Lanzarote part two – el Norte

From Arrecife I took the local bus to Órzola (1-hour north).

Órzola pop. 300

Most people just zip through Lanzarote’s mellow, secluded, most northerly fishing village en route to and from Isla Graciosa, but it’s worth lingering around. With majestic cliffs looming behind, the surrounding coastline has stunning little coves and strips of sand, while several excellent seafood restaurants flank Örzola’s port. I stayed at Perla del Atlántico – a superb self-catering option with great views across the harbour.

Órzola

Jameos del Agua can easily be reached, by bus, from Órzola.

When molten lava seethed through this volcanic cavern around 5000 years ago, the ocean leaked in slightly, forming the startling clear azure lake that glints in the basilica like grotto at the heart of the Jameos, one of Manrique’s greatest masterpieces and the first of the intervenciones. The artist’s idea of installing bars and a restaurant around the lake and adding a white washed pool and a 600-seat concert hall (with wonderful acoustics) in the 1960s was a pure brainwave.

Jameos del Agua
Jameos del Agua
Jameos del Agua

Cueva de los Verdes is an easy walk approximately 1km from Jameos del Agua.

A yawning, kilometre long chasm, the Cueva de los Verdes is the most spectacular segment of an almost 7km long lava tube left behind by an eruption 5000 years ago. As the lava ploughed down towards the sea, the top layers cooled and formed a roof, beneath which the liquid magna continued to slither until the eruption exhausted itself.

Cuervos de los Verdes

Isla Graciosa pop 730

The only inhabited island of the far-flung Chinijo Archipelago, just north of Lanzarote , gorgeous sand-dusted Isla Graciosa was officially named the eighth Canary Island in 2018.

The best way to explore the island is on foot or bike. I enjoyed a leisurely 5-hour hike (a circular route) around the eastern side of the island, taking in some gorgeous beaches and natural rock features.

From Órzola, you can easily take a half-hour ferry to the island.

Isla Graciosa
Isla Graciosa
Isla Graciosa
Isla Graciosa

Next stage: Fuerteventura.

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Las Islas Canarias – Lanzarote

There aren’t enough words to describe the joy that I am currently feeling – it’s so good to be back on the road . As for most people, the past two years have been tough. My travel plans have been on hold for too long. I’m not in a good place (mentally) when I cannot travel.

I nearly got away at the end of last year! On the 14th of December I was about to check in at Birmingham airport for a flight to Mexico. I was within two places of doing so but ‘bottled out’ at the last minute. It just didn’t seem right to be travelling in the middle of a pandemic.

Christmas 2021 was my first in the UK since 2012. Little did I know at the time, but the Christmas of 2012 would be the last one that I would spend with my mother, in the following May she sadly passed away.

In January of this year, with travel restrictions crumbling away, I decided to bite the bullet and return to the Canaries. This time with a trip to Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. The last time I was here I visited Tenerife, Las Palmas, and La Gomera, in December 2020. Back then I had to abort my trip due to the diminishing number of commercial flights that would get me home – just at the start of the UK’s second lockdown – in January 2021.

Arrecife pop. 45,630

Lanzarote’s capital is a small, agreeable, south coast city with a pleasant Mediterranean style promenade, an inviting sandy beach washed by the sparkling Atlantic, and a disarming backstreet hotchpotch of sun bleached buildings, unpretentious bars, buzzy shopping streets and a plethora of restaurants (to suit every taste). I based myself in a small apartment, along the main drag, with a delightful sun trap balcony and overlooking the sea.

Arrecife

Teguise pop. 1,770

Lanzarote’s original capital and one of the oldest towns in the Canaries, Teguise simmers with a North Africa-meets-Spanish pueblo feel. This intriguing mini-oasis of low-rise whitewashed buildings is set around a central plaza and restored 15th-century church, and surrounded by bare arid plains of central Lanzarote. Though firmly on the tourist trail, Teguise’s old town is a delight to explore, with good restaurants, a handful of lively bars and a string of monuments testifying to the town’s dominance until Arrecife took the baton in 1852.

Teguise

Volcano House. César Manrique Foundation. Tahíche

César Manrique Foundation is headquartered in a spectacular dwelling designed by César Manrique himself upon his return from New York City, when he decided to locate permanently in Lanzarote. This was his home for the 20 years running from 1968 to 1988, the longest he ever lived in a single place. It is sited in the midst of a lava coulee formed during the violent eruptions that rocked the island between 1730 and 1736.

