The end of the rhode…

…and finally I get to the last post…

but don’t worry!

..there are stories of adventure and previously unknown levels of joy, as well as horrendous goodbyes.

A great idea would be to read this whilst listening to this in the background to give the whole thing a more jolly (and Zimbabwean) feeling.

So my final few months in Grahamstown involved 6 main things; travelling, spending large numbers of hours in cafes, gardening, getting as tanned as possible to maximise British jealousy, and festivalling (oh, and exams).

Me and two Dutch friends got a bus over to Coffee Bay, a very rural and beautiful area in The Wild Coast near East London. Rolling green hills, empty beaches, Cornwall-style cliffs, winding rivers, brightly painted rondavels, and the friendliest people (the name apparently arising from when a trade ship carrying coffee beans sunk in the bay, resulting in loads of coffee plants growing on the shore). Arriving at the backpackers, we joined in the braai and met some guys who agreed to take us surfing…for free! Bonfires were lit under amazing stars and conversation centred on living free of political control and other hippy-like stuff (nod and smile Simon, nod and smile).Coffee Bay Coffee Bay Coffee Bay

The plan was to go surfing in the morning, but our surfing friend spotted a shark so we decided it might be a better idea to drive to a different beach.
So I’ve experience some pretty bad roads over the past year. Some horrendously bad (Mozambique I’m sure has more potholes than road). The roads here were terrible. I’d say likely on par with Mozambique. So it took us a real long time to get nowhere, but the views were really amazing, passing by rondavels located so picturesquely next to the ocean it was almost as if they were built there just for us to photo.
It’s not rare but reasonably uncommon for tourists to travel extensively in this area, mainly because of the roads (or lack of them), and so you feel a little like a celebrity with kids asking for sweets and people waving from their houses.
As well as surfing, we went hiking and jumped into rivers off cliffs, cooked Dutch pancakes, played with puppies (?), and met cool people. To add extra excitement, we missed the bus home and had to chase it with a taxi, waving our arms, shouting, and sticking our heads out the window…. not that strange here I guess as no-one seemed to look twice.

As well as Coffee Bay, me and some friends drove over to Hogsback for some top-notch hiking and cliff-sitting-guitar-playing…Hogsback Hogsback

As the weeks floated by, one-by-one I said goodbye to friends, mamas, and random local people. Grahamstown must be the definition of a close-knit community, and so you do get to become friendly with people you never even get the name of….security guards, cafe owners, car-hire shop staff (if you happen to be reading this Avis car hire man, you are a real great guy!)….. But these people were just as much a part of the experience. I also slowly said goodbye to various projects and societies which had a big influence on my time in Grahamstown; St Mary’s Development and Care Centre where I volunteered every week with kids (who still said ‘see you next week Simon’ despite telling them repeatedly that this was the end); the Masincedane Soup Kitchen where I gardened every week, and Rhodes Music Radio where I had a show every Wednesday. I met some really great people through these and had some incredible times, so this was quite a sad time.St Mary's DCC St Mary's DCC St Mary's DCC

Exams went by pretty quick, and as they didn’t even count towards my Leeds degree, I’ve got to admit I found it hard to put a lot of effort in. I also finished a pretty interesting semester-long zoology research project which involved cutting off spider’s heads, covering them in gold, and taking pictures of them through an electron microscope (here’s a sneak preview).(A) Juv palp wide2

The last couple of weeks involved quite random events, such as jamming with guitar and saxophone in the botanical gardens, sitting in cafes for at least 4 hours continuously ordering rooibos tea, attending a 1-year-old’s birthday party, very nearly embarking on a spontaneous trip to Botswana (maybe it was time to stop drinking), dancing away at Ma rasta to dancehall reggae tunes, hiking up to the monument with crisps, champagne and blankets to watch the sunset, and cementing some great friendships.Champagne celebrations

Partially coincidentally, partially not, my last 11 days in Grahamstown coincided with the national arts festival. This was a pretty big deal. A town where a donkey going missing is the talk of the week, is transformed into a buzzing social scene, with pop-up restaurants, shops, markets, venues and accommodation everywhere. The entire university sports field is transformed into a ‘village green’, and there’s an odd variety of people which Grahamstown rarely sees…… tourists.

So that was a really good time seeing amazing South African jazz, controversial theatre, dance, films….and actually eating whatever food I wanted (not that dining hall crap) with my good friends. I also volunteered with the Raphael Centre (a local HIV/AIDS centre), helping out with an exhibition by the centre’s kids who painted their lifelong dreams.
Inconveniently, everyone has to leave university residences 48 hours after your last exam, which is particularly annoying for people with a home 10,000km away… But luckily a few weeks prior, I met an amazing girl who I got on really well with and so I stayed with her.Raphael Centre kids Fest Fest My great friend Laila My brother Tinashe Michele and Laila Fest

Leaving Grahamstown was weird but alright; after only living in big cities, Grahamstown seemed quite…..sleepy. But of course I had some incredible times in this little town over the past year.

And so I drove up to Pretoria with my great friends Denzil and Gerald, where I stayed with Denzil’s family for a few days. Pretoria’s the capital of SA (though there are confusingly three), but not as crazy as other capitals; nice old buildings, parks (which for some reason no-one seems to go to), museums and casual drinking spots. It’s a very Afrikaans city, and you do hear Afrikaans around you a lot of the time which is quite bazaar.On the road Pretoria Pretoria

We then drove over into Limpopo (province bordering Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique) where we stayed on Denzil’s gigantic farm for a few days. By ‘farm’ I mean huge mass of wildness, where there might be a few cows and lots of impala, warthog, kudu, giraffe, baboons, and even some leopards. Pretty sweet.
So naturally we spent the days driving a quadbike as fast as possible up the mountains (including getting stuck and having to hike down), hiking to dried-out waterfalls only to find we’d entered a leopard den with lots of crushed bones, firing guns (thats right), discovering amazing views whilst chasing kudu on koppies, and of course having braais. I also found myself in the weird situation of sitting in the back of a pick-up with three big Afrikaans guys holding guns with a dead impala laughing in Afrikaans.The farm The farm The farm The farm The farm The farm

I finally headed over to Johannesburg a few days before my flight, and stayed with my great friend Catherine on her smallholding. As expected, it was a real fun last few days, involving;
*  Embracing lambs (see photo)
*  Climbing the tallest building in Africa
*  Visiting the Cradle of Humankind (massive excavation site where they’ve found hundreds of early hominin fossils)
*  Having a great time at some botanical gardens with my top friend Calvin and, a waterfall and some eagles
*  Having a final family goodbye braai with ‘the best boerewors in South Africa’, followed by trying to squeeze a years worth of stuff into one bag.Lamb embracing The Cradle Joburg Goodbyes

Hmmm so how to finish writing……..

