Wednesday, March 21

Film: Tomb Raider Click for more info

Despite the rebooted games being brilliant, Tomb Raider (the film) fails to live up to the expectation and standards set. There are various pacing and plot issues, and the film suffers as a whole due to this lack of depth and balance. This all in spite of the valiant efforts by the sublime Alicia and co to fight through with their acting skills.

It remains to be seen whether the franchise as a whole will do any better, but for now Tomb Raider is one to avoid.

Saturday, March 17

BAHfest London 2018 Click for more info

I attended this year's BAHfest in during a period where I've actually been pretty hermit-like, thus is the allure of the nerdy fun event hosted by Imperial one a year. This is the third time it's been in London, and has cemented itself as a must-date in my diary. Today's show was of no disappointment.

Tonight we were told of how setting of a nuke might be the best way to combat global warming, how the black death is directly responsible for how bad we are at romantic relationships, why and how we should prevent attacks on sharks, why the moon is so obnoxious (and how to remedy that), the importance of thinning the atmosphere (via mass and gravity reduction) in order to reduce the greenhouse effect and finally why symmetry is so important in evolution (which is actually probably true but not in the way it was presented tonight). Oh and also why cuteness is a genealogical disease.

There were a few repeat presenters (no bad thing), and the quality of the laughs and presentations were clearly on an upward trend. I'm not sure how I feel about that - for me part of the charm of BAHfest is the grassroots amateurishness of it all - but so far there's no sign of any of the geekiness dumbing down.

On to next year then!

Friday, March 16

Food: Yard Sale Pizza Click for more info

The thing about pizza is that it's pretty easy to get right. That's both a good thing (it's hard to get it wrong) but also a bad thing (it's hard to make it special). And so is the case here at Yard Sale Pizza, where, although the food was great, there was no real apparent reason to visit them over any other pizza place. In fact I would cite not being halal as pretty criminal given the vicinity.

So yes, a recommendation of sorts, but only if you happen to be passing and crave pizza.

Thursday, March 8

Food: P.F. Chang's Click for more info

Although I always struggle to answer questions about my favourite cuisine, I generally have no problem saying what doesn't rock my boat. It's not that I dislike Chinese, but more that that I find it really difficult to get excited about it. And so that's how I felt tonight on approach to P.F. Chang's.

It turns out however that not all Chinese is made the same; I actually really enjoyed the food here. It was clean, flavourful and although we exclusively stuck to the chicken dishes (everything except, well, the pork is halal) everything was varied enough to keep us interested. The service was great in a familiar non-poncy sort of way, and there really wasn't much to complain about.

The bill came to £25 per head which I suppose fairly reflects the experience I had. P.F. Chang's definitely comes recommended, which for a Chinese is quite exciting for me after all.

Wednesday, March 7

Film: Red Sparrow Click for more info

For me, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy remains the epitome of the mind melting spy thriller sub genre - I still don't think I quite fully understand what the heck goes on in that film, and I'm always in two minds about whether its complexity works for (since it's a challenge) or against (since who wants to watch a film that makes them feel stupid?) it.

Whatever the case, TTSS makes for a decent benchmark against which other films of the genre can be positioned. So finally then to the point: if TTSS is a 10, Red Sparrow weighs in at around 5 or 6. It's certainly more accessible, easier to follow and ultimately... more enjoyable as a result. Jennifer Lawrence does a decent job as the torn spy who we can't quite figure out the allegiances of, and apart from the acting the film is really well put together.

The cost, however, of this accessibility is the sense of implausibility that comes with it. It's difficult to believe that a prima ballerina can so easily be turned into a master spy for instance. It was kind of like seeing a more serious version of Eggsy from Kingsman.

So yes, as long as you don't let the caricaturisation of the spy world bother you too much there's not much to dislike about Red Sparrow. Recommended.

