Happy 5th Birthday blog!
So I wanted our honeymoon to be long. Since my husband (so weird to say) has a job that doesn’t like him gone and is stingy with leave, we only have 4 – 5 day vacations. I got my new passport in 2014 and it has one lonely stamp. I researched multi-day tours online and he was leaning toward a multi-day cruise of the Mediterranean (I am oddly averse to cruises, which is a story for another day). However my bucket list item is to go on safari. I won! But booking this tour turned out harder than I expected. First we were gifted a flight which meant to have to guess dates while we secured a tour. Unfortunately, no one was leaving within three days of our wedding. After two months of false starts, dropped travel agents and crazy quotes, we finally found a tour package. That was harder than finding a wedding venue, lol.
I am plum exhausted but we are pumped for our long journey to Africa. So I didn’t book the flight and do like long layovers in Atlanta, since Delta is always late and I have missed connections before. But boy did I not expect an eight hour layover. But we are platinum baby. We now have access to the premium lounges. After some research we started at the B Concourse lounge and where has then been all my life? I really needed this when I was a professional traveler. I’ve only been to one okay airport lounge but this one had heavy hors d’oeuvres, complimentary beer and wine, and a spacious layout. Everyone in the lounge was so chatty (could be the complimentary beer and wine) and the bartender kept giving me premium wine pours. We then ventured to the international terminal lounges which was debated as better than B. Umm, it was not. But it does have an outdoor patio and showers. But it lacked the fancy bar and comradery of B. Then we finally boarded our 16-hour flight in common class. Sadly our seatmate was stinky and no one likes stinky. I spent the entire flight watching snatches of terrible movies provided by the airlines as I dozed off frequently. Weddings are exhausting! I somehow managed to watch all of Baywatch though which was an awful life decision. Instead of starting a new movie when a movie ended. I should have just kept watching the same one until I finally saw the entire thing. Poor Moana.
We made it to Johannesburg. We were on our own as the tour didn’t officially start until the morning. We stayed in Sandton, which honestly was the only neighborhood the various travel agents would recommend. I just took this as gospel since Johannesburg has notorious crime statistics. Arriving at the airport, there was a huge Tambo statue (namesake of the airport) and people kept posing for pictures with it. People joked that it would fall over. Turns out it was only a week old. My first lesson and this proved true throughout the honeymoon is that South African concierges are crap. When we asked for dinner recommendations, we were told to go to KFC. Yes because we spent 24 hours traveling to eat middle of the road fast food chicken. BTW, South Africans love KFC. I don’t know what they would do if they experienced Popeye’s. We just went across the street to the massive Mandela Square mall. It’s three levels and each level reflects the price of the items of the store, i.e. level one is at Forever21 prices and level 3 is Louis Vuitton. We ended up in the Da Vinci hotel and ordered a seemingly simple seafood platter and appetizers. This year we discovered the majesty of seafood towers and this was just a flat version with twice as much food for a lower cost. We didn’t need appetizers. We worked so hard to finish our platter without success. And we stupidly ordered side dishes and the platter came with side dishes. SMH. Finally we discovered that we could order bottles of wine for less than $20 which quickly became problematic. Then off to bed.
My husband hates hotel breakfast buffets but this one looked more like Golden Corral then Days Inn. Our tour guide was 40 minutes late and we (well me) were in full panic mode after 30 minutes. We had no contact information and our hotel staff wasn’t much help. Note to self: always call the tour company 2-3 days out to obtain contact info. He finally arrived and to his surprise, we are Black! Honestly, the tour company thought we were White Americans and it became obvious as the tour progressed. Our tour guide is an Afrikaner and couldn’t properly hide his shock. As a result of this confusion, we were given a neutered tour filled with colonist viewpoints of how great it was that the Europeans “found” this place. Our first stop was the Lilliesleaf Memorial, which is the farm where Nelson Mandela was hiding when he was arrested. It gave a nice, tidy history of the ANC but not enough information on the oppression that they were fighting against. We were off to Soweto with comments about “these people” for lunch in the township which was fine mostly because of the most delicious creamed spinach. Then a PC, non-threatening history of the Hector Pieterson Memorial, a child who was shot by the police when students were protesting the requirement to speak Afrikaan in school. Finally, a trip to the Mandela House, where I realized that the state of Michigan requested a formal apology from the CIA for ratting out Mandela to the South African government. After more terrible restaurant recommendations (I should have done more research prior to the trip), we headed back to Mandela Square to an entire section of restaurants that we overlooked the day before. We ate at Trumps, no relation, and ate full blown steakhouse dinner for two for the cost of one entrée in the U.S. Plus free dessert which my husband turned down and ended up being a luscious milkshake with caramel drizzle. He then tried to sip mine. Nope. Sadly at dinner the klutz came out and I spilled a glass of red wine. Then this entitled Afrikaner at the table next to us screamed at the poor waitstaff forever. I was then reminded that we were in a place where total repression “ended” just 25 years ago. On the bright side, we discovered Amarula.
