Lovely Jubbly

We had a relaxed morning in the hotel, visiting the gym which proved, not that it needed proving, that I / we are pretty unfit.

Even after a little 25 minute run I was goosed beyond belief but then again the gym appears to be the only place in the hotel which doesn’t have any air con. Not that that was anywhere near solely responsible for the sweaty mess I was at the end.

We lay by the pool (I would have put chilled out, but it was like 43 degrees and uncomfortably scorching even in the shade) and did the usual pool ball based games.

Something far less fun was another round of schoolwork. It was comprehension time which Zoe hates to do and led to a number of arguments about attitude, listening and her generally not behaving. It’s an issue which we need to resolve quickly before it turns into something much more serious.

We did resolve to seek additional help from them in the know to help us along and improve our methods of dealing with these situations.

One thing we will do when we get to Sri Lanka is attempt to get her into more of a routine – eating at more sensible times, not going to bed at midnight, doing school in the morning where possible, etc.

After that ‘fun’ subsided and propelled by Sue’s desire to shop we headed, via the metro again and a grumpy child walk, to the gold and spice souks in ‘traditional’ old town Dubai – a place which is advertised as essentially what Dubai used to be like before the skyscrapers.

The grumpy child walk was born out of Zoe’s constant requests to get a taxi instead of walking everywhere. Sue and myself had decided previously to get one but didn’t tell Zoe straight away and she effectively had a strop about insisting we get one to the point that I cut my nose off to spite my gorgeous face and told her we wouldn’t be getting one under any circumstances.

So we had a 15 minute walk towards the creek, through narrow streets and what appeared to be a heavily Indian area judging by the aromatic smells wafting around and the rubbish in the streets. By the time we got to the waters edge everyone had kissed and made up, we got an ice cold drink each and I got a wad of napkins to mop my now dripping brow.

The souks are based the other side of Dubai creek and for an extra cheap thrill (22p) you can get a water taxi across, which takes 5 mins and allows some cool scenery. The first one allowed us views as the sunset and coming back later all the neon glitz was in full affect.

They also allowed a breeze to be generated which was frigging awesome at the time.

The spice souk was good, usual level of banter and lovely jubbly / Gareth bale type nonsense as the opening patter from the salesmen when they realise you are English or Welsh as Zoe loves to try and confuse people by responding with.

The gold souk was, well, a bit pants. Although seeing the worlds biggest ring was funny, even if wonderfully pointless unless a giant is knocking around and needs an engagement ring. Also I am not sure that’s a legitimate world record, as that’s definitely not the official Guinness logo now is it.

It was essentially just a wide street of shops selling gold items. Not that surprising I guess but I had visions of narrow lanes with stalls everywhere offering gold bars and ancient rings at bargain prices through the smoky Arabic haze.

The amazing sounding utensil souk (spoons and that) and mattress souk (didn’t see a single mattress) didn’t alter my feelings that any of it was anywhere near as good as the ones we have seen in marrekash or Istanbul previously.

It was also still ridiculously hot, so much so that at one point I moved and a trundle of sweat, which must have gathered in my neck chub or in my hair decided it was time to head south with such force that it went straight down my spine, straight through my butt crack and finished up in a place that nothing should ever enter.

It was equally refreshing as it was disgusting.

After that fun we ended up back in Dubai mall for some tea and to check out the fountain display which we managed to miss the day before.

The display is pretty impressive however over surprisingly quickly. Which Sue has said to me from time to time in our wonderful marriage.

The light and water spectacle lasted 3 minutes to the tune of ain’t no mountain high enough – which made us laugh as that was what Sue sang to Zoe when we were dragging her up Table Mountain a few weeks back.

Might have to try and recreate it with a hosepipe and a torch at some point.

We had a nice wander about the mall but unfortunately I didn’t find the blonde bimbo shop; the must be one around for sure judging by the number of them tottering around in ill fitting outfits and high heels.

Our last night in UAE ended with Zoe falling asleep on Sue whilst on the metro home and Sue still sleeping on the hotel floor.

Rock n roll or what. This travelling lark is proper glamorous.

The last day, fuelled by a lovely relaxed midday check out meant that we ate, swam without rushing before again heading to the mall to while away a few hours.

We watched the fish bimble about in a huge aquarium, watched the rich wander about the commoners like us, took pictures with random things (real dinosaur skeletons, giant ape statues and works of art) and then messed about with radio controlled things way longer than we should have.

I also lost the will as wandering without a purpose I always struggle with, especially when shops are involved.

I think in conclusion that if you look beyond the floggings, stonings and other human right violations, the searing summertime heat and the cost of alot of things it’s really a pretty nice place to visit. Especially if you like pointlessly big things or worldly unique items or I guess vulgar displays of opulent wealth.

I think we will be back in the future but at the time of year which is more comfortable to enjoy the stunning beaches and possible water sport activities.

Next up somewhere I am really looking forward to visit; Sri Lanka.

Ps no gold has been reported on any southern movements as of yet.


Highs and Lows

The bus journey to Dubai was fine apart from me getting attacked by a lift door upon attempting to get out of the hotel.

As you would probably expect the bus was air conditioned, clean and throughly efficient. Every passenger was pretty quiet throughout, apart from me asking Zoe timetables at the start, mainly because of the constant flashing advertisements warning of fines for making noise, drinking, eating and potentially breathing. It was hammered home by the tag line “follow the rules, avoid the fines” which is both catchy and welcoming all in one sentence.

