Europe, Africa · 43 Days · 71 Moments · January 2019

South Africa & Madagascar


12 March 2019

I'm writing this in the air above Kenya, just because I'm being driven mad. There are two people in the row right behind me literally shouting at each other, to the extent that it feels like they are actually inside my skull, and a person in my row watching a film on their phone without headphones so loudly that I can hear it over the aircraft noise despite there being 2 seats and an aisle between me and her. I honestly don't know how the person who is just across the aisle hasn't taken the phone and thrown it as hard as they can down the plane. What is the world coming to?!? Seriously, this is the shit that drives people homicidal. We're all stuck on this plane together for over 4hrs. A modicum of consideration for one's fellow passengers is only reasonable. Probably lucky security took my nail scissors off me at the airport, really.... Going to have to put some music on to be able to read!

11 March 2019

Well, I'm on my way home - made it to Antananarivo with traditional Madagascan travel chaos, as my flight was cancelled (not enough passengers) and I was put on an earlier one! I'm in a simple little hotel close to the airport overnight. Room is nice. Ordered spaghetti, got instant noodles(!), but they filled a large hole left by not having any lunch due to travel craziness. Met a very nice chap from Mauritius in the bar and we had good chats over dinner, so I now have the offer of a place to stay if I ever visit there. Result! Of to the airport this morning, and then back to Blighty....

10 March 2019

Today I started my long journey back to the UK. Several lemurs turned up in camp to say goodbye as I was packing up my tent - one seemed almost as interested in me as I was in it, and let me get really close! The ride back was long, hot and bumpy, but at the end awaited a wonderful hotel room with real bed, and water that not only comes out of taps, but does so hot! It feels a whole world away from well water bucket showers..... I don't think I've ever been so excited by steak and chips, either, but after a week eating mostly rice and beans, dinner was heaven!

9 March 2019

This afternoon we were joined by the Seed staff from the office in Fort Dauphin, who have joined us for a beach day and bush party! I really enjoyed the beach, where after a swim I laid on a rock, enjoyed the scenery and read a book. We then went to a local bar and played a few games, which was fun. We were told that this evening a band had been organised, for a party. Sounded good, but it was not at all as I expected. Rather than a relaxed party atmosphere, all the visars (white folk) had to sit on a bench facing the band, while local villagers surrounded the space between us, and we were expected to listen from there. There were also dancers that we were expected to regularly tip with small notes throughout the performance. No one had warned us of this, so we didn't have much that was appropriate, and to be honest the whole thing made me quite uncomfortable. I have sidled off early and headed to bed!
This morning we went to another local school for a conservation class. This one was at the larger local settlement at the end of the road, called Minafiafi (sp?!). It was a little less hectic than the last one! We took the scenic route home along a little bit of the coast, which was really beautiful!

8 March 2019

Tonight was chill out night. We were supposed to be having a fire but it rained, so we put a film on instead. All very 21st Century! Fury Road. Great film, but we all got too tired and in the end turned it off in favour of sleep.... Also found a super cute bright green tree frog around camp!
We had quite a productive afternoon making a start on dismantling the old nursery and prepping timber for the new one, so the seedlings for the new corridors have the correct conditions to grow in. Some local fish was being dried along the fence which wasn't the best smell to be working to... Sam stood on a rusty nail, so we're all hoping she doesn't get tetanus! There have been a few lemurs around camp today. So cute!
We've had a really fabulous morning, trekking to a protected part of the forest to see where the fruit bats roost, and to set out tarps to collect bat guano for analysis. The hike there and back was long and hot, with a parogue (dug out canoe) paddle across the estuary in the middle, but the views were astounding and the bats really amazing! Watching them fly overhead, and listening to the womp of their wings, you really could imagine you're in a Jurassic jungle. The forest type we are in here is called Littoral forest. It is thought it once covered most of the east coast of Madagascar - now, only 2% of Madagascar is Littoral forest and even these small remaining patches are under threat as the area has been leased by a mining company. They have agreed to leave some small areas of the forest for conservation, but not much. I was particularly sad to learn that these bat roosts are not amongst the areas being saved & are due to be demolished to make way for mining activity.