César Manrique
Volcano House
Volcano House
Volcano House

Palm Grove House. César Manrique House Museum. Haría

The César Manrique House Museum is located in a handsome palm grove in the picturesque village of Haria, which still conserves many of Lanzarote’s traditions. In Haría, the artist found the quietude and harmony with nature that he had always pursued.

In early 1986, he began to build his new home, re-using and adapting a run-down farmhouse sited on farmland he had purchased in the nineteen seventies. Manrique revisited the language of traditional architecture with a modern vision governed by aesthetics and comfort. He lived here until his death in 1992. In 2013 the house was opened to the public as a home and museum. Visitors are afforded a view of the rooms and the studio where the painter worked and lived during the last few years of his life.

Palm Grove House
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Hiking in Tenerife – Las Aguas to Puerto De la Cruz.

Which Island of the Canaries has the best hiking is a question guaranteed to cause heated discussions among the walking fraternity. Tenerife, La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera will have to fight it out for the crown. But let’s begin the quest on the island of Tenerife.

The Canaries provides a near perfect holiday destination for me, a great climate, the opportunity to practice my Spanish, good food, and great hiking. I have so far very much enjoyed the first three, it was now time to try out the last.

The hike from Las Aguas to Puerto De la Cruz is a 12.4 kilometre point to point trail that offers scenic views and is rated as moderate. It is one of the most popular walks in the north of Tenerife. 

I took the bus from Puerto De la Cruz (PdlC) and was dropped off at the beautiful village of Las Aguas. The path, heading back to PdlC, hugs the coastline undulating through small villages, banana groves, and the occasional vineyard. With plenty of stops along the way, to take in the views, the walk took me around 4-hours.

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Against all odds.

Scenically and languidly spread over the slopes of north Tenerife, Puerto De la Cruz is the elder statesman of Tenerife tourism. It’s history of welcoming foreign visitors dates back to the late 19th century, when the cultured settlement was a spa destination popular with genteel Victorian ladies. These days the easy-going and relaxed town is a charming destination with genuine character and history. There are stylish boardwalks, beaches with safe swimming, traditional restaurants, a leafy central plaza, and lots of pretty parks, gardens and churches. Canary Islands, Lonely Planet guidebook, Jan 2020.

Arriving back in the UK, in mid March, following my 2019/20 winter travels, little did I know how badly events would unfold in the months to come. Many words have been used to describe 2020; exhausting, chaotic, surreal, relentless, unprecedented, etcetera, etcetera. But the word that best describes 2020 for me is ‘lonely’. The worst aspect by far was the semi isolation from family, friends, and work colleagues, it had a profound effect on my mental well being.

On a positive note, at a time when many people were being furloughed, I was lucky enough to be in gainful employment – all through the year. However, in December, as in previous years, my contract was put on hold for the winter. With little hope of doing my normal travel thing I resigned myself to the fact that that I would be spending winter in the UK (for the first time in seven years), I was dreading it.

As the nights started to draw in, and the days became colder (and wetter), I realised that I had to find a way to get to warmer climes, but how, and where to go?

I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a news item about ‘travel corridors’ an initiative that the UK government had set up with a substantial number of ‘partner’ countries. For me the destination had to be somewhere warm, somewhere not too far away, and somewhere I could practice my Spanish. The Canary Islands fitted the bill perfectly.

Although not a destination that would normally appear on my travel destination radar, Tenerife looked like it had lots to offer the inquisitive traveller. I managed to find an airline with cheap flights and instantly typed in my credit card details. The next challenge was having to organise a COVID 19 PCR test (aka a fit to fly certificate), which was required 72-hours before arriving at my destination, and a prerequisite of travelling to the Canaries.

At 8am on Wednesday the 16th of December, as I arrived at Birmingham airport, the PCR result had still not arrived. Things were not looking good. Unable to contact the company carrying out the test, I approached the airline ‘Check In’ desk – expecting the worst. Fortunately there was no mention of the ‘fit to fly document’; we were over the first hurdle.

On arrival at the airport in Tenerife south, I had my temperature taken, passed through airport security, and entered the baggage reclaim hall, still no mention of the PCR certificate! I boarded the bus at the airport and headed to Puerto De la Cruz in the north of the island. I had reserved an apartment, on the edge of town. Still expecting issues, I checked into the apartment, but again, no mention of the certificate.

