These are all the rest of the photos from our time in Cape Town, a city that truly captivated us. Even as the single place where we've spent the most time since July, we left wanting more. With a smile we couldn't shake and a shimmer in our eyes, we both agreed, "I could live there."
Heaven for foodies, people-watchers, and trinket lovers, the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town's Woodstock neighborhood is the perfect place to spend a Saturday. We wandered idly, taking in delicious smells, bright artwork, lively music and tastes of many different foods, from Greek to Korean. There are local vendors with tables overflowing with leather goods and delicate jewelry to peruse. It's like a wonderful street fair or farmer's market, but with a distinctly South African flair.
We spent small bursts of time at the V&A Waterfront, mostly because it was a few minutes from where we stayed. Although criticized by some for being too commercial, V&A was a great place to shop and go to a movie on a night we felt like taking it easy. We lingered there again after returning from Robben Island for lunch and coffee.
Robben Island was moving and memorable. I had finished reading Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela's autobiography, the week before going, so I was particularly excited to see it firsthand. All guides on the island are former political prisoners. They each have their own stories and memories to share. Although I found that I got more out of reading Mandela's descriptions, it's still impactful and definitely something everyone should do once in their life.
So long Cape Town, until next time.
On Sunday evenings during South Africa's summer (December through early April), Kirstenbosch hosts a concert series in the park featuring South African artists. We figured it would be a good way to check two things off the list at once, since we already wanted to see Kirstenbosch's tree canopy walk. We went to see Arno Carstens on our last night in Cape Town and explored the gardens a bit before the show started. The gardens were beautiful and he wasn't bad either!
Bo-Kaap, formerly known as the Malay Quarter, is a neighborhood within the city of Cape Town. The vibrant homes sit at the bottom of Signal Hill, right where the ground begins to slope.
Only old cobblestone streets and a spiderweb of power lines above break up the color. Potted plants and ivy add a natural touch to the brightness of some homes.
With so many vivid colors squeezed up against one another, all different but equally beautiful, not quite contrasting but also not always complimentary, Bo-Kaap is like a charming representative for the cultural tapestry of South Africa.
Going to the top of Table Mountain is a must, even if you only have half a day in Cape Town. (Although obviously try to spend more than half a day! This place is amazing.)
To get to the top, you have two choices: pay $17 to ride the cable car or hike up. Guess which one we did!
The hike isn't very long but it's incredibly steep. We were lucky enough to have a clear, sunny day in Cape Town so once we were at the top, we had perfect, unrestricted views of the city below and Robben Island in the distance. However, all that sun and no wind meant that it was HOT. Still, we were at the top in less than two hours.
Once you're on top of Table Mountain, there are a bunch of trails you can take to check out different edges and viewpoints. We checked out a few before taking the cable car back down, which was a super fast, surreal experience after the hike a few hours before!
The Cape of Good Hope was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. But in fact, the two oceans meet at the southernmost point, Cape Agulhas. However, the Cape of Good Hope is the most south-western point of the African continent and has some of the most amazing views.
There are many trails between the Cape of Good Hope and nearby Cape Point. Visitors walk between the two while marveling at sheer cliffs 200 tall, rugged coastline that cuts into the rock below, fynbos and other natural vegetation.
We hiked around and then drove back to Cape Town, which we realized we already missed. It was a good feeling.
While staying in Cape Town for the week, we spent one day driving down the Cape Peninsula to Cape Point & Cape of Good Hope. Along the way, we stopped in Hout Bay, Simon's Town and of course, Boulders Beach.
Hout Bay and Simon's Town were cool stops. We did some rock scrambling up to the bronze leopard in Hout Bay and followed up shopping in Simon's Town with a delicious lunch on Main St. But the main attraction was definitely the penguins.
I (Grace) love penguins. I love watching them waddle around, throw/plop themselves into the water and then glide gracefully through it like the chubby ballerinas they are. I love how cute the chicks are. I love how they stand awkwardly on the beach like grumpy old men. So, yeah, I love them.
And for anyone who loves penguins, Boulders Beach is heaven. (Minus the crowds of people who also love penguins.)
The African penguin colony is about 3,000 strong and they do not care at all that people are around. A wooden boardwalk ensures that people aren't disrupting the penguins' natural habitat.
While we were there, many of the birds were in the middle of molting, a process of losing their feathers and growing new ones, during which they aren't waterproof, so they can't go into the water for about 30 days.
Which meant more penguins on the beach! A few were either finished molting or hadn't started, so we got to see them frolicking in the small waves. We also saw a bunch of couples sitting on their nests. Did you know that penguins mate for life? Yet another reason to love them.
PS. even though I really wanted the penguins to be the highlight of this post, I have to mention the bronze leopard of Hout Bay. Weighing in at 295 kgs, the statue has overlooked the bay since March 1963. It is a memorial to the many wild animals that once roamed the mountains of the peninsula. The last leopard seen in Hout Bay was in 1937.
