Monday, June 30, 2014

My Fourth South African Holidays...

By Frank

South Africa here we come!

It was my fourth trip to South Africa for my third Comrades Marathon. This time round, I travelled with Susanah and spent 13 days there, probably one of my shortest trip. My idea was to get there early, this time a week before the race day to settle down and rest up. It was to ease up the jet lag, breathing issues and leg strength before we tackle the big race. However, there is a concern as upon arrival at Durban as I was worried I am not able to fully make use of the available time to bring Susanah around. Durban hasn't a lot of attractions and most are at least long drives away, half a day long to be exact. However, I guess it had to be done as the race was the biggest priority.

As for myself, it didn't go down very well either as I did not recover fully from my cough. It had been a month and although it went away, it returned just before making this trip. And during the course of the trip, I am both grateful and thankful to Susanah for caring for me and providing me with Vitamin C and also to CP for buying all the way from Malaysia some cough lozenges. But anyway, to cut things short, let's get into the details of my holidays there.

Day 1, 26 May 2014
Flight was at 2am on board Emirates. So the plan was to arrive at Susanah's house at 11pm and her dad will drive us to the airport. However as dad was not well, he drove me to her house and I arrived early at 10.30pm and hence I waited. However, there was a little drama as Susanah's main luggage was locked up and the combination code wasn't working. We tried various numbers hoping that we will get lucky but to no avail. Without any solutions, we decided that we shall think about it upon arrival at South Africa.

We left for the airport together with Catherine and Moxie too. Everything went smoothly and upon checking in our luggage, we just hung around till we boarded the plane. Flight was smooth and we treated ourselves to the movies on the entertainment system before arriving at Dubai. It was a 5 hours plus transit there. We shopped for a while for nuts and drinks before finding a spot to rest till our next flight to Durban.

Surprisingly, the flight to Durban was not fully occupied. We finally arrived at King Shaka Airport at Durban at around 5pm. A little drama at the customs as our bags needed to be check and we still can't get Susanah's bag open. Finally, it was decided that we shall use a screwdriver to remove the zipper's latch and that finally worked and we got ourselves cleared.

Proceeded to collect our rented car which was the Nissan Livina before driving to Belaire Suites. Upon arrival at our hotel, a little drama as there was a beggar came begging for money and food immediately after I parked my car. He was crying and even I gave him some money, he wanted more. I couldn't make up what he was saying as it was in Afrikaans but the parking attendant chased him away. Unloaded our luggages and checked in our room at 202, a nice one though not high enough to enjoy the sea view. As we have spent almost a day travelling, decided to just have a simple dinner downstairs at Cafe Jiran before resting up.

Day 2, 27 May 2014
The sun rises as early as at 6.30am and that woke us up pretty instantly. Put on our running shoes and off we went to the North Beach for a run where we ran till the uShaka Marine Park entrance before heading back which gave us a healthy 7KM. A quick sower and it was breakfast, the most anticipated part of our stay at Belaire. It was still as good as my past 3 visits with bacons, scrambled eggs, grilled tomatoes, waffles, fruits and many more. The only difference this time for me is that we sat at the little garden which was nice and cozy. We certainly had our fill which was like a combination of breakfast and lunch.

Next on the itinerary was to drive to Umlanga Rocks, another beach. Though the sun was a little scorching and warm, it didn't dampen our walk along the beaches walkway which was rather a nice view of the Indian Ocean. Then while on our way back to our car, we stopped by a little craft shop to purchase some gifts before we headed to Gateway, Durban's largest shopping mall I guess. And yes it was huge!

Spotted the Springboks team bus at Umlanga Rocks.

Although the mall was huge, it was still like any typical shopping mall back home. I bought myself a First Ascent jacket hoping to use it for the Vibram HK100 next year. And from Gateway, we headed back to North Beach as we paid a visit to uShaka Marine Walk before heading to Piatto for an early dinner.

We returned to our hotel room early and I was worried. Durban's attraction wasn't a lot and we still had days to kill before the race day. I was worried Susanah was bored and hence tried to look out for places to visit. We found a hiking place call iSithumba near the Valley of 1000 Hills and decided to head there tomorrow and hence we rested early.