The following day my host rang and gave me some bad news. Due to the increasing cases of COVID 19 on the island, the authorities had taken the decision to introduce a 16-day lock down over Christmas and New Year. Certain hotels would close, restaurants would only be able to serve food outside, and all movement of people, to other parts of the Canaries would be stopped. I would be allowed to stay where I was because it was in a self catering apartment.

The next news to hit me was the announcement that all flights from the UK would be suspended due to a new strain of the COVID-19 virus that had been identified. This meant that my airline would not be operating in or out of Tenerife. I was now stranded on the island.

The PCR test result (negative) finally arrived at 11pm on the day of my arrival. The test had cost £175. To this day nobody has once asked to see the certificate.

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Zimbabwe.

I really enjoyed my time in South Africa and could easily have stayed another week. However, the plan had always been to spend a week in Zimbabwe – in order to ‘dip my toe’ into a country that I have heard so much about over the years.

Fortunately, I had carried out enough prior research to realise that things would not be easy in Zimbabwe, especially with regards to money. At the time of writing there are NO functioning ATM’s in Zimbabwe. This means that you need to take enough cash with you to finance the entire duration of your stay. This presents a number of challenges. 1. You are entering the country with a potentially serious amount of cash on your person. 2. You are entering a country where there is serious unemployment and serious poverty. Not to put too fine a point on it, you are a sitting duck!

The next challenge is what cash to carry. Presently, the following currencies are all accepted: South African Rand, UK Pound, Botswanan Pula, and most importantly the US Dollar. The dollar is king. To complicate matters still further, shops and supermarkets do NOT accept any of the above, they only accept the local currency, which is the Zimbabwe Bond, and this is not easy to get hold of as a foreigner. Confused?

Further challenges exist. Petrol is extremely hard to get hold of, queues to buy the stuff, lasting 8-hours or more, are a common sight. Electricity outages and water stoppages are also the norm.

It probably sounds like a pretty horrendous place to visit. However, once you get into the swing of things it all starts to fall into place. I have found the majority of the people of Zimbabwe to be polite, extremely helpful and very friendly. It’s a very interesting country to be in. I’m really glad I made the effort to come.

In 1980 the people of Rhodesia decided that they were not happy with their lot and voted for change. In the space of 10-years things went from bad to worse. After a further 10-years, just when things couldn’t possibly get any worse, they did. At this point the majority of the country were saying, “can’t we go back to the way things were before 1980?”

Bulawayo.

Wide tree-lined avenues, parks and charming colonial architecture make Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, an attractive one. It has a lovely historic feel to it, and a great place to spend a couple of nights, especially given it’s a gateway to Matobo National Park, and an ideal staging point for Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls.

The city was colonised by Cecil Rhodes in 1894. The grand colonial architecture that stands today soon followed. Bulawayo’s claim to fame is that it had electric lighting (switched on in 1897) before London did!

Bulawayo Natural History Museum.

Zimbabwe’s largest and best museum makes for an essential visit. Set over three floors, it offers a great overview of the country’s natural, anthropological and geological history. Its highlight is its taxidermy display, which includes a monster elephant, shot 160km south from here. There’s also an impressive collection of gemstones, showcasing the country’s astounding wealth of natural resources. At its centre is a collection of live snakes, including black mambas and cobras.

Bulawayo Railway Museum.

Whether you’re a train enthusiast or not, Bulwayo’s Railway Museum will not disappoint. Its passionate curator, Gordon Murray, will take you on a tour of the place, where you’ll get a fascinating insight into the colonial history of the country through Bulawayo’s extensive railway network.

Next stage: Victoria Falls.

Bulawayo.

Bulawayo.

Bulawayo.

Gordon Murray curator at the Bulawayo Railway Museum.

Bulawayo Railway Museum.

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Out of the frying pan….

“Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.” Nelson Mandela.

Having managed to survive the much spoken about dangers of beautiful South Africa (SA) I am now faced with the equally spoken about danger of contracting the Coronavirus. SA had it’s first case last week and the infected person travelled through Durban airport, where I find myself today – I’m on route to Zimbabwe. Most of the airport staff here are wearing face masks, and the people working in the many shops and restaurants are sanitising their hands constantly, in-between each and every cash transaction. Passing through Durban airport is both surreal and unnerving.