Tuesday, February 13

Film: Black Panther Click for more info

At first glance, Black Panther is a great film. It has great tech, good humour, decent action and even ties it all together with a decent enough plot. The effects were a little rough around the edges, but not enough to spoil the film... all in all on the surface it's a fun film and all the stronger as it stands on its own without having to lean on the rest of the MCU.

... But of course we can't just leave it at that. It's also a black film and although I'm the last random guy on the internet to assess the credentials of the film in that context I did find myself considering how the film tackled the inevitable baggage it was always going to carry.

So yes, on the whole I felt that Black Panther initially did well with handling its heritage and colour - it wasn't apologetic about what it was, yet managed to not caricaturise itself on the way. It was a little unfortunate that the film ended up being about black on black war, but I can see how anything else would have attracted criticism too, so overall I think it did okay on this front.

Aside from that Black Panther makes a great entry in the MCU - the last before the really big event starts. Recommended.

Monday, February 12

Film: Padmavati Click for more info

If indeed Padmavati is to be considered the third in the SLB-Padukone-Singh epic period set of films, it is also by far the weakest entry in the trilogy. Apart from the shallow plot, the acting is shoddy, the special effects laughable, the music forgettable (and I mean that literally)... and although I really should be above this in a work of fiction, the portrayal of Muslims as nothing less than douchebag extraordinaires was kinda jarring.

This is both unfortunate, but also a relief since it highlights just how brilliant and good Ram Leela and Bajirao Mastani respectively were. You can't just expect magic; no, that requires something special that even established dream teams struggle to continually always provide. I guess things would just be boring otherwise.

Wednesday, February 7

Book: Elantris, Brandon Sanderson Click for more info

I can see why Elantris is seen as "a decent enough start" to the Cosmere. From the first page it contains such characterisation and construction of plot that you can't but help marvel at the genius and scope of what is yet to come, yet the whole thing collapses under its ambition toward the last few chapters. In short, it seems to be full of the kind of mistakes you just know will be fixed in future stories, and that's something which, if true, holds great promise for what's to come.

I can see why Sanderson was asked to complete The Wheel of Time, and its the accessibility he gave to that series that I see here in Cosmere.

Monday, February 5

Karachi 2018

My annual trips to Karachi are quite well established now, up to the point where I actually start itching to go back 10-12 months after my previous trip. This one was a couple of months overdue due to South Africa, but it did coincide with a couple of weddings so it worked out pretty well.

I find it to be a humbling habit, somewhat rooted, and that not in a "I wish I could save them all poverty porn" sense. I'm not a tourist here, I'm family. This makes it personal not just because there's blood involved but also for the more pragmatic fact that the life I see around me could have been my own if my grandfather had made different decisions in his own life all those years ago.

Things are always relative and perhaps this is why I don't have the same sense of ambition or success that others back in the UK have - I already have these things in a way, no matter how they were earned (or not). My peers aren't necessarily the people I live and work with in London, but my cousins, relatives and the 25m other people who reside here in Karachi. In the same way I find myself also more conservative and traditional, whether it's the manner in which I dress or the fact that I prefer squatters to commodes.

It's a cliche but despite the poverty and hardships people do seem more happy and content here than they do elsewhere. One can accuse them all of living in ignorance of course - how can they miss something they've never had - but us who spend the time to visit do know what's out there... and yet there's much more of a sense of peace where choices are much more limited.

Monday, January 15

Film: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Click for more info

I am not ashamed to say that, for me at least, this film was saved by Karen Gillan. Without her Jumanji would have been a bland, paint-by-numbersfest that even Dwayne Johnson wouldn't have been able to salvage. It's the kind of film that you'd enjoy most by letting it just wash over you - in fact in writing this review I've probably given it too much effort.

It wasn't a disaster and had its moments (some which didn't involve Amy Pond), but overall it's still probably one to save to watch at home with family. Tenuously recommended.