Our first order of business when we arrived in Cape Town was to get above it all for some perspective. A quick hike up Lion's Head was the perfect choice.
We parked our trusty rental car and started up the gradual path, which loops around Lion's Head for 360 degree views of Cape Town, including Table Mountain, Camp's Bay beach, the downtown and the harbor.
Lion's Head peak, which forms part of the dramatic backdrop for the city of Cape Town, is 669m (2,195 ft) above sea level. We took in the views and took a bunch of photos, excited to have made it to the final city on our South African road trip. As we walked around at the top, we heard people speaking many different languages, including French, Chinese, German and Spanish. One group discussed American politics, and we listened to a British guy comparing Bernie Sanders to the head of the UK's Labour Party as we passed by.
Signal Hill - or "Lion's Rump" - is a flat-topped hill next to Lion's Head. It's also a great place to watch the sunset, which we did after descending Lion's Head. All in all, a fantastic first afternoon in the Mother City.
It feels like I'm constantly speaking in hyperbole in these gallery descriptions, but I swear I can't help it. With each new amazing place we visit, it's becoming more and more difficult to find fresh adjectives that will adequately describe the majesty of what is usually my new favorite place.
Which brings us to Franschhoek.
A few week or so before we were set to arrive in Franschhoek, considered by some as "the food and wine heartland" of South Africa, we met a couple who was traveling the opposite way along the Garden Route and had already been there. "It makes Napa look like a dump," they said. We chuckled at the exaggeration and continued on with our day. But as soon as we passed over the highest point of the Franschhoek Pass and looked down on the valley, their words came back to me.
Napa is gorgeous. I love Napa. But Franschhoek is breath-taking. (There I go again...)
I'll do my best to paint the picture for you: Miles of vineyards lay nestled between towering mountains. Fields of lavender and hydrangeas run between properties and right up to the road. It is a provencal paradise.
And all of the magnificent scenery blows you away before you take your first sip of wine or nibble of cheese. After that, if you weren't hooked already, you're completely sold on South Africa's wine country.
Side effects of a day wine tasting in the area include:
- repeating "I'm never leaving" at random points throughout the day
- fully believing you could live on wine, cheese and biltong for the rest of your life
- hugging and kissing people you met five minutes prior because they share your love of rosé
- gaining a minimum of 5-7 lbs, depending on gender, age and body type
"You yell barracuda, everybody says, 'Huh? What?' You yell shark, we've got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July." (Jaws, 1975)
After we took a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls for Grace's birthday, we needed to come up with something equally awesome to celebrate Mike's. Luckily, the timing put us in Hermanus, which is 40 minutes from some of South Africa's best shark cage diving.
To cage dive with great white sharks in the region known as "shark alley," you need to go with a company based in Gansbaai. While they will shuttle you to and from Cape Town, it's a 2-3 hour ride. We were thrilled to save time and money by driving ourselves.
Once there, we sat through the safety talk, boarded the boat, drove for 20 minutes, then waited for the sharks to come. After 45 minutes or so, we saw the first great white cruise by the cage. That's when the frenzy started onboard.
"In the water! In the water! Divers in the water! Who's ready??"
All of a sudden, it seemed like no one was ready for the one thing we were all there to do. Because Mike and I were suited up and standing near the cage, we were the first to jump into the frigid water.
Although submerging yourself in super cold water is never fun (even if you're wearing a 7 mil wetsuit), the sharks swimming under and around the cage were a pretty great distraction.
After about 15 minutes, we had to get out to let the next group in.
The best kept secret about cage diving with great white sharks in South Africa? It's arguably a better show from the boat. We got some killer photos and soaked up as much sun as we could before returning to shore.
Check another off the bucket list.
Although technically not part of the Garden Route (it officially ends in Mossel Bay), Hermanus has some of the best views around and offers access to epic ocean activities like windsurfing and shark cage diving.
Hermanus is also an excellent place to watch whales as they migrate down the coast from July through November. Sadly, we found out when we arrived that we missed the whales by a week or so. However, we still loved strolling up and down the cliff path, taking in the beautiful view.
Oh, and you guys didn't think we would just not celebrate Thanksgiving, did you? We waited a day to take advantage of the private kitchen in our AirBnb and on Friday cooked up a feast of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans and, yes, we found cranberry sauce in South Africa. (After searching a few different stores with no luck, it felt like finding gold.)
We drove off after three days with some very fond memories.
Another pit stop along the drive from Knysna to Mossel Bay. We veered off the N2 up the beautiful Outeniqua Pass through the mountains for a rare breath of fresh, woodsy air.
Oudtshoorn is an odd place, known for two things: caves and ostriches. (Not together, thank god.) We figured we had to at least see it and then, before I knew it, Mike and talked me into spelunking in the Cango Caves.
