Tuesday, February 5, 2013

African Adventure Pt 1: TIA

Eleven flights. Sixteen days. The last two weeks were amazing, but I don't think I've ever been so glad to be going home.

After so much planning I've considered becoming a travel agent, Jason and I boarded a plane to Africa. Our trip started in Cape Town, to a safari outside of Kruger National Park, diving in Zanzibar and finally a short few days in Addis. I think those weeks, especially the last one taught me what TIA (this is Africa) is all about.

I did learn some lessons on this trip that if there ever is a "next time" I would try to better prepare for:

-As my accounting professor used to say, "Cash is king." Don't count on using credit cards or having ATMs everywhere (additionally, some ATMs only took a Visa) but still have a couple credit/checking options available

-Don't count on common American rules to apply (i.e.: spouses can drive rental cars at no charge) even if the company is American

-The only country we drove in was South Africa. Cape Town was fine, but we had to drive on some dirt roads on our way to our safari making me wish we’d had an SUV. We got a compact rental car that we had to leave behind after a storm washed out the roads. Everywhere else I was extremely glad to have a driver.

-Times and schedules are more of a rough generalization so leave a buffer between things you have to be there for like catching flights.

-Even the major airlines do not have 24 hour customer support so it helped us to be able to call the US customer service numbers when flights had to be changed

-Speaking of calling home, neither we nor the locals had dependable phone or internet connections

-Keep tissues handy as toilet paper is a luxury in many restrooms

-I did take a pepto bismol pill everyday to try to prevent any food related illness. It seemed to work or at least nothing made me sick.

-Of course things like getting immunizations and your visas ahead of time should be obvious but might have caused some last minute stress at times

That being said we experienced some amazing sites, extremely friendly and helpful people and wonderful food. Friends or friends of friends were often our local experts which also made our trip a lot easier. I know this sounds cliché but the best thing honestly was experiencing it all with my best friend (who I am also married to).

And with that I'll try to describe what we did and some of the highlights:

I was hoping Cape Town would be a favorite and it did not disappoint one bit! It helped that it was like any US or Western European city but with so many beautiful environments surrounding it: beach, mountains, and wineries.

We rented our own car and ended up booking the Westin when they were running a sale, though I would have also stayed here. We were a bit north of the city center, which I was a little concerned that we’d regret, but we were doing day trips most of the time and the 15 minute walk downtown was fine (though we didn’t attempt it too late at night). Our view and the breakfast buffet were both amazing and that was just the beginning. Jason also loved the steam room and hot tub, which offered some beautiful views of the city especially at night.
View from our hotel room

Our first full day we drove along Chapman's Peak to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. So beautiful.  The views were amazing, and the most dangerous part was when Jason decided to pretend we were James Bond (Jason Bourne perhaps? He decided he was both and called himself "James Bourne") on a high speed chase while driving along a steep drop off. My idea of playing along was to say nothing and grip the sides of the seat until we were safe. On our way back we stopped in a cute village called Kalk Bay where I'm still day dreaming about the seafood bouillabaisse I had at Cafe Olympia.
Cape Point
We also made a quick stop to see penguins in Simonstown.

The next day was equally as scenic and delicious as we toured the wine country of Stellenbosch and petted baby cheetahs! We stopped by the Cheetah Outreach before the wine - I thought having my wits about me while encountering wild animals was best. This place raises local animals to ensure the survival of wild animals. For a fee you can see the cheetahs running or have an “encounter,” which was about 15 minutes of carefully supervised turns stroking adult or baby cheetahs. I was especially excited about the cheetahs after falling in love with the cubs born at our local zoo this spring. They weren't quite the fuzzy new norms that I wanted to adopt but still... Where else can you do this?

We went to some really beautiful wineries and with the exchange rate in our favor, stocked up on as many bottles as we thought would still pass the weight limit. Though not advertised, Rust En Vrede winery has a wine maker's lunch special, which, for a top tier winery and restaurant, was a great way to have some outstanding food (steak, fries and a glass of Shiraz) without going broke. My only regret was not having more time to also explore the neighboring town of Franschoek, which is also known for its wines. Other wineries we visited were Ernie Els, which had the best view, Asara, and our favorite, Tokara.
Rust En Vrede

On the way to Ernie Els Winery

The last day we stuck around Cape Town exploring Green Market Square, Table Mountain and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. All things were somewhat touristy, but also things you kind of "have" to do if you are there. In hindsight, I probably would have enjoyed more wine tasting better (so obvious now) or a trip to do great white shark diving. No matter since we ended the night with an excellent dinner at the Savoy Cabbage where we tried some local game, springbok and impala.
Table Mountain

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront

Greenmarket Square

For sure we both felt like our trip so far had been wonderful, and the crazy thing was that it had only just begun.

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