Thursday, January 11

Food: The Great Chase Click for more info

So here's something brave: a fine dining restaurant that's fully halal, down to the lack of alcohol being served - and not even having Coke on the menu due to some ethical concerns. I think any business person in the food industry would have signed the death warrant of such a place before it even opened... but it's something that will probably thrive in a city where enough Muslims have more money than sense, and care more about the social media implications of a meal than the food itself. I could turn this into a post about how Muslim businesses need to start doing more than just Islamifying what's already out there, but that's probably out of scope for this review. Either way the point probably stands that the existence of places like this is less about the businesses and more about us as a demographic.

The food was decent enough, the service less than I would have expected in a place like this. We were also disappointed when we were told the cod (the listing of which made 1/4 of the total number of mains on offer) ran out. The portions were small (as is expected in a place like this) and even though sometimes that doesn't matter (see: Ceviche) I did appreciate the extra pasta we ordered to share.

Surprisingly enough the bill wasn't too bad; £34 per head with starters and teas is nothing to complain too hard about. I can imagine the bill being even more acceptable with a more discerning customer.

I don't think this would be the last time I visit The Great Chase, and I'll even admit that I was seriously impressed by the lack of Coke on offer. Who knows, perhaps its places like these that will pave the way for more originality in the halal space? In either case I guess I shouldn't complain at having the option.

Monday, January 8

Film: Star Wars: The Last Jedi Click for more info

Within minutes of the film opening I had my head in my hands. That whole "Poe fakes a bad line when speaking with General Hux" just felt so out of place, so muddled, any hope I had for another Force Awakens was quickly dashed. I don't think I was proven wrong, what with the first half of this film having been a bit of a mess.

But then the turn happened and everything changed. For sure, it wasn't enough to save the film, but the pay off did make the wait a little more digestible. Its a bit of a shame really - the film was otherwise well produced and well acted out... and if I could be so brave I'd even suggest it could be made into a much better film with a few edits.

But as it stands The Last Jedi end up subject to the same curse as the original trilogy - it is as very much a "middle" film as The Empire Strikes Back was, but this actually gives me a bit of hope that not only will the next film be more of a triumph, but that The Last Jedi will come into its own as the film that ties the whole trilogy together.

Sunday, January 7

Food: Hakkaland Click for more info

The idea of a place offering indo-chinese cuisine will always ring alarm bells in my head: choosing "jack of many trades" as a business plan is never going to break barriers. And yet the popularity of such places is a testament to their demand, and I guess a lot of people want to have chicken corn soup with their naan kebabs.

We all stuck to Chinese today however and what can I say? The food was solid if not uninspiring, the service adequate, the decor and atmosphere of the place sufficient for us all to have had a decent time. The truth is that this place was never going to make waves... but sometimes that's precisely the point, as by keeping the food straightforward and unobstructive we were able to enjoy each other that much more.

At £20 (after a discount) it wasn't the cheapest meal to be had, but for some reason no one had any complaints after. That alone says a lot, and I can see us returning to Hakkaland again if we ever happen to be in the area.

Thursday, January 4

Food: Pizza Pilgrims Click for more info

I don't think anything consistently excites me more than pizza, but as I type this I realise that's only because of how much of a sure bet it is for me. I tend not to be too particular when it comes to food already, so it's really difficult to mess up a pizza for someone so easily pleased.

So yes this does mean it's difficult for me to properly critique the food at Pizza Pilgrims. Suffice to say it was good stuff - the, erm, size was right and the menu selection was perfectly balanced between the exotic and the standard. Although the Kingly Street restaurant we visited was a little cramped, service was great and we were left to our own devices to eat and talk at our leisure despite the waiting list of people wanting to grab a meal.

The price wasn't the cheapest but as expected - £14 for a pizza and drink, but all in all it was the experience that mattered; we left content with the food, drink and conversation we had tonight and that makes Pizza Pilgrims worth visiting alone.

