Tag Archives: South Africa

Vietnam Pt2 – Can Tho

So stop number two was the relatively small city of Can Tho. This was a place I really enjoyed, with enough interesting things to see and do, while still feeling unspoilt by tourism, or tainted by the commercialism of larger cities.

Temple

At the transit centre in Can Do, we met a couple of Norwegian girls who we joined teams with for a few days, making us a group of four for a short time. We found a very nice guesthouse to stay in, newly built with very comfy beds and showers tall enough even for Dutchman Nico.

TempleOur first day there was spent exploring the town, with a few spots we wanted to see, we wandered through the city trying to find them all, which meant finding a few more on route. The highlights were a buddhist temple, in which we were welcomed and guided around, and the monk explained the differences between the Vietnamese buddhists and others you may find in other parts of SE Asia. He himself was Cambodian, and very informative, taking us to the top floor and pointing out a few landmarks.

RocketMy favourite stop of the day (excluding Baskin Robbins, I have an ice cream problem) was the war museum. We’d arrived during lunch hour, which stretched from about 11am through to 2.30pm, but we had a look around at the vehicles outside, including a Mercedes Benz with bullet holes, and few planes, both intact and not, and plenty of artillery and tanks. With the lack of supervision, we cheekily jumped the fence and got some snaps inside these moving monstrosities.TankOnce the doors opened we wandered about inside, although it wasn’t as impressive as the bits outside. The badly translated English captions didn’t help to explain the military manoeuvres displayed. We managed to find some unlocked doors that lead up to the roof, so checked out the city from above again.

That evening we tried the food tour, which is run by local students to help raise money for educational causes in the region. It was good fun, and we got some great examples of local delicacies, many of which would be almost impossible to get as a tourist without a guide. Pork dumplings, baked prawn pancake parcels were the delicious starters for the stranger bits we tried, featuring mouse and snake. Mouse was surprisingly tasty, if a little fulfilling, it was crunchy with bones as the animal is cooked whole, but nice. The snake on the other hand was not. We tried both grilled and fried and both, while not bad tasting were a tough as old leather. Most of it seemed to be bones and skin, leaving a very unsatisfying mouthful that tasted more of cooking oil than anything else. I’ll stick to the mouse next time, sorry Mikey.

marketWe woke up early the next day, as the girls had arranged a floating market tour for us. We floated up past boats with thousands of pineapples, boats with hundreds of melons, all dishing them out to the various traders picking up their supplies for the day. Amazing to see that you could pick up about ten melons for the price it would normally cost a tourist for a few slices in the market.canalThe boat tour then took us off through some of the gorgeous little streams and canals that wind through the outskirts of the city out to where the farms start. Some lovely sights seen along the ways, including some kids waving from the bank and delightful temple bridges spanning the water.
Later that day we jumped on the bus to head to Ho Chi Minh City to see the sights there, and catch up with a few friends we’d met in Laos.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Ho Chi Minh

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South Africa Part8 – The Drakensberg

The last and final leg of my journey leads up from the South Coast and Durban, north towards Johannesburg, stopping only once at the excellent Drakensberg mountain range.

DCIM100GOPRO

AmphitheatreThe Amphitheatre is in the Northern Drakensberg, a huge bowl shaped area of valleys, canyons and cliffs which stretch up to some of the highest peaks in South Africa. A incredible area of natural beauty this region could easily have been the back drop to parts of Lord Of The Rings, losing nothing to the New Zealand mountain ranges used, which is saying a lot, as I am a very big fan of the NZ hills.

DownhillThe Amphitheatre Backpackers was a comfortable and and friendly stop, if a little unsuitable for the typical idea of backpackers. While the rooms were comfy and spacious, they had no facilities for buying your own food, just a vague map with some unreliable bus times to get into the nearest town. They offered meals during the day which were fairly reasonable, but the evening set meals were practically Australian in price. After practically begging them to drive us to get something to eat that we could cook ourselves, we jumped a backie (Ute in Aus, or Pick-up in the UK) with a bribe to the driver who took us to a campsite nearby. He also took us to a local lady, who raided her own fridge to sell us some very fresh and delicious meat – perfect for the brai that evening. The hostel had some interesting facilities, included a freezing cold outside pool, bar, tv room, hot tub and, my favourite, a bouldering wall inside the bar.

