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CASABLANCA, MOROCCO

I spent 1 night in luxury before heading off on a week long tour. I spent my free day at the Hassan II Mosque.

sunny 24 °C

Morocco was my 5th and last country of this trip. I arrived in Casablanca from Cairo, at 10am. I stayed at the fancy Le Lido Thalasso Resort & Spa, located beachfront on the Atlantic Ocean, overlooking the lighthouse.
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Normally this type of hotel is way out of my budget. I prefer B&Bs, or home stays. But I booked this the night before on Expedia. It was regular $626CAD, on sale for $126! That's still over my budget ... but wait ... I had a $100 Expedia voucher, so I only had to pay $26 for a $626 room!!!! Steal of a deal! However, sometimes I think Expedia makes up absurdly high rates and then 'discounts' them so people think they are getting an extra good deal. Cuz this place was nice, but not $626 nice.
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I only had a few sunny hours before it started raining. I couldn't really complain though, as this was only my 2nd day of rain in 5wks of traveling! Last year I traveled in Indonesia for a month and had 2wks of rain!
My 2nd day in Casablanca I had the morning & afternoon free before I had to meet up with my tour group, so I walked over to Hassan II Mosque. Its HUGE, so it was a lot farther of a walk than it looked, lol! It is the world's 3rd largest mosque, behind only the ones in Mecca & Medina, Saudi Arabia. I wandered along Corniche Blvd, along the waterfront where families were fishing, and finally arrived at the mosque.
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Its minaret is the world's tallest at 689ft (60 stories)! It is topped by a laser that points towards Mecca.
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It hold 105,000 worshippers - 25,000 inside the mosque hall, and another 80,000 on the mosque's outside grounds. It also has a retractable roof!
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I wish there was a person in this photo so you could understand how huge these doors are! The smaller side doors are about 3 times my height ... so you can imagine how large the middle door is!!!
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I didn't go inside. I didn't think I would be allowed to, as I'm not Muslim. But I later found out that this mosque is 1 of only 2 mosques in all of Morocco that allow non-muslims to enter.
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I spent the better part of an hour here. The architecture and mosaic details are amazing. So photogenic!
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I spent the rest of my day at the pool. Then headed over to the joining hotel where I met my group for my week long tour across Morocco. But that will all be in my next post :)

Posted by ChantelleS 17:05 Archived in Morocco Tagged architecture mosque africa morocco casablanca Comments (0)

GIZA PYRAMIDS, EGYPT

The pyramids, Sphinx, and watching the sunset at a Bedouin camp in the desert.

sunny 23 °C

Egypt. Whatta day! I only had a 22hr layover in Cairo, but I made the most of it. I booked myself one night at the Pyramids View Inn for only $35. The hotel itself wasn't anything to get excited about, but the view from the rooftop terrace sure was!!!
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Look how tiny the people on horses are in comparison!
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I checked into the hotel at 8am, enjoyed a free breakfast on the rooftop, then literally walked across the street to the pyramids.
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I visited Egypt at a time when no one else was. Everyone thought it was too dangerous to be traveling here, including my own mother. She was sure I was going to die or get taken. *Spoiler alert - I managed just fine. But since tourism was down, the touts around the pyramids were desparate for my business. Actually, it started at the airport already. Taxi drivers refused to drop their prices. Maybe its cuz they badly needed the money, or more likely its because they saw a blonde woman traveling alone and thought she was the perfect target to rip off. I wasted so much time bargaining over a taxi ride to my hotel, but got them down to $20CAD. I only had a day here, so I didn't want to waste any more time arguing with them.

I already knew to beware of all the scams & rip offs going on around the pyramids, and expected myself to be a target since I was alone. But geez, I got ripped off on EVERYTHING! And the worst part was I knew it was happening but couldn't do anything about it. So here is my story on how I paid a small fortune for an afternoon at the pyramids. It should really only cost you $12CAD for admission, and that's it. Walk past everyone trying to sell you everything from souvenirs to camel rides, carriage rides, horse rides, donkey rides, tour guide services ... the list goes on & on. Even if you do want something, like say a camel ride, be warned that you will pay a fortune, the ride will last 5min, and they will also want a tip ... and not just a couple dollars, $10, $15, etc! Its absurd!

