Archive for May, 2013

Durban (16-20 May)

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Last weekend, we went to Durban – we both took Monday off and already flew down on Thursday evening, so we had plenty of time.

Friday, we still both had to work, but we found a very nice Café (Freedom Café) where we could plug in our laptops, have some nice juice and lunch and work – definitely beats sitting in the office! The weather on Friday was not very nice (it even rained a bit), but we didn’t mind since we had to work anyway. In the evening, we went to a Japanese restaurant called Daruma and had some delicious, freshly grilled seafood.

On Saturday, the weather was great – just in time! With the sun out, it was really warm and did not at all feel like winter is coming (which I think never really happens in Durban). After we had checked out the beach just in front of our hotel, we took our rental car north to see some of the other beaches. It is really a very nice area, and in the summer is surely packed with people. There are lots and lots of huge hotels, but thankfully on a random weekend outside high season like this one, there are not too many people. From the coast we then went inland a bit to visit kwaDukuma (Stanger), which is were Zulu king Shaka is buried. There is also a small visitor’s center that shows an informative movie about his life and achievements – he was quite the warrior, unifying quite a big territory under his power. However, he did not realize what threat the European colonization forces meant. Back in Durban in the evening, we went to a nice Indian restaurant called Vintage India. Durban has supposedly the largest accumulation of Indian people outside India due to the masses of indentured labor that the British brought over. The food was very delicious (and one of the things I miss about INSEAD in Singapore is the Indian food in the cafeteria or the food court next door, which was always good!)

On Sunday, we then went to look at Durban itself a bit. We strolled through the quite big Botanic Gardens, and then went to Wilson’s Wharf to have a drink and look across the bay towards the port, which is South Africa’s major container port (and also the port where our own container arrived a couple of weeks back). From the waterfront, we went into the city center to look at some of the colonial buildings (even though there are only very few, the center of Durban is definitely less pretty than that of Cape Town). The City Hall is quite impressive, and houses a small museum of Natural History (including T-Rex model) and an Art Gallery, both of which are free, and were nice and quick visits. After the town, we went to get Bunny Chow. Bunny Chow has nothing to do with bunnies and is a local fast food specialty – basically hollowed-out bread, filled with curry. Quite an interesting concept, but a bit hard to eat without spilling curry everywhere. In the evening, we went to get some more seafood, Thai/Japanese style at The Green Mango.

On Monday, we had to leave already in the afternoon, but we still had time for a long stroll along the beach, including watching a number of surfers enjoying the waves of the Indian Ocean, and also an extended visit to another nice restaurant called Market, which is very beautifully set in a courtyard, with tables and trees surrounding a fountain.

All in all, it was a very nice, relaxing weekend that really felt like a summer holiday.

Cradle of Humankind

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

On Sunday 28 April, we went out to the Cradle of Humankind – a UNESCO World Heritage site that is called like that because of the abundance of Australopeticus africanus skeletons that were found there, including 2.3mn year old “Mrs. Ples” who was discovered in 1947. It is quite close to Joburg so we could easily take one of our cars out there. The Cradle has two major sights: The caves of Sterkfontein and the visitor’s center at Maropeng. We decided to only do the cave since there is also a small museum attached to it. The caves are not only deep and widespread, but they are also the major reason for the prevalence of fossils and skeletons: Early humans and other animals would fall into the cave and not be able to get out, and then be preserved by the limestone. They are still – very slowly and thoroughly – excavating some fossils in the cave, a process that can take decades for a single skeleton. That would not be my kind of job!

The caves themselves are very interesting as well, going up to 60 meters below ground with passageways that are sometimes so narrow that you have to crouch. There is also an underground lake in the caves, the bottom of which has not yet been found – one diver trying to find it got as deep as 70 meters, but then died on the way back when his headlamp battery went out of juice. Apparently they are planning to bring dive robots in soon to finally get to the bottom of the lake.

Some pictures follow – but they are very dark, given that they were taken in a cave…

First Time in Cape Town

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Before we moved to South Africa, everyone kept raving about Cape Town – so of course we didn’t wait for too long before we went there ourselves to check it out. Our first trip happened only over a weekend (19-21 April), so we didn’t have time yet to check out too much of the surroundings, but we got a pretty good idea of the city, Table Mountain, and the cape itself.

We flew down on Friday night after work, so we got to our guest house in Bo-Kaap quite late and couldn’t really see anything of the town yet. On Saturday, we slept in, had breakfast on the lovely terrace of our guest house overlooking the city, and then went to check out a bit of the city close to our guest house, including the Bo-Kaap area with small colorful houses and cobblestone streets, Long Street, and Greenmarket Square.

In the afternoon, we then brought out our newly purchased hiking boots and hiked up Table Mountain. There are a number of ways that you can go up the mountain, including the lazy option of the cable car, and the most popular hiking route, Platteklip Gorge, which is described as steep, not very scenic, and crowded. Since we didn’t feel like taking the most crowded route up, we did a bit of research and opted for a slightly longer option, the Diagonal Route. It started not very steep, but after a while we had to scramble (i.e. use our hands to climb up some rocky bits) quite a bit. Moreover, it was not quite clear all the time whether we were still on what was meant to be the path – there was not really any signage. The vistas were quite amazing though, as we climbed higher and higher. We were also quite lucky with the weather – while we had left Joburg in the pouring rain, there was nary a cloud in Cape Town, not even the so called “table cloth” which hangs on Table Mountain a lot of the time and makes climbing up there less worth a while. Once we had reached the top (the “flat” part) of the mountain, it was much easier again to find the right way since it is much more of an actual path. We were also much much faster up there since we didn’t have to climb anymore (the few steep parts actually had ladders and ropes). To go down, we then took the cable car, which rotates around its axis so you can see in all directions – and it took only about five minutes to go down the same altitude that it had taken us more than three hours to climb up.

Quite exhausted, but also happy about our achievement, we went home to shower and relax and then went out to the V&A Waterfront to have some seafood for dinner – after all, one of the major drawbacks of Joburg is that it is not near any body of water.

On Sunday, we went down to the actual cape – which is quite some distance outside of the city itself. First, we visited the penguin colony at Boulders – they are such funny little creatures, awkwardly waddling around on the beach but super swift and agile when they are in the water.

Then, we went down to Cape Point, looking out on the two oceans (even though I learned since that the defined boundary between the Atlantic and Indian ocean is in fact a bit further east). Unfortunately, we had very limited time since our flight back was in the afternoon already, and we still planned to get lunch in Simon’s Town, so we had to rush. Said lunch then still had to be skipped due to a construction site induced traffic jam that took us half an hour, so we just had time for a quick sandwich on the way.

All in all though, it was a very nice weekend. Some pictures follow.

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