AmphitheatreThe hostel ran transfers and tours to the mountains, the one I took was just a transfer to the base, from where we hiked up through the valleys and foothills, trying to get as close to the epic cliffs of the peaks as I could. The walk was a good challenge, constantly offering awe inspiring vistas, both up and down the gradient. Along the river bed the rocks made going slow, but as the path only went so far it was the only option. This was followed by chain ladders up sheer rocks to get around the semi subterranean rivers (which offered some very interesting sights). The further I walked, the closer I got, the steeper the river bed got, but the views were constantly impressive.

SunUnfortunately the inflated prices of the transfers and tours meant the second day was spent relaxing and exploring around the plains the hostel was set on, rather than heading to the top of the range. Coming to the end of a trip is always a tight time for those on budgets, but as this accommodation had realised it’s monopoly on it’s guests, they had clearly maximised their prices. The plains lead down to a pretty little river though, where myself and a couple others relaxed for the day before having seconds of brai’d beef.

PlainsFrom it here it was one more jump onto the Bazbus, straight to Johannesburg airport. Having seen the city on arrival, a second look wasn’t necessary, in fact the budget barely would have stretched to another night of accommodation. The same day I left the stunning Drakensberg I was flying back to the UK (after a rather long stop in Abu Dhabi (don’t sleep in airports unless you’re sure which time-zone you’re in).

 

South Africa Part7 – The South Coast

So the rather unimaginatively named South Coast stretches on from the start of the Kwazulu Natal up until Durban, where it switches again to Zululand.

Oribi Gorge

UmzumbeOnly a couple of stops along this stretch for me, although there’a good few options for Bazbusers. Umzumbe was my first, and unlike the name may suggest, it’s much more westernised than places like Coffee Bay. The hostel I stayed in was charming, and gave me one last chance to catch up with the Swedish girls I’d been chasing since OudtshoornMantis and Moon backpackers lodge is charming and friendly, and really seemed to embrace the lone traveler better than most places. A few trips were available, although not running with so few people, the barman was friendly enough though, and kept me company the first night.

Oribi GorgeIn the morning, I was fortunate enough to meet a nice Dutch couple who were heading off for the Oribi Gorge and let me  jump in their car, along with a German guy as well. Together we explored the impressive canyon, crossing the massively over-hyped rope bridge, and taking a look at the huge canyon swing. A shame it was closed for the day, else I think it would have been a must do for me. They also have SAs longest zipline, although that didn’t look so impressive. After a nice day exploring we headed back to the hostel, and I disappeared off to Durban.

Tekweni BackpackersDurban is well located for the party scene on Florida Road, one of the coolest areas of Durban, according to the hostel staff at least. It sure it’s fair share of western luxuries (McDonalds, KFC and all the rest) alongside a good selection of interesting bars. Exploring the city is a good way to spend the day, just be a little careful where you wander. The beach front is long and flat, perfect for a longboard, or bike if you fancy traveling a bit quicker and getting nice and warm.

ArtSimilar to Cape Town, I got a good sense of culture while in Durban, youth art projects, both black and white influences being nurtured and given a chance, with galleries and projects open to the public. There’s a touch of history here and there, and the incredibly cheap maritime museum was an odd, but entertaining little stop. That evening, through a mistake at the hostel and the World Travel Conference happening in town the next day, I was left without a bed for the night, thankfully my faithful friend Tinder was at hand, and I spent the evening with a wonderful local who took me to some of the hidden spots away from Florida Road. We also saw an art/music minifestival at the nearby Uni campus, lots of alternative types wandering about and some very impressive music being played as well, including a young man playing acoustic guitar like a piano. Not like pressing the keys, but simply playing so many notes it was hard to know how only six strings could make such a sound. And the reaction he got was very good, rather than the UK where something like this would be walked past or complained about as ‘too loud’ the students lapped it up.

Rope Bridge

So after a comfortable night in another bed, I arose early to jump on yet another bus out of Durban and towards the Drakensberg.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

South Africa Part6 – The Wild Coast

The Wild Coast stretches from East London, through to the end of the Eastern Cape, where it joins the Kwazulu Natal province.