Day 3, 28 May 2014
We woke up early again and hence proceeded to North Beach for our 7KM run again before breakfast. Although it's only the second day, I think I can actually go by this lifestyle. Wake up, run, eat, shower and so on. A very carefree life.

Tourism Durban and the Comrades Marathon Association has organised a complimentary trip to Imflonzi National Park for the Comrades ambassadors today. It was certainly a good package for us but I opt to pass on it as I will rather spend time with Susanah., hence it was still according to our own plan.

First stop for today's trip was to a nearby craft market call Victoria Street Market for some local crafts at down to earth prices. I felt I was at Petaling Street there and it's really down to bargaining skills which Susanah was really good at, and I mean REALLY GOOD! I did not buy anything for myself as most were already purchased back during my first trip. However, it was still an eye opener for me and I was glad that we made this stop.

Once done, we set our GPS hoping it will lead us correctly to iSithumba. We drove along part of the Comrades race route for this and finally we got lost in some housing estate where the GPS guided us. Apparently, I think the place was huge hence it was plotted wrongly. Again, my worry came as we search for another place to visit and decided on a private wild life park near to Drummond. And upon arrival, it was sad to know that the park wasn't really attractive and the charges was pretty high. Another plan was needed and hence I brought Susanah to the Comrades Wall of Honour and also halfway point at Drummond before stopping over at The View for lunch or rather tea time while enjoying the view of the Valley of 1000 Hills. I ordered the Bunny Chow. I also brought her to the puzzle store to have some brain "exercise".

Bunny Chow and they are not made of bunnies.

We headed back to Belaire Suites to freshen up before walking over to Sun Coast Casino for dinner at John Dory's Seafood. We then visit the casino to try our hands on the slots machine and we won a few Rands, as in a few cents before heading back to call it a night.

Day 4, 29 May 2014
No morning run today. Instead, it's leg exercise at the race expo for it's the first day. Breakfast as usual and off myself and Susanah went. I initially thought the first day is going to be brisk and easy, but I was wrong. Though there weren't many visitors yet as it was a working Thursday, many of the international runners had already arrived which caused a long queue at the international race pack collection. Mark from the USA and Bruce from Australia, 2 of the most outstanding ambassadors were already there and were busy entertaining and giving out drinks to the others.

It took us almost an hour to collect our race pack and it wasn't an experience that I would like to remember. It was slow as they have trouble locating the race packs and the contents were inconsistent. Nevertheless, I was delighted to have met up with Kai Yuan whom I've met from Facebook first.

With Eric, organisers of the Year to Year 6 Days Circuit Race.

With Allan from New Balance. Sorry but I do not wear NB.

With Saucony South Africa.

Later on, it was shopping time and along it, I've met many of my dear South African friends like Eric, Philip, Allan, Spike, Anthony and Susan. Again, I bought myself an iFitness belt, the same as my previous 2. Can't leave South Africa without it I guess. Then some small gifts from the official Comrades charities like PinkDrive. WildLands and Community Chest. And not forgetting the official merchandise from New Balance which I have to say was disappointing. Susanah herself bought quite a number of things though and she was good in bargaining.

Anthony and Pierre, awesome and a little crazy South African friends.

I opt to pass on the ambassador's run, international meet-up and also the AIMS World Congress Dinner and we stayed on till about 3.30pm before heading to the airport as our friends Cham, CP and Selva are scheduled to arrive around 6pm. And after picking them up, we headed off to Ocean Basket at uShaka Marine Walk for a welcome dinner. Chee Kong and Mei-Ee soon landed safely too and headed to Belaire Suites straight where I met them later for some catching up before resting up as most were tired from all the travelling.

Cham, CP and Selva' arrival at King Shaka Airport.

Selfie with Xi-Ning.

Day 5, 30 May 2014
With the team almost complete now, we headed off for our morning run before the usual breakfast. Durban is now busier and also noisier than before with the arrivals of the runners. Expo was next and while the rest collects their race pack, it was shopping part 2 for myself and Susanah before we headed off to the Comrades Marathon House at Pietermaritzburg.

