Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The final blog entry. Some final thoughts.

We have been back in England for five days now and the weather has thankfully started to warm up. It doesn't feel like over 16 months ago that two fledgling cyclists wobbled their heavily laden bikes out of my father's drive in Norfolk. Using the theory that we would get fitter as we progressed, we made our way through Europe and to be quite honest, much further than I ever expected!

Slowly over time, the line between 'travellers who happen to be on bikes' and hardened cycle tourists has become increasingly blurred. Cycling has certainly afforded us opportunities that would have been difficult to experience any other way.

During our time in the saddle we have had, as you can imagine, plenty of time to muse over the pros and cons of travelling by bike. At times it is hard to imagine a better way to travel. Riding along exchanging greetings with friendly locals, through beautiful scenery on a warm day takes quite some beating. Stopping to chat, often through sign language, or accepting a generous offer of a drink and occasionally food from people frequently less monetarily wealthy than ourselves, is both humbling and heart warming.

Occasionally though, some of the pros are also the cons. The very act of travelling so slowly means that you get to see all of the places in-between, which at times is brilliant. The con of course, is that travelling so slowly means that you also get to see all of the bits in-between that would probably be best avoided. There have certainly been times when we would have loved to have been able to skip ahead to the next big town or city. Normally when we were short of water/food, which was often, or passing through a less than friendly area. In truth security, other than in one previously documented case, has not been a problem.

At very few points during our trip have we ever felt unsafe. Contrary to how the region is often portrayed in the media and to the surprise of many, this is especially true of the Middle East. Watching the news now and seeing the terrible situation unfolding in Syria leaves us deeply saddened. We have so many fantastic memories from our time there and hope that some kind of resolution is reached soon. It is a beautiful country, full of friendly hospitable people, we can only hope it remains so.

I had originally contemplated writing a long list of names of people, who have gone beyond the call of duty to make our journey so memorable. In truth there have been so many, that I still find it quite overwhelming. We know of course, that many of those people who offered us food, water, tea, accommodation or even just an encouraging word, will have no means of reading this. We can only say that our lives have truly been enriched by your selfless actions.

To those that will be reading this, we offer once more our heartfelt thanks, With luck we will see some of you again, either in your home countries or in ours. Just don't all come at once as most British houses aren't very big and at the moment we don't even have one!

When we started this trip the plan was to have an adventure, one that we would remember for the rest of our lives. It has certainly been that and more. There have been times when we could easily have given up and it certainly hasn't always been easy. But I am proud to say that we made it and probably more importantly, that we made it in one piece.

To everyone that has followed our blog, we hope that you enjoyed reading it. At some point there will probably be another trip, whether it will be on bicycles, only time will tell.

For now though we offer a big thank you and goodbye from Matt, Debs and an older and even less fuzzy Toad.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Day 459 – 465 South Africa 05/02/2012 - 11/02/2012, Cape Town – Norfolk, UK. Sightseeing, packing our gear, a final farewell and a chilly homecoming!

Big Blue Backpackers excelled themselves this morning on our checking out day. The guy on reception could clearly see we were still carrying our luggage down the stairs, when he rudely demanded that he would need our room key back. I am trying to find some redeeming feature of staying there, but none spring readily to mind. It fortunately hasn't soured our Cape Town experience too much, mainly because we managed to be out all day!

Without even a goodbye from the hostel staff, we set off towards the V&A waterfront to take another photo. This time, with a cloud-free sky, we were able get a picture of us, the bikes and Table Mountain in all its glory.


Task completed, we went for a celebratory coffee and then headed off towards Rondebosch. Being Sunday, the traffic was light and aside from the traffic lights all being against us, we made it trouble free to Ron and Jo's house.

It has been lovely to finish our time in South Africa staying with another great family. Ron and Jo's son Matthew has been visiting from America and he has kindly ran us around the sights of Cape Town.

Of the sights, we have visited the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, Groot Constantia and Steenberg wine estates and eventually when the weather finally cleared, Table Mountain. The cable car may be something of a rip-off, but it did save Debbie's limbs and the views from the top were spectacular.

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Thanks to our guide Matthew, we walked to Maclear's Beacon, the highest point, and had an enjoyable stroll through the interesting flora. To anyone planning on going to Table Mountain, follow the advice that we were given: if the weather is clear, drop everything and go up. In our last six days in Cape Town there was only one clear day on the mountain, which was thankfully the day we went up.