Wednesday, January 3

Food: Ceviche Click for more info

So it turns out that Peruvian food has the rare quality of being small on the plate but large in the stomach. Volume wise I can't really remember eating much, but I did leave very satisfied both in terms of the quality and quantity - food was ordered for our whole party and dishes were passed around, resulting in a smashing of tastes, cuisines and even colour.

The restaurant itself was a little disappointing, although that was probably more our fault as it became clear how inadequately it could cater for our party of 10. Some items had run out, space was at a premium and it was impossible to have any kind of conversation over the noise. This is probably a place for a small fun group rather than any kind of intimacy.

Which brings us to the biggest failing of Ceviche: its price. Paying around £42 per head for not much food (no matter how satisfying) has made my first trip to Ceviche also my last, which is a shame since there really is no reason for them to have picked this particular market to price to... that said the food was ripe for Instagram so perhaps its canny on their part to cater to the extra-restaurant experience.

Tuesday, December 26

Book: Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey Click for more info

The last really decent science fiction I can remember reading is, perhaps unsurprisingly enough, anything that had been written by Asimov. Perhaps it's the rose tinted specs talking (typing?), but any new fangled sci-fi just doesn't seem as science fiction-y as the old school stuff. The trouble is that I'm not entirely sure why.

But using Leviathan Wakes, the first in the series of books that make up The Expanse, as an example it could be because where the classic scifi tomes were unapologetic in their geekiness, modern stuff aims to be a bit more accessible - both in the standard of writing and plot concepts.

That's not to say that Leviathan Wakes was a bad book; no it just didn't manage to give me the scifi fix that I was after. In fact I'd go as far as saying that I quite enjoyed reading it and will certainly consider continuing with the series - I also look forward to watching the television show which I perversely think will be better entertainment.

That doesn't solve the scifi gap I have right now - but after recently finishing the Wheel of Time, perhaps the real answer is to look beyond a genre and seek the fix elsewhere?

Tuesday, December 12

Book: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, George R.R. Martin Click for more info

No, this doesn't quite scratch the year-plus itch we've all had waiting for the next installment in ASOIAF (we have the TV show for that), but AKOTSK is a wonderful return to a more unadulterated and less polluted Westeros. You have the same confusing bloodlines, the politics that you don't quite understand and of course the pure fun and entertainment that we all know and love.

Written in the same accessible way of the main books, AKOTSK is well worth a read if you're a fan of the Seven Kingdoms. As always however, it's just a damned shame there isn't more of it waiting afterward.

Monday, December 11

The Garden Route, Day Six: Robberg

As appears to be par for the course, we enjoyed a lazy start this morning before heading to the Robberg Nature Reserve for some views and a couple of hikes. We went for the 5.5km Witsand trail, a trail that was deceptively short while taking us through woods, bush, sand and stone. The geography was pretty terrific and given more time I would have loved to have trekked to The Point, but at 9.2km that was a bit more than we would have been able to handle today.

While on The Island we came across some pretty aggressive seagulls protecting their colony, Hitchcock style. The difference being that instead of being pecked to death I was defecated upon. But hey! Experience!

The afternoon was spent in about out of the apartment, in pursuit of becoming more familiar with the small town.

I discovered that Plett is yet another place on the Garden Route in which to chill rather than anything more. No bad thing given an appropriate context.

Sunday, December 10

The Garden Route, Day Five: Animals and Nature

We decided to head east today, toward our final destination of Port Elizabeth. The idea was that we should check it out now, lest we find that we don't have time to check out any of the activities in that direction when we next head that way. The morning was spent on the nature triple of Jukani, Monkeyland and Birds of Eden.

I had mixed feelings about Jukani. It was certainly educational, and I guess like the other two sites I got a warm and fuzzy feeling in supporting "animal sanctuaries" (quotes placed by my cynicism only)... but Jukani ultimately was just a big cat zoo. Still, we did see some majestic animals, the tigers ironically amongst the most impressive.

Next up was Monkeyland. This was fun; walking around with a tour seeing various primates up to no good. Again it was pretty educational, if only because in learning exactly how grumpy monkeys can get while eating.