Even before I made it to the entrance a man named Mustafa saw me coming. He introduced himself and walked me to the entrance gate, showed me where to purchase my ticket, helped me through security, etc. Again, I knew he'd want a tip. This wasn't Jordan any more where no one asks for tips. This is Egypt, and nothing is free. Mustafa kept walking & talking with me showing me this & that. I had somehow gotten myself a tour guide without wanting one. And I couldn't get rid of him. He kept saying it was free, no charge ... which is code for "but your going to have to give me a huge tip".

Upon arriving at the pyramids I realized they were a lot farther apart than I expected, so I decided to hire a horse and carriage to take me around them. They wanted $40CAD. I thought this was for the whole day, and so I agreed. Nope, turns out it was for 1hr. More on this later.
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So Mustafa jumps in the carriage with me and we head out to the largest pyramid. WOW is it big!!! Standing at the bottom looking up, you cant even see the top! It is 461ft tall ... whereas the Sphinx is only 65ft tall.
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Of course Mustafa just so happened to have a friend waiting by the pyramid that also just so happened to know how to work my camera and "you should give him your camera, he will make nice pictures of you".
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I let him take a few, then checked to make sure they were actually clear. And they were. Since I was solo and didn't have anyone to take photos of me, I figured, what the heck, why not.
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I knew he would ask for a tip. And he did. Well, heres the trick, they don't call it a tip. They tell you its free. Then when they are done, they say "are you happy?" To which I replied yes. Then they say "Ok, now you make me happy" and they hold out their hand for a tip. So don't fall for it! Nothing is actually FREE here! NOTHING! I asked how much, to which they all say the same damn thing "whatever you feel in your heart". So then when I try to give him a few dollars ... he looks at it & scoffs and says, "No. 250 Egytian Pounds". WHAT?! That's $40! I gave him 100p, which was still a rip off and he knew it. Ugh. What happened to "whatever you feel in your heart?'
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Then whadaya know, Mr Photographer just so happens to have a son that can take me on a camel ride around the pyramids. By now I know this is all a set up. They just pass me along to their next 'friend' so that they can all make money off of me. But how do I say no to a camel ride by the pyramids?! This is what I came here for. And so, on a camel I get, lol!
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This is Hemi, who is 13, and already quickly learning how to scam tourists.
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At least unlimited photos were included in the camel ride.
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They tell you that they will take you around the pyramids and to the Sphinx for $40CAD. What they really mean, is that they'll take you to a lookout point over the Sphinx, not actually right up to it. And you don't actually ride around all the pyramids, you only ride past the one you are already at.
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Oh, and surprise surprise, this kid wanted a tip too! And so did the carriage ride guy. Everyone wants $40 to do whatever it is they are offering, plus they want another $40 tip!!!!!! *&!*%@ I couldn't take it anymore and started crying. Not sobbing, just a quivery chin and some silent tears. I was just SO fed up. I only had 1 day here and was trying SO hard to enjoy myself, but being ripped of every 10min just pissed me off! When Mr Photographer saw my tears he felt bad enough to give my money back, saying he would take a cut from his son (camel kid). Well of course you will! I'm sure you took it ALL from your kid, or maybe left him with a dollar! Uuuuggggghhhh! But through crying I at least got some money back, and then they felt bad and took me to feed their camels ... for free, lol!
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After all that drama I find out my carriage ride is done. Um, what?! You still haven't actually taken me to the Sphinx, nor out into the desert to get that perfect shot of all the pyramids lined up in a row! I threw a hissy fit & stomped my foot. Mustafa convinced the carriage guy to take me out into the desert. He agreed, probably cuz he knew I well over-paid for this carriage ride to begin with. Plus, tourism is down, so he's unlikely to get another customer all day.

