Archive for April, 2014

Seychelles (13 – 20 Apr)

Monday, April 21st, 2014

For the week before Easter, we went on a short trip to the Seychelles – might as well make use of the fact that this tropical island paradise is only a four-and-a-half hour flight away! We arrived on Sunday on the biggest island, Mahé, which is home to ~78000 people, more than 80% of the total population of the Seychelles. We stayed at a small place very close to the airport, which was convenient since our flight landed only after dark. The next morning, we took the public bus into Victoria, the tiny capital of the country, and from there took the ferry across to La Digue, where we were planning to spend the next four days. La Digue is the smallest of the three main islands which house most of the Seychelles’ population, and it is an extremely laid-back place. It is only a few kilometers in all directions, and there are hardly any cars on the island, but you can get almost anywhere on a rented bicycle. The island, as the other islands, is basically a big granite rock sticking out of the ocean, which means that the land climbs up quite steeply to the highest point of the island which is more than 300m above sea level.

On the first day, we went to Anse Source d’Argent, which is probably the most famous beach on La Digue. It is nestled between granite rocks and palm trees, which means that especially at high tide, there is hardly any beach to speak of – you rather sit in between the palm trees and look at or jump into the crystal clear, blue water. Especially at Anse Source d’Argent, the water was so warm that it really felt more like jumping into a bath tub!

The next day, we took the ferry over to Praslin, which is the second-biggest island and just a few kilometers from La Digue. On Praslin, we went to the inner part of the island. There we visited the Vallée de Mai, which contains a large rain forest, where the national symbol or maybe rather curiosity grows, the Coco de Mer, a palm tree endemic to the Seychelles. The Coco de Mer grows large coconuts, which take 7 years to mature before they finally drop from the tree. The fruit itself has a green “envelope”, but inside is the hard nut, which looks, well, rather like a female bum. And if that wasn’t enough, the male trees actually have rather phallic flower, which points up when they are ready for pollination, and dangles down limply when they are not. Definitely an interesting plant…

On Wednesday, in the morning we went to Grande Anse on La Digue in the morning, which is really a “grand” beach. White sand as far as you can see, and only a few dozen people spread out over the beach – hardly any comparison to e.g. Mediterranean beaches! Unfortunately, you can’t swim at this beach due to dangerous currents, but splashing around in the waves was okay and very refreshing in the tropical heat and humidity. In the afternoon, we went for a scuba dive – unfortunately the only one we managed to squeeze into this one week, but it was a very nice one, close to the tiny island of Ave Maria.

On Thursday, we went out on a boat tour to Île Coco and Île Félicité, where we had multiple stops for snorkelling, which was amazing as well – there was just such a large variety of tropical, colorful fish around, and we also saw multiple turtles and reef sharks. And the water is just so beautiful everywhere, clear and in varying shades of blue and green… Amazing. On our way back, the skipper of our small boat (who himself was the most avid snorkeler of the 8 people on the boat), surprised us all when he stopped next to a catamaran that had gotten its anchor stuck some 15 meters or so under the water. He just jumped in without any scuba gear, only donning his mask and huge fins, and skin dived down to free the anchor! Very impressive.

After we had lunch, we went up to Belle Vue, which is a small café close to the peak of the island. We had the not so grandiose idea of taking our bikes up, which we then had to push most of the way since the path was so steep that it would have been hard to walk even without the bikes. Accordingly, we were completely drenched in sweat when we finally reached the top, but the view and the fresh fruit juice we were served was worth the effort.

The next day, we went back to Mahé for the last few days – and had the first and only bad experience of the trip. We had originally booked the accommodation for these last two nights via the online booking platform Agoda in January. A week before our trip, they had gotten in touch with us and said that there was a mistake and the original guest house we had booked could no longer accommodate us. After some back and forth, we had booked an alternative. However, when we got there after a long boat and bus trip, we found out that this place was also full and Agoda had re-booked us somewhere else on the island just the day before – and since we didn’t have internet access on La Digue, we only found out when we arrived at the hotel. After waiting forever for a bus that didn’t come, and finally taking a taxi to the other place, we in the end arrived at Chez Lorna – which turned out to be an amazing alternative. Location-wise, it was not as convenient as our original booking, but the Seychellois/Dutch host couple of Lorna and Theo, who were extremely welcoming and helpful, more than made up for that, and we ended the day over a delicious home-cooked Creole dinner with Theo and the other guests (a French couple).

