A Travellerspoint blog

South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland - Loadsa passport stamps

My days here were numbered but it will always hold a place in my heart

sunny 22 °C
View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

I needed to get from Windhoek, Namibia to Cape Town, South Africa, luckily for me someone had sent an email to a hostel I was staying at saying that he had space in a people carrier, on the very day I wanted to leave. On the morning of Friday 24th I met Joerg, he was a tour guide who had to be in Cape Town to take a boat load of German tourists on a tour of Africa. Joerg was German himself and a nice chap! He drove and I made him and his co-driver sausage meat sandwiches from the back, we made a good team! We stopped over the night in Springbock a nice little town just over the boarder in South Africa, it been Friday night they went out for a few beers and I treated myself to a Nando's and early night! That would be until they rocked back up at silly o'clock and hit the hay, I thought a freight train was going through the guest house, they both snored like troopers!

For most of my travel through Africa I lived in a tent, now I must get used to sleeping with others in dormitories and shared rooms. I have been know to give out the odd purr when I sleep, though I think this is mainly confined to when I have had a few beers. Travelling through South Africa I found myself in dorms quite alot and whilst I am aware that many men snore, I experienced this during my traveling though the east coast of Austrailia many years ago. What did surprise me was the number of women that now seem to snore! Though this was not an entirely new concept to me, I once shared a room with my friend Oj (name disguised to hide her identity) on a snowboard trip some years ago which resulted in the purchase of some ear plugs! Though I cannot call it a scientific experiment and I am sure there are scientists spending millions of tax payers money on similar analysis of human sleeping trends, but from what I can see it seems that snoring is almost becoming an epidemic, maybe in 100 years time everybody will be at it?

As we drove further south, magically the outside landscape turned from the desert and bland (but still very beautiful) landscape of Namibia to the lush greens of South Africa. It was Southern Africa's winter, this means cold nights and nice and warm days. Contrary to what you might think an African winter whilst it being cold is also very dry, though not the case in Cape Town. Due to it having its own micro climate the winter has oodles of rain! What would be in store for me?

I arrived in Cape Town on a sunny Saturday afternoon and proceeded to Long Street, which is pretty much where all the action happens. Cape Town has a real nice vibe and feel about it, with Table mountain towering above the city and the ocean at its doorstep. That evening sat in the bar Long Street Backpackers, feeling quite tired, not very sociable and ready for an early night I found myself been 'dragged' out to one of the local hotspots Zula, by a pretty German girl called Hanna (well it would have been rude not to)!! A couple of Jagermeisters later and I was ready for a good night out, in Namibia whilst I had the odd beer I didn't really loose my inhibitions by drinking copious amounts of booze! Zula was a pretty good club and had various MC's and even a body popping dance off, it was really nice to see such a mix of black & white South Africans and also plenty of other nationalities, all having a good time! Its all lakka (lakka is the Afrikaans term used for just about everything that is good)!

The next few days were spent climbing table mountain, seeing penguin colonies, road trip to the peninsula cape point, eating game and generally having a few beers in the hostel or one of Long Streets bars. One of the highlights has to be seeing two southern pale whales surfacing below us as we looked out from Chapman's Peak, my first ever whale sighting!!

One of the main activites I wanted to do in South Africa was go shark cage diving, 6:00am on Wednesday morning I was picked up and taken to Hermanus where we boarded a boat and headed the to famous shark alley to see great whites up and close! Now unfortunately for me I only had a few hours sleep and ended up getting drunk the night before! I got in the water saw two or three sharks and then spent the next couple of hours been violently seasick, you can be rest assured I gave myself a jolly good talking to!! Whilst I didn't get the most out of the shark diving we did get to see three southern pale whales and school of dolphins at probably no more than 10 meters away on the way back home! My second whale sighting! The shark cage diving is firmly on my list as a still need to do!

Whilst in Cape Town I met up with a Belgian guy called Jan, he was a good chap and would be the next piece of the jigsaw in my travels and we would spend almost two weeks together!! Whilst in Cape Town I met a real nice group of people and the hostel was a really sociable place, the sort of place you could get stuck at for weeks if you are not careful, we had a good night out on our last night, nice end to a very pleasant few days in Cape Town.

We set off from Cape Town on a sunny Thursday morning in our rented Tata car and headed to Stelenbosh to do a bit of wine tasting! As regards weather in Cape Town we were very lucky, lovely sunny days, coolish evenings and no rain. In Stelenbosh we visited three vineyards, I am pretty sure I was just topping up the previous nights alcohol consumption! In every vin-yard there were buckets on the side of the tasting counter, I actually saw some people spitting the wine back out, what's that all about? Unbelievable, where I come from that's just a plain simple waste of good grape. Lucky for us our car had been upgraded to an estate, it was now jam packed with vino!!

That evening we got to Mossell Bay, this is a beautiful little seaside town with a nice little surf community. It was very quiet, in fact only 3 people in our hostel, would this be a sign of things to come? After a good nights sleep we hit the road, next destination Knysna!

The drive was beautiful, passing through forested areas, breathtaking views of the southern ocean from winding coastal roads and quaint little seaside towns. In Kynsna we booked into our hostel and went for a drive to the Knysna head and a look round the town.

As we got back two English girls were rocking up in their rented VW Citi (South Africa's cheap and cheerful budget car), these would turn out to be Vikki and Jen, two medic students and would turn out to be a pair of good old easy going English lasses, who we would spend the next few days with! The girls had driven from Cape Town and were looking for a night out on the tiles, Jan and I were already treating ourselves to one of the chardonnays we had purchased a couple of days before and it was a friday night, so it would be rude not to go for a night out with the locals. Had a good night and sampled both the local dodgy night clubs!!

The next morning we packed up and went for breakfast oysters, whilst I have had oysters before and thought they were OK, these oysters were sublime! I could quite easily see myself having oysters for breakfast every morning....

After breakfast we got back on the road and stopped at the local elephant sanctuary, where we fed, got up close and personal with elephants. The elephants were tame and would let you touch them and feed them fruit, they were all rescued orphans. One of the elephants in the sanctuary had just given birth to the sanctuaries third baby, very cute!

That night we ended up in Plattenburg and once again in a hostel with only two other people in and they didn't even come out of their room, things were quiet on the garden route. We made the most of it and cained a couple more bottles of vino, had a brai and even custard for afters. During my Botswana trip the guide had introduced me to Ultramel, ready made custard in a carton. Whilst back at home you wouldn't catch me eating ready made custard and would often refer to it as muck and always opting for the birds make it yourself from scratch option. Though this custard was good, in fact it was very good and you could say that I got addicted to it! It went down a storm with Jan and the girls...

After a quick look round Plat (South African's shorten all their place names) we headed to the Tsitsikamma national park to do a hike. The hike along the shoreline was beautiful, perfect weather and whilst we didn't see any whales a good time was had by all.

That evening we made it to Jefferys Bay, we would spend the next couple of nights here and even go surfing. The hostel had a real nice surfer vibe about it and was pretty busy, in contrast to the rest of the garden route, Jefferys Bay was bustling with travellers. We would spend the evenings cooking on the brai, eating more custard and finishing the last of the vino off.

We then said good bye to the girls, up until this point Jan and I had spent 5 nights sleeping in the same dorm / room and whilst he certainly did have a little purr to him it wasn't anything to write home about. Over the next few days the purr would increase and mutate into a full on snore, maybe the wine had helped me sleep better. So I was officially travelling with a great guy, but he snored! Guess you cannot have everything!

Jan and I would spend most of the day driving to Bloemfontain, one South Africas national capitals. Bloemfontain was mearly a conviant stop off before we entered Lesotho, though we did stay in one of the wierdest hostels I have ever stayed in, it was an old pump house and the dorms were corrugated metal containers, the hostel itself was a scene straight out of Steptoe and Son.

The next morning we got a early start and entered the landlocked country of Lesotho, straight away we knew it was a far cry from South Africa, it was like entering a time warp. I had heard that you could snowboard in Lesoto so we headed for the mountains, we found ourselves at Ski Africa, a ski resort in the middle of Africa, I never thought that 48 hours after surfing in Jefferys Bay I would be riding a snowboard down the side of a mountain riding real snow, what other tricks does Africa have ups its sleeves?