The last of the three was Birds of Eden. We spend the longest time here, partly because of the size of the place but mainly because we were self guided. Again I saw some wonderful animals but I suppose by that time I really had had my fill of the animal kingdom.

In short, all three were well above average but not quite unmissable.

After lunch we continued east to the mouth of Storms River. This offered us some pretty exciting views, a suspension bridge, and a really good (albeit deceptively short) hike up to a lookout point. It was totally worth it but, you really should budget a couple of hours if you want to check it out yourself.

Geographically, this pretty much marks the eastern most point of our Garden Route experience. My fear that it's quite a bit over-marketed has yet to be allayed, and I don't see it getting anywhere near the top ten of trails or road trips that I've been on.

Still, I have a couple of days left so who knows? Maybe the best is yet to come.

Saturday, December 9

The Garden Route, Day Four: Plettenberg Bay

The early start we made to had to Plettenburg Bay was unwarranted. At thirty minutes or so apart it, you could even say our stay in Knysna was a little redundant; it could easily have been reached via a backtrack. Still, the early start did allow us to check out The Garden of Eden which was a decent enough stop.

After lunch we decided to keep it local and explore the beaches. Standard fare here, possibly unfairly dampened by some overcast weather.

Speaking of the weather, between it and the activities experienced so far, I can't say that The Garden Route ranks high on the road trips I've taken so far. What's clear is that it's definitely a place that requires less planning and more nose-following, (for various reasons that wasn't the nature of this trip), but I would say all road trips are like that.

Perhaps I'm just spoiled but as an experience The Garden Route falls short a little.

Friday, December 8

The Garden Route, Day Three: Knysna

Having written off Mossel Bay, we decided to head straight out to Knysna. In the most part this was because it was Friday, and we still needed to find a place where we would be able to offer Jummah, something that was sure to be a bit of a time sink.

On the way to Knysna we stopped off at Dolphin's Point, a picturesque little bay (albeit with no dolphins).

After settling into our accommodation we went on the hunt for a congregation. Knysna is deceptively under equipped for Muslims - at first glance we thought we would struggle but found no less than three scheduled congregations in the town, one of which was quite central.

The afternoon was spent visiting the Knysna Heads and Coney Glen Beach, a great example of some of the natural beauty this part of South Africa has to offer.

The geography of Knysna is quite unusual; the river mouth before the heads proper have a couple of islands and we spent the remaining hour or so on Thesen, taking in the sunset.

We're only staying here the one night - tomorrow we head to our final destination on the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth.

Thursday, December 7

The Garden Route, Day Two: Caves and Passes

After a lazy start we headed north and inland toward Oudtshoorn and The Cango Caves. This was a bit of a judgement call as it would mean missing out on Mossel Bay proper, but the caves just seemed too compelling to ignore.

Spoiler: I felt it was the right decision. The Adventure Tour especially was great fun, if a little grubby, with some of the crevasses and potholes we were made to pass through were quite challenging.

We took the scenic route back via the recently reopened Watsburg Pass - South Africa has many of these, each offering their own range of spectacular views and thrilling drives. Watsburg didn't fail to deliver - it was by far the most thrilling mountain drive I've been on.

In this case moreso, as the reserve fuel light came on just as we entered the pass. It turns out that steep inclines mess with the fuel reading so we were okay, but the idea of running out of fuel on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere did worry me a little.

As predicted we got back to Mossel Bay quite late and so didn't have a chance to check it out. We might try tomorrow or just write it off - there's plenty to do on the way to our next port of call.