View from my carriage as we headed out in to the desert.
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FINALLY! This is what I had dreamed of! Standing right here, with this view! I cried again, but this time happy tears. This time cuz I had made a long time dream come true ... by myself. No one helped me plan or pay for this (in fact, many told me not to go), I made this all happen, and it felt great!
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It was just me and some local kids on a field trip out in the desert (what a fabulous place for a field trip!!). They wanted their photo taken with me, so I agreed only if I could take one with them too. I was quite the celebrity with my blonde hair and pasty white skin. You may have noticed that my head scarf turnt into a skirt part way throughout the day. This is because I somehow managed to rip a huge whole in the ass of my linen pants! I had no choice but to use it as a skirt to cover my bum, lol! But by doing so my blonde hair was exposed and drew a lot of attention. Everyone was stopping me wanting a photo with me. Now I know how celebrities feel! At first it was funny, but it got really annoying really fast. Women don't have to cover their heads in Egypt, but if you have blonde hair, I recommend it just to keep the attention off of you.
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Then we headed over to the Sphinx. Hold on to your entrance ticket, cuz you'll need it to get into the enclosed Sphinx area too. You see all those kids in the photo below? ALL of them were following me snapping photos of me when they thought I wasn't looking. I swear I was the first blonde person they'd ever seen. As soon as I sat down to have Mustafa take my photo, all the kids stopped and pretended to be minding their own business. But as soon as I started walking again, they followed.
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The second I entered the Sphinx enclosure there were locals offering to take my photo of me & the sphinx. Its free they say. Ya right! Not falling for that scam again. I just waited until the next tourist came in, and then we took pictures of eachother (which is what I should've done over by the pyramid too).
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Finally I was rid of Mustafa (for a few hours at least - I agreed to let him take me out to a Bedouin camp in the desert for sunset later that day) and had some free time to just wander - which is what I should've been doing this whole time.
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Just before sunset I met up with Mustafa again. He had borrowed his buddy's horse & carriage to take me out there. We went through the slums of Cairo before reaching the edge of the desert. Although absolutely disgusting, it was a real look into the lives of how people in this area live. I can honestly say its the dirtiest/poorest place I've ever seen (and smelt), even more so than Mombasa, Kenya! There was rotting garbage, raw sewage, badly abused & starving animals, and even a dead horse belly up in the piles of trash! All of this baking in the hot, hot sun! You can only imagine the stench!! I had to breath through my mouth in order to not throw up! I didn't feel right taking photos here, as I'm sure these people's lives are miserable enough without having some dumb tourist taking photos of them digging through the mountains of trash searching for food. By the time we finally reached the outskirts of the desert I was in tears yet again. This time cuz what I had seen was just so incredibly overwhelming :(

We didn't go too far into the desert, just far enough to be out of the city, and to have a good view over the pyramids. Bedouins actually live in this camp. They work in Cairo, and then come here to sleep.
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This was definitely a side to Cairo that you don't see in the travel brouchures, or even when you google it. As I sat in camp waiting for the sun to set, I was served mint tea by one of the men living there. I watched the Bedouins coming home at the end of the night.
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The owner of this place noticed me taking photos of his camel & donkey. So he quickly came over and posed the camel any which way I wanted (for a tip of course).
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Cheeeeese!
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Waiting for the sun to go down ... which didn't actually set behind the pyramids like I was hoping. So I got the camel owner to pose his camel again so I could get camel sunset photos instead, lol!
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So there you have it. Although seeing the pyramids was a dream come true, it was a hard day, from dealing with the rip offs, to seeing how the locals live, to just being overwhelmed by the immense size of the pyramids, and the beauty of the desert. I will definitely be back some day to explore the rest of Egypt, but this time I will be prepared for all the scams coming at me, lol! My day ended with me basically emptying out my wallet into Mustafa's hands, lol! He was with me from 8am until sunset ... so of course he wanted a tip for his unwanted 'service'.
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Posted by ChantelleS 11:47 Archived in Egypt Tagged desert ruins egypt africa sphinx pyramids ancient Comments (0)

CAPE PENINSULA, SOUTH AFRICA

African Penguins, ostriches, scenic coastline, Cape of Good Hope, lighthouse, and Table Mountain cable car! So much to do & see on the peninsula!