After leaving the city the view quickly turned to vast quantities of sand and general nothingness on both sides of a 8 lane motorway. Only occasionally broken by a huge architecturally unique structure for no apparent reason.

We had a brief taste of the metro system and again it was clean, quiet and efficient like the general public is scared of making a noise or something.

After the smelly and dated hotel in Abu Dhabi I had low expectations of the hostel we had booked for Dubai but even I was shocked at what we found. Mainly because it turns out the bloody thing closed down 2 months before our arrival.

We had a brief panic, then a scout around for another place to stay and found one which wasn’t far away and managed to get a room. On the plus side it has a pool so we spent a couple of hours sunbathing and swimming in the afternoon but on the downside it’s more expensive and also it only has one bed in it for us all to sleep in.

So started a game of who is the stupidest of us all and who wanted to sleep on the floor. Sue was determined to be the most righteous in the group so put her foot down and said she would – I assume she thought that it will be more uncomfortable in bed with the child.

After another round of schoolwork then took place (topic for those of you keeping track) we headed back to the metro and to the Dubai mall and up the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world. One is under construction in Saudi Arabia which is going to be 274 metres higher when finished next year, maybe they are attempting to make up for something.

We had booked tickets to go up to the 124 and 125 floors – pricey enough that we drew the line at that and opted against going up another 30 floors for quadruple the already inflated price.

As you expect from the tallest building in the world, it has some pretty good views of the city from every angle and even through an approaching sandstorm we were suitably impressed.

Also as you can imagine it was massively busy, over busy on occasion with people squashing into every available open glass pane to take a picture or 50.

We did manage to be the first ones out on the observation deck after it reopened, following a brief and unexpected light rain dusting, so Sue went full on instagram pose tastic which amused me no end.

(The 3 T’s; Tower, teeth and tits)

Zoe lost the love quite early on and even a chocolate chip cookie didn’t bring her round so she ended up playing on a phone whilst we watched the sun slowly melt into the horizon.

Upon returning to sea level we had a wander around the mall and outside at the fountains – which we didn’t realise were every 30 mins so left without actually seeing them tonight.

We then attempted to find the 2nd December street, which is a famous place for street food and art and I regret to inform you we couldn’t find it.

Melting in the evening heat we just couldn’t find it, even asking locals didn’t help and we admitted defeat and ended up going to a random backstreet place out of desperation.

(Upon returning to WiFi at the hotel it appears that we were annoyingly just across the street from where it started, we went left instead of right)

I ordered the camel roast – which I thought sounded fun, only to be told that it was off the menu (maybe the camels don’t go in for that type of thing) but they had found some game deer so I had that instead.

I should have asked if it was spicy as when it came it was the hottest deer since bambi.

Happily to add to the experience the waiter took the piss out of me for not being able to eat his fabulous cuisine and seemed to take delight in telling me that it wasn’t even alittle bit spicy for him.

So after all sweating like a workout to find a street we couldn’t find, I sweated through half a meal as I couldn’t manage anymore to finally all trudge back to the same metro stop then sweat like buggery on the walk back to the hotel. It’s a fair suggestion to say that we are not designed for this level of heat.

That said all in all an interesting day!

Ps – this is the floor bed we constructed for Sue from pillows, a bed throw and some sheets.

Pps – turns out it was cold but not to uncomfortable

All that glitters is actually gold

Two midnight finishes meant that Zoe didn’t wake up till after 10 which put a stop to the potential beach visit we had planned.

It probably worked out for the best though as the temperature seemed even higher today when we ventured outside to get a quick taxi to the marina mall instead. It’s a fairly standard mall, complete with an M&S (which Sue seemed to have an inbuilt tracker for as headed straight for it) and air conditioned throughout – which was the primary reason we selected it.

We clearly didn’t think that far outside of the box as the few people wandering round were almost all westerners escaping the intense heat.

We allowed Zoe a choice of the two main activities and she chose a bounce around trampoline type place over bowling. It looked like fun and she came back suitably knackered after an hour or so of bouncing around like a loon.

It was a short taxi ride across the bay to the Emirates palace hotel – the 3rd most expensive hotel in the world, costing 3 billion US dollars when built, which is when you think about it alittle indulgent isn’t it.

Out of curiosity I checked and rooms start at £300 a night for the cheapest and smallest double and top out at a cool £25k.

A night.

£25k a night.

That’s 25,000 English pounds a night.

Which I don’t think I would pay even if I could afford it.

It certainly highlighted the difference to that of the apparent 3 star hotel we are staying in which cost a bargain by comparison £120 for the 3 nights it has the luxury of having us.

I mean ours comes complete with character defining mouldy bathroom and a faint stale smoke smell. Bet you don’t get that level of luxury in a fancy posh hotel.

Walking up the entrance stairs and it was clear we didn’t fit in, enormous gold covered pillars adjoined massive gold mosaic tiles and a live duo played classical ‘hits’ on a gold harp and a chello.

Wealthy looking tourists mixed with the rich business men casually doing some no doubt oil related business while a few no marks like us attempted to act cool and take loads of sly photos in areas you weren’t supposed to.

We had come to sample the delights of the 23 karat gold coffee and cakes and again it was something we had prebooked months before to ensure we got a slot in the frequently sold out eatery.

The food looked amazing and we essentially had a cake and a drink each which took us just over the minimum spend threshold which they enforce.

The cakes were overly chocolatly little drops of heaven and to be honest the coffee tasted pretty average but the glamour and ‘thrill’ of having gold on and in your food is an experience I am glad we did. Plus I got a date and I bloody love dates.