7 March 2019

Dinner this evening was pasta in tomato sauce, which was lovely (bloody typical after all those snacks!). After dinner we went on a nocturnal lemur survey. You find them by shining torches into the trees and looking for the reflection in their eyes. Along the way we found some frogs, pigmy chameleons, and several snakes as well as a hedgehog tenrek, which was immensely cute! In total we found 5 lemurs on this transect - they were all very high up in the trees, so bloody difficult to photograph, you'll have to believe me that there's one in one of they photographs! On the way back I managed to get a reasonable photo of Orion. I just love how dark the skies are here...
This afternoon we went on a bit of a trek so that Sam, one of the staff, could see the sites which have been chosen for new corridors of forest to be planted. These corridors will connect several fragments of forest, which have been created as people clear land for farming, allowing lemurs and other species to move between them. This should help to sustain healthier populations with more genetic diversity. Along the way we found some cool plants and some stunning views! By the time we got back, materials had arrived with which we will build a new nursery area where saplings will be raised to plant the corridors. After all that walking in the heat, we popped to the nearest shop in the village where we had a drink and some snacks, and played cards - they got a delivery on the same truck that brought the nursery materials, and we had lots of Saltos (crisps) and bolos (chocolate biscuits). I made myself feel a bit sick on that lot after all the plain food!
We had an early start this morning for a day time Herp survey, where you see different species to at night. We saw a number of frogs (some so tiny and well camouflaged I have no idea how anyone spots them!) and several geckos too. On our way back from the transect we passed some Lemurs, and when we got back were excited to find a chameleon and a snake in the trees right by our long house. Beautiful! The sad news of the morning is that Lauren, one of the staff, was rather unwell over night. She is due to leave Madagascar next week, so was out here to spend some last time in the forest before heading home. In discussion with the doctor back at Fort Dauphin it was decided she should leave for town straight away. We're a 3hr long, slow and bumpy 4x4 road from town, and if she were to get worse during the day, traveling at night can be extremely hazardous, so it's better safe than sorry, but she was very sad to have to go early (and not looking forward to the car journey...!).

6 March 2019

This afternoon has been quite chill. We went up to the village to attempt to teach a little conservation (all about leaves), and spent most of the rest of the day hiding from the intense heat. This evening there is another Herp transect going on, but I've decided to sit this one out as I'm not feeling 100% - just a bit headachey and not quite right, I'm sure it's just heat and sun and so on, but I don't want to overdo it. So mostly I shall be sleeping!
This morning kicked off with a breakfast of banana bread (yum), rice flour deep fried things (double yum!) and rice. Weird! Rice is usually eaten 3 meals a day in Madagascar, so that should be fun! We then made our way back to the river estuary where we launched lay night, and went for a paddle around the mangroves. The team here have been mapping where the mangroves still exist, and keeping an eye on them. On our travels, paddling in a boat that was leaking like a sieve and filling almost as fast as it could be bailed out, we saw white face ducks, whistling ducks, a purple heron and several beautiful little Madagascan king fishers. One was good enough to pose for the camera!

5 March 2019

This afternoon we did some planning for tomorrow's conservation club at the local school, which will be all about leaves, then walked down to the village for a quick drink before dinner. This evening we did a nighttime herpetological survey looking for reptiles and amphibians. We found lots of pigmy geckos and several frogs of various types as well as a fish scaled gecko. We also found some awesome spiders, some insanely large cricket type insects, and a couple of super cute rats! One of the most awesome things was the journey there and back, on canoes across the river estuary to an island. It was very dark, and the night sky was just fantastic, with the milky way clearly visible, as well as the magellanic clouds! Spectacular!
I was picked up bright and early this morning by the lovely folk from Seed Madagascar, to do the 3hr 4x4 ride over the roughest road imaginable, to our camp site in the forest at St Luce. I'm all settled into my tent, have had lunch, been given a camp tour and conservation briefing, and we're all mostly just avoiding the heat of the day at the moment! Facilities are very basic with limited power (all solar), water from a well for washing, rain water (treated with chlorine) for drinking, and long drop toilets. I seem to be able to get a bit of phone reception to send text messages, but no data here.... Some creatures have already turned up to say hi, including a couple of lemurs, a chameleon, plenty of dragon flies, some giant spiders, and the biggest cockroach you've ever seen! The photo does not really show the size of it properly, as my finger is quite a bit closer to the camera than the cockroach! Trust me, it was huge.... Really looking forward an exciting week!

4 March 2019

I've survived Antananarivo and made it to Fort Dauphin (aka Taolagnaro) where it is hot, hot, hot and super humid! 31C and 85% today, it felt rather like Thailand! I spent a great deal of the day traveling on account of busy traffic leaving Tana, a slightly delayed flight (which had already been re-scheduled twice, apparently a normal occurrence here!) and it being quite a long way. Madagascar has twice the land area of the whole UK (including NI) so it's not a small island. Here I'm checked into a very nice hotel for one night of luxury, before tomorrow I depart for a camp site in the countryside. I'm told there is a hill people walk up to get reception, so I hope to be online briefly at least once a day, but I may be totally out of communication for the week. If so, I'll keep writing these, but you'll have to wait until I get back to WiFi to post them all! I've walked next door for dinner, where I have a very lovely view! Need to get an early night, though, as we leave at 6am...