We woke up to find us having to de-ice the car and travelling along windy mud roads to the remote village of Mokhotlong. People in Mokhotlong walked around wearing blankets and also on horse back! Apparently the blankets were not just for keeping them warm, it also showed others of their social status depending on what was on the blanket! Its quite simple really, we tend to use things like cars, big designer names to show where we stand in society, they use blankets!

Were were meant to go over a place called the sarni pass, but after making some enquiries as to how we would handle the terrain in our Tata, we decided against it! Whilst on our way back, all the fuel stations didn't have any fuel because of the snow over the last few days!! We rolled into the South African boarder post on fumes....... I had visions of us getting stranded!

We spent the rest of the afternoon diving towards the Swaziland boarder and stayed the night in a hostel not far from the boarder. Early the next morning we hit the road again for our fly by visit of Swaziland, first impressions were that the infrastructure was far more advanced than Lesotho and that judging by the 1000's of photos of them, they loved their king and queen. The day was spent looking at various craft markets and generally just driving round the beautiful countryside.

We did have plans to see ghost towns and waterfalls, but unfortunately time run out due to a wrong turning and a subsequent slow flat and a blow out!! At the point of the blow out we were in the middle of a mud road and had travelled through some what I would called the real Swaziland villiages. During my time in most of Africa, when you saw children and even some adults they always used to give me a wave and a big smile. I don't know enough about Swazi history to confirm this, but I don't think white people were very welcome in these villages we were passing through. We would pass children and they would have a look of hatred in their faces and I even saw some kids pick up stones and through them towards the car!! At the point of the blow out Jan was driving and it wasn't until I smelt rubber that we stopped..... God knows how long we drove with the wheel totally flat on such poor road, but judging by the state of the wheel it must have been some time, I think Jan should wanted to get the hell out of there! So we changed the wheel, managed to blow the partial flat tire (with the help of a local combi driver) up a little more and slowly made our way to the nearest village!

After checking all the pressures we hit the road crossed the boarder and spent the night in Neilspruit! I don't think I have ever been so happy to see the hovel of hostel that awaited us! It had been a long day!

The next morning we started the drive to Jo'Burg, my time in Africa was neigh. That afternoon we went and sorted out the car, thank god we had full insurance and then checked into an hostel near the airport. That evening we went to see a show, that was after negociating what seemed like one of Jo'Burgs more dodgy areas! The show, Africa Umoja is about evolution of music in Africa. It gave them an excuse to bang drums, dance, sing and generally provide a very good nights entertainment!

Early next morning Jan gave me a lift to the airport, we said good bye, I settled my dues and let him get off to finish the week or so he had left in Africa!

After spending 2 months in Africa I can certainly say that it will always have a very special place in my heart, the places, the animals and also the people all had something very different and refreshing. The places I visited in general, whilst they have been through hard times they are going places and things are changing! Before I got to Africa I had visions of bright red sand, people living in mud huts and quite a bit of poverty. Whilst I did see a lot of this, you just have to look at some of the many townships that still exist and what the people living in the townships call home! Whilst this is the case you also don't have to look very far to see things are changing for the better. Now whenever people mention Africa I get visons of great fried chicken, biltong, chakalaka, piles of pap, women carry babies and items on their backs and heads, the best sunsets I have ever seen, great music, many languages, women wearing wigs, raging fires, lots of snoring and not forgetting ultramel custard, genius!

I was certainly very sad to be leaving Africa, but also looking forward to visiting slightly warmer climates again and seeing my brother as he is coming to visit me in South East Asia.... As I finish this blog I am sat on a deserted island in Cambodia doing some of my recreational diving qualifications, once again I know I am well behind with the blog, but now I have got rid of r kid I might actually get some time to get caught up!

More photos of Cape Town at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=291728&id=650820432&l=2c3c2c653e, Garden route http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=302443&id=650820432&l=c5cf99b1e4 and more of Lesotho & Swaziland at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=308784&id=650820432&l=5e751534c7

Posted by machine 20:08 Archived in South Africa Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Namibia the land of desert, sand and wind

What's is the draw of Namibia? The people or the scenery?

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View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

I left Vic Falls on a sunny Saturday morning on the 4th July, I was feeling a bit home sick as everybody back home would be at my good friends Danny and Gemma wedding and I would be missing out on not only the party but as they have been living in the land down under for the past few years an opportunity to see them. Still not much I could do about, guess you cannot do everything Jamie (one of my Mums favourite sayings) and from the sounds of it a good time was had by all! Congratulations Mr and Mrs Davy and hope you have a long and happy life together, look forward to seeing you in Sydney in a few months!! Danny I am also intrigued to see if paying for this wedding and also time has been good to your hair line, I am assuming not.......

I got a lift back into Botswana with the tour that I was already on, as they were travelling back to Jo'Burg. They dropped me off at a fuel station in a place called Kasane and i managed to get a local bus into the town centre! Within Botswana and Namibia there are many opportunities to hitch hiking, I had thought about it on many occasions but as you normally pay about the same as getting a bus its usually not worth it. As I wanted to get to a town called Katima Mullio in Namibia I soon found myself at the local hitching point and ended up in a car with 3 other people hitching a lift, one lady and her baby and two guys. I would love to say that this was a hi-light of my time in Africa and that we were engrossed in tantalising conversation for hours, but the fact of the matter was nobody spoke on the whole 4 hour journey, we all just sat there listening to the drivers CD collection. In Katima I book into a hostel, it was as if I was living someone's front room and I was the only white person in the whole town I think! I got down to business and went about working out what I wanted to do in Namibia! The first thing I noticed about Namibia was that how dry it was, sand everywhere, even the streets looked like one big sand pit. I don't know if it was just because it was Saturday or if it is just the Namibian way but music seemed to be coming from everywhere gardens, cars, pubs and cafes all had some African vibe emitting!

I quickly decided I should head to the capital Windhoek so the next day I took the 17 hour overnight bus journey, which compared to some previous bus journeys was a walk in the park. Windhoek was a nice capital with quite a big backpacking scene. After speaking to a few people I decided to put a notice in a couple of hostels to try and find some fellow travellers to hire a car, in the meantime instead of waiting around in Windhoek I would go on a 3 day trip to Sossusvlei and see the worlds biggest sand dunes. The trip was good, met some nice people and got to see my first ever desert and its one of the worlds oldest ecosystems to boot. Some of the hi-lights were running down dune 45 and the hike to the Dead Vlei!

Here are some of the group when we got back tucking into the likes of Oryx, Impala, Ostritch, Kudu, Zebra & Warthog! As much as I loved watching these animals in the wild in Botswana, I can honestly say they all tasted better than they looked :-)

When I returned to Windhoek, 3 Israeli's had left their contract details about hiring a car. They were in Swakopmund which was going to be my next stop anyway so we arranged to meet. The next day I was in a local bus (a combi) on the 5 hour journey, the bus was jam packed and the stereo was banging out hit after hit, Lionel Richie, Phil Collins, Brenda Vassey and various other African and Namibian tunes. I realised there and then that without doubt all black African people seem to be born with rhythm, all 20 adults plus 3 children sat on their mums knees had some part of their anatomy moving in time with the music. I recall recorder lessons with Mrs Lister at Middle School, I don't think even the teacher could keep time, never mind the 30 tone deaf kids (I acknowledge that certain members of my year have grown up to be very good musicians, though Mr Davy must get a second mention in this posting, unfortunately to this day I still take great pleasure in watching your non rhythmic, fresh prince Carlton moves on the dance floor! Poor Gemma on her wedding day!) !!