Team Malaysia's morning beach run.

Spotted Renee and Johann with family at the expo.

At the Comrades Marathon House, it was my pleasure again to meet Sian, the museum curator. Just a short stop here before we started our journey back to Durban via the race route stopping along major landmarks. It was also a preview for the novices. We made a stop at Drummond which was very windy and chilly before a stop at the fame Wall of Honour for some photography session and it was back to Durban from there.

With Sian.

A very windy situation at the Wall of Honour.

A short rest before we headed to Sun Coast Casino again for the Runner's World Pasta Party. As last year we went rather late and had a little difficulty with our seats, this time round we went too early. In fact we were the first to arrive. But this time round, the seats were already allocated and all of us were seated together. We even made sure we were seated with Susan and Caroline who arrived shortly later. The dinner started a little late but this time round, food was served first rather than starting off with the talk. And when the announcement was made, Susanah, Caroline and Chee Kong took the honours of being up at the "podium" for top 3 food grabbers. The food was better than last year that we took a few servings. Some of the food served was cheesy spaghetti and fettuccine, mushroom lasagne, mince beef sauce and potato salad being served. Fruits and dessert came at the closing stage though. And while eating, the famed Dr. Ross Tucker took to the stage with 4 of his speakers from the sports science faculty of University of Cape Town.

At the Runner's World pasta party.

They spoke about training, injuries, bio-mechanics and also the Comrades Marathon which was very interesting especially from Ross himself. We continued with our dinner while they talked and quickly enough, the event came to a close. Susanah approached the physiotherapist for some advise which back fired instead as the reply wasn't something favourable to her. At that time, I really hope it didn't dampen her spirit as we return to our room next to prepare our race gear before turning in.

Day 6, 31 May 2014
Today, the plan was to rest. No Youth Run as per last 2 years and I slept in. The other went for the Park Run though. I slept a little longer and woke up just in time for breakfast with Susanah, Cham and CP. Then we decided to walk over to the expo to have embroidery done on our event tee. Halfway walking, I asked Susanah on whether did we bring our tee and silly us, we left it back in our room hence we got to walk back. Take it as our warm up for tomorrow's race.

We got to the expo and handed in our tee. 2 hours was the waiting time and hence we walk around the expo hoping for some further reduction of price. However, nothing caught my attention and quickly enough, our tee was ready. Walked back to North Beach and settled at Wimpy for an easy lunch before heading back to the room to get our gears prepared and to rest.

As my gears was ready, I helped Susanah with hers and also to study a little on the race course before I started packing my luggage a little. It won't be easy to pack after the race as we are checking out the next day so I guess it's better to pack as much as I can before the whole body starts aching.

And quickly enough, it was dinner time at 6.30pm and this time, we have pre-booked Cafe Jiran downstairs for a simple but yet satisfying dinner of chicken chop. The mood was good though I can see in the eyes of especially Susanah and Cham that they were nervous. However, each of us kept positive, or at least tried to. By 8pm, everyone was back in their room and it was an early lights off after some final preparations.

Day 7, 1 June 2014
COMRADES MARATHON 2014  RACE DAY! Read all about by clicking the link.

Day 8, 2 June 2014
I believe most of them slept through the morning. However for me, I woke up pretty early and boy my entire body especially the legs were sore. And when I woke up, my phone was flooded with messages back from home congratulating on my success. Thank you my friends but at that time, I wasn't still very comfy as I was still worried about Susanah. She too woke up early and felt better already. We freshen ourselves up before heading down for breakfast with the rest.

It was the usual funny scene at the lobby where we see funny walking Comrades runners. Those wanting for a bite had to make themselves to the food. Some were seen wearing their medal around their neck too. We all enjoyed our breakfast for this was a meal that tasted so tasty after a hard run. Besides, this would be our last meal at Belaire this year before retuning next year so we better enjoy ourselves before our long drive later.

One for the album before we leave Durban.

After breakfast, we headed back to our room to clean ourselves up and to packed up before meeting downstairs for check-out. We hung around at Cafe Jiran for a while before I sent Cham, CP and Selva over to Gateway before I headed off to King Shaka Airport to return my car. Myself, Susanah, Chee Kong, Mei-Ee and Xi Ning will continue with our trips to Kruger National Park via Zululand and Swaziland while the rest will make their way home.