Well as I’m sure you’ve gathered from reading any of this stuff over the past year, it’s been a very interesting time. I have met some of the most amazing people; seen some of the most beautiful things; eaten some of the most weird food; swam in some of the warmest (and coldest) oceans; danced some of the most unexpected moves; discovered some of the most intricate and addictive music; experienced some of the most weird and divided situations; rode one of the fastest land animals; driven on some of the most epic and unforgettable roadtrips; discovered falsity in some of the most unfair stereotypes; seen some of the most unbelievably captivating night skies, sunsets and sunrises; experienced some of the most hospitable and generous people; and, of course, learnt so unbelievably much about South Africa, Africa, and the World.

Oh, and spent some of the longest amount of time chasing small penguins…

Until next time

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Barrydale! (and some other places)

For those of you who still don’t believe it, it does rain in Africa. Ok, yes the rain is probably warmer than the British stuff, and normally falls after it being 35°C for 3 days.

This phenomenon of African rain was what greeted my parents when they finally arrived in South Africa. When I saw them I dropped my bags and ran into what was probably the longest embrace in Grahamstown history. It reminded me of that part in The Truman Show when he meets his dad on the bridge and there’s emotional music and everyones in slow motion for some reason.

So basically, yeah it was great to see my parents again, and not just because I knew I would spend pretty much no money over the next 3 weeks….


Joined by my great Zimbabwean friend Tinashe, we headed over to Addo Elephant National Park for 3 days of animal-tastic times. Before we’d even reached our campsite, we’d had a encounter or five with elephants, zebra, hartebeest, warthog (possibly the ugliest animal in Africa), buffalo, dung beetles and vervet monkeys. I know we’re only separated from vervet monkeys by about 25my of evolution, but that didn’t mean we were going to let Adriana steal our sandwiches…Adriana

My parents stayed in an amazing safari tent, whereas me and Tinashe camped it, which was probably more fun (apart from when it was windy and raining really hard and we heard something scraping the outside of the tent which we were convinced was a lion but turned out to be a frog). Ate amazing food, went on loads of drives around the park, went swimming….. We also nearly got killed by a kudu which jumped out of the bush suddenly and nearly smashed through the windscreen, lucky my dad was on the ball with the brakes. Welcome to Africa!Hello


Kudu

Having a good time Yes it's a lion Breakfast with an elephant


Jackal taking a nap

Red Hartebeest Thirsty warthogs Happy families Sunrise over Addo

Headed back to Grahamstown for the night, then off to start a 2-day hike through the Alexandria Forest (which was originally supposed to be a 6-day hike through Tsitsikamma, but it was raining. Yes thats right it was raining in Africa). This must have been one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever done. It started out in British-like countryside with bushbuk and massive spiders hanging around, but develops into thick forest. This is some of the only forest in South Africa and so it’s pretty protected and has some crazy animals like leopards and Knysna Louries. Unfortunately we didn’t see any leopards, but the Lourie must be the most beautiful bird this side of Bangladesh (see later).
We stayed in incredible little cabins in the middle of nowhere with no electricity, and so resorted to playing classic family games (Bananagram was a favourite) with candles and headlights. Oh and copious amounts of meso soup, which seems a bit random now I think about it…
We hiked along windy beaches, climbed up cliffs, trekked over sahara-size sand dunes, waded through endemic coastal fynbos, plodded along Welsh country paths, and of course ventured through the stunning forest of Alexandria. Wow.
I guess it turns out my parents aren’t so old after all. Good job!Alexandria Forest The crib The hut Dunes Paradise through the desert

Cornwall was next on the list. Oh wait, not Cornwall, Storm’s River! They look pretty much the same anyway. Encountered the hilarious, permanently angry-looking animals, dassies, here again. Also whilst on our hikes along the coast front, we got real close to some sort of eagle/hawk as well as bushbuk, oh and amazing waterfalls, suspension bridges and the KNYSNA LOURIE. Wow. As I mentioned a bit up the page, that bird is incredible (see the pic, but this definitely wont do it justice).Storms River Bushbuk Knysna Lourie The Wonderer

On to Knysna! Yeah that was the next stop. Stayed in an amazing backpackers and went on a cruise out to the famous Knysna Heads (cliffs where the number of shipwrecks is just silly) with a casual Peroni and African sunset. Quite an unlikely combination, but I’ll tell you, it’s the ingredients to a dreamy time.

There is an area of South Africa called the Karoo. Its a desert in the centre of the country which extends up to the bottom of the Kalahari (where the San bushmen live). Amazingly hot, dry, ostrich-infested, and full of incredible mountain/valley views. It’s littered with little Afrikaner farms where you can stop over for a cup of rooibos tea and Dutch-related goods.
We stayed in a little town in the middle of nowhere, nestled under a mountain and with only one double storey building (apparently). Barrydale had an amazing location (though maybe not for anyone between the ages of 5 and 70), but the people were a bit strange…remnants of strong Afrikaner communities I guess.Smits Winkel Little Karoo Barrydale

Wine, wine, glorious wine! So we went to Franschhoek in the heart of the South African winelands, and visited some really amazing vineyards with views over the mountains and perfect little patios and terraces where you sip South Africa’s finest under the shade of oak trees. The guesthouse we stayed in was also amazing, with our own pool, little house and mountain views. Right next to the house was Victor Verster Prison, where Nelson Mandela spent the final three years of his 27 years in jail. There’s a statue of him outside the prison on his ‘long walk to freedom‘. It was pretty amazing seeing this. My favourite Mandela quote:

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour 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”

