Saturday, July 31, 2010

In Search of the Whale Shark

five boats launch in search of whale shark

I have done trips both to the Philippines and Thailand in the 1990s following migratory paths specifically to see whale sharks, but they have remained elusive to me. Thus when Bubba notified me to the whale shark presence all year round in Tofo, southern Mozambique I was incredulous. How is this possible?

I attend a lecture given by a New Zealand born marine biologist Dr. Simon Davies (Casa Barry 6pm every Wednesday – MTC100) who has been resident here since 2005 who explains that zooplankton gets caught up in upsurges in the smallish natural harbor creating feeding frenzies for predominantly juvenile males averaging between 6 – 8 metres long. Full grown whale sharks grow up to 20 metres can live to about 100 years old. Some 485 individuals have been identified off-shore using digital tracking of photos taken of the individuals’ pectoral fins. There is a website devoted to whale shark research and conservation at including a database of individuals.

Not much is known about these incredible shark species. Most spotting globally consist of more than 80% male and only one pregnant female as ever been examined – well a dead one has ever been properly examined. Some 300 babies were found inside her measuring some 60 - 70cms long in perfect replica of the adult.

There are at least two Whale Shark / Ocean Safaris operating out of Tofo and i opt for Tofo Dives. It departs every day between 11am - 1pm and currently costs MTC1000.

It is crowded the day i go, with 3 boats going out from Tofo Dives alone. Each group is called in turn to watch an information film put together by Dr. Davies about the dos and don’ts when swimming with the whale shark – entering the water quietly and no touching which will cause the whale shark to dive. Departures are staggered over a fifteen minute period, although seem to quickly catch up with each other on the somewhat choppy waters. There are clearly certain parts off the coastline which are preferred.

The first group out of shore jump into the water to experience some dolphins, but by the time our boat joins them the dolphins quickly move on. It takes some 40 minutes to get our first whale shark spotting. As soon as one boat strikes gold others quickly descend. The skipper attempts to get in front of the whale sharks swimming path by dropping off snorkelers some 30 metres in front of it.

By the time i am in the water all i can make out is a vast vanishing shadow in the water, and despite my heartiest efforts I get no closer. Disappointed i try to locate which boat i came on before ungracefully re-boarding as we continue our search. After a further 20 minutes i am beginning to feel it’s not going to be my day when our guide gets another whale shark sighting. This time i’m the 2nd into the water and i see it emerging slowly in front of me from the shadows of the deep blue ocean. To me it looks completely huge as i try to guestimate its size, Surely it must be close to 8 metres! I stare completely and utterly gob-smacked as i try to capture it’s image on my 2nd and last disposable underwater camera - the first being used up in Gansbaii, South Africa for cage diving with the Great Whites! It is only after it lazily swims past me that i react, and to try and swim alongside it. It looks like it is just clowly and casually gliding along, but no matter how I pump my fins, and indeed my arms, there is not a chance that i can get anywhere near it. I eventually get back into the boat completely exhausted but marveled by what I have just seen. The skipper says shame it was such a small one – some 4 metres long. So much for my guestimates.

When we have picked up all 9 passengers from our boat we head back down the coast line for a further 15 minutes and then we notice a boat in front who has made another spotting. This one is clearly bigger than before - some 7 – 8 metres long. Again I am in awe of this incredible sized shark gracefully gliding through the water. This one is travelling much slower and I swim just above it for some 5 minutes. It’s dorsal fin is just inches from my body and despite the instructional video i lazily stroke my hand along its length. It feels like it is - smooth cartilage. It's like swimming with a cathedral.

By the time the encounter has ended, i realise just how far i have swum and the boat is miles away. By the time i get back on board, I am at a point of exhaustion. 10 minutes later a fourth whale shark is spotted, but I have already burned through all my energy reserves and I am unable to move. I am now cold and shivering – most of the other passengers sensibly have wetsuits.

There are also dolphins and manta rays to be spotted, and even humpback whales to be seen at this time of year. Although we see none of these, no-one leaves disappointed. It has been an incredible and unforgettable encounter.

I think i got at least a few half-decent shots, but am unlikely to see the results until my next major city – in all likelihood 2 - 3 months up the road in Dar E Salam, Tanzania. Like myself we’ll just have to be patient and wait to see what came out.

Editor's Addition
: These were developed in Beira. Pretty crap really, but still a treasured moment indeed!

Friday, July 30, 2010


sunset at Tofo

Some 350kms north of Maputo , Tofo has been a popular haunt for South African backpackers for many years offering a laid-back partyesque atmosphere most especially at Fatima’s Nest backpackers.

For convenience sake i take the tourist shuttle departing Fatima’s Backpackers at 5.30am and costing Mtc600. Without a trailer or roof-rack bags are squished in too. Unbelievably i am in prime position next to the driver, but it is still a long 9 hour journey as even the main highway isn’t sealed all the way with huge swathes of compacted sand in between potholed tarmac.

along Tofo Beach

I take up the offer of 10% off by staying for 5 days in the luxury of an ensuite bungalow perched in the heart of the crescent shaped bay. Unfortunately the party rages on till late into the early hours and I regret not checking into the much quieter resort of Bamboozle or Turtle Cove on neighbouring Tofolina beach.

Fatima's Nest

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Make A Friend

It’s not just me that appreciates a good smoke.

Light up a cigarette on the street in Africa (or at least Southern Africa) and chances are a local will try to bum one off you. I confess getting less generous, although now cig prices are down somewhat here in Mozambique, i might collect a complete gang of mates.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From Swaziland to Maputo

The journey from Swaziland to Mozambique is not difficult for the African overland travellist. Large coaches depart Manzini regularly up to a shuttle bus stop for E20. Hop on to the minibus which coasts a further E12. It drops you off right at the border town of Lomahasha. Stamp out of Swaziland and walk across to the other side for the Mozambique immigration (Namaacha). I am out and in less than 10 minutes. Walk 200 metres further from the Mozambique immigration post and small buses depart to Maputo when they are full – price Mtc50. It’s at least 100 kms.

Mozambique was part of the “civilized” chain of kingdoms from the trade routes between Persia, Arabia and India as early as the 9th century following monsoon winds trading in slaves, ivory, gold and spices, whilst much of Europe were still very much in the Dark Ages.

The Portuguese came sailing in around the 15th century, building forts to protect their trade interests from the English and the Dutch.

Real resistance didn’t come until 1962 when the Frelimo movement was established under Eduardo Mondlane who was subsequently assassinated in 1969. Independence was only proclaimed on 25th June 1975.

In true Portuguese style (see also East Timor, Angola, et. Al.), they pulled out virtually overnight, sabotaging vehicles, pouring cement into wells, etc. and leaving behind complete chaos with few skilled people and next to no infrastructure.

Mozambique’s communist government through itself into a policy of radical social change including mass literacy projects and health care programmes. However in 1983 Mozambique was virtually bankrupt and civil war brewed for almost two decades. Since 2005 things are more settled and Mozambique is seen as one of Africa’s success stories with unprecedented peace and stability.