Unfortunately the belief that we were white caused us to be a lengthy tour of an Afrikaan history where I quickly lost interest after about 10 minutes. I feigned interest while excitedly realizing that there were zebras and some kind of antelope (I really started to confuse all the antelope by the honeymoon’s end) on the grounds. The tour guide remarked that after apartheid ended most people don’t care about Afrikaan history. Yep. We then visited Pretoria, which is one of the three capitals and where the President lives. It kinda resembles Baltimore (random). Trivia: America has the largest embassy. We also saw the capitol grounds which has giant statue of Mandela. The tour hits Mandela hard, not that he doesn’t deserve it, but also I think for the underlying reason that he is more forgiving and kind than others. I think his generous spirit gives some absolution without the work. Our guide mentioned that growing up in the countryside, he never knew that Apartheid was so bad. Umm, okay. We then visited a diamond mine and on the way stopped for lunch for another random food that South Africans love: pancakes. Honestly, they are more like crepes than American style pancakes as they are filled and rolled. I was not impressed. Mainly because I hate crepes. The area surrounding the diamond mine seems unstable and I can’t see it being there in the next 30 years. We saw replicas of famous diamonds. The world’s largest diamond ever was found there, though most of their current diamonds are industrial. For dinner, we ventured to a new neighborhood: Melrose Arch, which resembles Reston Town Center. We ate at Moyo, a chain, but an African chain, so new to us. There were performers, face painting and fun dishes. Plus the guy painted my husband’s face whether he liked it or not.
Off to the Pilanesburg Game Reserve, no Kruger for us as that was just too far. And yes, we received an unsolicited comment that Kruger is better. I was literally shaking with excitement as I wanted to go on Safari since I was a child. Safaris are at dusk and dawn. So our first one was at dusk. Our first spotting was a rhino. I have to learn the difference between a white and black rhino, which isn’t easy to do at dusk. Then plenty of Springbok and some other antelope that I would need to google (as Springbok is technically an antelope too). In the far distance, we saw a family of giraffes. If only we could drive closer. I couldn’t stop smiling. We next saw the largest elephant in the park, which didn’t look that big from the vehicle, but again we were already sitting high up. Then we started chasing cats. Our driver was obsessing with seeing all the cats and we zoomed various places when someone in another vehicle reported a spotting. It all got very breakneck. Someone reported a cheetah crossed the road quite far from where we were. We zoomed over to the area to see the cheetahs were gone. But I spotted one lounging under a tree and I said something but we already zoomed off because there was a lion spotting. My poor hubby didn’t get to see the pretty cheetah. Lions are the best because they like laying around in groups and don’t run as much as the other cats. We then saw the perfect picture of a hippo (which I was told were hard to spot) as it popped out of the water to give a yawn. Then someone spotted a leopard. And we zoomed over there only to be out of luck. So no leopards for us. At the equivalent of a rest stop, I saw another Black person! She was a German flight attendant of Ghanian descent and dating a U.S. Airman from Chicago. We actually discussed Homegoing, which I read on the ride over and I had so many questions about Asante. We get snacks and beers at the rest stop (samosas). And after seeing more rhinos, some gazelles and hyenas in the distance, we headed back to the lodge for a late dinner.
Up at dawn for our next game drive. I have never made it successfully to anything before 6a if I slept the night before so I did not. 2nd game drive. En route, we saw two kinds of antelopes. Item of note: I really should have purchased the guide book with the names of all the animals. Today’s driver knew actual animal facts. This is a plus for those who care for more information (there were a lot of kids in our vehicle) but a minus you are ready to move on. For example, we spotted and watched a pair of mating lions for 20 minutes and we would stop to look at birds (sure). We saw a singular giraffe up close! Rare because giraffes are rarely alone and I hoped its buddies would mosey by but no. Zebras (pronounced like Debra by locals). Warthogs. When I was a young warthog… A jackal, so cute. It was following the lion pair hoping to get scraps of food. Baby hippos fighting. Luckily no crocodiles, though we sat waiting at their hangout. Those things scare me. Unfortunately, no cheetahs or leopards. So the leopards was a no for me totally and both no for my hubby. After a long nap, we headed to Sun City to try our luck at the casino. There my hubby had mutant oysters (his favorite food) and some great sushi, though the restaurant was empty. I promptly lost and my hubby broke even. As we waited for the shuttle which somehow left us, out walks a huge baboon. He just strolls by like it wasn’t a big deal. It was the makings of a great picture but I was too frightened as he was so close. I took a nice bath. And I got sick. So sick. I made it a long time with my sensitive stomach. I was taken under by something from dinner. So bad. But my hubby held my hair.