My claustrophobia did not love squeezing through a tunnel 27cm tall and up something named, literally, The Devil's Chimney... There may or may not have been profanities echoing through the caves. But, by the end of it, we were happy to have checked the box and seen such huge underground rooms with a unique history (one was used as a concert hall until people started to graffiti the caves and they had to shut it down).
Sorry about the lack of photos of the caving adventure - the GoPro doesn't do so well in the dark!
After that, since it was getting late, we decided to skip sitting on an ostrich - something you can do at many of the ostrich farms there - a very weird but strangely enticing photo op, huh? Maybe next time.
At least we got some photos of a few of the gorgeous farm properties in Oudtshroon - the palms and purple trees surrounding white farmmansions in the middle of golden wheat fields and manicured, bright green crops? Yes please.
On the way back, we took the arguably even more beautiful Robertson Pass, which dropped us pretty much at Mossel Bay's front door.
We don't have any photos from Mossel Bay since the one full day we spent there was the rainiest we'd seen yet, and so we spent the day at a mall taking advantage of free wifi for planning (and some online stalking) purposes and seeing two movies. Happy Thanksgiving!
Victoria Bay is a teensy-tiny town along the Garden Route. It's really just a beach with some houses and a beach shack restaurant. I don't know if it even qualifies as a full town!
We stopped here to stretch our legs as we drove from Knysna to Mossel Bay. Not too much to report, just a cool little beach with good surf. Oh, and this awesome half-man-made saltwater pool.
This Garden Route town is tucked in by the expansive Knysna Lagoon, guarded by the geographic marvel that is The Heads of Knysna.
The two dramatic sandstone columns, appropriately named East Head and West Head, guard the entrance to the lagoon like giant gargoyles covered in moss.
For anyone willing to climb a bit, they also provide incredible views of the ocean and cliffs. We hiked around (what else do we do anymore?!) and easily found small beaches, wooden plank bridges and grassy inlets to explore.
And, although we didn't take any photos of it, the town was just as charming as the nature surrounding it. We walked around the Waterfront Knysna Kways window shopping and people watching, ate delicious sushi on a dock restaurant surrounded by boats in the water... Basically, it feels like all of Knysna is "on the water" so if you're into that, this is the place for you.
Plettenberg Bay is known to South Africans simply as "Plett."
The cool, one-syllable nickname perfectly suits the town, which felt like it could easily be a too-pretty-for-you, hoity-toity vacation spot but instead remains welcoming and down to earth, eager to share its magic with anyone who stops by.
It's only 25 kilometers from neighboring (and equally as pretty, but in her own way) Knysna. Because the two are so close, we decided to stay in Knysna and check out Plett as a day trip but, we loved it so much that we found ourselves back more than once.
We were quickly captivated by the cute and quirky shops, charming main street with unreal ocean views, expansive white sand beaches and beach bars that felt like local spots, even to visitors.
But the highlight for both of us was Robberg Nature Reserve, where we hiked along cliffs and up dunes and across a thin strip of beach with waves lapping at both sides to climb up a perfectly untouched island. It's name, of course, is The Island.
Although we didn't stay in Storms RIver, a small East Cape town and popular Garden Route pit stop, we spent the better part of one day exploring some of the best it has to offer.
First, Mike jumped off Bloukrans Bridge, Africa's highest bridge and the highest commercial bridge bungee jump in the world. Just a little something to get the blood pumping, right?
Then we hiked around Tsitsikamma National Park, checking out the coastline, lush indigenous forest, and suspension bridges at the river mouth.
Fun fact: the water in the rivers in the Tsitsikamma region is a rich brown color due to high tannin content leached from the surrounding vegetation, earning it the nickname "Coca Cola Water." Yum?
PS. to the couple from San Francisco who we met at Bloukrans Bungy, please email us! We lost your email address!
Jeffreys Bay is a stop on the WSL Championship Tour and arguably the best right-hand pointbreak in the world. But the most consistent time of year to surf J-Bay is their winter (May-September), so we weren't getting our hopes up for waves.
I (Mike) prepared myself for the usual local banter - "you should have seen it yesterday" or "it is supposed to pick up next week" - but instead we got lucky with "there will be a proper swell here tomorrow."
I checked the surf reports and they were not kidding. 11-15ft with southwest (offshore) winds. My first reaction was that it might be too big to surf. But when I checked the waves at the infamous Supertubes the next morning, that was not an option.
I'll never forget paddling out into perfect J-Bay and 500 meter rides of over head surf. The waves were so good that after a surf session we couldn't help but join the crowd and take photos of the waves and surfers still in the water.
We made it to the Garden Route!
Well, technically Port Elizabeth is along the Sunshine Coast, but as far as we were concerned this was the beginning of our Garden Route road trip to Cape Town.