3 March 2019

I've had a really lovely second day in Tana - well, just outside it mostly, as Tojo took me on a local bus ride nearly an hour to the north of town to see Ambohimanga, which is the site of the original King's palace (though take its more of a fort). The buses here are quite crazy - 30+ people in what we might consider a 20-seater mini bus. The aisles have special fold out seats, so not an inch of space is wasted, kids sit on parents laps to cram a few more in! But with the windows down it's actually pleasant enough - lucky, since the trip was about an hour each way! Ambohimanga is historically very interesting - Tojo shared a huge amount of information, most of which I've already forgotten! - and has some quite spectacular views. This evening I had a really lovely massage - lovely way to relax at the end of the day!

2 March 2019

I've had a very pleasant evening - dinner in the Italian restaurant over the road, some time in a giant bath in my hostel, and a cuddle with one of the resident cats! An interesting thing I leaned today is that Madagascar gets its money printed in various European countries, and the notes don't always match! See the attached pic of two completely different 10k notes, both of which are perfectly valid....
This afternoon we took a local bus to the main park/zoo. It's aim is to try to show people the flora and fauna of the various different parts of Madagascar, all in one place. There were lots of fascinating plants, and of course some animals. I always worry about foreign zoos, but overall it didn't seem too bad, though I would have wished for larger areas for some of the bigger creatures. I learned that lemurs are afraid of water, so they won't cross it, hence if you put them on an island, they stay there! My guide, Tojo, is just as knowledgeable about the wildlife of Madagascar as he is about its history. There are no venemous snakes here but there seem to be a lot of highly toxic plants!
I've had a really great morning seeing the sights of Antananarivo. As per advice from the internet, and the nice people here at my hostel, I took a short walk to the official government tourism office where I met Tojo, who became my guide for the day (and tomorrow, too). We spent the morning on an extensive waking tour of the city centre, seeing lots of very interesting buildings and hearing all about the history of Madagascar. It's a really interesting city, built on a lot of hills, and although some of the low lying ground has been reclaimed, much of it is still rice fields. Then we had lunch - local cuisine - in a very nice restaurant. I had some sort of beef stew, and it was really fabulous!

1 March 2019

Today has been a traveling day. Early start to make my flight from Cape Town to Jo'burg, then a quick transfer (made quicker because apparently when 8 people don't show up for the flight in South Africa, the plane just waits!) and on to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. Drama of the day is that I made it, but my luggage didn't! On the bright side, it wasn't just me. At least 4 people from my flight were in the queue ahead of me to report their bags not arriving. I was at the end because not having any cash on me to pay for the on-arrival visa meant I had to wait to be escorted to the cash point, which is outside the airport, then back again so I could get a visa and get through passport control! There was an odd moment during my transfer where the driver took me to meet his friends who seemed to be running a black market currency exchange. As I don't have any Euros or Dollars, we left again. Great introduction to Madagascar! The hostel is lovely, though, and there is a dog!

28 February 2019

When I went on my second ride a couple of days ago, I didn't take my camera, but decided I would rely on photos taken by Sarah's husband, who follows the group with both a camera and drone. Those photos came through today, so here they are - it really was every bit as fabulous as it looks, and I can't recommend it highly enough. There is also a video which you can see at: https://youtu.be/vuloFVM0GR8 I start the ride on Frisco, but swapped to Pride just before the swim. Sadly my crazy gallop on Pride (who is one hell of a horse!) is missed as I didn't start with the other two (at 10:28), but held back, and the drone follows them. Pride was getting frustrated at always having to stick to the same pace as the others (Sarah is leading the ride and asks, very sensibly, that everyone stays behind her), so we let them get ahead then really opened up! That horse really loves to run! You do see me catch up at 10:45 though. We were flying....
I've done very little at all today. Got a transfer back to Cape Town, enjoyed the view on the way, and have mostly been chilling out at my hostel, watching Netflix! I'll be getting a very early night - not only am I tired from last night's Karaoke, but I'm up at 3:30am to catch my flight. Ugh....

27 February 2019

Had a very lovely last evening in Gansbaai, having dinner on the terrace at Opideck, rev find to Jimmy's for Karaoke, where I met a fascinating chap who has been all over the world, including Madagascar, and told me all about how lovely it is. We also did a lot of terrible singing! Got to get up early to pack. Ugh! Can't believe the month has gone so fast....
Another no sea day - typical! - so we went to Betty's Bay to admire the penguins and the occasional Dassie, then, after lunch in Hermanus, went to Panthera, a local Big Cat Sanctuary. All the cats there have been rescued from unethical tourism experiences where they were taken from their mothers to be hand reared by unsuspecting volunteers, and used for petting and photographs, before being shipped off to breeding facilities to produce more cubs for the same industry, or shot in canned hunts. None of them can be released into the wild, for a variety of reasons, but here they have a place to live out their days in safety, with no further human interaction. It's not an ideal situation, but it's the best they can hope for in the circumstances. All a bit depressing, really!

26 February 2019

Today was a no sea day, so there was a trip organised to Cape Aghulas. Although I've been there before, I thought it would be nice to go again, so tagged along. The weather wasn't nearly so nice as last time though! I tried to photograph some interesting wildlife from the bus on the way, and took advantage of the long ride to do a bit of crochet - managed to make a bag to donate to Swop Shop.

