One Night in Cape Town

I’m sat in a very comfy seat, my complimentary home made lemonade tastes lovely and a nice man in a white hat has just taken my dinner and breakfast orders I’ve not long had a nice hot shower after enjoying my free beer and soon Ill be sipping champagne and a nice single malt Scotch. I have 10 1/2 hours ahead of me but my seat recline fully flat and if I get board of watching films on my 12” Hi-definition screen, or listening to music through my Denon headphones I may have a nice comfortable sleep.

As you may of guessed by now I am travelling business class  aboard  Turkish Airlines flight TK045 to Istanbul. A special offer at the check in desk was enough to convince me to upgrade. I have never, in my adult life, had the opportunity to do so, and may not have the chance to do so again, why not enjoy a bit of indulgence I thought. If I have to return t the UK, lets do it in style.

As we taxi to the end of the runway I am once again filled with sadness, (although the forthcoming champagne may help). I wish Bev was here to share the experience of course, but the reality of another final goodbye sets in. The manner of this journey has meant that several “final goodbyes” have occurred, leaving the Island, leaving the RMS and now, leaving Cape Town.

Cape Town at NightIf you have followed this blog from the start you know how much I love Cape Town, a wonderful city full of life and vibrancy despite its obvious problems.My time in Cape Town this time has been short and not like any other. After picking up a bug and suffering with aches, pains and an upset stomach on my last few days aboard the RMS I was glad to arrive at my hotel. We had been held in Cape Bay due to heavy fog, which, although lifting from the bay it persisted in the harbour well into late morning. It had taken 4 1/2 hours from arriving in Cape Bay to arriving at my hotel.

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Cape Town and Table Mountain break out of the fog.

Travelling alone I had opted for a small boutique hotel in one of the oldest parts of the city, an area of colonial buildings, street side bars and coffee shops and a stones throw from the central business and shopping districts.

My first night was a write off. I spent an hour and a half trying to track down a pharmacy to get some drugs to calm my ailments, in a desperate rush to find something before the shops shut. One thing is for sure, it would be a very difficult flight the next morning if I didn’t find something to stop my numerous trips to the toilet!! Eventually said pharmacy was found and I retired to my hotel room with a take away dinner ( very nice one) and a film on TV. Now I know these are first world problems and retiring to my hotel room is no great hardship, but it is not how I wanted to spend my last night in Cape Town and was disappointing.

After a good night sleep and some medication I woke feeling much better and set about spending my last five hours in Cape Town taking in some history, an opportunity not afforded to me in the past, travelling as I have with the children. I take time to visit the Slavery Museum, housed in a old slave lodge where, in the 17th Century, slaves on which Cape Town was built were held in cramped, inhumane conditions. As I always do in Cape Town I wrestle with my conscience. South Africa was one of the last nations on Earth to grasp the equality of man, hanging on to racial segregation, discrimination and brutality as late as 1996 through the legalised Apartheid years.

But it is the present day that still concerns me. Huge numbers of beggars walk the streets of Cape Town, or sleep in parks. In the late 1600’s the Dutch East India company, having established Cape Town as a watering stop on route to the East, required food and soon set about cultivating in an area now known as the Company’s Gardens. Today one may roam these gardens , which are still cultivated, and be surrounded by the grandeur and opulence of the former Dutch Parliament buildings. Whilst the wealthy elite of the country, and tourists from around the world buy seeds or nuts to feed the pigeons or brazen and well fed squirrels, the homeless lie asleep on the well kept lawns.The contrast could not be starker.

The country has come a long way however, while young black women lie in the sun taking advantage of the late Autumn weather, a young white lady, well dressed, cleans a syringe with disinfectant, the inequality of life in South Africa is clearly not just down to race or colour. Just over 21 years ago the black, middle class which enjoys feeding squirrels and sunbathing in the gardens,  would not of even been allowed to walk here or indeed many parts of the urban centre unless holding a work pass.

Despite the obvious progress there is a long way to go, even in the relatively enlightened Cape Town. As generations of black South Africans were denied an education there is a huge skills gap and it is the black majority who are inevitably working in restaurant serving food to the white business men and women of the city.  A short drive out of the city centre towards the airport presents a stark image of mile upon mile of slums where the poor black majority eke out an existence, travelling into Cape Town to beg or find what ever work they can.