We flew into the coastal city and got into our new rental car. After driving a total P.O.S. Honda for the previous few weeks (from Johannesburg to Blyde River Canyon and all the way to Durban) the new Volkswagen polo felt as sexy as a Ferrari. Mike didn't even have to hold the gas pedal to the floor to get up small hills. #winning
Anyway, onto PE:
I read that many budget travelers treat Port Elizabeth as an overnight stop and we nearly did the same thing. I'm so glad that we added an extra night there and got to get a feel for life in PE, because we loved it. The town definitely has a lot to offer if you take the time to look around.
We stayed in the posh Richmond Hill neighborhood at a backpackers hostel (that was not so posh but very chill). Richmond Hill is a quiet part of town but includes a strip of some of the best restaurants in PE. Our favorites were Fushin (Grace finally gets some sushi after six weeks in Africa, hallelujah!), Moto Vono and Beeryard.
We explored different neighborhoods on foot and by car. During one walk around the older part of the city, we climbed the lighthouse at the Donkin Reserve, where there's a memorial dedicated to Nelson Mandela as well as a Pyramid, dedicated to Sir Donkin's wife. After walking for a few miles, we got back in the car to check out PE's beaches.
PE is a great town. The kind of town we could live in. And if the rest of the stops along our drive to Cape Town are this cool, that will become a very tempting possibility...
Grace's dad generously gifted us (technically a regift but we were definitely not complaining!) a few nights at Zulu Nyala, a private game reserve in northern South Africa. This was our last African safari experience and luckily we can say that we went out with a bang!
One animal we hadn't seen in Palmwag, Etosha or Chobe was the cheetah. Of the big cats, they're not particularly elusive (seeing leopards is much more rare), we just hadn't run into any. So, we were super excited when we saw one on a morning game drive.
Our guide told us that he could tell by its behavior that the cheetah was hungry and would be hunting for food.
Later on that same day, on our afternoon game drive, we saw many rhinos, monkeys and zebras, as well as a fresh baby giraffe and a few elephants, before again encountering our cheetah friend.
As we pulled up to where the cheetah sat in the road, not far from where he had been that morning, we saw that he had indeed landed himself a meal.
And, thanks to lucky timing, we could see exactly what he had caught. A small warthog (our guide said it was probably one year old) lay in front of him, already torn open but not yet fully eaten. We probably got there 5-10 minutes after the cheetah had made his kill.
The cheetah couldn't have cared less that we parked a few meters from him and watched him chow down. We learned that cheetahs typically eat about once a week and when they do, they go all out, stuffing themselves until their bellies are distended. They also eat as quickly as possible to avoid getting their food stolen by another animals, such as a leopard, which could drag the kill up a tree to eat (cheetahs can't climb trees).
Although the cheetah was loving it, watching him was quite gruesome at times (blood on his fur, the sound of bones crunching... you get the picture) but it was just the kind of safari moment you hope for - one that's so raw and wild that it gets your heart beating just a little bit faster.
Just a warning, the images are a bit graphic, so don't scroll all the way to the bottom if you have a weak stomach! :-)
Known for good surf, warm water and spicy curries, Durban is the gem of SA's east coast. We felt like we were in Miami in the 80s as we rode bikes along the golden mile with the Indian Ocean on our right and pastel Art Deco buildings to our left. The monkeys running along the tops of fences reminded us that we were still in Africa.
After exploring the golden mile strip, which is actually six kilometers of sandy beach, we ventured into the heart of the city looking for - what else - authentic Durban curry.
Inspired by a recent article in The New York Times, we went to Oriental, an unassuming spot with barely any signage located within The Workshop shopping mall. They're known for their authentic Durban Indian dishes like curry, roti, breyani and bunny chow. We split beef roti and chicken curry and it was delicious. We scarfed it all down in about ten minutes (forgetting to take a photo first - sorry!!) and I felt the after-tingle on my lips for the next hour.
To round out the one-day-in-Durban extravaganza, we went on a walking tour throughout the oriental area of Durban, starting at the old Durban Station building where Ghandi boarded the train to Cape Town and winding through packed streets and markets. Among the markets we saw were the meat and fish market - NOT recommended for vegans, vegetarians or anyone in danger of becoming one - and Victoria market, full of fragrant spices and African artwork. We also saw the Juma Musjid mosque, the second largest in the Southern Hemisphere.
The most interesting part for us was a strip within the Traditional Zulu Multi Market where sangomas go to buy and trade medicinal herbs, animal bones, and other crazy things. Vials of liquids of all colors and woven baskets full of animal parts spill out into the already narrow passageways. Luckily for you, the smells are impossible to describe.
In fact, the Zulu market was full-on sensory overload, with pungent smells good and bad wafting and mixing so fast it was hard to tell where they were coming from. Vendors blared music from small stereos, as if competing with vendors mere meters away for bandwith. People wearing furs brushed up against us as our eyes darted around them, trying to take it all in and also keeping an eye on our backpacks.
Twenty minutes in an African market ends up feeling like an hour workout. We won't soon forget it.