Coffee Bay
ChintsaFirst stop into the Wild Coast, was the rather underwhelming Chintsa, a pleasant and beautiful beach hostel, and across the estuary and quiet and functional town. Interestingly, crossing to the town has to be timed well, otherwise you’re swimming home. Both days I ended up waist deep in water on my return but having lived in swim shorts for the last 3 weeks meant this wasn’t much of an issue. I could see some of the Mamas struggling though.

The hostel was pleasant but quiet, and the organised events seemed to be a total non-event, the guys who run it only seeming interested in talking to the girls who had been staying a while. I imagine the place being upbeat and exciting in summer, but in late autumn the rust had started to creep in.

Coffee BayThis was not the case with Coffee Bay at all. Arriving at the start of the weekend, along with a whole load of voluntourists from nearby villages meant there was a lot of people to meet and have some fun with. It didn’t seem to matter which hostel you were at, they all had beds and a bar, and no one minded switching between them all. I stayed at The Coffee Shack, the closest to the beach, and the most recommended, which organised day trips and evening cultural visits with food.

The first night I explored the fields, following our guide to a local hamlet (3 huts) to experience some traditional dance and song which we were encouraged to join in. Now most of the westerners were a little too nervous, but a few got up and danced awkwardly a while. During this our food was being cooked, which was served and eaten up pretty greedily. Pap is a basic rice and water mix, and well, doesn’t taste of much. I’m not sure what else we had, but it wasn’t worth remembering! A bit more dance and song after diner got everyone on their feet, all dancing awkwardly with the Mamas and kids. It was definitely nice to see how some of the locals still lived, and a bit of genuine tradition as well.

Hole in the WallThe next day I joined the crew heading to the Hole in the Wall, a small island, with a hole in the wall (surprise!) A very nice walk along the cliffs and beaches that lead to the island, swimming out, then climbing the ledge and jumping back off into the waves. A few flips and things later we headed back by bus. The roads around here are just awful, so if you’re driving, get a car that can handle it.

Each night there was live music in the hostel across the road, and a generally good atmosphere in the village, people mixed and had fun, either drinking or smoking until they hit the sack.

Port St. JohnI was sad to leave, but as it seemed about 80% of the others were as well, it made it good timing. Getting to Port St. Johns was a bit of a tricky one, one shuttle leaving us as usual, but the other not appearing at all. After calling the hostel we were told it had missed us (the only two people they had to pick up) So get a ‘taxi’ into the nearest town, and another to PSJ, If you’ve never been in one of these taxies, you’re a lucky person, as bad if not worse than many in South East Asia these taxies will continue picking people up until the hustler is literally hanging out the door. With our bags on our laps, chickens (dead and alive), sofa cushions and so much more all thrown in there as well, it made for a pretty horrific journey. I was thankful for my companion at this time, another British guy with a typically British sense of humour.

PSJAfter finding the hostel in the dark, we made ourselves at home, got some food and met some of the others. We were approached by a local/resident of the hostel who guided trips around the area. We agreed and the next morning we were lead along some odd paths leading up the cliffs that surrounded the town. This was accompanied by more spliff breaks than I can recall, which was welcomed by many, although I got a little bored of sitting at times. The views were impressive, and we tried to spot sharks in the bay – apparently PSJ has the most dangerous beach in South Africa. Up at the very top, the third cliff up we were met (after another spliff) by a car and driven back to the hostel.

Getting back was thankfully a bit easier, as we’d agreed to pay more than the usual incredibly cheap price to have a seat for our bags. Back at the service station we waited for the Bazbus again, and moved on into the South Coast.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

South Africa Part5 – The Sunshine Coast

So, continuing with my Bazbus journey along the south coast of Africa I came to The Sunshine Coast, the section the leads from the Garden Route past Port Elizabeth and joins the Wild Coast in the east.

DCIM100GOPRO

 

J-BayI think it officially starts at Storms River, which was just something we passed over (I had made some friends at Wild Spirit who were driving me) on route to Jeffreys Bay. J-Bay is the home of big waves, big beaches and big surf brands (along with their factory shops) Chilling out at Island Vibe Backpackers was a great experience, lots of cool surfer types, without the arrogance or machismo of Australian surf hot spots, and lots of common or garden backpackers as well. While the weather still wasn’t perfect, the waves were pretty good, so a quick surf was obligatory. It was also nessecary to make the most of the excellent shopping, although more for the girls. Again, travelling with musicians meant lots of Jams and sing-a-longs in the evenings.

