Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa
October 1st – 3rd 2010

I landed in Jo’burg with a sense of caution about the city. Apparently, daylight muggings are not uncommon, especially if you walk into the wrong areas. The hostel I stayed at was called ‘Gandhi Backpackers’ and is actually a house built in the late 1800s. It was very charming looking, in a classic sort of way. It was in a suburb of Jo’burg called Kensington. I started feeling ill that afternoon and thought maybe it was because I didn’t get much sleep since my flight from Cape Town was at 6 am and I had to wake up at 3:30 am. I started feeling weaker and weaker and then paranoia struck me. Maybe I have malaria! Please God, no malaria… I didn’t take any malaria pills nor did I use much insect repellent in Cape Town because there’s supposed to be no malaria in South Africa… I had lost some fluids (try to imagine how) that day so I walked to the nearby supermarket to try to get some Gatorade (no Gatorade, just Lucozade). Remember I mentioned daylight muggings? Well, I was feeling stressed out from a combination of my illness and paranoia about my surroundings. In my mind, every person that was on the street from the hostel to the supermarket was a potential mugger.I was scared as I was carrying a decent sum of money on me. But of course, nothing happened. And from that point, I hid most of my cash inside my left sock and my cards in my right sock.

I popped an Advil every few hours to suppress the fever. I was feeling nauseous and had the runs earlier. According to ‘malaria symptoms’ on Google, the above are some of the symptoms. By this point, I wished I had taken those stupid malaria pills. Nightmares, be damned. The Advil helped me get through the night (save when I went to pee in the bathroom and almost threw up) but the next day was no better. My body was feeling weak. It was a Saturday and I went in search of a clinic (this isn’t the USA so my chances of finding a clinic open even for half a day were slim). I managed to hail one of the many minibus taxis at the corner of the street. Minibus taxis are old junky vans that are usually filled with many other people going the same direction. The driver will drop people off at certain locations. It dropped us all off at Eastgate Mall, one of the biggest shopping malls in Jo’burg. From there, I had to walk to find the clinic. (Daylight muggings alert!). It looked a lot closer on the map than it was. I must’ve walked 30 minutes before I came across the clinic. It was closed and I was feeling too weak to walk back then so I parked myself in the local library and rested. That placed was old and empty. I guess people don’t read on Saturdays. The area around the clinic had lots of rich people as most cars there were BMWs, Mercedes, and Audis. Walked back to Eastgate Mall later and tried walking around but after a while, took a minibus taxi back to the hostel. Took a long nap. The past two days, I’ve been trying to stay hydrated and eating some Weetabix and drinking some canned soup. Otherwise, no appetite.

The next day, I woke up feeling 60%. Went for my Soweto Bicycle Tour where a few of us rode around Soweto, one of the most famous townships in South Africa and where Nelson Mandela used to live. (His old house now is a museum, filled with tourists). Got to see the poorer side of Jo’burg, even go inside a ‘hostel’ there, which is a temporary residence for people who came to try to earn some money to send back to their respective real homes. The space was so small and it looked so run down, it felt depressing. It was fun to see the kids so excited to see us tourists. They would run to us to hold our hands, get us to carry them, hug us… It was one of the highlights for me. We also sat in a run-down shack to drink some local brewed ‘beer’ with the locals. It’s made of bread, yeast, and ‘sogum’ (sp?). It’s like diluted glue-milk in a bowl which we all took a sip out of in turns. Wasn’t much taste to it and alcohol content was around 2% but some of the locals must’ve drunk a ton because they were acting drunk and had bloodshot eyes. Anyway, that was an interesting moment too. I carelessly forgot to bring my camera so one of the girls on the tour told me she’d send a few via email but I have yet to hear from her.

I barely made it back to the Soweto hostel. Over the course of the 4-hour bike trip, my illness was coming back to beat me up. When I finally got back to Gandhi Backpackers, I took another Advil and another nap. I still wasn’t sure what I had. Then one of my hostel-mates suggested I may have food poisoning. I Googled the symptoms, it was the same as malaria. (You’d be surprised how many things out there have common symptoms). So maybe it *was* food poisoning. I felt relieved and hoped this was the case. The next day, I was feeling even better. And as I type this, I am completely fine now but I’m using insect repellent all the time.

No pics from Jo’burg!

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa
September 26th to 30th 2010

Cape Town is just stunning. There’s so much to see and so much to do. If I had to create a ‘Top 5’ list right now, it would be there.

