Thursday, June 30, 2011

From Libya to local to "lekker"

One thing I hate about being a tourist is being like a tourist. That’s when you do tourist stuff like asking for directions, staring at stupid birds and animals that the locals don’t even see anymore, or taking pictures of your food. Especially when the flash goes off, everyone in the restaurant looks up and stops chewing and you sit there looking like a dork who had never before seen a common dish like fish and chips.
I have basically turned my Port-Gentil trip into a culinary adventure. I tried different restaurants with food from different countries and even went to a local restaurant where visitors would probably not go unless they are as adventurous as I am or they were invited by locals. Tonight I had what everyone should have when they travel to Gabon....a seafood platter. It would be a sin to travel to West Africa and not have seafood. Where South Africa exports all its seafood, in West Africa the seafood come fresh from the ocean right onto your plate.
The San Lorenzo Restaurant is a bit more upmarket than the one where I had my Boullin Capitain earlier today. It seems to be place where the Expats hang out. Mostly from France. The service was good and the food was good. I was still a bit stuffed from my lunch, but I started off my evening with Avocado Crevette, my all time favourite when traveling to these parts of the world. The avocado pears you find here are huge, and they taste good. The problem with this starter is that you are definitely full once you have finished it, so pushing down more food after that could actually be bad for your health. On the plate for my main course was calamari, prawns, lobster (crayfish), fish and of course chips. All on top of a spicy curry sauce. My camera died on me after I took the first picture, but fortunately I had my cell phone with me. The quality of the picture is unfortunately not the same, but I am sure it is easy to see that seafood in Gabon is worth trying.

My culinary experience over the past few days have gone from Libya to local to "lekker", and if you don't know what "lekker" means, search for it on Urban Dictionary. Maybe I am a tourist after all...

Local food in a foreign country

After my Libyan experience in Gabon, I decided to search for local food in Port-Gentil. I managed to get to a restaurant that is so local that no-one would ever find it without local intelligence. Definitely not a restaurant that you would either stumble upon during your stay in Port-Gentil or read about in the Lonely Planet. Commonly known by the locals as "Maphine's Place", Restaurant Divengui Chez Maphine is nothing more than a old dilapidated converted home in one of the neighbourhoods not far from town. At first sight one might think that you are at the wrong place, but the smell of food on the fire gives it away. Finding the entrance tothe place is just as tricky, but we just followed our noses and ended up in a very small roofed veranda with some chairs, tables and enough evidence that this was in fact a restaurant.

The menu was scribbled on a black board and I recognized the word "Capitain" which I assumed could only be fish. I guess one cannot go wrong with fish in Gabon and ordered the Bouillon Capitain  without bothering with the rest of the menu which I in any case did not understand. The two side dishes were as local as one can get. Banane Plutain is a close relative of the common banana, less sweet, harder and seldom eaten raw. We had it fried, one of the many ways it can be prepared. With that we had manioc, a vegetable that basically grows in any type of soil and that looks very similar to sweet potatoes. I am sad to say than none of the two above mentioned produce tastes anything like their closer relatives. Knowing that this is Africa where sweet food is not really appreciated, I am sure that with a little sugar both of them can be turned into a pleasant side dish. Today I was not that fortunate to have it sweetened and swallowed hard on both. The fish stew however was rather tasty with lots of spices with a little bite in the taste. It was a bit awkward when the fish head turned up later but by that time I was totally intrigued with my real "African experience". The fact that most of  the fish was already down by then convinced me to finish the rest as well. It was in any case good enough to finish, and Africa has more than enough hungry people, I did not dare send any back. Fortunately a friend of mine from Chad was happy to finish the banane plutain and manioc. In their country it is also not wasted.
I have to admit that this is not the restaurant most Westeners would feel comfortable at, but this is the closest you'll get to African cuisine without having to catch the fish yourself or digging out the manioc from the ground with your bare hands. Libya might also be in Africa, but Gabon IS Africa, and today I had a good taste of local Gabonese cuisine. I have reason to believe that my next meal is at a more European style restaurant also somewhere here in Port-Gentil, so more on that later....