We all wondered if we will see the gold flakes we have put inside our bodies again and promised to look after the next few calls of nature to see if any of it is glittery- if you know what I mean. I will keep you posted.

The 3 drinks and 3 cakes cost an eye watering £73 but we reconciled that with the fact that it is truly, so they claim at the moment at least, a unique thing to do in the world. And everyone knows I am a sucker for those types of things.

Plus we didn’t have any of the Beluga Iranian caviar on the menu which although tempting worked out at a hefty £532 a mouthful.

We had a look for the gold atm I had heard about – an atm which is not only made of gold but also spat out gold bars, gold watches and other gold things I assume, but alas it was removed a couple of years ago according to a big burly security guard. Maybe they melted it down to stick in the cakes.

The day was rounded off by watching the sunset from the Etihad towers, the largest building in Abu Dhabi, just a workout level of sweat inducing short walk across the road from the palace hotel.

Have I mentioned its hot?

We went up the 74 floors and observed the world 300 metres below us for 2hrs whilst sipping mock cocktails and a beer (which I couldn’t resist as it was the first and probably last time I will see one in the UAE).

The views were stunning as the sun gently set in the distance over the presidential palace and the sky scrapers surrounding us, but they could do with some window cleaners as the outside of the building was covered in sand and made getting a decent picture pretty problematic.

Two idiots (not Sue) pretended to be moody bond villains in some swivelling chairs looking out over the streets below and talking about what disasters we would bestow on all the innocent people – I went for a good old giant wave hurtling in from the sea and smashing into the sky scrapers which protrude from the sandy streets below.

We had a relaxed rest of the evening back in the hotel to pack up our stuff, whilst Zoe did some school work, before the early start as we head across to Dubai via bus for a couple of days before the Sri Lankan based fun begins.

Up, Up and Abu Dhabi

Leaving this time felt very strange compared to the Africa leg of the trip. Zoe surprised us with her maturity upon saying goodbye this time and remained much more relaxed about the entire process. It was much more like see you in a few weeks, compared to see you in 9 months and the issues I thought we would have fortunately didn’t massively materialise.

We had a good send off and even had a proper Manchester goodbye – heavy rain and some traffic jams to the airport. Unfortunately we didn’t even get the pre flight traditional pint we were that slender on time once we got through the queues for everything. Least we didn’t have an argument this time about birth certificates (I packed it this time and as expected no one asked for it anyway)

Things got worse before they got better as we had enforced mind pollution by Etihad in the boarding process of a musical style similar to that of Ron Burgundy flute jazz onto everyone. How the hell is that so popular in the world that a; it even exists and b; a major airline decided to use it for 45+ minutes. It was even more disconcerting that both Zoe and Sue separately started dancing to it in a similar way.

The flight was fine, no issues and Zoe even ate most of her airplane grub which was a pleasant change.

Upon arrival the heat and humanity hit us square in the face. I have experienced some changes in temperature before – most notably the first time in Thailand, but this was another level. The only thing I can equate it to is that of turning a fan oven on full whack, leaving it for an hour and then standing right in front of it when you open it.

By the time we got to the hotel and checked in, had a leak repaired in the room and then nipped across the road to a Chinese restaurant it was almost midnight and so we didn’t get to explore much.

Even walking that small distance late at night left us all in various degrees of being sweaty mess’s.

The first proper day saw us head to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is a staggeringly beautiful building, in the morning.

I had no idea that it was so modern, with it only being completed in 2007 and is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates – which I guess is because it’s bloody huge.

He stole the idea after visiting the Taj Mahal and the design is definitely very similar in places to what I imagine it will look like in a few weeks.

Rather excitingly, I guess particularly if you like carpets, it also has the largest handmade carpet in the world. And potentially one of the most hideous as well.

The largest chandelier in the mosque weighs 12 tons and is the third largest chandelier in the world.

Like I said, it’s a big place.

It’s also so bright and reflective in the summer sun that it’s oppressively blinding white light reflections make it hard to look at anything without sun glasses. The equivalent of having a desk lamp thrust into your chops at close quarters in a spy movie I would imagine.

We had booked a free tour which was very informative and allowed us into the main hall, where up to 7 thousand men can pray at a time. The decorations were from all over the world and designed by so many different nationalities that it’s to tiresome to list.

Bit of a shame that he didn’t get to see it finished as he passed away in 2004, but he is now buried within the grounds and they pipe live readings of the holy book 24/7 to him, to ensure he rests in eternal peace. Which is nice.

The afternoon saw us back in the hotel for a few hours to do some school work and get out of the now biblically hot heat (it was touching 43 degrees) before we headed out on a desert safari.

We booked this before we came out as it looked like it did a suitable amount of stupid activities within the one package.

First up was a visit to a camel farm to have a butchers at camels of various sizes and colours. We didn’t stay long but managed to feed some and Zoe got pushed forwards to get extra close to them.

She described them as harder than a horse and quite like a rock, which I am not sure is a compliment or not to the camel.

After which we headed out into the desert properly for what is lovingly known as dune bashing. Basically hammering round the dunes in the 4×4, doing everything but, hopefully not, tip it over.

It was like we were in a rollercoaster but had no idea where the path was. The driver seemed to know exactly where he was going and managed to manipulate the vehicle over the steepest slopes and tightest turns, covering the car in sand and throwing us around inside.

