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 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.