Lesotho (pronounced “li-soo-too”) is a small country of 2 million people completely landlocked within South Africa. The Drakensberg mountain range provides a natural eastern border. Because we were already so close to the border, we knew we had to visit, even if only a day trip.
So that's exactly what we did. Amphitheatre Backpackers, where we stayed, organizes trips into the small Basutu country. It was a two-hour drive over some bumpy unpaved roads, which sometimes curled and curved around steep peaks like a snake climbing stairs. Eventually, we made it to the top of the Monantsapas pass, to the South African border office.
Now, I'll admit that we were excited to go into Lesotho not only to experience their culture but also to get the entry and exit stamps in our passports. (Collecting stamps has become something of an addiction.) Imagine our surprise when we stopped at a few small white buildings with boarded windows and learned that they were unoccupied; the border crossing we were using was nonoperational.
Technically, we were illegal immigrants in Lesotho for the day.
Our time in Lesotho consisted of visiting a primary school that Ampitheatre Backpackers supports through volunteer efforts and donations, hiking to see an ancient San cave drawing, visiting a cave where the nomadic tribespeople previously stored harvested crops and today store animals during cold weather, meeting a sangoma, trying a typical Basutu meal (pap and greens) and finally stopping by a local residence for home-brewed beer.
The entire day was extremely interesting. We saw and learned many things that were totally new to us. However, the two highlights were meeting the sangoma and that last stop for traditional beer.
In case you've never heard of a sangoma (we hadn't), it's a practitioner of traditional African medicine. The sangoma we met has been treating people through communication with ancestors since 1992. Not only did we get to meet her, we sat in her home for close to an hour asking questions, all of which she patiently answered with the help of our guide and translator, Siya. She discussed the process of becoming a sangoma and how she treats people by inhaling herbal smoke and going into a trance in order to speak with the ancestors, who advise her which remedies to provide. Sangomas are a fundamental part of the Basutu culture and lifestyle, but it was all foreign to us.
Because Basutu people travel far distances on horseback grazing animals or bringing goods back home, some homes fly flags to let people know that they have goods for sale. There's a color system for easy identification: A white flag means maize beer, yellow means pineapple beer, red means meat and green means produce.
While South Africa has felt like the U.S. at times, Lesotho felt a world away. We're very lucky we were able to experience it!
A few months before leaving the States, a friend told me, “I think you'll love the Drakensberg - it's a lot like Colorado." Well, no offense to Colorado, but when it comes to mountain views, the Drakensberg is even more dramatic and spectacular. Driving up to the range, you feel as small as an ant. And once you’re at the summit, you share the view only with birds.
We knew right away that we had to hike to the summit of Sentinel Peak. We lucked out with a sunny day and we were off. There’s a trailhead at 2,800m that you can reach by car, so you only have to climb 900m to reach the summit. (I know, right, “only!”)
The hike was broken into three phases: switchbacks (which our guide called “zig zags”), rondavels (which wrap around the mountain’s natural curves, gradually sloping upward) and then a 75m rock scramble to the top.
The rock scramble was the hardest part, by far. Luckily, we had plenty of time there to rest, eat lunch and walk around taking in the incredible views at the top. Walking up to the edge was something else - there was nothing separating you from a 1,000+m plummet to your death.
We walked along the top to the Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world. However, due to the drought that's currently plaguing much of South Africa, it was the driest second highest waterfall in the world while we were there. Besides some murky brown water full of tadpoles sitting in the holes, the waterfall was not flowing at all. Not even a trickle. It’s a shame, because a local told us that when it’s flowing, you can swim at the top.
On the way back down from the summit, we encountered the chain ladders. (Insert “dun, dun, dunnn” noise here.) At 20 and 40 meters long respectively, they’re basically rope ladders made of metal poles and chains bolted into the vertical rock face. While we heard some guides will provide safety straps, ours simply said, “go ahead!” and down we went. While it would be difficult to fall off as long as you maintained three points of contact, we were still freaked out (we’re both spooked by heights) and quite relieved to make it to the bottom. But, why are we on this trip if not to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones, right?
It was smooth sailing from there and, after a total of 5 hours hiking, we were back at the car, ready for a much deserved cold beer.
Nestled in rolling emerald hills six(ish) hours northeast of Johannesburg, Blyde River Canyon is a geologist's paradise. Not to mention eye candy for any photographer, hiker, bird-watcher... you get the point.
On our only full day, we were up at the crack of dawn driving the Panorama Route from site to site, from God's Window to the Three Rondavels.
Each geologic feature has its own look and feel, from the dramatic canyon with Blyde River below to the Bourke's Luck Potholes, cylindrical holes worn into the sandstone bedrock by decades of swirling river water.
As if all that wasn't cool enough, we ran into a family of cheeky monkeys along the way and hung out for a bit with them while they ate stolen food and inspected each others' backs for bugs.
Thanks to some fast-paced hiking and pushing our horribly slow rental car to its limit, we were able to see all the spectacular works of nature and be on the road again the next morning to continue along our South African road trip.
