational!
Route was ambitiously situated right next door to Starbucks, but their coffee was not really the greatest…
Leif was in Leamington Spa, but it was a great caffeine fix, though not a very refined brew.
The golden coffee was a caramel hazelnut latte of deliciousness with fudge chunks on the whipped cream. It was, obviously, out of this world.

Pret is on just about every corner in London, and their coffee is pretty decent. I had their hazelnut chocolate bells and whistles latte thing that was amazing. Their food is pretty good, and, as with all chains, they provide consistency in their quality

Pret is on just about every corner in London, and their coffee is pretty decent. I had their hazelnut chocolate bells and whistles latte thing that was amazing. Their food is pretty good, and, as with all chains, they provide consistency in their quality

This little place was right along my way to work. It was a quaint little set up, with good coffee and your usual treats and snacks (here I had a Cowboy cookie that was really delicious), of really good quality. Perfect for an on-the-go-cuppa

This little place was right along my way to work. It was a quaint little set up, with good coffee and your usual treats and snacks (here I had a Cowboy cookie that was really delicious), of really good quality. Perfect for an on-the-go-cuppa

Their coffee and their food was really great! Situated on Whitechapel High Street, near the Aldgate stations. When I was there, they didn't have a sign outside so it was quite hard to find, but so worth it once I did!

Their coffee and their food was really great! Situated on Whitechapel High Street, near the Aldgate stations. When I was there, they didn’t have a sign outside so it was quite hard to find, but so worth it once I did!

Love in a cup.jpg

Love in a Cup wins my vote as best of the coffees that I got to try in London. It is in the famous Brick Lane, in a little hole in the wall, with a super cute inside set up. It has character, great coffee, and sweetness. The service was lovely, and their prices were also reasonable compared to what you may pay at other London establishments. Their coffee was truly superb (as was their white chocolate chip cookie)

 

London Ice Sculpting Festival 2014

I had a huge list of events that I really wanted to get to on my stay in London, but because London is so huge and buzzing, I didn’t manage to get around to doing most of them! I am glad I got to go to this event though, it’s absolutely the kind of event you would not easily experience in South Africa, even in the middle of winter.

Faces through the ice.jpg

The London Ice Sculpting Festival was held on a particularly bright winters day in Wood Wharf. This posed a challenge for the sculptors participating because the glaring sun was melting their massive blocks of ice. The sun shining through the ice was beautiful though.

Tribal ice.jpg

There were a number of countries participating, and you could tell which countries were able to get a lot of experience in ice sculpting: Russia and Canada were significantly good, while Africa seemed to have a slightly different style. All the participants were incredibly skilled – the sculptures they worked on were certainly not easy or basic.

The tools they used were quite interesting too. Electric chainsaws (plugged in to a power source, even in the puddles forming below them), soldering irons, and even your normal domestic clothes iron (it seemed like a normal domestic iron – I could be wrong, but it would probably work just as well anyway). Sculptors were required to wear chainsaw-resistant trousers – those are seriously hardcore trousers!

Russian ice sculpting.jpg

Castles and stuff

USA vs. UK? My friend went to the USA over the December break and she absolutely loved it, particularly when she got a whirlwind experience of New York just before the Polar Vortex hit (it’s quite a contrast to our Sunny South Africa Decembers). When she met me in London just afterwards, she was surprised at how less urbanised London was. Yet London is such a progressive city too, how can there be such a difference?

She was expecting more of the Starbucks on every corner (or Costa’s in UK) and big chain stores like Primark and H&M to pop up wherever you decided you needed one, but we ended up having to Google these places and then walk for ages (well, more ages than you would in NYC by the sound of it at least) just to find the shop you are looking for. One of my favourite things about the UK, particularly London, is how accessible everything is. One of my other favourite things about the UK is that they offer you this accessibility alongside all their rich history and heritage.

Dramatically viewing the scene.jpg

After the family festivities of Christmas, Kenilworth Castle opened their gates for free public access, as a Boxing Day treat. It was rather chilly, but the sun was cheerily brightening up the crisp blue skies, as it attempted to heat up frozen children noses. This may sound cute, but not when a particular “children” is moaning about how cold they are and how they want to go home because they have no interest in the ruins of a castle that held many royals (including PRINCESSES, sweet child!).

