Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Third South African Holidays...

By Frank

So yeah. This was suppose to be part of the Comrades Marathon 2013 race report. But seeing the entry grew too long, I decided that it should be split into 2, the race and the holiday itself.So let's keep thing short now and get my holiday entry started. By the way, I've further edited this entry so it became really compress. Not as detail as before while still keeping attention on what had happened and where I visited.

Day 1, 24 May 2013 - And so, my journey to South Africa began on a quiet Thursday, 23 May 2013 where I spent most of the day at home doing last minute packing before flying off on the 7.30pm Emirates flight. 2 surprises at the airport was Tey coming to send me off while the other being upgraded to Business Class. The entire journey to Johannesburg almost took a day with a 7 hour transit over at Dubai where I spent 3 hours there snoozing off at Snooze Cube. Upon arrival at O.R. Tambo International Airport, the first greeting I got from a local South African was “How are you China”? It was a very usual warm greeting from them as long that one understands that “China” actually meant “mate” for them. Immigration was pretty swift as the officer asked my purpose of visit. Showed him the Comrades Marathon logo on my Be Frank polo tee and he gladly welcomed me with a smile. Pretty warm welcome thus far!

Business class galore.

Upon touching down, I found that the weather was not as cold as last year though. A sign of a different race condition? Mei-Ee and baby Xi Ning picked me up shortly as Chee Kong needed to work. And quickly enough, I found myself at Fourways with Chee Kong working from home. Took a rest while unpacking my luggage before visiting the nearby Lion Park safari. As it was private, there was no problem spotting the games like lion, leopards, hyena, wild dogs and many more birds and antelopes. As for supper, it was a gathering with my fellow Malaysian friends there, Peter and Estee. Great catching up once again after a year, and we had a simple but absolutely delicious Korean cuisine at Rivonia. Upon filling up, I was already feeling wonky due to lack of sleep on the flight earlier hence calling it a day early.

Up close and personal with lion cubs.

With Peter and Estee for an awesome Korean dinner.

Day 2, 25 May 2013 - An early morning club run with Fourways Road Runners. It was their final 10KM club run for the Comrades Marathon and I was surprised that some of them knew me! The run was at a pace that is fast by my standards. I struggled to catch up as I was still feeling wonky plus the altitude of around 1400M isn’t a plus for me. Breakfast of bacon egg burger was served after the run and we all sat and caught up with each other while sending regards for the big race. This is really something missing from the Malaysia running scene. Rested back at home later before swinging over to Lynnwood, Pretoria for Allan’s birthday get-together. And it was great to meet up once again with my South African friends like Anthony, Susan, Allan, Caroline, Pierre and Renee while making new friends in the process. We had a braai session at a school and it lasted till 9pm for us before making our way home.

Suffering at the Fourways Road Runners club run.

Day 3, 26 May 2013 - Nothing much as we visited Caroline’s humongous residence and spend the day at the city centre visiting Market and Arts on Main. Really happening place with so much international food to eat. Absolutely had a blast here before returning home for a short run around the 420M Springfield Park.

Day 4, 27 May 2013 - Spent back at home with a little noon time over at the nearby dentist and hospital with Chee Kong and Mei-Ee doing their health check. I myself did another short run looping Springfield Park again but this time feeling more comfy. Finally adapting to the conditions.

Day 5, 28 May 2013 - An early trip to the airport to welcome CP and Khim to South Africa. Arrival was on time and after having rested, it was my turn to play tour guide. This was also my very first time driving in South Africa and to make matters interesting, it’s a manual MPV and a huge one too! Brought them to the exact same place when I first visited Johannesburg which was the Apartheid Museum, Hector Peterson Memorial and Nelson Mandela’s House. There are historical places which should at least be visited once if one visits South Africa. Everything was done before the rush hour of 4pm where we arrived back home soon after to welcome Roy and Cham this time. We all had dinner together at Monte Casino before calling it a night as all 4 of them were feeling very wonky themselves already.

Hearty welcome breakfast for CP and Khim.

The Pillars of Constitution at the Apartheid Museum.