Wednesday, December 6

The Garden Route, Day 1: Vineyards and The End of the World

Of all the things that I felt I missed out the most on during my last trip to South Africa, it was The Garden Route that really piqued my interest. It's not like I knew what was actually on the garden route (I knew it wasn't flowers), but more how it was sold as The Road Trip To End All Road Trips, a rite of passage for those heading into maturity. And so just like with some of the other parts of this trip that were serving to fill in the gaps, I was pretty excited to finally be able to go on the drive between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

Although we had an early start we didn't actually leave Cape Town till later in the morning, having made a quick stop off at the Botanical Gardens. As with most of the road trips I've been on, I've found the trick is to balance the leaving of space to follow unbeaten paths, while knowing where to spend that precious time as you find those hidden gems - I knew that there were a fair few miles (or rather kilometres) between here and our first stop in Mossel Bay, so I did hope that we wouldn't miss those few hours spent in the gardens (which wasn't actually that bad either).

Stellenbosch was our first port of call, and we chose the Tokara Vineyard to stop at. Although it's tough to justify the value of visiting a vineyard to a Muslim Family like ours the views were spectacular, and the offer to partake in olive tasting tempting enough. But time was against us anyway so we moved on pretty quickly.

We then had a choice - to go to Ceres for fruit juices or Elgin for some apples. We chose the latter which turned out to be a bit of a bust, even though we found the Appletizer factory and stocked up on some concentrate. A pretty random road trip so far then.

After a bit of driving we stopped at Hermanus, a lovely little seaside town, for some tea and cake. It was a nice place to take a break; it was quiet, cute and intimate, and it was here that I finally started to regret not having as much time today as I would have liked - it would have been nice to have just lounged around town for a bit but we still had a way to go and another stop to make.

That last stop was L'Agulhas, the southernmost tip of South Africa and the place where two oceans met. Unfortunately the weather had deteriorated by this point, and I reckon the place would have given a much better impression of scale and geography had I the time to let it all sink in. But by now the sun had gone down along with our collective energy and so we called it a day and carried on to our hotel in Mossel Bay.

All in all aside from some brilliant views it was a pretty unenthusiastic start to the Garden Route today, although I'm told it only really begins from where we've laid our hat today. I do hope so.

Coming Back To Cape Town

Of the three places I visited last time Cape Town by far had the most to offer to the tourist. It's why we've scheduled four days here, and alas why we mostly filled it with tourism rather than social activities. That's not to say there wasn't much to remember - retreading some of the old pathways was quite poignant, if only because it reminded me of the people who took me to all the places. In summary:

  • Table Mountain was a washout. Or rather a cloudout. Visibility was terrible and it made me both thankful for the amazing views I got the last time and regretful for those with me for whom this will probably be the only chance to see Cape Town from this height.
  • Robben Island was actually not too bad considering my previous experience. Perhaps it was maturity, perhaps a better tour guide, but it does seem that experiences can vary on such a small island.
  • Fish in the Rocks down in Hout Bay provided more nostalgia, but alas still decent (versus amazing) fish and chips
  • Cape Peninsula is still deceptively small and took the whole day to drive around. Chapman's Peak still offered amazing views, and we also got to see random lighthouses, ostriches and penguins.
  • Cape Point appeared as ordinary as it did last time; furthermore I didn't get to go down to Dias Beach, which was actually one of my favourite spots from my last visit to Cape Town.
  • The drive through Simon's Town was nice, if only to help us realise how immense False Bay was.
  • I got a better chance to see historical Cape Town by going on a walking tour of Parliament, the Company's Gardens and the Grand Parade.
  • The District 6 Museum is still worth going to.
  • The Gatsby is still worth eating.
  • Bo-Kaap is still cute and such a quick win to walk through, particularly while the Adhaan is being called.
  • New for me was the V&A Waterfront, which seems like a wonderful place to just sit at to enjoy live music and good weather.
  • Also new for me was the Botanical Gardens. We visited this on the way out of Cape Town so it's arguable that we didn't give it as much time as we should have... but for me a couple of hours was more than enough (if not too much).

The clear difference between this and my last visit was us being on our own while also having access to a car - the peninsula alone presented a whole different experience because of the driving and map following. I do feel like I now know Cape Town a little more intimately.