All to the background of dance remixes of early noughties pop music (think shaggy or pitbull) or what the dash claimed was traditional Arabic hard dance music, which I can assure you was bloody terrible.

Everyone massively enjoyed the ride and the laughter and gasps that came from all us seemed to propel him to take more and more risks, frequently smashing the underneath of the chassis on the top of a dune, before gravity took over and we hammered down the other side.

I was holding on so tight, by the time it had finished my hand was pouring with sweat and I kept dropping my phone whilst attempting to take videos from the front seat.

I was happy when we reached the sandboarding stop as to be honest I was going green around the edges and thought I might be close to loosing my lunch into the sand.

It was, shock, baking hot as soon as we stepped out onto the dune in the middle of know where to mess around taking photos and then mess around on the slopes.

Zoe got so hot that she retreated back to the air conditioning in the car whilst Sue and me had a bash at the sandboarding. We only actually had one go down the slope each as Sue also started to struggle with dizziness in the heat, to the point that she came pretty close to fainting whilst walking back up the dune.

Back in the truck everyone recovered on the next leg of the drive, one of the other 3 people in the car (all english) was a 7 year old girl and she started to feel unwell and made use of one of Zoe’s sickness bags. Amazingly Zoe didn’t, despite the heat.

We arrived at the Bedouin camp and had a go on some camels with a short ride into the dunes. Zoe didn’t fancy it and so became chief photographer for us.

We were lucky that the other folks with us had prebooked and paid for 3 quad bikes but didn’t think Faith (the youngster) could drive one and so offered us the opportunity to have it for free. Needless to say Zoe started feeling much better and practically ran across the dune to get to the quad bike. That was only topped by the guide saying that she could drive and sit in front – which was the opposite of what happened in Egypt either this year.

The bikes were good fun, let’s be honest they always are, I took the role of photographer which was useful as Zoe wasn’t for sharing when it came to driving the quad. I had to intervene a couple of times when she was drifting off course, but overall she again did well.

We were back just in time to watch the sunset and for Sue to have some cheesy photos with it before it fully disappeared.

We indulged in all the offerings at the camp, from dressing up in traditional attire (very cool in every sense) to henna tattoos (Zoe has four in total on her arms and legs and Sue had one on her inner arm) and finally with two of us smoking a shisha pipe under the stars and no one of the two wasn’t Zoe this time.

They had cooked a traditional bbq which was tasty and also put on a bit of show with some belly dancing and crazy spinning man – both of which Sue got involved with without much persuasion.

The first 24 hours has certainly got this part of the trip off to a bit of a flyer and the trip ended whilst we lay on the sand star gazing after all the camp lights were turned off.

Think two out of the three of us would have happily not moved all night.

Home sweet home?

So being back in the UK for a little while was an interesting experience for all concerned.

Time spent seeing people, spent on various trips and mini breaks alongside helping folks move meant the time wasn’t wasted but in my opinion could have been much better spent in some wonderful far flung Asian country given the circumstances.

That’s no disrespect to the friends and family we spent time with, but with a fixed deadline of returning to the UK next year, the month spent without much purpose dragged somewhat especially in the usual British summer weather. It has re-emphasised that whilst at home I need the basics of a structure, I don’t think I could be unemployed for along period of time without going out of my mind or ending up even more the size of a house.

(Cornwall bike ride day, pedalling my sister with her dodgy ankle situation on a wonderfully strange contraption)

Combine the hazy blur of memories of the time we were away which are like a distant dream already with the planning required for the next leg and to me it seemed like we weren’t maximising the overall time, a fear we had at the start but something we resolved to live with.(most of the Cornwall crew in St Ives)

It was nice to see people again and it was funny to surprise Lynne on her birthday but easing back into life at home took awhile.

In the time away we had completely forgotten which tap is hot and which was cold, we couldn’t remember how our kettle worked and even which key was for which door.

God knows what we will be like after 9 months away – we probably won’t remember where we live.

I think if we are honest it took a lot of readjusting and was problematic with it not just being the three of us, but constantly within large groups and attempting to accommodate everyone.

(Zoe, pushing her limits again and jumping off cliffs in Newquay)

Trying to please everyone of all ages when not just our little well oiled family caused friction, as you would expect, as did people’s different parenting techniques and children’s behaviour boundaries.

In Cornwall it was a group of 9, in Llangrannog it was 8 and even at home it was a house of 7 (8 including the dog) due to the Mannings moving in To house sit for us.

(Important life lessons continue for Zoe with alcohol pong technique whilst away)

That meant that we were living out of and constantly surrounded by boxes and left us feeling that even at home we weren’t really in our home, which is an interesting experience. As is waking up in a room painted pink and purple, with glittery butterflies adorning the walls and surrounded by high cardboard boxes on two sides.

(The rogues gallery from Llangrannog)

The crossover of us all living together was only a week and I think that was long enough for all concerned, which isn’t meant with any detriment to any parties, as they are like family to us now – meaning we bickered a fair amount and plenty of biting of tongues.

(Dropping off a distant relatives police medals and documents to the South Wales police headquarters and getting locked in a cell)

At times I retreated, like a solider giving up from the front line, to the castle like structure of packing boxes to have golden moments of quietness to myself, in which used to be Zoe’s room.

I have also discovered the joy of having a quiet pint by myself in a pub. Something which I would never have bothered with before this return to the UK.

Maybe I have always under estimated other people’s situation when I have looked down on them in regards to a solo pint or two. I don’t think it will continue upon our proper return to home, but it was pretty nice – especially in Llangrannog to have an hour to my thoughts – god I am old. I think slicing my foot open and meaning I had that time to myself was a bit of a saver for me coming when it did.

