Looking back…..

So I’ve been home for a week now and I can say that it is good to be back home to family and friends. But I think those few weeks I spent in South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe will having a lasting impact on my life. This truly was a trip of a lifetime! I am so glad that I made the decision to go and I don’t think I could have chosen a nicer group of people of all ages to experience it with. Truly, some of the nicest folks!
As I look back at my time in Africa, it was definitely amazing to get so up close and personal with the animals and the Falls were out of this world. Not sure I ever got the “perfect shot” (meaning pic) but I most certainly have some pretty awesome memories!

We all enjoyed some great adventures, good food (diet is already in progress) and drink (love the Amarula) but I think what I’ll remember most and what now has a place in my heart will be the African countryside and it’s people. The rolling hills and valleys, miles and miles of eucalyptus forests and fruit trees, crashing waves of both the Indian and Atlantic oceans, and then almost desert like prairies or grasslands. Just beautiful! But at the same time, we saw some of the poorest townships and conditions that some of the African people live in and it really opened my eyes to what’s outside my world. Sure you see this on TV or in the news but to witness firsthand is something completely different. Visiting and playing with the children in the orphanage in Zimbabwe and the township in Swaziland was really a time I will treasure. Seeing how these children live and then seeing the smiles and laughter and their excitement to see our bus coming to visit is a memory that I won’t soon forget. Makes you really appreciate the smaller things in life and want to do more for those less fortunate which I now plan to do.

Our guide Chris talked with passion and pride about his country of South Africa and it’s people and all that the government is doing to help. I cannot thank him enough for sharing this passion with all of us and giving us some AMAZING memories! Thank you Chris!

South Africa Group Picture

Last few days in Cape Town

Day17
Our first adventure of the day was a trip to Robben Island. We were given a 45 minute tour of the island by a young man who gave us a history lesson as we rode around the island. We also learned of the gold treasures that are said to be still on the island. After the island tour, we toured the prisons that were used for political prisoners beginning in 1961. It was in this prison (section B) that Nelson Mandela spent 18 years. Our tour of the prison was given by a man who spent 8 years here at the same time as Mr. Mandela.. It was very interesting to hear him talk of the life that they endured and as we left the island, we walked road to freedom just as the prisoners did upon their release.

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This afternoon we had a bus tour of the city of Cape Town. There was one section called the Malay District where all of the houses are different colors. It’s very cool. If I remember correctly the color of the house signified the occupation of the owner. So for example if you needed a cobbler, you go to a blue house. I wish I got a picture of the street but unfortunately didn’t get it :(. But another nice memory!  We also went to a museum which had animal skeletons and things like that but not my cup of tea so I went and sat in the nearby park instead. Actually saw my first white squirrel!

We had a free night tonight. Chris recommended a couple of places for dinner. A group of us chose Busby’s Grill. OMG..best steak I’ve had in a very long time. If you’re ever in Cape Town you must check it out!

Day 18
Today we traveled to Haut Bay. Once again the scenery along the way was pretty spectacular. This time though we traveled a windy road along the coast with some very beautiful views. We made it to Haut bay where we stopped at a little harbor. We had 2 options- hop on a boat to go out to see the seals or stay back and enjoy some free time to shop (there was like a mini flea market with the locals selling all of their African souvenirs). There was no way I was going on the boat so I stayed back. I didn’t miss out on the seals though because there were a few in the harbor that I enjoyed watching. Glad I skipped the boat because I heard it was a little rough!

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Leaving Haut Bay and headed to the Cape of Good Hope. Made a stop to see the penguins along the way. They were so neat. We also frolicked on the beach for a minute or two.

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Finally reached Cape of Good Hope. This is the most south western point of the African continent. Took a group picture and then made the hike up to the light house. It was quite a walk but the view was incredible along the way and at the top.

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Along the path to the lighthouse there is a sign that says Baboons are wild animals and are attracted by food. Well not 20 feet from the sign on the paths, we saw a whole bunch of them. Yikes! They didn’t bother anyone although one of them unzipped Erin’s bag. Smart little critters!

