Friday, June 26, 2009

Port St Johns ... and love

Status report: Port St Johns is still awesome. And the love of which I speak is, of course, the love which I hold for this dear, dear paradise of the Wild Coast. If the oft-hyped Coffee Bay is at least half as cool as this place, then it's ... well, really really cool. And stuff.

Even the cows are cool. Caught this bugger on the way to town.

Yesterday, I decided to take the liberty to walk to the CBD of Port St Johns. And by CBD, I mean the one patch of road which has more than two buildings strung together. People may joke around when it comes to Grahamstown's own diminutive size, but it has NOTHING on this baby.

Standing on one side of town. Looking at the other side. No kidding.

Walking to the main settlement takes about 45 minutes (starting from the Amapondo lodge), and the road winds through hills of township housing and lush terrain. It's a really nice walk, but a little bit of a bitch when you're carrying loads of shopping.

But the killer view makes it all worth it. I do believe I've mentioned the view. Have I? This is the sort of stuff I see from my outdoor shower:

Lovely view for scrubbing yourself to.

And yeah, I said outdoor shower. Thoroughly charming, though unfortunately it seems that the insidious Shower of Doom from Drakensberg has snuck up on me once more. So now, I've got a bit of a cold water problem. Not cool when you're outside in winter. Secondly, the shower curtain is less than brilliant: Port St Johns is insanely windy, and you basically have to pin it down with rocks to have any hopes of preserving your modesty.

Still, it's an experience.


Did I mention that there's nothing more adorable than two cats simultaneously trying to lick each other's faces? Man, Port St Johns is awesome.

I'd chat more, but the more time I spend diarising this place, the less time I'm actually spending enjoying it. Forgive me, dear reader, as I rush off for another day!


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jewel of the Wild Coast

Truth be told, I've never been complete enamoured by the Transkei and Wild Coast. "Ohhh, but it's so gloriously African!" many cry. It sure is African, which is great if you're into this sort of stuff:


For jaded individuals like me, however, it's basically scrub and dirt. Regardless, I was quite overwhelmed with recommendations for spots like Coffee Bay and Port St Johns, and since I was in the neighbourhood, I decided to see what all the hooplah was about.

Oh. My. Word.

I didn't realise that the Transkei had discovered "green".

Port St Johns is like an island of paradise inside one of South Africa's poorest and most rural provinces. It's a tiny coastal town in pretty much the middle of nowhere, and from the hammocks and bedrooms of the Amapondo lodge, travellers are offered one of the most amazing vistas in South Africa, easily rivalling anything that I've seen on the Garden Route.

The people here are almost as awesome as the view, and about half an hour after I touched down at my new home base I made myself comfortable with the locals in a Wednesday night tradition: a full-blown poker evening at the bar.

Moody lighting, yeah?

I still vouch for poker as a remarkable social tool. After all, it gives you an excuse to sit around a small table with about a dozen strangers and instantly be part of something cool for a few hours. I don't tend to do terribly well at the game itself: even though I spend most of my time playing with hardcore -- and sometimes world-class -- players, it seems that absolutely none of their skill ever rubs off on me. But it's still a nice game, anyway.

The poker session, of course, was only the kick-off to an absolutely fantastic evening. Shortly after getting knocked out of the game, I consoled myself with an awesome curried beef dish (no noodles!) and sat down to chat with some of the other backpackers. Amongst the ranks of rovers and vagabonds, I came across something that I thought I'd never see: not one, but TWO fellow South African travellers! That's right, folks, it turns out that I'm not the only domestic tourist in existence after all.

If these guys are anything to go by, then I can safely say that South African travellers are amongst the most interesting and awesome people in existence. If you ever come across one, be nice -- the divine powers will smile upon you for your courtesy, and reward you with some of the most interesting conversation and stories that you're ever likely to stumble across. Throw in a roaring campfire and some drum-playing, and you've got yourself a pretty epic lineup for the evening.

The bedrooms are soooo coooool!

I can't possibly describe all the totally neat stuff that I've encountered in just my first night at Port St Johns, so I'm going to spend the next few days gushing about it instead. A really, really fantastic place.