(Tenby giving me goosebumps still on a day trip)

The future planning of UAE, Sri Lanka and India have been fun breaks from this and we are attempting to tread a fine balance between nailing things down whilst still maintaining freedom to relax and stay longer in places which we fall in love with. At the moment Sri Lanka is like an open book of opportunities and that is something which gives me excited butterflies, let alone the craziness which India will no doubt bring.

The UAE is, but to a much lesser extent, due to the price of activities and the fact that we have ‘just’ 6 days we have booked a few tours and trips to maximise the stay, whilst not completely blowing our collective load. I even managed to find a hostel, which appears to have a working pool and within the normal perimeters of expenditure.

That said looking lovingly at tree houses in the mountains of Sri Lanka or where the best place is to get a gold coffee in Abu Dhabi, whilst watching homes under the hammer with a house of frequently bickering adults and kids was a contrast which I don’t wish to repeat.

Fair to say we (all I think) are itching to get going again and with UAE first up I am looking forward to the complete contrast from the UK – although not, in all honesty, the 40+ degree heat.

I will admit that it does feel a little more real this time – with the knowledge that unless something goes dramatically wrong we won’t be seeing people again till the arse end of April at the earliest.

That said I can’t wait to get on the plane again. Hopefully this time we will manage to get out of the airport without having an argument.

(Come on you know we are coming back with at least one new tattoo each)

Cape Town

After the effort of Table Mountain we had 3 days of relaxing in and around Cape Town before the flight home.

We had to get the car cleaned after 6 weeks of us being inside it and it being on some terrible roads around the place.

It was utterly rank.

But then after 4927 miles (yep I worked it out) I guess that was to be expected.

We spent time at various food and craft markets dotted around the different bays, sampling different craft beers, haggling over different souvenirs and eating from random stall foods.

We managed to squeeze in some different beaches playing football, volleyball and frisbee, people watching and whale spotting.

We let our minds ideally fantasise about what life would be like if that was a typical weekend in winter, when seeing families walk dogs on beaches.

I think I will forever be dropping these hints.

Whilst down at the V&A waterfront we came across a dog charity who were after volunteers to adopt the dogs or help out in some way like walking them. Zoe was massively keen so we ended up walking 4 random scruffy, smelly pooches around the harbour for an hour or so before she then fell in love with some pups that they had.

I was very taken with a mini Harvey pup that they had and also an excitable scruffy mongrel which seemingly malted everywhere when you even look at it.

We also managed to squeeze in a tobogganing trip on the way to the airport which was good fun. The track was longer than the one we did in Llandudno before we left and pretty much empty meaning no queues at any point.

We had our last bbq, which was consumed under the watchful eye of Lions Head from the back garden and much reminiscing took place about our time away. With far to many a video being produced of the 6 weeks collective pictures.

Thoughts have already started turning to UAE, Sri Lanka and India with planning beginning to occur with everyone getting involved, although Zoe is more excited about going home rather than going again.

Looking at different cultures and events has again got the juices flowing about moving on for me.

I think 6 weeks was right for this leg and I personally feel it is time to move on now to experience something new and again step out of our comfort zone.

I am not ready to go home, but ready for something new.

Don’t get me wrong South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Eswatini and Lesotho have been a great way to start the years adventures, but the clock is ticking.

Just the wondrous joy of 14 hours of being on a plane to come…….

Table Mountain

We had found out a few days before arriving into Cape Town that the iconic cable cars which gently make the steep climb to the top of Table mountain we were closed for 6 weeks due to annual winter maintenance.

That’s the view from the front door of where we are staying – the mountain just peaking through the trees.

This left us with two options; one don’t bother with it and two attempt the walk to the top. We are not currently the fittest family generally and after almost 6 weeks on the road we haven’t exactly been exercising as much as we should have so the decision to attempt the walk was met with some distain by the youngest member of the group.

Especially when we told her that it was better to get up and go and do the climb at least in the morning heat compared to a midday.

It turns out that Table mountain has the exact same height elevation as Snowdon and neither Sue or Zoe have been up that yet, so it was going to be a challenge.

We set off and found the path rough going from the get go. It’s essentially a rocky stepped, big boulder strewn climb, no gentle path just harsh knee knackering steps and gaps you have to clamber up.

We had a few arguments with Zoe who essentially wanted to quit early on and Sue told me off for being to harsh on her (which with hindsight she was correct about).

Sue had her moments on the climb where she doubted her ability to make the top and had an emotional wobble but I was always fairly confident that all three of us would eventually make it.

We made deals with Zoe about evening food choices, pouring bottles of water over me on the climb down (which was really nice in the end), the following days activities and the evenings sleeping arrangements in order to persuade her to keep going.

The zig zagged path gets steeper and narrower the higher you get as it forces you through a narrow gap in the ridge line, which when you pop out on to gave us an incredible view of the south side of Cape Town.

I say incredible, it was mostly clouds and the occasional peak poking through, but the clouds made you appreciate the climb and left us alittle lost for words.

The last section to the top was done using a series of chains to haul yourself up as the boulders were to high and seemed like an extra kick in the teeth when we thought we were already done.

One advantage of the cable cars not working was that only folks who could be bothered to make the climb were on the top – so it was essentially empty.

We saw hardly anyone on the most iconic tourist spot in South Africa.

We had a wander around and then had the picnic we had brought up was consumed looking down at Cape Town with no one else around.

