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Samantha jumping next to the Arts Festival welcome sign

Samantha’s National Arts Festival Adventure!

Just as the weather in England decided that it was actually summer after all, I traveled to Grahamstown, South Africa. Where it was winter... though, the tempertature was still 20C every day (all the locals were in coats and gloves!). 
I was there to perform 'Samantha's Dubious History of Musical Comedy' at the National Arts Festival (South Africa's answer to the Edinburgh Festival). I performed 6 shows over 5 days to a fantastic audience, who got all my jokes, despite the culture barrier!
Then we had 2 days off before traveling home, so we booked into Addo Elephant Park overnight - WOW! Totally worth it!

It was an amazing trip! Thanks to everyone who made it so great, and who were so friendly and helpful. I couldn't have done it without you!

Traveling (Sunday + Monday)

Even though we had a late flight 6:30pm, due to work commitments both Andy and I were up at 8am. Then we had 15 hours of flights and many hours of waiting... so that by the time we'd got to our B&B we'd both been awake for 32 hours!  Luckily, there's no jet-lag (only 1hr time difference).
Neither of us can sleep on planes... But lots of really good films on the in-flight entertainment saw us through. I had planned to work during the flight, but it was a night flight, so they turned all the lights off, and the personal lights were so bright they would have woken everyone around me. Oh well :)
We dropped off our luggage, then immediatly set off to The Monument (up a very steep hill) to sign in with the fringe and get our artiste passes (get in free to any show - as long as there are empty seats!). 
The B&B is large and colonial (the view from the balcony to our room - or "stoop" as they say here - below) as one would expect, but the crime rate is a slight spoiler. It's not that you are likely to be robbed, it's just that you have to be aware that it might happen and take precautions every second of the day ... and that's such a shame. Every house of any value has walls, barbed wire and guard dogs. No one leaves anything in a parked car. The roads are wide. The busy ones are patrolled by black youths who will 'look after' your car while it's parked for a small tip (although they don't actually do anything!). However they don't threaten and if you don't pay they look annoyed but not aggressive. 
We couldn't help but notice the views. It may be winter, but it's a stunning country!

The Venue and The Shows

After a long, long sleep, it was time to find our venue. Luckily for us it was on the main road. So we checked out the venue and checked in with our technicians Enock, Nelson and Tumi. We were really happy with the venue; great atmosphere, good lighting, nice accoustics and everyone we met there was so helpful!
Our first show was at 8:30pm so we had time to check out The Albany Club. Usually it's members only, but it was open to the public for the festival. This was our first real experiance of South African food. The meat is amazing! Andy had steak, and I had beef stew, and after tasting it we were very impressed. Large portions, fantastic meat and all at less than half the price of restaurants in England. Andy proceeded to have steak at least once every day we were there!
The first show was a sell out, which was fantastic for me, because I was a bit nervous. Its quite scary trying out comedy in a different culture - what if it doesn't translate! But luckilly for me the audience loved it, and gave me a standing ovation at the end! That made me feel better.
After that the audience size fluctuated (as you expect at a fringe) from 40 to 120, but every audience came in ready to laugh and we all had a great time. Mr Donkey was a particular favourite.

The Rest of the Fest

Becasue we had one show a day (apart from saturday) we had plenty of time to see the rest of the festival. There were loads of other shows, and there was a big fete called 'The Village Green' where there was dancing and art of all sorts.
It was a lot of fun (so we forgot to take pictures of most of it).
We were really impressed by the quality of the recycled art there. Tyre chairs, wire sculptures, crazy lawn ornaments and bead elephants all done to a very high standard - unfortunately none of the really cool stuff would fit in our luggage!
We also came across the best BBQ Andy had ever seen. Nothing but massive steaks!
We also saw another side to Grahamstown - the outskirts of the city. We were quite shocked at the living conditions there. Tiny huts, cobbled together with bits and bobs, donkeys and wild dogs in the street, and huge quantities of plasic rubbish everywhere. Racial inequality is still a huge problem, mostly due to a lack of education and opportunity for the majority of the black population. 

Sunday - Visiting the Coast

Once all the shows were done, Andy and I could indulge in some sight-seeing. We decided to take a day to travel to the coast, first to Kenton-On-Sea then to Port Alfred. That brought us to the Indian Ocean, and beautiful white sand beaches. I love shells, and collect a few every time I get a chance. There were lots of very cool shells I'd never seen before, so I got to add to my collection :)
We would have gone in the sea, but it was very windy and the waves were very high. We decided it would be better to stay on the shore. Then, after some more steak for lunch, we headed back to Grahamstown.
On our journey we came across some wonderful spots. A silent pond next to the main road, to name but 1. And we were ammused by the local plants - they have the biggest succulants I've ever seen!
As we were travelling along the N2 (the motorway) we saw a wild Giraffe by the side of the road. We pulled over to take a picture and the Giraffe seemed to invite us to take a closer look. It was incredebly friendly and was quite happy to be stroked! I was shocked by how safe it seemed, considering how massive it's head was, and its teeth, but I wasn't in the least scared. It was like a big friendly dog. AMAZING!

Addo Elephant Park

We saved the best for last - a trip to Addo Elephant Park. We decided to spend Monday there, stay overnight, then explore the park some more before catching our flight at 6:30pm.
It was supprisingly cheap to stay there - the 2 days cost about £100! And when they say 'Elephant Park' they aren't kidding! the second thing we saw was a group of 4 elephants, 2 adults and 2 young, right on the road. The first thing we saw was a tiny Leopard Tortoise, which crossed the road in front of us - so cute! 
We saw way more species, and in greater numbers than I could have hoped. It was astounding how unconcerned they all were by the car, and us taking pictures. Zebras, Kudu, Warthogs, Elephants, a huge variety of birds (including Blue Cranes and Ostrichs), Bushbuck, Turtles, Vervet Monkeys, Red Hartebeast, Buffalo (the whole herd crossed right in front of the car). At night they have a lit wateringhole, with a hide next to it. We sat in silence there as the sun went down, and for a few hours after dinner. It was great - though lots of people apparently dont have the patience for it. They'd pop in for maybe a minute, then walk off if there wasn't an animal right there... and they'd make a lot of noise too. They never saw anything, but if you wait quietly you might see what we did - Hyenas passing by and howling at each other, and a big bull elephant drinking for 15 mins at least.
Then we went to our log cabin, and went to sleep, becasue we knew we wanted to be the first people out in the park when it opened at sunrise. We were driving around, watching the sunrise, seeing the world waking it - it was a very cool moment, but we didn't see any new animals. Then we checked out, and decided to drive hrough the whole park and out the south exit, then on to Port Elizabeth and our plane home. 
On the way we saw mostly what we'd seen the day before, magical, but not new, so we were not expecting to be flagged down by another car coming the other way. They told us that about 10 mins away was a fresh lion kill. 3 Lionesses had killed a Warthog a few feet from the road. We went in search and found exactly that. There are no rules at Addo about keeping your windows up - which made for some great photos, but a scary moment when one of the lions had eaten her fill and walked right past us. She stopped directly by us and looked into the car - it was very intimidating, but she was very calm - and full. What a fantastic way to end our 'Safari'.

The Journey Home

We exited the park and made our way to Port Elizabeth. When we got there we decided it was still early, and grabbed a snack at a fancy-looking cafe, opposite the harbour. Then we hopped on a plane, then another plane, and finally got home at midday the next day. Because we got up at dawn on the Tuesday, by the time we got to our Jive Club on the wednesday night we'd been up 37 hours... then we slept really well afterwards. 
What an amazing trip -I'll never forget it!

Lion, walking very close to the car



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