In Swakopmund I met the others and eventually over dinner we decided on a route. My evening meal of the 10th July I will never forgot, whilst the two girls Luli and Shy were not religious, the other Israeli guy Eli was a very religious person. That night I ate my first Shabbat! In the Jewish faith Shabbat's chief root lies in the Torah's account of creation, whereby God creates the world in six days and on the seventh day God rests. In this way, Judaism gave the world it's 7-day week - ending in the Sabbath.. The cooking itself was left to the girls, purely because they knew most of the rules, there seemed to be many rules, some such as I must not use the kosher knife and folk, all the food must be kosher are fairly straight forward, others were not. Before we ate Eli and the girls sang various songs, lit candles and made prayers, after eating Eli should not do anything strenuous and must adhere to numerous rules for the next 24 hours. These rules seemed very odd to me and ranged from him not been able to rip toilet roll to not allowed to turn lights on and off. Whilst the girls were not religious, they could help him with these tasks as it would be deemed rude. This did mean us sleeping the whole night with the main dorm light on as I had turned it on and just assumed that they would turn it off, whilst I have no problem with people who want follow religion and maybe I don't fully comprehend it, but in my book that is just a blatant waist of energy! That aside I did find myself intrigued by the Jewish faith and would subsequently learn lots more about how they live life!

The next day whilst Eli rested we went to Walvis Bay to go whale, dolphin and seal spotting. Whilst we didn't see any whales we did see dolphins, many seals and loads of pelicans. One of the hi-lights was the massive pelicans flying along side the boat! After the trip we drove around the salt fields and saw all the sand dunes before going back to the hostel to get ready for the road trip. Another Swedish guy Martin had also travelled to Swakopmund to share the very expensive car hire costs! The plan was coming together!

The route we had chosen involved me visiting Sossusvlei once more, none of the others had been and I thought the place was very beautiful so I didn't have a problem with it! Early the next morning we set off in our jam packed two wheel drive Nissan to Sossusvlei, we even stayed in the same campsite that I had previously stayed at. The next item on the route was to do a shortish hike in the Naukluft mountains, we chose the 11km Olive trail and after getting the car over some bordering needing 4WD tracks we got to the trail on a cloudy Tuesday morning. Almost familiar Scottish looking mountains awaited us and by 10am the clouds has gone and the temperature was great hiking weather, we did the quite hard trail (one part you had to climb along the side of the gorge using chains) in good time and hit the road back to Windhoek to drop off Eli!

The next morning after saying good bye to Eli and doing some shopping we started the drive up to Etosha national park, after a night in a very nice campsite, we were the only people there, it had hot running water using the donkey system (basically a cylinder of water heated up using a fire burning underneath it) and as much good firewood as we could burn!

I have often wondered if I had been an arsonist in a previous life? Fires were an integral part of my childhood, I am pretty sure my folks new this, but if not here is my confession. In the early days Mark (my brother) and I used to light little controlled fires in our local woods, in the later high school days Bu66y (name disguised to protect Daves identity) and I used to light probably slightly bigger, but still controlled fires usually in the valley, size didn't always matter (though where fires are concerned, bigger is always better), we just loved the mesmerising and potentially devastating effect of fire! So here is where my obsession with fire was born! Now after just turning 30 I find myself lighting camp fires just about every night, sometimes to cook on, sometimes just to keep warm (you maybe surprised that certain places in Africa can be very cold at night in the winter) and sometimes for both, we would often just sit round the camp fire and do nothing but stare at it and maybe harness its power by brewing a good pot of five roses tea. It probably sounds a bit autistic but I was in my element!

The next 2 nights and 3 days were spent in the Etosha National Park, whilst I had already done alot of safariing in Botswana, Etosha was a different experience altogether, firstly the place was dry as a bone, secondly it was accessable by 2 wheel drive and thirdly the three plush campsites within Etosha all had their own waterhole, which would also be floodlit on the evening!! Mainly because it was so dry you would find animals congregate around natural and man made water holes. Whilst the Etosha way of doing things takes the edge off the ruggedness that was Botswana. That said it did mean that we got to see a female lion chase a herd of Zebra, whilst she didn't catch anything that time, a few hours later we think the very same lion killed a Zebra some 200 meters from where we were camping, the warn noises from all the other animals were deafening. At the flood lit water holes we saw rhinos, leopards and cheethas all drinking and through the day I saw many of the usual elephants, zebra, various birds and antelope!!

After driving out of Etosha we drove to the town of Oshakati, it was here we said goodbye to Martin. On the way to Oshakati we also found time to stop for a very colourful political rally that was going on! We were received quite a lot of attention, must of been something to us been the only white people in a 200 mile radius.

There was now just three of us left, the two girls Luli, Shy and Myself! After a quick visit to the Oshakati market we spent most of the day driving through small Namibian villiages, saw a really big hollowed out Baobab tree and then even stepped foot on Angolan soil at the Rucanna Falls. Whilst the falls used to be one of Namibia's great sights, since the falls is used to provide most of the power requirements of Namibia and has been diverted to the nearby hydro electric power station it has become trickle of its former glory.

Whilst driving we past numerous Himba people, the children would often run out to great us, though \they are not stupid and know how to eye up and ask for everything in car! The Himba people are a nomadic, pastoral group who live in northern Namibia! The Himba wear little clothing, but the women are famous for covering themselves with a mixture of butter fat, ochre, and herbs to protect themselves from the sun. The mixture gives their skins a reddish tinge. The mixture symbolises earth's rich red color and the blood that symbolises life, and is consistent with the Himba ideal of beauty. Women braid each other's hair and cover it in their ochre mixture.

That night we eventually got to our campsite, up till this point although our two wheel drive car had been over some rough terrain... I went I mean tough I just don't mean the odd pothole! At least 90% of the driving we had done thus far was on sand roads, in fact the inside of the car had pretty much a much dust as the outside, it was filthy! The road into the campsite was about 6 kilometres of big boulders and even a riverbed at one stage!! After carefully negotiating the driveway we decided to dump the car at the ford next to the campsite and go by foot, by this time it was pitch black! After the girls had a slight tantrum about having to walk though the water we eventually arrived at our camping area, which was just next to a dry riverbed, no electricity, but they did having running water and a place to get a good fire going! It was only really next morning that we realised how beautiful the campsite was, built next to a waterfall, it was an opportunity too good to miss and I went for a swim in the plunge pool, must have had warm thermals coming from somewhere as it was a very pleasant and unexpectedly warm, a well over due soak!

On the subject of hygiene, travelling through Botswana and Namibia, mainly due to the fact that I have been camping for 90% of the time, I have found that my hygiene standards do slip from time to time, I guess its like one big festival! The underwear tends to get an extra day or so use and showers are certainly not daily by any stretch of the imagination. Whilst this is some peoples idea of hell, I actually think it makes you appreciate a good shower all that more...

The next few days we travelled towards Swakopmund, taking in various rock paintings, wonder gats, petrified wood and ship wrecks. Rock paintings are fairly self explanatory, a famous one that some of you may have heard of is the white lady. For people not in the know, the wondergat is basically just a massive hole or a sink hole, we were very careful driving upto it, whilst the hole is big I am pretty sure its not ever ending, I was pretty sure if such a hole existed in England it will have been filled up with trash years ago! Also petrified wood, which was also a bit of a mystery until I visited the petrified forest near Twyfelfontein, petrifed wood is wood that has been turned into stone and is a type of fossil, the particular tree trunks that we saw were thought to be about 280 million years old!! I actually don't know how they can call it a forest, as there is more trees in Manny park, still amazing to see how it still has so much detail!

That night we camped next to Namibia's biggest mountain, Brandberg! Standing at 2573m above sea level its not exactly the biggest mountain in the world, but impressive still. Early the next morning we did a short hike up the mountain, saw some more rock paintings and started the drive back to Swakopmund, the drive back via the skeleton coast was flat and desert like, on the coast the upwelling of the cold Benguela current gives rise to dense ocean fogs for much of the year. The winds blow from land to sea, rain fall rarely exceeds 10mm annually and the climate is inhospitable, along the coast are many shipwrecks and anything metal rusts in days! Many people call it the coast of hell!!