Long Walk To FreedomThe Winelands The Winelands
The Winelands

After having some of the best bread and snoek paté ever created, we headed finally to the Mother City of Cape Town. As you may have read from a previous post, I’m pretty fond (to put it unbelievably lightly) of this place, and so I was keen to show it off to the parents. Immediately after arriving and dumping the bags off at the hostel in Gardens, we hiked up Lion’s Head to watch an amazing sunset over Table Mountain, the Twelve Apostles and the the Atlantic Ocean. Despite some sheer cliff walks to climb and the sunlight rapidly fading on the way down, the parents did well! Wow they must have worked out non-stop before they flew over just to try and impress me…

Some other Cape Town parent highlights;
😀  Swimming at Camps Bay (the poshest area of Africa…maybe)
😀  Driving along Chapmans Peak Drive (the most beautiful road in Africa…maybe)
😀  Cape Point and penguin time
😀  Walking tour and dance show (probably some of the most touristy things I’ve ever done, but that doesn’t make them not amazing)
😀  Amazing meals with my classic friend Paul
😀  Getting attacked by hungry squirrels
😀  Kirstenbosch exploreLion's Head

Don't feed the poet

Poets are dangerous and attracted by food

Kirstenbosch Sunbird

And so I left and came back to Grahamstown. Unbelievable to see the parents again, and good to see they’re in such excellent shape! (phew, won’t have to take them to the OAP home yet)…!
Grahamstown is still a good time, quite a lot of work to do but I’m trying to make the most of my time left (maybe I should stop typing now). I joined a local soup kitchen which is real fun, heading out to do some veg gardening every Saturday (turnips, spinach, cabbage, onions and tomatoes at the mo). In exciting news, I went to a film screening the other day of ‘Thrown Away’ about people who were banished from their homes during apartheid, following Amina Cachalia around the route she did 50 years ago. I had a chat to Dr Saleem Badat (Rhodes VC) and Coco Cachalia (Amina’s daughter) afterwards which was pretty darn sweet.Coco Cachalia & Saleem Badat

Now I’m off to go mountain biking in the bush! See you later

One of the family

Ok yeah I realise it’s been quite a while since I’ve updated this, or generally been in touch in any way…as friends constantly remind me; but unfortunately (but definitely for the best) Zimbabwe and Mozambique aren’t quite packed full of internet cafes yet.

But, as I’m sure you’ll be pleased to here, I did manage to ring my dad on his birthday from a random phone shack on a beach in Mozambique, so it could have been worse…

It’s been an interesting, enlightening, eventful and truly lucky 2 months and there’s quite a large amount to write and write about so you may have to tackle it in several sessions (as will I).

After finishing exams in Grahamstown, and attending all the essential parties, Tinashe Tashinga Simbarashe Nondo (my Zimbabwean friend), Calvin (my South African friend) and I drove up to Johannesburg to start off summer travels. Crossing endless landscapes of dry grassland, thicket, karoo, koppies and baboons; and Tinashe defying the impossible by sleeping with one eye open.

After 10 hours of driving we eventually reach Africa’s richest city, warmly welcomed by an upside down car in the middle of the road and signs warning us of people throwing rocks. ‘Welcome to Joburg’ says Calvin, which was pretty funny. Though not very funny I guess. But also pretty funny. The city has a universal reputation of being the crime capital of the world, with every house having electric fences, razor wire, blood-thirsty guard dogs, metal railings and roof-mounted automatic machine guns. Surprisingly when I arrived I soon realised that although this isn’t completely true, it’s almost completely true (apart from the roof-mounted machine guns). Generally people completely avoid the centre unless they absolutely have to go through it, and in which case they will drive (though South Africans in general drive literally everywhere). Walking around by yourself in the centre in daytime let alone at night would be literally asking for a robbing or worse. But anyway, the city does also have some nice spots and there is a lot of cool stuff going on like gigs, plays, cool little cafes and restaurants.

Me and Tinashe stayed in Calvin’s house in Hartebeespoort just north of Joburg (see when people say they live in Joburg they most likely dont, because no one lives in the centre), which was crazy. The house itself was top notch (including the largest window I’ve ever seen), but also it’s built next to the dam surrounded by mountains, and in the estate there’s a little population of gemsbok, impala, springbok, wildebeest and some other cool African animals just wondering around. Once one of the wildebeest fell in Calvin’s pool and drowned. Oh dear. His mum prepared an amazing roast dinner for us when we arrived after the 10 hour trip so that was a VERY appreciated nice surprise.
The next day involved many cool and classic South African things such as
> eating amazing biltong (dried beef or springbok)
> chasing impala and being chased by impala
> oh, and driving a speedboat. Yeah we went for a drive in the family speed boat with a coolbox of beers and biltong which was one of the most fun moments in recent history (and yes of course I had a go driving). As we were out on the dam a massive storm approached but luckily missed us by a few hundred metres; we could see the line of rain in front of us, it was amazing (see incredible photo).

Me and Tinashe then stayed with his sister, Rudo, for a bit which was actually very interesting because she lives within the city and so got a first hand taste of how crazily busy, razor-wired and divided this city is. Calvin might have got it right when he described his city as ‘not a nice place, but it’s a place where things get done’. Touché my friend.
The next day me an Tinashe watched James Bond and then got on a bus to Harare (Zim capital). The contrast between Zimbabwe and South Africa may not seem dramatic to a normal foreigner, but after living in South Africa for 5 months I noticed a lot. Crossing the border the mountainous and hilly dry grasslands of Limpopo are replaced with miles of flat bare red soil, with the occasional hill and balancing rocks (oh and hippos). The well maintained, smooth roads of South Africa are taken over by crumbling, narrow paths, despite (though maybe because of) the fact that this is one of the main routes within Zimbabwe. Dotted across the landscape are round huts made of mud or bricks and straw roofs surrounded by goats and mango trees. In some ways South Africa seems not so African, compared to this.