Unlike the previous leg of my journey, ‘The Garden Route’, which was both straight forward and obvious. The next stage of my journey, from Durban, proved to be far more challenging – where to go and what to see was far less ‘mapped out’. “What exactly do you want to see?” was the normal response to my question – concerning the matter,

The only places that kept resonating with the people I sought advise from were: St. Lucia, The Battlefields and The Drakensberg Mountains. Problem is these three regions are enormous. In hindsight I made the mistake of trying to cover all three.

St Lucia and iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, stretches for 220 glorious kilometres from the Mozambique border to Maphelane, at the southern end of Lake St Lucia. With the Indian Ocean on one side and a series of lakes (including Lake St Lucia) on the other, the 3280-sq-km park protects five distinct ecosystems, offering everything from off- shore reefs and beaches to lakes, wetlands, woodlands and coastal forests.

The pleasant village of St Lucia is a useful base from which to explore the park’s southern sections. In high season St Lucia is a hotbed of activity as the population swells with visitor numbers. The main drag, McKenzie St (a former hippo pathway), is packed with restaurants, lively hostels and bars, but the quieter avenues behind it offer a touch more hush and a good selection of B&Bs. Hippos sometimes amble down the town’s quieter streets. Guest house owner at check in: “It’s probably best if you don’t leave your car there, just in case a hippo sits on the bonnet.”

The Battlefields and Ladysmith.

Big wildlife, big mountains and big waves may top the agenda for many visitors to the province, but the history of KwaZulu-Natal is intrinsically linked to its battlefields, the stage on which many of South Africa’s bloodiest chapters were played out. The province’s northwestern region is where fewer than 600 Voortrekkers avenged the murder of their leader, Piet Retief, by defeating a force of 12,000 Zulu at Blood River, and where the British Empire was crushed by a Zulu army at Isandlwana. Here they subsequently staged the heroic defence of Rorke’s Drift, where the Boers and the Brits slogged it out at Ladysmith and Spioenkop.

Isandlwana & Rorke’s Drift.

If you’ve seen Zulu (1964), the film that made Michael Caine a star, you will doubtless have heard of Rorke’s Drift, a victory of the misty-eyed variety, where on 22 and 23 January 1879, 139 British soldiers successfully defended a small mission station from around 4000 Zulu warriors. Queen Victoria lavished 11 Victoria Crosses on the survivors and the battle was assured its dramatic place in British military history.

However, for the full picture you must travel 15km across the plain to Isandlwana, the precursor to Rorke’s Drift. It’s here that, only hours earlier, the Zulus dealt the Empire one of its great Battlefields disasters by annihilating the main body of the British force in devastating style.

See www.battlefields.kzn.org.za

The town of Ladysmith, where I based myself for a couple of nights, was named after the wife of Cape governor Sir Harry Smith. The town achieved fame during the 1899–1902 Anglo-Boer War, when it was besieged by Boer forces for 118 days. Musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Paul Simon fame) has its roots here. Despite the fact that the town’s pretty colonial vestiges are looking somewhat tired now, I really enjoyed my stay here. I managed to find a lovely B&B and a fantastic restaurant serving first class curries.

The Siege Museum (Ladysmith). This excellent museum, next to the town hall, in the old Market House (built 1884), was used to store rations during the Anglo-Boer War siege. It has displays about the war, stocks information about the town and surrounds, and can provide a list of battlefield tour guides.

The Drakensberg Mountains.

If any landscape lives up to its airbrushed, publicity-shot alter ego, it is the jagged, green sweep of the Drakensberg’s tabletop peaks. This forms the boundary between South Africa and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, and offers some of the country’s most awe-inspiring landscapes.

Within the area is a vast 2430-sq-km sweep of basalt summits and buttresses; this section was formally granted World Heritage status in 2000, and was renamed uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. Today, some of the vistas are recognisably South African, particularly the unforgettable curve of the Amphitheatre in Royal Natal National Park. I loved my time here.

Next stage: Zimbabwe.

My lovely little hire car – 1,400 kilometres in 6 days!

British memorial – Rorkes Drift.

Battlefield at Isandlwana.

Battle of Isandlwana.

Battle of Isandlwana.

Mass British grave & memorial at Spioenkop.

The breathtaking Drakensberg mountains.

A rare moment of relaxation.

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The Garden Route (part two).

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” – Nelson Mandela.