sunny 20 °C

I spent a few days in the Cape Peninsula (the area from Cape Town, south all the way to the Cape of Good Hope). One morning I took the train from Simonstown up to Cape Town. It took about an hour and cost $2 Canadian! Steal of a deal compared to a taxi which would've cost $46 Canadian. And very scenic as it follows the coastline for quite a ways before cutting inland. If you travel the way the locals do, you can save alot of money! From the train station in Cape Town I took a cab up to Table Mountain to take the cable car to the top.
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But it was too windy so the cable car was closed :( And here I thought I had picked a good day cuz it was sunny and clear, with barely a breeze, but at the top of the mountain that breeze was wind. I stuck around for 2hrs waiting for the wind to die down (no point in heading back to Simonstown just yet, I came all this way, I wanted to see something!). This was the view from the lower cable station.
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While waiting there were a few gift shops to look through, a place to grab a cheap lunch (chicken & mushroom pie for $2.25 Canadian), an ice cream booth, etc. After the 2hr wait I was in luck! The wind died down and they opened the gates. It cost $205 Rand ($26 Canadian). It only took 4min to ascend 1065m (3195ft)! It rotated 360 degrees as it rose, so no matter where u stand u get a good view, just make sure to grab a spot by a window ... unless your scared of heights, its really high!
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Follow the cables ... aaaaaaall the waaaaaay down! Thats how high 1065m is! If the cables look nearly vertical to you, thats because they are! By far the steepest cable car I've ever been on!
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Once at the top, it was FREEZING cold!! The sign at the lower cable station said it was +3C at the top, but with the windchill it was below freezing! Bring a jacket for sure! I had a hoodie & jacket, but could have also used a toque & gloves ... my fingers were freezing from taking photos. There were many trails to follow with signage explaining the flora, history, etc. I only stayed up there about 20min or so, cuz it was THAT cold & windy. Heres some photos I managed to get of the various views from the top.
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One brave little birdie in the cold!
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The next day I made the mistake of going on a Peninsula Tour. I should've just rented a car, or even a taxi for the day. The tour was a waste of time, especially if you're a photographer. They advertized a huge list of places to be visited on the tour, but what they didnt mention is that you dont actually stop at them, you just drive by at high speeds as your guide says "Oh and that was an ostrich farm", or "Oh that back there was Long Beach", etc. We made a few, very brief stops, but thats about it. So I didnt take too many photos, as there werent very many photo ops ... unless blurry pictures taken through the vehicle's window at high speeds is your kind of photography.

We made a 5min stop at Camps Bay Beach. Once we were back in the van and on the road again our guide decided to mention that the mountains in the background were the 12 Apostles. Would've been nice to know that while looking at them.
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Next up was Hout Bay. We actually stopped here for an hour ... for an optional boat cruise out to Seal Island. This was an extra cost. I chose not to, since Seal Island is where my shark boat anchored offshore from a few days prior. So I wasted an hour looking at the many souvenir stands, and had some toast & coffee at a nearby restaurant.
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Another 5min stop at a lookout point overlooking Hout Bay.
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Then we drove along the very scenic Chapman's Peak Drive. It was absolutely gorgeous ... but we didnt stop even once to take photos anywhere of it! Ugh! So this is a 'drive by shooting' of the twisty turny road that clung to the mountainside.
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We started to see some wildlife the closer we got to the tip of the peninsula. We actually stopped for 2 bontebok (a type of antelope I never knew existed), 7 ostriches, 5 eland, and an itty bitty tortoise on the road.

Bontebok ... crappy photo I know, but they were far away. I only bothered to take a photo cuz I've never heard of, nor seen them before.
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Ostrich on the road!
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Eland, the largest of all antelope.
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Then we stopped at the Cape of Good Hope ... The south-western most point of the African continent. There was really nothing there but a sign ... and at least 50 ppl lined up to take a photo with it. I tried uploading the photo, but it wont post :(