Nonetheless, annual capita income is about US$300, HIV/AIDS infection is at 16% and malaria also takes heavy tolls.

About 35% of Mozambicans are Christian, 25 – 30% are Muslim and the remainder follow traditional animist practices. They have a Worldwide reputation ofbeing quality dancers, movers and shakers which I have been reliably informed can be witnessed first hand at both cultural dances to Maputo’s nightclubs.

Lonely Planet notes in its Dangers and Annoyances section on Mozambique of incidence of robbing and muggings, landmines off the beaten track and the necessity for travellists to carry their passport or a certified copy around with them at all times.

There is a very different feel to Mozambique than its neighbouring Southern African countries. Portuguese colonialisation was clearly been imbedded. Whilst I speak and understand no Portuguese, my time in Portugal, Macao and Brazil serves me in good stead for i recognise and read many of the important words with its similarities to Spanish. Shame it sounds so unfamiliar to my ears.

Prices have clearly come down in this part of Southern Africa too. A packet of cigarettes is just Mtc30 – a third of the price of Swaziland, South Africa and Namibia, being just one example.

Maputo is the capital city of Mozambique, has a population of about 1.4 million people and is a pleasant and quite attractive port city with a distinctly Mediterranean feel to it. Indeed Lonely Planet seems to wax lyrical about it describing it as “one of Africa’s most attractive capital cities”.

the waterfront in Maputo

My arrival into Maputo on Sunday starts somewhat ominously. i changed up the last of my Swazi money at the border, but thought it wise to stock up with cash, for where i am heading to has no ATMs in town. On a brief orientation and reconnaissance i pass by Barclays bank with adjacent ATM on Ave Julho 24th and decide to go for it. During the 80s when I was a political activist I boycotted them for their pro-active support in supporting the Apartheid regime in South Africa. So this is a bit of a Barclays first for me!

It takes my visa card and asks me to press out my pin, which I do and then…..nothing, nothing at all. I try press confirm again, and then again, before pressing cancel. Still nothing. I press cancel again, somewhat more frenetically. And again, this time more frantically. O half think of giving it a kick, it sometimes worked for my old television, but I resist the urge. Mozambicans regularly use the word “paciencia” (patience) – a highly regarded attribute in this country. I wait 10 minutes, swear like a swindled pimp and walk away knowing my first morning in the city is going to be spent at Barclays Bank begging and pleading for my visa card to be returned to me.

My other “fixings” i need to do is to continue my so far fruitless negotiations with South African Airlines over repaying me for my “return” ticket, sort out a SIM card and get a certified copy of my passport – all at the earliest convenience if i am to hit those coastal beaches with my snorkel and prescription mask.

It is not shaping up too good at the moment - It is not all fun on the road. Guardian Angel! Where are you at the moment? I need you here now!

t-shirt vendor on the promenade

The Base Backpackers in Maputo is a pretty good spot, although booking in advance is highly recommended due to its popularity. There is also a Fatima’s Backpackers, which is another popular Maputo accommodation alternative a little to the North on Ave. Mao Tse Tung .

The Municipal Market is raved about in Lonely Planet, but maybe it is because I have been spoiled with more impressive markets both in Asia and South America, but i find it to be so-so.

I have been warned of danger on some streets, including The Caracol and between the front of Frederick Engels Street and Ave. J, Nyerere.

Cathedral of Nossa Senhora da Conciecao in the city centre

A couple of eateries I can personally recommend is Restaurant 1908 – an old colonial style place on Ave. Salvador Alliende which does excellent roast beef sandwiches and the Mixed Grill on the same road at the junction of Avr. 24 de Julho. It should be noted that i don't "do" seafood, but giant prawns are a famous local delicacy. The Great Bubba himself recomends heading to the fish market and getting them to cook up on sight.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Quality Plastic Bags

Regular travelers will know the importance of carrying a decent plastic bag serving a multitude of purposes – heavy shopping, laundry and placing on wet ground to keep one’s bottom dry, to stash damp swimmers on the move, to name just a few.

Smoking helps as probably the strongest bags are often found at duty free shops. Having lasted some eleven weeks, mine “disappears” from Durban, at the hotel’s laundry, assisted no doubt by someone who appreciates a quality plastic bag when they see one.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Malarial Mozambique

Packed with over a year’s supply of malarial medication doxycyclene, i have just started what will have to become a daily addition to my morning routines – a change in lifestyle no less. Neglecting this life-style change could become fatal. Mozambique has problems as do my next several countries.

Yet another thief - there are far too many of these around) stole my solar-powered electric mosquito repellant as I was recharging it outside my room in Lidwala. I am totally pissed at this – prevention is way better than cure, but people can be very jealous over my masterful travel-packing. I take some comfort in the fact that I still have my laptop and my The Beast and Ma said she’d try to locate a new one online and send it over. I think she still loves me.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ezulwini Valley

Perched just outside Mbabane, following the MR103 highway, the Ezulwini Valley extends down as far as Kwuluseni. It is also known as Royal Valley, for the King, many royalty and indeed myself are based here –first at Legends and now in Lidwala which has wifi which often works.

The valley is under threat from over development with casinos, commerce and residential growth that have impacted on the local environment. Pool Pal and Canadian traveler Steve was his three years ago and he says much of the valley is unrecognizable.

the price of local development are not always pretty

Hot Springs can be found at the Cuddle Puddle and is open until 11pm. Set in attractive woodland grounds there is also a full spar with massage service too. The entrance costs E10.

Cuddle Puddle

Next door is a nine hole golf course, but it looked too expensive and exclusive to enquire about prices.

The Ezulwini Handicrafts Centre is a joint Swazi – Taiwanese project. It has a wide selection of local crafts including sculptures, jewelry, textiles and other objects d’art. All items are priced but are not fixed.

local masks at the handicraft market

a beader at the Handicraft Stalls

The restaurant Woodlands offers some excellent food at fairly reasonable prices. I particularly enjoyed the On The Run Breakfast – juice, filter coffee, steak, onion, 2 fried eggs, fries, toast, butter and jam. (I had to turn down the mushrooms– I don’t do them for E55. Good job I wasn’t on the run though, it took ages to come but was far too vast to complete. Also on the menu is baked brie, chicken and seafood dishes, both local and international.

Further down the valley is The Gables shopping centre. There are 2 ATMs, an expensive Internet café, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Quartermain’s Pub and Restaurant which boasts a pay as you go wifi. The espresso is good, but expensive (E20) at Linda’s Coffee Shop. A morning bottomless filter coffee is a bargain at E12. They also serve a variety of savory and sweet snacks. Another restaurant boast Portuguese and international cuisine.