Day 6, 29 May 2013 - Early departure for Imflonzi National Park at 6am. I was again the driver with Roy, Cham, CP and Khim being my passengers. It was a long drive and we stopped a couple of times at 2 small towns. The second was Polonga for lunch and it was beautiful where a huge dam was. After about  6 hours on the road, we finally arrived at Hluhluwe National Park. It was about another hour’s drive before we arrived at Imflonzi and along the way, I believe it was an eye opener for my 4 passengers as they saw the landscapes and games of South Africa.  The lodge at Imflonzi was actually pretty all right. It was huge! The only downside, the power generators goes off at 10pm and the water heater is powered by gas! To make matters worse, the curio shop has basically nothing and there is no restaurant in the park. But we came prepared with instant noodles and some junk food and nuts. And that settles our dinner before calling it a night after a very long and tiring drive. It was my longest drive!

Lots of warthogs welcoming us at the gate.

Park ranger welcoming us.

Day 7, 30 May 2013 - When we all woke up, we double checked with each other if we heard leopard roaring in the night. It wasn’t a dream after all. The cats were near and let out a few roars! WOOO…  Anyway, we started the morning with a game drive where we managed to spot buffalos, rhino and lion. That’s 3 out of Big 5!

Young white rhino spotted.

Young lion spotted and running away from us.

And after completing our drive and cleaning ourselves up, we left for Durban which was about a 3 hours drive. I was getting tired but was glad to have brought my passengers to the race city safely. And safely we did into the Comrades Race Expo where the first high profile person we met was Stephen Muzinghi, 3 times Comrades champion! Had a photo with him before proceeding to collect our race pack. For international runners, collection was a swift. However, I was given a Green Number race pack by mistake which was rectified quickly. I’ve also met up with MBali whom I picked up my VIP invite from. And from here onwards, it was shopping madness and in the process, I bump into Comrades Marketing Coordinator, Thami before  we check into our hotel at Belaire Suites.

A short rest before we proceeded to Hilton Hotel for the International Meet and Greet session, hosted and organised by Bruce Hagreaves, Australia's Comrades Ambassador. We were a little late and we came in just as Bruce Fordyce, the Comrades King and 9 times champion was giving out his talk. We managed to get a group photo with him and he reminded us that he had a little Malaysian side in him as he did reside at Seremeban during his younger days. Therefore, Malaysia did actually had a Comrades champion, well in a way or little.

With Bruce Fordyce, 9 times champion of the Comrades Marathon.

And soon later back at the hotel, our Malaysian contingent grew bigger with Francis and Fook Seong joining in. We also met Celene from Hong Kong too! Dinner was Thai food this time, something different from the usual South African cuisine which some has grew sick of. Absolute great time together but we all found out the weather is a little on the warmer side. It’s going to be a different race this year!

With Stephen Muzinghi, 3 times Comrades Marathon champion.

With Thami, the Comrades Marketing Coordinator on the right.

Day 8, 31 May 2013 - Early breakfast and finally, the contingent is completed with Kin Kok joining in. After a fantastic breakfast,  next on the itinerary was to tour the race route on our own. We drove in 2 fully packed cars, and entered the route via Botha’s Hill. It was fun to see the expression of the first timers when they saw the rolling hills. Things are starting to heat up. We stopped just before Drummond to have lunch and to enjoy the spectacular view of the Valley of 1,000 Hills.  We then continued on to the Wall of Honour before making a wrong stop at Arthur’s Seat.  Fast forward later, we safely arrived at the Comrades House for a short history lesson. I’ve also finally met up and officially introduced to Sian, museum curator and a whole lot more roles in the Comrades Marathon Association. It was a pleasure after communicating so many times via e-mail and Facebook. Back to Durban after a tiring day and next was the Runner’s World Pasta Party at the nearby Sun Coast Hotel and Casino. Awesome party and talk by the Unogwaja and Dr. Ross Tucker, and not to mention in meeting more friends like Susan and Shaun, and some strangers that eventually became friends too. This is what Comrades Marathon is all about!

The 2013 Malaysian contingent at the Wall of Honour!

A pleasure meeting up with Sian at the Comrades House.

With dear friends Caroline and Susan.

Enjoying the pasta party.