Next stop: The Drakensberg
With a vibrant energy that's as captivating as its turbulent history, Soweto is a place you simply have to see if you're visiting Johannesburg. We opted to experience it by bicycle, joining a group of travelers for a four-hour ride through South Africa's most famous township.
The tour started off at Sebo's, a funky hostel located in Soweto. From there, we rode through winding streets and over a few hills to an area that's still struggling with poverty. The decrepit homes there don't have running water and people share small communal bathroom facilities.
It's hard to put into words the experience of seeing people going about their day-to-day lives, living with so much less than you're accustomed, yet with wide, genuine smiles on their faces. We found it extremely powerful how welcoming the residents of Soweto were. Especially the children, who run up to you in the street holding out their hands hoping for a high five or to swipe thumbs.
We were fortunate to visit a day care facility where about 30 kids ages 2-5 were playing outside. The story the founder and owner told us about its inception was a dark one (the land was formerly used as a dumping ground and one day, an infant's body was found there), but watching the kids playing and singing, clearly it has a happy ending.
From the day care, we went to a shebeen, an old speakeasy bar left over from apartheid days when black people were forbidden by law from consuming alcohol except for one traditional kind of beer. At the shebeen, we tried that joburg beer, which is made from maize, as well as a local delicacy, cow's liver and heart.
Next, we rode to the Hector Pieterson museum and memorial, which is located at the cross streets where the infamous standoff between students and police officers occurred and where young Hector Pieterson was fatally shot.
Nearby is Vilakazi street, where Nelson Mandela lived before he was sent to Robben Island and where Archbishop Desmond Tutu also has a family home. It's the only street in the world to have been home to two Nobel laureates. The street today is a bit more touristy than most of Soweto, but has a relaxed vibe, with a few cute cafes and bars between the historic houses.
We made our way back to Sebo's feeling sunburnt yet very thankful and enjoyed our first bunny chow - a hearty helping of lettuce and beef stew in a hunk of white bread.
After that, we decided to end our day in Soweto at the Orlando Towers, where we enjoyed a beer at the pub on the ground between the two. We hoped to see some people jumping - it's a 3.5 second free fall when you bungee from the top - but there weren't any jumpers while we were there.
Later, when reflecting on the day, I kept thinking about the day care. At one point while we were there, the kids assembled and started singing in unison. It was hard to make out what they were saying, but once our guide told us, the words were suddenly clear and sharp. "Fire, fire, pour water, pour water." Our guide went on to explain that because many parents leave their young kids at home during the day and sometimes leave an electric stove or burner for heat, a child as young as 2 faced with a small fire in his or her home is not uncommon. The day care uses the song to teach kids in the community to remember that if there's a fire, they need to pour water on it.
The juxtaposition of their sweet, cheerful voices and the darker meaning behind the song is a perfect illustration of life in Soweto: hope among difficult circumstances.
When we think back on Soweto, Johannesburg, and South Africa as a whole, we will certainly picture those kids, their exuberant songs and bright, smiling faces.
La Digue is third largest inhabited island of the Seychelles in terms of population, which is only about 2,000 people. There is no airport on La Digue, and the entire island is only 10 square kilometers, making it very easy to travel around by bike.
So, we rented bikes and rode around all day, checking out one amazing, incredible beach after the next. It truly felt like being inside one of those tropical paradise, stare-at-it-and-pretend-just-for-a-minute-that-youre-not-at-work computer desktop backgrounds.
Let's put it this way: an hour and a half hike while battling a 103 degree fever was worth it for this beach.
Shout out to our best friend Lowell for designing the BEST bikini around - for travel or surfing or otherwise!
Our first dive together on this trip (just first dive together, period) was St. Pierre Island, just off Cote D'or beach in Praslin, Seychelles. We went down to 12m and saw manta rays, white tip sharks and a rainbow of tropical fish, ranging in size from your pinkie finger to 2+ ft long. Swimming around underwater for 45 minutes, we explored the reef and peered into dark caves and caverns - diving is great fun!
Mike also went on a dive the next day, but I unfortunately had to stay behind because I had a nasty cold. The dive site was called White Bank and averages 20 meters deep. It's well known for its underwater granite features, white tip reef sharks and rays. Visibility was around 10m although on some days it is over 30m.
Please, try not to hate us too much after this one... ;)
Praslin, pronounced "prah-len," is the second largest island of the Seychelles, a tropical paradise with white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise water where we spent five incredible days.
We treated ourselves to a hotel situated right on Anse Petite Cour, in a Marine National Park, with its own exclusive beach protected by reef, which was excellent for snorkeling, swimming and kayaking. The resort also had five giant tortoises, quite the pleasant surprise for us, since we didn't think we'd see them until visiting La Digue!
I could go on and on about how beautiful it was, but I think it's probably better to let the photos speak for themselves.
