Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Travel Tips: How to survive long distance bus journeys

At this stage I have taken more 12 hour+ bus journeys than I would care to admit, I've taken over night buses on 4 continents, 7 countries and have taken an impressive 22 hour bus from Windhoek (Namibia) to Cape Town (South Africa). However, my pinnacle of bus journeys has to be the 36 hour bus journey I took from Johannesburg (South Africa) to Blantyre (Malawi) that included all of the following: the bus arriving to Park Station 2 hours after it was supposed to LEAVE, broken air con 2 hours into the journey, 3 countries, 6 border posts, blatant corruption by Mozambican border officials, 4 hours at the Mwanza border in Malawi and half a block of cheese being our only food for 24 of those hours! Now, I by no mean claim to be an expert in bus travel but I have found things that work for me on these long journeys.

Have a buddy
If at all possible travel with a friend. This has multiple benefits including being able to sleep on their shoulder and having someone watch your stuff while you run off the bus to pee on the side of the road (African buses of course). Now if you are like me and often travel solo this is a real treat to have company on a long bus journey.

Have a good book. 
Anything that will grip you and make you feel like minutes have passed instead of hours. I find my kindle invaluable in this instance as, if I am finding a book is dragging and not gripping me, I can change and make the hours fly by. (Note that in Argentina and Chile and South Africa they show movies on board some of the buses but sometimes they are not the type you would want to watch, think strong Christian beliefs in movies shown on the Intercape buses)

Always take snacks. Argentinian and Chilean buses tend to give you meals on longer journeys (I got a hot dinner with wine and champage after dinner on my 18 hour bus from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls) but must buses don't. Often the stops are at fuel stations in the middle of no where with very limited (and expensive options). I usually take an apple, some nuts, a sandwich and a cereal bar with me and a BIG bottle of water. Never underestimate how dehydrating travel can be.

Make yourself comfortable
On long journeys comfort is important. If you are taking an overnight journey, you don't want to waste the whole day that you arrive being tired and cranky and just wanting to sleep! So I always bring a neck pillow (I have an inflatable one which takes up about as much room as some tissues), an eye mask (nothing worse than being woken up by someone's light/ an very early sunrise) and a blanket (when aircon does work, it can be super cold). I always try brush my teeth at the last stop before I think I'll fall asleep as it really puts me
into sleepy mode.

Dress not to impress
Comfort is key, not just in what you bring with you but in how you dress. Comfy clothes are required so elasticated waistbands are your answer, think yoga pants, tracksuit bottoms, cotton t-shirts. Always bring a cardigan (A/C again) and socks!

Late night the night before
This is a controversial one but if you are taking an over night bus that is not one of the amazing Argentinian ones, I would stay awake as much as possible the night before so that you are more likely to fall asleep the following night!

Let your imagination run wild
Am I the only one who makes up stories in my head on long journeys or while walking long distances? Yes. Oh well. I love to let my imagination run wild and think up stories involving the people around me or people I know who are far away or just how my day will turn out (this usually involves being whisked away to an amazing restaurant all expenses paid- yet to happen!)

At the end of the day any bus journey is worth it because when you get off, you are in a new place and get to explore. (Someone remind me of that when I'm on my next long journey)

Friday, 9 May 2014

Cape Town: The city that stole my heart

I am not over exaggerating when I say I fell in love with Cape Town, whether is was the bustling Waterfront, the weather or the cocktail happy hours, it is a city that stole my heart. Everyone I have spoken to who has been to Cape Town has had nothing but good things to say about the city and it lived up to the hype.

Cape Town has a perfect mix of outdoors and nightlife, things to do and places to lounge and I found myself staying there for longer than I had planned. It is a city I could easily live in with options of hiking, surfing and swimming a weekends but with cocktails, ostrich burgers and dancing for night time.
The infamous Tablecloth seen from the V&A