Addo Elephant ParkWe took a trip up to Addo Elephant Park one day, an excellent choice. As ‘locals’ we got in for a very reasonable price, and picked up some supplies. The rest of the day was spent watching the others slowly get drunk while chasing about the place looking for cool things to see. Unfortunately we didn’t see any Lions, Leopards, Buffalos or Rhinos, but we got very close with a few Elephants at one point. Up close those things are pretty scary, and these are the wildest I’ve come in contact with, Thai elephants are a lot more used to human contact.

Back to J-Bay then jumping on the Bazbus again to head to Port Elizabeth. Having not heard good things about this city, I just stayed the one night in Island Vibe and moved on first thing – The Bazbus timetable means you arrive late and leave early. Certainly this seemed to be the atmosphere in the hostel, lots of people just waiting.

East LondonAnd so, on route to the Wild Coast, I jumped off at East London to wait for my transfer up to Hogsback. Waiting at Sugarshack hostel I got a nice feeling. While quiet (there wasn’t anyone but me and the staff there) it had a very cool building, a little old and run down, but functional and cool. The sun tower, with sofa overlooking the whole beach was a great addition, all it needed was more backpackers!

HogsbackThe trip up to Hogsback is long, but once you get halfway, it’s very pretty. Hogsback is a town sitting at the top of a ridge of mountains somewhat inland from the coast, it feels more like jungle than you might expect, with dense forests all around. The hostel Away With The Fairies is exactly what you might expect with a name like that. Run by friendly hippies it’s a very free place. Food is cooked each night, and a campfire started, which was very welcome in the surprising cold. The coolest thing is perhaps the bathtub placed at the edge of the cliff nearby, meaning you can have a nice soapy bath with the best view you’ve ever seen from a tub.

HogsbackThere’s plenty of walking options, so pick up the hand-drawn and vaguely accurate map from reception and go exploring. If you want you can take one of the dogs with you, although pick up a leash for them if you do. I didn’t have any choice, the chap just followed me the whole way, but he knew his way better than I did.

Transferring back down again, I re-joined the Bazbus and headed towards the Wild Coast.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Favourites – The best places in the world according to me

So this might not be the most comprehensive list, as I’ve not been everywhere, but I’ve seen a few spots, and here’s my favourites

1. Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown

Queenstown is probably the most tourist orientated town in the world, it’s also surprisingly small. Considering it’s fame it really is tiny, but that is because the only thing it does is tourism, it doesn’t need lots of lawyers, marketing consultant agencies, technical support officials, or any of that kind of thing. It sure has lots of bar tenders though! The density of bars is apparently the greatest in the world, but that’s not why we love it.

  • You cannot go anywhere without bumping into people you know – While it may be full of tourists, you will know a lot of locals, and will bump into them every time you leave the house.
  • Everybody wants to be there – It’s such a competitive town to get work in, and it’s not cheap either, so everyone is grateful to be there, and this comes across and a wonderful positive attitude throughout the town.
  • There’s an unbelievable amount of things to do – not just the extreme/adventure activities that most locals can’t really afford, but there loads of other bits as well. Frisbee golf, the ice rink, cinema, trampoline park, skate park, hills to hike, the ‘beach’, cliff jumps, it’s hard to get bored here.
  • Knowing people gets you free stuff – The longer you stay, the more people you know, and there’s a constant cycle of favours between the staff, which works out to cheeky discounts, ‘local prices’, free shots, free chips, and well, anything anyone can get away with giving you.
  • Burgers – The famous Ferg Burger (and bakery) which leads the competition Devil burger, both of which have an amazing selection of rad burgers. I love burgers. My favourite was the Yankee Devil, with pineapple and egg on top. Ask for a large in a small bun to increase your meat to bread ratio.
  • The views – look in any direction and you’ll see the beautiful southern Alps all around, the mountains of Mordor, Ben Lomond peak, Cecil and Walter across the lake. Breathtaking, everyday.
  • Snow!

2. Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town

It may not be the capital of SA, but it definitely the cultural centre, and a much nicer place to be. Cape Town has a vibrant and lively atmosphere at any time of day, especially down on Long Street which transforms from suave hipster cafes and skate shops to party stops and clubs over the course of the evening. It offers some of the nicest and trendiest places to eat and drink we’ve ever seen. The city seems to be driven by the young energisers that make up it’s population, with design at it’s absolute core.

  • Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill – The city centre is surrounded by hills on one side, and water on the other, it means you’re never out of sight of the hugely impressive Table Mountain, and a decent walk is never far away. While the locals will always drive, if you’re in the city, just walk to the base, it makes you feel that bit better afterwards
  • Taking a drive around the Cape Peninsula – Ok, you’ll need to drive this one, or do one of the many tours available, but with a lot of cool stops around the peninsula you’ll need a full day at least to see it all. It’s well worth it, seeing penguins, mind blowing cliffs, and the view over the Atlantic Oceans.
  • The attitude of the locals – South Africans are not lazy people, and those that are working away in Cape Town seem to be the most driven and motivated people we’ve ever met. With a free afternoon they won’t just bum out on the sofa watching TV (if they even have a TV) they’ll be playing music, organising a party, writing their blog or just heading somewhere cool to do something cool. I crashed on a friends sofa for a while, and asked about the Playstation, to which they replied “We have a playstation?”
  • The feeling of hopefulness and endless possibility – There’s a general feeling that in South Africa, you can try things, it’s not as brutal and cut-throat as other countries and trying something new will be much more likely to be accepted (perhaps not successful) it’s a very liberating feeling.

3. Sihnoukville, Cambodia

Otres Beach

Sihnoukville is an interesting little place in Cambodia, stretching along the coast it ranges from the town, purely functional, to ‘Sin-ville’ the party beach down along to Otres 1 and 2, the chilled out beaches of dreams. Get yourself a bike, head down to Otres and hit up the super mellow vibe of beach life. There’s plenty of bars to try, so wander along the golden sand until you meet some nice people then just enjoy your surroundings with a drink or two, then when it comes to the night, mellow some more, or head to Sin-ville and get messy.

  • Otres beach – great sand, great views, great people, great food, cheap drinks!
  • Live music – both Otres and Sihnoukville have plenty to offer as far as music goes, usually hosting some traveling musicians, which can include yourself if you want. Talent just pops out of nowhere to do a little set of songs or poems
  • Surprise mini festivals – I went to three in about two weeks, and all were awesome. The regular hippy fest/market was a chance to chill out and hear more of the local (expat) talent, the indie rock party put on by one of the bars was a nice break from the usual commercial dance and pop, and a great way to bring everyone together. Finally the Full Moon Party over on Koh Rong Sanloem brought back flashbacks of Thailand without the overwhelming crowds
  • Easy links to the nearby islands – Nearly all the islands you can see from the beach are reachable from Sihnoukville, a couple hours on the boat (get the fast one). Just be aware that these islands are generator run, or not powered at all, which means the party ends when the lights go out! Everything is done ad hoc, so just get there, find a place to sleep and forget everything else.
  • Don’t Worry Be Happy – It’s impossible to stress here, so don’t.

4. London, UK

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/11121228/Do-you-care-about-London-and-its-future-development-Then-join-our-society.html
Stolen from telegraph.co.uk

Pure stress, constantly being aware of everyone around you so you don’t collide with a Chinese tourist, sweating on the tube, freezing outside, rain, smoke, smog, rain. London is an incredible city, the definition of infinity – everything that could happen probably already has somewhere in London, and you’ll be sure to find a barman who has a friend who knew a guy who saw it happen. There’s so much here it’s impossible to contain it all.

  • Camden on a sunday night – Once the weekend crowds have gone, Camden looks inwards and celebrates itself. The bar-staff swap sides and start drinking, along with all the local residents who themselves work the busy nights. This seems to be a surprising amount of strippers, up for a giggle and to meet some people who aren’t drooling all over them. The Good Mixer and the Camden Head seem to be the good spots.
  • Shoreditch hipsters – just hanging out anywhere in this area you’ll see the hipsters, usually on a bike with a moustache, desperately trying to get noticed for their uniquely styled floral patterned messenger bag, hand made in Cambodia by some hippy chick on holiday. The upside is there’s usually some decent eateries around.
  • The sights – Yeah, London has a few of these, but our favourite stroll goes south from Piccadilly, across the bridge and along south bank, then north again through Covent Garden and Seven Dials. Get out of the tube and start walking, and you’ll find some gems around every corner.
  • The parks – There’s quite a few of these and they’re all fantastic. Get away from the noise, and well, there’s more noise, finding a quiet bit can be tricky in the smaller ones, but head out to St James, Hyde park or Regent park and you might find a quiet tree to lean against for some ‘me time’.
  • Everything, all the time – It never sleeps, so if you need a burger, or some cat food, there’s always somewhere.

5. Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne_by_night
Stolen from wikipedia

Split into three section as far as I’m concerned, St. Kilda, the CBD and Fitzroy, each has it’s own characteristics and personality, all united by Melbournes cultural edge. St. Kildas beach and party style nightlife, leading up to chapel street had a more casual bohemian style, while the CBD was suits and coffee, and when night falls the smarter dressed went to the super clubs, and finally Fitzroy was for the misfits that like their clothing unique and their music live.

  • Trams – Easy to catch, easy to get off, and they go everywhere. And possible the easiest transport to get away with not paying. If you ever do get caught, play the tourist card and they’ll just boot you off, no fine. Not great if you’re late for work, but cheaper than anywhere else in the world!
  • Penguins – You can go check out penguins down in St Kilda, and they are adorable.
  • Manabar – Unfortunately closed now, but a bar with video games is always cool
  • Fitzroy music culture – Every night, in every venue, a different kind of music is play. Swing to indie, hip-hop, jazz and funk to punk rock, nerdcore, spoken word and avant-garde world music fusion. It’ll be in there somewhere.
  • Rooftop bars – despite Melbourne being the most southerly and therefor coldest Australian city, it has an abundance of rooftop bars, some of which offer incredible views over the city, others which offer incredible views of the building next door. Come rain, shine or freezing night wind, these rooftops are open.

A little longer than planned, but there’s our five favourite places in the world (so far)

South Africa Part4 – The Garden Route

Oudtshoorn Pass

The Garden Route stretches along the southern coast of South Africa, from Mossel Bay in the West along to Storms River in the East.

I was using the Basbaz as transport so couldn’t explore every town, but could explore all the ones that are worth exploring. Skipping Mossel Bay I headed straight to Oudtshoorn, which isn’t really part of the route as it’s much further inland, but it doesn’t belong in any other section so it’s here.

Ostrich FarmOudtshoorn has a few bits and pieces to do, the Wildlife Ranch, the Caves and the many Ostrich Farms. Accessing these was a little bit tricky, but thankfully the well run hostel, Backpacker Paradise, offered a variety of trips to allow backpackers to get around and explore. It was the first time I saw a business really taking advantage of the captive market it had in backpackers. So the tours were mostly by bicycle with a man in a van to take you up the hill to start. I chose the high pass bike route, cycling down the long winding road back into the valley from the peak, very impressive views, but it did mean missing out on the caving. Then back in the van I rejoined the main group and were dropped off at the ostrich farm. A peculiar place to visit, but included a chance to sit on and ride an ostrich, an ostrich neck massage and some excellent guiding on why the farms were there and what use ostriches are in Africa. A short ride on was the recommended lunch stop, with swimming pool. A charming location, although the name is well forgotten, so you’ll have to stay at the hostel and ask them. On the route back home we passed the Wildlife Ranch and a few mountain bike trails that I just had to try (not too impressed)

Wildlife RanchThe next day included a visit to the Wildlife Ranch, an impressive collection of animals, and the chance to meet and pet a few of them. This was done with animals born and raised in captivity, used to human contact and with no chance of being released to the wild. The ranch did run a breeding scheme as well, in a separate area of the park inaccesable to visitors ensuring those animals would be capable of surviving in the wild. I certainly felt that the animals were well kept with good enclosures and no cruelty. It was also an amazing experience to pet such gorgeous creatures.

The CaveThe next stop along the route was Wilderness another pleasant little town, looking more European than African in many ways. Wandering along the tracks from The Beach House Backpackers leads to the ‘cave man’ a strange but friendly chap who has built an amazing home in a cave beside the old railway line. He hosts vagrants and refugees from all walks of life, so there’s usually some interesting people hanging around to speak to. Wilderness National ParkThe other side of town (and a long walk) is the Wilderness National Park where it’s possible to rent a canoe, head up river and explore the forest above. Following the path leads up to a nice waterfall area where a splash in the water is mandatory, and very cold! If you ask nicely the hostel can arrange transport for you, otherwise enjoy the stroll.