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Foreign" food in a foreign country

I don't know why it is that every time I visit a country in Africa people want to take me out to a "foreign" restaurant. By foreign I mean something like Chinese or Indian or Italian. I am sure that most African countries have local cuisine just as good as any.  A few years ago visiting Port-Gentil in Gabon someone took me to a Libyan restaurant. This was the first time again in many years that I learned two new English words on the same day, "Usban" and "entrails". Unfortunately they were also in the same sentence. You see Usban is a well-known Libyan dish made by stuffing the entrails of animals after going through an intensive cleaning process, usually sheep, but also cattle and camels. The main ingredients of the stuffing are rice, parsley, meat and pluck. Oh yes, I remember now, I learned the word "pluck" as well that day. I guess this is the equivalent of Scottish Haggis or "offal" which we eat in South Africa. I shouldn't say "we", because I don't count myself in when it comes to eating the leftover pieces of any animal's intestines. So, I decided there and then that Libyan food is not for me.

Today I am in Port-Gentil again and got invited to a restaurant for lunch. I was stupid enough to say "I eat anything" because after my answer the suggestion came to do Libyan then. There was no way out for me. I just had to make sure that I didn't get the French word for "Usban" wrong. Well I was lucky, the plat du jour was poulet avec du riz et la soupe. I know enough French to be certain that Usban was not going to be on my plate. I only learned later that the la soupe was actually a very thin sauce meant to go over the rice. If you had tried the meal, you would understand why there was "soup" to cover the meal. I realized after the first few bites that I would be needing extra fluids to get it down my throat because it was really dry.

I couldn't finish my meal, it was just too much. It didn't taste bad at all to be honest, especially when compared to the previous "Libyan-experience" I had in the same town many years ago. I guess all nationalities have one or two of these traditional meals that don't go down easily if it hadn't been forced down your throat since childhood. So, I got the T-shirt for Usban, Haggis and Offal already...and a taste that still sometimes appears back in my mouth despite thousands of fluoride treatments and mouth wash, but today I fortunately escaped it. Tomorrow however lunch is on me and I'm choosing the restaurant.....

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Beautiful Bike


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Breakfast Review - The Pepper Tree

I have been to the restaurant in the small town of Philidelphia before. I also remember writing about this town before. I also know that Philidelphia has a very unique atmosphere for a town that is situated basically just outside of Cape Town. When we entered the little town my son said that he likes it..."because everything looks so old". Well, everything might look "old", but it is really a nice getaway from the city. It is also a popular place for breakfast at the Pepper Tree Restaurant. Some advice...go early, but not before 9 am. The place is usually packed over weekends. Today we arrived just in time to order breakfast, the kitchen closes at 11.20 when they start preparing for lunch.

 It was raining the whole morning and when the sun showed her head we decided to find a place for breakfast. We headed to Philidelphia hoping for the best, because the last three attempts with the grandparents we had to turn around. The first time it was closed, the second time we were way too early and the third time it was full, or something to that effect. Today we were lucky, we arrived just before they wanted to close the kitchen for breakfasts, but we managed to get our stomachs filled. I had the French Toast and my wife scrambled eggs on toasts.

After breakfast we took a stroll through the town. It took us about ten minutes. Here are some pictures. A lovely town with friendly people. If you are into arty stuff, for sure don't drive past.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Surfing at Seli's

It's amazing. The day before I was kitesurfing close to the Seli 1 with hardly any waves. The local yacht club actually did a race and used the Seli as a turning point. Today the waves were big enough to have half of the local surfing population in the water, with hardly any safe space for yachts to turn. It is going to be a sad day indeed when they tow away the Seli to her last resting place....whenever this is going to happen. Even Deon Bing the local surf reporter said that this could become the second J-Bay. Can you imagine, the best kiting and surfing spot in one location. We just need something to heat the water.....

The Seli 1 has been lying here for nearly two years and is sinking deeper into the sandy ocean floor. According to a local newspaper it would be away and gone by the end of the year, but that was what they said last year as well. No matter how it obstructs the most famous view in the world, the effect it had on the local waves are amazing. This never used to be a surf spot, and yesterday it was probably the best and only place along the Atlantic coast to have decent ridable waves. Even Derde Steen, Big Bay and Melkbos was not working. If I had a say I would leave it there. Let Mother Nature deside what to do with her.

Friday, June 10, 2011

It's Friday, let's go BRAAI...!