It was blissful and made the climb worth it, whilst at the same time reenergised is for the climb back down.

Zoe was alittle disappointed that the top was table flat, you can never please that child, but we were delighted to be on the top.

On the way down we took our time as when facing the drop it made you appreciate just how steep the climb was (I later found out that a couple of people have died this year falling off the path, doing the same walk and there is talk of closing it due to the risk)

Countless people used Zoe as a reference – essentially if this little girl can do it then you / I should be able. Zoe really didn’t like this, but I found it massively funny when all you could make out was ‘little girl’ from a foreign conversation as we passed folks making the climb.

We hardly saw any children at all doing the hike and it was smug to see everyone struggling up (as we had done hours before) as we came down.

Zoe cooling herself down in a natural shower.

Sue found it tough going down, it seems like she has developed vertigo and thus has struggled with most things height related. Zoe and myself plodded on and left her to make her own way down so we didn’t make it worse by her over thinking the risk to Zoe (she didn’t care about me).

Zoe duly soaked me twice with fresh water from a stream, but it was nice and refreshing, so much so that I did the same to her as well.

In total it took us 2:40 to get up and 2:20 to get down with an hour or so on the top.

When we got back it was ice cold beers and fantas all round followed by a leisurely trip down to the Waterfront to continue the celebratory drinking and some random food in the food halls.

Drunken Penguins

After all thing ostrich we had our last drive of any significance to stellenbosch. Strangely the four hours seemed to drag longer than some of the larger leaps we have done in the past, but that might have been the anticipation of the destination.

I have heard a lot about Stellenbosch from an idiot friends brother who has spent a decent amount of time in and around it and his advice helped us to whittle through the vast number of wine vineyards and eating establishments to maximise our 2 night stay.

As a result we called into a winery just north of Stellenbosch called the Spice route, which was a brilliant experience. The old farm buildings have been converted into a range of different establishments designed to entertain kids and adults alike.

Within the complex you can in spectate buildings do wine tasting, craft beer tasting, craft gin tasting, craft chocolate tasting, craft ice cream tasting and craft coffee tasting.

I think Sue was so excited that she was going to have an accident, that or the fact that she had claimed to have been crossing her legs for most of the 4 hour drive.

After she recovered she did a 7 premium wine tasting, in front of a roaring fire, looking out across the vineyard valley as dark, atmospheric rain clouds rose towards us.

As we still had 30 mins to get to the accommodation I had to make do with the 7 craft beer tasting from the Cape Brewing Company.

It’s the only location they make the various beers and you can see the massive vats and bottling equipment in the museum, come shop, come bar.

Zoe helped me finish the beers as I think she was eager to move onto the other options, as she was massively keen to try the ice cream version.

She did a proper ranking of them and it was funny to listen to her talk about the flavours and mock the wine tasting staff cuff; ‘Dad, this double chocolate brownie ice cream is giving me notes of chocolate brownie’ et al.

We all took part in the chocolate tasting (obviously) where it was 9 different chocolates made by the company, going from the raw cocoa bean down to a 33% solids bar variant.

All were good and we managed to snaffle a decent amount into pockets to ease the last 30 minutes of the drive.

Before they closed Sue also managed to sneak in a gin tasting session, where she sampled 5 different variants and cocktails with gin in. I took great delight in her finding them various ranges of disgusting as I can’t stand the stuff.

It’s definitely somewhere, if the weather was right where you could stay all day as they had a massive kids play area, walking and cycle tracks and shops on sight to wander around.

Something like that in the UK would make a killing, in the right location.

The following day after schoolwork, we went for a wander around the town centre and Sue, sensing my weakness after a crappy nights sleep, bought a number of souvenirs to continue the process of turning our house into South Africa.

Then it was onto a cheetah sanctuary where Zoe and Sue got to get up close to a cheetah. The place itself was a strange set up with not mush going on – it even had big dogs in runs as a display but they both enjoyed the interaction with the cheetah and Zoe enjoyed being artificially aged to 10 for 30 minutes or so.

I saved my pennies for other adventures and they both said upon completion that they were surprised at how rough the fur was and that they stank. Don’t seem so cute and cuddly now do they.

On the way back we went to another winery – Lourensford Wine Estate, which was supposed to do a kids version of the wine tasting alongside, however they seem to have stopped that which was disappointing.

Also they were in the process of renovating some of the inside so Sue did a tasting to a vague background noise of angle grinders – which didn’t really help.

Our last night here was spent in a restaurant called the Fat Butcher, which I had helpfully been calling Pat Butcher for a while.

The entire experience was the best meal out of the trip, surpassing the other nights effort and one which I don’t think we can afford to look to top. (For reference the meal cost more than the two nights accommodation we found, which makes the apartment sound terrible – but it was really nice)

I have never before eaten a piece of meat which tasted so deliciously melt in the mouth perfect, the staff were amazing from start to finish with Zoe and I won’t need to eat for awhile due to the size of the portions.

It’s probably a good thing we only stayed two nights as I would probably need to to invest in some even bigger clothes if we stayed any longer.

Also it was a good thing as I have been massively looking forward to going to Boulders beach since I began planning the trip as I am a sucker for a penguin.

The following mornings drive seemed to bring a degree of closure to the trip as after weeks of blissful ABBA free music, Zoe decided it was time to go back to the start of trip and belt out the Swedish crap again whilst we were all trapped in the car.

Boulders beach is the home of the African penguin and for a fee you get to wander around them chilling out and doing penguin type things.