Lombarda is home to the National Museum (currently closed for refurbishment, The Late King Sobhuza II Memorial Park and Mausoleum and the Parliament building. Entry to the park is E10 for international students and contains a larger than life statue and a photographic exhibition of the late king and. A guarded glass building marks the spot where he was laid in state and a ever-burning light. You are requested not to take photos of this building and the guard is armed. There are some great quotes and obituaries. The Parliament building is sometimes open to the public, but of course not on a Saturday when i visit.

statue of the late King Sobhuza II - the longest serving monarch in the World!

traditional Swazi hut outside the National Museum

Swaziland's Parliament building

Manzini is the commercial centre of Swaziland with 70,000 residents. It’s a bit of a bustling mess and after an hour i’m ready to shoot off again. Local volunteers (of which there are plenty) seem to like it though.

local kids

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mlilwane Wildlife Santuary

the red lake in Mlilwane

Swaziland has three wildlife reserves. I check out the Mlilwane sanctuary for a sunset jeep tour for E260. It does not run every day so call the lodge to check it out (268) 528 - 394 Unfortunately this is the only game reserve without rhino which was finished off by poachers many years ago. It was established by conservationist Ted Reilly. Nonetheless, this tranquil park boasts crocodiles, hippos, many species of antelope, zebra and plenty of birdlife.

hungry hippo - hippos kill more humans than any other wild animal in Africa

hippo submerged in the lake

The evening 4wd safari makes its way through the park up to the 1000 metre peak of Nyonyame (Little Bird Peak), which overlooks Execution Peak nearby. From here, serious criminals, witches and magician were forced to walk off the summit with a bit of prodding from spears. It was active some 100 years ago. Chips and a pre-ordered drink are offered at the hill.

Execution Peak at Sunset

There is accommodation at the park and they also offer guided walks, mountain biking and horse riding.

Velvet Monkey

in the bush

Thursday, July 22, 2010

An Eye and a Lens - Swaziland

Mother and Child, Ezulwini Valley, Swaziland

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Lonely Planet accurately describes the capital of Swaziland as “pretty non-descript”. Set at an altitude of about 1000 metres in the Dlangeni Hills, it has a population of some 60, 000 people. Apart from shopping malls there is little to do.

Mbabane high-rise

My arrive at the Mozambique High Commission on Princess Drive at 10am. Fill in the visa form and you are given a receipt of payment to be taken and paid at the Standard Bank before returning to the High Commission. Do this before 1pm requesting an express service and your visa is ready by 2pm.

My two month visa express delivery costs E85 (1 lilangeni =ZAR1).

Whilst 30 day visas are available at the Swazi – Mozambique border, it is more expensive and queues can be long.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Into Swaziland

Taking the Baz Bus from Durban to Swaziland takes some 8 and half hours. Somewhat more expensive than their rivals at ZAR530, they at least offer door to door service and as I fell somewhat flush having now rearranged my bank accounts, i splurge.

Swaziland is a small African kingdom which gained full independence from the influences of the Boers and British in 1960 under King Sobhuza II.

It is currently ruled by King Mswati III, one of some 600 children conceived by his predecessor from King Sobuza’s 100 wives. Mswati dissolved parliament in 1992 and it is currently governed by the Liqoqo – a traditional tribal assembly. In keeping with Swazi tradition, on the death of a monarch 75 days of strict public mourning is observed whereby only the most essential commerce is allowed. Sexual intercourse was also banned, punishable by public flogging.

King Mswati III has called for the country to strive to move forward setting the deadline of 2020 to become a “First World” country. This might explain the considerable commercial and residential growth taking place in the Ezulwini Valley. Canadian Mike informs me he was at this same spot 2 years ago and it is almost unrecognizable.

Swaziland has probably the highest HIV infection rates in the World with almost 40% of adults aged between 15 -50 infected. Life expectancy here has been reduced from 58 to just 38.6 years old - sourced by Guiness Book of Records!

I am currently based in Legends Back-packers at The Gables in Ezulwini Valley - some 15kms south east from the capital Mbabane. It is set in a rural area but with amenities close by, so it might be a good base for my stay in Swaziland. It boasts its own lidloti – an ancestral spirit – this particular one is “the spirit of adventure”. Now that is cool.

My first priority will be to secure an onward visa to Mozambique from the High Commission.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


With the largest Indian population outside the sub-continent, there is a positive multi-cultural vibe to this somewhat glitzy urban city space.

However, apart from checking out the curry houses, and catching up with Steve the Fishbreeder my stop here is brief.

Based at Nomads’ Backpackers, it is comfy and friendly, if a little expensive at ZAR120 for a dorm bed. It is located at 70 Essenwood Road, Berea, close to the Musgrave Centre. There is an excellent Mugg and Bean Coffee House that offers an excellent Rocky Road coffee for a much coffee-starved Aubrey containing an espresso shot, hazelnut and chocolate sauce, whipped cream and marshmallows for ZAR24. For curry deprivation, check out Little India restaurant just behind the shopping mall. They boast an excellent Tandoori oven and their chiken tikka cooked to perfection.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Happy Birthday

Tomorrow marks Nelson "Madiba" Mandela’s 92nd birthday, now recognised as a day of international gravitas – indeed his birthday is formerly celebrated in Spain this year as designated by the United Nations.

A freedom fighter, a man of both humility and humanity, and a most special individual – Mandela completely rocks. A press release from the governing ANC party compare him to Moses – after all he brought his people out from bondage, slavery and oppression to freedom and political power. No easy feat indeed. It is requested that everyone spends 67 minutes helping others on Sunday.

A strange coincidence that his birthday is shared in the same week as HH Dalai Lama who turned 75 on Friday. Happy Birthday and complete respect.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Man With A Dream

A man who has got a plan. Find a great hole-up in your home country, by up a small backpackers, make it popular, find a manager to run the place and spend your life on the road on the proceeds.

10 years and many grey hairs later and Tim still isn’t there yet. Every time he leaves the place for short breaks, he complains that the system is all fucked and it does not survive economically in his absence. He gets excited with group bookings, parties, people spending a lot on food and booze, “legendary” parties, but most importantly his regular poker nights. BBQ nights are frequent, African drummers arranged and Graham is sometimes begged to “perform” his passion of fire-juggling. It can be pretty tribal on the Wild Coast.

Now with kiddies around, there are a mix of other kids, both permanent, regular returnees and passers-by with names like Ki, Dune and Tatiana – a new hippy generation is born.

Tim takes a shine to me immediately as he gets few independent backpackers that make it here without their own transport, tells me to make myself at home, buys me a red wine and we chat.

Close to three weeks later and i have been told that I am now “part of the furniture”. I don’t spend money on food, booze, parties or poker nights, but Tim remains the perfect host. I really hope he gets to “live the dream”. Meanwhile Tim rushes around, looking for the next buck, fixing gas leaks and mending the communal sink, whilst his partner Annie runs daily yoga classes, expecting another child, and generally pretty chilled.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Living On A Film Set

With incredible natural beauty, Port St Johns and the Wild Coast is becoming a regular with filmmakers.