The journey to Zululand was on familiar roads. Nothing pretty to much to see so it's mainly chatting and sleeping throughout the journey. Chee Kong was a machine though as he didn't look very tired after all the running and was driving all the way without an complaints. Salute to him!

We stopped by a nearby small town to buy some food to braai for dinner later from the SPAR supermarket before entering the safari. Nothing much to see though and hence we headed straight to our lodge call the African Spirit Lodge. It was a nice place and we stayed over at a huge bungalow that came with a nice garden for bomo and braai.

South African Spirit Lodge.

I became the "guard" for the living hall this time. Don't be mistaken though as it was actually pretty comfy and with the huge space, I was king. The only worry was perhaps warthogs and baboons came invading during the night. Hahaha... We are in a safari after all. Settled down, and we started preparing dinner. Unlike last year where I was ill and did not take part in the preparation, this year I was all systems go, well except for my legs. There was a big step separating the house and garden hence it was difficult to move up and down there hence with the help of Susanah, we passed the food using the "conveyor" system. Chee Kong was doing what he does best, the fire while myself and Susanah cutting and preparing the salad in the kitchen while cooking the pasta. It was all a team's work and soon enough, a wholesome dinner was served. There was chicken, borewors, butternut, pumpkin, salad, macaroni and not forgetting Castle Lite too! Well, I only had a sip of the beer though.

Life's good and simple.

We sat around the fire enjoying our dinner under the stars twinkling at the clear sky. We chatted away and life was good and this was a moment to be cherish. It took things away from the mind as we relax in the cool weather. I will certainly remember the moment we all spent here.

Day 9, 3 June 2014
Next stop was Hlane Royal National Park in Swaziland. Yeap, we are are exiting South Africa to another country. I woke up pretty early and though I had a good sleep, I though I heard sounds from animals during the night. However, Chee Kong mentioned that it was from Xi Ning. Hmmm...

Anyway, breakfast was just plain simple, bun and coffee and we were already on our way. It's about 2 to 3 hours drive so it isn't too taxing. We arrived at about 2pm, just in time for lunch and I had a shock upon entering! As the gates were all manually open, I had to do the honours. Did not noticed that it was electrified and without any precautions, I touched the wire which send a high voltage shock to my body. My body went numb and though painful, I didn't end up being braaied.

Got electrocuted here.


After checking in and registering myself and Susanah for the sunset drive, we had lunch there while enjoying the spectacular views of the rhinos at the water hole. Then we moved into our huge bungalow where each of us has a separate room. 2 issues with this park will be that there is no electricity hence candles is used to light up the night. Even the shower uses gas hence the inconsistency of hot water. And speaking of water, the pipe water can't be drink at all as its murky. Luckily we had plenty of mineral water.


With the ladies.

Rested for a while and soon it was time for the sunset drive. The truck used wasn't as big as those in Krueger and somehow, the view was distorted by a net. The only good thing is that it is almost guaranteed that we will spot the animals as although this is a wild safari, it is owned by the Swaziland King and the park isn't very big. Only myself and Susanah went though as Xi Ning wasn't allowed hence both Chee Kong and Mei-Ee stayed back.


Lioness among the pride.

Soon, we spotted the lions, both lioness and the cubs. Amazing sight. The male lion was actually around, just that he was sleeping and was showing us his bum. What a rude lion! Next stop was with the elephants, a lot of them and we were really close to them. I thought we were too close in fact! We stop near them and the ranger served us drinks while we ask questions and see them feed.


Beautiful Swazi sunset.

After a while, the sun began setting. It was a beautiful sight to behold. And before darkness came, we returned to the spot where the lions were. We waited longer this time and it paid off. The male lion finally woke up from his long slumber and with a kill with him, he began to feast. We also spotted a lioness feasting on a kill. We ended our drive here and returned to the camp. It was overall a fruitful one, a first for Susanah too and I hope she enjoyed it despite some uncomfortable stories about the difference between men and women in Swaziland.