Harare is a busy, quite crazy city. It’s actually quite a city of contrasts; packed full of beautiful flame and jacaranda trees, but pavements and roads riddled with potholes. Top money-makers rolling around in new Mercedes and in Italian suites, but bribing poorly paid police because of a ‘chip in the windscreen’ on literally an everyday occurrence. Friendly Salvation Army Christmas concerts in a clean fancy shopping mall, but litter lining most city streets.
Two interesting points
} When walking in central Harare, me and Tinashe heard a woman screaming, looked up and saw a white woman chasing a guy down the street holding a handbag. Everyone around was staring and some laughing. At the end of the street some random people stopped the guy, grabbed the handbag and gave it back to the woman. They then starting hitting and slapping the guy and chasing him; people on the streets were cheering. I found this quite a strange experience (but other Zim people I told this story to laughed and said that he got what he deserved). Interesting. Despite this event I felt very safe (especially if you compare it with Johannesburg where no-one will ever walk in the CBD)
} People do not ask you for money. I was quite expecting to get bombarded with people asking after living with it in SA for 5 months and being white, but it just doesn’t happen in Zim (though I did hear some people mumbling murungu (white person). Tinashe says that there ‘people work for their money’.
The most obvious and important thing about Zimbabwe is the people. They are incredible. Never before have I met so many genuinely friendly people in one country. Even people you would never expect to be so friendly (such as policemen) are. Wow….people had told me about this before I left but there really is a national happiness. I had a 30 minute conversation with a local craft-seller about his daughter’s school project…

I stayed with Tinashe and his great family in a very nice house with a pool, big gardens and seemingly unlimited sadza (maize mash) and stew. Tinashe’s unbelievably generous brother-in-law Ron drove us to Nyanga National Park in the Eastern Highlands where we rented a lodge for 2 nights and hiked/hitchhiked up stunning mountain ranges with views over the Zimbabwean plains. On a bus up the road literally everyone was staring at me, and you know how normally when you look at people who are staring at you they realise and look away….they continued staring for about 40 minutes while we winded our way up the Nyganga mountains playing Zimbabwean sungura music (a white guy? on a bus? oh my word).
Afterwards we hitched to Mutare a really pretty city in the Eastern Highlands where we stayed in a old British gentlemen’s club (don’t ask). Here we met Ron again who drove us up into the Bvumba mountains where we gazed across into Mozambique, had lunch at the Leopard Rock Hotel (where the Queen stayed) and possibly the best tea and cake I’ve ever had at Tony’s cafe.

So on to Victoria Falls! One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the others being Mt Everest, the Northern Lights, the Grand Canyon, Paricutin volcano, the Great Barrier Reef, and Rio de Janeiro’s harbour. It’s indigenous name is Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders) and its the largest waterfall in the world; an island of rainforest surviving off the spray from the falls (you have to wear full waterproof gear otherwise you’ll get washed away).
Unbelievably beautiful place. After watching a family of vervet monkeys for a while, we entered the site through the rainforest and found a clearing with the perfect view out onto the falls. It felt like we had just discovered it- thick forest surrounding it with very little development and few people.
In the words of David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer who was the first non-African to see them, they’re ‘scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’.
At the end of the falls is Rainbow Falls, where because there’s so much spray, rainbows are almost constantly formed over the mighty Zambezi river. Must be one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.
Then we sat on a bench and ate our peanut butter sandwiches with the monkeys.

Victoria Falls town isn’t too exciting, pretty touristy, so we spent the rest of our days partying at the hostel with crazy old American guys, driving out to a buffalo kill in the middle of the night to see lions and leopards, oh yeah and going white-water rafting down the Zambezi. A very fun experience though when they said ‘this is going to be intense’ and made us sign a form saying that we won’t sue them if we die, I (maybe naively) didn’t think that it would be too tough. Put simply, being trapped under the boat  after capsizing on the rapids was for sure the closet I’ve been to giving up the ghost….I did think while underwater at one point ‘wow, so this is it’, but luckily I found the rope just in time, so don’t worry I’m still here (just about)! Oh and just to add to the craziness, we saw crocodiles just next to boat a few minutes later. On our last day before heading back to Harare we went to a boma; basically where you eat loads of crazy African animals and drum and dance like a crazy man (I had crocodile, kudu, impala, warthog, mopane worms…)

On our arrival back in Harare, we went to Ron and his wife Tendai’s party which was an interesting experience. Out of roughly 150 people I was the only white person. Funnily enough though I didn’t even really realise and when I did the thought didn’t linger in my mind for more than a few seconds. I guess after living in SA for 5 months and with Tinashe and his family in Zim I don’t even really think about it anymore (despite the constant talk of race in SA)… That was quite a nice realisation.

After a fond goodbye to Tinashe and his amazingly hospitable and generous family, I managed to squeeze onto a bus and head into Mozambique.
After staying overnight in a random town on Christmas eve eve, the hostel owner advised that I try to make it down to Vilankulos that day which ‘should only take a few hours’. ‘Should’ and ‘Reality’ are two words that are clearly mixed up in Mozambique. It took me 12 hours to finally reach Vilankulos, via chapa (small minibus), hitching a ride in a truck (which included a wheel falling off and giving a ride to a guy and his car which had broken down) along the worst roads you’ve ever seen, another horribly full chapa, so full that the was the door was left open and I had one leg hanging out, and trekking around the town at 11pm trying to find the hostel. Eventually I found it and the amazing hostel owners gave me coke, beer and pizza. What a great Christmas eve!

On Christmas day I woke up early and joined some Mozambican, Canadian and French guys on a dhow (rickety old sailing boat) trip around the Bazaruto Archipelago, snorkelling on the coral reef, climbing up desert islands and eating the freshest fish, crab, calamari and pineapple known to man (and woman). The sea is crazy clear and so flat, but the most amazing thing is how warm it is. Actually, hot. The sea is hot. It’s like sitting in a hot bath, but surrounded by tropical fish and pretty Mozambican girls…
Of course the whole time it was boiling hot (~35°C) and didn’t feel like Christmas in the slightest, despite being able to have a quick Christmas-related chat to my loving family.

At the hostel in Vilankulos I met a very friendly group of South Africans who invited me to stay with them in their tent in Tofo for New Year… so of course I joined them. Before leaving Vilankulos, we got chatting with a random guy who said he would invite us to his house and cook us an amazing meal, so that happened. We went to the market which was intense, full of weird & wonderful smells (though some not so wonderful like thousands of tiny dried fish), and then rode to his house in the back of a pick up truck to a rural, sand-filled area with palm trees and mango trees everywhere, and we feasted on coconut rice and fish. Neighbours seems very shy to see us white folks but waved and giggled when we said hello.