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Back to the hotel..another free night for dinner. Robin and I got brave and took the bus down to the waterfront and did a bit of shopping. I heard we missed a pretty good sunset tonight though with a rainbow. Dang! 🙂

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Day 19
Our last full day in South Africa. It was a good day for some wine tasting. ( a few folks went on a shark dive- not my cup of tea). We went to the Stellenbosch Wine region. First stop was the lanzarec vineyard where we tasted wine and chocolate. I’ve never done a wine tasting before. This was fun and it wasn’t even 10 in the morning 🙂

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Stopped at a couple more vineyards for some more tasting and then enjoyed a delicious lunch. Was a good way to spend a overcast drizzly day.

Tonight is our farewell dinner. It’s hard to believe we’ve been together for almost 3 weeks. We went to a very nice restaurant on the waterfront (can’t remember the name). The dinner choices were veal, fish, or spaghetti. I had spaghetti. Another delicious meal. Ended with a champagne toast by Chris. It was a great night!

Have some packing to do….

Day 20

It’s going home day! Got up early to enjoy one last early morning walk on the beach. It was a very sunny day ..almost didn’t want to leave. 😦

Chris accompanied us to the airport where we bid him farewell. I have to say he takes the prize when it comes to tour guides. One of, if not, the best!

Ready for the long flight home…..

Cape Town and Table Mountain

Day 16

Leaving Knysna towards Cape Town where we will spend the final days of our adventure. We continued on our journey and along the way stopped at an Aloe Vera factory. Of course had to make a small purchase 🙂

Back on the road again. Lunch today was poolside at the beautiful Excelsior Wine Estate. Very delicious and very relaxing! Ludwig was offering 5 Rand to anyone that would do a cannonball..no surprise that he had no takers. 🙂

100 miles or so more to go to reach our destination. We are on a mission to get to Cape Town today to get up Table mountain…weather permitting.

And we made it! The winds held off and the mountain was open. We took the cable car ride to the top of this flat topped mountain flanked by Lions Head mountain on one side and Devil’s peak on the other. We were up near the clouds with some pretty awesome views. I’ve heard of people that come all this way and not get the chance to make this ride to the top because of winds or cloud cover so I feel very lucky to have had the chance!

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Checked in to our last hotel, the Protea President right up the street from the ocean. Our room had a great view of Lions head mountain to one side and the ocean on the other. Nice! We’re here for 4 nights-what a treat!

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Dinner tonight at the hotel was a little chaotic, not one of the most organized meals but I was a little tired and a little queasy in the stomach so a little bit of rice and early to bed for me 🙂

Knysna

Knysna
Day 14
Leaving Port Elizabeth today headed to the city of Knysna. On the way we stopped at Jeffrey’s bay (Dolphin beach) and frolicked in the Indian Ocean for a short time. Water was not too cold and snails and shells were plentiful. A nice little Beachside resort area..retirement destination to keep in mind maybe!? 🙂

Back on the bus. Next stop-the Tsitsikamma National Park- another amazing place with incredible ocean views. This is the place with the suspension bridges- a nice scenic walk ( a bit of a hike) through the forest to get to them. So many awesome views of the rocky coast with the waves just crashing on the rocks. We enjoyed a lunch (calamari wraps with ice cream for dessert) here as well.

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Arrived in Knysna late afternoon. Our hotel ( another Protea) was situated along the bay with some pretty nice yachts. It was a little rainy so didn’t do too much exploring yet. We’re here for a couple nights so there’s always tomorrow. The view from our room:

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Free night for dinner tonight but most of the group went with Chris to a restaurant called 34 South. Most had seafood but I opted for something light. So much food!!!

Knysna day 2
Day 15

Today we visited the Featherbed Nature Reserve. We embarked on a 15-20 minute ferry ride across the Knysna Lagoon to the Featherbed Reserve. Here we boarded a 4×4 vehicle for a ride up to the top and then took a guided hike down where we had majestic views of where the Indian Ocean flows into the lagoon between the rocky cliffs. Here’s that word again – AMAZING. We made our way down, stopping along the way to take in the views and explore a couple of sea caves.
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We then enjoyed another buffet type lunch with a variety of food including Ostrich. I got brave and tried just a little bit – was pretty good- the way it was cooked it tasted a little like chili. Back on the ferry to land and then back to the hotel. Got a chance to do a little shopping. Adjacent to the hotel was a street with plenty of shops for souvenirs. This area sort of reminded me of Venice with the canal, restaurants, and shops.