Day 9, 1 June 2013 - Free and easy day, but that’s before running the AIMS Youth Run in the morning. Except for Chee Kong, Francis, Kin Kok and Fook Seong, we all did the 5KM run which includes the 3 ladies too. It was rather badly organised where we nearly could not run it due to missing bib and also wrong time allocation, but eventually we did. It was a fun run but we all enjoyed it very much. And after the run, it was back to the expo as we met up with Barry Holland to have an autograph and chat session with him before having lunch there. And fast forwarding to dinner, it was a simple one at Wimpy before calling it a night. The big day awaits!

Bumped into Bruce, Comrades Marathon Australia ambassador at the AIMS Youth Run.

At the AIMS Youth Run.

Day 10, 2 June 2013 - COMRADES MARATHON 2013 RACE DAY! Read all about it the the link!

Day 11, 3 June 2013 -  And so reality sets in. The Comrades Marathon is over now and we who ran it are now having difficulties walking especially at the stairs. Breakfast was good as we finally bid farewell to CP and Khim who are flying off to Cape Town. Francis and Kin Kok will stay behind while the rest will make our return to Johannesburg. Cham volunteered to drive us back as my legs were just way out of this world. We stopped by a rest area just outside Harrissmith and had a wonderful German lunch. We can see Comrades runners around the stop too and everyone was just limping. Comedy indeed. We arrived home safely and this is where Roy and Cham will bid farewell to us as they had a place to catch at about 9pm. After a simple Indian dinner, we sent them off to the airport before returning off for a well-deserved rest.

Day 12, 4 June 2013 - To Krueger National Park as myself, Fook Seong, Chee Kong and Mei-Eee together with Xi-Ning started our journey late at around 9am. Stopped by a few familiar places like the Alzu Petroport and Yellow Caravan. After about 5 hours drive, we entered Krueger via the Crocodile Bridge Gate where we immediately spotted rhinos! We then headed off to Lower Sabie Rest Camp where we spent our night there together with very noisy hippos that can’t stop making weird noises at night. We had braai for dinner for the curio shop here sells lots of varieties of food.

Entering Krueger National Park via the Crocodile Bridge Gate.

Huge and angry looking warthog.

Sunset at Krueger.

Day 13, 5 June 2013 - Woke up early for the morning game drive. It was a misty morning and throughout the 3 hours drive, we had very little luck. We only managed to spot some very common animals like the zebras, giraffes, impala and some other smaller ones. We did however spotted elephants though at a distance. We left Lower Sabie with out next destination Satara in mind. And just out of the gate, a young elephant bull came charging out of no where. We were lucky indeed that we were out of his path. Soon, I was feeling wonky already and I knew at that time, that I am falling sick soon. But I was lucky that I’ve visited Satara before hence almost everything looks familiar. Upon arrival at the rest camp, I took a rest before going out for a short evening drive. Then it was braai for dinner again at the fence side hoping to attract hyenas but to no avail. I call it a night early as I was feeling really down. Fook Seong gave me some antibiotics and flu tablet and off I went to sleep.

The young elephant bull that came charging out of no where.

Hippos and a couple of crocodiles living in harmony at the Lower Sabie river.

Day 14, 6 June 2013 - I had a long deep sleep. Almost 12 hours and I did not join the rest for the morning drive. However, it was worth it as I felt much better. Left Satara at 10am sharp, our next destination was Olifants where the view was spectacular. Met up with a South African Caucasian while having lunch there and we exchanged some of our Comrades stories. He has ran about 20 plus times! Amazing! We then proceeded on to Letaba, our final camp. Our lodge here was huge. In fact, it was house with 2 rooms. Our usual braai dinner for this night was a feast! We had beef, pork ribs, borewors, potatoes, tomatoes and salad. Had a wonderful dinner here for our it was our final night in Krueger!

Volcanic rocks at the Olifants River.

The chefs in action.

Bon apetit.

Day 15, 7 June 2013 - Departed from Letaba Rest Camp at 6am and exited via Phalaborwa Gate after an hour’s game drive. It’s going to be a long drive back to Johannesburg. Did a couple of stops in between but the most awesome will have to be at Dullstroom where we stop by at Harries for some awesome pawsome pancakes and probably the best red cappuccino in South Africa. Even load up on macadamia nuts here. And after about 10 hours on the road, we finally got home safely. A short 5KM run in the evening before dinner at Shanghai Restaurant, Sandton together with Peter and Estee. Food was average and service was a little tad poor. However, I was pretty impress with a South African black lady waitress who can speak and understand Mandarin. BRAVO! And after dinner, its back home for rest for a run awaits tomorrow.