The male lion is awake!

We headed back to our hut or rather bungalow to clean up before heading back out for dinner. We had to bring our lamps with us as it was pitch dark. Talk about candlelight dinner. Once done, it was back to the hut. Susanah rested early as guess she was tired from the drive while I chatted away with Chee Kong. A nice chat with a buddy face to face rather than our usual Facebook Messenger. Had a good time with Xi Ning too before we all grew tired and sleep awaits.

Day 10, 4 June 2014
Despite no electricity and the hut smack in the middle of trees, I had a good sleep. No sounds from animals, or at least I did not hear them nor mosquitoes attack. Everyone was awake at the same time and it was the same simple breakfast like yesterday. Life is just better being simple. Lots of warthogs were around though and after some photography, we were soon on our way to Krueger National Park.

Our entry point will be Crocodile Bridge Gate. Drive was pretty smooth including clearance at the customs back into South Africa. Had a few stop along the way for food before the usual stop at the petrol kiosk just outside Krueger where we stock up with some food for braai later in the night.

The Crocodile Bridge Gate river crossing.

Upon arriving at the Crocodile Bridge Gate entrance and having our registration done, a few warthogs welcomed us. We then took a short drive towards Lower Sabie Camp, a camp famous for the hippos and the nice view of the Sabie River. And on the way there, we spotted elephants, rhinos, impala, giraffes and so on. Once arrived, we were surprised to see that the cafe has been upgraded to Mugg & Bean and we had our lunch there while enjoying the lazy view of hippos sleeping away.

Hippos with one opening it's mouth!

We then moved into our nice cozy safari hut located by the river bank. After unpacking a little and rested for a while, we then went for an evening drive of our own, a time where the hippos come out and play by the nearby water hole. It was a fruitful drive but I wish my camera lens was longer. We then headed back, clean and freshen up and its time to braai again.

Sunset at Sabie River.

For tonight's braai, we had avocado salad prepared by myself and Susanah, while Chee Kong took charge of the fire department with steak, mushroom and sweet potato. Nice simple dinner as again, we chatted under the bright twinkling stars. The only thing missing was the sound of the hippos. Surprisingly pretty quiet compared to my last visit. So I guess it's going to be a pretty good night sleep as we turned in early to get some rest for tomorrow's morning drive.

Day 11, 5 June 2014
It isn't that quiet after all in the night. I did hear some sounds from the hippos but that wasn't the reason that I was awoke most the night. My mind was thinking or rather somewhere else. It's an on and off night for me. And soon, it's 7am, time for our drive. Except for the major cape buffalo road block, there wasn't anything much to see and hence after an uneventful drive, we were back at Mugg & Bean for breakfast before turning to our hut to clean up before leaving for our next destination, Satara Camp, famous for its lions.

Cape buffalo.

It was a pretty long drive there and the sun was rather scorching. We had a stop in the middle of our journey for snack but later, it was pretty fruitful as we saw a few big tusker elephants together and some interesting sight of them digging and drinking from the ground. The rest was the usual impala, zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck, giraffe and so on before we arrived safely at Satara Camp.

Young elephant drinking from the ground.

Big tuskers!

Waterbuck spots a white ring around their bum.

Though the Curio shop was open, it was only half in space as it was under renovation. Nothing much to buy here and after registration, we again ended up at Mugg & Bean for lunch before checking into our hut. It was nice little cozy hut but not as nice at the one at Lower Sabie. The usual unpacking and resting before myself and Susanah went for the sunset drive.

The sunset drive was 3 hours long and initially I gave up hope on spotting any of the big 5 as I thought the ranger wasn't really good. He was explaining to us birds and grass! But he had some instinct in him where later in the drive, when the sun has set, he stopped at a spot. And out of a sudden, appeared the leopard! After 3 trips to Krueger National Park, I finally spotted the leopard.  Everyone rushed to grab their camera and snapped away as this is one predator that is rarely seen. I only managed 4 shots and weren't very clear but was satisfied. And on the way back, we spotted the African black civet cat and also chameleon. Trust the ranger to be able to spot the chameleon which is so small resting on the tree branch. 