While in Livingstone, we took advantage of all the activities that we could, most of which involved the mighty Zambezi river. In addition to our helicopter tour over Victoria Falls and swimming in The Devil's Pool, we also went on a sunset dinner cruise and Mike spent a morning white water rafting.
(Not to mention the day safari in Chobe National Park. Clearly it was an action-packed five days. We really lived it up in Zambia.)
The sunset cruise was a wonderful, relaxing way to spend our last night. From the boat, we saw some more animals, watched a gorgeous sunset and enjoyed a traditional braai of delicious crocodile sausages. Oh, and there was an open bar.
White water rafting the lower Zambezi is considered the wildest one-day rafting trip in the world. It's a stretch recognized by rafting enthusiasts as one of the top ten paddling rivers on the planet.
At Victoria Falls, the Zambezi plummets into a basalt gorge, which separates the placid river above the Falls and the class IV-V rapids below. The gorge is over 100m deep at the Falls and increases to over 200 meters by the end of the day. Between the rapids and the crocodiles sunning on the banks, it was a day that rivaled our best back home in Colorado.
The reason we went to Zambia was to visit Victoria Falls. More specifically, we wanted to swim in The Devil's Pool, a natural infinity pool at the top of the Falls on the Zambian side. The timing was right, since you can only swim in the pool during the drier months of May through October. Any other time of year, and you'd be swept up by 500 million litres of water and fall 360 feet to your death. Exciting!
To get to the pool, you have to pay for a tour of Victoria Island, which includes a stop at The Devil's Pool. You're brought to the island by boat, then walk a short distance to check out the point where it's said David Livingstone got his first look at the falls. Then, you get to the edge of the river. You strip down to your swimsuit and - without thinking about it too much - jump into the water where hippos and crocs swim leisurely. (Although that's making it sound much more daring than it is - the large crocs and hippos don't get that close to the edge, for they wouldn't survive the fall.)
After a very short swim, which is shallow enough that if you wanted to you could walk on the rocks below, you get out of the water on a smaller island and then, finally, into the pool.
Once you're in the water, you feel the current gently pushing you to the edge, which is a rock lip about 3 ft thick. It's a very surreal experience to be on top of a waterfall. The water levels were super low, so we could lay on top of the edge and look straight down. The guides kept saying, "go farther, lean more!" and other crazy things, as they ran along the edge and jumped over us. Clearly, for them, being up there is no big deal.
Admittedly, we found it to be a bit tamer and less death-defying as we had originally pictured it. That said, we're so happy that we did it and can say we swam at the edge of a massive waterfall.
There are two main towns where people stay while visiting Victoria Falls. One is the town of Victoria Falls, on the Zimbabwe side of the Zambezi Gorge. The other, where we stayed, is Livingstone, Zambia. To go into Chobe National Park from Livingstone, you need to take a car to the border, walk through immigration, then walk to the border point, a waterway from which you can see four countries at once (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana). Then you get on a boat that takes you across to the Botswana side, where safari cars are waiting.*
Now, doing all this on your own would be possible but likely overwhelming. We had help from guides who take people there and back every day. I definitely recommend booking a tour that includes transportation so you’re not left to navigate on your own - you never know, you could end up in the wrong country!
Anyway, we went to Chobe National Park to see three things: water buffalo, hippos and crocodiles. Those three animals are not found in the parts of Namibia we visited and thus we hadn’t seen any yet. The water buffalo was at the top of our list, since it was the final animal of the “Big 5” we hadn’t seen. Soon after getting into the park, we’d seen dozens of them and would only see more throughout the day.
We also saw tons of crocs and hippos, both in the water and on the riverbank. It’s astonishing how many crocodiles you see floating around and coming up to check out happenings on the surface. Even more so that for every one you see, there are probably 15 more lurking below. Let’s just say you would not want to find yourself in that water…
*The safari we did was half driving, half boating, so later that day we were on another boat before doing the entire trip in reverse to get back to Zambia. In total, if you include walking, we switched transportation modes 10 times!
The best birthday I’ve had to date started with the surprise that I’d be going on my first helicopter ride over the Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world! Thanks so much to my mom for organizing it all the way from the States, and to Mike for sneakily helping to coordinate the details!
We arrived at the small private airport and heard soft yet cheerful tinkering tones. When the musician asked if I wanted to try, of course I did - I was already stoked on life because I was about to ride in a helicopter!
We started flying and Mike and I looked down in awe as we circled the Falls, then travelled up river spotting elephants and hippos in the water, before plunging 800 feet down into the gorge and flying along with the water’s twists and turns. I couldn't stop smiling. It was a truly amazing, unforgettable experience.
I think I’ll stick to helicopters as my main mode of transportation from now on. ;)
Waterberg National Park is in central Namibia on the Waterberg plateau, rising high above the plains of the Kalahari to the east.
There's not much to do besides hike, so that's what we did.