The dorm room that you see above is just an example of a really ornate and extremely Africanised abode. Murals and reed curtains clog up the joint like hairs and peas in a blocked drain, except that this particular blocked drain is something that everybody feels really, really awesome about. The beds are welcome and comfortable: though I may be biased, since I only staggered back to my room at about 2am. A far cry from my resolution to be asleep by ten.

8/10. It gets some bonus points for lookin so gosh-darn cool.

I'm going to try take some more pictures for further blog posts that will actually do this place some justice. I keep feeling like I'm falling short in that department.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Port Shepstone ... sorta

Funny story: I thought I was in Port Shepstone for the past two days. Turns out I wasn't. But I was damn close enough for it to count, so let's pretend that I was. I stayed at a cool little place called The Spot: pretty small, not terribly remarkable, but oh BOY does it have a nice location.

Two steps out the door, and BAM!

I had an awesome stroll or two on this beach to break up the monotony of sitting in front of my computer (the 3G connectivity is awesome in this place, so that couldn't go to waste). Not quite remarkable enough to take pictures of, but since I'm still suffering from "inland fever", I decided that getting sand and water between my toes would be a refreshing change.

I'm already feeling good about being on the road again. Sure, my first day at the Port was horribly overcast, noodles still taste like freaking noodles and I kept having to walk past a picture of what looked like a baby chowing a human heart, but I really feel happy doing this sort of stuff. There's a certain unease that builds up when I allow myself to get too comfortable in a place like Durban.

RRRRARGH! Human heart. Seriously.

I didn't do much aside from the standard relax/work thing while staying at The Spot -- things are pretty quiet here in the off-season, and my only companion at the lodge was a Scottish bloke by the name of John. The staff were very friendly though, and we had a good time doing arb stuff like playing pool and watching TV. I don't mind terribly much: I felt like I was actually on holiday, as opposed to running about madly in an effort to "do lotsa stuff". I'll have plenty of time for throwing my money away when I'm at Port St Johns.

Beds. Bleh.

To be honest, I wasn't terribly impressed by the dorms. I mean, they seemed alright, they were okay on the comfortability scale but ... they seemed a little scummy too. Holes in the mattress and stuff. I mean, come now, I'm a connoisseur! I demand class! Bad dog. Bad, bad dog. 4.9/10 for you.

The water cooler god judges your poor bedding.

The above picture doesn't really have anything to do with anything: I just spotted it in the local Spar and thought that it was freaking awesome. And useful, too: you're actually allowed to bring your own bottles and refill for a rather low price. Since I use bottled water as a memetic reinforcer for drinking healthily (and because tapwater in the more remote parts of the country can be somewhat dodgy), I decided to fill up one or two bottles of my own. Great success.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Warner Beach

This is Warner Beach:


Quite possibly the shortest stay out of any that I've had this year, too -- a grand total of about 12 hours, most of those spent sleeping. I managed to get around an itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny little bit, which includded a quick stroll on the beach itself. Not too bad. I mean, it had sandy stuff and watery stuff, so that covers all the bases for a start. Then there's the fact that it's a KZN beach. This means that if you wake up at 7:00 on a winter morning, make a beeline for the shore and dip your toes into the sea, it's pretty much guaranteed to be warmer than any of the water on the west coast.

Warner Beach is also what I'd describe as a very ... salty place. Sea breeze aside, there's something about Warner Beach that's very "yo-ho-ho". Maybe it's the extreme prevalence of sea-side taverns and live music bars. Perhaps it's the presence of loads of dodgy buildings, like the worn-out house which had "BEWARE" scribbled all over it (literally) or the structure called "The Ice Cream Shack" that lit up at night with Christmas tree lights (people love night-time ice cream!). Maybe it's just the fact that I saw loads of people with eye-patches and shoulder-perched parrots hobbling along on their peg-legs while snarling curses at passers-by.

My perception of this little settlement just south of Durban comes from a rather limited set of experiences, but all in all I think that the place holds some character.

The bar at my lodge. Also full of character.

