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South Africa Trip

June 22, 2011

Right on the heels of my South Korea trip, I embarked on another journey to South Africa. This trip was organised by my very capable friend Tesh, under the umbrella of the NUS mountaineering club. The trip was executed by a South African tour operator.

Transiting in Mauritius

The first leg of our trip involved transiting in Mauritius. We left Singapore in the morning and after a seven hour flight via Air Mauritius (which thankfully had video-on-demand), we arrived in Mauritius in the late afternoon.

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The sign says it all: Welcome to the Republic of Mauritius

At the request of one of the travelers, the bus driver agreed to stop by a sugarcane plantation and he even broke a sugarcane for some adventurous people to taste. We then continued past Port Louis towards the north where we spent the night at the Casuarina hotel.

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Left: the sugarcane plantation. Right: Sun sets over Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius.

By the time we arrived and checked in, the sun had set and when we went to the beach, we watched the glow of the sky till it became dark before heading back for dinner.

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Top left: boats parked along the beach. Top right: The orange sky are the only remains of the setting sun, and the new moon is already up and about. Bottom left: A group picture. Bottom right: Our chalet styled accommodation.

Arrival in Cape Town

The next morning, we bundled ourselves into the bus which brought us to the airport and we took off on a two + two hour one-stop flight to Johannesburg and then to Cape Town. We arrived in the late afternoon and once again watched the sun set, this time over Cape Town.

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Top left: The most iconic part of Cape Town is Table Mountain. Top right: A bridge that ends suddenly. Bottom left: The sun is setting behind the clouds. Bottom right: Seagulls in the sea.

Climbing Table Mountain

The next day, we woke in the morning to a magnificent sunrise. Today, we were to ascend and summit Table Mountain. Going out clad in berms and a shirt with windproof, waterproof pants and windbreaker as suggested by Tesh, I quickly removed the outermost layer after climbing for five minutes because despite the 14 degree weather, the climb made me really warm. We slowly ascended up the rocky path, stopping several times to take many pictures. The pace for the group was very varied, with some non-photographers making up the head punching forward steadily, then a middle group which comprised of mainly everybody else, and a slow tail group comprising the gawking photographers. After a while, the climb took its toll on some participants in the middle group while ascending a valley and I managed to overtake many people finally meeting up with the head group. I figured that the view was going to be the same for that part of the journey and so stopped taking pictures for that part. Anyhow, when everybody finally ascended it took us four hours instead of the predicted two and a half.

When I reached the top, it was an amazing view. clouds were blown onto the far side of the mountain, and they were pushed upwards into wisps, blanketing the plateau with a mist. It really felt like heaven on earth. I shall let the pictures speak for themselves. I feel so fortunate to be there and see all that.

When we got down, we went to the waterfront where we had a really late lunch and finally we went back to get a well deserved rest.

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Left: The sunrise that greeted us when we woke. Right: Table mountain does not look too big to climb.

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Views from the climb up Table Mountain

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At Victoria wharf, where we ate and hung out until the sun set on the waterfront

The Ostrich Farm, the Cape of Good Hope and Touching a Cheetah

The next day, we headed down south towards the Cape of Good Hope. I had forgotten to take along my DSLR’s battery and so had to rely on my point and shoot camera (which I thankfully decided to bring to South Africa). We stopped by an ostrich farm and spent the morning learning about the rearing of ostriches, and I bought an intricately painted ostrich egg at the souvenir shop.

The rule of thumb when buying souvenirs is to look out whether taxes are included in the receipt, for if the tax amount is calculated separately, it is claimable in the tax refund at the airport. Secondly, no matter what anybody may advise regarding tax refunds making goods sold in souvenir shops more competitively priced against goods sold on streetside stalls, the cost of products in streetside stalls will definitely be much cheaper. You can also try bargaining there. However, the caveat is that the designs may not be as nice as those in the souvenir shops, and the quality of the products may be a little lower.

At the ostrich farm i saw an horse pen and ran over to it excitedly. Unfortunately my little point and shoot camera was also bouncing excitedly in my jacket pocket and fell out excitedly onto the pavement, making me alot less excited about the whole situation. I decided not to use my camera for a while and borrowed Tesh’s DSLR (which he gladly supplied so that he could focus on using his GoPro) to take pictures of the Cape of Good Hope. Unfortunately the pictures are still with him and he is still out travelling, and so I have nothing to show.

Some of us then went to a vineyard which also had a cheetah petting exhibit which I tried, so that I could get a photo of myself and the cheetah.

We returned to the waterfront for dinner at yet another fancy restaurant.

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This is what you call a beach!