After saying good bye to the girls, all was left was to get the bus back to Windhoek for one more night and then pick up my lift to cape town!! Be warned the South Africa blog will hopefully be very soon, I have been very lazy with my blog over the past few weeks, just to give you an idea I am writing this blog on a train through Malaysia, some 19 days in front of my blog!! Maybe it was because of the bad internet connections or simply because I had too much fun in South Africa......

Posted by machine 05:34 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Is it Africa time?

Most things in Africa are, nobody rushes!

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View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

As landed in Johannesburg in knew that things were going to be vastly different to India! I had flown in via Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). Though only saw it as we landed, Addis Ababa looked very much like a small farming town rather than a capital city. The main change I noticed was the Ethiopian men dressed in their white and suits, looking very dapper!!

After I arrived in Africa I quickly realise what India had done to my faith in the human race, it had virtually shattered it! South Africa & Botswana are very much like England, usually the price the person says behind the till is the price you pay no matter what you say or how much you haggle!! In India you could always get 50-80% off the original price, this included taxis, food, accommodation and just about every other conceivable item you can buy there! You couldn't trust anybody! Even nearly a month later I still have a little version of my Dad in my mind saying 'are you sure you are not getting ripped off Jamie?' and I still cannot seem to shake it, maybe its not a bad thing because there is the odd unscrupulous person out there and it does keep you on your toes! Though I think I am going to have to work hard on fixing whatever India broke in me....

Jo'burg was much colder than India and I soon found myself putting on socks, trainers, trousers & a hoodie, most of these items of clothing I had not worn for months! Not really got much to say about Jo'burg (watch this space I will visit it again before I leave Africa) at the moment other than it doesn't feel a particularly safe place to be, especially at night. All the houses and business have electric fences, shutters, big ass locks and usually a couple of pretty large dogs guarding! Though one unexpected bonus was whilst in Jo'burg I got chance to watch the World cup 2010 hosting nation play in confederation cup and was lucky enough to see South Africa whoop New Zealand in Rustenburg, which is one of the stadiums that they will be using for the world cup. It reminded me of when my friend Danny and I went to Nurnberg to see Ghana beat USA in the 2006 world cup, would love to come out this time next year and see it in full swing! I will have to try and make some South African mates! Its not hard, these guys were my best mates after the bus journey...

The next day I got a bus (7 hours) to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. One of the first things I noticed about Botswana was how much they loved their churches, seemed to be one on every street corner! The churches in Botswana are nothing like our churches and are mainly constructed out of wood and have the look and feel of American churches that you tend to see in the movies. To further convince me that they are a nation of church lovers I switched on the TV that evening to find endless channels dedicated to worship and then the final nail in the coffin when I looked in the yellow pages (or their equivalent, the whole country's pages and phone directory were a quarter of the Leeds Yellow Pages) the first page that I opened it on was Churches! Had I travelled to a nation of bible bashers????

Africa is much more expensive for everything than India and though is probably similar to England, its certainly a far more expensive than I thought I was going to be! For example one nights accommodation in Gaborone it cost me 25 pounds, whilst you could argue I did have more God TV than I could watch in a lifetime and air conditioning, I would spend my whole Southern Africa budget in 3 weeks at that rate! Drastic times caused for drastic measures, I bought myself a tent and would have to live on beans on toast!

I then spent a couple of days working my way upto a place called Maun in the north of the country and staying in some really lush campsites, granted it was all a bit cosy with my backpack fully loaded but it looked like the tent was going to do the trick! It was just like living in a mini version of Bertha and managed to position things and layout the tent so both the tent and I could get along just fine.

As in India when you were on buses people would come round and try and sell you things, in India it was cucumber, in Africa its fried chicken & chips. After living on rice for 2 months this was a welcome change and also tasted great. Things were looking good! One thing that does bamboozle me it their obsession with cling film, especially over hot things! Answers on a postcard....

In Maun I joined a 13 day trip that would explore the Okavango Delta, driving safari in Africa's best National Parks and end in Victoria Falls. I would have loved to have done Botswana on the cheap, but unfortunately they work on a low volume, high price structure for tourism, that said in hindsight if I had hired a 4x4 and got a few people to join me I wouldn't have seen half of the wildlife that we did! The trip itself involved you doing all your own cooking & camping, all they do is give you all the camping equipment, 2 guides, one local guide and our main guide that would be with us for the whole trip from South Africa!! Here is our main guide Octarvis doing a TNT at the bar in Maun and a Botswana guide and his fellow polers from the Okavango Delta.

The group consisted of 5 people, a guy from Perth, 2 ladies (who I am pretty sure were on the other bus) from Germany and 1 retired school teacher from Austria. Whilst to look at we probably looked an odd group of people, we actually got on well and I always attract oddballs, so nothing changes there!

The Okavango Delta involved entering the delta by Mokoro, this is basically a wooden boat carved out of a sausage tree that fits in two people, a few bits of luggage and the poler at the back. Whilst it was really nice the novelty wore off after about 30 minutes and it took us over 2 hours to reach the camp!! I would have preferred to be doing the poling, I did actually suggest I took over at one point! They didn't seem that keen on the idea!

We setup camp, lit a fire (see my work below), dug a toilet and started making dinner! They also made a bush shower that consisted of a big icing bag thing full of water, some people did have a shower and said they were good, I didn't even entertain the idea, afterall I was meant to be roughing it! If I could do 3 days at a festival I could certainly do 3 days in the bush! Talking about roughing it I actually drank the water out of the Delta for the 3 days and was as right as rain! Bear Grylls eat your heart out!

Though the day temperatures were really pleasant, but in the evenings things got cold, I did regret sending my jacket home from India on a number of occasions. We spent three nights in the Delta and mainly did game walks where we saw Elephants, Hippos, Giraffes, Zebra and even followed fresh lion tracks, but no unfortunately with no reward. The hilight of the trip was one afternoon in a Mokoro looking for wildlife, whilst onroute back to camp a lone Hippo bull charged for us. It must have been only about 10 meters away, our poler actually crashed into another Mokoro he was trying to get away so fast! Even the polers commented on that it was a close shave! I just couldn't stop laughing! Even with my laughter I managed to capture the moment pretty well.

After a boozy night in Maun we were up early the next morning to spend 4 nights in Botwana's national parks, each night we would spend in a different camp in a differnet area. Before I went on this trip I had it in my mind that these camps would be surrounded by electric fences and that our guide would have a gun, oh how I was wrong. We got very close to many of the animals, in fact we were so close to a Elephant one day that I could not zoom out far enough and only managed to photograph his head!! Whilst at the campsite I would quite often wake up to a Lions raw, a Hippo grunting, an Elephant crushing everything in its way or an African Wild Dog barking, all worrying close to the camp. The guides have many stories of such animals coming through the camps and even the odd Hippo mauling a human, the bush is a dangerous place!

We went though and did game drives in Moremi, Savuti and Chobe and saw all the above plus Lions, Lizards, Eagles, Buffalo, Snakes, Crocs and many more, I have also uploaded a few (I could have posted 100's) photo's here on top of the small selection below http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=281549&id=650820432&l=5b17e3ba41. (Sorry for anybody who is read this at work as they are on Facebook and Websense will block it!!)

Botwana is renowned for the ruggedness of its national parks and is vastly different from the likes of the famous Kruger Park in South Africa, the main difference is that all the parks I went through are literally sand roads made purely by 4x4's, Kruger has many tar roads. All this can come at a price and we did get stuck on a couple of occasions, though all this adds to the fun. Here we are stuck in a river, the trailer was virtually under water at one point, in fact we stored the cooking pans in the lower part of the trailer and that evening we found them full to the brim with water.