I set up camp at the Blue Sky Mining lodge for a night. And by that, of course, I mean that I decided camping could go to hell for a little while and booked myself into a dorm instead. I have loads of excuses under my belt for not taking the more financially responsible route, but I think that my greatest justification was that my parents gave me a bit of money specifically so that I would not throw myself into a tent, so I decided to honour that wish. That, and arriving in the evening really isn't conducive to tent-setuppery. I was also ridiculously tired for some reason: I hid myself behind a magazine for most of the evening simply because I didn't have the energy to expend on ridiculous notions like socialising and being friendly.

It wasn't long before I collapsed into a deep slumberish thing. I didn't even take the time to photograph my bunk bed beforehand -- suffice it to say, it was a dead average 5/10. Very basic bedding.

Aside from all the regular facilities and a rather funky-looking bar, Blue Sky Mining also came with a bonus extra: a kitty cat on a pool table.

Kitty cat! On a pool table!! Yay!!!

Everything is better with cats, right?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Still alive ... and hurrying out of Durban

Okay, so. I haven't blogged in absolutely aaaaaages. Obviously I need to rethink something here, or learn to procrastinate less. In fact, I'm going to blame my misery squarely on the fact that I have high-speed Internet once more.

In the previous episode of my strange and twisted adventures, I explained how my horrible procrastination was due to implode the universe. Said procrastination continued for a little bit after my birthday, at which point I decided to settle down and do some working and adventuring.

Then I got horribly sick.

And thus, I was bedridden for days, valiantly fighting my battle against death's dark embrace with all the willpower and teeth-grit determination that I could muster. The battle raged on and threatened to implode the universe, were it not for my heroic constitution kicking in at the last moment and pushing me along that final stretch that allowed me to recover from The Common Cold.

This is a picture of my cat!

Emerging from my sickness, I realised that work had thrown me one or two curveballs. Some events weren't too serious – an abrupt article deadline here and there, some once-off work opportunities emerging – others had me slightly peeved (oh, the life of a journalist!) and still others were fully enthusing, but a hazard on my time nonetheless.

The latter case was Dev.Mag – I wrote a feature article on indie marketing which caught on rather quickly throughout the greater Interwebs, meaning that we've been receiving quite a few extra page hits these past few days. Of course, that really just means two things: (1) we had to start churning out extra content at the last minute to keep our new readers hooked and (2) we suddenly started receiving review packages and offers from hopeful game studios interested in media exposure. Which is great, of course – I love helping indies get exposure, especially when I get free games out of it – but it didn't really settle down with my current procrastination-sickination-just-gave-yourself-more-work-to-do situation. So, for the first time in goodness knows how long, I actually set my Gtalk status to “busy” for a few days.

And then proceeded to waste even more time reading weird Wikipedia stuff. The only place I know where you can move from “Bounty Hunter” to “Heat Death of the Universe” in under an hour.

So, summary of the whole thing: yeah, I've been inexcusably tardy. And my updates have been less than regular recently. And my life has been less than interesting (computer-bound, whooo!). I'm going to try make up for that by backpacking as of ... well, right now. So while you may not have found out much about Durban (summary: sharks, sand and the Burn nightclub) I hope to make up for that by giving you tales of my adventures along the Natal coastline and Transkei.

What I slept in. Aww yeah.

Here's one smidgeon of the family home: my bedroom. Or rather, my brother's bedroom, because he's not around and my own childhood living quarters have been swallowed by my mother's retail stock.

My brother's bed is freaking awesome. Which is in stark contrast to my own home bed, mind you: for a while now, it's been nothing more than a mattress on the floor, and I'm still not sure exactly when my brother decided to lay dibs on the Sleeping Place of Awesomeness, but I only now realise what I've been missing out on. Sure, I don't mind spartan sleeping spots, but this thing is absolutely glorious.

Anyway. 10/10. First stop isn't too far – Warner Beach, sayeth the breeze. Or something like that. Keen to get going again and get away from the damn computer screen a little.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Happy birthday to me, et cetera

Okay, so this one's going to be a quickie. Today (or yesterday, depending on which side of midnight this gets posted on) is my birthday, which means that I get cake, gifts and a pat on the back for surviving yet another rotation around the sun. Why nobody else views the celebration of this fact as holding an oddly cynical message is rather beyond me.

All I know is that when it's your birthday, you should never, ever be connected to the Internet. And having a Facebook account is WAY out.