Wilderness.

A charming little village, with great accommodation and restaurant options. One of my favourites places on the route.

The village is set very near a national park where you can enjoy some spectacular nature walks – including the Half Collared Kingfisher Trail.

The beach in Wilderness is absolutely stunning.

Knysna.

Embracing a beautiful lagoon and surrounded by ancient forests, Knysna (pronounced ny-znah) is probably the most famous town on the Garden Route. The lagoon is popular with sailing enthusiasts, and there are plenty of boat trips on offer. A drive up to The Heads lookout provides fantastic views back across the town and also out to sea. There are loads of restaurants along the waterfront. Stayed at another cracking B&B – Knysna Manor House. The owners are originally from Zimbabwe and gave me some great travel tips for my forthcoming trip.

Plettenberg Bay.

Plettenberg Bay, or ‘Plett’ as it’s more commonly known, is a resort town through and through, with mountains, white sand and crystal-blue water making it one of the country’s top local tourist spots. As a result, things can get very busy and somewhat overpriced, but the town retains a relaxed, friendly atmosphere and does have some very good-value hostels. The scenery to the east in particular is superb, with some of the best coast and indigenous forest in South Africa.

Birds Of Eden. This is one of the world’s largest free-flight aviaries with a 200-sq-m dome over the forest.

Addo Elephant National Park.

Located 70km north of Port Elizabeth, and encompassing both the Zuurberg mountains and the Sundays River Valley, South Africa’s third-largest national park www.sanparks.org; protects the remnants of the huge elephant herds that once roamed the Eastern Cape. When Addo was proclaimed a national park in 1931, there were only 11 elephants left; today there are more than 600 in the park. Addo, which was once farmland, now encompasses five biomes and about 1800 sq km, and extends to the coastline between the mouths of the Sundays and Bushman’s Rivers. I did the 2-hour sun down drive.

Kududu Guest house and citrus farm.

I stayed in a fantastic B&B, about 14 km from Addo Park. Kududu Guest House is connected to a working citrus farm. They also breed buffalo and have a small wildlife sanctuary, which includes giraffes and zebras. I got the opportunity to have a private tour with the owner of the farm – fascinating – well, if you don’t ask you don’t get.

From Addo I drove to Port Elizabeth and then flew to Durban.

The picturesque drive from Oudtshoorn to Wilderness.

The national park at Wilderness

Wilderness beach.

Birds of Eden.

Birds of Eden.

Addo Elephant Park.

Addo Elephant Park.

Bufalo herd at Kududu Guest House farm.

Kududu Guest House citrus farm.

Kududu Guest House citrus farm.

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The Garden Route (part one), Western Cape, South Africa.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Nelson Mandela.

High on my must-do list for South Africa was a journey along the Garden Route. I was extremely nervous about driving here but the Garden Route is probably one of the more ‘safer’ routes in South Africa. Caution is still required and I chose not to drive at night. It’s possible to do the journey on public transport but you are very much restricted with times and destinations. I preferred the freedom of a car and, with hindsight, I’m very pleased I did it this way.

You can’t help but be seduced by the glorious natural beauty of the Garden Route, it is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The distance from Mosel Bay in the west to Storms River in the east is just over 200km, yet the range of topography, vegetation, wildlife and outdoor activities are amazing.

The coast is dotted with excellent beaches, while inland there are picturesque lagoons and lakes, rolling hills and eventually the mountains of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma ranges that divide the verdant Garden Route from the arid Little Karoo.

Mosel Bay. Pop 30,000.

Cape Town to Mosel Bay is about 390 kilometres; it was an easy and extremely enjoyable drive of about 4.5 hours.

At first glance Mossel Bay is the ugly sister of the Garden Route. It was a hugely popular destination until the 1980s, when the building of the world’s largest gas-to-oil refinery and the resultant industrial sprawl uglified it, and it fell into a slump. But beyond the unimpressive approach road, you find some fine beaches, gnarly surf spots, a wealth of activities and great places to stay – Mosel Bay Backpackers being one of them.

George. Pop 114,000.

George, founded in 1811, is the largest town on the Garden Route yet remains little more than a commercial centre and transport hub with not much to keep visitors for long. The only reason for my impromptu stop was to visit the transport museum.