So we then set off to Tofo, a beautiful beach on the Indian coast in Southern Mozambique. For New Year clearly the place had been pretty transformed; there were stages, stalls and braaing South Africans everywhere… It was incredibly hot, and often you just had to sit under a shade and couldn’t really do anything else (not a too bad way of life if you ask me). So hot you couldn’t walk on the sand and the roads were melting…well, the hole-infested remains of roads….
So yeah basically I camped with these cool South Africans in a great hostel which was on the beach and hosted a 5-day reggae beach party. That was pretty cool.
On the last day we decided to try and find some whale-sharks which are most abundant off the coast of Mozambique than anywhere else. We didn’t find any. But we did swim with dolphins which was cetaceanly fun.  Had amazing and amazingly cheap rice and fish/chicken here in some real cool little ‘restaurants’ (little wooden huts), which was all that you could get.

Having said bye to the excellent little group of South Africans (and Mauritian) I had been hanging around with I headed to Inhambane, a really beautiful little town just inland from Tofo. It was quite unique in that it looked well painted, clean, green and safe…not a normal scenario in Mozambique…..probably a left over popular place with the Portuguese. Oh yeah, so incase you’re unaware, Mozambique was colonised by the Portuguese, hence why they speak the language….and not much else. Hardly anyone speaks English, so I used my Spanish which seemed to work quite well, until I say something and everyone stops what they’re doing and stares at me. That’s when you claim you’re a ignorant British tourist and leave quickly…

Maputo was my last Mozambican stop which contrary to what people had told me, I found quite pretty and good fun. Its very green…trees everywhere and markets and tuktuks. And actually the roads here were pretty OK. Only probably was that the pavements were horrendous. I guess they substituted the funding from the pavements to the roads. So I guess the message is if you’re old or in a wheelchair, Maputo isn’t the best place to come for a relaxed break (maybe more so a bone-break….ha ha ha…….). Anyway, spent the days walking around the city, going to museums, sitting in cafes with a great Australian guy I met and pretending not to speak English so craft sellers get put off and very confused.

It was also very hot here (like averaging ~40 degrees), but on my last day it rained as got on my weirdly religious coach (they bowed their heads and said a prayer to protect the coach and passengers on ‘this long and dangerous journey ahead’) back to Jo’burg.
When I arrived I met my great friend Calvin from uni, and stayed with him for a bit and then another friend who lives on a farm just outside the city which involved in the hilarious situation of me attempting to drive her dad’s tractor.

I then flew to Cape Town, where I stayed with my friend Paul from uni. Ok this is a very serious point, and if you only remember this one sentence from this whole post I will be happy; Cape Town is the best city in the world. I cannot think of a city I’ve ever been to, or a city that could possibly be, as good as Cape Town. The best thing about it for me is how you can do literally what ever you want, Cape Town has it. Mountain climbing? Yep. Swimming in reservoirs in a gigantic national park? For sure. Wine tasting in vast vineyards while watching the African sunset over the Atlantic ocean? Too easy. Walk casually through insanely beautiful gardens, see 100,000 year old stone tools, see Desmond Tutu, shop for real cool t-shirts and African CD’s, slouch in a cafe with the perfect view of Lion’s head, kitesurf/surf/swim in the sea surrounded by fish&chips shops, the best ice-cream this side of Bangladesh, and Table Mountain National Park? Yes we can.

There’s literally not enough space on the internet for me to write enough cool stuff about this incredible place. I stayed with Paul and his parents in Muizenberg, which was idyllic. 5 minutes from beautiful beaches, 5 minutes from stunning hikes and walks in table mountain national park, 1 minute from the local train station connecting you to anywhere from central Cape Town down all the way to Simon’s Town (yes it’s a real place, and yes it’s definitely a sign that I should move there) near Cape Point.
So anyway I was there primarily to carry out some research with a professor in archaeology at the University of Cape Town (UCT), which also happens to be the best university in Africa. I organised this by emailing him randomly, and it involved looking through 110,000 year old ‘shell midden’ samples from caves along the Western Cape coast. This was stuff that early humans unearthed and I was identifying animal bones in the samples to find out what these early humans ate and also I found a stone tool (the first person to touch it since the early human 110,000 years ago)…pretty flipping amazing.

The professor (Prof. John Parkington) took me to look around some of the caves he excavates in around the Western Cape one day which was absolutely incredible (there were wall paintings and handprints everywhere) He drove me up in his landrover which was a great opportunity to ask any questions I wanted over the 3 hours about how I could get to be a world-famous palaeoanthropologist (which is definitely going to happen, don’t worry).

UCT must be one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, set on the slopes of Table Mountain and it’s old buildings covered in ivy. One day I went and chatted to other researchers in the department and it was at this point that I realised that I have to live in Cape Town at some point, or preferably for most of my life. Wow. And so I hope to my masters at UCT in palaeoanthropology (human evolution), which is so relevant here as the fossils are being found literally down the road. Craziness.

Turns out Paul wasn’t actually in Cape Town for most of the time I was there but staying with his dad and step-mum was a real pleasure; they were incredibly hospitable and gave me my own little flat in the garden to stay in (which Danny Devito’s son also stayed in weirdly). To partially try and repay them, I cooked my famous Thai green curry one night which if I recall correctly Paul’s dad regarded as ‘the best thai green curry I’ve ever had’. I can easily say that this period was one of the best times of my life.

The people in CT seem so on the ball and great. I met a guy who came up with the idea to improve lighting and nutrition in the townships by placing plastic bottles fill of water in the roofs of houses which would otherwise have no lighting, and growing vertical gardens on the side of the house. These people seem to really care about their city and everyone in it.

I also met up with some SA friends I met in Mozambique who live in CT, so hung around with them for a while which was amazing; including going to Kirstenbosch botanical gardens to see the SA band Freshly Ground live which was a great gig and insane venue. This is actually one of the best things I love about Cape Town: how you can so easily feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, completely in the middle of nature, but you’re right in the centre of the city. Just the most amazing place.
Me and Paul climbed Lion’s Head (one of the famous two mountains next to the table) also one day which has mind-blowing views of the stunning Clifton beaches and the ‘twelve apostles’ on one side and table mountain and the city along the other. The only thing I could think and which was recurring in my mind the whole time I was there was ‘can this place get any better?’ Apparently so, yes.
We also drove over to Cape Point (the Cape of Good Hope) where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. In a moment of geniusness, I hid in the boot so we would only have to pay entry for on person…

It was very hard to leave this incredible place but Grahamstown was a-calling. I actually felt right at home arriving back, and it’s been a great first term now that I know a lot more people and understand the weird languages and behaviour (like saying ‘hey’ at the start and end of every sentence and also using the pool as a shower during 4-day water outages like right now).