25 February 2019

Spent today at BARC, walking dogs, cuddling puppies, and generally helping out. The pups were all obsessed with my boot laces, so I nipped down to the local supermarket and bought then some bootlace-esque toys to hang from the bars of their cages, which seemed fairly popular. This evening I got take out pizza and ate it on the boarding lodge terrace, enjoying the sunset. Lovely!

24 February 2019

I had my last boat trip today, which felt odd after being on the boat most days for 3 weeks now. A couple of white sharks have been seen in the area in the last few days, but not by us. I was hopeful given an early morning start and overcast conditions, which seem to have produced the most sightings so far, but no white shark today. Several bronzies to see me off, though, which was nice. This afternoon I moved into the boarding lodge in Gansbaai proper, where I plan to spend my last week in the area helping out at the dog sanctuary, and generally taking things a bit more chill! My back needs a test so I'm mostly planning on waking dogs, and cuddling dogs, and other such strenuous activities!

23 February 2019

I caught an early bus back to Kleinbaai this morning, but didn't get involved with loading the boat. My back is not terribly happy about all the lifting I've been doing, so I'm giving that a miss! As there were only 3 volunteer spaces, I sat the trip out, and had a chill morning. This afternoon we went riding again, and this time the weather was suitable for swimming with the horses which was really fabulous, though the water was cold enough it literally took my breath away! I got to ride both Frisco and Pride, and swam with Pride. I didn't take many photos as I decide to leave my camera in the van, and enjoy the experience instead. The guy from the couple who run it takes photos and video drone footage, so I'll share that when I get it instead! I'm quite exhausted, and don't think it was necessarily the best plan with my back feeling how it does, but it was well worth it!

22 February 2019

I've had a proper day off today. Walked into town, had a very nice massage, had lunch with an Ocean view, wandered along the shore for a bit, spent the very hot part of the day relaxing in my room and watching a film, walked back into town to pick up take away sushi for dinner! Nice!

21 February 2019

Today has been a relatively chill day. We went for a wine tasting at a vineyard in the mountains this morning (though I had beer, such was quite nice even if it was larger!), then had lunch in Hermanus, and spent some time looking around the market there. This evening I have checked myself into a very nice little guest house in Hermanus for 2 nights, because I really need some time off to just relax! There's a bath, and no other people. It's heaven!

20 February 2019

Another country, another dog sanctuary.... Today we went to BARC and I did several hours working on their yard area, with some help from the other volunteers, plus Lady, who oversaw the work in return for tummy tickles, and the three musketeers, as I have named them, who did some testing for us ;). Managed to properly clear about a third of it, a start to make a few features out of the materials they have laying about. Lots more work needed! I am a little concerned for Mickylie - I didn't have long to sit with her, but she wouldn't come near me - after quite a while, the photo shows the closest she would come, and only if I want looking at her. I don't think the kennel environment is suiting her at all. I hope she finds a home soon.... I will make more time for her when I'm next there. This evening we had another braai, outdoors this time, which was very tasty!

19 February 2019

There has been a total shift in shark activity this week, from loads to none at all.... Today, 2 trips went out, and no one saw a shark all day. It seems the bronzies, which migrate through here, are moving away, and the main white shark activity doesn't pick up until later in the year. I was only in the first trip, when André the seal dropped by to say hi, which was nice. The atmosphere isn't great after 3hrs at sea with no sightings and a boat full of disappointed clients, though, so I was pleased to be off the second trip. Instead I did a little more work on the papier maché shark - it now has teeth! In the afternoon we were back at Swop Shop, which was hot and busy as ever! I do think it's a great idea to encourage local kids to collect up rubbish and recycle it. I might drop a message to the base manager at GVI where I was in Thailand and suggest it, because they really need to encourage more local recycling there...

18 February 2019

I definitely didn't get enough sleep last night, so have been a bit of a zombie today. There were 2 boat trips, so plenty of boat loading and unloading to do, but no volunteer spaces so we didn't go to sea. We didn't miss much, though, only a handful of Bronzies all day. I tried to nap but couldn't, so went for a walk along the coast with Georgie, one of the marine biologists here. This evening I volunteered to cook and did a very cheap and simple pasta dish - sort of a vegetable Bolognese - for everyone. Despite some concerns during the cooking process, it worked out very myself and was appreciated by all. I'm getting an early night tonight, to try and make up for last night!

17 February 2019

Slow shark day today. But the weather was much nicer! This evening we went out in Gansbaai, to Jimmy Rockets, where we joined Marius, one of the crew, who is a regular on Karaoke nights. We sang. Badly, and lots, and had a bucket of fun. But we have to get up at 5am, so sleep now!!

16 February 2019

Not much to report today. Weather was terrible, sharks were slow (just a couple of bronzies), and I was knackered. Really night for me!