Nevertheless, the overriding feeling was of slight disbelief, that I had returned to a place I never thought I would... while all the time acknowledging that it was indeed a very different trip.

Friday, December 1

Coming Back to South Africa

My first trip to South Africa was 7 years or so ago. Technically it wasn't actually my trip per se, I was just graciously allowed to hijack a couple of friends' plan to attend a wedding there. Whatever the context, that trip (which now seems like a lifetime ago) most certainly ranks as one of my best. Perhaps it was the drama of getting there (ash clouds and the like), or how I was just a passenger being taken care of by some wonderful people. Or perhaps it was the total ignoring of the tourist trails in lieu of some first class dossing, bonding and socialising. Whatever the case it was a whole bundle of perfect moments strung together like pearls on a necklace - I know for sure there will never again be a trip like it for me.

It's difficult not to reminisce about that trip during normal times let alone on the day when I've returned - indeed I actually spent most of the time writing this post revisiting what I had written all those years ago. So it wasn't completely surprising how emotional I felt just merely landing at Johannesburg airport to catch my flight to Durban (Ocean Basket! The ex-Mugg and Bean! Even the prayer room!).

And yet I already know that my second time in South Africa will be very different from the first. It's absolutely more of a tourism-themed trip - I'm travelling with family, not friends and so expect a much more independent, isolated and perhaps even clinical trip this time around. We're self-driving a lot of kilometres too, something that is sure to increase my intimacy with the land. I'm both excited at seeing more of a country I had such an amazing time in, but also sad that the context is so different.

We also have much more time here. The total including our stint in Zimbabwe will be five weeks, a time not spent away from home since the heady days of Summer Holidays in Pakistan. That timescale, alongside the aforementioned tourist vibe, almost guarantees homesickness for me. But despite the immense amount of time here Johannesburg itself has become a bit of a casualty, with us using it mainly as a transit hub. That also makes me sad since I do have some pretty important people there I would have loved to have seen again.

But still, I write this in Durban, staying again at the friend's house I randomly found myself in all those years ago. It's almost like I had never left.

Thursday, November 30

Victoria Falls, Day Four: The Devil's Pool

In what was a last minute squeezing of our time here, we successfully had an early enough start for our second crossing into Zambia. If I'm honest I did feel a slight twinge of regret but was committed to the morning's activity.

After crossing the border post (this time complete with immigration and stamps - okay, maybe now I've really hit 40 countries), we headed to the lush Livingston Hotel to sign in for our excursion. Naturally while we were waiting we hung out with the zebras and giraffes - although we were told afterwards that they, alas, were domestic.

After a speedboat to Livingston Island, we took a shortish walk across the edge of the (currently dry) waterfall, experiencing the literally cliff edge views and double and triple rainbows caused by the mist of the waterfall. After enjoying those views, we needed to swim a short distance across the river to reach this morning's real destination: The Devil's Pool.

I have to say, the whole thing was pretty amazing. A natural pool at the edge of the falls, its no exaggeration to call it an infinity pool on drugs. There's almost no point in even talking about it it was that good.

We hung out in the pool for a good 20 or 30 minutes, being nibbled at by the fishes and taking photos. After that we were treated to a decent breakfast before being taken back to the Livingston, and then back to our hotel on the Zimbabwean side of the river.

That brought us to the end of our time in Victoria Falls, and indeed Zimbabwe. But this isn't the end of our trip; oh no, Zimbabwe was merely a prologue. The bulk of our holiday really begins as we enter South Africa, making it four countries in 24 hours, which for island dwellers like us is never going to get old.

Wednesday, November 29

Victoria Falls, Day Three: Chobe

I can't claim that Botswana was ever on our list of places to visit, but apparently Chobe is one of the things to do while visiting Victoria Falls, and since we already had our Kaza Univisas it was too much of a quick in to pass up.