My parents are arriving in 3 days time so it’s a very exciting time, and I’m sure there will be sufficiently interesting news to tell all soon…

The fun and not so fun

Oh, hello. So not too much has been happening in the world of Grahamstown, apart from some casual beach, mountain and forest trips, partying in cool bars and awful clubs, spontaneous picnics, end-of-year balls, dinners and awards, and unfortunately, exams. Me and some cool international folks, as well as a friend from Jo’berg, went to Jeffery’s Bay again (the ‘best surfing spot in the world’) for a festival. Turns out it wasn’t so much of a festival as a few stands of people selling cheap plastic toys and questionable grilled meat… It does have a great beach though and we would have stayed there all day if it weren’t for some small local kids who came and decided to throw sand at us until we left. On the up side I bought a cool painting and the hostel we stayed in was sweet! We also had a great night having a casual beer on the beach and playing beer pong with some local guys until some sort of early hour. Weekend before last a few of us headed to Storms River in Tsitsikamma National Park, an amazing area of forest, mountains, cliffs, bungee jumps and funny little animals.

The hostel was truly brilliant, with a jacuzzi, balcony, hammocks, bonfires and braais, surrounded by mountains, and amazing staff. We went mountain biking up and down mountains and over rivers in the forest to come to a brilliant cliff edge where we had cadbury’s (yes they have it here too), crisps and beer for lunch. The other days consisted of relaxing in hammocks, eating fast food in a weird Elvis themed restaurant, and dancing around the bonfire with Danish and German girls. Some of the others went off to go zip-lining and canopy tours but I opted for lying in the hammock. A wise choice I think. The last day we went hiking at Storms River mouth with Fernando (a Brazilian guy) and a Swiss guy we met, where there’s loads of little funny animals (think they’re called Rock Hyraxes…), massive suspension bridges and waterfalls. A great time, though a serious lesson learnt…never trust the buses (they will be at least 12 hours late, and will likely just miss you altogether).


Otherwise I’ve only been working for exams which is equally thrilling, or going to some end-of-year parties such as for the Greek Society (which I’m not a part of) where we smashed plates on the floor and people set their ties on fire inside the great hall. An interesting night. At the residence goodbye ceremony I received an award, for saying ‘all the best’ a lot. That was also interesting. And I also had a community engagement ceremony where there were some real inspiring speeches and too much free food and wine. I met the vice chancellor here who turns out to be a hero. In more exciting news, exams finish and summer starts on the 28th November, and on 1st December I’m heading to Harare, Zimbabwe with my Zimbabwean friend Tinashe Tashinga Simbarashe Nondo, to stay with his family for a bit. Spontaneous travelling is then the plan (as always), but will probably involve heading to Victoria Falls, Hwange National Parl, Mana Pools National Park (the only park in the world where you can walk around without a warden/guide despite the abundance of lions, hippos, crocodiles, cheetas, buffalo, elephant and hyena). I’m then going to venture off into Mozambique and hit the beaches for a few weeks. I’ve managed to arrange to work with a professor in paleoanthropology at the University of Cape Town sometime in January so i’ll end up there in the end. So my next post will most likely be from somewhere random and crazy. Have a good few weeks, I will aim to include a picture of me riding a zebra in my next post as I promised everyone before I left (an ostrich clearly isnt good enough). Simon Zuma x

Riding on ostriches and other equally insane but hilarious phenomena

Let’s not lie. The combination of ten 20 somethings, 2 hire cars, 8 days of Uni freedom, and 1000km of prime South African open highway, could provoke images of hooliganism, endless KFC family buckets, unrestricted thieving of pix & mix, litter deliberately thrown as far away from the bin as possible, other unnecessary wildness and perhaps even ostrich riding. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) only the latter is true.

This September break along the ‘Garden Route’ was truly insane. I know I excessively over-use adjectives like ‘insane’, ‘amazing’ and ‘ridiculous’, but actually coincidentally enough, it was insane, amazing and ridiculous.

We left Grahamstown on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon and drove (me and Wout (the Dutch guy) were designated) to Jeffery’s Bay. A real nice golden beach awaited us, and we ate Greek food and had a generally jolly time on the beach. For some reason we didn’t go surfing at this ‘best surf spot in the world’. Oh well. You know what they say, watching people surf is better than surfing yourself….. or something.

On the way to Mossel Bay (after a short episode of cars breaking down and pushing down hills, and lemon meringue pie in Knysna), we stopped over at Bloukrans Bridge. The biggest bridge in Africa, oh, and also the highest bungee jump in the world! Naturally I had to do it; I couldn’t let Stefan be one up on me by his crazy bungee jump in South America. Out of the 216m I fell, the first few were horrible and I though I was going to die, but then it was incredible! You can’t even scream because you’re falling so fast (120km apparently) but then you just enjoy it and the view of the mountains and Indian ocean was brilliant.

That’s me

From Mossel Bay (where theres surprisingly little apart from a Seafood Gypsy restaurant which serves brilliantly delicious ‘ocean baskets’ and a cool hostel on a train) we drove to Oudtshoorn. This is the land of ostriches, and its crazy, everywhere you look theres ostrich eggs, feathers, pictures, signs to farms…. I had no idea there were places in the world which are so dependent on ostriches. They are really weird animals though, massive and pretty intimidating but also weird. Apparently their eyes are bigger than their brain. Of course the next natural step after feeding them would be to ride on them, so thats what we did. I’ve done many things I never though I’d do, such as sleeping on top of a Mayan temple in the middle of the Guatamalan rainforest, however this was something so random it more likely to occur in a cartoon than real life. Perhaps one of the most absolutely terrifying 5 second experiences (they can run up to 43mph) but also unbelievably hilarious. We also visited Cango Caves here, which had some pretty darn old stalactites and cave painting from the KhoiSan. The drive back to Mossel bay after this was incredibly beautiful, completely surrounded by mountains, sunset, and of course ostrich farms.