As I sit in my business class seat, sipping champagne as we cruise over Namibia the inequality of my own riches is not lost on me.

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England’s Green and pleasant land.

 

The Most Beautiful City in the World?

I was filled with excitement to be heading back to Cape Town, man I love Cape Town. This time, fearing it may be our last time we had booked two extra nights giving us three in total. Which, as ever, just was not enough.

Our mini break did not start well and we watched the luggage conveyor belt at the airport spin round and round with no sign of the boys big bright red suitcase. Eventually we were told “there are no more bags to come off”, and the reality that one of our suitcases was missing hit home. We logged a missing bag report and would have to wait and see where it was but for the time being, the boys had nothing but the clothes they were standing in!

Determined not to let this ruin our time here, we left and met the ever lovely Julian, waiting outside to transfer us to our hotel. Having previously stayed in the tourist trap water front, and in the city centre, this time we opted for a beach side suburb of Cape Town called Camps Bay._MG_3356 Our hotel, Place on the Bay was lovely, and what it lacked in finishing touches in made up for in location, sat as it was just across the road from white sand beach, rolling Atlantic waves and the palm tree lined promenade of one of Cape Towns most beautiful districts.

Our time in Cape Town was amazing, we played on the beaches, paddled in the sea, shopped in local markets and went exploring in the rock pools. The highlight however was our day trip safari to Inverdoon Game Reserve. Reliably informed that the reserve was a two and a half hour drive away we set out to arrive at 10am, by leaving at 8 am, not as you will notice, on time! Traffic leaving cape Town was slow, and the whole of South Africa was, it seemed, covered in a thick blanket of fog. Despite having directions to the reserve, we did the usual thing and plugged our destination into the Sat Nav, and blindly followed it despite it taking a different route than that which was recommended. It wasn’t long before, in terms of time, we realised this was a mistake and we climbed higher and higher through steep mountains up into Bains Klooff Pass. Late we may have been, but speed was not an option as we travelled through stunning scenery of forest and cliffs with shear 400ft drops to the side of us.

Its hard to express just how incredible the landscape was, and unfortunately, already now very late for our safari I had no time to stop and photograph the area, but I was breath taken at its beauty. As a troop of baboon crossed the road ahead of us we reached the summit of the pass, and looked down the valley ahead of us, the twisted layers of rock, lush green trees and rivers cutting its way down hill as waterfalls either side of the valley crashed down to meet it.

Leaving the pass behind us we reached Cares, a medium sized town and the first in South Africa we had seen that felt like Africa, the shop signs were largely in Afrikaans and white man was all but absent. As we passed through, there seemed to be a protest of some sort going on, a large gathering of people and two or three police cars made us a little wary as we slowly drove through the crowds. We needn’t of worried it was all very peaceful, and we do not really know what the commotion was all about, but as we left town and came across another of South Africa’s shanty towns it was a stark reminder that behind the sheer beauty of the country and friendliness of it people there is still a troubled country. Thirty years after apartheid has ended the country is still divided by class and race and the ruling, majority black ANC party have some way to go before this country is at peace with itself and there is anything approaching equality in this beautiful land.

Leaving Cares was my opportunity to make up some time, as the most wonderful, strait road opened up for miles ahead on the flat, wide, river valley floor. High mountains boarded us and my foot hit the floor with the speed gauge hitting 150kph it was exhilarating to scream through the valley on the empty road in my little Hyundai! If we arrived at Safari past 10.30am there was a chance they would leave without us, it was now looking to be impossible to make up the time and as the tarmac road ended, and a gravel track lay out ahead of us our only hope was that the group was small and kind and that they would be gracious enough to have held off and waited for us.

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Long Strait Roads, paved in gravel made for exciting driving!

With clouds of dust behind me, and stones flying about I took the little car to its limits across the gravel, only slowing down when we came across the most wonderful road sign, “Caution, SLOW, Tortoise in road!!! Turning into the safari reserve we saw our first wild African animals, Springbok, the national animal of South Africa, grazing peacefully in fields adjacent to the gravel road. We were welcomed at the reserve and quickly hopped onto a safari 4×4 which shot across the African bush, shaking and bouncing us to catch up with the main tour group had already departed.