Since I have been in Africa every single sunset has been a jaw dropper, some are obviously better than others but every single evening its enough to make you stop and gaze. Though this does come at a price and whilst England can enjoy 18 hours of good daylight in the summer, Africa gets pretty much 11 hours all year round. As much as I love English summers I would probably sacrifice our extra few hours for a more consistent number of hours in the day all year round. Nothing worse than going to work in the dark and coming home from work in the dark in our winter! Who needs doctors? There you have it a cure for S.A.D, move to Africa! As Africa is in the Southern hemisphere it also benefits from many more stars in the sky, I remember Australia been very similar when I visited a number of years back, though it does help the only light pollution been from a raging fire and the odd person switching their headlamp on to go to the toilet. Just a few examples of the sunsets and rises, many more on my computer for any of you people lucky enough to be subjected to it;

I ate very well on the trip, those who know me are well aware that I like my food. It did help the two ladies being vegetarian and therefore the meat eaters had oodles of meat. You can be assured I made sure that I got my monies worth. The food was good too, some nights we would have a traditional braai (Afrikaans term for a BBQ featuring lots of meat grilled on a special stand called a braaiveis) over the fire, usually cooking up Boerewors (Afrikaner farmer's sauage) along with pap (maize mielie, tastes like a more rubbery mash potato) or spaghetti bolognese, pasta or something equally as scrumptious. All the meals had one thing in common, loads of meat and always seconds, just like been at home! I think I had maybe lost a bit of weight since I left at Christmas, Africa is certainly helping me to reverse that, lets just hope that I am not at Rick Waller levels by the time I get back.

Whilst we were in the national parks we not only saw animals, we saw lots of trees and plants, one of the most impressive is the Baobab Tree. These are huge and can be found all over the parks.

We then drove into Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe's economy is in turmoil and its still fairly evident in Vic Falls. We stayed at the Drifters Inn and I enjoyed 3 nights in a very comfortable en-suite room with double bed, a welcoming sight after over 2 weeks camping.

Early next morning a few of us got up nice and early to go white water rafting on the Zambezi, the worlds number one location for rafting. The route we would take would have two grade 5 rapids, which is as extreme as it gets! It is definitely one of the best adrenalin activities that I have ever done. We even managed to get a flip on rapid 13 (unlucky for some hey). It sent us all flying and we all rode the rest of the rapids minus the raft.

I obviously went to see the falls which are breath taking and also wet, the water is pretty high at the moment so its not so good for photographs. At one point the spray from the falls were so much that it was just like been in a massive downpour, reminded me of England. You can see the spray from the falls on the picture of the gorge, we were about 10km away!

On that same night we went on a booze cruise, basically on all you can drink on the upper Zambezi. As you can imagine I made sure I got my monies worth again, some people said that the adrenalin makes you get drunk twice as fast!! Not if you English and its 'free' it doesn't. Fact!! I even made sure that I upheld the good English reputation we have and encouraged most the people on the cruise pull moonies at a passing boat.... or was it just me and the guide...... We also walked back (against the advise from the guide who actually walked with us) to the lodge that evening keeping a very close eye out for any elephants or hippos that often frequent the roads around around Vic Falls, I imagined if a elephant were to walk into a group after kicking out time at my local, not so sure who would have the upper hand...

Surprisingly Botswana has got one of the highest percentage of people infected with HIV and AIDS, looking at the country everybody lives a good life and the people are nowhere near as poor as some of its nearest African countries or India for that matter! I find it hard to believe that according to current statistics probability would have us believe that if you were to sit on a bus in Botswana close to 50% of the people sitting on that bus could have the virus!! Mind blowing really!

To summarise I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Botswana and Victoria Falls and has certainly been a hilight of my trip so far. It really gave me chance to photograph things that I love, animals and I am more than happy with the results! Whilst I enjoyed photographing the large animals, surprisingly found myself getting much more pleasure out of photographing the birds (feathered variety that is, as the non feathered Homo sapient variety seem almost distinct in these areas.....). Watch this space, maybe this time next year I will be twitching all over England, I am 30 after all maybe its about time I got some more adult hobbies???

Next stop Namibia...

Posted by machine 04:37 Archived in Botswana Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

India will I miss you?

Well I guess the answer is probably yes.....

sunny 43 °C
View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

It took me a few weeks to work out you can never really love India nor can you hate it, you just have to take it for what it is! One minute you think you have got the country figured out and the next you see something that really makes you wonder how people can live in such way during these modern times. For example I was sat on a train talking to a lovely family, they virtually force food down me, are genuinely interested in what I was doing and seem good people. Just as one of the family members throws all their rubbish straight out of the window a young boy with only one arm comes down the carriage on his 'hand' and knees cleaning it with a manky old brush, you may think this is some scheme that the Indian railways have to get disabled people working!! Not the case this is just a plain old simple beggar trying to earn a bit of cash, most people will not even acknowledge the boy mainly I guess because this is an everyday occurrence and people are numb to the atrocities they see before them. This also leaves you thinking how did this happen to the boy? Was it an accident? Was it his family so that he could make more money begging? or was it some organisation that he managed to get involved in (or his parents sold him to) that also thought by removing a limb it would make him more profitable? I am sure that there are many people with missing limbs in England, but we tend to care for the disabled and not put them on full public display. India doesn't have help like that available!

Going back to the family on the train, whilst throwing litter isn't the worst crime in the world it just goes to show you how Indians can be and this is certainly not an isolated case. Everybody, no matter their class in India litters. I recall whilst sat on a beech recently a young Indian man dropping a plastic bottle, this was a beech that I has spent some time on and whilst it was not the most beautiful beech in the world, it was my little bit of paradise for that time. I had respect for the beech and either put my rubbish in the bins provided or took it home with me. Seeing such an act of blatant disregard for the beech I gestured to the guy and pointed to a bin 10 meters away, in which his response is 'don't worry its India'. India is a very confusing place!!!

Before I came to India the very word conjured up images of a far and distant land where people eat curries and drink lots of tea. Six weeks later and what does India to me? Its a county that's full to the brim with people, it seems that every bit of space is used for homes, shops or farming. Its squat toilet with no toilet roll. Its 5 people on a old dilapidated moped, not wearing helmets. Its people carrying the un-carryable on their heads!! Its the sight of people doing the 'Indian nod', this comprises of a nod and a shake of the head at the same time in a rotation and can mean either yes or no!! Its the sight of two 'straight' men holding hands and rubbing each others stomachs, in a country that strictly forbids homosexuality. The smells of food, chai (tea) and exotic spices emanating from every street corner and not forgetting the lassi (sweet yogurt/curd type drink) in the throw away clay pots. The sight of women putting cow dung in a flat pie shape to dry out in the sun, to then later be used as fuel for fires. Cars, taxi's, bikes and buses all fighting for the same bit of road and using their horns as though the world was going to end at any moment. Animals wondering the street, anything from dogs, cats, sacred cows, goats, chickens, wild boars, in fact if you kill one of India's sacred cows its considered a worse crime than killing a human. Shrines and temples every few hundred meters that depict one of the many gods from the many religions, India seems to have more regions and variations on those religions than you can shake stick at! Its going to a tourist area and feeling like a celebrity when 100's of people stare at you or ask you to have a photo with them, you feel like saying 'god haven't you seen a white person?', the reality is thats the reason why they are probably so awe struck, because they haven't ever seen a white person.

There are obviously some the less desirable sights that will still remind me and probably haunt for many years to come, such as the number of men, women, children and babies who live on the streets. The mountains of litter on every street in every city, town, hamlet & village!!! Indian men taking photos, leering and even touching other female travellers. The constant harassment from taxis and rickshaw driver 'heeeyyy mmmisssttterrr taaaxxxxi?', you actually feel like saying 'bugger off, you have just watched me get out of a taxi, why would possibly want to get another one?'. People always on the rob and think you can afford to pay more than a Indian and not forgetting their ridiculous two tier pricing for tourist attactions.The constant harassment from shop owners and street urchins trying to get you to buy items that you will never have a use for, anything ranging from saris to bongos, I feel like saying 'How the buggery do you think I am going to get a 3 foot bongo drum home?'. People constantly clearing their throats and spitting. On a similar topic most men and some women of India chew something called Paan, this is chewed as a palate cleanser and a breath freshener and often consists of fennel seeds and chewing tobacco. You can tell someone its chewing it as they mumble when they 'speak' to you and their teeth will be all red and stained, though usually its confirmed when the person in question spits the red Paan a few feet away from you. During the long dry spell the streets are literally covered with red stains from the Paan!