Now fully confident around ostriches, we stopped on the side of the road on the way to Hermanus to have lunch, and decided to feed some local ostriches flowers we found. I think one lesson learnt here, was never turn your attention away from wild ostriches to pose for a photo (they seem to enjoy biting human limbs). Hermanus was pretty cool; its the best place in the world to see whales so we went on a whale trip and saw loads of Southern Right whales having a a great time (literally and physically) with a backdrop of amazing towering mountains of the Western Cape, which was a whale of a time despite the fact that I also saw a lot of the toilet bowl. The evening involved a brilliant braai and jacuzzi in the dreamy hostel….oh and also an weird little ‘bar’ where the locals were having far too much fun trying to sing horrible Afrikaans songs on karaoke. On the way to Cape Town the next day we diverted to see some African Penguins. Yes they exist…and they’re so small and hilarious that the information sign describes them as ‘comical but vulnerable’. When they run they bobble around and they’re little flippers flap out! After recovering from a pretty extensive period of laughter and a generally joyous time, I took this video to share the ridiculousness

Skip forward to possibly the most amazing road I’ve ever seen and arriving in Cape Town, with the insane Table Mountain visible from miles away. Cape Town is unbelievably cool, with endless bars (most with balconies which you can hang out on), markets (with the classic stalls selling exactly the same stuff. I bought a baboon), hip little shops (I bought a Steve Biko t-shirt), skyscrapers, clubs, oh and also perfect beaches, hikes, vineyards and views. There’s Nobel Square where the 4 SA nobel prize winners are standing and massive, first-world shopping centres round the corner. Is this South Africa? Apparently so. From pretty much every point in the city Table Mountain looms over, with its perfectly flat top and ‘table cloth’ (clouds) sliding over the peak. We hiked to the top which was pretty easy (if I dont say so myself), and when we reached the 1000m summit were greeted with one of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen; Cape Town spread before you with its perfect beaches, World Cup stadium, sky scrapers and Robben Island.

Also in Cape Town we went to Stellenbosch, where we did a tour of many (for some reason no-one can remember how many) vineyards, trying the wines. Although the aim was genuinely to become more cultured about South African wine, I’m not going to lie, it was pretty difficult pretending to care about the ‘soft dulcet tones of fig and cherry on the nostrils’ after 10 glasses…

After partying at Ethiopian and local bars with opera singing, marimba playing South Africans, the next morning we went to Robben Island (if you’re confused, the island prison where Mandela, as well as other anti-apartheid leaders were locked up for more than 20 years). Very weird to look around knowing its history, and seeing Mandela’s cell, especially because you’re guided around by a former inmate. Ironically the view of Cape Town from Robben Island is incredible. We also went on a tour of the city on one of those pretty embarrassing open top buses, but it was actually surprisingly great and revealed Cape Town’s incredibleness

A 14 hour bus later and here we are back in Grahamstown. Oh, damn it, there’s an essay to write…

Hey bru, howz it?

Sunrise over Eastern Africa and Mount Kilimanjaro becomes visible from my seat on Ethiopian Airways.

“Welcome to Africa!” says the woman next me. After 14 hours and 20 minutes divided into 3 flights, a 2 hour bus ride in pitch black and pouring rain, an orientation week and four weeks of lectures, this still hasn’t sunk in.

Maybe its the fact that its winter here and so pretty damn cold (though having said that, today was brilliantly hot and I had a nap in the botanical gardens), or that the street signs, red post boxes and love of marmite are exactly the same as in beloved England…

I’m now a student of Rhodes University, Grahamstown (or a Rhodent as we’re known). The University is impressive; the buildings are white and grand, with fountains, crazy trees and birds everywhere. Call me a hippy but the trees are genuinely amazing. There’s also a brilliant botanical garden, nice little cafes that for some weird reason focus on selling samoosas (samosas to me and you), a swimming pool, tennis courts, rugby, hockey and football pitches. A lot of students live on campus in ‘res’ so its pretty big and has a great friendly atmosphere. My res is Botha House. Its a good place with some nice people and most importantly pool as well as ping pong! What else could a student ask for?! Its an all male res which is really weird, especially after coming from living with 4 girls and 2 guys in my house in Leeds.

The Clocktower

Botha House

Botha House

On a different point, from almost anywhere on the campus you can see the township. What are townships I hear you say; they’re the areas which started to form in the apartheid days where much of the poor black population lived (due to the racist regime). The townships nowadays are still some of the poorest areas, however the government does provide houses and grants to a large proportion (a government pension is about R1200 monthly (£90)). We went on a township ‘tour’ in our orientation week which was fascinating, as they seemed happy and almost excited to see us…the guide kept telling us its a safe place to come (though not sure how true this is, despite his best intentions)….(especially as I’ve recently learnt that here was where the British massacred hundreds of Xhosa people). We met some ‘Mamas’ in the community who are heros and look after kids or people in the community…or are just very large, powerful and scary women. Some of them are terrifying. I also went to the township on Tuesday as part of my Anthropology course and we had a walk around and chatted to the locals for 3 hours. It really was an eye-opening and generally brilliant experience…literally everyone waved and smiled if you said Molo Mama/Papa, unjani? (Hello mother/father, how are you?) to them. We even looked around inside one man’s house; it had one light, no floor, tin roof and a leaking water pipe yet he was proud of his home and very happy to show us around. I asked another man what he though of the ‘rich’ side of the town and pointed to some nice houses near the University, “I don’t mind” he said “because one day, I might live in one of those houses”. It’s unbelievably divided with the railway track defining rich on one side and poor on the other.

The Township from Campus

Me and Mama

I’ve just joined the university’s community engagement programme, and Ill volunteer at St Mary’s Day Care Centre in the township (‘the location’). Its a real great place which looks after the poorest kids in the area between school hours, and i’ll be helping with everything – feeding them, playing games, helping with music and computers, and also with their homework…especially in Biology (I think we’d all agree the best and most important subject of all).