The HeadsContinuing East is the town of Knysna, a strange place with a newly built gated island community and sparkling new waterfront retail area, while a few blocks back the town is suffering and looks somewhat run down. Try to stay at Island Vibe if you can, Highfields, while nice, was empty and very boring with no activities or options for a sole traveler. The walk to the The Heads was pleasant if a little long, although worth it for the views once there. You can also explore ‘leisure island’ on route, which appears to be the 1960s version of the gated community.

Robberg PeninsulaPlettenberg Bay was the next on the road, another pleasant town, a little more surf orientated than the previous few. Albergo for Backpackers is where I stayed, a lively and fun backpackers. The beach is where most people spend their time, either sunbathing or surfing, but there is the Robberg Nature Reserve which is another long walk away. A cool park to explore, it offers shoe filling sand dunes, cliffs, caves and boardwalks which lead to some very good views along the coast both East and West. I was lucky enough to catch a ride back to the town otherwise that walk would have ruined me.

Wild SpiritA little inland, and into the forested Natures Valley the hippy haven of Wild Spirit Backpackers is a must stop. The hostel offers actual single beds (no bunks!) and is situated on a large area of land, with walks and waterfalls all around. While the weather was pretty bad, so the views were pretty lame, the atmosphere in the hostel was friendly and fun. Lots of music going on, and I got an opportunity to play the Melodica I’d picked up in Oudtshoorn.

BungyThe final point along the Garden Route for us was the Bloukrans Bridge Bungee where it was decided that the highest bungee done so far would have to be done. Overall a very professional experience, none of the sloppy attitudes and techniques that you may fear. At no point was I scared that the equipment would fail or someone would not do their job properly. The only thing I was scared of was jumping off a bridge 216 meters up.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Bloukrans Bungy

South Africa Part3 – Stellenbosch

 

StellenboschIt’s all about wine up in this area of South Africa, and as a non-drinker, it was pretty interesting to see what else was on offer in Stellenbosch.

StellenboschThe town itself is very pretty, nice old European architecture in all the main streets, and the town centre is spacious and filled with rather nice little art shops and cafes. Art seems to be a focus of the town, with lots of bits and pieces dotting the streets, and plenty of galleries to be seen. There’s also a rather obvious Christian element, which I was faced with in the form of a male choir and preaching group who started to warn the entire street of their sins during breakfast (far too early for a sermon).

StellenboschTo the north of the town, past the university is a couple of parks, the botanical garden is small, but well presented, while the larger one is more spacious allowing for family picnics and events. It felt very community minded, with lots of people coming together to enjoy the good weather and a brai (South African barbecue). The larger also had an area of set aside land that was supposed to transport the visitor back to the natural state of the area before the settlers, but in all reality it felt as though they simply could not be bothered to cultivate the park land any further. There is plenty of brush land to be seen elsewhere, it did not need a large section of the park dedicated.

StellenboschThe most interesting thing about this town is the overwhelming student population, they appear at night to take over the bars and clubs. I joined them for a night (with a group from the Hostel), starting in a funky little rock bar, watching the local boys show off their skills on the table football. It’s clear that they’ve been practising, like Pool in the UK, table football is an institution (at least in Stellenbosch). From there on to a club, where the usual commercial hits were playing downstairs, but upstairs a very different matter, hardcore trance in one room with strobe lighting and more table football, imagine playing that with strobes on! The last room was the most peculiar thing, the music was a danced up style of Dutch folk, and the kids were doing a traditional style of swing dance. It was very strange but entertaining to watch, surprisingly energetic and physical as well. It seemed to the way the ugly boys would try to impress girls, as the ones that were the best were nearly all hideous!

Overall a pleasant stop, but definitely missable compared to most of the other places I saw in SA.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

2014-04-12 15.46.11

WYSTC 2014

Convention Centre Dublin

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the World Youth and Student Travel Conference in Dublin, but I was very happy that I was allowed to volunteer.