We then had lunch at the very expensive Two Oceans restaurant at the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula. The menu was mostly seafood & meat, so I got a milkshake and headed to the snack shop next door for cheap pizza, lol! Thats a backpacker's budget for ya! I'm glad I did though, cuz while everyone else was wasting their time waiting for their expensive meals, I took the funicular (like a cable car on a train track) up to the lighthouse at Cape Point. Only $6 Canadian, or you can walk the whole way up for free. If I'd had more time I would've. By the time they were all done eating, they only had about 10min to look around, whereas I had a whole hour. This is the view from the restaurant.
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The funicular only takes you this far ... then you have no choice but to climb those steps to get to the very top.
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The sign at Cape Point, right before you start climbing the stairs. There were also 'Beware of Baboon' signs, but I didnt see any baboons.
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The lighthouse at the top
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View of the cliffs. This is where the Indian & Atlantic Oceans meet! Very turbulent waters!
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The last stop on the tour was my fave ... Boulders Beach, home of the African Penguin!! Again, we only had about 10min here, which is most definitely not enough, so the following day, the last day of my whole trip, I walked 20min from my hotel in Simonstown to this beach, and spent the WHOLE day with the penguins :)
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It cost 45 Rand ($5.60 Canadian) to access Boulders Beach. They give you a ticket which also gets you into Foxy Beach, so be sure to hold onto it. Boulders Beach is where 99% of the penguins are. They can be founding nesting, swimming, sleeping, suntanning, etc. The African Penguin is a protected species so you have to stick to the boardwalks. Theres penguins all along the walk, but if you just walk straight to the very end of the boardwalk, thats where the majority of them will be!
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Beautiful Boulders Beach!
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Two penguins in love :)
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Braying penguins ... the sound they make sounds like a honking donkey, lol!
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Nesting area on the beach
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I absolutely loved watching them waddle around! Its seriously the cutest thing in the world!!!!
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Waddle, waddle, waddle :)
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Mama and baby penguins
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Babies huddled together for warmth.
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A young penguin shaking himself off after a swim in the chilly water.
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Young penguin losing his fluff.
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Suntanning penguins!
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Weeeeeeee! Bodysurfing right onto shore!
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Kissy kissy!
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There were also a few Rock Hyraxes, aka Dassies, to be found.
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Black Crakes at the beach
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Well thats it, that all! I'm finally done my Africa blog, yay me :) Only took 8mths, lol!
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Posted by ChantelleS 19:50 Archived in South Africa Tagged penguin wildlife car bird south coastline africa cable scenic cliff lighthouse ostrich peninsula Comments (0)

FALSE BAY, SOUTH AFRICA

Great White Sharks, Cape Fur Seals, 1000s of Spinner Dolphins, and Orca Whales!

overcast 18 °C

Heres my fave photo from this leg of my trip!!!!!
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After 3 nights in Swakopmund, Namibia, I flew back to South Africa. I landed in Cape Town at 7:30pm and took a prebooked shuttle (with Centurion Tours) 45 min south to Simonstown, where I stayed for 6 nights. I stayed at the Simonstown Quayside Hotel. It was located right on Jubilee Square (main area of the town with lots of shops & restaurants).
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My room looked over the harbor, main pier, and mountains.
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My first full day here rained. Actually it poured. Sideways. It was SO windy! But the next day was sunny/cloudy, albeit a tad chilly (only 10C). But the good news is, my shark diving tour with Apex Predators wasn't canceled! Woohoo! I prebooked my tour online, but if you'd rather book in person, the Apex Predators office is actually located in a 'mall' beside my hotel. Quite convenient. When choosing a shark diving operator, dont cheap out! The last thing you want when dealing with Great White Sharks, is a flimsy cage! I chose Apex Predators because the owner/operator & marine photographer extraordinaire, Chris Fallows, is known worldwide. Just google his name! If I remember correctly, it cost just under $200 Canadian (I was there in off-season though, it costs more in high season). My hotel was located at the pier where the dive boats departed, so I literally woke up, rolled outta bed, and walked to the end of the pier to meet the group of ppl who would be joining me :)
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The boat departed the Simonstown harbor at 7:45am. We left 1hr later than scheduled due to wind in the morning. This is the view from the boat looking back over Simonstown.
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We anchored just offshore from Seal Island ... basically a massive rock absolutely covered in Cape Fur Seals!
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Just look at all of them! Those arent rocks, those are ALL seals!!
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Then the cage went into the water, and the crew started chumming the water (throwing fish guts overboard to attract sharks).
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The chum, aka shark bait.
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Chumming the water.
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And then we waited. And waited. And waited & waited & waited. The entire time the crew kept chucking fish bits overboard trying to attract a shark. In movies they make it seem like if you put even one toe in the water you will get eaten by a shark. But in reality, it takes forever. Eventually one Great White came relatively close to the boat cuz there was a dead seal floating nearby. But just as it was about to raise its head & massive jaws out of the water to eat the seal, (and I was ready with my camera zoomed in & focused on that dead seal), someone else stepped in front of me to take their own photo and I completely missed seeing the shark!!!!! By the time the person moved, all I got to see was the side of the shark :( So disappointed I coulda pushed that person overboard, lol! This is the most I saw of a Great White. (If you want to see incredible photos of Great Whites breaching, google Chris Fallows' name!)
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Mr Chris Fallows doing what he does best! And yes, I was very jealous of his lens!
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So I didnt actually bother getting into the cage in the freezing cold water (only 8C). No point in getting hypothermia if theres no sharks to see :( After 6hrs of nothing, we headed back to the harbor ... and guess what we saw along the way?!!!! NINE Orca Whales (aka Killer Whales)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!large_IMG_0614-001.jpg
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They were hunting a pod of 1000 Spinner Dolphins! Chris was driving our boat as fast as it could go, and we could barely keep up with them! But eventually he got us into the middle of the pod of dolphins! It was unreal ... jumping dolphins and frothing water as far as I could see in every direction! This was definitely a major highlight of my entire trip to Africa!!! (And worth all the money I paid to see sharks).
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Adorable baby Orca & its mama :) Notice ALL the dolphins in the background!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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This one was no more than 1 meter from our boat when it surfaced!! I actually gasped cuz it was SO close to my face when it surfaced!
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So all in all, even though I didnt get to see Great Whites, the Orcas and ridiculous amount of dolphins totally made up for it :)