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Ostriches look surprisingly deep in thought up close

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Petting a cheetah

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Back at the waterfront for dinner

Aquila Game Reserve

The next day, we went to a game reserve to try to catch sight of the Big Five. Honestly, the game reserve was just a zoo without fences. I would consider it like Jurassic Park. The fences are electrified and the lions are kept in a separate electrified area. Needless to say, it was not exactly a natural habitat for these animals since the outflow and inflow of animals were restricted, despite the large area the reserve covered. While it met the needs of people who wanted to see animals up close and personal from a jeep, those expecting a safari experience may have to lower their expectations or end up disappointed.

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The long (three hour) road to the reserve

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Passing a vineyard along the way

Upon reaching the reserved, we were offered bubbly fruit juice or champagne. We hopped onto the big open-air jeep and started our journey looking for the Big Five. We saw many animals: Orix, Wildebeest, Bison, Springbok, Hippopotamuses, Ostriches, Rhinoceroses, a Giraffe, Zebra, Lions, and Elephants. It was quite nice seeing all these animals in their native country.

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Views from the game reserve

Lion’s Head

After the game reserve adventure, we returned to Cape Town where some of us, lead by Tesh, decided to ascend Lion’s Head, a mountain beside Table Mountain. The guide was quite reluctant to let us go considering that a fog was coming in and that we would be descending the mountain after sunset, but Tesh’s mountain climbing experience placated those fears. The initial path up was quite even and nice to walk on. As we climbed, the fog came in, shrouding everything in white. It was quite frightening to suddenly be surrounded like that and not be able to see the area around very well. Fortunately, there was no mistaking where the drop off was and we stayed away from it.

As we climbed up the mountain, the fog got thicker and it felt as if it was drizzling as we walked into the droplets of fog. My camera lens was coated in fine droplets of the fog but I did not bother wiping it. As we rounded the mountain, the sun appeared and started to burn through the fog, evaporating it and clearing the air. It revealed a most heavenly sight. I said Table Mountain was like heaven on earth, but I was wrong. This was truly without a doubt the real heaven on earth. As we walked along further, we were greeted by a rainbow. That sealed the deal for us. It was the most rewarding hike that I have ever done. When we summitted, the sun just set and Lynn got the setting sun on video. After staying a while taking pictures, we went down. This time it was really dark and fortunately for myself I had a really bright torch which I shared with some who did not have a light. Anyhow on the way down I saw the night lights of Cape Town and that was another surreal moment for us. We were really late for dinner because it was hard to get a cab, but it was all worth it.

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The fog comes creeping in

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The sun burns through the fog, we gasp in awe

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Tesh spots the rainbow

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Left: The rainbow. Right: Signal Hill.

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Sun setting in the Atlantic Ocean

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Summit of Lion’s Head

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Night lights of Cape Town

Last Day in Cape Town

We woke up in the morning to a fog that covered the entire town. No chance of seeing the sun rise today. It was a free and easy day and so we started off to the beach. The cityscape was eerie. The fog was everywhere as we went down to the sand. It was only much later, at around 9 am when the sun managed to become strong enough to burn the fog away.

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A foggy day

Back in Mauritius

We flew from Cape Town direct to Mauritius and this time went to stay in Villas in Flic En Flac beach. The villa was really nice and I could see the beach from the balcony.

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A most pleasant-looking villa, until Wen Han comes during the Mauritius Trip to lay his destruction

The crater

The next day, we went to the Trou aux Cerfs crater which is located in Curepipe which is in the district of Plaines Wilhems. There was an ice cream truck at the top belting out a hypnotic tune.

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Left: The Trou aux Cerfs crater. Right: the Ice cream truck.

The Market

We then went souvenir hunting. I saw typical Mauritius public transport. Unfortunately, most of the markets were closed for some reason. We settled on a small souvenir shop row by the wayside.

Tesh bought some local food for us: Dhol Purri and Farrata. After the snack, which to many Mauritians is lunch, we went to see the island featured on the Lonely Planet cover page. I have no idea what its name is, and so I dub it “Lonely Island”. When we got to the shelter at the end of the jetty, it poured for a while and we were stuck there for that time period.

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Mauritian souvenirs

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The local food

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Views near Lonely Island

Snorkelling

I brought a waterproof case for my point and shoot camera and proceeded to happily snap fishes during our snorkelling experience. There were so many fishes but they all appeared blue. In fact, I was quite sad to see the coral reef covered in a layer of sediment and a lack of vibrancy to the colours.

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Snorkelling with many fish to see

Natural Bridge

The last event for the day was the Natural Bridge. This part of the coast had no coral reefs and so the waves came in strong and hard, crashing into the rocks with much ferocity. The natural bridge was formed due to the crashing waves. There was also a whistling rock which was a blowhole which made a whistling sound due to the waves. It was generally an overcast sky with some precipitation but we would not let a little rain dampen our excitement of seeing these natural wonders.

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Waves crash around, but I am oblivious to the water

Finale

Finally it was time to say goodbye and I bid the South Africa Trip travellers goodbye at the airport as they left. This concluded the second part of my self-proclaimed grad trip.

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