The lectures are really good, unsurprisingly. Im doing zoology, environmental science and anthropology (and been on about 4 field trips already. amazing). The greatest thing about my lectures is how they’re all so related to South Africa. Oh, and also how some of them spend the entire 45 minutes talking about how she followed baboons across a river and lost her wellies in the mud…

So, sorry for the delay in writing the first post….what can I say….though I’m sure you’re not surprised and it’s probably definitely a good thing.
A crazy amount of stuff has happened…. largely with the other international students who are brilliant (10 yanks, 2 Dutch, 1 Italian, 1 German, 1 French, 1 Aussie, 1 Zimbabwean, 1 Finn and 2 Brits).
Elephants! Yeah we’ve seen elephants…and also lions, zebras, worthogs, eagles, herons, impala, springbok, giraffe, dolphins, crazy weird little birds, ostriches, buffalo, baboons, cool little funny faced monkeys, and most importantly cows, sheep and goats. INSANE. THIS COUNTRY IS AMAZING…. Yeah the majority of these were at Addo Elephant National Park about an hour and a half from Grahamstown. This place was amazing, with vast open mountainous landscapes and wildlife everywhere (though it was raining…yeah whoever told you Africa’s always sunny is silly, very silly). Its cool also how you just drive around and the animals dont really care…we got crazy close to some zebras, springbok and warthogs. A couple of weekends ago, we went out to Hogsback an extremely beautiful area between Grahamstown and East London. Before we went I mentioned it to some guys over lunch and one SA guy said “Wow I dont understand you white guys…you go walking…for fun? Why dont you stay in res and got on youtube?”. What an odd man. Anyway, we hiked for 3 hours through South African rainforest with amazing views of the mountains and waterfalls. This was, apparently, the area that inspired JRR Tolkien to write Lord of the Rings….and it is uncannily LOTR-like (see the uncannily LOTR-like photo)…

The international lads

Addo Elephant National Park

Beware the Englishman

Hogsback

Hogsback

The Shire

Port Elizabeth, the nearest bigger city, is pretty cool.We hired some cars and drove there which was fine for me as they drive on the left here, but weird for others (especially those crazy americans). Its got some nice beaches, but the rest of the city isnt too great (though I guy just met who studies there begs to disagree…not sure i believe him). We drank some beer sitting on the sand dunes and watched the sun set over the Indian Ocean.

Grahamstown is small but its a fun time (and no I havent met anyone called Graham). The students take over the main town with its few pubs, bars and clubs (a pretty big contrast to Leeds’ student scene), in fact we watched the majority of the Olympics in ‘The Rat and Parrot’ (the pub where cool kids hang out) which was real good. Me and Gemma (the other British girl, who happens to also be from Leeds) cheered like crazy folk in the opening ceremony, then a weird thing happened. The Queen appeared in the stadium and the South Africans in the pub erupted in cheer….maybe I’d had one too many Windhoek lagers but that was pretty surreal. HURRAH TO QUEEN LIZ!etc. Last weekend it was Inter-Varsity here which is basically loads of sporting events but mostly people just drink alot and party like crazy folk. It was brilliant. 3 other Uni’s come over (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Uni, Fort Hare, and Walter Sisulu Uni). Everyone (from Rhodes) wears white overalls and paints them. Mine had a South African and British flag on and said God Save The Queen! …it also said ‘Im British, kiss me!’ But I didnt write that one I swear!

Grahamstown

Inter-varsity

I’ll tell you whats really weird about South Africa. Firstly the divide between the rich and poor, but also how race in involved with everything. Literally everything. If you’re describing someone you will mention their race first, if people are joking about something race will almost always be the punchline….but not necessarily in a bad way (in fact I havent seen any racism) but I guess its just something which is always in the front of everyones minds…maybe thats what I should have expected. Whats also weird is how cheap everything is. Im living like some sort of king! King Simon thats what they call me here. Well not quite, but it is real cheap-: bag of oranges: R10 (73p), pot of rooibos tea (they drink a lot of tea here…maybe even more than England): R12 (90p), beer: R18 (£1.35), 45minute taxi ride: R60 (£4.50), entrance to Addo: R30 (£2.26), auntie Ouma’s delicious breakfast rusks: R20 (£1.50)

What’s also weird is the language. I’m not going to lie its not great. They say some funny words such as: ‘Hey bru’ – Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening friend
                         ‘Tttsssyyyyyo’ – Wow I cannot believe that
                         ‘Robot’ – Traffic light
                         ‘Howz it?’ – How are you doing
                         ‘Ya’ – Yes
                         ‘Just now’ – Not quite now but sometime soon
                         ‘Now now’ – Probably very soon but I wouldn’t get your hopes up
                         ‘Nap’ – To sleep with someone (this is a dangerous one and has resulted in                                    some both hilarious and awkward misunderstandings)
Some of these I’m inevitably starting to adopt but hopefully I won’t have subconsciously fully adopted the South African slang when I return to the green and pigeon infested shores of the UK…
There’s also an incredible clicking language in the Eastern Cape- Xhosa (the actual name of the language has a click in as well, just to make it extra hard). It sounds amazing to listen to and a lot of the locals speak it so you hear it around everyday. Listen to my radio show to hear it! (oh yeah, ive also got a radio show…Wednesdays 9-12 SA time (8-11 UK time)), as my co-presenter, Lulama Live Qongqo (whose name involves 2 clicks), is Xhosa, and sometimes speaks it on the show. Listen in and say hello! http://new.rhodesmusicradio.co.za/

This month has flown by and I’ve met a lot of South African fellow students as well as the international crowd. They’re all very friendly here. In fact, several local friends have already invited me to visit their homes in Durban, Limpopo, Botswana and Zimbabwe. All of which I plan to exploit. I’d particularly love to go to Zimbabwe with my good Zimbabwean friend Tinashe Tashinga Simbarashe Nondo. Jeez, thats somewhere I never thought I’d venture.

Tomorrow some of us are going canoeing at Kenton-on-Sea (thats another weird thing, many of the street and place names sound so English! Outside my res theres a Somerset Street!) for 2 days and staying in a wooden cabin over-night. We’re going to have a braai (SA delicious barbeque), a beer and stay clear of the bull sharks and lions. And in September vacation we’re going on a road trip to Cape Town, taking 4 days to get there along the Garden Route and stopping over in Jeffery’s Bay (perfect beaches and best surfing in the world), Mossel Bay (great beaches, shark cage diving and route to the highest bungee jump in the world), and Hermanus (best place in the world to see whales). Unbelievably exciting.

Its a great time here but It’s always nice to hear from home. Feel free to email me, skype me, facebook me, comment on this post, ring/text me if you want (+27763968876)…or why not come over and say hello! (its only a £800 flight). Coincidentally, my Leeds Biology class are coming over to the Eastern Cape for a fieldtrip for a couple of weeks this weekend. I will hopefully try and see them which would be crazy weird.

All the best!
Shosholoza

Simon x