Within the complex of beaches are different look out spots and an area to swim which is away from the penguins unless you are crazy lucky.

We did see loads up close on the official bit and time seemed to fly as we became penguin voyeurs for awhile. Marvelling at the awesome way that they all look slightly hammered as the move about in and out of the surf and bicker with each other like friends on a night out.

On the official swimming beach, one even swam past us when we were considering going in for a dip in the freezing water, but as we didn’t see another one for the next hour or so everyone stayed reasonably dry.

It was baking hot and the sheer number of the animals in a relatively small space, combined with what Sue described as fairly constant ‘projectile pooing’ meant the area had a certain whiff to it.

We had decided to give Cape point a swerve due to the high entrance fee for standing in front of a sign and instead took Chapmans Peak drive around the coast, which produced what I imagine will be the last stunning coastal drive of the trip.

To be honest we stumbled on the route by complete chance as we were heading to Cape Town via Llandudno – yep, they have a bloody Llandudno.

Happily the decision also meant that by massive chance we drove past Africa’s smallest pub, which after a prompt u turn we had a beer in.

It was a bit of a con as granted the bar was small, but then they had shed loads of outside, but covered, tables to sit at – not sure Guinness would sign that one off if ever asked.

After visiting the highest pub in Africa and now the smallest pub, I will have to google the biggest pub in Africa and hunt that down on further adventures.

The SA version of Llandudno looks like a rich suburb of Cape Town, with a steep road down to a sandy beach, flanked by houses of generous proportions and folks driving round in expensive looking cars.

We spent 30 minutes messing around in the sand with Sue harassing locals about pronunciation of the name to compare with back home.

The ’famous’ ice staking, sand boarding, caves and ostrich kisses quadruple

With the deadline of a flight looming we now have a firm plan of when and where we need to be places; 1 night Jeffreys bay (beach), 1 night Oudstohorn (hills) 2 nights Stellenbosch (wine) and the rest in Cape Town (you should all know what’s in Cape Town)

For some reason I had some mild anxiety about firming that plan up and attempting to squeeze as much in as possible to the last days of being in South Africa.

With that in mind we left Cornish pineapple country in good time to head to Jeffreys bay via Port Elizabeth and for the lady folk to go ice staking.

Most people know that I am not a fan of ice staking because of the whole thin, sharp blades vs my soft delicate office dwelling fingers (plus it brings back terrible memories of proposing in New York) but in the spirit of the trip I was prepared to do it but my dodgy knees weren’t.

They have been sore of late (think all the driving) so I took up my usual role as chief luggage holder whilst the other two glided round with the usual high level amount of grace.

We then proceeded to wander around the mall with iced coffees and played on arcades – it was all very much like I imagine spending a Saturday morning in some no mark American backwater town.

We had decided to skip staying in Port Elizabeth (home of Ironman in SA so that could be a good excuse to come back) and instead opted for the smaller, more beach oriented Jeffery Bay almost an hour south. We only really had 24 hours so after finding the accommodation and organising the sandboarding for the following morning, we hit the beach for a wander. The wind picked up though so we found some craft brewery bars by the seafront to escape it.

South Africa seems to combine craft beer with craft gin where both are on draft, which is a novel and unsurprisingly pleasing combination for most of our travelling party.

They also seem to love the wine, gin, beer tasting boards so we thought it rude not to indulge, especially considering the relatively tiny cost (each one was £3-£4 pounds)

Zoe made friends with a South African kid (swapped addresses and everything) whilst we made friends with some local wine, beer and gin as afternoon slipped pleasantly into evening.

The sandboarding it turns out is weather dependent and as the weather in the night was best described as stormy (read bloody windy and lashing rain) the activity was unfortunately cancelled, so that will have to go back on the list of activities to do at some point.

So we headed to Odutshoorn earlier than originally planned to do the activities a day earlier, thus freeing up time in Stellenbosch for Sue to get even more hammered.

The journey was again through big mountain vistas which made snowdonia look like Belgium and with heavy rain and some nice winds it made for interesting driving.

We also had the situation where for the first time I thought we were about to be stranded in the middle of nowhere due to running out of petrol. I can only assume that the gauge was stuck when we left the beach in the morning as the distance and time driving should have had loads of leeway before we needed to fill up.

Que the light coming on 80k’s from the destination and in the middle of nowhere with no garages to be seen. That meant lots of coasting down hills, turning the air con off (top gear tip – not sure how legit) and generally me being worried about having to hitchhike to find fuel.

We made it – but I think it must have been on fumes and I confidently told the trapped audience that, that was optimal planning and technically I just saved us all money.

The attractions we went to see were the Congo caves and an Ostrich farm.

I have heard lots about the caves and claims surrounding it being a must see activity and after everyone enjoyed them in Majorca last year it seemed to make sense.

They were found by some dudes years ago with a tiny lamp, who basically went for a walk and then realised it led to a bloody massive chamber with loads of smaller routes off it.

It’s complete with rock formations which have been aged at 1.5 million years old, and 100 metre stalagmites and stalactites.

It was pretty good but it was all abit strangely underwhelming despite the tour guide frequently singing to show us the impressive acoustics.

We just had enough time to fit in the other main attraction in the area – that being an ostrich farm, where you get a tour of the farm, including loads of information then get up close and personal with a few birds and standing on eggs.

Needless to say this was a lot more fun than the caves and being up close to them makes you realise how awesome and powerful an animal they can be.