As we headed to the airport we were greeted by an army of baboons. Man was the flight smooth. Without all the American rules, you can get to your gate in 20 minutes. I forgot life without taking off shoes and confusing lines. Though it was weird that everyone boards at the same time regardless of seat assignment. We successfully made it to Cape Town and I felt better. All the angry food was gone. Our driver is Malay (categorized as Colored by South Africa) and a descendant of Muslim slaves. He told us that all anyone cares about now is money and not race but that was quickly disproved. As we entered our hotel, we encountered glares and rudeness from other White guests. Cape Town is so lovely. Not a first impression of Johannesburg which is a regular work a day city. And everyone kept stressing how safe it is. Of course this is attributed to not being run by the ANC. I realized that a lot of Whites are stressed by the death of the kind Mandela and are really worried about their minority status as being only 10% of the population. For the afternoon, we walked along the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Then for dinner headed to the way too hip Long Street at the recommendation of our terrible concierge. We were about twice as old as everyone there (the legal drinking age is 18) and the drinks were cheap and awful. I felt every ounce of my age and asked a cab driver for a good dinner recommendation. We went to the truly authentic Marco’s African with drumming, xylophones and even some splits. It was awesome.
We are up early to hit Table Mountain and I didn’t want my hubby to see the cable car first as he is terrified of heights. I thought I could trick him. I could not. Ever since a disastrous trek up the mountains of Kyrgyzstan where I honestly thought I would die, I am petrified of driving up mountains. My sheer terror of the drive in combination with the long line and my hubby’s refusal, I decided that the Table Mountain cable car was an experience I wouldn’t have. We drove over to Signal Hill to overlook the city. We completed a not super exciting city orientation tour. This is how I discovered that South Africans are way too enamored with basic squirrels because only one park in the city has them. You can buy nuts to feed them and people were constantly photographing them. And these people have baboons. So odd. That afternoon, we took a boat ride to Robben Island to see the former leper colony turned prison. There are multiple boats to the island. We were on a fast boat over and the world’s slowest boat on the way back (I think floating kelp beat us to shore). The island is a true journey and one where White South Africans cannot gloss over their dismal treatment of the native people. Political prisoners of African descent received less food, sterilization, a simple t-shirt and shorts to wear in all weather conditions, floor mats for sleeping and only three days of hot water a week. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years there and finally got an actual cot after 15 years. They had to do hard labor and no one was allowed to talk even though you live and work so closely. Our island tour guide was a former political prisoner who entered the prison at age 17. He said that giving tours was cathartic for him and allowed him to release the anger from his imprisonment. It was beyond moving. After that we attended the Oyster and Wine Festival on the Waterfront. I was really happy to see bands playing African music after seeing so many rock cover bands along the waterfront earlier.
Up and at it to tour an island to see a seal colony, which stank to high heaven. We then drove down the coast, which resembles Cali but prettier to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. It is the southwestern tip of Africa, not the tip–which is highly stressed—where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. We were at the end of the world, at least one tip. We saw wild ostriches, it never dawned on me that there could be wild ostriches, and more antelope. Yea, I suck at the antelope. Then excitedly we darted over to see the African penguins which arrived in 1982. I love penguins and they are so cute. No baby penguins though. We ate a basic lunch in Simon Town. And the truly hectic pace of wedding planning and this non-stop tour weighed on me heavily. I hit a true wall. We forged ahead to the Botanical Gardens. Everything in my soul wanted to get on the tram, but elderly people trudged up the hills and slopes like it was nothing and I powered through. I just wanted to lay in the bed after our full day but Rider forced me out to dinner at this swanky African sushi fusion restaurant on the Waterfront. It was my first encounter with bland food and I barely touched it. I was so tired and we had the most inattentive waiter, which left me unenthusiastic. I should have sought a better food option but was too tired for research. Back to the room for terrible tv.
Okay, my barely eating of dinner turned out to be a bonus. My hubby was so sick. Even sicker than I was at the lodge. Today was to be our whale watching and Stellenbosch wine country visit but that wasn’t happening. I took the opportunity to sleep while hubby ran back and forth to the bathroom. I ordered room service and finished my book. Though I was so enthused about the visit to wine country as I love wine, it wasn’t meant to be. Neither was my plans for a big departure dinner celebration.
So hubby is still not 100%. So the final day was to be devoted to a relaxed day of shopping and sightseeing. We did none of this and just headed to the airport that afternoon to begin our long journey back to the States. All the rest I got was a curse because I was up and alert for the entire 16 hour flight back. It was so painful. So I actually watched the movies all the way through and so many are just not good. I see why the movies are struggling. I only liked Spider-man: Homecoming. I know one thing, I am never doing this again. I can only fly this long in better seating. I thought my cattle car experience from Hawaii was bad but this was torture.
To be ever so humble, home! And we crashed. We slept for 14 hours. True story.
- The public bathrooms are so miraculously clean. Even the messiest one I saw at the National Park was on par with neat ones in America. Me likey.
- Whew, South Africa is high up and I had trouble breathing. It’s higher up than Denver.
- White affluent folks all nationalities didn’t know what to make of us, staying in the same restaurants and eating in the same restaurants. I almost had to push a woman because she wouldn’t leave the check-in counter and she naturally assumed I would wait for her to move when she was ready.
- They love ice cream, milkshakes and American sweets. So much red velvet cake.