Recent films made here include Three Needles, starring Chloe Sauvigney, Ian Roberts, Olympia Dukakis, and Sandra O. The Dutch child soldier movie, Wit Licht (White Light) was filmed here in 2008, as was the story of Nobel Prize winner Dr Albert Shweitzer. For the Shweitzer movie, Port St Johns became the jungles of Gabon. In 2009, the local production, Themba, the story of a young football player was made here. Older movies include ‘Shout at the Devil” starring Roger Moore, ‘River of Death’, starring Michael Dudikoff; and other French and German productions. TV series, such as ‘The Philanthropist’ and adverts are regularly shot here. The airstrip on top of Mount Thesiger was used in ‘Blood Diamond’ which starred Leonardo DiCaprrio.

Jandre shares stories of being a fixer to John Cleese recently, whilst Steve tells how Jonny Rotten badmouths Roger Moore for refusing to help push his broken 4WD out of the mud. Rotten also lost the plot with Hollywood director Michael Dudikoff, who received a very bloody nose. The locals can certainly get feisty.

Bill Decker is a local celebrity and political activist who spent several years as a cave-dweller up the coast from Amapondo. His cave days might be over now, but he now lives in his beautiful cottage close by.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Swedish Royalty

Flipper isn’t really called Flipper, her real name is Filippa. Flipper just seems to be more in keeping with Amapondo life, not least because several locals can’t pronounce her real name.

Flipper is somewhat of a bastard Princess – quite literally as six generations ago the Swedish king was playing away from home.

On her first day in Amapondo, one day before I arrived, she slices a huge piece of her thigh on a swing. She decides to get it treated in the local public clinic who douse it in anti-bacterial powder, stitches is up and ask her to return daily to redress the wound. After a few days they remove the stitches, but in a somewhat shocking oversight, not all of them. After a week, the wound looks worse than ever, and she is continually encouraged to get the problem sorted elsewhere before the settling in of gangrene and an amputation is required.

Flipper eventually acquiesces to seek medical attention at the local private clinic. Fortunately they immediately inject penicillin into her and offer some thirteen different varieties of painkillers. She might be unable to move more than 20 metres at a time, but she sits and crochet’s crafts for hours on end with a beatific smile on her face. “It’s all good” she regularly exclaims to all inquiries.

The Amapondo community ensure that she has lifts organized to her clinics, documentaries to watch, the tree-house to offer comfort and her 21st birthday is celebrated. Despite her tender age, she is certainly no light-weight and is the only one who can keep up with my smoking predilection. Jandre has dubbed me the offspring of His Holiness Bob Marley as he passes out by the fire by 9pm last night, whilst Flips and i chew fat till 3am.

More treatment is required that even the private clinic can’t offer here, and she heads off yesterday.

Meanwhile, my package finally arrives from England into Port St Johns and it’s back on the road tomorrow, completing the remainder of my stay in South Africa in Durban before heading across the Swazi border.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Following my Big Cat Experience, i am totally in love with the cheetah. As always on this blog, the information is edited from Wikipedia and the photographs are taken by myself.

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is an atypical member of the cat family (Felidae) that is unique in its speed, while lacking climbing abilities. The species is the only living member of the genus Acinonyx. It is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds between 112 and 120 km/h (70 and 75 mph) in short bursts covering distances up to 460 m (1,510 ft), and has the ability to accelerate from 0 to 103 km/h (64 mph) in three seconds, faster than most supercars. Recent studies confirm the cheetah's status as the fastest land animal.

The word "cheetah" is derived from the Sanskrit word citrakāyaḥ, meaning "variegated body", via the Hindi चीता cītā.

The genus name, Acinonyx, means "no-move-claw" in Greek, while the species name, jubatus, means "maned" in Latin, a reference to the mane found in cheetah cubs.
The cheetah has unusually low genetic variability and a very low sperm count, which also suffers from low motility and deformed flagella. Skin grafts between non-related cheetahs illustrate this point in that there is no rejection of the donor skin. It is thought that it went through a prolonged period of inbreeding following a genetic bottleneck during the last ice age. It probably evolved in Africa during the Miocene epoch (26 million to 7.5 million years ago), before migrating to Asia. New research by a team led by Warren Johnson and Stephen O'Brien of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity (National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, United States) has recently placed the last common ancestor of all existing species as living in Asia 11 million years ago, which may lead to revision and refinement of existing ideas about cheetah evolution.

Now-extinct species include: Acinonyx pardinensis (Pliocene epoch), much larger than the modern cheetah and found in Europe, India, and China; Acinonyx intermedius (mid-Pleistocene period), found over the same range. The extinct genus Miracinonyx was extremely cheetah-like, but recent DNA analysis has shown that Miracinonyx inexpectatus, Miracinonyx studeri, and Miracinonyx trumani (early to late Pleistocene epoch), found in North America and called the "North American cheetah" are not true cheetahs, instead being close relatives to the cougar.

Although many sources list six or more subspecies of cheetah, the taxonomic status of most of these subspecies is unresolved. Acinonyx rex—the king cheetah (see below)—was abandoned after it was discovered the variation was only a recessive gene. The subspecies Acinonyx jubatus guttatus, the woolly cheetah, may also have been a variation due to a recessive gene. Some of the most commonly recognized subspecies include:
• Asiatic Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus): Asia (Afghanistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia)
• Northwest African Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki): Northwest Africa (Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Tunisia and Western Sahara) and western Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal)
• Acinonyx jubatus raineyii: eastern Africa (Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda)
• Acinonyx jubatus jubatus: southern Africa (Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia)
• Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii: central Africa (Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Niger, and Sudan)
• Acinonyx jubatus velox

The cheetah's chest is deep and its waist is narrow. The coarse, short fur of the cheetah is tan with round black spots measuring from 2 to 3 cm (0.79 to 1.2 in) across, affording it some camouflage while hunting. There are no spots on its white underside, but the tail has spots, which merge to form four to six dark rings at the end. The tail usually ends in a bushy white tuft. The cheetah has a small head with high-set eyes. Black "tear marks" run from the corner of its eyes down the sides of the nose to its mouth to keep sunlight out of its eyes and to aid in hunting and seeing long distances. Although it can reach high speeds, its body cannot stand long distance running. It is a sprinter.

The adult cheetah weighs from 36 to 65 kg (79 to 140 lb). Its total body length is from 115 to 135 cm (45 to 53 in), while the tail can measure up to 84 cm (33 in) in length. Cheetah are 67 to 94 cm (26 to 37 in) in high at the shoulder. Males tend to be slightly larger than females and have slightly bigger heads, but there is not a great variation in cheetah sizes and it is difficult to tell males and females apart by appearance alone. Compared to a similarly sized leopard, the cheetah is generally shorter-bodied, but is longer tailed and taller (it averages about 90 cm (35 in) tall) and so it appears more streamlined.