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Despite it being an awkward time to have visitors, as Ron and Jo's daughter was having a baby, we have been made to feel very welcome. We have enjoyed lovely meals and great hospitality. Running us around to get boxes for the bikes and then helpfully taking us to the airport when it was time to leave, has left us needing to offer our heartfelt thanks. Also we mustn't forget congratulations on the birth of your grandson Brett.

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As is often the case, our last few days went very quickly, but we managed to catch up once more with George and Alice. It was sad that we didn't get to spend more time with them, but there is always another time. We certainly have plenty of reasons to come back to what has proven to be a fascinating and often beautiful country.

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The end of what has been an epic journey soon came around and it was off to the airport. A two hour flight to Johannesburg on Kulula, the airline with a sense of humour, was followed by a lengthy wait at the airport.


Finally a ten hour flight with Virgin Atlantic has brought us and our bikes home to a very cold England. The 30°C temperature change is going to take some getting used to!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Day 457 & 458 South Africa 03/02/2012 - 04/02/2012, Big Blue Backpackers, Cape Town. Sightseeing.

As an easy way of seeing Cape Town's main sites, we decided to take a trip on the sightseeing bus. Leaving from the V&A Waterfront we headed into the down town area, where we made our first stop. Following a walking route, we passed through Greenmarket square, stopping to have a look at the old town house and then onwards to St George's church.

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Greenmarket square is a good place to have a look at the stalls selling a variety of African crafts, that is provided you haven't already travelled through the rest of Africa. If you have, then all you will see is exactly the same stuff, with a huge price mark up. Any ideas we had about buying our souvenirs in Cape Town, have been ended by the fact that there is nothing we want; especially at the prices they are asking!

Following a walk round, we visited the first of three museums that we would see that day. The Slave lodge was built to house the slaves of the Dutch East India Company. It was an interesting place to walk round, but the displays are probably a little too wordy for some. Some of the impact of what should be a powerful exhibit has been taken away by the need to read very long information boards. From the Slave Lodge we visited the Jewish Museum which houses an excellent holocaust exhibit and did until recently have a Mandela exhibit. The Mandela one, seems to have been taken down to make way for a new installation. Quite by chance though, we stumbled upon an exhibit of Japanese carved miniatures that was definitely worth a look.

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Back firmly in the realms of South African history we visited the District 6 museum. District 6 was Cape Town's infamous inner city slum area, inhabited mainly by coloureds, but also by blacks and impoverished whites. It was once regarded by many as the soul of Cape Town, inspiring novels, poems and music. During the mid 1960's the Apartheid government declared it a white area, and the bulldozers moved in flattening the suburb. After 15 years there was nothing remaining of the area excepting the churches and mosques. The museum commemorates the area using a collection of documentary style photos and written memoirs. There is also a near complete set of street signs, saved from the rubble.

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Back on the bus and our next stop was at the colourful streets of Bo Kaap. One of Cape Town's oldest residential areas, Bo Kaap is home to descendants of the slaves who were imported by the Dutch in the 16th and 17th century. The colourfully painted houses were the antithesis of the drab clothes that slaves were forced to wear. It made for an interesting place to stroll round, not least as being Friday the resident Muslims were out visiting the mosques in their finery.

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From Bo Kaap we walked back to have a look at Long Street with its attractive balconied buildings and then stopped for lunch in Greenmarket. Lunch was taken to the accompaniment of some tribal dancers and a wandering musician.

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By now we were getting tired of the sightseeing, so boarded the bus for the longish journey back to the Waterfront. It would have been nice to have gone up Table Mountain as we passed the cable car station along the way. But due to the continuing high winds the cable car wasn't running. It had originally been our plan to walk up, but to the relief of Debbie's limbs we have decided to take the cable car. All we need now is a clear day with light winds; not the most common of occurrences in Cape Town it seems!

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Arriving back at the waterfront, we had a brief walk round the shops, a spot of dinner at a noodle bar and then headed back to the hostel exhausted. In our absence the hostel hadn't improved any, so we had a couple of drinks, served by the disinterested staff, and then called it a night.

The next day we left our rubbishy hostel early and had a day of visiting the Two Oceans Aquarium, strolling round the shops, eating, partaking of the odd beer and watching England's opening match of their six nations campaign.

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It was another good day that was only marred by having to return to the hostel. We have stayed in a few bad places over the years, but Big Blue is by far the worst place we have stayed in for quite some time. It is filthy and the staff are rubbish and unfriendly. The only thing going for it is its location, but there are plenty of other hostels nearby which must be better; unfortunately they were all booked up.

Tomorrow we move to Ron and Jo's house (we met in Liwonde national park, Malawi), for part two of our Cape Town stay.