Posted by ChantelleS 14:16 Archived in South Africa Tagged boat penguin ocean south africa seal dolphin whale Comments (0)

WALVIS BAY, NAMIBIA

Bay cruise with loads of Cape Fur Seals, huge pelicans and more flamingos!

sunny 23 °C

The owners of the apartment I rented for 3 days in Swakopmund helped me book a spot on a cruise departing from the harbor in Walvis Bay, out to Pelican Point. It was $500 Namibian Dollars ($62 Canadian), which included pickup in Swakopmund and roundtrip transfer to Walvis Bay, a 45min drive, the cruise, and a light lunch.
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Once on board we sailed towards Pelican Point. Along the way a Cape Fur Seal hopped on board! Turns out this seal was orphaned when he was young, so the employees took to feeding him so he wouldnt die. Now he makes an appearance every time they sail across the bay :)
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Waving 'Hello'large_IMG_0080-001.jpg
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Here are some views along the way of Cormorants and Flamingos on the beach, as well as a few shipwrecks!
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Shipwreck & flamingos in the background
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Flying flamingos!!
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Landing flamingos that appear to be dancing :)
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Shipwreck from 1932.
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The lighthouse at Pelican Point. It used to be located right at the tip of the sandy peninsula, but due to Namibia's ever-changing coastline of shifting sand dunes, the lighthouse is now 3km from the tip! Thats how much the coastline has changed! Crazy!
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There were 2,500 Cape Fur Seals at Pelican Point! I could hear them well before I could see them. They sounds like barking dogs ... imagine 2,500 barking dogs!!! They were everywhere on the beach & in the water! (But of course the 1 photo I took of the whole beach full of seals won't upload).
They were quite curious and would come right up to the boat, peek their heads out of the water at us, then dive back down.
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I was trying to take photos of the seals when this bird flew right into the photo :)
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Looks like this young one is giving his parents a private moment ;)
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Hungry pelicans were always near our boat looking for fish. They were HUGE! About double the size of the pelicans we have in Canada!
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The harbor was full of massive cargo ships plying the ocean between Europe & Africa. Notice the sand dunes in the background.
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Thats all for Walvis Bay, next post will be all about the desert :)

Posted by ChantelleS 15:29 Archived in Namibia Tagged ocean wildlife cruise bird africa bay seal namibia flamingo walvis Comments (0)

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