View up Platteklip Gorge
One of the draws in Cape Town is hiking Table Mountain. At over 1,000m high and nearly 3km across, it is a relatively straightforward climb with amazing views to reward you on reaching the summit. Megan and I decided to climb via Platteklip Gorge, one of the most straightforward ascents. We took a taxi for R50 to the base of the mountain but later found out that minibuses go to the turn off which would prevent you being ripped off by a taxi driver (ours tried initially to charge R80 and then turned off the meter before he stopped the car and tried to charge R60). We started the climb shortly after 10am and reached the summit shortly after 2:30. In places the trail is very exposed so take plenty of water and sunscreen if climbing in the summer season. Once you reach the top, there are many trails you can follow and there are views over the City Bowl and Atlantic Ocean on one side and down to Cape Point and the Indian Ocean on the other. We treated ourselves to a well earned ice-cream before taking the cable car back down.
View south along the Cape Peninsula
 from the top of Table Mountain

View of the City Bowl, Signal Hill and Robben
Island from Table Mountain

One day I took the Red tour bus which I always find a great way to orientate yourself and to get some historical nuggets. I hopped off to explore Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens under the eastern side of Table Mountain. The Cape Peninsula is home to one of the floral kingdoms, the Cape Region of the South African Kingdom, the smallest of all the floral kingdoms and one of the iconic flowers of that kingdom is the King Protea, the national flower of South Africa. Unfortunately it seems I had just missed the flowering season but none the less Kirstenbosch provided some beautiful plants, and some interesting information it the natural medicine area.

The red bus took me out towards the wine area and Groot Constantia winery. Just a note for all the single gals among you, don't do what I did and go to Kirstenbosch and wine tasting on Valentine's day. I was surrounded by couples being all coupley and it just hit home that I was all alone on that day! 

After the stop at Groot Constantia, the bus made it's way out the to 'Republic' of Hout Bay and along the back of Table Mountain, under the shadow of the 12 apostles through Camps Bay and back to the V&A Waterfront. The views along this coastal portion are amazing, crashing waves, beautiful suburbs perched on cliff edges and with the sun setting behind me, it was a perfect end to the day. 

Along with all these good, clean outdoor activities, the hedonistic centre of Long Street awaits you in the evening. This place is busy every night of the week whether it is people meeting for dinners in one of the many restaurants (dining al fresco in the summer), having happy hour cocktails (how I spent my evenings) or dancing the night away, you have your pick of places. I stayed in Long Street Backpackers at the heart of Long Street and so was just steps away from it all but again Long Street is full of accommodation to suit all budgets with at least 4 other hostels on the same block as LSB alone. 

Cape Town has so much to offer that it's impossible to cover it all in one blog post. I mean I haven't even touched on Robben Island, the Cape of Good Hope etc

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Throw Back Thursday: Magnetic Island, Australia

Today I take a trip back to when I lived and traveled in Australia, to an island called Magnetic Island. Magnetic Island is a beautiful island approx 8km of the coast of Townsville in Queensland and I visited in Aug 2012 on my east coast adventures. Magnetic Island was named by Captain Cook in 1770 as his compass went beserk in the area and he assumed that the island had magnetic properties. Of the little that I had heard about the island, palm trees, long sandy beaches and croc free waters (after spending 5 weeks further north where you cannot swim in the sea), I was on a boat as soon as possible with two new Irish friends who I had met white-rafting in Cairns, Aoife and Sandra.
New friends

Coming into Magnetic Island's harbor
Basing ourselves at the infamous Base hostel on the island, site of full moon parties, which we had just missed, we set out to make the most of our time there. Base was a great hostel, comfy dorms set in A-frame cabins, right on the beach with nightly activities, free snorkels and decent food.

Magnetic Island is one of the best places to spot wild koalas and so one day, we availed of the free snorkels, went to the other side of the island to the beach, with intentions of koala hunting en route back that evening. Once we reached Horseshoe bay, we met some more people from the hostel who told us the water was so murky that snorkeling was pointless. A quick check confirmed this. So realistically we took our snorkels for a walk (which later became a catchphrase between our little group).

Horseshoe Bay
Determined to 1) Not miss the last bus back to the other side of the island and 2) to find a koala we set off to a lookout which is notorious for having wild koalas on the trail. Now for those of you who don't know, koalas are very sedentary animals (down to their diet of eucalyptus which is very low in nutrients) which, surprisingly enough makes them difficult to spot! Luckily we were accompanied by eagle eyed Matt and he spotted a koala napping high up in a tree.

Quotes from my time on Magnetic Island:
"What did you guys do today?" "Oh we took our snorkels for a walk"
"Here koala koala"
"I've goon in my eye"