It looks like the weather for the weekend is going to be good. Make sure you don't waste it...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Duck Dive - Some advice

I've noticed on my blog statistics that many people search for "dick diving" and then land up on my post I did a while ago on this topic. I actually just  put some nice pictures in the post, but I assume people are looking for this because they want to learn to duck dive and not want to see pretty pictures. Duck diving is NOT a pretty picture if you don't know what one's talking about or if you don't know how to execute it properly, so here are some tips.

Many years ago I had a friend who was rather competitive. He grew up far from the ocean but always said that he would be able to surf, that it cannot be that difficult. I took him to Durban where I grew up, gave him my board and said, there you go. What he didn't know was that duck-diving is as part of surfiing as climbing is as part of paragliding. After about 20 minutes of struggle to get out, he came back exhausted and admitted that surfing was not easy. He has not even been to the part where you have to stand up yet. I am no Kelly Slater or Jory Smith, but at least I have learned a few things about getting to the waves without having to rest for 20 minutes to get my breath back, so I hope I can help you.

1) The first thing you need to do before going out is to wait a second and look at the sets coming through. Rushing in just as a set is coming through will have you fighting against the waves and leaves you exhausted. Watch two or three sets coming through to see how long they take and how far they are apart of each other. As soon as the last wave brakes then start paddling in. You don't want to get pounded on your way in already, so be patient to get out.

2) If the next set comes and you are caught inside, do not fight the waves. Most people start paddling harder with the hope of missing probably only the last wave, leaving then exhausted and unable to continue paddling. The best way is to relax and to wait for the waves to come through. You don't have to move forward, all you need to do is stay at least at the same spot. Keep your slow paddling pace and make sure that you do a proper dive at least so that you are not thrown backwards. Conserve your energy. When the sets is over you can continue going forward.

3) One of the worst things that could happen to you is when a wave breaks and you get hammered by the lip on your back or right in front of you. So, time yourself when paddling in so that this does not happen. This means that sometimes you have to stop paddling to get your timing right. It is much easier to duck-dive a foamie than to duck-dive a wave that is going to close out right in front of you or or your head.

4) In a worse case scenario as described above, there is no shame in "abandoning your ship" and diving underneath the wave. The dangers of this though is your leash breaking or your board hitting the dude behind you. So, always be aware where your mates are otherwise you might turn into one of their ex-mates. You are going to be pulled backwards when you do this, but it is still better than ending up with a broken back or broken board. If the set is too big, don't try and get back on your board and start fighting the waves again. Hang around and chill until the set has passed.

5) Although it is easier to learn surfing on a bigger board, it is harder to duck-dive. Make sure that you have enough weight and strenght to push the board down. Remember, one duck-dive is probably equivalent to five push-ups. Conserving your energy is very important. The best time to do the duck-dive is just before the waves peak going through the face of the wave. This way you are basically sucked in by the waves and propelled through to the back. Not much effort required.

7) Know your local break. There is usually the bowl or impact zone area where the waves break and an area where the water channels back. It is easier to paddle in the channel. If the are rocks or a pier, it is easier to paddle alongt those and then move over to the bowl once you are in. Never paddle straight to the line-up where the guys are taking the waves, you will either end up in front of them or get bopped out faster than what you've paddled in.

8) When you are paddling in and you are going to be met by a surfer on the face of the wave, stay calm and in one place. The surfer obvioulsy has mastered the art of surfing already and can manoevre around you. If you start splashing this way and that way a collison is inevitable. This is the time where you hang on to your board for dear life and forget about the option I've mentioned in point 4. It is better to be sworn at afterwards than to be hit by a surfboard, to damage two boards in the process and then to be sworn at. Oh, and if you were in the way, there is no harm is saying sorry.

So these are some of the basics to make duck-diving easier. But what about the actual duck-dive itself? There are many ways to skin a cat and probably many way to duck a wave, but this is what works for me.

1) One thing you have to remember is that when you push down your board in the wave it reacts like a ironing board in a wind tunnel. You have to keep it straight into the flow and allow the water to pass. If you don't do that the wave will push you back and spit you out. The best way to do this is to keep the board in line with the water flow; push it too deep and you will topple forward, keep too upright and you will be pushed back along with the board.

2) There are two ways to help you getting the board down. You can either use your one knee or you foot if the board is long enough, while lifting your upper body up as if you are going to do a push-up. Use your other leg to keep your body in line with the board, like an aircrafts back fin. You will see in the pictures on my previous post that everyone has a leg in the air, except for that last pic of the girl on the bodyboard. We'll excuse her this time.