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Springbok are very common.

A wonderful three hours was then spent out on the reserve catching a privileged look of Elephants, Giraffes, Lions, Buffalo, Zebra and the delightful tortoise crossing the road, before the highlight in the Cheetah reserve.  A game reserve is not 100% wild, it is a managed environment, many of the animals have been rescued from hardship or exploitation, and the animals are fed during times of drought, but they are free to roam, to hunt and live an all but wild existence on the 15000 hectare estate. The flat valley floor and grassy plains stretched for mile upon mile bordered by a circle of mountains on the far horizon, it was a true privilege to be there and a day we will all remember, a big thanks to Gran Mitch for the gift that allowed us to do it.

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Relaxing by the pool. If the boys look cold, its because they were, the water was icy and Bev and I were going no where near it!

All too soon our time was done and we headed back to Cape Town. Surrounded by the 2000+m mountains of the Matroosberg Range, and following the wide flat Breede River valley through vineyards and mountains past lakes and streams the drive back was as stunning as the drive there, only this time I stopped to take some photos. This area is simply stunning and left me dreaming of returning one day for a more extensive exploration.  Returning to Cape Town we felt strangely at home in this foreign land, like we were somehow returning home from a day out, rather than returning to a hotel following a day on safari.

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Matroosberg mountains

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Vineyards of the Breede River Valley

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View from the car as we wound along the Breede Valley. (No I didnt take the photo whilst driving!)

 

Our last days in Cape Town went too quickly, more beach, more rockpools, more sun and more good food. Before long we were back in the now very familiar Seamans Mission, passing our luggage over to the handling crew, and waiting to once more board the RMS St Helena. We had been a little apprehensive about our new final year in St Helena. Many good friends had left the Island whilst we had been away, and I was due to start a new job. Just before leaving St Helena some 8 weeks ago I had interviewed for and been offered a post with the Airport Landscape and Ecology Mitigation Program as a Team Leader, supervising staff in the field, managing various outsourced contracts and assisting with the project management of the Islands largest ever conservation project. What would this last year hold for us, many changes in store, two parents working full time, Charlie starting in year 1 (proper school) and friends leaving the Island. Boarding the RMS is always special, but this time held even greater significance for us, as, just like two years ago, we stepped into something of the unknown.

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One of my favourite photos of all time. Taken with a self timer on a stunning beach in Clifton. I sometimes have to pinch myself at how lucky we are, and how lucky I am. Moments of peace and beauty allow one to remember the good things in life, I will never forget this moment.

As always the RMS has a calming influence and before long we had met new friends heading to St Helena for the first time, and old friends heading back following periods of leave or medical. The nervous and excited questions of our new friends helped to re-assure us, we were the old hands, and although changes were afoot, no doubt St Helena will be the same place, and as Cape Town disappeared into the sea mist a feeling of contentment came over me. St Helena we are coming home.

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Two Years in Shorts!

So, after a huge amount of hard work, with support from my family and friends, and through some difficult time I have done it, 365 days wearing shorts!!! Having survived a British summer still with shorts on each day I now aim for two years in shorts, and as the sun shines through my window I am confident of achieving this goal.

We are back on St Helena, after a mere eight days of travelling we reached home two weeks ago. Not that we traveled every single day as we enjoyed a wonderful two night stop over in Cape Town. Cape Town remains, second time round one of my most favorite places I have visited.

A city full of life, colour, sound, history and culture. A place of welcoming people good food and spectacular natural history. I was lucky enough this time to full fill a long held ambition and ascend Table Mountain. Not, as I would of liked, on foot, but via the famous cable car that ferried throngs of tourists up the mountain each year. Although undoubtedly less of a place of wonder as a result of the tourists lie myself, Table Mountain still holds a prehistoric feel to it, and a short walk takes you away from the crowds and out on your own across the huge rocky plateau. The views are truly spectacular as we looked out to the Cape of Good Hope and across to Table Bay. As we gazed the wonderful sight of the RMS St Helena coming into port greeted us, as we contemplated our third and likely our last voyage across the Atlantic. By the time we leave in 12months, the RMS will be no more an aeroplane will be our rather more boring mode of transport off the Island.