On Saturday, we then decided on short notice to rent a car and check out the rest of Mahé. Due to its size, a car is really the best way to get around this island, and at 40 Euro for the full day (with the ability to drop it off at the airport before our flight) it was also not too expensive. Over the course of the day, we did a tour around the complete island, with stops at numerous beaches, and really, one was more beautiful than the next. In the order we visited them: Anse Petite Police in the very south, Anse Intendance, Anse Takamaka, Anse Soleil (where we had lunch), and lastly Petite Anse. The latter was the prettiest of them all, and was really, literally, perfect. To get to this beach we had to go through the extensive grounds of the luxury Four Seasons resort which envelops all of the beach, but it was worth it. The beauty of this beach, the soft white sand, the boulders and palm trees enclosing it, and the clear blue water, are all hard to describe if you haven’t been there.

The next day, we unfortunately had to leave this paradise already, but this was a perfect tropical beach holiday – and what made it even better was the fact that, while it is certainly a rather expensive destination (being used to Johannesburg restaurant prices just makes paying 25 € a person for dinner hard to swallow), it did not feel too busy with tourists. This might have been since we weren’t there in high season, but it was just perfect.

Some pictures follow.

Pilanesberg (22 Mar)

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Since we had a long weekend, we decided on Saturday 22 March to go to Pilanesberg National Park for a day on safari. We had not been before, and Pilanesberg is the closest spot where you can do self-drive safaris from Johannesburg. We just went in one of our cars, which turned out not to be such a good decision. Due to the very rainy few weeks that we had had on the highveld, not only were some of the roads closed, and others in extremely bad condition, but also was all the vegetation so high and dense that we hardly saw any animals. We spotted a few rhinos from afar, and some hippos play-fighting in a pond, but that was about it. But what was worse is that we actually got the car stuck on a very muddy road – in the middle of the park. Thankfully a park ranger came by and helped with pushing the car back out (and we turned around to get back on the surfaced road afterwards) – but that was a little bit of a sticky situation there, having to leave the car in the middle of the park, with lions potentially somewhere close by… So we won’t do that again!

Weekend Trip to Lesotho (24 – 26 Jan)

Monday, April 21st, 2014

At the end of January, we went to Lesotho for a weekend. We left relatively late on Friday, so we did not go very far into the country that night – in fact, we stayed at a small apartment in the (tiny) capital city of Maseru, which is just behind the border with South Africa. On Saturday, we went further into this remote and very mountainous country. We first paid a very short visit to Thaba-Boisu, which is regarded as the birthplace of the Basotho (the people of Lesotho) nation. It consists mostly of a hill, which we didn’t climb since it would have taken too long, and a tourist complex that showcases a traditional Lesotho village. The complex, however, was not open, so we could only look at the village from the outside.

After Thaba-Boisu, we went to the Malealea Lodge, which is a former trading post that has been converted into a community-oriented, very well-run lodge. We stayed in a small round hut there, which was very nice. In the afternoon, we went on a horse ride to see some of the bushman cave paintings in the surroundings, which was both a very nice way to see some of the beautiful, largely unspoiled countryside, and to get to see the paintings too. In the evening, a local choir and band performed at the lodge, and there was a barbeque dinner.

On Sunday, we had to go back, but we spent the morning still driving around the country. This country really feels so far away from the world, and quite poor. The Basotho have quite an interesting choice of apparel: They wear strange, pointy, woven straw hats, and wrap themselves in colorful woolen blankets – even though it was obviously summer when we were there! A very large proportion of the population, at least as per our impressions from driving through the countryside, are shepherds.

The last stop on the route were some dinosaur footprints, of which there are quite a few sites in Lesotho. Again, in very authentic Lesotho style, there is just a hand-painted sign leading you to the site from the main road, with a tiny hut where two people sit that had second-hand dinosaur books and pictures, and one of whom lead us around the hut to the back into a small stream where there were the big flat rocks that had the footprints in them – very interesting as well.

Some pictures follow.

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