Outeniqua Transport Museum is definitely worth a visit even if you remotely interested in trains. A dozen locomotives and 15 carriages, as well as many detailed models, have found a retirement home here, including a carriage used by the British royal family in the 1940s. There’s also an impressive collection of classic cars.

Oudtshoorn. Pop 29,000.

In the late 1860s, no self-respecting society lady in the Western world would be seen dead without an ostrich plume adorning her headgear. The fashion lasted until the slump of 1914 and during this time the ‘feather barons’ of Oudtshoorn made their fortunes.

You can still see their gracious homes, along with other architectural pointers to Oudtshoorn’s former wealth such as the CP Nel Museum (formerly a school). The town remains the ‘ostrich capital of the world’ and is now the prosperous tourist centre of the Little Karoo. I stayed in a glorious B&B – Villa Ora Guesthouse – great value for money and extremely enjoyable.

30 km north of Oudtshoorn are the Cango Caves. Named after the Khoe-San word for ‘a wet place’. The Cango Caves are quite possibly the most impressive that I have ever seen. The one-hour tour gives you just a glimpse, while the 90-minute ‘Adventure Tour’ lets you explore deeper into the caves. It does involve crawling through tight and damp places, so is not recommended for the claustrophobic or unfit. The caves are 30km north of Oudtshoorn.

It’s also well worth a visit to one of the nearby ostrich farms. I chose Safari Ostrich Show Farm.

Next stage: Garden Route (part two) Wilderness, Knysna, and Addo.

Mosel Bay.

Glorious beaches along the Garden Route.

The transport museum in George.

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New year, new continent, but where to start?

If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers. Nelson Mandela.

Having heard so much, over many years, about the country of South Africa it seemed a worthy place to start my journey in the continent of Africa. In addition, one of my neighbours, back in the UK, used to live here, he has waxed lyrical about the country for months and months. Thank you Gary, I doubt I would have done it without your help and enthusiasm.

Nothing could prepare me for Cape Town, it is a mind blowing city (for all the right reasons). I knew I was going to fall in love with it the moment I landed. Super friendly staff at the airport guided me through customs and made a concerted effort to ensure that my passage was both swift, comfortable and SAFE. Although the temperature probe placed on my forehead was a little disconcerting. Even the Uber driver was outstanding; he was super courteous and a wonderful ambassador for his city. The icing on the cake was when he insisted on waiting for me until I was safely encased inside the grounds of my high security Guesthouse.

Every property in Cape Town has security gates and electrified fencing along the tops of their high walls. Security (and safety) is obviously paramount on people’s minds. It’s something I have been reminded about constantly since I arrived in South Africa.

I had planned to stay in Cape Town (CT) for three nights, it quickly became apparent that this was far too short a time. My guest house (Altona Lodge) was awesome. At £30 a night (including breakfast) it was also excellent value for money. It has a great location, in a ‘safe’ part of town, close to great restaurants and a beautiful park. I ended up extending to 5-nights.

Day one was spent recovering from the 11-hour flight (Birmingham- Amsterdam – Cape Town) and the chance to formulate a plan, not an easy thing to do as it turned out – South Africa has so much to see and so much to do.

On my second day, filled with bags of energy and a hunger to explore I decided to climb Table Top mountain. By 9am it was already 25 deg C. Walking to the start of the trail I passed hoards of people who were queuing to get on the cable car. I snuggly walked past the long queues and made my way to the start of the trail, a 25 minutes walk away.

At the start of the climb I passed a young lady who was obviously preparing herself for the hike with some mind boggling leg stretches. I said good morning and wished her good luck.

The start of the hike was relatively easy but that quickly changed. I decided it might be wise to slow down the pace. It wasn’t very long before the young lady caught up with me. She also realised it was better to slow down. We matched each others pace and during frequent breaks shared a few words. It took us 2.5 hours to get to the top. It turned out to be a gruelling climb in the severe heat, by now 30 deg C.

My new companion and I spent an hour or so exploring the top of the mountain – taking in the incredible views across the city. This gave me the opportunity to discover that Bakesh was an air hostess (with Turkish Airlines) who lived in Istanbul. She gets a certain number of heavily discounted flights each year and had decided to endure the 11-hour flight and spend a few days in Cape Town. I was going to take the cable car back down but decided to join Bakesh on the hike back down.

The following three days were spent recovering from the ‘day before’! Taking it easy on the city tour bus – hopping on and off at various locations along the way. Every muscle in my body was in agony!