Some cheetahs also have a rare fur pattern mutation: cheetahs with larger, blotchy, merged spots are known as "king cheetahs". It was once thought to be a separate subspecies, but it is merely a mutation of the African cheetah. The "king cheetah" has only been seen in the wild a handful of times, but it has been bred in captivity.
The cheetah's paws have semi-retractable claws (known only in three other cat species: the Fishing Cat, the Flat-headed Cat and the Iriomote Cat) offering extra grip in its high-speed pursuits. The ligament structure of the cheetah's claws is the same as those of other cats; it simply lacks the sheath of skin and fur present in other varieties, and therefore the claws are always visible, with the exception of the dewclaw. The dewclaw itself is much shorter and straighter than that of other cats.

Adaptations that enable the cheetah to run as fast as it does include large nostrils that allow for increased oxygen intake, and an enlarged heart and lungs that work together to circulate oxygen efficiently. During a typical chase its respiratory rate increases from 60 to 150 breaths per minute. While running, in addition to having good traction due to its semi-retractable claws, the cheetah uses its tail as a rudder-like means of steeringto allow it to make sharp turns, necessary to outflank prey animals that often make such turns to escape.

Unlike "true" big cats, the cheetah can purr as it inhales, but cannot roar. By contrast, the big cats can roar but cannot purr, except while exhaling. However, the cheetah is still considered by some to be the smallest of the big cats. While it is often mistaken for the leopard, the cheetah does have distinguishing features, such as the aforementioned long "tear-streak" lines that run from the corners of its eyes to its mouth. The body frame of the cheetah is also very different from that of the leopard, most notably so in its thinner and longer tail and, unlike the leopard's, its spots are not arranged into rosettes.

The cheetah is a vulnerable species. Out of all the big cats, it is the least able to adapt to new environments. It has always proved difficult to breed in captivity, although recently a few zoos have managed to succeed at this. Once widely hunted for its fur, the cheetah now suffers more from the loss of both habitat and prey.
The cheetah was formerly considered to be particularly primitive among the cats and to have evolved approximately 18 million years ago. New research, however, suggests that the last common ancestor of all 40 existing species of felines lived more recently than that—about 11 million years ago. The same research indicates that the cheetah, while highly derived morphologically, is not of particularly ancient lineage, having separated from its closest living relatives (Puma concolor, the cougar, and Puma yaguarondi, the jaguarundi) around five million years ago. These felids have not changed appreciably since they first appeared in the fossil record.

There are several geographically isolated populations of cheetah, all of which are found in Africa or Southwestern Asia. A small population (estimated at about fifty) survive in the Khorasan Province of Iran, where conservationists are taking steps to protect them. It is possible, though doubtful, that some cheetahs remain in India. There have also been several unconfirmed reports of Asiatic Cheetahs in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, with at least one dead animal being discovered recently.

The cheetah thrives in areas with vast expanses of land where prey is abundant. The cheetah likes to live in an open biotope, such as semi-desert, prairie, and thick brush, though it can be found in a variety of habitats. In Namibia, for example, it lives in grasslands, savannahs, areas of dense vegetation, and mountainous terrain.
In much of its former range, the cheetah was tamed by aristocrats and used to hunt antelopes in much the same way as is still done with members of the greyhound group of dogs.

Females reach maturity in twenty to twenty-four months, and males around twelve months (although they do not usually mate until at least three years old), and mating occurs throughout the year. A study of cheetahs in the Serengeti showed that females are sexually promiscuous and often have cubs by many different males.
Females give birth to up to nine cubs after a gestation period of ninety to ninety-eight days, although the average litter size is three to five. Cubs weigh from 150 to 300 g (5.3 to 11 oz) at birth. Unlike some other cats, the cheetah is born with its characteristic spots. Cubs are also born with a downy underlying fur on their necks, called a mantle, extending to mid-back. This gives them a mane or Mohawk-type appearance; this fur is shed as the cheetah grows older. It has been speculated that this mane gives a cheetah cub the appearance of the Honey Badger (Ratel), to scare away potential aggressors.[15] Cubs leave their mother between thirteen and twenty months after birth. Life span is up to twelve years in the wild, but up to twenty years in captivity.

Unlike males, females are solitary and tend to avoid each other, though some mother/daughter pairs have been known to be formed for small periods of time. The cheetah has a unique, well-structured social order. Females live alone except when they are raising cubs and they raise their cubs on their own. The first eighteen months of a cub's life are important; cubs learn many lessons because survival depends on knowing how to hunt wild prey species and avoid other predators. At eighteen months, the mother leaves the cubs, who then form a sibling, or "sib" group, that will stay together for another six months. At about two years, the female siblings leave the group, and the young males remain together for life.
Males are very sociable and will group together for life, usually with their brothers in the same litter; although if a cub is the only male in the litter then two or three lone males may group up, or a lone male may join an existing group. These groups are called coalitions. In one Serengeti study by Caro and Collins (1987), 41% of the adult males were solitary, 40% lived in pairs and 19% lived in trios.

A coalition is six times more likely to obtain an animal territory than a lone male, although studies have shown that coalitions keep their territories just as long as lone males—between four and four and a half years.

Males are very territorial. Females' home ranges can be very large and trying to build a territory around several females' ranges is impossible to defend. Instead, males choose the points at which several of the females' home ranges overlap, creating a much smaller space, which can be properly defended against intruders while maximizing the chance of reproduction. Coalitions will try their best to maintain territories in order to find females with whom they will mate. The size of the territory also depends on the available resources; depending on the part of Africa, the size of a male's territory can vary greatly from 37 to 160 km2 (14 to 62 sq mi).

Males mark their territory by urinating on objects that stand out, such as trees, logs, or termite mounds. The whole coalition contributes to the scent. Males will attempt to kill any intruders and fights result in serious injury or death.
Unlike males and other felines, females do not establish territories. Instead, the area they live in is termed a home range. These overlap with other females' home ranges, often those of their daughters, mothers, or sisters. Females always hunt alone, although cubs will accompany their mothers to learn to hunt once they reach the age of five to six weeks.

The size of a home range depends entirely on the availability of prey. Cheetahs in southern African woodlands have ranges as small as 34 km2 (13 sq mi), while in some parts of Namibia they can reach 1,500 km2 (580 sq mi).

The cheetah cannot roar, but does have the following vocalizations:
• Chirping - When cheetahs attempt to find each other, or a mother tries to locate her cubs, it uses a high-pitched barking called chirping. The chirps made by a cheetah cub sound more like a bird chirping, and so are termed chirping.
• Churring or stuttering - This vocalization is emitted by a cheetah during social meetings. A churr can be seen as a social invitation to other cheetahs, an expression of interest, uncertainty, or appeasement or during meetings with the opposite sex (although each sex churrs for different reasons).
• Growling - This vocalization is often accompanied by hissing and spitting and is exhibited by the cheetah during annoyance, or when faced with danger.
• Yowling - This is an escalated version of growling, usually displayed when danger worsens.
• Purring - This is made when the cheetah is content, usually during pleasant social meetings (mostly between cubs and their mothers). A characteristic of purring is that it is realised on both egressive and ingressive airstream.