In may also be our last time in Cape Town and as such we were determined to enjoy it, we could not of been happier to watch a thunderstorm blow through Cape Town as we sat upon our balcony sipping Cape wine and taking in the sights and sounds of Cape Towns night life below.

The view from our balcony at night.

The view from our balcony at night.

Boarding the RMS was a strange experience. 12 months ago we past through immigration and port control, and climbed the ramp up to the RMS with great excitement, and a fair amount of fear and trepidation at the unknown world we were heading to. This time however the RMS provided a huge amount of security, a welcoming and familiar vessel to transport us not to the unknown, but to what is, for now at least, undoubtedly home.

Our crossing was smooth, fast and pleasant, a hugely appreciated upgrade ensured we enjoyed one of the larger cabins and the extra space was very welcome having spent five weeks in each others pockets. The conditions were a far cry from the rough seas we had encountered five weeks earlier and the journey was incredibly smooth and, as a result very quick, as quick as crossing the Atlantic can ever be.

It was a particular pleasure meeting new arrivals on St Helena, tourists and our new Doctor, full of questions, which we were now in a position to answer. Travel on the RMS St Helena is a wonderful experience. I allows new comers to the Island to form friendships and meet people before the set foot ashore, providing rea-assurance and dinner invites, particularly useful when arriving on a bank holiday weekend when all the shops will be shut for two days.

On early morning of our fifth day St Helena filled the view from our port hole, filling my heart with a warm sense of joy. The sun was shining and we were all looking forward to stepping on land. The sun shone for our first two or three days on the Island, before taking a turn for the worse, after all we are still just emerging from winter, but the days of are punctuated nicely by days of glories tropical sun.IMG_4056 IMG_4055 IMG_4048 IMG_4044 IMG_4039

Our first weekend back however reminded us of why we love the place so much. A walk up flagstaff to enjoy the spectacular views across the Island, a lovely dinner at a friends house, with a huge slab of T-bone steak, and a party on another night.

Our weekends have been instantly filled with good company, good fun and wonderful scenery. This weekend has been no different. A return to Sundowners drinks at Donny’s bar, a walk to Fairy Land, aptly named this time of year as you can see and swimming in the pool under baking tropical sun.

I have undertaken something of a fitness regime, climbing Jacobs ladder twice a week, and at present, swimming a kilometer twice a week before 9am!! This is, as my friends will testify, most unlike me. However 6 weeks of pure indulgence, drinking and eating takes an inevitable toll which was confirmed to me as we walked to the coffee shop following our disembarkation from the ship to be greeted with “you’ve put on weight” from one of our friends. Before we left the Uk 12 months ago I was determined, having reached my “middle age” that I would have something of a change of life style and eat better and exercise more. My good intentions were thwarted following my groin injury (plus complete lack of will power and a liking for beer) but I return more determined to keep fit and look the part for my gorgeous wife.

Life has been hectic, in one day I found myself climbing Jacobs Ladder, shopping, photographing ladies under wear, plumbing in part of a fish tank and writing a husbandry guide for colleagues back in the UK. All in a day’s work over here. At this point many of you will of thought “photographing ladies underwear”??? And yes, I have a contract with a new business who is importing sexy, Anne Summers underwear to the Island. At this stage I am just taking product shots for the website, however when my studio equipment arrives at the end of the month a model shoot will take place. Totally out of my comfort zone I am both excited and extremely nervous at my first actual photoshoot with models, and in skimpy underwear no less. OF course this has gone down well with my male friends and I have already signed up several police officers as security and at least seven people holding a flash for me!!

After six weeks in each other pockets the Wednesday the boys started back at school was a joyous day for us all. Charlie has now started full time schooling and seems to be relishing in this new, “big boy” environment, part of the main school and not within the annexed nursery building. Oliver on the other hand has struggled to settle back in and reform the friendships that he left behind eight weeks ago. However, two weeks in, and with the help of taking a football to school it seems to be improving for him. Of course both boys now have a warped perspective of our life in the UK. Having spent the past month being spoilt by grandparents, having days out at the zoo, park and generally living a life of riley, they are now convinced that our lives in the Uk are one great big party with grandparent. Convincing them of the realities of our previous life in the UK being different from the holiday we just enjoyed has taken some doing, and Charlie is still not convinced. However a boat trip with dolphins, swimming, football, friends and sunshine has convinced them that another year here will be ok!!