Zoe surprised us by wanting to touch them, do the ‘hug’ which is essentially holding a bucket of food and letting them clamber over you and also fed one from her hand.

We both had a go at that and it hurts when they bite you – I never realised that they don’t have teeth (they eat stones to bash up food in their stomachs) but the peaks are rock hard.

They are certainly strange animals and I couldn’t get Jurassic park out of my head with those raptors chasing humans around as at times it felt very similar, it must be the similar looking feet.

We also got to stand on some eggs to prove how robust they are. I wasn’t nervous about breaking them, honest.

Sue enjoyed the experience as well but later when out for tea she must have had an axe to grind as she ordered an ostrich fillet.

The meal out was the best meal of the trip so far – probably because it was the most expensive – but it did include a free return taxi and 2 free glasses of wine.

The low point was where Zoe somehow discovered some of my solo travel special pizza mister-meaners which we won’t go into right now, but I think she will use at various points in conversations with some of you in the future..

So not quite a ‘famous’ quadruple but certainly a fun hat trick.

Rainy Cornish Pineapples

Both myself and Sue were up earlier than the 5am alarm call; me due to my strange body clock thing and Sue as she has reacted badly to a couple of recent bites which have swollen up her arms (ala Thailand bites in the past) meaning sleep is at a premium for her at the moment.

Despite that we were in generally good spirts and managed to get Zoe into the make shift backseat car bed without her properly waking up.

The going was good and we hammered along avoiding potholes, under a freezingly clear star filled sky, in silence apart from the gentle snoring from the back seat.

It was a surprisingly easy journey for the 8 and a half hours covering 654Km, with dual carriageways a premium up and down massive mountain ranges which even dwarfed Blyde’s earlier beauties.

Zoe again was picture perfect in the car and didn’t moan once about being bored, which shows how much she has adapted from when we started.

The only overly strange occurrence was a stretch of about 50kms where we saw double digit dead dogs on the side of the road, victims of the enormous speeding lorries and crazy local driving I assume, rendering the poor pooches in various disintegrated states. I christened it dead dog alley – which I am sure helped the time flyby.

It was just massively bizarre to see so many in such a short period of time considering how many hours and hours we have done this trip and not seen a single one that anyone could recall.

Maybe the vultures had gotten to them first.

We found the accommodation and were confronted by a rather rotund German man who was overly keen to tell us his Wrexham based stories (his home town is twinned with it and his wife once went) which is the opposite of what you want when you need a pee, a stretch and an ice cold beer.

When I asked for the WiFi password later he cornered me and covered a range of topics including the suicides of his old German army sniper buddies, his wondrous views on Brexit (I know you want to know, he was all for it), Freemasons and his now seemingly knackered back. Twenty minutes later I retreated; still without the bloody password. No wonder his wife appears to have buggered off back to Germany without him.

After unpacking we went to explore in and around the beaches in Port Alfred and admire the crashing waves and two idiots out of the three of us got soaking wet when pushing our luck alittle to far.

Bet you can’t guess which two.

After which some general beach tom foolery took place involving crabs, coral and shells of various eclectic shapes and sizes followed by Zoe discovering junior monopoly back at the German prisoner camp accommodation.

You will be pleased to know that junior monopoly is a whole less tedious than normal monopoly and generally takes a fraction of the time to complete. Which is great apart from being forced to play multiple games of it back to back.

The blissful evenings sleep was interrupted by Zoe walking into our room with a full on nose bleed, which seemingly just decided to start in the middle of the night.

She managed to decorate 2 pillows, a duvet cover, a sheet, a mattress protector and then both of her and Sue’s pyjamas in impressively large drops of blood.

I managed to avoid any blood, by taking the courageous action of staying in bed and letting Sue play nurse.

The following day we had a lazy morning stealing a hotels wifi and sorting out the rest of the places to stay. After which we went to nearby Kenton on Sea, which is as British as it sounds.

Like a nice Cornwall beach on a sunny English summers day, but empty apart from a few dog walkers.

The whole area reminds me of a typical British seaside resort, if it was transferred to a hot climate, modernised and then lost 90% of its visitors. It very much seems like it would be a nice place to bring up a child, or to lazily retire to.

The British theme continued the next morning when we were woken by lashing rain and high winds, which although disappointing wasn’t disastrous as I already had a plan for the morning.

Thats because the last full day in Port Alfred was inadvertently sponsored by pineapples. Mainly because I discovered that the worlds biggest pineapple was just down the road, we had a pineapple for lunch and Zoe chose a Hawaiian pizza for her tea.

Not sure which was more impressive to be honest.

Clearly on the discovery of the world biggest pineapple I would have to go take a look at it, so I cajoled the other to literally fever pitch excitement to make the 15 min drive to stand around and in the (less than) impressive structure in the mornings fading rain.

Zoe was quick to point out it’s not an actual pineapple, just a building made to look like a pineapple, but come on – look at it.

It’s a big pineapple in the drizzle.

The worlds biggest pineapple in the drizzle none the less.

We stayed about 10 minutes and bought a small pack of dried pineapple to absolve our guilt on leaving so quick and not being ill judged by the attendant. But really once you have seen one display about pineapples you don’t need to really see the other 100 or so that they had.

The afternoon was spent doing some schoolwork (healthy bodies with a heavily pineapple orientated slant) in the improved weather and packing for travelling further west along the coast towards Cape Town with alittle over 10 days now left.

Least we have actual Cornwall to look forward to a couple of days after we get back although I think the weather will probably be the worse.