Kenilworth Gardens .jpg

Thankfully, the organisers also hosted a duck race. We felt very foreign when we heard about this: isn’t animal racing like this considered to be animal cruelty? It turned out to be a really fun event involving thousands of numbered rubber ducks going downstream. You place a bet on a number, and if yours makes it to the end first, you win! It was all very novel, and definitely worth celebrating with some mulled wine.

Duck racing .jpg

Castles are definitely one of the things you absolutely HAVE to visit in the UK: each one has a pretty unique story, and to think that people actually lived in those freezing stone halls with no electricity, yet still managed proper grandeur – it’s a humbling experience (as in: how badly do we really need it?).

kenilworth characters .jpg

A bright idea – Revelations Grahamstown

It’s amazing what new management can do. In my first year at Grahamstown there was this random little coffee shop at the only shopping centre in town. Sometimes you’d hear of people going there, but mostly it felt like walking past some long-forgotten church, or the University library at the start of the New Year (when people have forgotten how much work they could actually be getting done in there). Now, Revelations Café is a go-to food-spot, especially if you like your cakes.

eat coffee tea signageThey had a great revamp and gained popularity again in 2012, with all sorts of wonderful specials to draw in the crowds. Not only were the prices reasonable and competitive, but also the quality of the food was really above the common Grahamstown standard.

Cake

Their cakes would be one of their major draw factors: they are made perfectly every time and they have a really nice wide variety. I was disappointed to learn that they don’t actually make these on site, however. The cakes are supplied by Chateaux Gateaux. Since learning this, it appears that a huge number of coffee shops have their cakes supplied by them too. So Revelations’ cakes aren’t all that special, though they are really delicious (and you can’t beat mass-produced consistency sometimes, can you?).

Breakfast specials are great on a student budget, but a real omelette is a nice and wholesome break away from res food

Breakfast specials are great on a student budget, but a real omelette is a nice and wholesome break away from res food

Their breakfasts are definitely winners. Sometimes they offer a breakfast special, though their breakfast menu options are worth spending the extra money on. They are generous with their portions, particularly in their omelettes.

Waffles are good for breakfast too... Revelations knows how to maximise on the Bar One too, which is great!

Waffles are good for breakfast too… Revelations knows how to maximise on the Bar One too, which is great!

Revelations offers lunch and dinner options as well. On a student budget a lot of the dinner choices are a bit excessive, though they are around the same price as you would expect to pay in other larger towns and cities, and the quality is good (think café burgers rather than steakhouse burgers though). Their wide range can cater for a number of dietary requirements (healthier options and vegetarian options, for example), but it does make decisions really hard.

Chicken and bacon wrap with a berry smoothie, a wholesome healthy lunch (that is also delicious)

Chicken and bacon wrap with a berry smoothie, a wholesome healthy lunch (that is also delicious)

Chicken , bacon, apple and blue cheese salad with a Mango smoothie. This was a half portion too, so they are really generous

Chicken , bacon, apple and blue cheese salad with a Mango smoothie. This was a half portion too, so they are really generous

You can enjoy their delicious smoothies out under the trees or you can cuddle up under cover on the couch with a decadent hot chocolate (complete with marshmallows, whipped cream and a flake), which makes it ideal for summer or winter treats.

Banana and almond smoothie and a vanilla milkshake. The smoothie was delicious, but it could have done well with a bigger straw because the nuts were not too finely chopped

Banana and almond smoothie and a vanilla milkshake. The smoothie was delicious, but it could have done well with a bigger straw because the nuts were not too finely chopped

Generally their service is very friendly, though relaxed enough that you remember you are not in a large town where waiters are there to pander immediately to your every whim.

They have a larger than average tea selection, and great options for teatime accompaniments

They have a larger than average tea selection, and great options for teatime accompaniments

This café is definitely worth a visit when in Grahamstown, and also good for regular treats with friends (just not on a Sunday, unfortunately).

Added bonus: they have free wifi.