Leaving the UK was difficult for everyone this time, but particularly for Bev, who’s sister was induced into labour the day before we left the UK. Knowing that our new niece would be born as we were travelling, and that she would be twelve months old before we get to meet us is of course hard. It reminds us of the precious things we have left behind. But I would not change it for the World. We are on a countdown now, 12 months to go, 11 months, 10 months etc, and yet we return feeling at home. I am no longer searching for my place here, desperately fighting for some feeling of importance and worth. I am slotting back into my place here and the sacrifices we make are more than worth it.

As we reach mid-September St Helena is about to enter a whole new age, and history is being made. The very first mobiles phones were sold on the Island on the 1st of the month, the network due to be operational before the month end. And, on Tuesday 15th of September 2015, St Helena will no longer be an isolated Island in the Atlantic, as the very first Aeroplane lands here. With it come mixed emotions for Saints and Ex-pats alike. What will this new age herald for the Island as it undertakes the most significant change since its discovery in 1502? Time will tell, and I will hold comment and judgement until such time as I could give a balanced and informed comment. Until then the island undoubtedly excited to welcome its first test flights next week, and no doubt huge crowds will be in place to witness the event. Whatever the long term future for the Island it is a privilege to be part of life here at this momentous time, and we could not be happier to be back.

Wednesday

So its Wednesday afternoon and I sit, still on board the RMS, it has been a very long week, and the longest day maybe of my life, watching a clock tick by hoping that at some time soon Captain Rodney will announce that the winds have dropped sufficiently to allow us into Cape Town Port. Since Monday, and my last blog, the waves picked up considerably, slowing our journey and making our arrival in Cape Town very late. Immigration was closed, and we were told that an extra night on board the RMS would be the result. Bad news got worse as we were then told that high winds had closed the port to all traffic, and that, looking at the forecast it would be sometime around midday that we would be able to get onto dry land.

Alas even that claim was optimistic, and so it is that I sit, at 4.30pm, still doing circles out in Table Bay. Our flight will be missed, and it wont be until Friday, two days late, that we will eventually take our flights to London. The RMS is a long journey at the best of time, mentally an extra day feels like an eternity and the day has been a mix of long drawn out periods staring blankly, games of cards, and a good deal of TV. At one stage, two of our fellow travellers were engaged in a game of Guess Who, and, such was the boredom on board, were watched intently by five adults, awaiting the result of the hotly fort contest.

We are lucky to have on board Colin Owen, Financial Secretary for St Helena who has been in touch with St Helena Governments HR to re-arrange our flights. Others, have not been so lucky, missing flights, connections and starts of holidays. The Days now need an expensive taxi journey to catch up with holiday companions. Although the journey has been long, our spirits have been lifted by the ever staggering sight of Cape Town, sat under Table Mountain with its table cloth of white cloud flowing down the slopes. We are saddened that our time at home has been cut short, but must make the most of the circumstances and enjoy an extra night and day in the wonderful city of Cape Town.

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Robin Island, Table Bay at Sunset

Oliver and Charlie have behaved impeccably, I have been astounded at how well they have played and entertained themselves. The children have all provided each other with entertainment and companionship and have found an endless array of games to play and ways to keep themselves amused.

After spending the night in the bay, we woke to see Cable Mountain, clocked in its white table cloth. Cape Town really is a stunning city.

After spending the night in the bay, we woke to see Cable Mountain, cloaked in its white table cloth. Cape Town really is a stunning city. Click on the image to zoom in and see it in full detail.

As I type, the piolet has just boarded the vessel to take us into Port. I am reliably informed we have around an hours journey time left, a welcome relief that our seven day journey is nearly at an end. The journey has not all been bad, I have cemented old friendships, and made new. We shared our journey and dining table with a Sailor of World renowned, and heard tales of round the World Trips and trans-Atlantic rowing from a man who holds once held a World Record for rowing the Atlantic single handedly. Both Oliver and Charlie are now set on being sailors when they grow up.