The cheetah is a carnivore, eating mostly mammals under 40 kg (88 lb), including the Thomson's Gazelle, the Grant's gazelle, the springbok and the impala. The young of larger mammals such as wildebeests and zebras are taken at times, and adults too, when the cats hunt in groups. Guineafowl and hares are also prey. While the other big cats mainly hunt by night, the cheetah is a diurnal hunter. It hunts usually either early in the morning or later in the evening when it is not so hot, but there is still enough light.

The cheetah hunts by vision rather than by scent. Prey is stalked to within 10–30 m (33–98 ft), then chased. This is usually over in less than a minute, and if the cheetah fails to make a catch quickly, it will give up. The cheetah has an average hunting success rate of around 50% - half of its chases result in capture.
Running at speeds between 112 and 120 km/h (70 and 75 mph) puts a great deal of strain on the cheetah's body. When sprinting, the cheetah's body temperature becomes so high that it would be deadly to continue; this is why the cheetah is often seen resting after it has caught its prey. If it is a hard chase, it sometimes needs to rest for half an hour or more. The cheetah kills its prey by tripping it during the chase, then biting it on the underside of the throat to suffocate it, for the cheetah is not strong enough to break the necks of the four-legged prey it mainly hunts. The bite may also puncture a vital artery in the neck. Then the cheetah proceeds to devour its catch as quickly as possible before the kill is taken by stronger predators.

The diet of a cheetah is dependent upon the area in which it lives. For example, on the East African plains, its preferred prey is the Thomson's Gazelle. This small antelope is shorter than the cheetah (about 53–67 cm (21–26 in) tall and 70–107 cm (28–42 in) long), and also cannot run faster than the cheetah (only up to 80 km/h (50 mph)), which combine to make it an appropriate prey. Cheetahs look for individuals which have strayed some distance from their group, and do not necessarily seek out old or weak ones.

Despite their speed and hunting prowess, cheetahs are largely outranked by other large predators in most of their range. Because they have evolved for short bursts of extreme speed at the expense of both power and the ability to climb trees, they cannot defend themselves against most of Africa's other predator species. They usually avoid fighting and will surrender a kill immediately to even a single hyena, rather than risk injury. Because cheetahs rely on their speed to obtain their meals, any injury that slows them down could essentially be life threatening.

A cheetah has a 50% chance of losing its kill to other predators. Cheetahs avoid competition by hunting at different times of the day and by eating immediately after the kill. Due to the reduction in habitat in Africa, Cheetahs in recent years have faced greater pressure from other native African predators as available range declines.

The cheetah's mortality is very high during the early weeks of its life; up to 90% of cheetah cubs are killed during this time by lions, leopards, hyenas, wild dogs, or even by eagles. Cheetah cubs often hide in thick brush for safety. Mother cheetahs will defend their young and are at times successful in driving predators away from their cubs. Coalitions of male cheetahs can also chase away other predators, depending on the coalition size and the size and number of the predator. Because of its speed, a healthy adult cheetah has few predators.
Cheetah fur was formerly regarded as a status symbol. Today, cheetahs have a growing economic importance for ecotourism and they are also found in zoos. Cheetahs are far less aggressive than other felids and can be tamed, so cubs are sometimes illegally sold as pets.

Cheetahs were formerly, and sometimes still are, hunted because many farmers believe that they eat livestock. When the species came under threat, numerous campaigns were launched to try to educate farmers and encourage them to conserve cheetahs. Recent evidence has shown that cheetahs will not attack and eat livestock if they can avoid doing so, as they prefer their wild prey. However, they have no problem with including farmland as part of their territory, leading to conflict.
Ancient Egyptians often kept cheetahs as pets, and also tamed and trained them for hunting. Cheetahs would be taken to hunting fields in low-sided carts or by horseback, hooded and blindfolded, and kept on leashes while dogs flushed out their prey. When the prey was near enough, the cheetahs would be released and their blindfolds removed. This tradition was passed on to the ancient Persians and brought to India, where the practice was continued by Indian princes into the twentieth century. Cheetahs continued to be associated with royalty and elegance, their use as pets spreading just as their hunting skills were. Other such princes and kings kept them as pets, including Genghis Khan and Charlemagne, who boasted of having kept cheetahs within their palace grounds. Akbar the Great, ruler of the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1605, kept as many as 1000 cheetahs. As recently as the 1930s the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, was often photographed leading a cheetah by a leash.

Cheetah cubs have a high mortality rate due to genetic factors and predation by carnivores in competition with the cheetah, such as the lion and hyena. Recent inbreeding causes cheetahs to share very similar genetic profiles. This has led to poor sperm, birth defects, cramped teeth, curled tails, and bent limbs. Some biologists now believe that they are too inbred to flourish as a species.[18]

Cheetahs are included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of vulnerable species (African subspecies threatened, Asiatic subspecies in critical situation) as well as on the US Endangered Species Act: threatened species - Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Approximately 12,400 cheetahs remain in the wild in twenty-five African countries; Namibia has the most, with about 2,500. Another fifty to sixty critically endangered Asiatic Cheetahs are thought to remain in Iran. There have been successful breeding programs, including the use of in vitro fertilisation, in zoos around the world.

Founded in Namibia in 1990, the Cheetah Conservation Fund's mission is to be an internationally recognized centre of excellence in research and education on cheetahs and their eco-systems, working with all stakeholders to achieve best practice in the conservation and management of the world's cheetahs. The CCF has also set stations throughout South Africa in order to keep the conservation effort going. The Cheetah Conservation Foundation, a South African based organisation, was set up in 1993 for cheetah protection.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The End Of The Show

faces of Africa

Being in South Africa for the World Cup has really been immense. The national pride in hosting the tournament has often literally brought tears to the eyes of a nation. Even though I have paid over the odds everywhere I have travelled and was burning through dollars like there was no tomorrow in Cape Town.

Ghana waved the flag for Africa, England got humbled and a few heads rolled – but unfortunately not the head of the blinkered and Amish-like Sepp Blatter. Spare a thought for Brazilian coach Dunga, who loses his job because his team lost in the quarter finals, based on 90 minutes against the Dutch. And then contrast that to Diego Maradona who received a hero’s welcome after his side was hammered at the same stage by Germany. Italian born coach of England keeps his job too.

After England’s demise, my support predominantly turned to beloved South America only to see their game (cynically) stifled by the dullness of the European style of in particular the Dutch and Germans. From lucky talisman for England at PE to Kiss of Death merchant in the quarter finals.

As each team fell away i thought of friends in far off places, countries and continents. Indeed often we would witness first-hand , what Steve referred to as the flotsam and jetsam of supporters making the track back to their home countries after the sharp bitter taste of defeat.

The semis were difficult to call. The Uruguayans and the Dutch shared a none too thrilling 5 goal “thriller”, and the Spanish deservedly put out the “one for the future” German team. Their trashing of England and Argentina were quite something, but the Germans couldn’t find some more of the same for the dedicated Spanish.