Holy crap, it's a flood of cybernetic doom.

Fact: if you're online when your birthday strikes, you'll spend more time fending off well-wishers and concerted “fagstrikes” (don't ask) than actually celebrating said birthday. If you're the celebratory type, that is. And while it's no secret that I have remarkably little patience for ceremony, I will still latch onto any excuse to screw around. So that's what I've basically spent the past 24 hours doing.

Stop screwing around. You screw around too much.

Of course, my lack of blog updates recently is testament to the fact that I've probably been screwing around a lot more than that since I've been in Durban. I saw a friend playing something called Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space the other day and – long story short – I'm now playing it myself. A lot. Work, writing and personal hygiene have been pushed to the side. I can't remember when I last ate, either.

Aside from that ... well, birthday's mainly consisted of banking and admin rubbish. How terrifically inappropriate!

I'm probably going to try do something more exciting tomorrow, after I get together enough willpower to uninstall Weird Worlds. Because, like, seriously, that game. I dunno.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Drakensberg wrap-up

So! Here I am, sitting in balmy ol' Durban for the first time since I've started this here blog. But wait, what's happened to our intrepid hero since we last heard from him?

The Drakensberg, in summary:

It's frikkin' freezing, Mr Bigglesworth.

Heh, naww, just kidding. The 'berg was great. The sun was shining, the weather was glorious and aside from those typical 5am-wake-up-in-your-tent-because-your-beanie-has-fallen-off-and-your-ears-are-cold moments, I dare say that I generally felt warmer than most of my friends around the country.

That's right, folks: I was in the freakin' mountains and was still shivering far less than you poor sods. In fact, I often took my shirt off to sunbathe while tapping away on my laptop. Hell yeah.

Being on a rather strict budget (Ironically, I later discovered that I'd spent about R100 less than I originally thought), I didn't go on any more of the major tours, but instead spent my days relaxing, being on holiday and creating really freaky games (more on that later). I did, however, decide to talk one or two walks in the land surrounding the lodge.

Hiking instructions: (1) Start walking in any direction. (2) Keep going.

The area that I strolled in is apparently known as the “Little Drakensberg” because of all the itty bitty foothills that dot the area. Something that the brochures don't mention, however, is the ominous presence of dead animals and the poops of something really, really big (and probably vicious) that litter the hiking path. Seriously: moving away from base camp, I progressively caught sight of:

a dead insect

a dead mouse

a dead duck

bones from some larger creature (which, I assume, was dead as well)

All accompanied by ominous poops, indicating that large animals were roaming about. I trekked on, nonetheless: after all, an adventure is always enhanced by that mild sense of danger and that general “what the hell killed all those things” vibe. Good walks, overall.

I must say, though, that none of the experiences I had in the 'berg presented quite as frightening a challenge as the camper's shower:


I mentioned earlier that there was a rather unfortunate crack in the shower doors. That was back when I was still planning on staying in the dorm. Since camping, I've had to contend with another beast entirely: a shower which not only has a similar ever-exposing crack in the door, but also happens to be possessed by demons.

That's correct. Demons. Demons who hate hot water, and who hate me. Most of us have had to deal with uncooperative and finicky showers from time to time, but this one must take the cake. After switching on the water flow, one gets about 7.5 seconds of hot water before it turns to something quite frigid. There's a sign just outside the shower that says “Hot water doesn't just 'run out', so don't worry!” Rubbish. Hot water runs for precisely 7.5 seconds, then disappears for 30 seconds, then comes back for another 7.5 seconds before tormenting you once again. I've calculated this carefully between alternating sessions of being frozen and scalded because I've had to keep the hot tap fully opened to get any hope of warmth.

This has brought about a bold new technique of 'burst showering': the idea that you quickly soak up some warm water, hop out of the shower THE VERY MOMENT it gets cold again, then apply soap, shampoo or whatever weird stuff you use while counting out half a minute in your head. Then it's time to spring back into the shower, grit your teeth and use those precious 7.5 seconds to rinse everything off before you're cast into an icy purgatory again. By the end of my stay, I was getting pretty good at it.

Right. So. Geeky stuff and Durban tales when I next blog. Cheerio, Drakensberg.