My last few weeks in Indian have been great, after another long train journey to the hot city of Udaipur, Rajasthan I arrived bright eyed an bushy tailed looking forward to seeing the Palace hotel in the middle of the lake where parts of the bond movie Octypussy were filmed. As we were at the end of the dry season the lake was just about bone dry and wasn't as pleasing to the eye as I remember it been on the bond movie! That said Udaipur was a really great place to visit and some of the views from the surrounding lookout points were super, smashing, great! It also gave me the chance to play about with my new SLR camera some more!

Here is a Baba that I found in Udaipur, Baba's are basically people that leave their families to a life of celibacy and are legally allowed to smoke drugs.

Next stop Ahmedabad, I arrived early in the morning after not having very much sleep at all. The first thing I had to contend with was an auto rickshaw driver who after driving for 5 minutes stopped to tell me that where I wanted to go was closed and that he would take me to another hotel which I could only assume would be far more expensive and where he would obviously receive a commission!! I was not in the mood for this and eventually reluctantly agreed for him to take me to a hotel that he mentioned, as this hotel was virtually opposite the hotel I wanted to go to and I had seen it on my Lonely Planet map. When we arrived I threw him the money (I wish I hadn't have even done that now) that we had agreed and promptly walked over to the original hotel that I wanted to go to and checked in, guess the moral of the story is that you cannot kid a kidda!!! I was now in an even worse mood and just wanted to sleep, the hostel I had chosen was filthy, smelly and expensive to boot. I didn't have the energy to go anywhere else so I just crashed out!! When I eventually got up and went for a walk round, the city didn't seem to do anything for me (after speaking to others they also hated the place so I don't feel so bad). I have never been a lover of the Indian breakfast, cannot deal with deep fried stodge that early in a morning. Indian food for lunch and dinner I can handle and usually enjoy but for breakfast I like simple things like cornflakes, toast, eggs... It took me nearly an hour to find somewhere that sold toast and to put it bluntly by this time I had already had my fill of Ahmedabad, I found the nearest internet cafe and cancelled my ticket for the following evening and booked a train for that evening, two sleeper trains on the trot!! Still better than staying in that hell hole! I spent the rest of the day getting books to read whilst I relaxed on the beech on my next stop Diu!

It was a non teary good bye to Ahmedabad and hello to the Portuguese settlement of Diu island at the bottom of Gujarat, but I had a train and a couple of buses to catch before I could sit in a deck chair sipping sex on on the beach. The train arrived in Veraval on time at 6:30am, a couple on the train persuaded me get a auto rickshaw up to Somnath Temple with them, they seemed OK and I think they just liked the fact that they had a westerner and all his luggage squeezed in with them!! I had a quick world wind visit to the temple, Somnath is a major pligrimage site for many Hindus and today the temple was jam packed, men on one side of a mental fence and women on the other. With drums beating, cymbals crashing and bells belling (if that is such a word)! I was pushed to the front of the temple where people were given a few seconds in front of the Shiva God and then whisked away for the next person. People were clapping and had their eyes closed and it all felt very spiritual, I couldn't help feel why the hell would people travel thousands of miles purely to see a slight glimpse of Shiva God and then to be rushed away?, I guess religion has this effect on people!! I would have more photos of the event but cameras were not allowed anywhere near the temple, though I did get one sly one from outside.

The couple who I had got the rickshaw up with paid for it and I actually never saw them again! I got the same guy back to the bus station which was basically the same fare as the journey up to the temple. When I got to the bus station I asked how much it was knowing full well that the Indian guy only paid him 50 rupees (which also seemed to be about right distance wise), he said 150 rupees!!! The way back was downhill for most of the way so I was thinking it would possibly cheaper, I threw him 50 rupees and told him what I thought of him! After breakfast in one if the dirtiest bus station cafes I have ever been in, it made Cleckheaton bus station cafe look like Harvey Nicols I found myself on a two hour bus journey to Uma, I was now almost spitting distance from Diu and what I was hoping was going to be my Indian paradise.

Waiting for my next bus in Uma I was desperate for the toilet, I looked over and lets just say the toilet block didn't look the cleanest, I didn't really want to take my backpack in with me so I edged my bets and asked a young Diu born boy that I had been talking to earlier to watch my bag, after all he wouldn't have got very far without a car with the size of the thing. I was just about done and I hear 'mister, mister, bus here quickly', I made a run for it right past where I should have left a couple of rupees to pay for the cleaning of the toilet facilities (I honestly don't know how they had the cheek), picked up my bag and jumped on the bus to Diu, once again renewing my faith in the honesty of the Indian folk, but certainly not converting me to concept of a squat toilet!

One hour later the bus drives over the bridge linking Diu with mainland India and rocks up into the bus station. A short taxi drive and I am booking into the Beach Resort at Sunset Point and putting my bags into a basic chalet overlooking the beech and ocean, that costs about £3 per night. Whilst it wasn't the biggest nor prettiest beach I had ever been to, it certainly was welcoming sight to a pasty looking, travelled out Jamie. Not many people make it Diu as its quite out of the way and as by the middle of June the monsoon will arrive I envisaged the place to be deserted. I also thought it would be an oasis to read, relax, have a couple cheap beers (Diu beer is tax free) and loose my translucent colour.

As I ate some lunch in the restaurant I noticed that the beech was pretty dead except for what looked like two girls sunbathing, I had read that this sort of behaviour attracts lots of unwanted attention from drunk Indians and thought maybe they were locals? But Indian people think the paler you are the better so I doubted that would be the case! That meant they must be westerns of some sort, had I struck gold and had god sent me a couple of hot angels to keep me company whilst I was doing my time in Diu? I eventually went and spoke to them and sure enough whilst I don't think they were angels they were a couple of little hotties called Rosie and Samira from Brighton and basically were pretty much doing the same as me, a bit of time in Diu and then Mumbai for a few days then home! There and then was born the Diu gang, seems like I would not be getting as much peace and quiet as I anticipated! Over the next few days a few more people turned up and we ended up with the original three plus Haf, Phil and Jack, who I would come to spend almost the next 2 weeks with. Though the day we would go to the beech and then on a evening we would go to the carpark and eat cheap, good food from the street sellers, 7 rupees (10p) for fish butty! Or possibly treat ourselves to a good curry at a restaurant! Obviously with the beer been so cheap a 650ml bottle of Kingfisher for about 60p we managed to have a 'couple' of beers most nights, either in the men filled Diu pubs or on the roof of the church, museum come guest house in the centre of town that I had moved to for my last week!

I don't really consider travelling a holiday because you are always on the go and at times its very hard work, but Diu was my time to let my hair down and I can honestly say that it was a really nice no hassle place and I made some good life long friends. The only thing that really lets Diu down is the drunk Indians on the beech taking photos of the girls and generally been pests, makes a nice change for the shoe to be on the other foot :-)

During my time at Diu a few other people made an appearance for a couple of nights, two German girls, an American called guy Kris, an odd Canadian guy called Jimi and a guy from Perth, Oz and his missus from Japan called Nathan & Aki. Nathan and Aki were a great couple and they had driven some 40,000 km from Perth via most of Asia on a 110cc Honda bike, they had some good tales to tell and is quite a feat in itself, guess it reminded me of old Bertha! If people are interested in their epic journey they also have a blog at http://faster-than-walking.com.

I decided to treat myself to a flight from Diu to Mumbai, saving the 26 hours of trains and buses! We had already said good bye to the girls (for the moment) and a few of us had a final curry together as we were staying an extra day. The next morning Phil and Jack went up North and I got my flight to my final destination in India, Mumbai.

As the 60 seater propeller jet lands into Mumbai it passes over slums that go on for as far as the eye can see, I have generally not taken to the bigger cities I have visited in India, as I see the slums below me I cannot help think that Mumbai will be no different! Thankfully I was wrong and loved Mumbai, whilst it does have its seedy red light districts and a population of something like 5 million people living in the cities slums it actually has a really good vibe about it and some really nice places. We spent a pleasant hour at the gateway of India and posing for our last few photo shoots for other Indians! We also managed to find the time to go and see a Bollywood film Kal Kissne Dekha, whist the majority of it was in Hindi it was a really good movie which you could still understand and the 2 hours went in a flash!