The Third place play-off is always more open and interesting as a spectacle than the final and this year was no exception with Germany 3 – 2 victors against Uruguay in an entertaining match.

The Spanish versus Dutch final might imply to many that European football is healthy, and truly the best in the World, but it is a mirage. To watch the Brazilians or Argentina play their attacking, high movement, silky and indeed “sexy” soccer tells a completely different story. Like many of the first round matches, nobody wants to commit a blunder not least, in the final of such an important stage.

Indeed, Spain and The Netherlands tactical “European” style blunt, and in many cases unnecessarily bruise each other out and you know that one goal will settle it. Six bookings within a 12 minute period by English referee Howard Webb in the first thirty minutes was absurd and a sending off looked inevitable with some 35 free kicks given throughout the 120+ minutes.

Despite their surprising loss to the Swiss in the first match, Spain are indeed probably worthy champions. After all, the vast majority of the team all play for Barcelona. However, any team that can knock out Brazil deserve a special medal in itself, and to have lost three finals now, the Dutch must be heartbroken.

Cold and windy last night, we quit plans to head to the Fan Fest in the playing field in Port St Johns and watch from Amapondo Back Packers. It’s full, but not packed. 90% are locals with a smattering of “foreigners”. None are Spanish, but Jan is Dutch who lives and works here. Like myself, most are neutral spectators. Everyone is up for the pre-match entertainment in Jo’burg, and even if Zuma is not a popular President, his genuine appreciation to all the the people of South Africa in their remarkable achievements in hosting such a competent World Cup is clapped.

Even though the exit of Bafana Bafana dampened some of the spirit of our hosts, the tournament has become a beacon for what can be done for this badly broken country. After all apartheid was only eventually overturned in 1994 and in many ways this is a country of rebirth and infancy. The pride in the hosting of the tournament was colossus, let alone the smoothness that they pulled it off. It might have taken 19 previous World Cup competitions, but Africa is firmly on the football map now. The generosity, openness and friendliness of South Africans (both Black and White) has been serendipitous.

As for my original circa 2006 red England shirt, i pass it on to Dutch Jan who helps run the Amapondo Childrens’ Project – a present from some colleagues in Hong Kong, i cannot face the humiliation of wearing it again – well certainly for the rest of my journey through Africa.

Yes, i can play the vuvuzela, but no, i certainly won’t miss them.

The World Cup happens just once every four years, but binds the World together for a month by a shared love of “the beautiful game” that transcends borders and languages. In my “global citizen” eyes” there is nothing sweeter.

Thoughts are already weighing up the possibilities of being back in Brazil for the next World Cup tournament in 2014.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

High in The Transkei

As touched on in earlier Port St Johns' posting,s like Parvati Valley in the Indian Himalayas, the region of Transkei in South Africa has a worldwide reputation for producing high quality marijuana, almost exclusively in weed format.

Tommy, a passing local gives me an enlightening time about the variety of growth available, from the wild to genetically modified. He proudly tells me that Durban Poison is in the Top 4 smokes in the world in a recent survey of connoisseurs. He tells me how to score freebies and what to look for in the different samples that are distributed by almost everyone along the Wild Coast.

Today’s local newspaper The Opinion News informs local residents that this weekend sees the “Doobie Brothers Motorcycle Club” coming through town on their annual circuit tour . Their badge boasts a huge marijuana leaf which is splattered all over the front page.

I am reliably informed that there are some mushrooms to be found at nearby Coffee Bay which are very popular with many.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Random Chaos Theory is God

G gave me some background on RCT recently on my last extended trip in England. However i am certainly not an expert. Others call it God. I meet a South African guy whose mum, lived in Harrow, reminisced about a shared love of Siamese fighting fish with local Steve and then bump into Austin who is encouraging about funding a full documentary project that Jaq has been working on as a virol for the SEED project in Sun City, Port au Prince. He is also sending me a Survival Guide to Kenya, further up the road I am to travel.

Having been adopted by Daikonos orphanage I am part of God’s Loving Circle being a “Blessing from God”, with prayers offered for my safe travels, daily email and Facebook messages as well as photos from my extended Haitian family.

Other crossings of paths are also useful. Another great wealth of information is Grant. This New Yorker is on a sabbatical from Harlem. Having come down the route i am to follow so i pick his brains about cool stuff to see. Although not much interested in soccer at home, he has fallen under the World Cup spell also. Grant is a writer and i am always happy to plug any book that is “a memoir of sex, drugs and Salsa dancing”. Auto biographical, it tells of his journey with a one way ticket and US$300. “Imagine – a Vagabond story” is available at We meet again i hope in Tanzania where he will be working in Hostelhoff in Moshi between August and October.

Having spent over an hour queuing at Port St Johns Post Office counter over the last two day to see if there is any sight of my on-line banking security devise, i get to witness random chaos first hand. Needless to say, it has still not arrived from England. I quickly draw up two alternative plans of action in case it never arrives into St Johns at all. With the World Cup coming to an end on Sunday, I am keen to move on for a brief sojourn in Swaziland before heading into the bowels of Mozambique for which I am extremely excited.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Food Thieves

It’s not the first time i have fallen victim to Fridge Thieves. Many of the Backpackers I have stayed on this trip offer shared kitchen facilities, and much needed for budget-minded travellers. However, invariably one falls prey to these selfish thieving gypsy bastards. Sadly, this even happens in hippy communities like that at Amapondo. In the time i have been here pasta, cheese, bread, olives and marinade sauce have all vanished from the fridge or personal basket. It is a pain in the ass, foils dinner plans and is a pretty selfish and mean thing to do. Steve has now kindly offered me space in his lock-up-able cupboard.

I like the notion of Karma (or justice if you prefer). I mentioned in a previous incarnation of this blog about having my digicam stolen from my bag whilst taking photos at Dalai Lama teachings in The Ganj.

What do you think would be a fitting punishment for food thieves? Food poisoning perhaps? Please leave your thoughts below.

As I write this at the sitting room in Amapondo, discussion on the “problem” is rapid and varied. Flipper wonders if the culprit is the same person who has taken two pairs of her washed panties. I will suggest to Tim, owner, that CCTV be installed.

Editor's Addition:
And now my electric toothbrush has disappeared

Thursday, July 8, 2010

An Eye and a Lens - Cape Town Musician

a drummer entertains the crowd at the waterfront Cape Town

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Port St Johns' Community

Xhosa kid in magenta

Once an all - White community, PSJ shows an excellent mix of predominantly well travelled white South Africans and the local Xhosa communities in the area. Quite probably related due to the “indigenous tobacco” all inhabitants like many coastal areas are smiley and friendly. Both Black and White communities are subsistence survivalists.