We listened to dozens of different birds chirping and saw tons of rock hyraxes as we went up. Later, I looked up the rock hyrax to figure out what it's called (I Googled "waterberg national park guinea pigs on rocks") and found out that they're the closest living relatives to elephants!
We also saw tons of warthogs and baboons in Waterbury, the latter of which luckily never broke into our car or chalet.
On our first morning, I started a list in my notebook with the intention of counting how many of each animal we saw to then provide the final tallies on this blog. However, I realized that would be impossible after seeing our first herd of zebra (I’d guess about 150 of them) and then losing count of giraffes because on some roads, it seems they’re everywhere you look.
Our top three moments from Etosha:
1. Visiting the Moringa waterhole at night and seeing 60+ elephants (including babies!) drinking. As if that wasn’t awesome enough, then four rhinos came out - our first time seeing them thus far.
2. When we pulled over to snap a few photos of a giraffe next to the car and then realized there was a leopard standing directly next to the car on the other side. Seeing leopards is apparently very rare, so we got lucky!
3. One afternoon, we encountered a cluster of cars pulled over - a telltale signal that something good is nearby. Sure enough, it was a small group of lions lounging under a few trees. The main attraction was two male lions laying in the shade between two trees. We were looking at the larger of the two - he was panting heavily and his eyes were droopy - for a minute before realizing that right next to him was a carcass. Taking a closer look, it was clearly the ribcage of a zebra - his head with striped fur still intact was a dead giveaway.
Another quick 24 hour stop but we saw more animals on our first official safari. I say official because we’ve learned that if any drive where you see animals is a game drive than pretty much every time you drive around in Africa it’s a safari. If you look carefully and have a little patient, you will see animals. It’s sort of like one of my favorite sayings, “every pizza is a personal pizza if you try hard enough.” (Does that work here? I’ve just been waiting for an excuse to work that into the blog somehow…)
PS. if you think these are good, just wait until you see the photos from Etosha…
We were only in Brandberg for 24 hours, but it was enough time to hike to the famous white lady cave painting and see five desert elephants along the way!
The white lady is a 2000+ year old rock painting on a small rock overhang, deep within The Brandberg, Namibia's highest mountain.
The rest of the time we were hanging out by the pool, drinking cold Tafel lagers, watching the sunset and taking photos with Carlos, a local suricate that they’ve nicknamed “everybody’s darling” - it’s easy to see why.
Only 230km separate Solitaire and Walvis Bay. In that short distance, the temperature dropped from 39 degrees celsius (102 degrees F) to 12 degrees celsius (53 degrees F)! We were surprised, because we hadn’t expected it to be quite so chilly, but we welcomed the break from the desert heat.
Even during their off season, these two charming coastal towns had plenty to offer.
The adventure sports capital of Namibia, Swakopmund and nearby Walvis Bay offer everything from skydiving to camel rides through the dunes. We took advantage of the unique location by enjoying a catamaran cruise around the bay, checking out the local flamingo hangout, and sand boarding outside Swakopmund. (Okay, Mike went sandboarding. Grace went sandsledding.)
When we weren’t frolicking on the sea or sand, we were exploring the town of Swakopmund, taking in the german architecture and cuisine.
On our way out, we stopped to see a shipwreck - one of the many that have contributed to the nickname for Namibia’s northwestern coast: the skeleton coast.
After leaving Sossusvlei, we stopped in Solitaire because multiple people had told us about a small German cafe with amazing apple pie.
It didn’t matter that it was only 9:30 in the morning.
We feasted on a huge piece of apple pie, cheese biscuit (also huge) and a pepper steak pie for breakfast. It might sound like a lot but really, we were exercising self control. We wanted to try everything.
After eating, we walked around checking out the “town.” With a population under 100, Solitaire is literally a gas station, lodge and the restaurant. Oh and a bunch of rusty old cars which make for awesome photos.
Our first stop along the Namibian road trip was nothing short of breathtaking. Even by Africa standards, which are about as high as they come, since nearly everything you see here is stunning.
Upon arrival, we were struck not only by the beauty but the heat. At 40 degrees celsius, it was sweltering. Luckily Desert Quiver Camp has a cold swimming pool and even colder keg in the poolside bar.
On our only full day, we went into the park.
Sossusvlei is a 63km-long paved road that leads to Deadvlei. We drove along, taking time to marvel at animals near and far (we saw oryx, springbok, an ostrich and a jackal) and stopping briefly to hike Dune 45, essentially a pile of 5-million-year-old sand over 170m tall.
Finally, we arrived at Deadvlei. Once a shallow pool of water, it transformed into a white clay pan after drought hit and sand dunes encroached, blocking the river. The remaining tree skeletons are believed to have died 600-700 years ago. Though not petrified, the wood does not decompose because it is so dry.
Temperatures were climbing and a sand storm was rolling in but it didn't matter, we still got some fantastic photos.
...But honestly, we don't even need them. Deadvlei is unforgettable.