15 February 2019

Today was the first boat trip I've been on where we didn't see a single shark. Which is a bit awkward, with a boat full of paying customers. They've all been given a voucher to come back again in future, but the air of disappointment was palpable. There were lots of seagulls chilling out on the water, plenty of grey mullet in the sea, and one seal poked is head above water very briefly, before vanishing. That was it. Oh, and the boat got overtaken on the way back to shore by a cape cormorant. They're not slow!

14 February 2019

Went up to Cape town today, as it was a no sea day, and both Ish and Kelly are off - Kelly flies out tonight, Ish early tomorrow so he's staying in Cape town over night. We had time to go around the aquarium and have lunch at Ocean Basket before we had to drop them off. On the way back home I picked up a KFC which was yummy and came with "pap" - a local goop made out of Maize meal. Sort of like mashed potato in consistency. Didn't taste of much. Totally forgot to photo it!
Went out for Ish and Kelly's last night here. Had food and drinks at the Boat House, then moved on to a local bar / club called Friends. Danced a great deal. Have to be up at 7am. Argh! That'll teach me for keeping up with the youngsters.... Though Ish did say he was impressed because "old people usually don't know what they're doing on the dance floor" 😂

13 February 2019

Only one boat trip for us today, though 3 went out in total (the other two were full), so there was plenty of loading, unloading, and wetsuit washing to keep us busy. The weather was glorious, though the southerly wind was a tad chilly out on the water. We had some lovely bronzies around the boat this trip, which was Kelly & Ish's last so they got in the cage, though I didn't. It's going to be odd here without them!
Dropped my thermos yesterday as I climbed onto the plinth marking the southernmost tip of Africa, and the meeting of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Only noticed the dent on the bottom this morning. Cool place to have dented it - a reminder of being there! 😂

12 February 2019

We've had a proper day off today. Normally that are reserved for bad weather "no sea" days, but there haven't been many of those recently, and Ish and Kelly are leaving very soon and haven't got to do many of the excursions that volunteers normally get to go on, so we all took a trip down to Cape Aghulis, the southernmost tip of Africa. At a nearby harbor we stopped to swim with sting rays, which was really cool, before making our way to the point itself and going up the nearby light house to see the view. We had some lunch and then, on our way home, stopped off at the local Birkenhead brewery, which has the most spectacular view, and where there were beer, wine and cider tasting boards available. I had the beer, obviously! It was a very enjoyable day!

11 February 2019

I've had a pretty cool day today. I helped load the boat this morning, but didn't go on the boat trip - we've had a great last couple of days on the boat, I was tired, and I keep not having time to sort out other things I need to do, so I got some emails done, etc, before helping to unload again when it got back. Doesn't sound like we missed much - a couple of passes from April first thing, then not much else... We then went to BARC again, where I walked & hung out with several dogs, then got used as a climbing frame by the cutest pups! We went back to Afrikanos this afternoon and took the crew for a late lunch, as Kelly and Ish are leaving soon and wanted to say thanks for looking after us. All very relaxed, which has been nice!

10 February 2019

Johan (one of the staff) managed to get the pics I took today off the SD card, so here's a few more from today's second trip!
Have had a fab day at sea. 2 trips, with April showing up on both. The second trip we also had André the seal, a short tailed sting ray and a couple of bronzies. I was mostly helping clients on the first trip, but had a great view on the second, firstly from downstairs, then I took the volunteer camera upstairs where I got some amazing shots. Unfortunately the SD card seems to be scrambled, and at the moment we can't get any of the laptops here to read it, which is a bit sad, but it was still a great experience. Laat time I use someone else's camera, though! André pic by Bryony, pics of Ish by Johan.

9 February 2019

As if this morning wasn't awesome enough, this afternoon we went for an amazing ride along Pearly Beach. I rode Jinx, the only pony, but a lovely thing. Despite being desperately out of practice (I think I've been for one or two gentle hacks in the last 20 years!), he looked after me, and we had some lovely canters along the edge of the water with the most spectacular scenery all around, though short legs meant he struggled to keep up a little... The beach is so beautiful, I can't believe it's not carpeted in tourists, but it was empty! The people who run it were absolute lovely, and we also met their Shetland, pug-cross-terriers, and a fabulous great Dane called Frodo. I think I'm in love. If you're in the area, I can't recommend it highly enough! It was a totally magical experience.
OMG we have had the most amazing morning! We were all on the first boat trip, and after a good start with bronzies and Andre the seal, April showed up. Most of the clients were out of the cage already and didn't want to go back, so me, Kelly & Ish jumped in. Visibility in the water was very poor due to algae, and sharks love that as they can ambush hunt, which is exactly what she did! She came straight up from the depths, grabbed the bait before any of us saw her, took it under & tried to go under the boat, right next to me, but the bait was still on the rope do she couldn't get far, and she was so close! All I could see was the white of her belly. I came up for breath & by the time I was going back down somehow she was the other side of us, really thrashing, until she sawed/broke through the rope. Honestly, so much was happening so fast it was incredible! I didn't get any pics or footage of the dramatic bit, I was to busy living it, bit others did. I'll share that when I get a copy!