Tonight we visit with the elephants at the elephant sanctuary (see previous post). Just another great day!!!

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Lions and rhinos and giraffes, oh my!

Day 13
The Pumba Private Game Reserve for our last game drive. Out of all the drives we did, this one was my favorite. We were in the same type of off road jeeps but this time we actually went off road. Our guide Rheno (spelling?) or Rhino as he said they call him gave us quite a wild ride with all the bumps included. Some crazy people out here….  🙂

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Our jeep’s mission: find the white lion and some wildebeests. And we did! The lion was absolutely beautiful. She was hiding in a grassy bush but we waited and watched for her to give us a better glimpse. Got a couple good pics.

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The wildebeests were plentiful as well – saw both the blue and black variety. In addition we saw all the usual impala, giraffes, zebra, rhinos, baboons, and a variety of birds.
Stopped for a nice lunch at the Pumba Lodge (with some baboon visitors) and then back on the jeeps for another short ride. Caught another view of the white lion and then finally a group of giraffes -so awesome! I’ve decided the giraffes are my favorite!

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Back to the hotel for a brief break and we were off again for a township tour and dinner. Mongo, our guide for this tour, gave us a very interesting talk through the townships including the Red Location, part of the Nelson Mandela project. We drove through the different townships with a hair salon on nearly every block.2013_10_18_2131

These are some of the poorest towns with corrugated shack housing.
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A very sobering experience to see. We ended up at a small local tavern where we enjoyed some dinner while being entertained by a local gospel choir group and Marengo band. I was a little unsure when we first arrived but it turned out to be a fun lifetime experience. Celebrated a couple of birthdays here as well. Chris surprised MaryLou and Joanne with champagne and birthday cake! He’s got to be the world’s best tour guide! Once again, another good day!

Off to Port Elizabeth

Day 12

Another early morning start and another rainy day. Today we are headed to Durban to catch our short flight to port Elizabeth. We traveled through the area known as Zulu land. More fields of sugar cane, forests of trees for timber, little villages here and there, and a view of the Indian Ocean.

After about a 3 hour drive to the airport, then a 1 hour flight, we arrived in Port Elizabeth (the 4th largest city in South Africa). Our new bus driver Stefan picked us up and he and Chris gave us a little tour of the city before reaching our hotel. What a totally different landscape than where we’ve been for the last 2 weeks. More city-like or suburbs. We stopped and viewed Fort Frederick- I know there’s a bit of history that I should remember from what Chris told us but sorry I really don’t. Will need to google it. 🙂 From there we we walked to the Donkin Reserve and lighthouse. The Donkin reserve is a pyramid shaped monument built by the governor in the 1800s for his wife Elizabeth. Again there’s a touching story behind it must do some research on it to refresh my memory 🙂
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After checking in to the hotel, a few of us took a walk along the beach (Indian Ocean!).

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Just beautiful! The weather turned out to be a little better than what it was when we left this morning. Still some clouds but there was definitely some sun too. A bit breezy and chilly though. I’d say high 60’s, low 70ish. We stopped along the way for some interesting drinks and an appetizer of calamari before dinner. Mmmm!
This looks a little creepy but it really was good..it was called bushman on the menu but had another name on the receipt 🙂

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Dinner tonight was down the street at the Ginger restaurant. Another fabulous meal! I can feel the pounds just piling on! Tomorrow we are having our last game drive through the Pumba reserve so that means another early morning. Oh yeah and we get to do laundry!!!

We loved the Ellie’s!

OK so I know I’m not quite caught up to where we are yet but just have to share that we visited with the elephants today and it was (you should know it by now) AMAZING!! These are elephants that were rescued or orphaned and now reside at the Knysna elephant sanctuary. We enjoyed feeding them and just watching them (loads of pictures too) as they are magnificent creatures. After walking with them to put them to bed we went and enjoyed a delicious dinner!

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Definitely a high on the list of what I like best about the trip so far. We’re headed to Cape Town tomorrow…long bus ride so I hope to catch you up to where we’re at. Until then…..