Finally, the leopard!

African black civet.

We arrived back safely at the camp after a successful drive and this is where I stop my entry for this day as I do not want to talk further from here.

Day 12, 6 June 2014
We left Satara at about 6.30am, or was it 7am?  It's going to be a long drive to Johannesburg hence the early departure from Satara. We exited Krueger National Park from Orpen Gate and proceeded to Graskop for breakfast at Harrie's Pancake. On the way there, we got flagged down by a traffic officer for entering the lane just a little too late at the traffic lights. The fine was R500 and Chee Kong needed to go over to the police station. And apparently, a ticket is to be issued on the spot where it can be paid at the post office. Apparently the lady officer didn't agree with it and we did not have the traffic act with us which can proof that we were right. But after a while, the officer I guess got fed up and let us go. Basically, I think she just wanted some side income for herself.

Arriving at Graskop, the town this time was clear without any mist unlike my previous visit and I had my usual trout pancake with plunger coffee. Bought my favourite dark chocolates from The Chocolate Shop before getting 20 packs of macadamia nuts from the locals. It was all down to negotiating again and Susanah and Chee Kong did most the job and we got a pretty decent price for it. 20 packs for R260!

We continued our journey via Panorama and we skipped Dullstroom and headed straight onto the highway before making another stop at Alzu's Petroport. Wanted Susanah to catch the view of the animal farm here which consist of the handsome Eland antelope, rhino, ostrich, emu and zebras. It was a short stop here as we needed to head to McDonald's at Witbank where Chee Kong is to meet up with his friends there before our final destination at Johannesburg where we need to check into our accommodation by 5pm.

After some drama of our vehicle almost running out of petrol, we finally arrived at The Fourways Guest Lodge just a little late. However, the owner was kind enough to stay back a little to process our check in. It was a nice cozy place, pretty similar to where Chee Kong stayed back at Springfield Park. After settling down and freshening up, we headed to Monte Casino. Though not much has changed, it was still nice to be back here again. We spent some time in Skoobs browsing through some books before leaving.

Next was dinner with the Fourway Runners at Lonehill. Great to meet up with Mark, Trevor, Andrew and the rest of Fourway Runners. I wasn't feeling too good and had a little too much Castle Lite till rashes appeared a little. Dinner done, and we headed back to have our luggage packed up before calling it a night as one more run awaits tomorrow before we leave.

Day 13, 7 June 2014
And so, after 13 days in South Africa, the trip comes to an end at Johannesburg. But before leaving, all of us managed to put in one final run at the MTN road race. Myself, Susanah and Chee Kong ran the 10KM distance while Mei-Ee ran the 5KM event pushing Xi-Ning in her jogger. The event was the usual South African weekly event, and although it wasn't as good as my previous 2 last year, it was still a good event. I ran with Susanah at a recovery pace. However, it wasn't easy due to the dry air and the high altitude. But surprisingly, the legs managed to move freely, not much of sore from Comrades Marathon and I managed to compete the run in 1:04:03 hours.

Cold start at the MTN road race.

We rush back to shower up and to pack our luggage up before going over to Fourways Crossing for breakfast and some last minute shopping. I bought a pair of Saucony Type A6 from Sweat Shop while Susanah bought some Castle Lite for her dad before we went to the airport to catch our 2pm flight back home via Dubai on board Emirates.

Before boarding out flight. Thanks again to Chee Kong and Mei-Ee.

We landed home safely after a long haul to this very hot and humid country. In a blink of an eye, our holiday was over. I wish it will have lasted longer and will be memorable. In terms of holidays, it wasn't exactly smooth sailing as there were some pretty poor planning especially at Durban in bringing Susanah around and I felt really bad. And also, one regret I had was the lack of photography opportunity during this trip hence I can only try to remember them in my mind. I hope that there will be another chance that we will be able to travel like this again, a chance that I can really hope for now. And till then, I can only hope for now.


saiful adli said...

what an experience .
congratulations. u are such an inspiration.

Kevin said...

13 Days long journey. I think you gathered lot of experience and you shared with us. If I get chance I have a wish to go for a long journey.