8 February 2019

Had a fab evening out at Afrikanos with some of the crew. Need to get to sleep - it's another 5am start for us tomorrow!
I've had a busy morning, and taken hardly any pics - I wasn't on the first boat, so took the opportunity to finish up the nose of our papier mache shark, re-mark some hangers for the wet suits, and buy some postcards. Then it was a very quick turn around for the second boat trip, which I was on, which turned out to be one of the shortest ever, just 1.5hrs rather than the usual 3. It was a full boat with a private Spanish tour group, and we saw some Bronzies, but no Whites. Everyone had a great time, but they seemed to want to get in and out quite fast (in fairness, the water has gone pretty cold at about 13C), we had only 2 volunteers aboard, and 3 people were seasick, so I was pretty busy! We're mostly just chilling out this afternoon - after a cloudy start it is hot, hot, hot!

7 February 2019

Kelly, Uisce (the actual spelling of his name, pronounced "Ishka" - he's Australian, but the name is Celtic) went for dinner at Afrikanos, a very nice local place, half way to Gansbaai, with another great view of the sunset, and this time the moon put in a particularly spectacular appearance, too.... We had fabulous pizza, great beer (a surprisingly nice local blonde ale, and also a bottled milk stout, which was very nice but 6%, so consequently I'm slightly sloshed), and really enjoyed the view. On returning home, Kelly broke out her charcoal face pack for us all....
Had a good trip out on the boat this afternoon. It was very quiet for rather a long time, so we were all quite worried we might not see anything at all, but then up popped April! I tried very hard to get a dramatic white shark selfie, but completely missed every occasion that she actually went for the bait and you could see her face out of the water! Still, I got a couple of shark fin selfies, so that's pretty cool. It was a very full boat, so no chance for us to get in with her, but apparently the weather is good for the next few days, so let's hope for more of the same (and a quiet boat or two!).
No boat trip this morning as the wind is still up and it's too rough. So instead we spent the morning at BARC, a local dog rescue. I walked Muppet, who has been there a while, is quite adorable, and really seemed to enjoy herself. I also spent some time sitting with Mickylie, who had only been there since yesterday and was too scared to leave her pen (we tried, she was having none of it!). Despite clearly being terrified, she was utterly adorable. Reminded me of a mini Jessie!

6 February 2019

Another good day - early start, 2 boat trips and plenty of Bronzy action, especially on the second trip when the water had warmed up a bit, but no Great Whites today. The second trip got a bit rough as the wind picked up, and we had our first seasick client. Thankfully I was the far side of the boat, and Kelly did a great job of looking after her! After we were done we went for a walk, in theory to go for a swim in one of the tidal pools, but it was a bit cold for that! The water is not warm, and it was very windy. I did find some cool stuff on the shore, though. For the first time I'm getting the feeling of being at sea when I'm on land. It's really odd! This evening I finally got fed up of my hair, and Kelly kindly cut it for me. Not until after I'd hacked a chunk off a little too high, though, so the dodgy side is 100% my fault! It's now roughly the same length as the undercut I'm growing out, so from here it can all grow down together... I'm aiming for a short bob. Probably.

5 February 2019

Been a long and busy day today. Up at 5 to load the boat. Kelly & I were able to go on the first boat trip. It was very full, mostly with a large group of Polish blokes, who had a totally fab time when April showed up again. It was too busy for either of us to get in the cage, and I always seemed to be busy with something when she did anything dramatic - like when she got her nose stuck in the cage! But it was very cool anyway. Second boat trip had all 4 of us along, and we have a nice group of toys, but no Great White, so we all stayed on the boat and helped out. In the afternoon we went to Swop Shop, run by the folk at White Shark Projects, in the local township, it allows kids to swop recycling for points they can spend on toys, clothes and educational supplies. It was long, and hot, and busy but very worthwhile. This evening Ish, Kelly & I went into Gansbaai for dinner at Opideck, where we had cocktails & watched the sun to down. Up at 5 again tomorrow for more of the same!