The tour generally consists of transport across the border and back, a "game drive" mini safari, lunch and then a boat tour. It was plainly filler, but we did get to see (and hear!) lions feeding, and a few elephants, zebras and giraffes (and of course lots and lots of impala and hippo). The trip was just about worth the cost in time and money, but I'd probably have rather limited my stay in Victoria Falls instead.

On the other hand, Botswana marked the 40th country I have visited, so there is that.

Returning to Victoria Falls in the evening, I realised how dead it was after hours. This is contrast to many other tourist towns I've visited and I miss the live music and the random chilling with people you just met in a cafe. I'm not exactly a party animal, but the town does seem a little... functional for my tastes.

Tuesday, November 28

Victoria Falls, Day Two: Victoria Falls

After deciding against spending the whole of today on a day trip out of town, we instead set out to see what local activities the town had to offer - which largely meant a visit to the falls.

In what can only be described as tourist trail efficiency our helicopter tour was booked and flown before 11am. It was just as you can imagine: a thrilling and exciting yet expensive and short-lived experience which just fell short of being an unmissable experience.

We then set off to the falls proper for a look on foot. Now it's important to realise that we were here in the Zimbabwean summer, otherwise known as The Dry Season. Since I have nothing to compare to I have no idea if it was the right time to come - I did appreciate not getting soaked for sure, yet I couldn't help feeling a little underwhelmed at the volume of water being displaced. That said the views still gave a sense of enormity and overall it was a much more worthwhile experience than seeing it from above.

After we had our fill of the falls, we walked up the road to the bridge to catch the views from there (as well as place a foot into Zambia). Although we each had Kaza univisas (which gave us unlimited entry into three countries for 30 days) we took the bridge stamp option (if only to save some space in our passports). It was a pretty long walk but was just about worth it.

After a quick lunch back in our hotel we took the opportunity to book our remaining activities, after which we headed to the luxurious Victoria Falls Hotel for an opulent chai. It was very swank and an extremely nice way to spend an afternoon.

And that was it for the day - we decided to call it an early night so we could catch a fresh start the next day. I felt that we got right amount done, and was pretty done with what the town had to offer... although that might also have something to do with the price of entry. One thing is definitely for sure, Victoria Falls is expensive.

Monday, November 27

Victoria Falls, Day One: Getting Sold Down The River

Zimbabwe was never on my list of places to visit. In fact I'm still not sure how we've ended up here - in what can only be described as clear proof that feature creep doesn't just happen in software development I guess our main trip just spilled out into the rest of Africa, as if this was the only time we'd ever be visiting the continent. Add to that the recent news of good ol' Bob having been kicked out of office and we were quite apprehensive on arriving at Victoria Falls (the airport). Getting here was quite the chore too; we actually had to fly through Johannesburg which added both time and cost to the travel plan. Needless to say I had a bit of grumpiness to shake off after landing.

Landing at 2pm, the original plan was to take it easy for the rest of the day... but after being offered a sunset river cruise my need to optimise kicked in and so we decided to make the most of an afternoon. Logistically this was the right thing to do, but an overcast sky and chilly river made the two hour cruise one hour too long. But hey, at least we got to see some hippos.

Otherwise my initial impression of Victoria Falls (the town) is that of a typical African (or indeed third world) tourist town - lots of tour operators and hawkers trying to sell you stuff, with not much local culture or vibe to enjoy.

Either way... I'm going to sleep well tonight.

Tuesday, November 21

Film: Justice League Click for more info

Disagreeing with the mainstream reaction to the DCEU is par for the course now: I quite liked the films I was supposed to hate and didn't really think much of the one I was supposed to love. So given the almost universal panning that Justice League has gotten so far, I suppose it's not that surprising that, well, I kinda enjoyed it.

Yes, it was cobbled together and yes they really should have been patient and gone with the origin stories first. But despite the obvious flaws and awful pacing the film did entertain and had enough pow wallop to keep me going. And at a forgiving two hours long it really wasn't asking for much in return.