There are three routes on the city tour bus (red, blue, and yellow) so it made sense to buy the heavily discounted three day pass costing £20. The tour bus proved to be an excellent way to get a feel for the city and to learn about its history – thanks to the onboard multilingual commentary.

The list of things to see and do in CT is mind blowing. Some of the highlights (for me) included:

Kirstenboch botanical gardens, the city walking tour, the museums, the beaches, the harbour boat trip, the canal boat trip. I only managed to scratch the surface of things to do in CT. I honestly believe you could spend two weeks here and not get bored.

I did not have time for Roben Island, the wine tours, the penguins at Boulders Beach, or a visit to Cape Point. All great reasons to come back sometime in the near future.

Having agonised over whether to take a local bus, the BazBus or to drive along the garden route myself, I finally plucked up the courage and booked a hire car.

Next stage: The Garden Route – Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.

The original clock tower – Cape Town harbour.

Table Top Mountain – a constant back drop in Cape Town.

The last bit of the climb up Table Top mountain.

Enjoying a welcome break at the top.

Spectacular views across the city.

Our guide at the Botanical Gardens.

Even the Botanical Gardens have Table Top mountain as a back drop.

A section of the Berlin Wall in the historic centre of Cape Town.

The man himself – Nelson Mandela.

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Belize revisited.

The (2-hour) river boat journey from Rio Dulce to Livingston is spectacular. Livingston itself has little to offer apart from providing a border crossing to Punta Gorda (PG) in Belize, also by boat (1-hour).

I first visited Punta Gorda 3-years ago, and loved it. It’s an extremely laid back, small, town with a couple of excellent accommodation offers and a few great restaurants.

Having done some major journeys in the latter part of my time in Guatemala, I needed some time to relax. Punta Gorda was just the place. This return to Belize was purely to facilitate a reasonably quick run upto Cancun (Mexico) from where I fly back home.

Having spent three relaxing days in PG I plucked up the courage to do a 12-hour (bus) journey straight to Sarteneja, which had been recommended as a great place to visit. There were no other places in-between that really appealed to me. Placencia, and Hopkins, two possibilities, have become both touristy and expensive, so I was reliably informed by my British friend Joanne in PG.

The express bus to Belize City (BC) left PG at 6am, and arrived in BC at 11am. The next bus, heading for Orange Walk, left BC at 11.30am. Unfortunately, I missed the last connection (in Orange Walk) for Sarteneja and instead took the next bus to Corazol – 1 hour north.

I stayed the night in Corazol, a rather non-descript border town. Next morning there was a 7am boat (1/2 hour) direct to Sarteneja, on route to San Pedro. On the boat I met John – from Canada. We were both staying at Paradise Backpackers so we hooked up for breakfast. John was in search of a holiday home for he and his wife.

Sarteneja [sar-ten-eh-ha] is a fishing village on the northern tip of the Belizean mainland, and a hidden gem for those looking for a beautiful and inexpensive place from which to explore both the nautical and jungle treasures of the region. Sarteneja is also where you’ll find Backpackers Paradise an idyllic 27-acre (11-hectare) patch of unspoiled jungle and tropical farmland where you can spend a few days exploring the jungle, eating tropical fruit and swimming in the nearby ocean. It really is a great place to visit. The owner, Natalie, is the perfect host.

Having spent an overnight in Sarteneja, John and I took the last bust of the day (!) at 6.15 am (!) back to Orange Walk, where I took an excellent tour to Lamanai.

By far the most impressive (Mayan) site in this part of the country is Lamanai, in its own archaeological reserve on the New River Lagoon near the settlement of Indian Church. Though much of the site remains unexcavated and unrestored, the trip to Lamanai, by motorboat up the New River, is an adventure in itself. The wildlife that you get to see is spectacular.

As with most sites in northern Belize, Lamanai (‘Submerged Crocodile,’ the original Maya name) was occupied as early as 1500 BC, with the first stone buildings appearing between 800 and 600 BC. Lamanai flourished in late Preclassic times, growing into a major ceremonial center with immense temples long before most other Maya sites.

Welcome to Sarteneja.

My cabaña – Backpackers Paradise.

John’s ‘high-rise’ cabaña.

Sun set Sarteneja.

Backpackers Paradise.

Crocodile en route to Lamanai.

Mayan ruins at Lamanai.

View from the top of the tallest pyramid at Lamanai.

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