The Keynote SpeechWhile the organisation of the volunteers wasn’t great, and the team of (mostly) apathetic travel and tourism students weren’t the most enthusiastic we covered the tasks we needed to do well enough, and those that really wanted to achieve something were given plenty of opportunities. I include myself in that group.

I used my spare time to network, and re-connect with sales reps, and company heads of companies I’d worked with through Peterpans while in Australia and New Zealand. Making contact with the heads of Stray travel, Mojo surf and Skydive Wanaka again was good fun. I also met a few people from South Africa who gave me some excellent advice about what to do in order to get into the country, and how to build a business effectively.

Livin' The DreamThe Travel Massive event allowed me to meet several other bloggers, hopefully increasing my following a little, but also to get advice on the best ways to proceed as an independent travel writer and consultant. I also spent some time talking with some of the organisers of WYSTC who were interested in my previous experience, and spoke of potential positions opening up within the company in the future.

Youth Trends with MtvI was invited to the Global Youth Travel Awards in the last day, but unfortunately could not attend. I was privileged and grateful to be asked, and wish I could have gone, without having to cancel my previous plans.

The conference has left me in a difficult position: I want to proceed with the training weekend (and hopefully the job) with Wasteland Ski, so I can spend the winter in the Alpes, but I also want to capitalise on the contacts I have made, with potential leads in South Africa, Australia, The Netherlands and a couple more, it’s hard to know what to do. I am thankful to have these options though, before this conference I only had the one choice!

Benjamin Duff

Sir Ranulph Fiennes

South Africa Part2 – Johannesburg

Overlooking Jo'burg - versestrasvel
Overlooking Jo’burg – versestrasvel

Johannesburg has a bad reputation as far as capitals go, but if you’re willing to put some effort in, there’s some gems dotted around.

The hostel situation isn’t great, there’s quite a few, but most seem to be pretty quiet, and lacking in actual travelers – although I guess it was nice to some friendly Africans so early in my trip. And after the long journey I had getting there, I was happy to be able to chill out and watch movies in the TV room.

It doesn’t feel any more dangerous than any other capital city, sure there are areas that you’ll want to avoid, but on the whole you’re at very little risk, that said, you might want to keep your fancy camera and tourist map a little discreet.

As far as tourist attractions, the Apartheid museum is the highlight. It is both somber and sincere while uplifting and positive. It tells the story of the country through the oppressive government that segregated it’s citizens and committed some horrific atrocities. The museum focuses on the strength of the black community, who triumphed despite so many problems. This is the most important stop in Johannesburg, and also on the City Sightseeing Open Top Tour Bus

The Bus covers all the important sections of the city, leading you through potentially dangerous suburbs to those that have more cultural and historical significance. It is the easiest way to see what Johannesburg has to offer while providing insightful commentary. The city centre itself is not very pretty, and the bus tour through is enough time to experience it, without hopping off.

Wall in SoWeTo - Versestravel
Wall in SoWeTo – Versestravel

Elsewhere in the city, SoWeTo is another must see. The largest and most developed township, as well as the home of both Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela it has huge cultural significance to the whole of South Africa. It has a huge diversity in its neighborhoods, from large custom built houses worth over 1 million Rand ($100,000) to slums built of tin and brick, with no windows to keep out the weather. The electric network is sprawl of cables seemingly from every shack to every other. Like the wiring in South East Asia there’s no way of knowing what is connected or how safe the whole lot is. On the street with Mandela’s old home, a small stretch of trendy bars and restaurants have popped up to cater for the more affluent locals and take advantage of the tourists. It is lively, with a carnival atmosphere, the local kids singing and dancing to earn some tips from the tourists. Again, keep an eye on your gear, crime is frequent although the place makes you feel very relaxed.

Gold Reef City Casino - Versestravel
Gold Reef City Casino – Versestravel

For the adrenalin junkies out there, the Orlando cooling towers are a must. Bungy or swing from the top of these incredibly grafitti’d stacks. With the exchange rate very favourable for most European and north American countries it’s a bargain as well. Finally is the more family friendly Gold Reef City theme park complex. Providing high quality rides and again a very reasonable price it’s worth a stop if you’re in town for more than a few days.

Of course I would be foolish not to mention the huge safari parks that are a few hours drive away, but having not been yet, I’ll let you guys decide whether to go or not.

Benjamin Duff – @versestravel