It was cold and rainy the first day I was there. It was also a Sunday so almost everything was closed. I took a walk to Long Street and parked myself in a restaurant that was showing the Bolton/Man Utd game. Chilled at the hostel the rest of the day while making plans for the next 4 days.

Next day, went to the Waterfront and then Robben Island. Tickets had been sold out online but I was lucky enough to snag one at the ticket office. Got to see Nelson Mandela’s prison cell. Not much else to see there but view from the island was beautiful. Spent quite a bit of time in a store in the Waterfront debating on what kind of socks I wanted to get.

(A view from Robben Island. No wonder Mandela didn’t leave for 27 years!)

(Hotel Mandela)

(The great heroes of South Africa…and Legoman giving the thumbs up)

Woke up at 4:30 am the next morning to get ready to go to Gansbaii, the great white shark capital of the world. A shuttle came to pick me and 5 others up (a group of Israelis) and we traveled 2 hours along the beautiful coast. The driver made a couple of stops to show us some good whale-watching spots (I think we saw one or two Southern Right Whales). In Gansbaii, the fun began.

After some breakfast and a briefing session, the boat (named ‘Shark Fever’) took us about 7 km out from the coast. The waters were choppy and I was told we could get seasick. I thought I wouldn’t have problems with it but I was wrong. The moment they anchored the boat, I started feeling very nauseous. While we put on our wetsuits, the crew started chumming the waters to attract the great whites. They then lowered the cage into the water. We were told the waiting time could range from a few minutes to a few hours. We were parked near a known ‘shark-highway’. The great whites started showing up after 10 minutes.

I was part of the first group to get into the cage. The water was freezing and I was constantly shivering. I wasn’t as nauseous in the water as I was on the boat. One of the crew would throw a huge chunk of bait on a hook (tuna?) into the water while another crew member used a decoy fake seal as another lure for the sharks. Every time a great white would come after the bait or decoy, the crew members would tell us which direction to look. With our masks on, we would hold our breath and go underwater and observe the great whites. They looked a lot bigger in the water than they did from above. After about 15 minutes, we would rotate with another group of people. Observing on the deck was fun too and I got to take some pictures. But I was constantly nauseous and fought hard not to throw up. Sometimes, the sharks would realize they weren’t going to be fed so they left and the crew would have to re-chum to attract them again. It was so much fun to see the great whites up close while underwater in the cage. I only wish I had an underwater camera but sadly, my photos from the deck didn’t do the experience justice.

(Look ma, I caught me a fish!)

(Look, I haven’t lost my thumb yet!)

(All you can eat seals)

After a few hours, the boat captain took us to Dyer Island to check out the seal colony. We were near Shark Alley, where Discovery Channel shoots their ‘Shark Week’ episodes. Shark Alley was like a buffet line for great whites, so they like hanging out there, waiting for their meal to go swimming. Dyer Island stank real bad. Amidst the stink, I was eating sandwiches and drinking soda to prevent myself from throwing up due to seasickness. It’s a weird concept but it worked for me. After everything, we went back to shore and watched a video of the day’s happenings, while drinking hot soup and eating more sandwiches.

The next day, I went to climb Table Mountain with some guys from the hostel. We took a taxi to the foot of the mountain and were greeted by a long line of tourists waiting to take the cable car up to the top. Of course, we wanted the pain of having to climb up 1100 meters so we walked 20 minutes to the start of one of the popular trails. On the way there, we met some Norwegians who drove from Trondheim in Norway all the way to Cape Town. That sounded absolutely insane. I don’t know how people do that.

The climb was as brutal as I thought it was going to be. The other three guys were in better shape than me (they were constantly yammering away about their former rugby training) and I told them to go ahead without me. I preferred to hike at my own pace, and stop for a rest when I feel like it. So of course, they sped away. I caught up with them at the top so I guess they must’ve slowed down quite a bit toward the end. The view from the top of Table Mountain was gorgeous. You could not only see Cape Town but the cities and landscapes next to it. We were all too tired to climb down so we took the cable car down. Our climb up took 2 hours, the cable car down took 5 minutes.

(View from top of Table Mountain)

Spent the next day on a bus that was taking the scenic route around Cape Town. Visited Kirstenbosch Gardens, which was absolutely beautiful and a great place to picnic. Anyone who loves flowers would love that place.

Spent my nights at the hostel bar eating some great pizza (they have their own little brick oven) and watching lots of European soccer games. While other people were boozing and socializing, I was in my own little world. It was a lot of fun.

Oh Cape Town, you are so beautiful.

Cape Town, South Africa Pics