Phalaborwa Gate. Farewell Krueger National Park.

Awesome red cappucino at Harrie's Pancakes.

Day 16, 8 June 2013 - Had awesome Tigger 10KM Trail Run at Pretoria in aid of a children hospital in the morning, 10KM trail running event sponsored by Saucony. Not many familiar faces at the start, but at the end, it everyone became so familiar. That's what South Africa is all about. The run was held in some private park and upon arrival, we already spotted some kudus, giraffes and zebras. Fast forwarding to the run, the start was a little struggle for me as the rocks were loose. Took it easy and safely and soon, I found people overtaking me! And when we finally exited the hilly rocky area after 3KM or so, it was into a single track trail where I really had fun, smoothly zooming through it. So much freedom.

Zooming through the single track area with Fook Seong chasing me down in yellow.

Meeting up with Tigger at the hill top.

Back on the road at about 5KM, it was an uphill road up to the telco tower. Magnificent view of Pretoria from up there as I was greeted by Tigger! OH, did I mention that Chee Kong was zooming down in second spot when I was running up. Crazy fast! I had fun zooming down too, back tracking to where I came from. Upon entering the single track area, I nearly tripped over a loose rock. Lost my balance but in the end able to avoid falling flat down. *PHEW... Zoom  through the bushes and finally arrived at the open area zooming in closely on Johann. And it was a side by side photo finish with this new found friend! Enjoyable and most do-able run indeed. Only downside, no game spotted during the run. Guess most went into hiding already.

With Johann towards the finish.

While on the way home, Chee Kong took a wrong turn and we ended up turning one big round back to Fourways. But it was a wrong turn worth taking as the journey took us pass part of the Om Nie Dam race route. Beautiful indeed.

Back home, we rested for a while after the run before heading off down town to Neighbourgoods Market for food and to meet up with Peter and Estee again. And I thought it was art. It was pretty similar to Market and Arts on Main but with lots more people and food. After filling up our tummy, it was back home. While the other rested, I started working again. After all, it has been 16 days already away from work. In the evening, we all had dinner at Zen Garden Rivonia, where I had my favourite SzeChuan saliva chicken. Totally heavenly indeed and myself and Mei-Ee wallop a lot of food. And after dinner, we all sent Fook Seong to the airport for reality started to kick in. It’s time to go back home for the next day will be my turn. And after seeing him off, it’s back home for a well deserve rest, but that’s before I finish packing.

Happening place at the Neighbourgoods Market.

Nope, it's spelled correctly - Neighbourgoods Market.

 Day 17, 9 June 2013 - The finale! A meet up with Belinda and John in the morning for breakfast at Citadela. It was a pleasure to meet them both finally at a place which serves fantastic breakfast. And before leaving for the airport, a quick visit to Spar to buy some coffee, biltong and chocolates before reality sets in. My third South Africa trip ends here for my flight was at 2.10pm en route to Dubai making a 4 hours transit there before touching down at home. And so yeah, everything was good except for the luggage back home at KL International Airport which took me almost 2 hours to retrieve. Else, had a wonderful flight back sharing my Comrades story with Lee, an English working in Kuala Lumpur.

Breakfast at Citadela with John and Belinda.

My flight home. Farewell again South Africa and thanks for everything.

And so yeah! It all ends here. A fruitful 17 days trip to South Africa mainly for the Comrades Marathon 2013 which to me was a success not only for the run itself, but the camaraderie and making new friends. All in all, I had an awesome trip that I was sad to leave South Africa for the third time. Can't wait to get myself back there again!

* photos here credited to Chee Kong, Cham, Kin Kok and their respective owners.

1 comment:

cordoba1 said...

HI Frank, great to see you again. You are such a good story teller-you know what-most of the places you have been, I have not even visited yet despite me staying here..lucky you! Take care and see you next year for Comrades 2014!