4 February 2019

After our very successful and exciting boat trip this morning, we went with Jess, one of the staff here, to Butterflies, a nearby school for special needs children. There, our papier mache jellyfish put in an appearance in her talk about different sea animals, after which we helped out with questions. All that was finished by about 2pm (which is where such early mornings get you), so I then went for a walk with Ish (not the real spelling of his name, but as close as I'm going to get!) and Kelly, who have decided to set up an Instagram account on my behalf! Details of that will, no doubt, follow. It's likely to be another 5am start tomorrow, so we'll be having early dinner and crashing out soon after!
This morning we got up bright and early (5am alarm for a 5:30 start), helped load the boat, and went out for our second boat trip. Much to our delight, there were several bronze whaler sharks around the boat almost immediately we stopped at the dive site, and before the first group of clients were in the cage we were joined by April, a lovely little female great white, who is about 3.5m long. I was lucky enough to get some great views from the cage as she swam by really close, several times. It really was insanely exciting! Honestly, I didn't expect to be so lucky so early in my stay - a great white sighting is far from guaranteed, especially at this time of year. April is only a youngster, not even at breeding age yet - great whites reach maturity at about 4m long, but sadly the ones which are 4m and above are the ones which are most hunted and poached, so it is now very rare to see one that is more than 4m long. This is very bad new for the breeding population....

3 February 2019

Today has been a very chill day. Having expected to be on a boat first thing, we all got a message just before 5am saying it would be a no-sea day, as some wind and rain had unexpectedly come in overnight. The weather was poor enough this morning that it didn't seem worth trying to organise to do much else (and it being a Sunday makes that a bit difficult anyway as places are closed), so we have spent the day working on two ongoing craft projects, one to build a papier mache jellyfish to take into a local special needs school, and the other to repair an existing papier mache shark. We were visited through the day by a local dog (or possibly two - we're told there are a pair, and sometimes the dog seemed extremely nervous, at other times very friendly, so we think it was two different dogs!), which was nice. The weather has cleared up and the forecast is good, so we should be back at sea tomorrow.... Fingers crossed!

2 February 2019

I've had a really fab first day with White Shark Projects - we were lucky and it was a chill one, with only one boat ride not going out until late, so we could have a lie in, but with room for us all on the boat. Because it was the first day for 3 of us, we were treated the same as the paying clients, and made the most of it as from here on we'll mostly be working alongside the crew, though apparently it's very common for there to be room for us in the cage so most trips we can get in the water if we want to. No Great Whites today (though there has been a small one around for the last few days so fingers crossed) but there were lots of Bronze Whaler Sharks around, and the boat crew are experts at luring them right up to the cage with the bait, so we got a very close view. The water was freezing, but the wetsuits are great! And my camera was refusing to focus underwater (and I was concentrating way more on actually seeing the sharks than on messing around with it) but you get the gist

1 February 2019

After penguins we continued our journey down the coast, then had lunch in the very lovely - if rather windy - town of Hermanus, before making our way on to Gansbaai. I've been so busy getting to know the other volunteers, the staff, unpack, go shopping, etc etc, I only realised as I climbed into bed that I've not yet taken a single photo of the volunteer house, or the surrounding area, but it's very nice. There are 6 of us here at the moment, but 2 are leaving in a few days at which point I'll get my own room, which is quite exciting! It's early bed around here as most days are a 5am start, though due to the weather we're not actually kicking off until 11:30 tomorrow. I'm very excited to get out on the boat!
This morning I got picked up by the lovely folk from White Shark Projects and met the other volunteers who are starting today. We drove down the coast, met up with the existing volunteers, and got to see penguins! They are just the cutest, and hang out at the coast here. One took refuge under our van! Honestly, I'm not someone who normally gets that "so cute I want to squeeze it" reaction to cute things, but OMG they are so cute I just want to squeeze them!!!

31 January 2019

This evening I took the sunset bus up Signal Hill to watch the sun go down. The views were undeniably wonderful, and I found myself a nice secluded spot a little way from the car park with a great view and a comfy rock to sit on, which was very lovely. My tranquility was a little shattered by South African time keeping - we had been told the bus would leave "shortly after sun set", so once the firey ball itself had vanished I watched the colours in the sky for perhaps 2 or 3 more minutes, then walked briskly back to the car park. Admittedly I'd gone further than the crowds, but not that far, so I was a little aggrieved to see the bus pulling out of the car park just as I arrived! Luckily there was quite a queue of slow traffic leaving, so I ran like crazy, and just caught the bus as it was about to run out of traffic jam and be off. 30 seconds later and I'd have been looking for a ride home! Bit surprised they don't count the punters, to be honest. I might suggest that... ;)
This afternoon I took a short guided walking tour of one of the large Townships in the Cape Town area, Imizamo Yethu. Not generally recommended tourist destinations, the townships have a reputation for violent crime as well as petty theft. The city bus company work with local initiatives in Imizamo Yethu, so you are looked after by a knowledgeable local guide (in our case, the lovely Belinda, who grew up in nearby Hout Bay and spent 28 years living in the township), and well as seeing the area we got to see inside a typical house (about the size of my shipping container, made of corrug ated iron, one tap (illegally connected, we were told), no toilet (honestly, the world needs to rediscover composting toilets!), and currently home to 7 people! Unemployment is high, and there was a big problem with gangs in the area. In 2013 a group of local men set up a voluntary patrol and kicked them all out, making the area much safer. They now tackle domestic violence, drugs etc. Go them!
I had been hoping to jump on the canal boat which is included as part of my bus ticket this morning, but the high winds mean that the boats aren't running today which was sad. Instead I headed off to the botanical gardens, which are quite spectacular, especially with the ever-present mountainous backdrop. I had lunch in one of the various restaurants in the park (a very lovely smoked trout salad), and wandered various areas of the gardens, which are really lovely and very interesting. The Cape here has an amazing array of native plants, many of which are, of course, going extinct due to human activity. We really do ruin everything... It would be easy to spend all day relaxing in the gardens, but with not much time to see lots of stuff I limited myself to a quick walk around, taking in what seemed to be the most interesting bits as quickly as I could!