Most of Mumbai's washing is done at the massive washing ghats, here you can see 3000 or so people doing the cities washing by hand!! Looking at the methods they employ you can easily see why your clobber comes back with the odd hole! We also visited the Crawford markets and whilst they do actually sell things that would make good presents I still have a way to go and my bag is already jam packed!

Mumbai also has a couple of good bars and whilst the beer is far more expensive than in Diu we did manage to sink a couple of cold ones in the famous Leopolds and maybe a few other bars....

Whist I have travelled in India I have had loads of curries, some better than others. On our final evening together we had one of the better ones at one of Mumbai's curry houses the Delhi Harbour!. A good note to leave on that's for sure!

The girls have have now left to go back home and I have got a day to kill before my flight to South Africa, as per usual when I leave a foreign country I am down to my last few bits of shrapnel! My next flight is in about 11 hours and I only have 200 rupees (£3.50) to my name, whilst I won't be dining at one of Mumbai's flash restaurants I certainly won't be starving, thats the beauty of India!

India truly is an amazing place and I could probably write pages about my experiences and show you 100's of great photo's, but these blogs take me long enough as it is and I am conscious of boring the crap out of you all with my stories! In summary, I am glad I have been to India? Yes, most definitely I eaten some great food, met some nice people, seen amazing and diverse cultures and sights! Would I come again? Yes, I probably would, there is loads more places to see, but saying that I am happy with what I have seen of India on this trip and the world is a big place!

Next stop Johannesburg, South Africa!

Posted by machine 08:01 Archived in India Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Good bye Nepal, hello India!

Last few days in Nepal and then back to India for a second dose....

sunny 40 °C

The last time I wrote an entry I had just got back to Pokhara, Nepal after my 15 day trek!! As you can imagine I took it steady for a few days and let the blisters heal, though some 20 days later they are still healing! Pokhara is a beautiful place and whilst we started to feel the effects of the imminent monsoon on our last night we were blessed with this gorgeous sunset after eating BBQ chicken from a street seller!

Early next morning we got on the bus for the 10 hour journey to Katmandu, Nepal's capital!! Katmandu, whilst is full of things to see and do, it is highly polluted and seems to suffer from having some of the craziest drivers. Imagine roads 6 meters wide with cars, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, cyclists and pedestrians all completing for the same space, its bedlam!! Add to that the constant torrent of shop owners trying to sell you the very same thing that the guy down the street tried to sell you, the homeless glue sniffing packs of kids and various other beggars and you start to get a feel for streets of Katmandu's Thamel district.

Whilst Katmandu is quite a dirty city and I have not made it sound a paradise, it is somewhere that I am glad to have been. For one thing once you get out of the more touristy / back packer side of Thamel there are many parts of the Katmandu Valley that have much to offer. There are more temples, stupas and monuments than you can throw a stick at!

One of the more scared areas is Pashupati, this is various temples and stupas along side some burning ghats. Ghats are basically open air crematoriums, they wrap up the body and cremate it at the side of the river and put the ashes into the river! When we were there many burnings were taking place, the whole ghatt area has the smell of burning flesh, not nice!! Whilst the thought of my family having a massive bonfire when I pass away doesn't sound like my cup of tea, Hindus consider this to be one of the most scared ceremonies! For the record I have been pondering about my method of burial and at the moment I am toying with been cryogenically frozen like Walt Disney or just been thrown down a cravasse, hopefully I will have a few more years before I have to start thinking about those decisions....

Another day we jumped on a bus and went to an area called Bhaktpur, here we visited various temples and certainly got to see the more untouched parts of Katmandu. On the way back we even got involved in some protests, whilst they were mainly trouble free, we did see people burning tires! We were told it was something to do with the prime minister and the president of Nepal!!

After 5 days in Katmandu it was time to say good bye to my Russian friends and get the 17 hour bus night bus to Kakarvitta, the Indian boarder! I will miss Nepal, the country, terrain and its people!! Only in Nepal can streets be littered with people selling the same things on rugs next to the road, can you ride on the top of jam packed bus with the goats, see people fixing the unfixable and get one of the best fillet steaks I have ever had for £3.50!! Some things I will not miss, the spitting (not just your standard spitting but people really giving it some, one morning I got woke up by a women doing it), the pollution, level of the driving and litter everywhere. Though I am going to India, are things going to be much different?

No sooner were we 30 minutes outside Katmandu we got stuck in a massive traffic jam, for about 7 hours in total! Night buses are notoriously dangerous in Nepal, mainly because the roads are so bad and most vechiles don't exactly come with a service history!! It was now 12pm, I was in a upright seat that bounced up and down and was in front of a guy that insisted on clearing his throat every 30 seconds!! As a last resort I had bought some Vallium sleeping tablets for about 10p each, I took half, the next thing I knew it was still dark and we were still driving, I took the second half. Next thing I knew it was 7:30! Whilst I would not condone their use all the time, that particular journey would have been unbearable without! in the end the bus journey took 21 hours.

I successfully got through the boarder crossing and then had to get another bus for two hours to a place called Silguri and then a jeep to Darjeeling, the land of tea!! I have already mentioned how dangerous some of the journeys I have taken have been, this jeep took on a whole new level. We were jam packed in a shared jeep going into hair pins with sheer drops at the side, some of the over taking maneuverers I could hardly watch, they seem to think that flashing the lights and using the horn are enough to stop you crashing into a jeep doing the same thing coming the other way.... To add insult to injury I was sat sideways in the back on a sweaty seat and every time he went over a bump my bottom would get some air and I would get a mini arse ripper, this is a snowboarding term used for when you fall (usually on a jump) and one of your arse cheeks hits the ground promptly followed by the other, causing a ripping effect on the anus..... More painful than childbirth for about 10 minutes, fact!!!

So I was now in Darjeeling, back in the mountains, some 2200 meters above sea level and famous largely for the narrow gage train and tea plantations. The highlights were seeing the various temples (though temple viewings are becoming a regular occurrence now), walking through the market bazzars and a visit to a tea plantation where they produce tea for Harrods. I also got up at 3:30am to see the sunrise at Tiger Hill, we got a jeep and the driver insisted on booming out Akon full blast at that ungodly hour, the sunrise was slightly disappointing, rising from behind the clouds instead of the 3rd highest mountain in the world Khangchendzonga and Everest. What really spoilt it though was the other 1000 or so people who also raced up the hill from Darjeeling that morning in jeeps! I can assure you that if you had to trek to Tiger Hill I would have been stood with a dozen western tourists and the odd Indian tourist....

The next location was Kolkata, after contending with the 3 hour jeep journey back down again I arrived early evening to catch my sleeper train. I was back on Indian trains! My first Indian journey towards Nepal I booked second class air con, this time I decided to go sleeper non AC, this is the way that most middle class Indian people travel and I whilst AC is not that expensive (to us) I wanted to travel as a Indian would and at the same time save brass... What can I say its the Yorkshireman in me! As experiences go it was fine and I slept fairly well once I got on the train....... Seems the ticket I booked was put on a waiting list and there was no space for me, eventually after running around like a blue arsed fly I managed to get on another train that departed 30 minutes later and got into Kolkata 2 hours later! Result! Next morning the time when we were due in went by, I asked a family near me if we were anywhere near (bearing in mind Indian trains have no announcements) and they told me that during the night the train had to go a different way because of engineering works and we were running 4.5 hours late!! Welcome back to India I thought! One of the boys who was sat near me got chatting, his English was probably better than mine and kept me entertained the rest of the way. I think his family were quite well off and would have been in AC class if there had been space, they were from Goa and once again I found myself in company of Indian people who oozed nothing but politeness, honesty and generosity. As we said good bye they even gave me all their telephone numbers and told me to say hello if was ever in Goa, though I thought the young lad also got a good deal with a bike ride and one of my Mum's Sunday lunches if he ever came to England.... This really made me think again and whilst its easy to get the impression that many Indian people are just con artists and beggars I am positive that the majority are hard working, ambitious, clever and would make excellent employees! Maybe that's why the Indian economy has been doing so well over recent years?