Most of the long term PSJ residents are involved in some local community project, be it medical, teaching, fishing or agriculture. Others come and sell their craft work, from jewellery to pipes. In their spare time many either work part time in Amaponda (running daily walks and hikes, bar work,, dj-ing, etc.) or simply to hang out here, trying to impress and score with attractive young things passing through. They are friendly, usually quite well travelled and have some classic stories to share and entertain the traveller stranded waiting for a parcel from UK to set him on his way again.

Many “classics” are generated by the legendary local raconteur and story-teller Jonny Rotten who i am keen, but yet to meet. Clearly a local legend indeed!

With such a wild coast not surprisingly the surfing is popular especially for beginners and intermediates who are not put off by four great white shark deaths in two years. Fishing, for selling and subsistence is also a common pursuit off the beach-heads.

The hikes to the Gap, the waterfall, across the coasts and bays and Silaka Nature Reserve are beautiful.

fishing is a popular pursuit

One of many such advantages of such interesting “hippy communes” is how easy it is to hitch the roads around and getting to and from the town centre, which boasts a Spar and a less whole-sale style Boxer grocery store. Internet can be accessed from the Internet server up the stairs next to Spar or in the friendly, quiet and tranquil Jesters Coffee Shop and Restaurant. PSJ must clearly be on the map boasting its own Kentucky Fried Chicken behind the main bus stand.

There is a heavy police force here as you will see from all their vehicles on the roads, however they are polite, courteous and friendly, much more interested in tackling the multitude of poachers selling contraband shell-fish (mussels, oysters, clams and crayfish) than checking bags for marijuana – a strong contrast between here and the charis selling valley of Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh, India. Nonetheless, almost everyone smokes and has something to sell or pass your way if you ask for a sample only. Locals claim that their crop is as good as anything found in Swaziland and Malawi. It should therefore not be surprising the proliferation of “Pondo” fever that hits visitors to the area.

Highly recommended eateries include Wood ‘n’ Spoon and Delicious Monster, both just past the bridge at the end of Second Beach, although the service can be ridiculously slow. The latter has special Mediterranean food. The food at the Backpacker, most notably their braais and breakfasts are both good. North, East West and South opposite Jester's does a yummy cheesecake, and a selection of curries and fresh fish for around ZAR50. Toppings, a new wood fire pizza hut between the Backpackers and just past the liquor store is new, pricey but large. The Frommagio 4 cheeses is excellent. Prices range from ZAR45 -65. The Fish Eagle in the town centre next to KFC has tasty lamb shank in an axcellent tangy sauce. Good filter coffee is available in PSJ, but I have been unsuccessful to track down a place with espresso. Meanwhile I borrow Jandre's coffee maker.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Walking The Dog

Marley is the three year old dog of Boy’s and is like a nephew to me. And certainly was treated as a prodigal son by Boy and Nic until the arrival of Baby Daisy. He is a Shetland sheepdog, Ma had three of them as we were growing up. I miss walking a dog.

However, the dogs at Amapondo despite some resembling horse proportions are a soft bunch and will escort you on beach walks along the Wild Coast. Sometimes I even walk with The Beast too if the weather is decent!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Now Who Are you Going To Support?

So from Talisman for England and Gypsy Groves with my crystal ball, to jinx all football nations that I support since the demise of England. Indeed three of the four quarter finals went against me and I am debating who to pass on the Kiss of Death to next. As “Anonymous” accurately stated i clearly don’t know nada, vunsun and Sweet Fanny Adams when it comes to football.

For us old time purists the free-flowing, skilled, stella fast action football of both Brazil and the Argentineans added colour and spark from some of the more plodding and technical teams and matches during the 2010 competition. The Brazillian capitulation at the hands of the Dutch who stifled play and out-processed them was incredible, and once again Germany bludgeoned the Argentineans in much the same way as they tore through England’s many frailties in clinical fashion. Who would have thought it would only be Uruguay representing South America in the semi-finals?

Erstwhile maverick and Fidel Castro look-alike Diego Maradona in particular, playing six strikers and no full backs challenged approaches to the Beautiful Game. Whilst Lionel Messi failed to score in their ride to the quarter finals, his individual brilliance is there for all to see, and is clearly operating on another plane.

So where does one turn to for the neutrals of which there are many?

The Dutch aren’t playing the Total Football of their illustrious predecessors of the 1970s but as I said to Dutch Jan, if anyone can out maneuver the Brazilians, the Dutch were right up there.

The Spanish team amazingly lost their first match against Switzerland, but capable of very pretty football, movement on and off the ball and excellent communication and reading.

The Germans lost their second game to Serbia, but have been highly efficient in their lethal pole-axing of both England and Argentina, and with such a young team (especially for Germany) the future looks good for this European team who never fails to over-achieve in the World Cup. Do any neutrals ever support the Germans? It is a rarity indeed.

The Uruguayans only arrived to the World Cup through the play-offs, but they have already won 2 World Cups with a population of around 3 million. Outrageous achievements really.

As we have clearly seen, anything can happen over 90 minutes, 120 minutes and /or penalty shoot-outs.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mad Mike

Mad Mike (far left) and his water craft

So I am encouraged by fish-breeding Steve to join Mike for a morning dolphin and whale watch.

Naively I agree, even though I am enduring “hardship” budget at the moment. Don’t ask me why, but I thought this was a local fisherman and we’d be out on some catamaran or fishing boat. Not at all, Mike has got a state of the art motor raft. A deeply religious man judging by his love of Born Again rock on his car’s cd player in his trailer and the open prayers he performs before taking the “boat” into the wild waters with his twin sixties. I immediately strategically place myself at the stern and he asks me if my glasses are firmly in place before roaring off. My glasses solidly perched but my much loved Juan Valdez baseball cap is not and I lose it in less than 3 seconds.

The raft bounces into the air hovers in mid air for a while then drops into free-fall before the next wave hits us and Mad Mike accelerate further with even further gusto and laughs with his death-wish grin.

This is so not what I expected. And I haven’t even had my morning black filter coffee.

Mike had seen a pod of four whales pass by the coastline on the way to pick us up and he is confident we can catch them up if we hurry.

His confidence is completely misplaced, however much we hurry. He eases us off for a while and we head to where the sea-birds lead us to the spiraling air bubble trap of feeding common and bottle-nose dolphins. There shiny skins glint like electricity as they flash past in the water gorging on the mackerel. Trying to photograph them is impossible with my zoom lens and I don’t even dare contemplating changing to my wide angle in these unforgiving waters. Bird dive-bomb the waters, usually successfully emerging with fish in their mouths. Below the dolphins and the sharks that also join in for this weird feeding frenzy.

dive-bombing bird

Jeans and boots were clearly extremely foolish for the journey as I have to strip to my black silk boxers, jump into the shark infested waters to pull the water travelling devise through two waves and bounce it into 2nd Beach. And all this before 10am!

No whales were spotted and i am in too much shock to complain. Nonetheless it did provide an adventure as I kill time in PSJ and it is certainly interesting to view the coastline from another perspective of the Wild Coast. Wild indeed!