30 January 2019

I've had an extremely pleasant afternoon on Table Mountain. The mountain is pretty obvious from everywhere in Cape Town, and it and the land immediately around it form a national park. I would be mad keen to go hiking, but local advice is very much not to hike alone - no doubt idiot tourists think it looks lovely, then die in the heat or some such, so I contended myself with a cable car ride to the top and a short walk in the area immediately around the café, where I ran into a little of the local wildlife. The agama lizards were very cute, and I was lucky enough to come across a dassie, sheltering in the shade. My accommodation for the next month is only about 2hrs from Cape Town, so depending on days off and transport options, if I can find someone up for going hiking with me, I might yet be back to walk up this hill!
I'm spending my time in Cape town being a proper tourist. I've got a pass on the hop-on-hop-off off bus, took that into town and joined a walking tour of some of the historic land marks of the city. It's really lovely, though of course there is a high level of poverty here, meaning that begging and pick pocketing is rife. Organised tours are therefore a great way to see the city, especially as a lone traveler. It's absolutely beautiful so far, and the backdrop of Table Mountain makes for some spectacular views. Obviously, the slave trade and Apartheid played a large part in the city's history, which has been interesting to hear about. More touristy things this afternoon - I only have 2 days here so am aiming to see as much as possible!

29 January 2019

Spent this afternoon taking a walk around the area near my hostel. Walked through Green Point Park, which is very nice (and absolutely full of joggers), around the coast, and to Victoria & Albert Waterfront, which is basically a giant shopping centre. There I spotted an Ocean Basket, which immediately solved my "what shall I do for dinner" problem. James introduced me to Ocean Basket last time we were in South Africa, and they do great, sustainable sea food. I had the Kingklip with butternut & spinach, which I'm pretty sure it's exactly what I had the first time I went to one, and it was just as yummy.... Today is obviously the day for bright green drinks, as the Apple & Mint cooler I ordered in Ocean Basket was almost exactly the same colour as the creme soda I had earlier! From there I wandered back to my hostel, where I've been chilling out with Netflix and a coffee, and I'm about to turn in for a nice early night.... All very civilised!
Settled into my hostel (after a little confusion over my booking) - Never@home near Greenpoint. I'm in a very nice small dorm with plenty of secure storage. It's pretty plush for a hostel - even has a (very small!) pool. I have found the car and am drinking the strangest colour creme soda I've ever seen!
Landed in Cape Town. Once again had 3 seats to myself, so basically a lay flat bed, and the plane was considerably cooler with less random lighting, so I managed to get quite a bit more sleep. It's nice to land in a similar time zone, too! Got some good views on my way in to land, too.

28 January 2019

Had a fairly uneventful flight. Watched The Meg, in preparation for all my sharky exploits, and tried to get some kip. I was initially in an aisle seat next to an empty middle, then it turned out the window seat was broken and wouldn't recline, so the guy in that moved, and I ended up with 3 seats all to myself, which pretty much made a lay flat bed for someone my height! Nice. Sadly it was too hot to get much sleep, and the cabin crew kept messing with the lights which didn't help. But at least I was comfy! I've seen a tiny smidge of Ethiopia from the airport in Addis Ababa. Looks like it might be an interesting place to visit one day. There was a bird of prey landed on a set of stairs on the tarmac, no clue what. With only a 1hr20 layover, I've not been in the terminal 2 mins and people are queueing up to board the next leg of the journey. Hopefully I'll manage to snooze a bit more on the best plane!
Boarded and awaiting takeoff. Perusing the in-flight entertainment, I came across this. Tempting.... 😉
Well, I'm off again! To South Africa first, to spend a month on a great white shark volunteering project, then to Madagascar for a quick bit of conservation volunteering, before I get home again in mid March. So far I've made it to the airport, and am having dinner in the lounge! I've packed a little lighter this trip - managed to keep my main rucksack down to about 10kg this time, which is nice, plus a few things I'll need for the flight in my small day rucksack. I'm flying with Ethiopian Airlines, which is a first for me, with a short layover in Addis Ababa, and will land in Cape Town around lunch time tomorrow. At least I'll be on a sensible time zone - only 2hrs ahead of the UK....