I spent a couple of days in Kolkata, mainly to get my camera fixed as the flash had broken in Nepal!! Kolkata is also another city that is very dirty. You can actually see people living in rubbish tips, their houses built out of purely rubbish!! I spent a rainy afternoon in the Indian Museum and I can honestly say that if it wasn't for the rain I would have been out after 10 minutes, imagine room after room of wooden display cases with 1000's of rocks and pieces of bone! One of the 'hi lights' was a 30 meter fossilised tree!! At one stage I thought things were looking up when I found the art gallery, when I got inside they were displaying faded, postage stamped sized paintings! Maybe some people might find this quite interesting, but not for me, certainly missing flashing lights and things you can touch! I was now also starting to realise that the Indians have two tier entry fee's, one price for Indians and another price for foreigners, sometimes the foreign price can be 10/20 times the price of the Indian entrance fee!! In England that would be classed as racism....

From Kolkata the next stop Bodgaya. I was travelling by train, sleeper class and once again when I got on the train and sorted out the high pitched stupid Indian women that seemed to think she was meant to be in seat/bed, everything was OK. She seemed reluctant move and could see the sweat pouring off me from carrying my two rucksacks, plus another bag in my hand and after walking at pace from the emergency taxi I had to get! i had get the taxi as I had stupidly gone to the wrong train station in the first place.... I was not in the mood and she got a Leeds warning, didn't hear much from her for the rest of the journey!

I was in the top bunk of three, imagine a window with two seats horizontally either side then a seat across the window at the other side and a walkway down the middle. Each of these seats is for three people to sit on through the day then come bedtime someone jumps on the top bunk and the back rest converts into a middle bunk. So that's 9 people per bay, though I have seen people sharing and people slept on floors. Sleeping on the top bunk is OK as you can go to bed whenever you want and as long as you have got your bags locked up its not a bad option if you don't mind the heat. They have three electric fans per compartment that essentially blow warm air around, everybody keeps the windows open to try and let a bit of breeze in, but the noise is unbearable. Didn't get a wink of sleep that night, still at least I am doing it the Indian way.... and if I remember rightly I was actually too cold at one point in the AC carriage!

Bodgaya is small two bit town but did have a very impressive temple called Mahabodhi and it felt like the most untouched in terms of the tourist trade to date. One afternoon I went for a walk to some caves where Buddha has meant to have spent a number of years and whilst the caves were a little disappointing the walk was not. I am not sure I went the way the lonely planet had recommended and the more I think about it the more I think that I did off road it slightly. I firstly walked over a sandy flood plain, which once the monsoon comes will be impassible and you would need to walk to the bridge much further down, which in hind sight might be the bridge that the lonely planet mentioned....... I then found myself walking though farming villages, with kids shouting hello and running along with me, when I got my camera out they went mental and I can only liken it to a scenes from Blue Peter that I have locked in my mind when John Lesley would go to these remote African villages and would be surrounded by kids.

Next stop Varanasi, this time I negotiated the train without any problems. Though it did involve getting an auto rickshaw from Bodgaya to Gaya, where the train departed from. I had read on the internet and in my lonely planet guide that this road after dark was quite dangerous and shouldn't really be travelled alone, I didn't have much choice in the matter. Here I was in an auto rickshaw with two Indian guys, who could have taken me anywhere..... Once we got going I reached into my rucksack and took out my leatherman and had the blade at the ready, I knew what the station looked like and thought if they tried anything on they had messed with the wrong person. For most of the journey I was thinking of what I would say if they did try anything, I think 'you have f@cked with the wrong man today boys' was the bookies favourite by the time we arrive at the station, I gave them the money and said good bye! Still made me think that travelling alone in some of these more remote places in India can be quite dangerous.

I was not on the train for long and soon found myself walking round the narrow streets of Varanasi at 3:00am looking for my guest house, this place was like a maze!! Some guy decided to show me the way, obviously he would have asked for a bit of cash for helping me out. He was walking down these dingy streets with sacred cows, dogs and people all lying around asleep, add to that the associated faecal matter of the animals and probably humans littering the paths and it was like dodging a mine field. I made sure that I put plenty of distance between myself and the 'guide' just to make sure he didn't try anything, I also had one hand on the trusty leatherman just in case!! I would read later that the streets of Varanasi are not the safest place to walk around at 3am. I eventually told the 'guide' to bugger off and found my own way to the guest house! Varanasi is one of the holiest places in India, where Hindu pilgrams come to wash a lifetime of sins in the Ganges or to cremate their loved ones. Whilst many people do have a swim in the Ganges I gave it a swerve, mainly because I read that there is something like 500 million times more effluent than the recommended levels for bathing water and I saw a dead body floating at the side of the river not far from where these were swimming.

The guest house I was staying at had a good bunch of people, including a lad and his Dad from Leeds (we get everywhere). One night all 8 of us plus driver in one tuk tuk (possibly a world record? Will have to check with Norris McWhirter) went for a nice meal followed a quick stop at the whiskey shop and a walk along the ghats to see the evenings display!! I got pretty drunk for the second time since leaving England and found myself uttering the immortal words 'I am never drinking whiskey again' the next morning!

Back on the train again now next stop Agra! I boarded the train and found my seat without any problems, by now every single journey on a train had some sort of incident..... Not this time, was I starting to get used to the Indian railway network? Bit of pub quiz trivia for you now that not many people know, did you know that the Indian Railways are the biggest employer in the world? Fact!!

We arrived in Agra early morning, I was now travelling with a Swedish girl called Soffan. We had some breakfast and got down to business, in one day we would go to the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Baby Taj Mahal and a Taj lookout. I can honestly say that Agra was exactly as I expected and was one of my hi lights so far, the Taj is definitely one of the wonders of the world and looks just like it does in the pictures! That night we went for some food, it was quite late nearly 10pm by the time we found a restaurant, the food came out in less than 5 minutes and the rice was cold, I kicked up a bit of a fuss and was going to leave, he persuaded me to taste the chicken which I did and it tasted pretty good, we ate our food minus the rice! Though I wasn't convinced that this would be be last time I would speak of the evening I ate chicken in Agra......

Next day in Agra was quiet, said good bye to Soffan as she was travelling up north and spent the day catching up with work in the blistering heat, just sat around talking on the phone in the shade was exhausting!

That night got back on the train next stop Jaipur, this time I was in sitting class as I was only on the train for 4 hours, by now 4 hours sounds like a quick trip into Leeds. Sitting class was a lot more crowded and was still stiflingly hot, but as I sat there in my reserved seat I actually started to believed that the India train system was a doddle and I had got it cracked. I read my book, listened to some music and looked around me, all I could see is Indian people chatting to each other laughing and joking! I thought if this was England nobody would even say hello to the person next to them never mind strike up conversation with a dozen people around them, maybe its the cramped conditions or the heat that makes Indian people be this way? Whatever it is I found myself sat thinking I wish England was a bit more like this. That journey I had an almost euphoric feeling and remembered exactly how lucky I was to be doing what I am doing! I got off the train at Jaipur, though it seems they have two stations called Jaipur and I was 12 km away from where I wanted to be, after double checking my situation I jumped into the nearest auto rickshaw and disaster was averted. Note to self: when it comes to trains in India, don't count your chickens till they have hatched.

So I am now in Jaipur, not really done much here except catch up on my blog and ride out the after effects of the chicken I shouldn't have eaten in Agra...... This is now the third dodgy stomach I have had in nearly two months and whilst it does not put you on your death bed, it does make you think. I have tried to just eat vegetables as much as possible but every so often I give in and eat meat, after all I love my meat. From now on I will be much more careful choosing where I eat meat....... As becoming veggie is just not an option and certainly does not except you from a dodgy stomach.

Next stop Udaipur....

Posted by machine 08:01 Archived in India Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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