3) Once you are under the water, your body will separate from your board. Just hold onto it allowing the water to flow past. This part is like learning to ride a bicycle. It takes practice. As you reach the surface again, your board will move towards your body again.

I hope some of what I said can help you. In the end practice is all you need. Just don't give up. Unfortunately for everything nice there is a part that we need to do that we don't like. For me, besides having to put on a wetsuit because of the cold water, duck-diving is probably it. I am sure there are many more sites on the Internet to teach you the basics, but in the end you have to go down there and do it. Have fun!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mother Nature's Therapy Session

Isn't this amazing. Two days ago I was searching the Internet for more information on SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) to unravel the mysterious connection between the change in weather and my mood swings. For a couple of days now it has been raining on and off, and although this is basically what is to be expected for the Western Cape this time of the year, the thought of having to survive another three months of winter is pulling me down into the deepests dephts of depression. I'm trying to establish if it is the actual weather that works in on my general well-being, or if its secondary effect might be responsible. Could it be the fact that bad weather just means no outdoor activities and that this leads to a dull unexciting life which silently kills me? I think I might have to do more research on SAD because my earlier self-diagnosis of possible manic depression didn't go down well with my wife and friends. They think I'm crazy, whatever they mean by that. Seasonal Affective Disorder might be closer to the truth I think.

I once read that a person's life is over when the only reason he or she gets up in the morning is to have a wee. I have asked myself that question many times. Why do I get up in the morning? I guess in my case the answer changes along with the changes in weather conditions. When the weather is cold and wet like it has been for the last couple of days then it was definitely just to go wee. Of course I need to work as well to support my family and get up because of that, so maybe I should rephrase that question and ask what makes me feel alive instead of what's making me get up. I don't think it is sunny weather per se, but the ability to spend time outdoors would probably be closer to the right answer. Cape Town has miserable weather this time of the year, but fortunately when it's not raining then the sunny windless days are just amazing. Then I feel fine. Perfect outdoor weather for most outdoor activities, except kitesurfing of course. In winter most kitesurfers either migrate to the northern hemisphere or they pack away their kiting gear and take out whatever else they prefer to do in either rainy or windless weather. Today however Mother Nature was very kind to us. She threw in a free therapy session when everybody was needing it but no-one was expecting it. And when Mother Nature gives you a bonus session you better make good use of it.

It was about 4:30 when I reached Kite Beach this afternoon. I packed in both kites just in case, but as expected my smaller Nomad 7 was the obvious choice. There were already a few guys in the water, so I wasted no time in getting the  kite rigged up and getting into my wetsuit. It was a cloudless day, except for the familiar cloud formation on top of Table Mountain which is nature's reliable indicator that the southeastern is blowing. The wind was chilly, but the water temperature was surprizingly warm. It is a fact that the water on the Atlantic side is usually warmer in winter than in summer. This is caused by upwelling, but that if for your geography teacher to explain. The sea was a bit choppy, but nothing serious. At 20 knots I knew that I would be touching the water only here and there. I don't know when last I actually were in the water, but kitesurfing is like riding bicycle. For some reason you can get on and ride again no matter when last you've been on a bicycle. I was yet again very pleased with myself for adding the Nomad to my toy collection a few months earlier. If I didn't have a smaller kite today, I probably would've been typing my suicide note right.

It was only after my kite session while taking some pictures on the beach when I realized that my spirits are back where it was a few months ago when I couldn't find enough time to do everything I love doing. And the best part of it is the fact that it was still windy and cold outside, definitely not the summer weather I believed to be the main ingredient for a raised spirit. I thought about my SAD concerns and realized that the weather might not be the activator of my mood swings after all, but rather the inability to do the things I love. The things that keep me alive is not weather driven, it's adrenalin driven. When the constant wind was dragging me down a few years ago I took up kite surfing and now I actually wait for the wind to blow. I might want to look into something that can be done when it is cold and wet outside. Unfortunately it does not get cold enough in this beautiful country of ours to take up snowboarding. I am sure that would've rid me of the winter blues as well. At least tonight I know that I can feel good when it's winter too, I just need something exciting to do to give me that much needed lift.  Mother Nature did not only provide me with a reason to feel good tonight, she also provided me with an answer to my SAD question. Maybe my life is not so "SAD" after all.