Two Years in the Atlantic, what’s that all about?

So Two Years in the  Atlantic, what’s that all about? Well apparently this is a blog, I say apparently as I don’t really know what a blog is, not because I’m some grey haired retiree (more on retirement later) who doesn’t use technology, or  god forbid social media, far from it I can’t get off Facebook, but because I’ve never read or written a blog. From what I can gather it’s like a diary, but one which the whole world could potentially read. That being the case, unlike Adrian Mole and his not so secret diary I won’t be discussing the number of pubic hairs I have. Moreover, for the first few entries I shall discuss the topic of trains, plans and automobiles, or in my case, a plane and a boat, for a bloody long time.

Now, I think I’m right in saying that blogs should not just be about the art of blogging, but should have some content that the reader consider worth reading, in this case I’ve eliminated most of the world and I consider my target audience to be my friends, family and people who may be considering the prospect of a job offer they have been made on the tiny, remote Island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean.

I say this because a little under 6 months ago my wife was considering accepting a job offer on the tiny, remote Island of St Helena in the South Atlantic, and now, having accepted that job offer, I am sat here, in the Commodore Hotel in Cape Town, next to my eldest Son Oliver (6) who is snoring, writing the first few lines of this blog.

If you are still with me and haven’t got bored of my obvious attempt to make this blog in some way witty, then I shall get down to the point of it all. My incredible wife, Bev, has been offered a job as a Marine Studies Advisory Teacher on St Helena, a remote British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic. I could tell you lots about this Island and its incredible history, but I suspect that google is your friend and could do a better job. Suffice to say this, for me and my family is an epic journey and life change to an island accessible only by Sea, in the South Atlantic.

That’s the background done, rather than tell you about me, my wife and our two children, I shall tell you about our adventure, and the rest I hope with unravel along the way.

Tonight I sit in a hotel bed, my wife and youngest son in the room next door, not how I planned my first (and only) night on a new continent. We departed Heathrow Airport a little over 24hrs ago, flew through the night and arrived in Cape Town this morning.  I’ve always wanted to visit Cape Town, to see South Africa and to learn first-hand of the effects of the shameful years of apartheid and how the country has changed since.

 I have been here only a few hours but I have felt more at home and welcomed than any destination I can thus far care to mention. A city of stunning beauty equalled only by the welcome and friendliness of its peoples.  I have experienced hospitality, fantastic food, pickled crocodile, vuvuzelas and local beer.

 

 

I have toured the tenth greatest aquarium in the World (you’ll no doubt hear more of aquariums as time passes) with an exclusive behind the Scenes Tour of the superb Two Oceans Aquarium and spoken at length with a wonderful Scouser (there is no escaping them) about the problems of education in the UK. We are staying in the hotel with several other adventurers off to start new jobs and new lives on the Island, and Christine is one of the first we have bonded with, a warm hearted lady full of scouse humour, wit and attitude. I think I shall make firm friends with her

I have spoken to some  of the  most welcoming people, the local Afrikaans, that  have met anywhere in the World and feel as though leaving this city tomorrow will feel more of a wrench than one night should wreak. But alas leave I must, bound for St Helena on the last remaining Royal Mail Ship, RMS St Helena a 6 day 5 night voyage across the Atlantic.

But before I close my opening blog I shall end at where I began, what is a blog and why am I writing it. To me this is a diary; it’s a diary of a period of my life full of unknowns, of excitement and trepidation in equal measure. Although my wife now refers to me as unemployed, I consider myself retired (at the age of 34) or at least retired for two years, and retired people do things that the rest of the population have neither the time nor the inclination to do, hence a blog. I warn you for those who appreciate the written word, this is as good as it gets, and my longer term intention is for my blog to become a showcase for my new found passion, photography. But until such time as my skills move from point and click (or P mode for the photographers out there) to photos I am proud to share then my late night ramblings may have to suffice.

So thanks for reading and I hope to keep my updates to less than an undergraduate dissertation in future, I look forward to my second and last day in this unique, fascinating and wonderful city of Cape Town and set off with the Words, “I’d be surprised if you don’t see Southern Right Whales on your journey” ringing merrily in my giddy head.